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HELP EVERY STEP OF THE WAY

HELP EVERY STEP OF THE WAY

by Joe Reister © 2016

“Look at that gorgeous smile,” John just barely remembered as he looked for his mother and saw two nurses instead.  “We are so blessed.”

“Yes, you are, ma’am, but…”

“Wait a minute,” John heard, smiling more as his mother came into view.  “That’s gas isn’t it?  He just farted?”

“Yes.  Yes, he did, ma’am,” the first nurse said and grabbed John’s finger, testing his strength.  “It’s not something they tell you about in the baby books, but farts, poop and boogers cause a lot of the smiles and crying until their personalities start to kick in at around six months or so.”

“It’s still beautiful,” John’s father said with his own smile.

“Infants are actually a lot more fun than Chris makes them out to be, sir,” the second nurse said, holding out a stack of forms for John’s father.  “And little John here will be out of his shell before you know it?”

“And you’ll be about done with all that paperwork by the time he emerges, sir,” Chris said.  “Isn’t that right, Riley?”

“Not quite, Chris,” the second nurse said with a look to the first and then smiled at John’s father.  “But it is a near thing, sir.”

“I don’t mind,” John’s father said and shrugged at the packet and the pen.  “My wife’s done all of the work so far.”

“I like the sound of that, sir,” Chris said and changed John’s diaper without looking.  “Not everyone’s so accommodating with life’s bureaucratic hurdles, right, Riley.”

“I’m sorry to say it’s just part of the process, sir,” Riley said, pulling out the first form.  “And everyone has to do it.”

“You did that so quickly,” John’s mother said, noting Chris’s diapering.

“You’ll get it down, ma’am.  Babies are tougher than they look and practice makes perfect.”

John’s father blinked at his son and turned back to the paperwork.

“These forms mostly just confirm what we already know, sir,” Riley said, pointing where to start.  “It makes John official, confirms you’re his parents and gets him a social security card.”

“So, he can get a passport, pay taxes and take that first international vacation every couple plans for their newborn,” Chris said with a shake of the head.  “Helps him get that secret bank account in Switzerland, right, Riley?”

“Yes.  Chris.  That’s.  Right.  Switzerland,” Riley said with a look.  “I read that half of all newborns are setting up secret accounts on their way to becoming super villains.”

“Do you want to say that in front of the parents, Riley?” Chris said, looking back.  “I mean…”

“The paperwork’s not a big deal,” John’s father said.  “I’m an accountant and it’s just what has to be done.”

“Thank you, sir,” Riley said, making a face at Chris.

“I didn’t even get a social security number until I needed a job,” Chris said, wrapping up little John in a blanket.  “And I think I turned out all right.”

“I don’t think that the standards weren’t quite the same back then, Chris.”

“You’re only three years younger than me, Riley.”

“Yes, but I got a social security card when I was a baby,” Riley said.  “What happened with you?”

Chris sighed and handed little John to his mother.  “He’s looking great, ma’am, but could probably stand a little breakfast.”

“Sounds like a deal,” John’s mother said, lowering her blouse.

“Just another part of life,” Riley said, noting John’s father finishing the first form.  “And thanks again, sir.”

“You bet,” John’s father said, leaning into the pile.  “Piece of cake.”

“Just like that new doctor, Riley,” Chris said, looking past John’s occupied parents and smiling.  “Alex, something?  Did you notice...?”

“Everyone noticed, Chris.  “It was hard to miss.”

“Well, I hope you’re throwing your hat in,” Chris said.  “It’s been a while, right?”

“I had dinner with Jamie last week,” Riley said as both John’s mother and father looked up.  “And…”

“And I think John’s at it again,” Chris said, noticing John’s parents’ looks and pointing to another smile.

The same smile John had five years later as he and his parents waited in an empty classroom.

“You all right there, buddy?” John’s father said with a nudge.  “Feeling a little nervous on the first day?”

“Like you did when you were a kid, right, Dad?”

“That’s right, buddy.”

“But also happy to be here, right, John?” John’s mother said, rubbing his shoulders.  “Starting a great, new adventure.”

John smiled more.

“And yes, I’m happy Alex smiled at me,” they all heard suddenly from the other side of the door.  “That’s kind of the whole point, isn’t it?”

“But you smiled first,” another person said as John’s parents shared a look.  “That’s just sad.”

“I think it was tie,” the first voice said, swinging open the door.  “So, shut up.”

Everybody froze.

“Oh kay,” the other voice said as they then both blinked at John’s big eyes and his parents’ open mouths.  

“You must be John’s kindergarten teachers?” John’s father said into the silence.  “I see you weren’t expecting us.”

“No.  No, we weren’t,” the first voice said, nodding very slowly at John’s father and then mother.  “We’re team teaching, Mr...?”

“Lee.”

“Of course,” the second voice said.

“I’m Riley and this is Chris, and we didn’t know students and parents had been let into the classrooms yet, Mr. Lee,” the first voice said.  “It is quite a surprise to see you.”

“We’re friends with Mrs. Catera,” John’s mother said.  “She’s a neighbor.”

“Of course you know the principal,” Riley said.  “And I am so sorry we took you by surprise.”

“So.  Sorry,” Chris said with a big nod. 

John’s father’s face tightened.

“I’m sorry we took you by surprise too,” John’s mother said, smiling as John’s father shook his head.  “I’m a physical therapist and you never know when a patient is going to sneak up on you like we just did.”

John’s father gave her a look, but Chris and Riley smiled half smiles and then looked down at John. 

“You must be the John Lee we’ve heard so much about,” Riley said, taking a knee and shaking John’s hand.  “You’re just what we were expecting.”

“Even better,” Chris said, kneeling too.  “That’s a beautiful smile.”

John smiled wider.

“People usually assume he’s Asian or plays the guitar with that name,” John’s father said.  “But it’s neither.  He’s just a kid”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Riley said and gave John’s father a look with an even tighter smile.

“Nobody ever does,” John’s mother said and shook her head. 

“And now we all know something about each other,” Chris said with a wink at John’s mother and a nod at John’s father before turning back to the growing rumble in the hallway.  “Which is more than we can say for the rest of your classmates, John.”

“The other students?” John said as he and his parents lost half their smiles.

“That’s right, but don’t worry,” Chris said and looked at John with a bigger smile as Riley nodded to the parents.  “Everybody’s super nervous their first day of school, John, and that is A O K.  Riley and I are going to show you how everything works: the ins, the outs and all abouts and everything in between.  We’ll explain the bathrooms, recess, lunch and how to make it to first grade.”

“That’s a lot of information on the first day,” John’s father said.

“Well, we don’t do it all at once, Mr. Lee,” Riley said and squeezed John’s arm.  “And I know John here can listen, learn and try hard just by the fact that he’s the first student here today, and we’re going to take care of him like he’s one of our own.” 

John’s mother and father took in a breath. 

“Does that sound all right, Mr. and Mrs. Lee?”

John nodded and his mother and father found half their smiles again.

“And you’re going to find out that school is a pretty great place to be, John,” Chris said with a very big nod.  “Yes, there’s a new challenge around every corner, but it gets better every day, and pretty soon you’ll be teaching Riley and me all kinds of stuff too.  Deal?”

“Deal,” John said, his smile wide again.

“Sounds like we’re set then,” Riley said and stood up, seeing John’s mother and father brighten all the way up again too.  “I think Mr. John Lee here’s going to be fine, Mom and Dad.  I’ve got an eye for this kind of thing and he’s looking ready and raring to go.”

“I can see that,” John’s mother said and rubbed John’s shoulders one last time as he stepped away from his parents.

“There’s that first giant step, John,” Chris said and stood up too.  “You’re going to be great.”

“We’ll get him back to you safe and sound at the end of the day, Mr. and Mrs. Lee,” Riley said.  “And he might even return home with an even bigger smile.”

They looked down at John again.

“I’ll see you after school, Mom and Dad.”

John’s mother and father stepped back slowly, his father wiping away a tear. 

And John turned back to Chris and Riley, smiling as the rest of the students came into the class.

“That went pretty fast,” John said, still smiling twelve years later as he stepped to the front of the line.  “And not at all what I expected.”

“Life can move pretty quick,” the Driver and Vehicle Services’ clerk said behind the counter.  “Although I wouldn’t recommend that for the driver’s test, young man.”

“Yes, ma’a…” John started to say, but stopped, his eyes narrowing on the clerk’s nametag.  “I mean, yes, Chris, and my parents have always stressed safety first.”

“Of course they have, young man.  They’re your parents and no doubt very smart people,” Chris said, glancing at the nametag and then grinning at John.  “I certainly hope you keep listening to them as you get older too.”

“I will,” John said, just keeping up his smile

“Good,” Chris said and smiled too.  “So, what can I do for you?  You’re not just standing there looking pretty, are you?”

“No, of course not,” John said, fumbling with a slip of paper in his hand and then holding it out.  “Sorry.  I…  I passed the written test.”

“Nothing to apologize for,” Chris said, looking down at the test, giving John another look, and then noticing a second clerk stepping up to the next station.  “Late night, Riley?”

“The line’s fine, Chris,” Riley said, sitting down without looking back.  “And no, I got home early, not that it’s any of your business.”

“That much fun?” Chris said, turning to face Riley head on. 

“I’m not complaining?” Riley said in a quiet voice.  “I just woke up late this morning is all.”

“Reeeaaally?” Chris said as John looked pointedly away from the clerks.  “Meaning?”

“Meaning, I overslept, not that it’s anybody’s business, most particularly yours.”

“I did introduce the two of you.”

“No, you didn’t, and we didn’t even kiss, okay?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“Yes, you did.  You just didn’t say it,” Riley said and looked right back at Chris.  “We just had some expresso and peach pie, okay?”

“Is that what the youth are calling it these days?”

John laughed until both the clerks turned to him.  “Sorry,” he said and pulled out his phone, flashing it to them.  “Something on the internet.”

Riley gave him a look and then turned it on Chris.

“My bad,” Chris said and looked down at John’s test results, double checking them.  “It look like you passed the written test, Mr. Lee.  Very good.”

“Um, okay,” John said, looking up from his phone and noting that it was only 9:32 am.  “It’s that fast?”

“We aim to please, Mr. Lee,” Riley said, waving forward the next person in line.  “After all we don’t want you here any longer than you have to be.” 

John blinked.

“Plus, we’re fully staffed, it’s a slow day and we mean business,” Chris said, handing John his new permit.  “I’m glad we could help.”

“Um,” John said, taking his still warm permit and turning to look back at the very long line.  “Sounds good.”

“Return when you can eavesdrop better and learn to drive,” Chris said and waved over the next person in line.  “It’s all part of the growing up process, young man.  Okay?”

“Okay,” John said then and again two and a half years later.

“That’s right.  It’s okay, kid.  So, smile.  You should be happy.  You just beat out 25,000 people waiting to get into the second most competitive public university in the United States.”

“Um, yes,” John said, nodding.  “Thank you, and I am… Riley?”

“It’s Chris, John.  Chris.  I’m admission.  Riley’s over there, and is academic advisement.  I’m the better looking one.”

Riley waved to John and mouthed a ‘no.’

“I know it’s a lot to take in, John, but you’re going to meet a lot of new people in the next few weeks, and some of them, like Riley, are actually important.  So, try to keep up, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Thanks for that lovely introduction, Chris, and don’t worry, John, I know that there’s a lot to take in, and you’re doing fine,” Riley said, pointing to a free chair and leaning forward as John sat down.  “I understand Chris has got you situated in Cleveland Hall.  That’s a great dorm, and you’ll be happy to know I have a class schedule for you too.”

“Thank you.  Again.  I appreciate everything the school’s doing at this late date.”

“You’re welcome,” Riley said and handed John a class schedule.  “Unfortunately, you’ve already missed your first Calculus and English classes, and the overall schedule is much earlier in the day than I like to give brand new students, but I think you’ll like the mix of classes based on your major and what you wrote on your application.”

“I’m sure it’ll be great,” John said, nodding to Riley and then Chris.  “You don’t mind if I take a quick minute with it, do you?”  He glanced at the schedule with big eyes.  “Like you said, it’s a lot to take in.”

“Of course,” Riley said.  “I wouldn’t expect otherwise.”

John nodded and turned his full attention to the schedule.

“Huh,” Chris said, waving to and failing to get John’s attention.  “I might have accepted him without the waitlist if I saw that intensity in his application.”

“The first day of school has an amazing way of focusing students,” Riley said, also noting John’s concentration.  “Particularly when admission accepts you on the first day of class, Chris.”

“We accepted him yesterday, the day before classes start,” Chris said and turned to Riley.  “And isn’t this an even bigger night for you and Alex?”

“Shut up,” Riley said, frowning. 

“The third date is a milestone, Riley,” Chris said, snapping his fingers over a still oblivious John.  “You have something big planned, right?”

“Nothing in particular,” Riley said, watching John.  “We’re having dinner at my place, and then whatever happens happens, and is nobody’s business, most particularly yours.”

“Subtle,” Chris said, laughing.  “And you know I practically introduced you two.”

“I’m not expecting anything, and no, you didn’t.”

“You should,” Chris said.  “And, yes I did.”

“You know we’re at work, right?” Riley said and turned from John to Chris.  “And I actually like my job.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to be dull, Riley,” Chris said and nodded to John.  “Plus, this kid’s going to have plenty of college fun once he gets acclimated.  There’s no reason you shouldn’t too.”

“Thanks for the permission.”

“You’re welcome,” Chris said and stepped back as John looked up suddenly.

“Looks good,” John said.  “Thanks, Riley.  That History of Philosophy class looks interesting.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that, John,” Riley said.

“That’s what we aim to do,” Chris said, watching them.

“Good, but I do have one question,” John said.

“Let’s hear it,” Riley said.

“How did I get a schedule when classes have already started?”

“That is unusual,” Riley said.  “But…”

“That’s part of college, John,” Chris said, smiling tightly.  “You’ve got to take the pitches that come to you and get the hits where you can.”

“Excuse me?” John said and turned to Riley.

“Remember Chris works in admission, John,” Riley said.  “They aren’t used to dealing with actual students.”

“Thanks, and that’s not true,” Chris said with a look at Riley and turned to John again.  “You don’t play baseball?”

“Hockey.  I’m from Minnesota.”

“Really?”

“It was on my application.”

“That sounds about right,” Riley said.

“Thanks,” Chris said with another look.  “Still, it is the national past time.”

“For now, and, yes, I’ll take a swing because I really like this schedule,” John said and turned to Riley.  “Thanks again.” 

“You’re welcome, John, and it’s just the beginning.  You want to get everything you can out of college.  Learn a new language, meet different people, try a new hobby and study abroad before you graduate and start your professional life, okay?”

“Really?” Chris said, staring at Riley.  “You don’t think that’s a little much on his first day?”

“I told you there’s more to college than admission, Chris.”

“Okay,” John said and smiled.  “Sounds like a deal.”

“Sounds like we made the right choice,” Chris said with a nod. 

“Yes,” Riley said and smiled too.  “I think you’re going to be just fine.”

“That’s good to hear,” he said, still smiling four years later as he heard two people approach the conference room.

“Time to meet the parents, Riley,” one person said, stopping short of the open door.  “It’s been six months.”

“Thanks, Chris, and I’m so glad you’re making a big deal out it when even Alex’s parents aren’t,” Riley said and stopped too.  “So, can we do an interview for once without the drama?”

“It’s not just dinner.  It’s part of the process.”

“You know we have a job to do, right?”

“I know you’re not thinking straight,” Chris said.  “Meeting the parents is like the job interview for the rest of your life.”

“Well, I’m glad I do this for a living then,” Riley said and sighed.  “And I’m thrilled you’re taking this so seriously.”

“Well, I don’t want you to mess it up by you being you, Riley” Chris said and sighed too.  “You need to wear something nice so you don’t embarrass yourself, okay?”

“Right, and then I have to do that every time I see Alex’s parents.”

“That’s right.  It’s called being an adult,” Chris said.  “You do understand that you’re growing up, right?”

“Shut up,” Riley said.

“Yes, and try not to say that to Alex’s parents,” Chris said.

“Look, I’m ditching the usual weekend Chucks and jeans for something nicer.  Happy?”

“A little, but I was hoping for more,” Chris said.  “I like you guys, you know?”

“I’m so glad I talk to you about my love life.”

“I know,” Chris said.  “It’s because we’re best friends.”

“Whatever,” Riley said.  “Can we do our job now?”

“That’s why we’re here,” Chris said and led Riley into the conference room, waving to John.  “And I imagine we have an excellent candidate here in John Lee, right?”

“I hope so since you prepped him on how to turn his internship into a full time job,” Riley said and smiled a ‘hi’ to John.   

“Don’t listen to Riley, John.  That’s what we both want,” Chris said, noting John’s new charcoal grey suit as he stood up and they all shook hands.  “You’ve done great work with the internship.”

“Yes, and I’m assuming you weren’t eavesdropping on us.”

“I was just focusing on the interview, Riley,” John said, waiting for the others to sit down before he joined them at the conference room table.  “Just like Chris recommended.”

“I see John’s learned from the best,” Chris said and nudged Riley.

“And yet he still needs to get through the interview,” Riley said with a look at Chris before turning to John.  “Even though we know you, we like you and you’ve gone above and beyond for the company.”

“I’m very glad to hear that, Riley,” John said with a nod.  “I enjoy working here.  I’ve learned a lot, know I have a lot more to learn and hope I can make a real difference if I’m ever lucky enough to move past my internship.”

“Where you survived the naked Bert incident?” Chris said.

“That was a day,” John said, not missing a beat.  “But I feel I learned a lot from it.”

“Like what?” Riley said.

“Like nobody wants to see you naked.  No matter how much you work out.

“Too true,” Chris said and laughed.  “I think John might have a place here.”

“Perhaps,” Riley said, but looked right at John.  “But what would you say is your biggest weakness, Mr. Lee.”

“A classic question,” Chris said and turned to look right at John too.

He nodded.  “I would say that I’m still very young and have a lot to learn.  So, I try to listen to those around me as much as possible, and only offer my opinion if I think it will be truly useful.”

“Very nice,” Chris said, but Riley nodded for more.

“Also, if I ever am lucky enough to work here in a salaried position I hope I would be respectful, patient and as honest with my possible future colleagues as I try to be with myself,” John said, turning to look right at Riley.  “And even then I’m not sure I wouldn’t flub it up.”

“Subtle, John,” Riley said and turned to Chris.  “Real subtle.”

“I liked it,” Chris said and nudged Riley again.  “It was appropriate, just cocky enough for someone who’s interned here for a year and yet still solid advice for this and all other kinds of situations.”

“Shut up,” Riley said and sighed again.

“I hope that’s a good sign,” John said, holding his breath.

“Yes,” Riley said and nodded.  “You’ll fit right in, despite Chris’s help.” 

“Great,” John said, breathing again.  “Because I’m really sick of waiting tables.”

“Me too, John,” Chris said.  “You’re a terrible waiter.”

Riley nodded.

“Thank you,” John said and smiled.  “And sorry about that spilled soup.”

“It’s all good,” John heard, nodding five years later.  “Your work and credit history are very impressive, Mr. Lee.”

“Thank you, and please call me John.”

“Only if you call me Chris, and this is Riley, the real estate lawyer.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” John said, giving the two of them a look and shaking their hands.

“The paperwork is all in order for the condo,” Riley said.  “But you’re welcome to look it over yourself?”

“Thank you.  My father said I should double check the details about the homeowners’ insurance.”

“I’m glad to see someone take this seriously,” Riley said with a side glance at Chris.  “The insurance information is on pages three and four of the first section, John.”

“Thanks,” he said, turning the pages.  “And it’s a big investment, at least for me, and I want to make sure everything’s in order.”

“Very good,” Riley said.  “And I don’t think you’ll see any problems with the insurance information, John.”

“I imagine so, Riley,” John said.  “But like I said, it’s a big investment and something my dad recommended.  He’s an accountant.”

“Of course,” Riley said and smiled.  “Take your time.”

“Thank you,” John said, his eyes narrowing on the third page.

“Happy to get paid hourly, huh?” Chris said to Riley, noticing John’s focus. 

“I’m not complaining,” Riley said with a shrug.  “Not that a few minutes make any difference.”

“Aren’t you glad I recommended real estate law all those years ago?”

“When you actually gave me a good piece of advice?”

“I give you good advice all the time, Riley,” Chris said and leaned in closer.  “That’s why I’m asking when you and Alex are going to make it official.”

“Official?” Riley said, talking quietly as John turned the page. 

“People want to know, including your parents.”

“Alex and I’ve lived together for the last three years, Chris.  What do you want from us?”

“Are the two of you thinking of diamonds?  Because I understand they’re kind of controversial nowadays.”

“You just heard that?”

“Sapphire is apparently a popular substitute.”

“Alex and I are more traditional,” Riley said. 

“And apparently unethical?” Chris said.

“Shut up,” Riley said, double checking to see that John was still going over the contract.  “You wouldn’t be looking forward to a second marriage if you listened to your partner the first time.”

“That’s was youthful exuberance, although we did get some good travel in,” Chris said.  “Did you know they invented agriculture in Turkey?”

“You’ve mentioned it,” Riley said.  “Along with what a good friend you are, about a thousand times.”

“I am,” Chris said and smiled.  “It’s why we’re selling real estate and living large together.”

“I guess some things never go out of style,” Riley said as John looked up.  “Like diligence, right, John?”

He nodded.  “Yes, everything looks in order.”

“I’m glad we got everything right,” Chris said and smiled.  “It’s what we do.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” John said and smiled too, pulling out a pen.  “So, where do I sign?”

“Only in about a million places, John,” Riley said and spread out the contract.

“Congratulations,” Chris said.  “You just made the best decision in your life.”

John thought the same thing as he smiled and kissed his bride a year later.  “I did just make the best decision in my life, Laura.”

“You too?” she said and kissed him back before noticing their guests.  “But maybe we could continue this a little later, huh, hon.  Like alone.  In private.”

“Right,” he said and did a double take at Chris and Riley.  “Um, didn’t I buy my condo from you?”

“Yes, and we’re sorry.  We know your mother in law, John,” Chris said.  “She’s in real estate too, and you know, it’s a small world, and she said you’d be able to help Riley.”

“Um,” John said as Laura took his hand.

“Don’t worry,” Chris said and Riley nodded.  “We both got you something very nice on your registry.”

“Oookay,” John said, his mouth dropping as Laura smiled.  “We...”

“Riley just wants to know how you chose your honeymoon destination and is too shy to ask,” Chris said.  “Alex wants Disneyworld and I’m telling them that might not be the best idea, and again, Laura’s mother said you wouldn’t mind.”

“Um…  Okay… Yes.  I’d say…”

“You can’t be romantic with the mouse looking over your shoulder, Riley,” Laura said, squeezing John’s hand and stepping forward.  “Kids and romance don’t go together, at all, at least not for newlyweds.”

Riley turned to her.

“We’re going to Belize,” John said next to her.  “Sun, wildlife and the best scuba diving in the hemisphere.  It’s also beautiful and extremely romantic, very much what a honeymoon should be”

“That’s right,” Laura said, winking at him.  “And they speak English.”

“You seem very happy,” Riley said, turning from them to look at the rest of the reception.  “But it must have taken you forever to plan this.”

“It’s mostly just a big party, Riley,” Laura said.  “If you’ve ever had a party you can have a wedding.”

“That’s what I said,” Chris said and poked Riley.  “But Riley and Alex are overwhelmed and won’t ask for help.”

“So, Chris thinks asking for us is charming,” Riley said, pulling Chris away.  “My apologies.”

Laura looked back at John, and then leaned in very close to Riley. “It’s just four events: that’s it; the rehearsal, the wedding, the reception and a brunch the next day, and only if you really feel like it,” she said.  “And the best part is you can hire somebody to do most of the planning and work, making it that much easier.”

“Huh,” Riley said, in a quiet voice.  “Alex mentioned that yesterday.”

“And I told you about that last week,” Chris said in a loud voice and gave Riley a look.  “Practically word for word.

“And there are a lot of books on weddings, Riley,” Laura said, ignoring Chris.  “Just buy one and you and your partner can figure it out.”  She shrugged.  “That’s how we did it.  Right, John?”

“Right,” John said, pulling Laura away from them.  “And I bet Chris here would be more than happy to help, Riley.  Particularly with that 6% commission he got me on last year.  Right, Chris?”

Riley laughed.

“Right,” Chris said with reddening cheeks.  “But it was buyer’s market then, John.”

“You’ll be fine,” John said, smiling as Laura told him the same thing three years later, and a nurse handed him a tiny, scrunched up newborn.  “She’s all yours, Dad.”

“Right,” John said, nestling the baby into his chest and losing his breath.  “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Laura: we’re parents.”

“Yep, that’s what pregnancy’s all about, you idiot,” she said, smiling and crying at the same time.

He laughed.  “That makes sense,” he said, matching Laura’s glow and handing her the baby.

“There’s your next twenty years, John,” one nurse said as another made sure Laura had a good grip on the baby.  “Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Chris, and…”

“Riley,” the second nurse said, keeping an eye on the baby and Laura.

“Of course,” John said and laughed with a look before turning back to the baby.  “And thanks for all the help.  I don’t think we could have done this alone.”

“We couldn’t have,” Laura said, looking into the baby’s eyes.  “Not in a million years.  No matter what my husband thinks.”

“It took us a while to get it down too, Laura,” Chris said and nodded to Riley.  “But this was textbook compare to the first time, right?”

Riley ignored Chris and wiped off Laura’s forehead.

“You weren’t here 30 years ago, were you?” John said, squinting at Chris.  “You seem familiar.”

“I hope I don’t look that old, John,” Chris said and smiled.  “Although, maybe Riley.”

“Shut up, Chris,” Riley said, looking up.  “And come on, John, I told you I’m getting married soon.  How old do you think I am?”

“Right,” John said and blushed, shaking his head.  “I’m sorry.  It’s been a crazy week.”

“And not just for you,” Chris said, laughing.  “Riley’s getting married this weekend.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks.  My parents just flew in,” Riley said, coaxing the baby away from Laura.  “But I tell myself it’s just a big party with a minister.”

“Um.  Yes.  Congratulations,” Laura said with a raised eyebrow at the nurses, and then gave John a look.

“You get used to it, hon,” John said, sharing the look with Laura and then turning to Riley and holding out his arms for the baby.  “You must be very excited, Riley.”

“More than you know,” Chris said, taking John’s arm and steering him to the door.  “I feel like it’s taken forever.”

“What?” John said, watching the baby as Chris led him away.  “I can’t hold her again.”

“You will, hon, for like twenty years, but first they have to clean her and me up,” Laura said, waving to him.  “We’re still kind of messy.”

“But I like it here,” John said, his face turning down. 

“Your wife’s right,” Riley said, shooing him away.  “Doctor’s instructions, okay?”

“The doctor didn’t mention that,” John said, turning to Chris.

“It’s in the fine print,” Riley said, playing with the baby’s fingers.  “We’re going to run a bunch of standard tests, but everything’s looking good.”

“Good,” Laura said and turned back to John.  “Now go call my parents, then yours, and all our friends and relatives, and tell them all the good news, okay?”

“Do I have enough time for that?” John said, looking at Riley.

“You do, John,” Chris said, nodding to the door.  “Then you’ll see your darling daughter in the nursery and about 60 minutes after that you can meet your wife in her room.  Okay?  She just needs to recover a bit from making a human being.”

“Right,” John said, blinking hard and noticing the baby’s smile.  He laughed.

“That’s just…”

“Gas, I know,” John said and turned to Chris and Riley.  “I remember.”

“What?” they both said and looked back at him.

“Honey?” Laura, giving John a look too.

“Don’t worry,” John said then, and fifteen years later, looked up and smiled.  “I’m just taking it all in.”

“We’re sorry for your loss, Mr. Lee,” the first of the two lawyers said.

John’s face straightened out.

“We can only imagine what you’re going through, sir,” the second lawyer said.

“I didn’t expect her to die so soon, but…” John said and stopped, rereading the end of the note.  ‘Thanks for making my life worth living, John.  You made me proud.  Now keep doing the same for you and your family, and look after your dad.  He’ll need it.  I love you.  Mom.’  He looked up and smiled again.  “She had a good life, and always understood that stuff happens: that we all die; even her.”

Laura squeezed his hand.

“We’re glad to hear you say that, sir,” the first lawyer said.  “Your father wasn’t as happy with your mother’s last wishes.”

“You mentioned that she had some unusual requests,” Laura said, taking in a breath.  “We’re not talking about anything shocking here, are we?”

“No, ma’am,” the second lawyer said, flashing them a tablet.  “You know your mother enjoyed life, right, Mr. Lee.”

“Yes, and it’s John.”                    

“Good, and I’m Chris and this is Riley.”

Laura did a double take.

“I told you, you get used to it, hon,” John said and shrugged, turning to the lawyers.  “What did my Mom have in mind, Chris?”

“A big party.”

“Of course,” John said, nodding and then sharing a look with Laura.  “And?”

“And that was a big surprise to your father, Mr. Lee.  I mean, John,” Riley said.  “She, your mother, also wants you and your father to use the obituary she wrote for herself, and then she wants you, your wife and your father to make several toasts that she’s also written.  She has some specific things she wants you to say to certain people.”

“Of course,” John said and shook his head, smiling.  “That sounds about right.”

“I assume they’re mostly ridiculous requests, Riley?” Laura said.

“You knew your mother-in-law fairly well, Laura?”

“She was kind of an open book, Chris.”

“That was my impression too,” Riley said.

“Dad always thought she’d change,” John said.  “Not that he wanted her any different.”

“She also left you and your father a fairly substantial amount of money,” Riley said.  “Family money.”

“Right,” John said and shrugged.

“Here’s where people usually smile, John,” Chris said.

“I suppose so,” he said, who glanced at Laura and then turned to both lawyers.  “I already knew about that money, though, Chris, and I’m happy to take it, but I’m also lucky enough that I already live a comfortable life with pretty much everything I ever wanted.”

“Kids, house, travel and a job you like,” Laura said, squeezing John’s hand again.  “Your mom was proud of what you’d accomplished and where we were going.”

John looked at her, still smiling, but swallowed.  “I’ll miss her.”

“I know,” Laura said, smiling back.  “She was full of life.”

“She was.”

“It’s nice to see you had such nice thoughts about your mother, John, and she you,” Riley said.  “My partner and I are about to have our first child, and I can only hope she feels that way about us in forty years.”

John nodded again, but didn’t say anything.

“Your mother also mentioned a granddaughter,” Chris said, giving Riley a look.

“The will’s old, Chris.  We also have a son,” John said and smiled again.  “Eight and five.”

“Good combination,” Chris said.

“They’re a pain in the butt,” John said, but smiled more.  “They take up all our time and have prevented us from having a third for the last five years.”

Laura smiled too.

“Sounds like fun,” Chris said, nudging Riley, who swallowed hard.

“Don’t worry,” John said with a big nod.  “It’s all good.”

“You don’t hear that from a lot of people in your position, John.”

“You already said that, Chris,” John said and still smiled 51 years later.  “So, where’s Riley?”

“Uh,” Chris said and turned to John with a look.  “Riley will be here in a few minutes, John, after finalizing the treatment schedules I mentioned.”

“Of course,” John said and tried to pick up the glass of water in front of him.

“I’m impressed with your attitude, John,” Chris said, steadying his shaky hands and helping him take a sip.  “Not a lot of people would say, ‘It’s all good,’ when they have only 24 hours left.”

“I’ve had a good life, Chris,” John said, putting down the glass.  “What more do I need?”

Chris nodded, not saying anything.

“You could continue the kidney treatments, Mr. Lee,” Riley said, coming into the room.  “I’ve scheduled one for you in 45 minutes if you change your mind.”

“I appreciate that, but I know it’s my time and I’ve got a plan,” John said, waving off Riley.  “My family’s coming to wish me happy birthday today, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life with them.”  He smiled.  “You can’t beat that.”

“I guess not, Mr. Lee,” Riley said, grabbing the box of tissues.

“It’s John, Riley.  Like it’s always been.”

Chris stared at him.  “You should forgive Riley here, John.  Their second baby is a handful.”

John laughed.  “I thought it was easier the second time around,” he said.  “And congratulations.  I didn’t know you had a second.”

“Thank you,” Riley said, raising an eyebrow.  “And that’s what I’ve heard about the second too, but it’s been three months and we’re still not there yet.”

“You will be,” John said.  “My wife and I didn’t get it together until our son was six months old.”

“Told you,” Chris said.

“You don’t even have kids,” Riley said.

“We’re thinking about it.” Chris said and adjusted John’s IV even though nothing was wrong with it. 

“Please,” Riley said.  “You just started dating Tracy.”

“Then you’ve got a way to go, Chris,” John said and laughed.  “Might not want to say too much yet.”

“That’s Chris’s life story, John, always talking.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” John said and nodded to both of them.  “I’ve always appreciated the talkers, Riley.”

“That’s because you only just met Chris,” Riley said.

“Feels like I’ve known you a little longer,” John said and flashed a smile, squeezing Chris’s hand.  “Not that I’m complaining.”

“I guess I’m not either,” Riley said and smiled too.

“Life has been pretty good, even with the cancer and now kidney failure.”

“Yes, sir,” Riley said.

“I’m glad to hear that, John,” Chris said.

“I’ve been lucky,” John said, looking past them.  “I’ve made lots of mistakes, of course, but most of them were my own choice and none of them were too stupid.  I even accepted that at least some of them were my own fault.  And I was just smart enough to work hard, marry a smarter woman and take the time to enjoy my family.”  He smiled again.  “We made a nice home, traveled some and figured out how to raise our kids without killing each other.  I think, or at least hope, that I’ve done more good than bad and left the world a better place.”

Riley and Chris both nodded.

John turned to them still smiling.  “Thank you for everything, both of you.  I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Chris and Riley both gave him another look.

“You’re welcome,” Riley said finally, swallowing hard and tapping Chris on the shoulder.

“We were happy to help, John,” Chris said and followed Riley out the door as Laura and the rest of John’s family came in.

John smiled the biggest smile he could manage as Laura sat down next to him and the rest of the family smiled back.

“You know,” he said, looking at them.  “It’s been a beautiful life.”

 

 

 

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