Sometime in the middle of the night, the nurses brought Darryl back to Maritza, reassuring her that hew sweet newborn was doing fine and needed no further intervention. She'd been so relieved that she broke down in tears as she held her baby in her arms.
"Mommy's got you," she repeated over and over again as she rocked Darryl gently.
"Be sure to take it easy the next few days," he reminded her. "And, if you ever need anything, feel free to reach out." He briefly covered his hand with his own, then signed her discharge papers.
Rio rolled his eyes. "So? I wasn't ready!"
"I'm totally faster than you are! I'm like Flash!"
"Flash isn't even real!" Rio argued, frustrated from having lost to Jason once again... well that and having his face rubbed in it.
"Okay, Mom!" Jason chirped, rushing over to grab the chicken feed.
Even though Rio got annoyed with Jason for being so competitive, he actually really liked his brother.
They'd stayed up late one night talking about their moms. They spent a lot of time talking after bedtime. They'd agreed that they were like blood brothers because neither of them had dads and they kind of shared moms since they all lived together. Sealing the deal, they'd spit in each other's hands and smeared it in their palms when they shook hands.
Haley breathed a heavy sigh of relief, "Oh, I'm so glad! I was so worried." She reached for her friends hand. "I wish I could've stayed with you."
"I was fine," Maritza reassured her. "It was a little scary being in the hospital by myself at first, but I survived. They brought Darryl in around 1 am and after that I was plenty busy!"
"Well, we're so glad to have you guys back, safe and sound!"
Maritza looked around, "Where's Rachel?"
Haley rolled her eyes, "Sleeping."
She just couldn't lose this job!
The boys were going to spend the afternoon with her Mom, so she had an entire afternoon and evening to herself! She could do whatever she wanted to do!
With that freeing through, she headed outside and began working on her last painting that the Business Office had commissioned. She couldn't wait to have all of her work displayed again!
"Thank you, sir," Rio said politely. Jason's grandparents had told him a long time ago to call them Grandma and Grandpa, too. But, sometimes it made him feel self-conscious.
"Well!" Nathaniel announced, not even phased, "Do we have some good times planned for you!" He held his hands out to usher the boys inside.
"Coming, Grandma!" Jason answered at the same time Rio politely said, "Yes, ma'am."
Eva laughed lightly. "Well, there wasn't much to it! It's just a few veggies!"
Turning to Rio, he asked, "So, how's school going kiddo? You're in what? The 5th grade now?"
Waving his hand, "None of that 'sir, no sir' for me!" he gently reminded Rio. "It makes me feel old," he said with a wink.
Rio just stared at Nathaniel, trying to determine if he was being serious or not. Didn't he realize he was old?
But, Nathaniel had already moved on to Jason, asking him how he was enjoying the 3rd grade and whether or not he liked his teacher. As if Jason needed any prompting to talk about himself, Rio thought. He could talk your ear off sometimes!
Maritza tilted her head. "You know, now that you mention it, it is! Where are the boys?"
"Aw, that's awesome," Maritza said. "That's so cool that they took Rio, too. I'm sure he misses his Grandma."
Haley nodded. "Yeah. It really hit him hard when Sonja passed away. But, the folks have always welcomed him in their home. You know, my dad and Rachel's dad were best friends when they were growing up."
Maritza glanced up, "Oh, I didn't know that! No wonder you guys got to know each other so well over the years. I guess I'm lucky you guys let me in the group!"
Haley nudged her friend, "I wouldn't have it any other..."
"Well, so much for peace and quiet!" Haley joked.
Maritza grimaced wryly. "Let's not start calling them boyfriend-girlfriend," she said. "I don't want them to feel like they're stuck in a pre-determined relationship."
Embarrassed, Maritza explained, "I read about it in the parenting book. You're supposed to tell them that they can't date until they're older, that way they spend their time cherishing friendships rather than placing significance on finding a significant other." Feeling ridiculous, she got a little defensive, adding, "It's what Darryl and I talked about..."
Haley stopped her, "Don't worry, Mari. It's fine! I support you 100%!"
Maritza sighed heavily. "Thanks. Maybe I'm just worrying too much. After all, they're still babies..."
"Have you thought any more about what you're going to do back here in Sunset Valley? Especially since you released all of the exhibits you'd collected."
Maritza slumped in her seat. "Oh, I don't know, Haley. I'd been so eager to re-start my thesis in Appaloosa Plains... and now... I just don't know. Sometimes I think I should just give it all up and join the science facility."
Haley reached across and touched Maritza's knee. "There's no need to make any rash decisions."
Eva smiled, "Oh, of course they were."
Jason puffed his chest out with pride. "I'm still stinky! Mom tells me so all the time! She says I smell like little boy sweat!"
"Alright kiddos, time to go upstairs and brush your teeth!" Haley announced, breaking Jason off. "I'll come check in a bit!"
The boys groaned in unison until Jason broke the silence by loudly calling out, "LAST ONE UPSTAIRS IS A ROTTEN EGG!"
"Watch the baby!" Haley called out in horror as Jason zoomed past Shayla. Rio jerked upright and took off after Jason.
Laughing, Maritza headed into her room.
"I know, Mom. And they enjoy spending time with you guys, too," Haley told her. "Jason talks about it non-stop. I think it's good for them to have some quality time with other men instead of surrounded by women!"
Eva clapped her hands together. "Good! Dad and I were hoping we could keep them one weekend coming up. Let us know when is good for you!"
Haley hugged her Mom goodbye. "I will, Mom. Love you!"
Jason piped up, hopping up and down, "Adventures of Raymundo! Adventures of Raymundo!"
Haley glanced up at Rio in the top bunk. "Are you okay with that, Rio?"
Rio shrugged, "Whatever, I wasn't going to listen anyways." He was too old for dumb kid's books.
Rio pretended to be doing something else, but was really listening attentively. When Haley had purposefully changed the story, he called out, "That's not what happened!"
"Oh no?" Haley asked. "He didn't get on a purple boat called the Lily Flower?"
Rio rolled his eyes, "Noooo!" he said impatiently. Haley had read this one to him a million times. He had it memorized! "He got on a black boat called the Midnight Flyer!"
Rio laid his head down on the pillow. "Night, Tia," he said quietly as she slipped down the stairs.