Neal sighed. “Keep a close eye on Gee and Mikey.”
Bob snickered. Neal went to go get Parker off the top of the car. Or, if he couldn’t get her off, at least find the chords to tie her there.
It was six hours and twenty eight minutes from the Burkes’ house to the cabin they were staying at in Niagara Falls. When Elizabeth had brought up the idea of a family vacation near the falls, Parker had asked if waterfalls were real and Ryan had gotten kind of dreamy looking and Neal had known that the only choice he had was to make sure things went as smoothly as possible.
Eliot had muttered, “We need to get Ryan a life-vest.”
Neal had offered to book the flights, but Peter had smiled and said, “You don’t fly up Niagara. You drive.”
Neal had pointed out, “There’s twelve of us.”
“Good thing we made you get your driver’s license, huh? You can help El with some of the driving. I’ll take the other car.”
Neal had opened his mouth to suggest applying to Bones or Jen for sedatives, but in the end he’d kept quiet. Peter got kind of testy when he reminded him that ten kids was a few more than most people packed into a car for a nice weekend trip, or anything else one might do.
By two hours into the drive, Brendon was crossing his legs and humming in a way Neal was certain he thought was subtle, but was in fact, pretty damn loud. Eliot had looked wistfully at the last three signs for fast food restaurants.
Neal bit his lip, but then spoke up. “Elizabeth, can we stop at this next rest stop?”
Elizabeth looked over at him for a second, then smiled. “Sure babe, just tell Peter.”
Neal called Peter and told him the plan. Peter sounded kind of annoyed, but that could just be because Neal could hear Gee and Parker arguing about whether Batman or Spiderman was cooler.
The rest stop was mostly deserted, so Mikey could gambol about and Parker could do cartwheels and Eliot could stretch a bit while Neal took out the snacks he had packed and butter a croissant for everyone, sprinkling a little sugar and cinnamon in as well.
He handed Eliot his first, and Eliot gave him a wry half-smile. Parker ate hers in three bites and Neal had to look away after the first. Ryan poked Neal affectionately by way of thanks. Gee grinned at him and later, when Neal climbed into the driver’s seat of Elizabeth’s car, there was the napkin he’d given Gee with the croissant, on it, a picture of Neal flying down a waterfall in an inner tube.
It was another two hours before Peter called Neal and Neal answered, “Roadside stop, two miles.”
Peter hung up before he could say anything. Neal really hoped Peter didn’t just leave them on the side of the road.
The roadside shop included a fudge place. Neal bought eleven bars—almost two pounds—and tucked the box away in his back pack. No way was he giving anyone sugar at this point in the day.
Elizabeth drove the last two and a half hours and Neal sat in the front seat, keeping half an ear on Spencer’s passionate defense of eighties hairbands despite Ryan’s extreme skepticism. It wasn’t a new conversation, but it never failed to be amusing. Three fourths of his concentration was on his project.
Vin had given him the pocket knife he was using with the warning, “It’s sharper than it looks.”
Chris had helped Neal with his carving. Granted, they usually worked with balsa wood, or the like, but the theory was the same: flaking away at the excess, leaving the central core.
When Neal had gotten everybody settled in two bedrooms and the living area, he knocked on the door to the room Elizabeth and Peter had commandeered. Peter opened the door and said, “Neal, can we just—“
“Just wanted to give you this,” Neal said, and handed him the box, closing the door between them when Peter used his hands to take the box.
Less than ten seconds later, Neal was sitting on the couch, laughing at one of Mikey’s more wry observations when Peter and Elizabeth both came out of the room. Peter asked, “Did you really do this between the last stop and here?”
Neal shrugged. “They’re rough.”
“They’re amazing,” Elizabeth corrected.
The other kids were crowing around Elizabeth and Peter now, all peering in the box. Brendon said, “Hey, that’s me.”
Neal tucked his knees up to his chest and pretended not to be there as they all exclaimed over the eleven tiny fudge figures nestled in the box. He didn’t notice when Peter broke away, so he startled when Peter dropped a kiss on his head. Neal blinked up.
Peter asked, “Next time, all twelve of us, and do it on something we can keep?”
Neal heard the slight emphasis on the last words. He did not miss the significance. He nodded. “Sure, I can do that.”