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Families affair

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When I moved from London back to Raleigh in 2005, I was jobless and broke. A college friend and his then-girlfriend offered a room in their rented duplex until I figured life out in North Carolina. That little Oakwood house served as tight quarters for three 20-somethings, but it provided a solid foundation for our friendship in a city that was busy building its own urban infrastructure.

Fast-forward seven years: The couple is married, as am I. We both bought our first homes within a few blocks of that early pad, and we each have one child and a little more money. Raleigh now has something that resembles a proper downtown, too.

On a recent spring evening, Stacy, Oliver and I prepared to journey a few blocks to celebrate the couple's last night in their first home and, coincidentally, my 32nd birthday. They purchased the house pre-parenthood, but the family of three had now outgrown the 1,000-square-foot, one-bath house with an unfinished basement. They sold the house to build their second home a few blocks away.

It was a relatively early evening because, the next morning and after a two-year battle with cancer, Oliver was scheduled to have his post-treatment MRI and CT scans. His blood tests had shown no evidence of cancer, but these tests confirmed that Oliver was indeed currently cancer-free. Stacy and I also had a new development on our minds: Before climbing in the car to go to the party, we learned that we were expecting our second child. Considering all of the chaos and stress of the last two years, we were slightly hesitant. But over a picnic at Fred Fletcher Park, we reasoned that Oliver would enjoy a sibling. Yes, it was shocking at first, but we settled into the mindset of a family of four.

We arrived at the party with the news fresh in our minds. Though the night was about celebrating with our friends in a house whose basement had often turned into a speakeasy of friends, drinks for Stacy were out of the question. Earlier in the weekend, we'd seen our friends at a local bar and offered to buy them a drink. She declined. I was convinced they were in the same situation.

They moved out of the house the same week; the following Saturday, they told us they were having their second child. Biting our tongues, we kept our news secret. The next day, we arrived at their new house with a six-pack of non-alcoholic beer to spread the word. Once again, we'd be in this together.

To accommodate the new additions, we both need extra space. Their rental, only three blocks south of that original duplex, backs up to the grassy lot on which they're building a new two-story residence. Meanwhile, we've hired the same friend's architecture and construction firm to build our bedroom on the back of our current place.

We've shared so much of our lives in the past decade within this small urban footprint that we've quipped about starting an urban commune. We may joke about that, but having a group of close friends living within a few blocks now makes as much of a difference as it did when I was a child. Instead of being the boy who is going over to my friend's house to play Nintendo while mom cooks dinner, I'm now the one boiling the pasta.

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