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The Ruffman Family Reunion

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It was the day before the Ruffman family reunion. All of Ruff's family would be there, including Parker, his soon-to-be adopted child. Ruff was excited.

Parker wasn't so much.

The reunion was going to be held at a park, and everyone was supposed to bring a dish. Ruff and Parker sat around, looking at recipes they could possibly use. "Here's one for gelatin salad," Ruff said.

"Dad, that sounds disgusting," Parker told him.

"Well, this cookbook is from the 70s."

"Maybe we should look on the Internet."

"Good idea! The Internet is a great tool!"

They looked up recipes using a search engine. "Grandma Ruffman usually makes most of the desserts, and a lot of the main dishes will be provided, so we're just going to bring a side dish," Ruff explained.

They found a recipe for baked macaroni and cheese and printed it out. Once they got the ingredients, they went home and started cooking. Unfortunately, it didn't go well. Despite following the recipe (more or less), they ended up burning the food.

"Maybe we could get Aunt Blossom or Uncle Chet to help," Parker said, visibly cringing after they took the dish out of the oven.

"NooooooOOOOoooOOOOOOo," Ruff shook his head. "We don't need any help." He examined the burned mess. "We can still bring it. Nobody'll notice."

Parker raised an eyebrow. "I think they would, Dad."

The dog sighed. "You're right. We'll just pick up some macaroni and cheese from the store and say we made it." He giggled.

As they cleaned up the mess, Parker asked, "How many people are going to be there, anyway?"

"Probably just one. As for dogs, quite a few."

"How many family members do you have?" she asked.

"Several, plus one more," Ruff smiled.

Parker tried to smile but couldn't manage to. Ruff asked, "What's wrong, PJ?"

"I'm...not really a part of your family," Parker replied after a pause.

"What are you talking about? You're my child."

"Foster child. Besides, I don't think I should go to the reunion, anyway."

"Parker, what's this about?"

Parker took a deep breath. "Your family isn't going to like me."

Ruff sat by Parker, concerned. "Why would you think that?"

"Because I'm nonbinary."

Ruff put his paw on their shoulder. "Parker, they're going to love you. You're my kid and part of the Ruffman family, too. No matter what, you belong. Besides, we have a huge family with all kinds of dogs."

"So?"

"So, you don't have anything to worry about. Go as you are. Nobody is going to make a big deal out of it, I promise. Pinkie swear." He held his pinkie out. She held hers out, and they locked fingers. "Now, let's go back to the store before they close."

The next morning, Ruff and Parker had breakfast. Ruff asked, "What's the gender today?"

"Spin the wheel and find out," Parker replied.

"You got a great sense of humor, PJ."

'I've picked up a few pointers from my dad."

After they ate, they made the macaroni and cheese. When it was done, Ruff said, "Okay. Let's get this show on the road."

Ruff and Parker went to a park in another part of the city. As they approached a pavillion, Parker saw a lot of dogs gathered under and around it. Most of them had orange fur, like her father. When they got closer, she recognized a few of them. She stayed behind Ruff a little.

The first to greet them was Grandma Ruffman, who was helping set out the food on the picnic tables. She walked to Ruff and Parker and hugged them both. "Hello, dears! Glad you could make it!"

After saying hello, Grandma Ruffman asked, "Is this what you brought, Ruffie?"

"Yeah. We made it ourselves," Ruff boasted.

Grandma Ruffman raised an eyebrow and put the container of "homemade" macaroni and cheese on a picnic table by other side dishes. "I'm sure you did, with a little help from the instructions on the box."

Parker stifled a laugh, and Ruff frowned at his grandmother, annoyed. "Grandma..."

"By the way, be sure to say hello to your brother, Scruff."

"Scruff is here?" asked Ruff, surprised.

Scruff, Ruff's brother, came up to them. "Surprise, brother," he said in his rough, scraggly voice, which made Ruff jump.

Parker had heard quite a bit about her dad's twin brother. He had been in prison before after getting into a life of crime but was now living with Grandma Ruffman. After remembering everything her dad had told her that Scruff had done to him, Parker's first instinct was to protect her dad. "Don't do that," she harshly told Scruff, glaring.

Scruff looked confused, and Ruff quickly assured the teenager, "It's okay, Parker. I'm just a little surprised to see my brother here." Ruff patted Scruff's back. "How have you been, Scruff?"

"Okay, I guess. I've been volunteering at the circus."

"That's great! What have you been doing?"

"Cleaning up after the elephants."

After Ruff made a disgusted face, Scruff said, "I know. I know, but I'm hoping they'll eventually let me have my own act as a trapeze artist."

"I'm sure they will. You're great," Ruff cheerfully told him.

"Thanks. So, this is your kid?" Scruff asked, addressing Parker.

"Yep. This is Parker," Ruff proclaimed, proudly.

"Hello, Parker. I haven't gotten much of a chance to see you. Sorry about scaring you earlier."

"It's okay," Parker replied, still wary of him.

At that moment, Ruff's parents, Wink and Dinah, arrived, carrying a container of potato salad. They greeted their two sons. Grandma Ruffman took the container and set it with the other side dishes. "Glad you two could make it," she said.

"We can't stay long," Wink informed them. "We're starting a new mission tomorrow."

"You're leaving again?" Ruff asked, unhappily.

"Oh, son, we'll be back," Dinah assured him. "Much, much sooner than we were last time."

Ruff tried to smile but was obviously disappointed.

"Well, look at our grandchild!" Wink exclaimed. "Parker, I swear you've grown an inch taller since the last time we saw you!"

Parker smiled a little. "Thanks."

"Hey! What about me?" Another voice asked. Glen ran up to the crowd. He wore glasses, a brown T-shirt with a dragon on it, and a necklace.

"Oh, yes, Glen!" Wink said. "You're growing up to be a fine young man!"

"Thanks, Grandpa."

The rest of Ruff's siblings (8 total) also greeted them, along with many aunts, uncles, cousins, and some distant relatives. Parker had a difficult time trying to remember everyone's names. She mostly stayed in the background while her dad talked to everyone.

"I think everyone's here, now," Grandma Ruffman stated after the dogs socialized for awhile. "Why don't we get our picture taken before we eat?"

The Ruffman family gathered in front of the lake while the camera was set up on a tripod. It took a long time for the picture to get taken. Finally, a mostly satisfactory picture was taken, then they all left the spot and took turns getting food.

Parker and Ruff sat by Grandma Ruffman, Ruff's parents, and Scruff. As they ate, the adults chit-chatted. Wink asked Ruff, "So, son, how's the show going?"

"Great!" Ruff responded, excitedly, his tail wagging. "We're filming season 6 right now! I've got lots of new ideas, and Parker has been helping out a lot!"

Parker smiled a little, embarrassed. "I haven't done that much."

"We couldn't do it without you."

"You did for 5 seasons."

"But this season is even better!"

"Well, that's wonderful, Ruffie, but when are you going to get a real job? You've got a kid now, y'know," Grandma Ruffman chimed in.

"Grandma, hosting the show IS a real job," Ruff sighed.

"You've got more responsibilities now. You need to get serious and make an actual living."

Parker immediately lost their temper. "He's doing fine," they stated, firmly. "He's taking care of me better than anyone else ever has."

"Parker-" Ruff started, but Parker interrupted him.

"He's a great dad and does so much for me. You have no idea what you're talking about!" Parker got up and stormed off towards the lake, letting themself cool off before they could get any angrier.

Ruff stood up and told his family, "We're working on some anger issues." He then went after Parker. "Hey, PJ."

"I don't get why she's so mean to you!"

"Take a deep breath."

They both took a deep breath together, then Ruff said, "That's just how Grandma is; she doesn't mean anything by it. I appreciate you standing up for me, but I can do it myself. I can handle stuff like this."

"I had to say something. I couldn't let her talk to you like that."

Ruff hugged her. "Like I said, I can handle it. Stuff like that doesn't bother me too much. You know why?"

"Why?"

"Because I like what I do. Being in showbiz makes me happy. Being happy and taking care of you are the most important things to me. As long as I'm doing that, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks."

As Ruff hugged Parker, Grandma Ruffman came up to them and said, "I'm sorry I upset you, dear. I love your father very much, and we're all proud of the dog he is, even if he is in showbusiness."

"Thanks, Grandma," said Ruff, half-sincerely and half sarcastically.

"Why don't you two come back and have dessert? I made a strawberry cake."

"I don't think I should," Parker quietly said.

"Why not?"

"I...I don't really belong," they answered, avoiding eye contact. "I'm out of place and don't fit in."

Ruff looked sad, and Grandma Ruffman immediately said, "Nonsense. You fit in perfectly. You're a wonderful, brave child with a heart of gold."

Parker was surprised. "You really think so?"

"I know so, dearie. Come on and have dessert. You'll get the first piece."

When the three of them got back to the table, Wink and Dinah got ready to leave. They said their goodbyes and gave hugs. "We'll see you soon," they both said, then left.

Grandma Ruffman cut the cake she made and gave Parker the first piece. When they took a bite, she asked, "How is it? It's my special recipe."

"It's good,...Grandma," Parker hesitantly replied. At this, both Grandma Ruffman and Ruff smiled, happily.

After Parker was done eating, Ruff suggested, "Why don't you go see what Glen is up to?" He pointed to Glen, who was over by some playground equipment.

Parker shrugged. "Okay, I guess."

As Parker hung out with Glen, who told her all about Dungeons and Dragons, Ruff said to his siblings and grandmother, "Hey, I need some support right now."

"What's wrong?" Petunia, one of his sisters, asked.

"Parker's biological parents are giving me trouble. They're trying to get them back. They're saying a dog can't be a good parent."

Scruff shouted, "That's baloney!"

"I know. I know. They're both just grasping at straws now. There's no way they're going to get Parker back. But they're trying to make it harder for me to adopt them."

"Ruffie, you want my advice?" Grandma Ruffman asked.

"Yeah. I really need it."

"Don't you dare ever stop fighting for your child. No matter what those clowns do, never give up."

"I won't. Parker is a Ruffman. They're my kid and always will be. I'll do whatever it takes to keep them home."

"Good for you," Grandma Ruffman said, genuinely. "We're all behind you 100%."

Everyone agreed.

When Parker and Glen came back, Parker said, "Dad, Glen invited me to play Dungeons and Dragons with his friends Saturday."

"That's great, Parker!" Ruff exclaimed. "I'll help you pick out your character."

"Thanks. I didn't know you knew anything about it."

"A little. Besides, I want to be supportive." He hugged her. "What do you say we get the leftovers and head home?"

"Sounds like a good idea," Parker replied.

When they were ready to go, the remaining family members hugged each other. Grandma Ruffman told Parker, "Come and see me sometime. You're always welcome at my house."

"Okay."

"We'll drop by next week," Ruff stated, picking up the container they had brought.

As Ruff and Parker headed home, Ruff asked, "So, did you have fun?"

"Yeah. It actually went a lot better than I thought it would."

"Good! I understand why you were nervous, but you don't have anything to worry about. You're part of the family, and you always will be."

"Thanks, Dad." Parker smiled at him. "I'm starting to feel like I am."