Jeremiah McAllister lost his entire family before he turned eighteen, but was blessed with another one. As the oldest of more than a dozen young adults mentored by CC Dawson and her husband Thurman, Jeremiah takes his role as oldest brother within their chosen family seriously. To his siblings, he is confidante, emergency contact, babysitter and family ATM; whatever they need, he provides, no questions asked. However, some among them push his largesse to its limits.
Jenisse Anderson uses Jeremiah as a surrogate man on her arm for social events when she’s between boyfriends and as her personal 911 (she calls him to help her deal with anything she deems an emergency). Despite Jeremiah’s consistently being there for her, she will neither reciprocate nor discuss his feelings for her, or even deal with the issues of her past.
Erik Dawson (CC and Thurman’s only biological child) is currently estranged from his parents, and uses Jeremiah as a go-between so he knows they’re okay and vice-versa. Jeremiah’s repeated pleas for Erik to go to his parents and reconcile fall on deaf ears. Between Jenisse and Erik and the constant requests from the others, Jeremiah is pulled in too many different directions all at once.
As he reaches his breaking point, Jeremiah finds himself at a crossroads in his life. How can he break out of an emotional prison he didn’t even realize he was in until recently? Can he face his own history in order to embrace a better future?
Two hours into Kid Fest, Jeremiah was shaken, but not stirred. After the initial chaos, Madagascar and Finding Nemo back to back calmed them down enough for him to regain control. When the movies ended, he played about a million games of Candy Land, fed them a snack, changed the baby’s diaper and then put in another DVD at the kids’ request.
I may just survive this experience after all.
The doorbell broke the silence. Jeremiah crossed the room as quietly as he could, hoping to keep the baby asleep. The door opened and two tiny tornadoes in matching pink and green outfits blew into the room.
“Uncle Jay! Uncle Jay!”
Surprise widened Jeremiah’s eyes as his nieces Carmen and Angie rushed at his legs. Their forceful joint embrace nearly toppled him and startled the baby awake. Jeremiah looked over their heads in time to see his play brother Joel’s car accelerating from the curb at warp speed.
Six-year-old Carmen held up her treasured Power Puff Girls backpack. “Daddy said ‘cause all the other kids are here, he’d let us come too and stay all night!”
Jeremiah nodded in shock, stunned by this turn of events. The baby whined in his ear in response to Carmen and Angie’s attempts to liberate him from Jeremiah’s arms. Jeremiah shooed them into the family room with the other children and then slumped onto the couch, feeling defeated.
This won’t go well. Carmen acts like other people only exist to obey her every command, and Angie’s the poster girl for spoiled. The two of them will have the other kids acting crazy in no time flat.
Jeremiah walked around the room, attempting to lull the baby back to sleep. The third baby-slap upside his head generated an idea. Jeremiah avoided a fourth blow and reached for the phone.
Jenisse laughed out loud at the frazzled expression on Jeremiah’s face when he opened the door to greet her.
“Reinforcements are here, Jay- you can relax now.”
Jenisse looked nauseatingly fresh in a pink sweatshirt and new blue jeans. By contrast, there could have been a picture of Jeremiah next to “disheveled” in the dictionary. Things had quickly deteriorated after the unexpected arrivals and never improved.
She wanted to laugh at the scene before her. The baby screamed in Jeremiah’s ear while the three-year-old twins clung to his legs for dear life, nearly pulling down his gray sweatpants in the process. The boy complained that Carmen turned off the DVD and turned to the Disney Channel while the girl expressed a sudden overriding concern for the whereabouts of her mother. In the background, the verbal equivalent of the Trojan War ensued between Carmen, Angie, the five-year-old girl and the five and three year old boys. Jeremiah held the baby in one hand, his pants with the other and seemed impotent to resolve any of the ongoing conflicts.
Jenisse put her overnight bag on the floor beside the door.
“Uh, Jay? I hate to ask, but what’s that on your shirt?”
“That would be the juice boxes I gave Carmen and Angie.” Jeremiah rolled his eyes. “Instead of drinking them, they decided to use them as Super Soakers- on me.”
Jenisse pretended to roll up her sleeves.
“Men,” she sighed. “Since you look like you won’t last another hour, I’m going to pull the plug on this madness. Keep doing what you were doing with the original six and let me lay hands on the demonettes.”
Jeremiah snickered as Jenisse headed towards the melee. On paper, it seemed like an unfair division of labor, but in terms of sheer degree of difficulty, Joel’s high-spirited daughters were equal to any six children alive. Fortunately for Jeremiah’s purposes, Carmen and Angie adored Jenisse to the point of worship. Even their own mother (and the belt she kept in her purse) couldn’t compel them to good behavior as easily as Jenisse could.
Without warning, the verbal combat ceased, replaced with joyous shouts of greeting. Jenisse emerged from the family room, holding Carmen by the left hand and Angie by the right.
“I put Cars back on- the other kids wanted to finish it.”
To Jeremiah’s astonishment, the twins gave his legs a squeeze and ran off to watch.
“Go ‘head and get the baby settled. We’re gonna have some girls time in the other room. The other girls can join us if they get bored of the movie, but the fellas are all yours.”
Jeremiah nodded numbly, shocked at the utter silence that ruled his house again. As if on cue, the baby’s head drooped and he went limp on Jeremiah’s shoulder.
If I live to be a hundred, Jeremiah thought, I’ll never understand how she does that.
Pleasant thoughts of Jenisse spending the night in his home competed with thoughts of revenge against Joel as he put the now sleeping baby in his crib.
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