Just Hit 'Send' - The Happy Years

by Grasshopper

Ch. 7

The hot wet hurricane heat of June and July slid into the dry steaminizing heat of the dog days of August. Andy and JD, brown as little acorns, lived in the water, rolled in the sand and built skyscraper castles.

"I didn't know Danny had architect blood in him," Markie laughed as she watched Dan create yet another condo complete with pool and tennis courts. "It's always such a shame when the waves wash it away."

Jordan smiled as he listened to Dan fuss at JD for wiping out an entire wing of the mock Mandalay Bay Vegas he was building. "Hey, Dan," he called, "Gettin' a little too involved, are we?"

Danny looked up toward the shade of the porch sheepishly. "Yeah, I just wanted to get that last part done before 'Godzilla' attacks."

'Godzilla' and 'Godzilla Jr' looked at each other, grinned and pounced on Papa D.

"Godzilla squishes !!" JD shrieked as they tumbled the sand creation and rolled in the wasteland that had been Las Vegas.

Danny raised up his arms and squinched his face into a terrible scowl. "Tickle death to all Japanese monsters." The fight that ensued caused the beach to shake and the water to form a sunami as two little 'monsters' attacked one formidable one.

"Dan makes a wonderful father," Markie said softly. "JD is a very lucky boy. He has so many people to love him." She rubbed her swollen tummy and let out a deep sigh.

"So will this little sweetheart," Jordan reached over and patted her gently. "The world may jab at them, but they'll always have all of us."

"I wonder what his biological father would think of him?" she sighed.

"Do you care?"

"Not really, I just thank God for you and Dan and Easy and my Griffin."

"How will you explain all this to him? Will you explain it?" Jordan hadn't really thought of that before. "What if, one day, he wants to meet his real father?"

"We'll explain when he's older and he can make that choice, I suppose."

"Do you even know what happened to Jeff?"

"I got an e-mail from Missy not long ago and she mentioned that he had gotten married and lived in Atlanta. They saw him at a party not long ago. He's a hotshot lawyer for one of the big firms."

"You sorry you never told him?"

Markie looked out over the blue water sparkling with sun drops. "Never. I wouldn't trade what I have for anything. I have a life most women would kill for.......6 beautiful men in my life."

"Well, I'm thinking you might as well change that 6 to a 7 cause we've got us a new member," Jordan smiled and raised his hand in a wave. "Hey, Gabriel. Come on out."

Gabriel stood at the edge of the porch watching the battle for supremacy on the sand. He remembered doing the same things with his father when he was little...when he was little and life wasn't a complicated mess. Easy had asked him what he would do about his life if he could fix it. Gabriel didn't really know except he wished with all his heart that he could go back to being a little kid again...back when life didn't suck.

"Hey, Cutie," Markie smiled. "Got your suit on under there?"

"Yes, Ma'am," he smiled.

"Then get down there and help Dan. he's being overpowered by those twin beasties."

Jordan and Markie watched as Gabriel trotted off across the sand to lift a squealing JD off Danny's back and head for the water.

"He's gonna be okay, I think," Markie sighed, "If Easy has anything to do with it."

"Yeah, we'll all help as much as we can. He just needs to relax and decide what he really wants. Then, we'll help him get it."

"He needs to get back in school for one thing," Markie said quietly, "But we have to have a birth certificate to get that done."

"Easy's working on that," Jordan replied. "He's contacted Gabriel's father and the dumbass said that as long as Gabriel says he's a fag, he isn't welcome back home but he will send the papers so the boy can go to school."

"That's big hearted of him," Markie griped, "Like Gabriel has a choice in the way God made him. Jeez."

"Easy says he's just another one of those unbendable str8s who think we make a choice to be different cause it's cool or something." Jordan snorted, patted the baby one last time and rose to his feet. "I better go save my sweetie before he's too worn out."

Markie grinned, "Too worn out for what, Jordy?"

"Well, we were planning on our own private rodeo tonight," Jordan grinned back, a twinkle in his eye.

"Oh, Lord," Markie rolled her eyes, "That would be a big yehahhhh."


Gabriel watched the two little guys as they filled buckets with salt water and proceeded to dump the buckets on each other. The grownups had gone in to clean up, asking Gabriel to watch the kids. He sat back, propped up on his arms, the sun baking his skin a deep chestnut. He absently watched the sky and thought about his life 'before'. A huge cumulus cloud scudded across the sky. As Gabriel cocked his head, the shape of a brontosaurus emerged and he grinned as the neck got longer and longer until the little head finally popped off and floated away and the big body changed shape. Life here on the sand was good. He wished he could just stay like this forever.

JD shrieked and Andy collapsed in a heap at his feet, their giggles piercing the soft roar of the waves and the call of the seabirds. Gabriel hoped that they would always be so happy....that life wouldn't close in on them the way it had with him.

Off in the distance, down the beach, walking in the surf, he noticed two figures coming toward him. He watched, squinting his eyes, trying to make out who they were. He could hear their laughter, see the way the one boy danced around the other, teasing and laughing. One walked a bit hesitantly, the other sure and steady, as if leading the way, all the while chattering like two monkeys in a code that seemed to belong to them alone.

As they got closer, Gabriel watched the one boy pull his hand away from the tight grip of the other. They had been holding hands! Gabriel's eyes widened at the bravery of the two until he saw the one boy stumble and the other catch his arm.

They walked between Gabriel and the two munchkins and Gabriel put up his hand to shade his eyes to get a better look. With one eye squinched shut and the other peering intently, he called out, "Hey, guys."

They stopped and the younger boy glanced over, shy and unsure. "Hey", he answered.

"Want some water? I've got bottles up in the cooler on the porch."

Heads together, soft whispers, "Yeah, sure." They walked over to the big blanket and stood uncertainly. Gabriel hopped up, "Be right back. Hold on."

He ran up the sand and grabbed 3 bottles of Aquafina, carrying them back across the hot sand. "I'm Gabriel. You guys live around here or just visiting?"

"Just spending the week," the younger boy answered. "We live in Maryland but we come here lots."

Gabriel watched the interplay of the two. He could tell they were really close. "You brothers?"

The older boy laughed, "Nah, just best friends. My name's Marc and this is my best friend in the entire world, Mitch." He looked directly at Gabriel but his eyes seemed not to see him. Gabriel frowned and, just for a second, everything got quiet.

"Yeah," the boy answered the unasked question, "I don't see too good. Mitch here is my guide dog."

Mitch answered with a cute little 'woof', and punched his friend softly.

"Whoa!" Gabriel let it out before he could stop it. "That's........that's big."

"Yeah, most people think so," Marc replied, quietly, "But Mitch and I don't mind. He can hold my hand out in public and it doesn't look funny."

It was the way they sat, as if leaning in to each other. It was the way they finished each other's sentences, as if they knew what the other was thinking. Gabriel smiled. They were like him.

JD and Andy flopped down on the blanket and stared at the strangers. "Hey little guys," Mitch smiled. "I'm Mitch and this is Marc."

JD looked out from under his eyelashes, "I be's JD and this is my bestest friend in the wide world, Andy." Andy reached over to hand Marc a shell but Marc didn't take it.

In the way only little people have of knowing, like they hadn't been long away from God's love, JD inched over until he was really near Marc. "Hey," he said softly, laying his hand on Marc's arm. "It'll be okay." He took the shell from Andy and opened Marc's hand. "Andy is givin' you a shell."

Marc grinned, "Thanks, Andy. It sure is a pretty shell."

"Can you see it?" JD asked, his face confused.

"No, but I can feel it and I believe you." He smiled and ruffled JD's hair.

"Well, we better go on goin'," Mitch said. "They'll be lookin' for us and we've got a long way to walk back. Good to meet you guys. Maybe we'll see you again soon."

They stood up, brushed off the sand and walked back the way they'd come, stopping once to wave and then Mitch reached over and took Marc's hand, not so much to guide him now but more to just give him the love that always moved from one to the other. Gabriel watched them until they disappeared into the distance.

"Gabril?" JD sighed. "He could not see me."

"No, Punkin, but he felt you. He knew you are a good little kid. And you too, Andy." Grabbing them up, one under each arm, Gabriel headed for the house, stopping once to look back down the beach, a soft smile on his face.


Nic woke up with a start. It was eerie, as if he'd felt a kiss on his cheek. He raised his hand and touched the spot.

"Hey there, Nickie," he heard Sam's smiling voice from the foot of the bed.

Nic raised up on one elbow and looked into the deep violet eyes that he loved so much. "Hey, Sam, is it time?"

"Yeah, just about. I've waited a long time for you, my love. You think you can stand an eternity with me?" He reached out and brushed the gray hair from Nic's forehead.

"If you can forgive me for running over your foot when we met."

Sam laughed, "You were so uptight. A lawyer, of all things. Remember how we fought? Over everything?"

"I remember. I would be so angry, so frustrated, wanting nothing better than to strangle you with my bare hands but.....,"

"But?"

"But under it all, I loved you so much. I loved you from the first moment I saw you, standing there with paint smeared on your face, in your long messy hair, scowling at me for running over your foot with my wheelchair."

"And you.........acting like it was okay to crush my toes cause you were in that chair."

Nic sighed. "We had a life, didn't we, Sam?"

"I wouldn't trade one minute of my life with you. Not one second. You completed me."

"Will it be the same............where we go? Will it be the same?"

"We will be together, yes. I had to wait til it was your time. You've accomplished so much since I left you. That was God's plan, you know. You've been a friend, a father, a grandpa to these children when they needed you. Now they can stand on their own and you can go."

"Will I have time to say goodbye?"

"If you like. There's no rush now. It's time to go but I've waited these years, I can wait a bit longer. I'll be back later and show you the way." As Nic drifted back to sleep, he thought of the words he had yet to say to his family and of Sam's shining violet eyes.


Sitting around the breakfast table, JD making a necklace out of Cheerios with some string Griff handed him, the family talked about their day.

"I gotta drive over to Home Depot and get some caulk for the shower," Jordan said. "Anybody wanna come or need anything?"

"I'll go with," Danny smiled. "I need some WD-40 for my wheels. They squeak something fierce."

Markie pressed on the small of her back and hid a grimace of pain. "Griffin, will you take JD with you to the soccer field? I'm just a little tired this morning."

Griff looked at her intently, "You okay, Sweetie?"

"Yes, I'm just so fat and the baby has dropped. I'm miserable and I kinda just want to put my feet up."

"I won't be long," Griff said, frowning. "I just have to drop these nets off and I'll be right back. We'll grill tonight so supper's on me. You just take it easy."

"I'll be fine. You get going and then you'll be back sooner," she smiled.

The front door slammed and the men were all off on their errands. Markie had her cell phone that Griff had pressed into her hand. She looked over at Nic. "Whew! A little peace and quiet."

"Markie," he said softly. "You're a wonderful mother to all these boys."

She wrinkled her nose and then grinned, "Yeah, I guess so. Just call me 'Wendy'. I take care of the lost boys."

"Never stop believing in them. They're gold."

"Nic.......sweetie. Are you okay?"

"Just a bit tired today. I think I'll go lie down and rest. If you need me, just call."

Markie watched him wheel slowly to his bedroom door and heard the door click shut.

Her mother's intuition clanging loudly, Markie punched a number on her cell. "Jordy.........home......now! It's Nic." Clicking off, she pushed herself heavily out of the chair and walked toward his closed door. Opening it softly, she heard him speaking softly.

"Almost, Sam. That was a bad one. Hold my hand tight."

Markie squeezed her eyes shut for a second and leaned her head against the door frame. Not now......not now, Nic. She felt the cramp begin low in her back and shove its way down. Grabbing her back, she felt the warm flow of water as her baby chose now to say hello. Punching in Griff's number, she managed to whisper, "Griffin.............come home," before the cell phone fell from her fingers.

Easy found Markie slumped on the sofa, her water broken, her face twisted in a deep frown of concentration. "Oh lord, where's Griff?"

"He's coming," she gasped, "But go see about Nic. Don't worry about me."

Easy ran into Nic's room and found the elderly man lying peacefully on the bright patchwork quilt covering his bed, his hands folded gently across his chest. Easy swallowed hard and moved close, letting out the breath he'd been holding when he saw the older man's chest rise and fall. Whispering, he said softly, "Nic, you okay?"

"I will be soon," Nic answered, "You see to Markie. I know it's her time. I just don't seem to have the strength right now."

Easy heard car doors slamming and stayed right where he was. "Griff's home and Jordy and Dan too. You just rest easy right now. I'm here."

Jordan took one look at Markie as Griff scooped her up in his arms and headed for the door. "Call Dr. Myers, Dan," he called. "We're about to have our baby."

Dan rushed to the phone and punched in the number. Jordan headed for Nic's room, skidding to a halt as he saw Easy kneeling beside his friend's bed. "Oh, Easy," he sighed.

Nic opened his eyes and smiled, "Not yet, son. I needed to say goodbye and know that Markie was okay."

Hot scalding tears rose in Jordan's eyes but he choked them back. He felt Danny's arm go tight around his waist felt the questions bouncing around the room.

"We need to get you to the hospital, Nic," he said softly.

"Could I just stay here?" he asked. "I feel closer to Sam here."

"Of course you can," Danny said, his voice tangled in tears. "Sam can come for you easier if you're at home."

"Oh, he's been here for quite some time," Nic answered, a sweet smile on his lips. "He's just giving me time to say goodbye."

Jordan looked at Danny. Dan nodded his head. Jordan steadied Dan and then reached down to scoop Nic up in his arms. "I'm taking you to the murals. I want you to be where you belong when Sam takes your hand."

Jordan walked carefully to the porch and turned toward the apartment he shared with Danny that was filled with Sam's and Nic's lives painted on the walls. "Jordan," Nic sighed deeply, "Could we go to the water one more time?"

Tears blinding him, Jordan Lawrence took the longest walk of his life. He carried the man who had become his father to the sand and the sound of the surf for the last time. Huge puffy clouds scudded across the sky, the seabirds circled, soaring and diving for fish, all was the same but nothing would ever be quite the same. Life would go on, everyone richer for having known him but sadder for having lost him....everyone except Sam.

Nic breathed the salty tang of the air and said softly, "You're the cornerstone of this big family, son. Hold them all together. Your life will be long and full of love. It's taken you a long time to see yourself clearly. Don't ever let it go. Love Dan and teach JD how to be a man. I'll be watching and one day we'll meet again. Make the world a better place, my son."

Jordan felt his frail body slump in his arms and knew it was time to let him rest in the rooms where he and Sam had lived and loved. "I'll let you rest now, Father," he said softly, and as he entered the big wide room with all the murals of the places Sam and Nic had visited, he asked softly, "Where do you want to go?"

Nic smiled, "I think Tuscany. Sam fed me fat juicy grapes and we made love under the hot sun in the grass of a pasture."

"Tuscany it is," Jordan smiled and Danny plumped pillows on the sofa as he shoved it to face the west wall and the fresco of the golden Tuscany hills.

Nic moved into the comfort of the soft pillows and smiled, his voice going softer. "Remember, Sam? Remember the tang of those grapes? Remember how you let the juice drip onto my cheek and kissed it away? I remember."

Jordan heard the soft muffled sobs and took Danny into his arms, their tears mingling as he pressed his cheek to Dan's.

"Don't cry for me," Nic smiled. "Sam needs me just like you need each other. I'm going home. May I see JD before I go?"

JD? Oh dear lord.......where was he? Jordan ran for the house and Danny came to sit on the edge of the sofa.

"Remember all the things we talked about, Dan. He's only as strong as you let him be. He loves you more than life. You have to smile through the tears, knowing that, one day, you will be equal. You will walk beside him, shoulder to shoulder and you two will be strong together. I am getting ready to be with Sam, to walk and run and take away his worries. Hold onto him tight, Daniel. He is who he is because of you."

"JD?" Jordan was frantic. They had all forgotten about him. My God! His mama rushed to the hospital, his grandpa fading away....they had just forgotten him. "JD!!!!"

He heard a snuffle and one little sneaker poked out from under the sofa in the living room. Sitting down by the little foot, Jordan tugged gently. "JD?"

"No."

"Well, who does this foot belong to?"

"Nobody."

"Honey, we scared you, didn't we?"

Jordan heard a huge sniffle and a very wet little voice, "Uh huh."

"Come out. I need a hug." He tugged on the little sneaker again and a very hot sweaty tangle of boy crawled out to fly into his arms, grabbing onto his neck.

"Where is my mommy?" JD's eyes were saucered and his fear was making his words come out in puffs. "Where's Grandpa Nic?" His bottom lip was quivering and huge tear drops hug from long lashes.

Jordan took a deep breath. "Your mommy has gone to the hospital to get the new baby. Your pop took her. She just didn't have time to hug you bye. She'll want to talk to you as soon as she can, k?"

"k," his voice wobbled, "She'll get a good one, right?"

"She sure will.....but your Grandpa isn't feeling too good right now," he said softly.

"Did you give him some of my bubblegum medcin?"

"I don't think that will help him right now," Jordan sighed, his mind frantic, searching for the right words. "I think Grandpa Nic is gonna be going to live with his very best friend, Sam, soon, JD."

"I don't want him to leave me," JD sniffled.

"Me either," Jordan said softly, "But sometimes, it's not our call. It will make him really happy to go so we can't make him feel bad about it. Can you do that? Can you be big now..........for Grandpa Nic?" He felt JD's little body straighten up.

"I can be's big.......like you, Daddy. I can."

"Good. He wants to talk to you for a bit. Be big now for your Grandpa." He stood up and lifted his son up high into the air.


Val and Easy watched as Griff was told, in no uncertain terms, how much Markie hated him and all of mankind. Easy stood over by the window looking like he wanted to jump out at any minute. Val held tight to Markie's other hand and felt a glimmer of sympathy for Griff as Markie cut the circulation off in his right hand.

As another hard contraction ripped through her small body, Markie whimpered and then rounded glassy eyes on her husband. "Go call. Please call. I need to know about Nic."

Griff looked over at Easy and they practically ran out of the room. "I'll be right out in the hall, sweetie....if you need me."

Val shook her head. "Men."

Markie grinned, "He's actually doing pretty good. You should have seen Jordy when I had JD. He was in more pain than I was."


Jordan set JD down outside the door. "Brave now, big guy, right?"

"Yes, Daddy. I can be very brave..........I think."

Jordan put his hand on JD's small shoulder and they walked in to find Danny stretched out beside Nic, listening as Nic told him about the golden Tuscany sunshine and the olive trees. "Sam painted everything he saw. He had a knack for catching the beauty in everyday things. He made me feel beautiful too."

JD stood very still. He wanted everything to be like it had been yesterday; his Mommy here holding him and his Grandpa Nic telling him another story about brave boys and fierce dragons.

"Grandpa Nic?" his small voice wavered.

"Ah, my grandboy," Nic smiled. "Come let me see how much you grew last night while you slept."

"I don't think I growed much," JD answered. He felt the top of his head.

"Indeed, I think you did. You look bigger somehow." Nic reached out his hand and patted the bed beside him. "I need to tell you some very important things now, JD. Okay?"

JD looked up at his daddy and over to Papa D. He took a deep breath and stepped over to the bed. "I be's ready to be brave."

Danny sat up and held out his arms. JD crawled into the circle and felt his daddy slide in behind his Papa. Their arms circled him and he felt safe.

"I need to go away now, JD. It's time for me to go. My good friend Sam is here to take me to his home. I love him and he loves me. I'll think of you every day and I hope you think of me and have a big smile on your face."

JD thought it over. "Will you come back?"

"No, but I'll never forget you and I'll watch over you from my new home. Sam will too."

"Can I meet Sam? Is he here?"

"He's here waiting and you've met him in your dreams. He's your friend just like I am. We love you, brave JD."

"I don't want you to go," JD said, his voice shaky. Jordan and Danny held on tight.

"Give me one small kiss, my angel boy, then I have to go. Sam needs me and he knows the way home." Nic looked at Jordan, at Danny. "You have blessed me by being my sons. I couldn't have asked for a better life. I will always be with you....in those loving hearts. And Jordan...............I'll find Josh. I'll find him and tell him what a fine man you've turned out to be and how proud he can be of you..........even though he already knows. Dan, remember......always remember."

JD kissed Nic's warm cheek gently and the old man sighed. "Life is what you make of it, JD. Find your love and hold on tight."

Then, almost to himself, he whispered, "Here, Sam. Show me the bridge. I want to walk over it with you. Always with you."

The lights dimmed in his bright green eyes and his breath eased out in a soft sigh, a smile on his lips. Sam grabbed his hand and pointed toward a rainbow colored sky. "There, Nicholas. That's where we're headed. That's where home is."

Nic stood up from the bed, his legs wobbly for a second and then, gathering strength, he straightened long unused muscles, looked at his love and caressed Sam's face. "Take me there, my Sam. I've waited so long."

Sam took hold of Nic's hand and they walked toward eternity........ together.


Jordan touched Nic's cheek and gently closed his eyes for the last time. "I'll miss you so much," he whispered.

Danny held tight to JD and sighed, "Go with Sam and with God, my friend."

JD nestled into Danny's lap and heaved a long sigh clouded with tears. "Grandpa Nic is with angels now, right?"

"Yes, JD. Grandpa Nic is walking with the angels."

The clock bonged the hour.....4:00 on an ordinary day. Lives change, people come into your life...people slip away. The phone rang. Shaking off the silence, Jordan slide from behind Danny, lifted JD and walked out the door onto the porch.

"Yes?"
"Is Markie good?"
"The baby?"
"He's gone."
"We'll be there later."
"Love Marks and Griff for us."

"You are officially a big brother, Joshua Daniel," Jordan said, sadness mixing with joy causing the tears to trickle down his face.

"I gots a baby?"

"Yep."

"How much did it cost?"

Jordan thought about the hospital bills but smiled a half smile, "Babies are free. All they cost is love."

JD thought for a minute. "I gots a brudder or a sister?"

"I didn't even ask," Jordan said. "It'll be surprise. What do you want?"

"Don't know.........if I don't like it, can we trade it?"

"Nope, doesn't work that way. No trade ins."

"Hmmm," was all the little mind replied.

JD, go pack some toys in your SpongeBob and we'll go see Mommy and the baby in a bit, k?"

"K," he said and started off, only to turn back. "Daddy?"

"Uh huh?"

"Grandpa Nic.......?"

"He knows about the baby. We'll take good care of your Grandpa. You go pack."

"K."


"I've called," Danny said when Jordan walked back into the room. "They'll be here in a few minutes."

"I felt Sam," Jordan said quietly.

"Me too. I hope that's all true, Jordy. I'll miss him so much but I know he's happier now."

"I don't know if I could deal without you," Jordan groaned and took Danny in his arms.

"You could. You could because you're strong and you know that what we feel, what we have, is stronger than death. I would just be waiting for you. You know how patient I can be."

Jordan snuffled his nose in Danny's soft curls. "Markie had the baby."

"One life over....another begins."


Jordan took JD for a surfboard ride out in the sunshine, out in the warm salty spray of the Atlantic. The little boy was quiet, his mind racing over what had happened. His daddy made him laugh and squeal and he never saw the men from the ambulance come in and take care of his Grandpa Nic.

Jordan did. His heart hurt but he smiled at the sound of JD's laughter and he knew Nic was smiling too.


Jordan met Markie's eyes and she saw the pain hovering right below the surface. She opened her arms and took him in. "I'm so sorry, Jordy."

He breathed in and shook off the grief. "Where's my...............wait, what kind did you get?" he laughed.

Griff turned from the window, a tiny blanket nestled in his arms. Jordan felt his heart melt at the sight of his best friend, Coach Langley, all muscles and suntanned skin, holding that little bundle in his arms as if it would shatter.

"Come meet your niece. Come meet Nicole Jordana Langley," the proud daddy glowed.

Dan came in just as the name was announced. He felt a grin spread across his face. "Nic would have loved that."

"He does love it," Jordan smiled.

Markie laughed, "I never really thought about the fact that "Jordan" is made up of "Jord" and "Dan", so we have both your names in there. She has a lot to live up to now."

"JD is having a snit in the lobby. They won't let us bring him up."

Markie frowned. "Was he with you when.....?"

"Yeah, he was a very cool kiddo. You'd have been proud of him."

Markie struggled to sit up. "Get the chair. I'm gonna go hug my son."

No amount of arguing would stop her, so the nurse wheeled in a chair and Griff pushed her to the elevator. At the ground floor, they heard a ruckus over by the nurse's station. "I want to see my mommy!!" and a very flustered Val arguing with an equally flustered nurse.

"Rules are rules. Childen under 6 not allowed on the upper floors."

"JD!!" Markie called. A ball of worry came barreling across the floor and skidded to a stop as Griff caught him just before he jumped on Markie.

"Whoa, fella. Mommy's kinda sore right now. Give her a one of your sweet sugar soft kisses for now."

JD tippytoed up and smacked his mommy hard. "Mommy, do we have a baby? Grandpa Nic went with Sam angel to the bridge and he wasn't scared, Mommy. He said it was good and what is it, Mommy?" He patted her tummy carefully.

"What's what?"

"Our baby...........my baby...........what is it?"

"Oh," she laughed. "You have a baby sister. Her name is Nicole Jordana."

JD thought, his brow furrowed. "Like Grandpa Nic? Like Daddy? Like Papa D?"

"Exactly."

"Cooley manooley. I gots a sissy. What's its name?"

"She's not an 'it'. She's a 'she'. "

"K, what's she's name?"

Laughing, Markie hugged him tight. "Nickie, I think. Do you like that?"

"Nickie," he said softly, then louder. "Nickie! My sissy's name be's Nickie." He did a happy Nickie dance around her chair and then realized what she was sitting in. "Mommy," he said in a strickened voice, "You be's in a Papa D chair. Did you break getting Nickie?"

"No sweetie, I'm just tired from........from all the shopping for the baby. I can walk."

"Good. I don't want you to be like Papa D or Grandpa Nic and have to wait till the angels come till you can walk again."

Jordan slid his arm around Danny and whispered, "I love you, Dan."

"I know."


"Hold on to me," Danny whispered as sleep wouldn't come late that night. It hadn't seemed right to have sex in the wake of all the events of the day. It seemed awkward and odd. They were alive and Nic was gone. They were in Sam and Nic's old rooms. The ghosts were just too fresh; the feelings too close to the surface. "Hold me."

"I always have," Jordan answered. "I always will."

"Come close............nose to nose, toes to toes.........remember?"

"It's like during all the bad times, if we can just be here like this, everything will work out." Jordan breathed the words into Danny's soft lips.

"I'm never gonna sleep," Danny sighed.

"Me either......not alone."

"You're not alone. I'm right here," Danny said, confused.

"I want to be inside you. I want to be part of you. I want to know that we're alive. I want.....................,"

"Oh baby, here........." Danny rolled over and tugged Jordan onto his belly. "You're right. We need to feel complete tonight. Not two people.....just one. It's what Nic always said. Together, we're strong. Love me."

The night sounds of the house that Sam and Nic built creaked and sighed. JD was snuggled up tight against Griff's arm warm in his Mommy and Pop's big bed, Markie was sleeping, dreaming of her daughter, Nickie was sleeping the sleep of all innocent ones, Jordan and Danny were making sweet soft love to each other to complete themselves, to feel alive and Nic and Sam were able to close their eyes and know that all would be well.


A few nights later, Markie and the baby home from the hospital, everyone sat around the fire, Nic's chair in its usual place. The talk was peaceful, soft and calm. So much had happened in such a little bit of time.

Nic's funeral had been tender and gentle. They were his family and had been told that the house was left in all their names. It came as no surprise but was a sweet remembrance of how much he had loved them all. They had taken his ashes and, after each one had said a few words, Gabriel had spread them out on the ocean waves in front of the house he had loved and been loved in.

"Jordan?"

"Hmmm?" Jordan turned toward Gabriel's voice.

"Why do some people hate us?"

Jordan straightened up. Danny frowned. "What's wrong, Gabriel? Who hates you?"

"I just mean............I was thinking about Grandpa Nic. How he and Sam built this house and lived quietly and didn't let anyone tell them they couldn't and you do that, you and Dan."

"What are you asking?"

"Why do people care who we love if it doesn't hurt them?"

Sighing, Jordan sat back in the swing and twirled Danny's curls around his fingers. "I have no answer for that, Gabriel. I've had it all my life."

"I guess I'm asking why we fight so hard. I have no family because of how I feel. It would just be easier to give in, I guess and be what they want. I'm not helping anyone. I'm just going from day to day." His shoulders slumped, the teenager sighed.

"No! You never give up. You never give in. You hold on to what you have and you make every day count." Jordan felt Danny's hand on his thigh.

"Shhhhh, Jordy," he whispered. "Gabriel, have you ever heard the story about the starfish?"

"I don't think so," Gabriel said. JD moved and cuddled up in Gabriel's lap waiting for the story.

Danny smiled as he felt Jordan's hand lace into his. "A man was walking down the beach one day and, off in the distance, he could see someone dancing, running from the waves up onto the sand and back again. He had never seen anything more beautiful.

As he got closer, he saw that it was a young boy and he wasn't dancing at all. He was picking up something and throwing it into the ocean over and over again.

He asked the boy what he was doing and the boy said he was saving the starfish. They had washed up on the beach and would die if he didn't throw them back in the water.

The man looked up and down the shoreline and saw thousands of starfish stranded in the sand. He told the boy that there was no way he could save all those starfish and the few he did save would make little difference.

The boy looked back at him and, holding up the starfish in his hands, said, "It will make all the difference to this one." *

Gabriel sat very quietly, thinking about what Danny had just told him. JD climbed down off his lap and headed for the water.

"Where ya headed, big boy?" Griff stopped him with his arm. "It's dark out there."

"I be's goin' to find some starfish," JD said seriously. "I be's gonna throw em back in."

"We'll look for them tomorrow, k?"

"But, wouldn't we see starfish better at twinkley night?"

Markie smiled, "Jordy, go put your son to bed. You and Dan explain that one to him."

"Yes, Mommy," Jordan grinned. "C'mon, little guy. You can't save the world tonight. Tomorrow will do."

"K, but t'morrow we will, right, Daddy?"

"Right."


Gabriel sat staring out at the birds wheeling and the sun glittering off the water. He loved to watch over JD when all the grownups were busy and now that the baby was here, they were always busy. He saw a lone figure walking aimlessly down the shoreline. There was something familiar about him and as he got closer, Gabriel remembered the two happy boys he had met weeks ago in this very same spot.

As the boy got nearer, Gabriel began to feel a wave of sadness. "Hey," he called out, "Mitch, right? He jumped up to meet his new friend. "How's it goin'? Where's your buddy?"

He saw the tear stains and felt the pain as he neared the boy. "What's wrong?"

"I lost him."

Gabriel was confused, hoping he didn't understand. "Lost who? Your friend? Where was he? He'll be along any minute, prolly."

"No, I lost him. He's gone."

"Moved away?" Gabriel asked but he knew. He knew from the look in Mitch's eyes what he meant by lost. "Come sit here with me."

They sat on the sand and Mitch cried softly. Gabriel put his arm around the boy's shoulders and held him close. "I'm so sorry."

"He was just too gentle to be here. I lost him. I'm not sure what to do now. We did everything together. He was like my center or something. Everyone tells me it will get better but I just keep crying."

"It's good to cry....to get it all out........all the bad stuff, all the pain. I've never lost anyone like you have but I know what it feels like to hurt and it does get better. You never forget but it does get better." Ya wanna tell me some of it and get it out there?"

Mitch sighed. "We just were so close. He couldn't be as strong as me. I guess being blind, he was too much in the dark. He couldn't see the rainbows after the storms, the birds after the rain. Everything was dark. I wasn't with him when he........lost himself. If I had been, I could have stopped it. That's what hurts."

Gabriel thought for a bit. "Can you wait for just a sec? I have some people you'd like."

"Sure, I got nowhere to be."

Gabriel ran up the sand and called out, "Jordan.....Danny. Could you help me a minute? I need you."

"Sure, bud. What's wrong?" Jordan asked, concern in his eyes.

"I got a guy here that needs to hear about being strong. Can you help him be strong?"

"We can try," Danny said quietly. He started out down the ramp and then waited for Jordan to lift him up the rest of the way. They stopped by the blanket and Jordan set Dan down on his feet to settle on the soft cloth.

"Hiya," Danny said, his sweet smile on his face, concern and friendship in his eyes. "I'm Danny and this is my boyfriend, Jordan. Gabriel says you need a little help."

"You're................," Mitch stuttered, amazement in his eyes. "He's your boy friend?"

"Yeah, for ten years now."

"Wow!!"

Gabriel said quietly, "I met Mitch a few weeks ago with his ...... friend, Marc. They were walking on the beach and stopped to say 'Hi'. He's lost Marc, Jordan. He's lost too."

Jordan frowned. "Lost him?" he looked deep in the boy's eyes and saw the pain. Oh God.

JD ran up the sand. "Hey, boy. I 'member you." He plopped down on the sand and looked from face to face. "Uh, we being sad, huh?"

"Mitch has lost a good friend the way we lost Grandpa Nic," Jordan said softly.

"Oh. You mean the boy with the shell?"

"Yeah," Mitch answered. "He kept that shell you gave him."

"It was a very good shell," JD said seriously. "I be's glad he liked it. Do you wanna look for starfish with me?"

"Huh?"

"I gots to look for starfish to throw," JD said, as if that explained everything. "I make d'fences."

"He builds fences?" Mitch asked.

Danny laughed, "He makes differences. He helps the starfish."

"Tell him the story, Papa D...........Tell him."

Danny explained the story and Mitch listened carefully. "I guess I need to look for ways to help too," he said.

JD took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "Let's go lookin'."

Mitch looked to see if it was okay and took JD's outstretched hand. Danny watched them walk aways down the beach searching for the starfish, JD showing Mitch pieces of this and bits of that.

"He needs friends right now," he said slowly. "He's lost someone special and he needs to have reasons to keep going."

Jordan watched his son jumping up and down and dancing around the boy's legs and smiled. "JD will find a starfish if it takes all day."


Mitch called his parents and they drove down to eat supper out on the sand. As the sun set, the orange and purple layers melting into gray, the fire cast shadows on the faces of the group.

Mitch's dad said politely, "We want Mitch to be happy. I'm glad we see that you're happy. We just want him to have a happy life."

Jordan took hold of Danny's hand and held it tightly, "We've gone through a lot to find our happiness. Mitch will find his. We're so sorry about Marc but God works in ways we don't understand. It wasn't their time."

JD yawned and said sleepily, "I bet that twinkley star up there by Grandpa Nic is Marc. I bet Marc and Joshie are friends, huh Daddy? 'Member what you told me, Papa D......that the little lambs don't stay long. God wants them in heaven. Just us mules stay cause we be's strong."

Easy's honeyed voice spoke out, "Marc was here for a purpose, a reason. You will be stronger for him.....so will we all. Take the happiness he gave you and make him proud. Every day, Mitch, make him proud."


Gabriel started to climb in the back seat of Easy's car but turned back to Jordan and Danny. "We made a difference today, right?"

"Yeah, Gabriel, we did."

"I'm glad." He stood real still for a minute and then moved back to give Jordan, then Dan a tight hug. "Thank you."


The night was still, all the stars had long gone to bed and the moon was behind a cloud.

"Do you feel them in this room?" Danny asked.

"Yeah, I feel the love. It's like in the very air," Jordan sighed.

"Do you believe they're together somewhere? I mean, really, Jordy? Did you say it cause of JD?"

"I believe it because I want to. I want believe in my heart that I won't lose you. So, yes, I have faith that Sam and Nic are together."

The moon came out from behind the clouds and flooded the room with soft light. Jordan's eyes were caught by the soft muted colors glowing from a wall that had been painted a soft white that morning. "Dan, look."

He stood up and lifted Danny and walked over to the space. The mural was in the same tones and strokes as the others in the room, by the same artist. The scene wasn't Europe or Asia or Australia though. It was here....this house, the beach, the fire, the talking log. Gathered around the fire the whole family sat in their usual spots; Jordan and Dan on the swing, Markie and Griff and baby Nickie leaning against the big oak log, Easy and Val cuddled together on a blanket. Fiddlesticks was curled under the swing with Jordan's fingers in his fur, Gabriel was leaning against the side of Nic's chair and Mitch and Marc were sitting on the log, JD between them, pressing their hands together, giggling. And, watching over them all, Nic sat comfortably in his Adirondack chair, Sam leaning behind him, arms around his shoulders.

The family, all together, new members, old loves. People come, people fade away but the gentleness, the love, the warmth remains forever.

* The Starfish Story by Loren Eiseley
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