It starts off with a simple school assignment.
Ashley comes home in a huff and throws her backpack down on Henry's bed.
"Hey, short fry, what's up?" Henry asks.
Ashley doesn't say anything, just digs around in her backpack and hands him a piece of paper. It's a homework assignment asking the student to create a family tree. The only box Ashley has filled in is the one for mother.
"Oh," Henry says.
Ashley flops down on the bed next to her backpack. "I can't do this. I don't know any of the answers. Everybody else has dads and grandparents and some of them even have great grandparents." She huffs and then looks at Henry's face. "I'm sorry. You can't even fill in any of the boxes."
"It's okay. When I had to do this, your mom sent a note to my teacher, so I didn't have to. She'd probably write a note for you, too," Henry says.
"I must have grandparents, though, right? I mean, my mom must of had a mom and a dad?"
Henry shrugs. "Maybe the Big Guys knows. He's been here forever."
They find the Big Guy in the kitchen, making blueberry pie.
"What is this supposed to be?" the Big Guy asks, looking at the paper, perplexed.
"It's a family tree," Ashley says, as she sneaks a bit of the pie dough into her mouth.
At the Big Guy's still confused expression, Henry adds, "It's a chart of your family. Your parents and grandparents."
"So, mom is my mom," Ashley says, "but I can't fill in any of the other boxes. I don't have any family."
"Unf, what is Henry, then?" the Big Guy asks.
"He's my annoying brother, but not really, so it doesn't count."
"Does Henry look out for you? Does he help you when you need help? Does he tease you?" the Big Guy asks.
"Yeah," Ashley says, drawing out the word.
"This chart is a pedigree, like you were an animal. This isn't family, Unf," the Big Guy says. "Henry is your family."
"I still have to do the assignment," Ashley pouts.
"Maybe we could make you a different kind of family tree," Henry says.
"With you and the Big Guy and Uncle James and Declan?"
"Yeah," Henry replies. "Let get some paper and some markers."
Ten minutes later, they are set up at a table in the kitchen, while the Big Guy rolls out pie crust.
"So Henry is my brother, and mom is mom and Uncle James is my uncle, so does that make you my dad?" Ashley asks the Big Guy.
"Why do you think I would be your father?"
"You pack my lunch and make sure my shoes are tied before I go outside and you tell me stories before bedtime," Ashley says.
"Humans do things differently, but when I was young, those were things uncles did," the Big Guy says.
"Uncle James doesn't do those things."
"He brings us presents when he comes to visit," Henry says, and then turns around in his seat to ask the Big Guy, "Did you have uncles?"
"I did," he says.
"Did you have a dad?" Ashley asks.
"I did," the Big Guy says again.
"What was he like?" Henry asks, and both he and Ashley turn around to look at the Big Guy intently.
The Big Guy rolls out another crust. "We are different from humans," he says, still working the dough. "I grew up with my mother and my uncles. My father came to see me for my birthday or on feast days to bring me treats."
"Sort of like Uncle James," Ashley says when it seems like the Big Guy isn't going to say anything else.
"Unf, perhaps. Fathers bring treats and spoil their children when they see them. Uncles raise children to do their homework and not steal pie dough," the Big Guy says as Henry licks his finger with a guilty look on his face.
"It's really good pie dough?" Henry says, trying for an innocent looking smile.
"Unf." The Big Guy starts fitting the pie dough to the pan as Ashley sorts through markers to find the one she wants. Ashley writes her name in the middle of the paper and then writes Henry's next to it. It doesn't end up looking like the chart that the teacher provided. There are no forking lines and symmetrical boxes, just twisting lines connecting Ashley to her family.
"You should draw leaves around the names," Henry says. "You know, because it's a tree."
Ashley nods and sets to work decorating around the names. She doesn't even complain when Henry adds a bird perched on his own leaf.
"Unf, that is very nice," the Big Guy says.
"You'll be my younger uncle and Uncle James will be my older uncle," Ashley says, and then labels the lines accordingly. By the times she's finished, both pies have been put in the oven.
"You should go show your mother," the Big Guys says, and Ashley runs off to do just that.
Her mom looks at the multicolored chart with tears in her eyes. "Oh, Ashley," she says before sweeping Ashley up into her arms. "This is perfect."
"The Big Guy and Henry helped me."
"May I keep it?" Helen asks.
"I have to turn it in for class," Ashley replies.
"Perhaps I could fill out the teacher's chart for you and we could keep this one here, just for us?"
"Do you know who is supposed to go in the boxes?" Ashley asks.
"I do. When I was a baby, my father had a genealogical chart commissioned. It's in our archives. Come on, I'll show it to you," her mom says, and takes Ashley's hand.
The archives are cool and dry, full of long tables and boxes of records. Her mom pulls out one of the oversized drawers and retrieves a sheet of vellum almost as old as she is.
"This is me," her mom says pointing out her own name at the bottom of the chart. "Your grandfather, Gregory. He was an amazing physician. Your grandmother, Patricia. I don't remember her very well, but my father always said she was gentle and kind."
Ashley stares at the names under her mother's finger, trying to imagine the actual people that those inked letters represented. "There are so many names."
"It is a very thorough chart. Ten generations of Magnuses."
"There weren't many Magnuses on my chart, just you and me," Ashley says, uncertainly.
"I know, but the chart you made is accurate, as well." Her mom smiles and runs a hand over her hair.
"I'm glad you aren't upset. The Big Guy thought you would like it, but I was worried that you would be upset because it wasn't really our family."
"Oh, Ashley, sweetheart, family is what you make it, and everyone on that chart of yours is your family, whether or not they are actually related to you."
Ashley lets her mom hug her, even if it is a little too tight. "How will you fill out the chart for my teacher? We can't tell them that your dad was born in 1829," Ashley says.
Her mom smiles. "Don't worry, I'll make sure there isn't anything we shouldn't share with the outside world. We'll write in the right names and just change the dates."
"Thanks, mom. I'm glad you're my family." This time, her mother hugs her even tighter.