The knock on his bedroom door was tentative. "Chief?"
Chief Anderson sighed. The kids knew better than this. Sunday mornings he was not to be disturbed. He removed the pipe from his mouth and set his coffee and newspaper aside. After securely tying his robe, he responded with a simple command. "Come."
Five children crowded into his room from the hallway. Princess entered first, carrying a tray of breakfast. At least, he hoped it was breakfast. The smell emanating from the dish was ... distinct, to say the least.
"I made it myself," Princess said, beaming as she sat the tray in his lap one-handed. The Chief noticed that her other hand was cocked into a fist, defying her brothers to tease her.
Keyop handed him a tulip. "Picked it ... just for you," he said, shyly. The Chief successfully hid a smile at the bulb still attached to the flower and made a mental note to apologize to their neighbor.
"My turn!" said Tiny, handing the Chief an ugly lump of dough. Chief Anderson raised his eyes to the boy. "It's a coffee mug!" Tiny added proudly. Ah, thought the Chief, so that's what it is. He set the gift aside to dry.
Jason handed him a small oblong box, gift-wrapped and decorated with a tiny bow. "It's from Mark and me," he said. Arms behind his back, Jason added softly, "But I picked it out." Chief Anderson quirked an eyebrow. Jason's hatred of shopping malls was legendary.
"It's ... breep ... a tie!" shouted Keyop.
Jason elbowed him in the stomach. "Shut up!" he hissed.
Chief Anderson stared at each of his five wards in turn. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this display of affection?"
Mark gaped back at him, blue eyes wide. "Don't you know?"
Chief Anderson frowned slightly and shook his head. "Can't say that I do."
Mark nodded at the others and the five moved toward him as one loving human circle. Arms surrounded the man, providing more human contact than he had received in the past six months. He sighed deeply, drinking in their warmth. Chief Anderson could sense Keyop's need for cuddling, Princess' desire for the perfect family, Mark's reluctant acceptance, Tiny's loneliness. He could even feel Jason's hands, distant and tense, clinging tightly to his back.
My children, he thought. He swallowed hard.
When the group hug ended, Mark spoke for them all. "Happy Father's Day, Chief Anderson!"