"But I'm not thankful for turkey, Baf." Finn stands listlessly by the refrigerated case in the grocery store and looks up at John with big, mournful eyes.
John is not fooled for a second. "No waffles for Thanksgiving dinner."
"But Baffa . . ."
"I love Cheerios. I'm thankful for Cheerios!"
"Not happening." John squints as he eyes the turkeys and tries to ignore the fact that there's Christmas music playing. How big a turkey does a person need to feed eight people, anyway?
"God," Finn says, sighing heavily. "You're totally unfair."
"I can live with that," John says, picking up a turkey in his hand and hefting it as if to throw it toward baked goods.
"You can live with what?" asks Rodney, barreling out of aisle three with Merrie stuffed in the child seat of the cart.
"YIE" she yells happily. "YIIIIIIE."
"I've banned waffles for Thanksgiving."
Rodney sniffs. "As it should be."
"You, too," Finn says, voice thick with betrayal. "You, too."
Rodney narrows his eyes in Finn's direction, looking terribly confused. "What are you even . . . "
"What do you think, 12, 17lbs? 23?" John interrupts.
"YIE!" says Merrie. "PUPKIE YIE"
John tilts his head. "Is she saying pumpkin pie?"
Rodney looks from Finn to Merrie and then at John. "Our child's first words are not Pumpkin Pie."
"PUPKIE YIE," says Merrie.
John can feel a smirk tugging at his lips. "I think they are."
"She's yelling nonsense words," Rodney says, flapping a hand. "You know I've been working with her on 'carburetor'."
John picks a 25lb turkey and heaves it into the cart. "You're probably right."
"Of course I'm right."
John consults the list in his hand. "We have the green beans, the potatoes, the yams, the cranberry sauce. We'll pick up some rolls and then it's all done but the . . . " He throws at look at Merrie who giggles happily, throws up her arms and yells, "PUPKIE YIE!"
Rodney rolls his eyes. "Very droll."
"Daddy?" says Finn, propping his chin up in the cart directly in front of Rodney.
"I'm thankful for ice cream."
"Yes, and you can have all the ice cream you want on your pie. But you will be eating turkey and vegetables first, or I'll sit you next to Aunt Laura."
Finn pouts. "No fair."
Rodney's expression softens. "Go get some cinnamon rolls, we'll bake them for breakfast."
"Score," says Finn, disappearing quickly into the throng of pre-Thanksgiving Day shoppers.
"Soft touch," says John fondly.
Rodney pinks up under his gaze. "Yes, well, I remember what it was like to . . . anyway, that's neither here nor there, I just . . . I like cinnamon rolls, it was always my plan that . . . oh shut up."
John grins at him.
"Pupkie yie?" asks Merrie quizzically.
"Pupkie yie," John says solemnly, nodding his head.
Rodney ruffles her hair, which makes her squawk and push at his hand with both of hers. "Beer?"
"Brad's bringing it."
"What are the Brennemans bringing?"
John lifts a shoulder, lets it fall. "Probably waffles. They know our kid."
Rodney absently tries to smooth Merrie's hair back into place. It's a losing battle, considering the Sheppard cowlicks she inherited from her father, but John admires him for trying. "So we're done here?"
"We're done," John says, and steps forward to flick an imaginary piece of lint from Rodney's shoulder.
But Rodney's wise to his machinations, to his need to touch, even in public, to ground himself from time to time. He grabs John's elbow as John moves to pull back, yanks him closer and brushes a kiss to his temple. "Go find our son," he says softly, and John ducks his head, walks off toward dairy, meets Finn on the way and tosses him over his shoulder, much to Finn's shrieking delight.
"Feeling thankful?" John asks Finn, who's giggling with every step John takes.
"Thank you, Baffa!" Finn says, and he drums on John's back with a roll of cinnamon buns and one perfect fist, making John's whole body vibrate with thankfulness, a little bit of 'this kid, I can't even', and a whole lot of love.