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Tiller pulled out a triangle of baklava and handed it to me. “Here, busy yourself with this. You’ll forget all about how beautiful that Greek man is.”

But he was so wrong, and he knew it. One bite of the honey-rich pastry sent images of Darius screaming through my mind. “Fucking Christ,” I muttered around the flaky bite. It was one of the best things I’d ever tasted, and it had been made with tender care, specifically for my family.

Blue Marian walked into the kitchen and asked what I was moaning over. “Try this,” I said, reaching for a triangle to share with him. “Baklava from the bakery in town.”

As more and more people heard the commotion in the kitchen, the space quickly filled with grandparents, great-uncles, cousins, kids, and everyone else who was here with our group. Someone put on holiday music, and someone else offered to help Mikey with the final efforts involved in getting dinner on the table for such a large crew.

When we finally sat down in the largest dining room, Thomas Marian stood up to make a toast.

“Rebecca, don’t look at me, or I’ll get emotional,” he warned without looking at his wife. The statement alone made me emotional. Rebecca and Thomas were a true example of long-term love and commitment.

He cleared his throat and continued. “I know it’s not Christmas yet, but this is as good a time as any to give thanks and celebrate. How fortunate we are to have such an incredible group of family and friends gathered together. Thank you all for making the effort to get here. I know it’s not easy to get time off from work, leave your pets and calendars behind, and prioritize a reunion trip like this, but it’s important. Family is important.”

Everyone smiled warmly and glanced around the room to take in the sea of faces as Thomas continued.

“When Aunt Tilly suggested this trip as a way to get the Wilde and Marian sides of the family together, I knew it would be special. But I didn’t anticipate how special it would be to see Aunt Tilly together with Uncle Wes… Grandpa to most of you… and it makes me wish…” He took a moment to clear his throat again. “I know in my heart my father is looking down on his brother and sister and the many beautiful lives the three of you have created, and he’s in awe the way I am. What an incredible testament to the strength and power of family. But that’s not all.”

Simone spoke under her breath like an infomercial announcer, “But wait, there’s more!” And everyone chuckled and wiped a few stray tears.

“Yes, daughter,” he said, reaching over and squeezing her shoulder. “There is more. All of you who’ve joined us by choice. Those of you who met one of us and gifted us with your love. There is more to family than blood, of course. There is the family of our hearts. And regardless of how you came to be here tonight, I want you to know I love you all so much, and I feel humbled by your choice to be here, to be a part of this family, and to continue to love us all.”

He finally turned toward Rebecca, who was smiling through some tears. “I especially thank you for being here,” he said in a voice quickly overtaken with a rough croaking sound. “Thank you for loving me. For giving me six beautiful children and helping us welcome and love four more and then their ten partners. I am overwhelmed with gratitude.”

The entire room dissolved into a bawling mess.

And that’s when Darius walked in.

The look on his face was comical. It was clear he misinterpreted the heavy emotion. He raced over to me and pulled my chair back until I faced him. He searched my face frantically. “Dear god. What happened?”

I stood without thinking and leaned into his embrace as his arms came tightly around me. “It’s fine. Everything is fine, I promise.” Feeling his arms around me and seeing the concern on his face when he thought I might be upset was everything. It almost made me feel like I had one of the spouses Thomas had mentioned in his toast.

“Hear, hear,” someone yelled, and everyone cheered and took a sip of whatever they were drinking.

Mikey quickly found a chair to squeeze in next to me, and Darius joined us for dinner. It was as loud and raucous as one might imagine, but Darius seemed to handle it without a problem. He talked animatedly to Otto on the other side of him and Ginger across the table.

At one point, Tilly caught my eye and gave me a wink. Her smile was relaxed, and she seemed completely at peace. She must have slept the afternoon away the same way I had. I was relieved to see her so at ease after her ordeal.