Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 262: The Slaters

McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 262: The Slaters

On Saturday night, as they were getting ready for bed, Abby asked Tim, “How serious are you about Jimmy and Breena’s church?”

It’d been almost a week since they saw Father John last, and Tim had informed Abby of Ducky’s idea of what was going on, so they’d settled on skipping church for the next few weeks, see if that’d up the pressure and make John fold on the Godparents issue.

“Making sure that wasn’t just ‘I don’t want to fold’ talking?” he asks, putting toothpaste on his brush.

“Yeah.” She reaches for her toothbrush.

“I’m serious.” He hands her her toothpaste.

“I talked to Breena today. Service is at eleven tomorrow.”


“Sunday dinner is at Ed and Jeannie’s after.”

That got a startled look out of Tim, he put his own toothbrush down. They’ve had hundreds of half-garbled conversations that come from talking while brushing their teeth, but he wants this to be clear. “So… we go to church and we’re… joining the extended family?”

She smiles at him. “That’s what you said, right? A place where our family gathers? We’re already part of the extended Slater family. But yeah, that’s the tradition. Church, then supper at the Slaters’, according to Breena there’s football or baseball on the television after, they’re Redskins and Nationals fans, but Jimmy usually runs to Bootcamp before that. Breena and both of her sisters, and their guys, and Ed’s brother Tom, and his family, and Jeannie’s brother and sister, and, yeah, the whole clan’ll be there.”

“How many Slaters attend that church?” Tim asked after picking his toothbrush back up.

“I don’t know. A whole lot of them.” Spit, rinse, brush some more. “Breena says they’ve been part of that congregation for a very long time, like since her great-grandparents got married, and it’s also part of their business model.”

“Guess that makes sense,” he says, and grabs the mouthwash. After all, if you run a funeral home, it’s probably a good idea to have deep ties to the local community. And it probably doesn’t hurt if you’re close to a Pastor or two, who may, should the need arise, suggest someone to take care of the dearly departed to the grieving family.

It occurs to Tim as he heads in, that with the exception of a few weddings, funerals, and Molly’s christening, he’s never actually been to a Protestant church service.

Sure, he’s heard people call Episcopalians Catholic-lites but, at least at this church, it looks a lot different.

First and foremost, the Pastor is a woman. That’s an awfully unsubtle hint that he’s not in a Catholic church. The décor is quite a bit more restrained than St. Sebastians, but St. Sebastian’s was old and in a well-off parish. They’d been around long enough to have the Stations of the Cross carved in ivory on the walls. There’s nothing even remotely like that here. (Of course, from the ten minutes of googling he did this morning, Tim got the sense this was the sort of place that would find having ivory anything, even if they were antique objects of art specially made by one of the parishioners back in the 1850s, horrendously embarrassing.) No Confessionals that he can see, and he makes a mental note to ask Jimmy about that.

They’re waiting in the entry of St. Mary’s when the Pastor heads over to welcome them. And just like at St. Sebastian’s she’s warm, pleasant, (spends a minute cooing over Kelly) lets them know all are welcome. She asks about their religious background, and Abby says they’re Catholic. The Pastor, Emma Brons, (Mother Emma? Obviously Father Emma isn’t going to work.) smiles, lets them know that a lot of the service will look familiar, and the biggest practical difference is that everyone is welcome and encouraged to take Communion.

Abby’s smiling and nodding, making polite conversation, asking questions. Tim’s mostly standing there and holding Kelly.

Finally Jimmy and Breena find them, but Molly’s not with them.

“Oh, good, you’ve found everything,” Jimmy says to him while Breena joins the ladies’ conversation. “Do you want to take Kelly to the nursery?”

“Nursery?” Tim asks. There was an idea that hadn’t occurred to him.

“They’ve got a nursery for babies under three. It runs the whole length of the service,” Jimmy answers, gesturing behind him.

“Oh.” Tim looks a little doubtful about that, but if Jimmy and Breena are comfortable with Molly being there… “Lead the way.”

They’re halfway down a long hall off to the side of the entry, one filled with what looks like brightly decorated classrooms.

“So, you guys don’t do the nursery at St. Sebastians?” Jimmy asks.

“Don’t have one. Kids come for the full Mass.”

“Oh.” Jimmy winces at that. The idea of a church service filled with small, loud, squirmy people, let alone having to be the guy making the small, loud, squirmy person behave isn’t anything he’d relish. “Not here. Little guys stay in the nursery. Older kids attend the service for the first ten minutes, then they have the children’s sermon, and then they go off to nursery school.”

“Hmmm… That’s different.”

“Keeps them from going bonkers.”

“I can imagine.” Tim had personally spent what felt like ninety million hours of being a very small, very young, very squirmy person trying to listen to some old fart drone on and on and on while his Dad glared daggers at him for not ‘behaving.’

“Okay, here we are.” Jimmy opened the door to a brightly lit room and the sound of twenty babies and toddlers rolled over Tim. There were six women in there, taking care of the kids, and right that second he was immensely glad to not have their job.

Molly, who was playing with some blocks, saw them, and ran over. “Uncle Tim!”

He knelt down and kissed her forehead. “Hey, Molly.”

“Kelly?” She’s not really talking in sentences, yet. She’s got most of her sounds, (Though th is a problem. Gibbs is Uncle Jetro.) and tends to talk in one or two word questions/statements.

“Yes. Kelly’s going to stay with you today. You going to show her the ropes?”

Molly didn’t appear to know what that meant, because she was looking around for ropes. (She understands, at least on a literal level, way more than she can express.) He kissed her head again. “Not real ropes. We’re going to go to church with your parents, and then come to dinner at…” He looks to Jimmy, “What are Ed and Jeannie?”

“Poppie and Gramma.”

“And then we’re going to dinner at Gramma and Poppie’s house.”

Molly nodded, looking very pleased by this development. Then she scuttled off, found who Tim is assuming is her favorite of the nursery ladies, dragged her to them, and said to her, very seriously, “Uncle Tim, Kelly.”   
“Hi, I’m Melissa James. First time at St. Mary’s?”


“Well, your little girl is going to be just fine with us. All of our caregivers are certified in CPR, and if you want to take a moment and fill out this form...” She led him over to one of the tiny tables and grabbed some paperwork en route. “We can get your Kelly settled in.”

“Okay, thanks.” He handed Kelly over, little nervous, but if Jimmy and Breena trust these people with Molly, they know what they’re doing, and got down to filling out the paperwork.

A minute later, Melissa was handing him small sticker with a number on it. “Kelly has the matching number. Don’t lose it, because that’s how we know which parents go with which babies.”

“How do you make sure it stays on the baby?”

“Put it on the diaper. That way, even if it falls off, it stays in her clothing.”

“Makes sense.”

“Did you come with your wife?”


“I’ll get you another number.”


The service was… a service. More than familiar enough. Bits and pieces (like the kids all leaving after the children’s service) were different, but not so much he couldn’t zone out.

Being stuck in what was one of four pews filled with Slaters was different.

Church attendance was a sticking point with his dad, so every single week until he got out of his house, Tim went to Mass. But, at no point in time was there ever any sort of gathering of the McGees. He’s sure there are vast hordes of McGees somewhere. His dad was one of four. His grandparents and great grandparents came from even bigger families. Probably, back in Boston, where they came from before his branch headed off to Annapolis and made a life for themselves centered on the Navy, there are whole Catholic Churches filled with McGees.

But he’s never been part of one of them.  

Meanwhile, being stuck in a sea of Slaters, being introduced to all of them (For the second or third time. He met, at least for a second, most of them at Jimmy and Breena’s wedding and Molly’s christening, and probably most of them at Jon’s funeral, but he wasn’t paying enough attention to notice anyone he didn’t already know, then.) and watching them spend half an hour after the service catching up, because, apparently not all of them were going to dinner after, felt really strange.

There are more people here in these four pews than were at his entire wedding.

They joke about the Gibbs clan. But this mass of Slaters really is a clan. And to some degree it is a bit intimidating. This if family in that massive sticky wodge of intertwined relationships and history that goes back before everyone standing in this church was born.

Tim suddenly gets exactly how much tradition Jimmy and Breena bucked by having them as Molly’s godparents. And knowing that, he’s feeling very, very sure that returning the favor matters, a lot.

Jeannie Slater's handmade cannoli
Jeannie and Ed’s place was the land of carbs. The whole house is filled with beautiful food, and none of it looks edible for Jimmy. Tim chooses to usually avoid carbs, he feels a bit better and has an easier time managing his weight when he avoids them. But, it’s a choice. And surrounded by piles of luscious food, he may decide to reverse that choice for an afternoon, and work extra hard at Bootcamp.

But it’s not a choice for Jimmy, not really. He can but shouldn’t eat them. Especially not in the heaping piles that are covering every horizontal surface in the Slaters’ dining room.

Tim actually pulled Jimmy aside and said, very quietly, “Are they trying to poison you?”

Jimmy rolled his eyes. “They think diabetes is some form of bizarre idiosyncrasy.”

Tim stares at a table laden with lasagnas, beautiful golden brown garlic bread loaves, something that might have been baked manicotti, the green beans were in some sort of casserole with crunchy bits on top, and the salad was generously studded with croutons. On a sidebar there’s a collection of fancy cookies, two different cakes, and cannoli. He can feel his mouth water and stomach rumble at all of that lovely food, but he’s feeling really bad for Jimmy.

“Thank God, you don’t have Celiac.”

Jimmy sighed at that. “They think I should just up my insulin and deal, and Ed’ll make a few cracks about me not eating enough to keep a bird alive.”

“What do you do?”

“Salad, veg, some weeks they’ll have a turkey or roast beef, too, and I’ll eat that.”


“Yeah, this is the smaller version of the spread. At least once a month, Ed’s other brother and the rest of Jeannie’s family shows up. There’s at least seventy people here that week.”



By the end of the meal, Tim knew a whole lot more about the funeral industry than he ever expected to. Apparently, most of the “family owned” funeral homes were, once upon a time, family run businesses that had been bought out by large chains that kept the local names. Competition was, to put it mildly, deadly fierce. And the Slaters were one of only two multi-location family businesses still standing in the greater DC area.  

From what he could gather, the reason they were still around was that they basically ran their own chain. Ed and his brothers each had at least one location under their control. They expanded with their children, waiting until one was old enough, focused enough, to run their own branch, and then bought/built a new location.  
Breena, as the oldest of Ed’s kids, was expected to take over her father’s primary shop. He also ran one smaller funeral home (one of his Uncle’s original shops) that would go to Amy or Mindy, depending on which one looked up for it soonest. The other would have a shop built for her when she was ready for it.

So, basically, Ed’s shop was the training ground for his kids. Add in experienced hands to make sure they learned the trade properly, recognition value from the name, and a huge pool of collected capital for expansion when the next generation was ready, and they were a very stable business.

And, as much as he thinks Ed is a massive jerk, Tim is pretty impressed with the level of organized providing-for he’s done for his girls. (Though he’s curious as to what would happen if one of them didn’t want to be a funeral director. After all, his dad had that level of planning done for his career, too. He filed that away for something to talk to Breena about when they aren’t at her parents’ home.)

The crew (including Abby and Breena) was settling down for baseball when Jimmy said, “Time for us to be heading off.”

Tim checked the clock. It’s an hour earlier than he’d have left for Bootcamp, but he also wouldn’t have needed to grab lunch before getting there.

“Oh, yeah, that thing where his boss tries to beat some spine into you, right?” Ed says.

Jimmy grits his teeth and pretends Ed didn’t actually say that. “Yeah, Ed.”

“I like Gibbs. Man’s got character, grit. You guys should invite him for next Sunday.”

Tim tries to imagine Gibbs in this crowd. He figures Gibbs would be out of here in less than ten minutes. “He’s usually busy early Sunday, but we’ll pass it along.”

“Busy?” One of the assorted Uncles, (Will? Wes? Tim has no idea what his name is.) asked.

“We’re on call one weekend a month, and the other three he spends working on his boat,” Tim replies.

“I told you about that, Dad,” Breena adds.

“Right, he’s the guy who uses his own house as the bottle he builds boats in.”  That got the rest of the crew interested in the Amazing Gibbs who says nothing, builds boats in his basement, and beats Jimmy to a pulp (to hear Ed tell it) on a weekly basis. Jimmy and Tim use that as an excuse to slip away.

“And now I understand why you’re always so happy to pound the crud out of me on Sundays.”

Jimmy flashed him a quick, and not particularly happy, smile, as he puts his key in the ignition. They’re taking Jimmy’s car to Bootcamp. Abby and Breena are going to carpool home in Abby’s car.

“How do you do that every week?”

“Valium.” He says it deadpan enough that Tim’s honestly not sure if he’s kidding. Jimmy sees the confusion and shakes his head. “No, not really. I love Breena. She loves them. So, I’ve at least got to tolerate them. I mean, I knew I was getting into this when I married her. Honestly, I spent a good six months really thinking about it before I proposed, because she made it clear she was a package deal. If I wanted her, I was getting all of them, too. And, it’s worth it… but…” Jimmy lets out a long sigh. “Yeah, Bootcamp. I love Bootcamp. Before Bootcamp, I’d get home and run for at least two hours.”

“And I can see why.”

“Believe it or not, they’re actually being nice to me. Rod, Mindy’s last boyfriend, didn’t pass muster, and, God, that was horrendously uncomfortable.”

“What’s horrendously uncomfortable?” Tim’s curious about that, because if Jimmy’s the pet son-in-law, the idea of what must happen to guys they don’t like is terrifying.

“Okay, Ed doesn’t love me, but the rest of them treat me okay. I think they’re under the impression that a properly functioning father-in-law is supposed to be constantly putting the Fear of Dad into you, making sure that you know, every single second of every day that you are not worthy of his daughter and the entire reason for your existence is to continually strive to be worthy of her. This happens until some sort of magic switch flips and suddenly you’re deemed worthy of helping his daughter take over the family business. And since I turned that down, my guess is I never get to be treated like a real human by him. But all the rest of the guys can treat you like a human.”

“All right.” Tim silently thanks Gibbs for not being that flavor of bastard.

“So, Rod shows up for church, and first of all he’s in shorts and a t-shirt.” And yes, Breena had indicated that dressy casual was the way to go here, and a suit wouldn’t be considered out of line. So, Tim donned his usual church suit. “And all of them ganged up on him. And, look, Rod wasn’t my idea of a good boyfriend, either. He didn’t show Mindy enough respect. And I’ve got no problem smacking a guy who calls out to my wife, ‘Hun, grab me a beer,’ when he’s standing ten feet from the refrigerator, and she’s on the other side of the room and has to walk past him to get it. So, I’ll admit, I joined in on it. But that poor guy was like a side of beef in a tank of irritable, hungry, snarky piranhas, who earned points with each other by who could take the biggest bite out of him.”

“I’m deeply glad not to be a perspective in-law.”

“Yeah. So far we’re the first ones to bring friends to this, but they seem to be treating you pretty well.”

“Compared to my dad, Ed’s a piker—“

“So’s Charles Manson.”

Tim smiles, appreciating that. “Not saying you’re wrong, but I had a point there.”


“Just saying, between my Dad and Tony, and hell Kate, or Ziva… Well, no one at Ed’s is going to superglue me to a large, stationary object. Two snide comments about my wrist cuff and goatee… Tony used to give me more crap than that in the chunk of time between fetching the first of the morning coffee and finishing it. Everyone treated Abby well, and behaved like Kelly was the second-most darling baby girl on earth.” Molly and Kelly are the only babies in the Slater clan right now. Though Molly does have several older cousins who start at age five and range up to fifteen. “So, yeah, that was more than I ever needed to know about funeral homes, but not really a problem.”

“Okay, I guess it did go well.”

Tim chuckled sarcastically. “Easy to have a nice family gathering when your standards are as low as mine… So, since they sort of approve of you, you only have to deal with Ed being a jerk and Jeannie trying to kill you?”

“Yeah. Though in her defense, I honestly think she doesn’t get it. ‘Cause, sure I can have an extra dose of carbs or sugar from time to time, but I feel pretty nasty after, so it’s got to be amazingly good food to make it worth it.”

“Like those ribs at Tony’s bachelor party.”

“Oh my God, yes, like those ribs! That was worth it. Hell, driving to North Carolina, shooting up insulin, night without Breena, and the sugar crash after was worth it. And one of these days, when we actually manage to have no pregnant wives between us, we’re taking the girls and introducing them to those ribs.”

Tim’s nodding. He’s on board with that idea. “Good plan.”

“Oh yeah. Anyway, Jeannie’s a great cook, and I actually do love Italian food, which I basically can’t eat anymore, but I will, on a rare occasion, when we don’t have Bootcamp after, snag a cannoli, because those are just amazing. She makes the whole thing, including the shells, from scratch.”

Tim made a quiet mmmm sound. He’d had two (promising himself to work extra hard at Bootcamp), and they were little wads of creamy, chocolate-y, crispy heaven.

“So, she’s more under the impression that I’m being an ultra-sensitive pain in the ass by not eating her food. And Ed, who will go to the wall to defend his girls, which includes Jeannie, will pick on me for it, because he considers it an insult to her.”



“So, what are we getting you for lunch?”

“You’re back!” Ziva said, pleased smile on her face when she saw Tim walk in with Jimmy.

“And looking awfully fancy,” Gibbs added. “You just visiting?”

Usual workout outfit.
Tim usually shows up dressed to work out: t-shirt, sweats, and sneakers. (Jimmy usually shows up dressed for church.) He’d worn a suit to church, and sure, the tie and jacket are back in Abby’s car (It’s July, and hot, so all the guys got rid of the jackets and ties about two minutes after getting out of the St. Mary’s), but that means, like Jimmy, he’s in a button down, dress slacks, and dress shoes.

“Went to church with Jimmy and Breena. They don’t take kindly to showing up in your workout clothing.” Jimmy just nods at them. Showing up and taking a few minutes to change is his usual routine, and Tim follows. 

Five minutes later, he’s warming up with Gibbs, while Ziva puts Jimmy through his paces, and mentions, “Jimmy and I are supposed to pass along the invite to church and Sunday dinner with the Slaters to you. Apparently, you have ‘grit,’ and Ed likes you.”

Gibbs lets go of the punching bag. (He’d been holding it steady while Tim worked it over.) He’s just watching Tim.

So Tim continues, “And neither of us will be in the least insulted if you develop some sort of massively time intensive hobby that eats up every Sunday for the rest of your life. In fact, Jimmy might encourage you to develop one.”

“Run away, Gibbs, run!” Jimmy says, smiling, ducking under Ziva’s arm, catching her hand in his and nicely spinning her around.

“He’s getting a lot better at that,” Tim says to Gibbs.

“Yes, he is.” Gibbs is smiling. Actually, Tim’s finding that smile a bit unnerving, because he doesn’t know what it means. Gibbs gestures to the punching bags. “Elbow and knee strikes, right side.”

Tim gets to it, mostly paying attention to Gibbs heading over to the boxing ring where Jimmy and Ziva are sparring.

Gibbs leans against the ropes, letting them wind down. Sure, Ziva won, but Jimmy can go a good six minutes with her now, and hold his own. (Well, not get too badly killed.)

“That a serious invite? Or was Ed just blowing smoke?”

Jimmy leans against the ropes, panting. Ziva's watching them gulping down water.

“I think it was serious.”

“You want me there?”

“You’d come?” Jimmy looks stunned by that idea. “It’s church and a gathering of up to seventy people just standing around, talking funerals, and eating. And, Ed’s not exactly your favorite person.”

“Nope. But he’s your kids’ grandfather, your wife’s dad. Like it or not, he’s family. Not like I’ve never been to church before. Used to do it regular when Shannon and Kelly were alive. Used to do Sunday dinner, long time back, with my grandparents.”

“Huh. Sure. Come. Just, might not be fun.”

Gibbs shrugs at that. “You want me to invite him to Bootcamp? Let him see what you can do?”

“God. No! You do that, and I’ll have a day where I trip over my own feet just getting into the ring. This is fun. This is how I blow off the stress of Sunday Dinner. I’d like it to stay that way.”

Gibbs nod, and then a slow smile spread across his face. “You ever want to put him in his place, and if he comes, you will put him in his place, he’s more than invited to join us.” 


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