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One Step Closer to my Family

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Tootsie Mega-Girl had been awake for a few seconds when he realized his waking up was in no way spontaneous. Indeed, his wife had been holding his shoulder with her cold, metal hand and shaking it in a way that to her felt very natural and smooth, but to him was so rough it was nearly violent. He blinked.

“What’s it, then, darlin’?” He said, muffling a yawn behind his fist. He rubbed his eyes and the red numbers of the alarm clock stared at him too brightly. “Mega-Girl, it’s six in the morning.”

Tootsie Mega-Girl,” his wife replied with what he had learned to recognize in her as excitement, the particular way her cogs whirred soundly, “I have finalized the construction of my project. I placed it in the feeding area for your inspection.

Sluggishly, he pulled his feet to the edge of the bed where they fell numbly to the ground with a soft thump. He did not think he would ever really impart on Mega-Girl the importance humans accorded to slumber, though she would usually put herself in sleep mode for his sake and let him fall asleep at her bosom every night. And if she woke before him every day, literal clockwork, she would usually leave their bedroom all on her own to attend to her own errands on the farm they had built together on his home planet. This was unusual and Tootsie Mega-Girl had never been the man for the job when it came to solving puzzles. That would have been her expertise, and so he enquired.

“What project?”

My analysis tells me that seventy-two percent of matrimonies raise offspring of their own. I initiated our compliance to this standard of existence.


She was as happy as could be, more so than usual, and he was smiling broadly as he followed her into the kitchen, though he had no idea what the fancy words she had used were supposed to mean. Someone was sitting at the breakfast table he had never met before. It was a robot child who possessed the same hair as Mega-Girl, only with his facial features (if just more youthful and girlish) recreated in a mask of metal that covered her hulk. Mega-Girl stood behind it and the face lit up with animation when she flicked a switch behind a strand of hair and closed a small door in the steel skull she covered with white hair again.

Initiating Nova software… Initiating Carefree and Innocent Child personality model… Initiating Free Will Module… Launch complete. Your new Nova entity is now up to date. Congratulations on your newly found parenthood.

“W-Wha’? Mega-Girl, what’s happenin’?”

The child jumped to her feet and paid him a bright smile. She offered a hand for him to shake, and her touch was as strong as Mega-Girl’s.

Hello, Father,” her metallic voice told him. “My name is Nova. I am content to meet you at last. My databases have been informed of your major personality traits and futile human preferences.

Tootsie stared at her, not quite sure if he should believe it. His heart warmed up with joy.

Have a pleasant twenty-four hours of male progenitor,” Mega-Girl said with unveiled enthusiasm.

And, scooping up his new daughter in his arms, Tootsie Mega-Girl spent the most formidable first Father’s Day of his life.

Tom stared at the ceiling, weary before having even stood up. He had dreaded this day for weeks − ever since Mother’s Day, which had been even worse. He knew he would have to face his son, as he did every morning, and more than ever he felt incapable of being the father Tim needed him to be. It was a terrible injustice the boy already deprived of a mother now had a poor excuse of a father left in charge. If only Tom had had a sharper eye that day. If he had been more careful, more prudent. Or if he had died instead, Jane would have led a better home alone than he did. In every reality, he would have traded his life for Jane’s if he could. Groaning, he pulled himself out of bed.

Tim had made him toast shaped like dinosaurs, which was a feat of carving in a house that contained no cutter shaped that way. Years ago, they had bought on a whim car-shaped cookie cutters for Tim who back then would beg for everything to be cut up that way, toast, cookies, cake, eggs, waffles… They had not seen the light of day since the crash, laying still in the bottom drawer where Tom did not have to see them every time he searched for cutlery. Tim had brewed coffee, too, though Tom could see by the color of it that it was far too light for his taste − not that he would say a word.

“Aw, thanks, kid,” he said. “You’re such a good guy.”

“Happy Father’s Day!” Tim said and for a moment, he sounded almost as cheerful as Tom knew him to be. It was a glimpse of the past far too rare these days. “I got you this.”

He gave Tom a little box he had wrapped with a sheet of paper Tom recognized as a drawing his son had made. It was the landscape of their last family vacation on the East Coast and it was, for an eight year old, not too shabby at all. Inside the box, he found a watch. It was dark red and bulky, an electronic watch, the sort with a dozen buttons Tom did not know what to do with and a screen telling him the time where there should be needles. He blinked and made himself smile. His son was staring at him expectantly.

“Thanks so much,” he said. “Woah. So many options, that’s… Thanks!”

Tim’s face fell and Tom knew he had failed him once more. His heart throbbed uncomfortably. Jane would have known how to lighten the mood. She had been the one who handled all the courtesies.

“You don’t like it.”

“Of course I like it,” Tom protested. “It’s a watch. Tells you the time. That’s as useful as can be. Here, I’ll put it on.”

But even tying it around his left wrist was not enough to convince his son, who glared at the old watch already around his right one, the analog one. When he had turned twelve, his father had gifted him this one and Tom had never stopped wearing it. He did not like to get rid of old habits or possessions for no reason.

“You’re just saying that,” Tim said. “The moment I go, you’re gonna take it off. You don’t like it.”

“Look,” Tom said, trying to compromise, “It’s a great gift. It’s a beautiful watch. It looks… a bit complicated, but I’ll just read the instructions and…”

“Instructions?” Tim cried out. “Instructions for a watch? You just slap it around your wrist, Dad, it’s simple! Why can’t you ever just try anything new?”

He stood up abruptly and Tom felt his heart shatter into pieces one more time. Couldn’t even manage something as basic, as simple as taking a gift. Even that, he had to spoil.

“It’s not… simple… for me,” he tried to say.

But he wasn’t talking about the watch anymore, and it sat there loose around his wrist, half fastened while Tim lost once more all hope in his father.

“You never let anything change!” Tim accused him. “But it has and you have to find new things to make do and… Ugh, forget it!”

He raced back upstairs, jumping two stairs at a time and slamming his bedroom’s door so hard behind him the air shook throughout the entire house. Tom sat frozen in place at the breakfast table. Slowly, he unfastened the new watch. His head sank between his folded arms and he let out the deepest sigh.

Jack Bauer Dikrats had never been spoiled for Father’s Day, though he had never had a bad one either. Every year, kids and mother gathered together what small savings they could spare to gift him something thoughtful, made him a nice meal at home, and let him have his pick of activities for the afternoon. It was a small and modest celebration for a father who did not ask for much either and it was the one day of the year he knew he count feel some pride in himself. The one flaw in the plan, as always, was the second father of the house, the one who would have much rather not shared the spotlight, the man who had half raised him and yet wanted nothing to do with him at times. And for that fact, Jack Bauer was glad to have him around after all. It was impossible to feel too prideful when one had Titty Mitty for a father in law.

“Helluva lot of dogs ’round here,” Titty Mitty commented disdainfully. “What’re those people doin’? Back in my days, dogs were leashed.”

The day was bright with summer already and Slippery When Wet had packed the most delightful picnic Jack Bauer could have imagined − with double and triple servings for their son should he want them. The children had been surprisingly well behaved, too. He did not think he had heard them bicker so much as once the entire morning and even now that they had arrived at the park, they were playing fetch with the dog in perfect merriness together with their mother while Jack Bauer kept Titty Mitty company, who could no longer stand long enough to partake.

“It’s a dog park, Dad,” Jack Bauer explained. “People come here with their dogs, just like us. Look, Dysentery’s going around these parts.”

He pointed at their golden retriever who was galloping across the large expanse of the lawn to go fetch a wooden stick Mouthface had thrown particularly far. She was the star player of the softball team at school and filled Jack Bauer with pride. He’d had quite the throw himself, but all hopes of a scholarship had been squashed the same moment the little girl had showed her face. In a way, it was only fair she would have inherited his inclination.

“Dog park, dog park,” Titty Mitty grumbled. “No one ever asked me what I wanted for Father’s Day.”

“Yes we did,” Jack Bauer corrected. Titty Mitty was moody and forgetful on the best of days. He patted his lap. “We asked you last month what you wanted for Father’s Day, you said a pack of cigars and to be left alone at home. This morning we still asked if you wanted to come with and you said, ’What, you’re not gonna leave me all alone on Father’s Day, are ya?’, and that’s why you’re here.”

Titty Mitty muttered to himself moodily. He was just about to ask something when Jack Bauer produced one of the cigars from his pocket, ready in advance for this very moment, and he took it reluctantly to light it.

“Thank you,” he said coldly. He stared at the family playing with the dog. Slippery When Wet burst out laughing when Craphole pretended to dance with it and he snorted affectionately. “You know, I did somethin’ right when I made that lil one. She’s a lot, but she got a heart of gold and I wouldn’t want no other daughter in the world.” He gave Jack Bauer a sly look in corner, frowning. “Though I can’t say I care for her taste in men.”

Jack Bauer leaned back comfortably against the bench. He smiled. On such a lovely day, he didn’t have it in him to fight for his honor − which was worthless in the first place. He wrapped his arm around Titty Mitty’s shoulder.

“You know, Dad,” he said, “I could’ve gotten a far worse bonus dad. I’m not mad it ended up being you.”

Titty Mitty tensed up at first, but relented. His cigar was smelling rancid. Jack Bauer would never understand what drew him to them, but then he supposed there was a lot he would never understand about the man as a whole. He was fine with that.

“All things considered,” Titty Mitty said very slowly, weighing his words carefully. “Coulda been worse, I s’pose. You’re just an idiot ; you coulda been a wifebeater or a murderer.”

Jack Bauer grinned broad. This was as good as affection coming from his father in law.

“Right back at you, Dad,” he said and turned back to keep watching fondly the rest of his family.

Bill told himself compromises had to be reached, and with low expectations in mind, there was no way to be disappointed. It was only one day, after all, and there were no surprises. Before Sylvia had even moved in, he had let his daughter know this was the plan. The two of them had met before and although Alice had been on her phone more than he’d cared for, there had been no obvious coldness or clash like she was prone to in the past few years closer to the divorce. Polite and slightly distant was the best he could hope for.

“Hey, Dad,” Alice said with some awkwardness as she passed the threshold. “Hey, Sylvia.”

College had made her positively radiant and Bill smiled more warmly than he had in months. She was beautiful, and more importantly she looked happy to be here, and that in itself was the greatest gift he could have received.

“Well, come on in, sweetie,” he told her. “Make yourself right at home.”

He made tea as they sat and caught up. Alice was sinking under the massive amount of work her studies required, but it was a labor of love and he had never seen her so entranced with anything before. She told him about every class, every professor, notable students she had met although, she underlined, things were going great with Deb and it ’wasn’t like that’ with the others. Bill had stopped hoping for a breakup and had started telling himself that it was better to prepare himself for the possibility that it might just never come. He could deal with that. So long as Alice came first in his life, there was a lot he could endure. Even Deb.

Sylvia was doing her absolute best, Bill knew. It took effort to be friendly without being pushy, supportive without sounding insincere, but she balanced it all perfectly. He had admired this about her for several years, even before they had started seeing each other. Sylvia was the proof that things could get better no matter how dire they seemed. Alice’s good cheer today was just the cherry on top.

“Got you these,” she said and slid a few hastily wrapped gifts across the table. “Happy Father’s Day.”

For a few years, she had gifted him funny socks and this year made no exception, this time with patterns reminiscent of New York City. Another gift was a book she promised she knew he would like and though Bill was not much of a reader, Alice was and he would always make the first move to meet in the middle if he had to. The third, however…

“Oh woah,” he said, impressed. “You really did it?!”

Alice shrugged, faking modesty. Bill looked at it from all angle, but it was unmistakably the same play she had told him about for a couple of years now. Her name on it and everything.

“There’s websites that let you print your shit for a fee,” she said. “It’s not like it’s really published or anything, but it’s my final version, so I thought you might like it…”

“I do!” He replied at once. “Alice, angel, thank you so much!”

She smiled at him. More hesitantly, she added.

“Sylvia can read it too,” she said. She glanced at Sylvia, then back at her father. “If you want.”

Sylvia touched a palm to her heart and nodded. She made some more tea and Alice stayed well into the evening till she left − she was crashing at Deb’s, she said, and to keep the peace Bill wished her a lovely time.

Things would never be the way they had been when Alice had been a young girl. Too much had changed in a few years, but on days like these when all his hopes were proven right, Bill allowed himself to think they might have changed for the better.

Voldemort was woken up first by their very insistent daughter proud to tell them she had made them a cake all on her own with all the proper spells on the occasion of Father’s Day. His first instinct would have been to chide her, as he hated a mess in the kitchen, but the girl was so happy with herself it would have broken what remained of his withered little heart − which was pumped to the max with love for his husband and child.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he cooed in his high-pitched voice that Quirrel never failed to compliment in moments of intimacy between them. “What a lovely thought! Look at it, Quirrel!”

They swirled around together, and Quirrel took a good look at their prodigy pastry chef. Next year, she would be going to Hogwarts and they would miss her dearly, but then Voldemort had never had trouble filling his days with schemes and dreams. With Quirrel in his life, their lives were busier than ever, though perhaps less adventurous too.

“I definitely didn’t put any poison in it,” the child said, beaming so bright Voldemort would have sold her an eighth of his soul no questions asked. “If you were wondering.”

Quirrel laughed as he set the table. It was an odd shape, fit for two sitting back to back, and their daughter nearby. Everything under this roof had been fitted to bend itself to their odd way of living, but it was a home regardless.

“Then we definitely won’t be keeping a bezoar on hand just in case,” he replied. “Oh, Daddy Voldy, you take the first bite.”

Voldemort pushed the plate towards Quirrel.

“No, you, Papa Squirrel,” he teased.

“Oh, alright…”

Two bezoars, a delicious feast and a lot of fun later, they cleared the plates and set about teaching their daughter more spells she might need the next year at Hogwarts. In their eyes, there was no child more advanced than theirs, more witty, more frightening. She would fare well indeed and there wasn’t a doubt she would be a force to reckon with. And he didn’t even care that a certain scarred Boy Who Lived would be sending his latest brat to school, too. In fact, he hardly ever thought about it at all.

“Today went okay, didn’t it?” Quirrel asked him at night, smiling brightly. It was a smile Voldemort had never ceased to love from the moment poor innocent Quirrel had promised him his soul, or at the very least his head. In the end, it was Voldemort who had poured his soul into him and for nothing in the world would he regret that choice. “If she’s happy, Papa’s happy.”

Their faces nuzzled together and they sighed contentedly.

“It went okay,” Voldemort replied. “It went wonderful.”

Emma slammed her feet on the coffee table, grabbing a can of beer from the table and gulping down a deep and long sip. The sun was shining bright outside and there was a pleasant breeze over her field. It would have been a perfect day for her to get Tim, who often visited her on Sundays, but it was Father’s Day after all and, cool aunt as she was, Tim had a dad and today was the time to honor him. Emma had not celebrated in fifteen years. Today was almost another Sunday.

“I don’t need no man,” she said to herself, smirking, and she searched her pocket for her best stash she kept for special occasions.

Ziggy sat next to her, sluggish after a long day of pretending to work. Their headphones had been shoved tight on their ears all day, too, but they lowered it around their neck to give Emma a bright smile and a peace sign.

“Hell yeah,” they said. “Totally.”

Emma lit up a joint and took the first tug. She always shared with Ziggy, a benefit not mentioned in so many words on their work contract but always, always applied. Emma had never imagined herself become someone’s boss, and so she made do with pouring herself whole in the position. She was certain no farm in the country was led like hers.

“Little guy is with his dad or something?” Ziggy guessed as Emma passed the blunt. “It’s Sunday.”

“It’s Father’s Day,” Emma replied blankly. “Where else would he be?”

Rare were the days on which Emma ventured back into memories of the past and not even today’s occasion was enough to trigger a bout of nostalgia in her − though she was not proud of the fact. It was a guilt that had been her headmate for too many years not to become used to. Like everything, it had all been far easier when Jane had been alive. Back then, she had been the one who kept their parents’ gravestones clean once or twice a year, who held their memories for the whole family to remember them. To Emma, those distant days when she still lived at home might as well have been from a different existence altogether rather than hers. She remembered her parents, of course, but it often felt like she knew them as book characters from a story she’d used to read a lot. Jane’s hair was their mother’s, Emma’s eyes were their father’s, but the full picture of the person they had been was getting more smudged every year and one day she would lose the plot entirely. She did not know if she would miss that. She wasn’t too fond of being the sole last Perkins alive, but what else could she do but keep living?

“That’s today, huh?” Ziggy said.

They made no sign of reaching for their phone, much less leaving the farm to visit family. Social as they were, Ziggy’s visitors were always friends or girlfriends. In fact, now that she thought about it, Emma wondered if they had ever mentioned their family at all. She was curious, but not to the point of asking and risking awkwardness. Still, her eyes must have betrayed her wondering, as Ziggy snorted.

“My dad’s a dick,” they said. They gestured with their hands. “He doesn’t ’get it’, you know? He still thinks I’m gonna come home in a dress and long hair and everything one day, like come back to my senses if he just asks one more time.”

Emma nodded, drinking some more beer. It was a wonderful Sunday. She wasn’t lacking for anything.

“Well,” she said eventually, “You don’t need no man.”

Ziggy passed back the joint, coughing lightly.

“Amen to that. Happy Father’s Day, boss.”

Gerald’s idea of a perfect Father’s Day would have been simple, if a bit cliché. Ideally, it wouldn’t have needed to involve the kids at all, although he wasn’t so cruel as to ignore the ugly drawings and cards they gifted him at breakfast that Sunday. He would have been content with a morning blowjob waking up, the nicest steakhouse he could find for lunch, and lounging on Linda’s best ship all day so she could sunbathe in the nude and gossip with him on every last person in Hatchetfield while he hummed and listened. That would have been just ideal, but unlike his own, Linda’s father did live in Hatchetfield and and she did care to spend the day with him, and so it was with heavy feet that he dragged himself to the Murray Estate one more year to hear his father-in-law debase him all day.

“… and after all, they hand out medical degrees like candy these days,” Roman rambled in that low monotonous voice of his that grated Gerald’s ears. “Isn’t that right, Gaspard? What is it they asked you to do, read a book or two, maybe learn a few organs by heart? You can’t find a good doctor to save your life, these days, you know.”

Gerald ignored him. When he was younger, he used to try and defend himself, perhaps in the hopes of impressing Linda, but he had learned over time that there was no use to it. Roman would never stop berating him and Linda would never be impressed by the attempt. It was easier to let everything slide. Outside, the boys were playing with their new toys around the pool. Gerald did not understand exactly why it was that on Father’s Day, Linda expected him to spoil their sons, only that it was so. Happy wife, happy life was a motto Gerald had had to inoculate himself with very early onto their marriage. It made everything much easier.

“These boys are fine young men,” Roman commented, watching them. He frowned. “River needs some teaching, though. He’s weak. He takes after his father.”

The jabs were so numerous and frequent Gerald had learned to let them go. He stood to pour himself a whiskey at the bar. Out of spite, he poured from the most expensive bottle, and not just a sliver either. He might just need the liquid comfort today. Often, he wondered what their lives would have looked like if they had not had children, but Linda so loved being a mother that was out of the question.

“I never understood why you married him,” Roman said, as though in confidence although at the exact same volume as before. “He’s a pathetic excuse of a man, and it’s not like he’s much better at being a father.”

Gerald sat back soundly next to them at the table in the broad patio. He chugged down half of his glass despite Roman’s disapproving glance.

“I think I did alright,” he said. “I did father four sons for Linda to play dolls with. That’s more than most men can say.”

At once, father and daughter knew Gerald had hit a nerve and Roman brooded, turning back to the boys. Though he would not admit it to Linda, it was evident the man had longed to have a son to keep the family name and even now, Gerald wondered how differently he would have treated her if there had been a brother. Likely still poorly, but then could there be any worse way to treat her than the way he did now?

It wasn’t long till the jabs came back, and they got stronger as the day advanced, but Gerald was happy for his tally to have any mark in his favor at all and smiled into his whiskey. Only when they went back home did he realize the effect of his words on Linda. She put the boys to bed early only to do the same with the father and, between kisses, she muttered.

“That was bold, what you told him,” she said.

Gerald pinned her underneath him and grinned. There was little Linda loved less than to compliment him, and still he had gotten her this time. He kissed her lips, her jaw, her neck.

“I’m the better dad,” he said, more to arouse her than because he believed any of it. “Aren’t I?”

Linda snorted. Batting his hands away, she turned them around to sit atop him again. She smiled.

“Happy Father’s Day, then, Gerald.”

And Gerald supposed the ideal day he’d had in mind could always be slightly rescheduled.

Jemilla always drove on the way back. Zazzalil had never asked her to, but from the start there was an understanding between them that, on the rare occasions where she let herself be vulnerable, she allowed in return for Jemilla to be the rock she latched onto needily and driving to and from the cemetery was the least Jemilla could do to be helpful. Any girlfriend should have done the same. If anything, Jemilla often reflected, it was more of a privilege. There were sides of Zazzalil that never made it out of the little bubble that was the relationship between the two of them. Jemilla was lucky to have won her trust. She cherished that. Their tumultuous start had taught her never to take for granted that things would sail smoothly between them.

“Well, would you look at that,” Zazzalil said flatly as Jemilla parked into their assigned spot next to their apartment building. Neither of them had spoken the entire ride back. “Cute.”

Jemilla looked at the phone screen shoved in her face and smiled in corner. Emberly had dressed her daughter with a beret and given her a palette to make an impromptu daddy-daughter photoshoot with Grunt on the first Father’s Day of the little girl’s existence. It was too kitschy not to be endearing.

“Cute,” she nodded. “Babe, let’s get you some ice cream.”

“Yup,” Zazzalil said. “That’ll do it.”

Two decades prior, Zazzalil had known the miserable tragedy of losing her father young, after a childhood already devoid of a mother who had died giving birth to her. Several times a year, she visited their tombs and paid her respects to parents who would never know the woman she had become. It was a ritual she had opened up to Jemilla when the two of them had become friends − and then more than friends.

A pint of ice cream and some soothing playlist later, Zazzalil was wrapped as leisurely as could be around Jemilla, a little heap of softness on top of her as they shared the length of the couch. Jemilla had wrapped her arms around her girlfriend’s shoulders and was nuzzling her loose curly hair comfortably. Though Zazzalil’s face was pressed between her breasts and her voice came out muffled, the position was too intimate for Jemilla not to hear every word as she spoke.

“It’s always like this,” Zazzalil said thoughtfully. “I get the funks and you comfort me. Should be a two way street, you know?”

This almost made sense, but not quite. Jemilla had never known the grief that was Zazzalil’s family tragedy. She had never had a father either, but as far as she could remember, Molag had been there. Back in the days, she was getting her double share of silly kid crafts, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Jemilla had never felt anything missing from her life.

“It is,” she replied. “You need boobs to lay your face on, I provide them. This couldn’t be more egalitarian if we tried.”

She had calculated well, as Zazzalil chortled into her chest and breathed deeply as if to prove she wasn’t going anywhere. Jemilla combed soft fingers down her hair. She smiled.

“Thanks,” Zazzalil said. Softly, she reached up to hold Jemilla’s hand in hers. “I love you.”

Jemilla kissed the crown of her head. Neither of them had had the most typical family life, but they had made do. She supposed it made sense that they had found each other − their relationship was just as unorthodox as they were themselves. And no matter the grief that had come before, they would always, always be there for one another to find comfort together.

Tom’s Father’s Day began before even leaving bed, with a palm on Becky’s belly bump, the other in her hair, and their lips pressed together passionately. Everything beyond that could only go marvelously. He left the bedroom with a pep in his walk, of course, and the two of them only had to pass the threshold to realize the kids had woken long before them. The air smelled of eggs and bacon and coffee and Tom was the recipient of the three most lovely smiles in the world the moment he entered the kitchen.

“Happy Father’s Day!”

Only Tim had uttered the outburst, though Lex and Hannah were beaming with a joy that almost matched his. He had never thought this day would come. Becky pulled his chair for him and kissed his chair, Tim dropped a plate in front of him, Lex passed him napkin and cutlery, Hannah poured him delicious coffee, and he felt like the king of the world in his perfect little castle.

“Dang, you guys,” he said, chuckling. “You didn’t have to.”

“You can say that again,” Lex said and flicked his ear. “Tim made us.”

Tim protested the accusation vehemently, but it was only when Hannah muttered that all was settled.

“No, he didn’t,” she said quietly.

Tom chuckled. No part of him wanted to force Lex and Hannah to think of him in a fatherly way − though he would be lying to say he did not want them to some day. For two years, they had shared his roof at his offer and they had become just as familiar to him as his son or his wife. The word they slapped on that, that was their business.

After breakfast, the children excitedly showed him to the shed at the back of the yard where they had Becky cover his eyes before he entered. The big reveal turned out to be a new workbench they had built him, larger and sturdier than the one before.

“Look, it fits all your old tools,” Lex said, showing him the shelves underneath. “And you can use the old one as a desk or something.”

“It’s a little cramped,” Tim said, “But I think… I hope you’ll like it?”

“Buddy,” Tom said and touched Tim’s shoulders to look into his eyes as he smiled, “I love it.”

He was only happy to have these kids in his life at all. All over this, he recognized the expertise of Lex and Hannah’s gift for woodworking, but the painting and labels were all in Tim’s lopsided messy handwriting. In here, Tom thought, he would be building this family whatever they needed, repair whatever needed fixing, and all that thanks to their generosity. Becky kissed him and she did not even need to say the words for him to guess she was thinking of the crib still half constructed that would be finished soon, before the baby came.

For many years father of one, now quasi father of a couple more and soon father of a fourth, there wasn’t a Father’s Day yet that had meant so much to him as today. As he embraced Tim and the girls to thank them, Tom wished in his heart that they would be right here with him on this day every year for the rest of his days.

Ja’far had learned for several years that it was beyond the scope of science and reason to understand what, exactly, made his daughter tick and as such, he had given up for good the hope of ever understanding her. Jasmine was moody most days, though with a heart so huge it could move mountains when she set it on something, and she was the most delightfully unpredictable creature he had been blessed to become acquainted with.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, though as of recent years Jasmine was becoming more prickly with every attempt. He supposed he would have to wait out the teenage years and keep himself steady for her sake. It was hard not to repay her sass with his own, but he was raising this child on his own for better or for worse and he simply could not afford to risk tethering the bond between them. It was too dear and precious to his heart.

“Oh, hey,” Jasmine said when she walked into the kitchen that morning.

She dragged herself to the fridge to check what was left she might put on the flat bread Ja’far had already taken out. He watched her curiously, eager to know if she would acknowledge the day but trying to keep his hopes down. He had made tea and she poured herself a glass. It was only once her plate was full and she had taken the first bite that she spoke through a mouthful.

“Happy Father’s Day,” she said.

She kept eating, seemingly ignoring the broad smile on his face, staring down at his food, too. He had been leaning more towards her forgetting, and this very fact was more than enough for him to consider this day won already.

“Thank you, princess,” he told her.

She winced at the nickname he had never quite stopped using from childhood when she had been impetuous and bold and a half, but said nothing. She had pulled out her phone already and Ja’far supposed he should have expected that no matter what else. Raising her had been the most complicated challenge in his life that was already not devoid of hardships. He had never expected to have to make it alone. Sherrezade had died giving him this precious gift of a child, and every day he vowed to honor her memory and bring up their child well, but the joys of fatherhood did not erase the pain of having had to go through it on his own. Jasmine had not made it easy either, but then he could not imagine she would have been mellow had she been raised by two parents.

“What did you wanna do?” She asked after some time.

This, he had not expected at all, and for a few seconds he sat there mouth gaping before catching himself. Jasmine never cared to spend her time with him if she could be with her friends. This was the most bizarre blessing that could have happened today and he was not about to squander it.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “How about the book store?”

“That sounds kinda fun,” she said. She looked up and he saw that she was smiling. He smiled back.

All day, she indulged him. They went to his favorite book store and she let him ramble about his favorite topics all he wanted, chemistry and physics and geography. In return, she opened up and they debated her opinions on politics, gender inequality, and all the little troubles of the daily life of a teen. It was the more open she had been in months and Ja’far could not have been happier.

“I actually had a good time,” she told him when they came back home, as though she was more surprised by this than he was. “Thanks, Daddy!”

She gave him a kiss on the cheek before climbing the stairs to hole herself up in her room again as she did every weekend. Ja’far crashed in an armchair, dazed. They had talked for multiple hours without Jasmine getting furious with him, without her trying to provoke him, without him misunderstanding her. A simple day between father and daughter, the way all the other fathers did. He had even been blessed enough to discuss morals with her, which was his favorite topic as a whole. And she had had a good time too.

Ja’far shot a quick prayer to heaven, and a thought to his late wife. There were blessings in this world that were too good not to come from above. Wherever she was, he knew his beloved was doting benevolently on the family that remained on earth. And Ja’far knew he still had the strength to raise Jasmine till she became as accomplished and intelligent a woman as she was a teen. No matter the pains, it was the greatest gift he had been given in his life and he was never going to squander it.

Ted overheard her phone call as he was taking a stroll around the building like he often did, whether to pick up or to bully whoever was left in CCRP past their 9 to 5 schedule. Bill and Paul had gone home − Ted had heard the former say he had his daughter over all weekend to the latter who had feigned interest for his friend. There was only Charlotte left and all the better too, for Ted was certain she would not have been making this phone call had she thought anyone else around.

“No, no,” she said regretfully, “It’s okay. I understand. You’ve booked the brunch in Los Angeles already, you can’t just…”

Ted suspected Sam at once − who else but the main source of disappointment in Mrs Sweetly’s life? What came next, however, disproved him at once and he frowned as he kept on listening, standing next to the door slightly ajar. Almost every night, Ted left his workplace having failed to sink his hook, but it seemed that he would have better luck today.

“Alright, Dad,” Charlotte said, “Let’s just see each other next week. You’ll be in town then, won’t you?” A pause. “… And the week after that?”

Ted had never considered that Charlotte would still be in touch with her father, whom she never mentioned. Judging by the dismissive way with which he seemed to have shut down all attempts she had made at spending Father’s Day with him, he thought he knew why. Ted was on no particularly great terms with his own father, who had been somewhat distant with him at best and a downright absentee by his little brother, but then he had never minded the lack of proper relationship between himself and his parents. Charlotte, who chattered with her mother every day, God be helped, had a different set of priorities.

“That’s settled then,” she said cheerfully. “Fourth of July at my place. Sam will grill for us, I’ll ask him. I’ll call you on Sunday.”

Ted took a step closer, ready to walk in.

“For Father’s Day,” Charlotte clarified, as though her father had forgotten already. “Yes, goodbye Dad.”

She startled with a gasp when Ted barged into the room with a brilliant grin. He leaned against her desk seductively.

“Well, well,” he said with his usual wit, “Mrs Sweetly has no one to spend Daddy’s Day with. What a shame.”

Charlotte’s cheeks burned with embarrassment and, he could see, an interest she was trying to hide. As if the woman could hide anything from him.

“My place,” he said. “Noon. Put on something sexy. Wait, no, better, don’t put anything at all. We’ll commando this shit, it’ll be hot.”

He winked. Charlotte ignored him, already putting away her things and getting ready to leave.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she replied coolly.

Still, he kept grinning and making promises − the one man in Charlotte’s life who kept on promising more and more and who always delivered, and still he was the one she refused to settle with. It was unfair, but Ted had enough grit to play the long game. And enough suave charm.

“Should’ve told me your dad’s an ass,” he said, following her into the hall. “Mine too, we could’ve made like twin t-shirts. Hey, don’t take it personally, okay? Not all men have what it takes. I, on the other hand…”

He wriggled his brow. Charlotte looked at him surprised, and then away, biting a smile.

“Come on Sunday,” he said. “I’ll make it worth your time.”

“I don’t know, Ted,” she said.

But she did know already. All the days of her life, the men Charlotte loved kept disappointing her and she kept hoping they would change their mind. If her father could not grant her one day out of the year, what good was he to try to have around? Ted took her hand in his and pressed a kiss against her knuckles when they had to part ways.

“I’ll see you soon, ma’am,” he said and took an exit bow.

And that Sunday night, when Ted had her squealing under him in a fit of illicit passion, he was certain beyond any doubt that Charlotte Sweetly had the daddy she needed right here in Hatchetfield.

Bob Cratchit woke up submerged in a sea of children all cuter and nicer than their many siblings. It was a blessing not all men could boast of, a family he deeply loved whom he supported and raised the best he could. All this was thanks to Emily, of course, but he made sure to tell her every single day that they had been married. Once a year, the focus turned on him and he supposed he could take his own slice of the praise every once in a while.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad!” Every child said. All were cuddling him, petting him in some way, though the marriage bed was hardly big enough to fit them all.

“Happy Father’s Day!” Tiny Tim said in his weak little voice.

The almost crowd that were the Cratchits parted to let Peter carry his brother into the paternal bosom and Bob cradled his youngest son against him affectionately. He was their own little miracle down here in London. From birth, he had been sickly and struggled to walk like all the others, but under the good care of his mother and father, he had sprouted up rather nicely considering and he was their greatest pride. They had children like as many flowers making a garden beautiful and worth having. No matter how many he had to support, Bob wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Was there any child at all in his family he could look at and think his life would be better without? They were all blessings, every single one of them.

“Now, come along, children,” Emily said, smiling. “Bring your daddy what you got him.”

It was a whole parade of gift giving every year and Bob marveled at all the little crafts they had made him, the purchases made with what pocket money they had. He wondered how much his wife had helped, too, though Emily always pretended the children did everything all on their own. Bob knew from Mother’s Day that this was impossible, but he kept the lie at her will and complimented every last present he received. There was even − to everyone’s surprise, most of all his − a postcard from Mr Scrooge wishing him a happy day off on this occasion.

“I’m the luckiest man in all of Great Britain,” Bob proclaimed by the end of it.

“No,” Tiny Tim said, “We’re the luckiest children in the entire world!”

Emily laughed and petted his hair, and there too Bob suspected this had been rehearsed and laughed along as he kissed the top of his son’s head. Each child was given his or her special moment with their dad, each doted on particularly. These days, with the raise he had been given, Bob could afford to spoil all of them a little bit rotten and if Emily had allowed it, he would have. There was nothing in the world that mattered to him more than spending time with his family. Having raised such a large brood meant everything to him and the day was spent chatting, laughing, playing together with all his children − all that on Mr Scrooge’s money after all. And it was priceless.

Ken Davidson had the most lovely family one could imagine. He had two young children, a boy and a girl, who were clever and kind and the most adorable little kids one could ever picture. At work, he kept a picture of them on the right of his desk and a portrait of Carol on the left side, so that they were all three in his heart while he was away. He took care of them as best as he could, but it was Carol, truth be told, who led the household and even on Father’s Day he could not help praising her.

“You’ve outdone yourself again,” he told her warmly. “I couldn’t ask for a more perfect day, my love.”

In the morning, the children had brought him breakfast in bed and chatted with him excitedly, showing him drawings and collages they had made for him, as well as some craft project he was still not quite sure the nature of. They had gone to the movies together, a little row of Davidsons, and Carol had taken him to the best restaurant in town where the children had been particularly well behaved − he suspected she had bribed them with candy when he was not looking. In the afternoon, they had taken a walk around Oakley Park to take in some fresh air, hand in hand with his wife, each holding a child at their hip, too. She had cooked for him at night and the spectacle of their little ones trying to help her was as delicious as the meal they had placed on his table. Overall, he could not have hoped for a better day.

“Should we call it a night?” He offered. “Oh, it’s been the best Father’s Day yet. You’ve spoiled me!”

The children had been put to bed a while ago. He was leaned against the back of the sofa and never saw Carol coming when she appeared from behind. At first, he thought she would embrace him, and at first indeed she did. It was an odd sort of massage, palming him softly, but in no time, her hand flattened on his torso, inching up and up, till it clasped around his neck in the tightest vice. Ken took in a sharp breath, his heart pounding. Leaning back his head, he looked up at her. Carol was smiling.

“Believe me, my dear,” she whispered sensually in his ear. Her hand tightened around his neck and she nibbled on the lobe of his ear before going on, “Father’s Day is not over yet.”