Just Hit 'Send' - The Happy Years

by Grasshopper

Ch. 13

Merry Christmas, everyone. I wish you the best in 2006, perhaps not all you hope for, but surely all you need. GH

"Mommiieeeeeeeee! Niksie be's a big fat stupidhead." This wail was followed closely by a shriek and a loud thud.

Markie rolled her eyes, shifted her weight as she pressed her hand to the small of her back. "Can someone tell me why I thought having this baby was a good idea?" Waddling off, she rounded the corner and walked back into JD's room.

Jordan's eyebrows wrinkled as he heard protests and more wails. He looked over at Dan, shaking his head. "What say we give her a break today?"

"Sure," Danny smiled. "What's the plan?"

Jordan glanced at the doorway as a small boy slunk through, his whole face curled up into a huge frown. A low muttering sound whispered out, as he walked toward Jordan. "Niksie is a big fat ugly dumb stupidhead."

"What's wrong, punkin?" Jordan held out his arms and JD plopped into the warm circle to snuggle close.

"Mommy likes Niksie better than me." He let out a huge sigh.

Jordan snorted. "You so know that isn't true, small son. You are her very favorite boy."

JD lasered him with a 'Daddy, that's so lame' glare. "I am her ONLY boy, Daddy." He smushed his nose into Jordan's side and sighed again.

"What?" Jordan poked him.

In a very small boy voice, JD whispered, "But the baby, he be's a boy. I will not be the only boy then."

"But, you will always be her first boy; her JD."

"I will have to be the very best boy, I guess. I will have to be a smart boy, a good boy. I will have to be's nice even to stupid Niksie."

Dan laughed, "You know you love your sister."

"JD screwed his face up into a scowl. "Niksie, Piksie, Stiksie," he growled out. "She gets in my stuff. She still pees in her pants."

Jordan couldn't look over at Dan, knowing he'd laugh out loud. "She's still just a punkin seed, JD. It won't be long til she's a whole punkin, like you. Then she'll be your best friend."

Snorting, JD scooted off the sofa. "Tony Bow Boney is my very bestest friend. Girls are big cooties."

"Who is Tony Boboney?" Danny laughed. "What kind of name is that?"

JD giggled. "At school, we play rhymey name games."

"Oh, wait," Jordan grinned, "I remember this from when I was growing up. You remember Dan? Dan, Dan, Bow Ban, Banana Fana Fow Fan. Dan!!"

Danny laughed out loud. "Oh My God! That is sooo old. Remember how risque you felt when you did it with Chuck? Hahahahha !!"

"Chuck? Is that a name?" JD said, bouncing on the carpet. "Chuck Chuck Bow Buck, Banana Fana Fo....................."

Jordan whapped a hand over JD's mouth, grabbed him up and swung him in the air. "We're going to Chucky Cheese. Right Now!! Get your jacket."

JD ran off to grab up his jacket, singing loudly, "Chucky Chucky, Bow Bucky, Banana Fana...."

"Jordan!!" Markie's exasperated voice echoed down the hallway.

"That went well," Danny laughed. "We better get outta here before Markie skins us. I'll get Nikki."

The weather had turned into a rainy nightmare, wind swirling the dried leaves and mud flipping up off their sneakers at every step. North Carolina was split into two different worlds in the wintertime. The Blue Ridge and the Smokey Mountains attracted the cold snow seekers and the coast was perfect for lovers of bonfires and cold walks on the beach. The temperature dropped markedly lower if you drove inland.

Jordan and Dan had talked about going up to the cabin with JD for Christmas but the baby was due and Markie was feeling so punky that they had both shouldered most of the house chores. There would be time for the lake in the summer, as usual.

"Marks, we're going to take the monkeys to Chucky Cheese and prolly go to the movies, k?"

"Thanks, Dan," she smiled, "I'm gonna just lay down here on JD's bed for a little and sleep."

"You okay?" he asked, walking over and sitting down gently beside her, pushing loose curls of her hair out of her eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine. This baby is just wearing me out is all. I'm only twenty-seven, for God's sake. I feel like an old woman."

Jordan stood in the doorway watching. He frowned, turned and pulled out his cell. Walking toward the back porch, he spoke softly, "Griff, we're taking the kids out for the day. Marks is still feeling kinda rotten."

Griffin was down at the center helping Easy and Gabriel with the new refrigerator. The old one had finally died and Mary Kessler had picked out a new fancy one.

"I'll be home in 5 minutes," Griff answered.

Jordan clicked off and called Nikki. "Hey, Miss Niksie, wanna go get pizza and feed the giant rat?"

Nicole Jordana Langley was a tiny replica of her big brother except for one thing. She had the platinum blonde hair and the happy bouncing laughter, but the eyes were exactly the color of her daddy's. You saw Griffin in those hazel eyes.

"Go! Go wid brudder! Jaydee, Jaydee, Jaydee!" she squealed as Jordan struggled to pull on her socks and sneakers.

"You need to take her bag just in case," Markie grinned. "She still has a few accidents, even though she's a big girl, right Nikki?"

JD skidded to a halt at the doorway to Nikki's room. "She is going?" A frown crossed his face.

"What happened to 'I will be nice to Niksie'?" Jordan asked.

"Oh. I did forget."

Dan covered Markie with a Spongebob throw cover. "We'll keep the cell on if you need anything."

"Bye, Mommie," JD called as he headed for the front door. "We will bring you a surprise."

"Bye, Bye, Bye," Nikki chirped as she made a beeline after her brother. "Jaydeeee! Go!"

Strapping Nikki into her full body armor car seat, Jordan checked JD and his bumper seat. "Okay, you guys. As soon as Pop gets here, we're off to Rat World."

Griffin's red truck pulled up beside the van in the driveway, Griff and Gabriel climbing out. "I brought you some reinforcements," Griff laughed.

"Haha, three grown men against two small monkeys. I don't think we will be enough," Danny grinned as he pulled out into the street. ""You up for a day in KidWorld, Gabriel?"

"Yeah," the handsome teenager laughed. "Don't forget how much pizza I can eat."

"Who's up for the Giant RataRama Pizza?" Jordan asked innocently, zipping his jacket. "Remember, if you can eat a whole one, you get free tokens for the games."

"Me-me-me-me-me," JD bounced up and down, poking his chest with his finger.

"Why does that not surprise me?" Jordan laughed. "You know you can't eat a whole one of those, little pig."

"Can anyone?" Dan chuckled.

"Mitch could," Gabriel sighed. It had been three months since his first love had moved away and Gabriel was just beginning to come out from under the cloud of funk. A sudden transfer and the Mitchells were gone, leaving Jordan and Danny to pick the pieces of Gabriel's broken heart.

"I know," Jordan smiled, ruffling the younger boy's dark hair. "He sure could eat."

"I miss him, Jordan."

"Of course you do. I know Australia seems like another planet, but remember that he's having great new adventures and you'll see each other again some day."

"But.......," Gabriel started, then sighed and sat back between JD and Nikki, strapping on his seatbelt.

"Gabrel is very sad," JD sighed. "I will be sad with him." He widened his green eyes, patted Gabriel on the shoulder and stuck his bottom lip out, creating a pitiful puppy face. "Maybe he will give me his curly fries. He will be too sad to eat them."

Jordan rolled his eyes. "Greedyguts. We'll be there in ten minutes. I think we can swing for you to have your own curly fries." He peered at Gabriel's face in the rear view mirror and watched him smile as Nikki started singing the song from Jo Jo's Circus.

"I feel so sorry for Gabriel," Danny said quietly. "I know Mitch is having the time of his life, meeting new people and seeing new stuff."

"Yeah, it's always the one left behind that does the suffering."

Dan shot his eyes to Jordan's face. "Oh, Jordy. It's always gonna be there, isn't it? I left you behind and made you hurt." He held out his hand and Jordan took it to squeeze tightly.

"Yeah, it will always hurt that you didn't trust me enough to stay, but we're together now and that's all that matters." He smiled over into the wet blue eyes of the boy he had fallen in love with all those years ago. "I won't say that I wouldn't change a thing about how we got where we are today, but I am happy with our lives. I'm especially happy with you." He leaned over and kissed Danny's cheek softly. "I love you, Daniel."

"Daddddyyyyyy!!" a small but insistent voice shrieked from the backseat, "Stop smoochying! Gabrel and me are gonna starve."

"Me tarb tooo!" a squeaky little voice shrilled.

"You look like you're starving," Gabriel grinned, "I could hardly get this seat belt around your stomach."

JD looked down. "My stummy is bigggggggggg!" He patted the pooched out quilt jacket, laughing. "I'm almost as fat as Mommy."

Markie was closing in on time for the baby to be born. JD's birth had taken hours, Nikki had been easier; this one would probably be born in the car. Jordan knew that Markie, even though she never complained, was having a really tough go this time around. Griff had already said that this one was the last. The whole family wanted December 22nd to get here fast.

2005 had been a full year. JD had started first grade. Gabriel was a senior and already scouting colleges in the area. Griffin had taken over the position of head football coach at his high school and Markie had taken the year off to be home with Nikki and put her feet up til the baby came.

Jordan had been approached by the county superintendent about the new magnet school for special needs students that would be opening in three years. If he took administration classes and got his masters, he could have the assistant principal position. He was especially interested because, hidden deep within the description of the school, was a section that would let the administrators locate children considered misfits in regular public schools and bring them into a loving, caring environment. Jordan knew Easy could be a huge help with that.

Dan still enjoyed teaching his physical therapy classes. Once patients realized that Dan had been through the same things; the pain, the fear, the indignities; they responded quickly to his loving manner and care.

Together, Jordan and Danny spent long hours at the Center helping Easy with whatever problems they could. Mrs. Kessler had become the official Center Granny; baking pies, mending clothes and spoiling battered hearts. The kids all loved her and she loved them right back.

Jordan and Dan hadn't been called on by Brad Smedley to help any specific child yet, but working at the Center was still making Danny feel useful. Life was good in the Latham/Lawrence/Trainor/Langley household.

Laughing, Danny pulled into the parking lot of the big Chucky Cheese playground. Jordan climbed out, leaving the untangling of the kids to Gabriel, handed Danny his braces and held the door open. The day was cold and crisp and wet, the rain letting up but threatening with dark heavy snow clouds hanging low in the sky.

Just as they pushed their way into the loud raucous arena, Jordan's cell vibrated in his jacket pocket.

"Griff?"
"Slow down. I can't understa...."
"Okay. We're right behind you."

Jordan flipped the cell shut, gave Dan a look that said 'Oh, shit' and said loudly, "Guys, change of plans. Gabriel's gonna take over." He pulled out his wallet and crammed a wad of bills toward Gabriel. "Keep your cell on," he told the confused boy.

Comprehension, replaced by fear, crossed Gabriel's face. "Markie?"

Jordan nodded his head. "You little munchkins mind Gabriel and eat all the pizza you want. One of us will be back in a couple of hours."

Leaving Gabriel being pulled into the vortex that is Chucky Cheese by two little hands, Dan and Jordan hurried to the van.

"Griff said that she started complaining of cramps, the water broke and then there was blood. He called 911 and they are taking her to Mercy General."

"Jordy, what does that mean?" Dan fretted. "Is the baby in danger?"

"Who knows? It's due in a little over two weeks. Maybe it's just early."

"But, the blood?"

Jordan grabbed Dan's hand and held on. "I don't know, Danny. Hurry."

*****************

Pulling into the visitor's parking lot outside Mercy General Hospital, Jordan jumped out of the van, grabbed the braces and ran around to Dan's door.

Danny could see the panic in Jordan's wide green eyes. "Go, Jordy, I'll be right behind you."

"I.....'"

"Go. I'll find you." He watched as Jordan turned and ran across the lot toward the emergency doors. Dan grasped his braces and began to pray as he tapped slowly across the asphalt.

Jordan asked for Markie Langley, informed the nurse that he was her twin brother and was directed down a hall behind a heavy wooden door. He saw Griffin leaning against the wall staring at a closed door with ER108 printed on a plaque in the center.

"Griff."

Griffin turned red swollen eyes toward his best friend. "She was complaining about her back hurting and I went to get her the heating pad. I was only gone a second. I heard a cry and I found her on the floor. There was blood, Jordy......blood."

Jordan threw his arm around Griff, pulling him close. "What have the doctors said?"

"Nothing. They said wait out here." He sniffled back a sob and "I don't know what to think. Nikki was an easy baby; so was JD. What's happening?"

Dan found them huddled in the hall. "Anything?"

"No, we're just waiting."

They could hear the voices of the nurses and doctors as they worked to stabilize mother and baby. People rushed in and more rushed out. Griff tried to ask, but he was just in the way. Jordan pulled him back.

"Let them do their jobs. She's in good hands." **Please, God, let her be in good hands** he repeated over and over.

Dr. Gregory, Markie's obstetrician, rushed down the hall, acknowledged Griffin with a nod of his head and went into room 108. What seemed like hours ticked by, the three men straining to hear any words.

Thirty-five minutes after he arrived, Dr. Gregory walked out into the hall and gestured to Griffin. He took the younger man's arm and they walked a few steps away. He spoke to Griff in whispered tones, his hand resting on Griff's shoulder. Jordan saw Griffin gasp and choke back a cry. Dr. Gregory murmured a few more words and then left Griffin to return to Markie's side.

Griff turned to face the wall, his forehead pressed tightly against the sickly green paint. Jordan and Dan both moved to him, shielding him from other's eyes and letting him feel the warmth of their arms.

"He said," Griff choked on the words, "He said that there are complications and there's a possibility they may lose the baby."

Dan's tear-stained eyes met Jordan's, shock making him swallow hard. "They'll do everything in their power to keep Markie safe and save the baby. You know that."

Looking at his watch, Dan said softly, "I'm gonna call Easy and get him to go get Gabriel and the kids. I'll be right back."

Jordan held Griff's hand, letting his strength flow into the terrified man's body.

"Did the doctor say what the problem was?"

"Something about the cord and the baby's breathing and the placenta bursting....I don't know....something."

"It's okay, it's okay," Jordan soothed, rubbing Griff's back.

The silence rode on and on, heavy and leaden, their thoughts carrying them down dark lonely roads. Then, a loud moan, a slap, silence, another loud slap and a tiny mew of a cry.

Jordan reached for Griff's arm, questions flying from both of their eyes. Markie? The baby?

Dr. Gregory came out the door, wiping his hand across his wet forehead. "Griffin, you can go in for a minute; kiss your wife and meet your new son. We had to do a C-section, so Markie's drugged, but I know you want to see her."

Griff shoved off the wall, his face bursting with a wide grin. "They're okay? Both of them?"

"Markie will be fine. She'll need a lot of rest. The baby is weak and will be in an incubator until we're sure he's breathing fine on his own."

"Go," Jordan let out a huge sigh of relief. "Go see your family."


"I must go to see my Mommie," JD repeated, his hands planted firmly on his hips. My Mommie has my baby brother and I must go."

Griff rolled his eyes. "I've told you, JD, you're too young to go into the hospital. We've been to the nursery window and I showed you the baby. Mommie will be home in two more days. You're gonna have to be patient."

"I have been pasent. I need to check on something very important with my Mommie."

"Jordan?" Griff gave him the 'help me' look.

"Come here, you," Jordan smiled, holding out his arms. He watched JD walk slowly towards him, his heart always struck by how much JD looked like his brother, Adam. A treehouse, a sudden cry, lost forever the chance to save him. That would never happen again....."Come tell me what's important?"

JD snugged his nose into Jordan's arm. "I just want to check about sumthin'," he mumbled.

"Would that something have to do with being the only boy?"

JD's eyes flew to Jordan's face, "How do you know that, Daddy?"

"Oh, you're like a little book, Joshua Daniel."

"You can read me?"

"Oh, yeah."

JD snuggled in further. "My new brother.........Mommie will still love me?"

Jordan pulled the small boy up into his lap and turned his face gently upwards. "Do you love Mommie?"

"Yes," JD answered, his face questioning.

"Do you love me?"

"Lots and lots," he replied, grabbing Jordan's face and planting a huge wet sloppy kiss.

"Do you love Papa D?"

JD looked around, found Dan over at the computer, jumped down and ran to give him a big smooch too. Taking his place again in Jordan's lap, he was smiling.

"And Pops and Gabriel and Uncle Easy and Aunt Val and Grandmom and Grandpa Nic?"

"Yes, yes and yesssss!!" JD answered.

"Nikki?"

JD frowned, squinched up his face and thought for a second. "When she isn't being a stupidhead."

"And what about your new brother?"

"I do not know him yet. Maybe I will like him."

"Who do you love the best?" Jordan waited, watching the play of emotions race across the small boy's face.

"Momm........No, you........No,...........," confused, he said, "I don't know."

"Do I love just Papa D?"

"No, you love me and Mommie and Pops and Unca Easy and...................," green eyes met green eyes, "You love bunches of people."

"So do you."

Quietly, JD digested this new thought. "Mommie can love my brother and Niksie and me?"

"Of course she can; she's your Mommie."

Slyly, JD grinned, "And I was first."

Laughing, Jordan smiled at the face so like his own, "Yes, small son, you were the first; the one and only."

"So, when can I see my Mommie? I must go to see my Mommie."

Dan smiled, "One track mind; just like his Daddy."

************************

Markie and Griff counted all the fingers and toes, watched their new son 'smile' little gas pains and flail his arms around, grasping any finger that came his way.

Markie, seated in the wheelchair, Griffin walked beside her as the candy striper pushed her out onto the sidewalk to the waiting van. Danny was standing by the open door, a huge grin on his face.

"Everyone is at the house, waiting. We figured we'd give you a few more minutes of peace before JD and Nikki take over."

Dan drove them very carefully avoiding as many bumps as possible to pull up in the drive of the happy house by the ocean. Another member of the family home to be loved.

One small body burst out of the house and barreled down the front steps yelling, "Mommieeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!", screeching to a sudden stop as he arrived at his mother and the small blue bundle in her arms.

"Hi, Mommie," he said shyly, staring at the wiggling bundle.

"Let's get Mommie and the baby inside out of this cold," Jordan said, picking JD up and walking behind Markie. Settling the new mother and baby on the sofa, everyone gathered close.

Easy and Val, Gabriel, even Mary Kessler; everyone smiling and content now that another crisis had passed and the family was back together.

JD said again, "Hi, Mommie."

Markie glanced at Jordan, then reached out her hand to touch her son's face. "Hi yourself, my first son. Want to meet your baby brother? He's going to need your help to grow up strong and true."

JD nodded his head, watching the little baby reaching out with his tiny hand. He held out his finger and grinned when the baby grasped it tightly.

"He will always need to hold your hand, JD. Meet your baby brother, Samuel Griffin Langley."

"He has Pops' name and Unca Easy's."

"Yep."

"Like I have Daddy's and Papa D's."

"Yep."

They could practically hear the wheels turning. "We will call him SG?"

"I don't think so. I was thinking more like Sam."

JD looked seriously into the tiny face, considering the possibility of this being his brother, Sam. For a nanosecond, the room resembled a scene from a Hallmark greeting card.

Then, as JD watched, Samuel Griffin's face screwed up, turned a fiery red and a horrible stench filled the room.

"Oh," JD slammed his hand over his nose, "PeeeeeeeeUuuuuuuuuu."

Nikki began rolling on the floor, shrieking, "Pooooooo Poooooooo."

Val reached for the baby and JD joined Nikki on the floor, rolling and snorting, "Sammy is peeeeuuuuuuie."

"Life as we know it," Easy laughed.

"So much for the sibling bonding moment," Danny grinned.

"My brother is a stinkbug," JD shrieked.

"Brudder, tinkbug," Nikki chorused.

"I am JD, you be's Niksie and he is ummmmmmmmmm, Bug," JD sang.

"Your baby brother will NOT be a bug," Markie said sternly. "His name is Sam."

**********************

Christmas only five days away, everyone was busy arranging for Christmas vacations, buying secret gifts and helping around the house so Markie could get her strength back.

The big Christmas meal would be Christmas Eve. Christmas Day would be presents and leftovers and football games and pure heaven. The new baby just added to the excitement.

Jordan, Dan, Gabriel and Mary Kessler were all busy making sure all the boys at the Center would have a gift that they had wished for. There were eleven boys staying at Easy's right now and all of them had L/L/L/T jerseys and all were invited to the house by the ocean for football on Christmas.

This year, Grandma Mary was included in all the Christmas activities. She had baked gingerbread men and knitted warm scarves and wooly caps for everyone.

Jordan and Dan were home watching the kids, giving Markie and Griff some shopping time and Markie a break. Dan was a natural with the baby.

Jordan watched Dan cuddle the baby and felt that ever present twist in his heart knowing how much his angel wanted a child of his own. The boys at the center, his therapy work and the baby would have to do, but the sadness would always be there.

"How's Bug?" Jordan asked softly.

"He's so good. So quiet. I watch him and wonder what's going on in that little head. Do you think he can still hear the angels singing?"

Jordan looked down into the soft liquid brown eyes of the little boy and smiled. "I would imagine he can."

"Daddy, I must go shopping."

"K.....where do you need to go?"

"Someplace 'pensive. I have lots of stuff to get."

How much money do you have?"

JD snuggled closer. "Ummm, Daddy. I have saved very hard for a long long time. I have a million pennies and nickels and even a dollar that Unca Easy gave me."

Jordan could feel Danny laughing. "Sounds about right. You made your list?"

"I was thinking you would help me," he cut those big green eyes up, eyelashes fluttering.

"Hahaha, cut that out," Jordan laughed, then thought, 'Whoever he loves will be in for quite a ride, the little flirt.'

JD ran to his room and returned with a pad of paper and a pencil. Crawling up beside Jordan, he started numbering. One, two, three, five, six, seven, eight.........and on, all the way to 20.

"You need 20 presents?"

"I do not know yet."

"You left out a number."

JD counted, "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 9, .............................."

"No, on the paper, not in your head."

He frowned at the paper, thought for a minute and replied, "Oh, I did not put four. Well," he hesitated, then grinned, "That is a secret number."

"You're so making that up."

"No," JD giggled, "I always leave out my four."

"Ooookay," let's get this list made, and we'll go to Target."

"You will write it for me?"

"I will not write it you, slothful son. Get busy."

"You will help me to spell?"

"Yep."

With much sighing, JD began his list:

1. Mommie
2. Daddy
3. Pops
4. Papa D
5. Unca Easy
6. Auntie Val
7. Mrs. Thornton
8. Tony Bow Boney

Jordan prompted, "Forgetting anyone?"

"Hmmmm, oh yes, Bug," JD laughed.

He added:

9. Bug

"And?"

"That is all," JD said innocently.

"Joshua Daniel Latham/Lawrence/Langley!!" Jordan growled. "Your sister!"

*Huge sigh*

"I can give her my old toy."

"I don't think so. We will find something cool for Miss Nikki."

"Niksie is a stupidhead," he muttered.

Jordan raised an eyebrow, "Then I will be sure to tell her that she doesn't need to give you anything either."

Greed overwhelmed him. "Hmmmm, I will buy Niksie a ... a ... pencil," he said, thinking of the new pencil he had in his school box.

"You so won't, greedy child. Go get your coat. We're off to the store for JD presents. You okay here with Nikki and Bug, Danny?"

"Sure, Bug and I are buddies and Nikki's got her favorite TV show."

"Can I have just one toy today?" JD pleaded sweetly.

"Let me think," Jordan put on his thinking frown, "That would be a large NO!"

JD sighed.

**************************

Easy looked up from his desk, as Police Detective Roy Arnold walked through the doorway. "Have a seat, Roy. What's up?"

Roy Arnold was one of Easy's staunchest defenders, knowing all the good work he did for the lost boys. He sighed.

"I have another one for you, Ez. This one's different." He handed a folder across the desk and Easy flipped the cover open.

A picture of a thin, dark-haired, sleepy-eyed boy and the facts:

Name: Jonathan Kerry Miller
Age: 14
Birthdate: September 13, 1991
Parents: Father - James Carson Miller - lawyer
Mother - deceased

"What's his story and why is he different?"

Roy ran his fingers though his graying hair. "Most of the kids we bring to you are from broken homes, parents don't give a rat's ass. They wander the streets until you take them in or they die from drugs or abuse."

"But, Jonathan?"

"Jonathan Miller is from a good home with a father who loves him. His mother committed suicide last year and Jonathan has not spoken a word since."

"Has he seen a psychologist?"

"Tons of them. He's been diagnosed as suffering from Selective Mutism."

"Want to explain that?"

"From what I could understand, it's a form of post-traumatic stress disorder caused from abuse or some horrible incident in his life. He can speak; he chooses not to. His father says he was a happy playful boy before all this began."

"Before his mother died, right?"

Roy nodded. "He was very close to his mother and when she did what she did, he closed off from the world. Most people who are diagnosed with SM have at least one person they will speak to, but Jonathan has not chosen that person."

"Why are you telling me about this? This is way out of my range. Has he committed a crime or run away?"

"No," Roy said, with a sigh, "But his father is a friend of mine and he is terrified that he is losing Jonathan. If anyone can figure out a way to break through this child's walls, it's you."

Easy smiled, "I know some people who might fit the bill."

*********************

"Mommie, Fiddle and me are taking Bug outside, k?"

Markie turned to her oldest child, "Honey, SAM is too little to go outside. It's way too cold and he'd get awfully sick. He's just thirteen days old."

"Oh," JD said sadly. "When will Bug be ready to play with me?"

"By summer, when the sun is hot and the water is warm, we'll take SAM out to the beach and you can teach him to swim."

"I will be a good teacher, Mommie. I will show Bug how to do everything."

"I know you will. SAM is going to love you so much, JD."

Griff laughed, "You're not gonna win this one, Sweetie. Everyone is already calling him Bug."

Markie groaned, "Leave it to JD." She looked down into the sleeping face of her baby and smiled gently, "He does look like a cute little bug, doesn't he?"

*********************

Easy talked it over with Jordan and Dan and they decided that Jonathan might as well jump into the L/L/L/T family. There was no easy way to do it; just come in, sit down and let the warmth wash over you.

"Should we explain to JD and Nikki?"

Jordan thought for a minute, "No, let them do their kid thing. Sometimes, small miracles come from that imaginary place."

Christmas Eve dinner was a huge array of roasted duck and standing prime rib. Markie did nothing except supervise, while Val and Mrs. Kessler ran between their houses with all kinds of vegetables and desserts. The guys set up the extra table, rolled on the festive table cloths, set out the dinnerware and popped open wine bottles.

"Dan, I'm so glad you got that cooking gene," Jordan laughed.

"Well, yeah, we can't live on your chili dogs and Hot Pockets, Jordy."

"Do you ever wish we had a place all our own where you could cook and fix it up?"

Danny stopped pulling the cloth napkins through the little Rudolph rings and slid his arms around Jordan's neck. "I really think we have it all right here. We can go to our place when we need alone time, but we always know our family is right here."

"Mmmm, right answer, Bucko," Jordan smiled, his emerald eyes dancing. "Would you like to go be alone for a little while?"

"Mm Hmm," Danny grinned. "I need some Christmas cheer."

"I can be very ...... cheery."

"Daddy, stop smoochying Papa D. Mommie says to go help Mrs. Kessler carry the green bean cassa.......cassa...........you know, Daddy."

"Later, Darlin'" Jordan winked to Dan.

"K."

*********************

"Okay, guys. It's time to put this year's ornaments on the tree," Markie called. "Don't even pretend that you forgot."

Mary looked around, watching everyone scatter; coming back, holding tiny objects in their hands.

"JD, explain what we're doing to Grandma Mary."

JD ran over to the Christmas tree and took a funny Spongebob Squarepants wearing a tiny Santa hat off one of the branches. He carried it over to the sofa and handed it to Mary.

"Last Christmas, we all got a sumthin' for the tree. This is my Spongebob. See, Mommie put 2-0-0-4 on the back."

Markie laughed, "I wanted to start a tradition, so we all made or bought an ornament for Christmas Eve. Everyone's is up there and it's time to put on the new ones."

Mary's eyes misted over as she now looked at the tree with a different gaze; a small gold starfish, a laughing sun wearing sunglasses, a little red sled, a laughing black Santa, a silly wobbly-headed cow. She saw a globe with 'Joshua Daniel' and a silver pinecone tied with a red ribbon. All these tiny things were just another part of this family she loved more and more every day.

"Okay, who's first?"

Griff held up an ornament with a mama and daddy elf and three little elves. Each little face had a name printed under it: Markie, Griff, JD, Nikki and Bug.

"Bug?" Markie groaned, as she reached for it to write 2005 with her Sharpie.

Gabriel handed over a small surfboard painted in bright colors.

Nikki bounced madly, the tiny silver bell jingling madly. "Mine! Mine!"

Val and Easy had combined theirs this year. "We decided that this would be from the new Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Arthur Langley." Val handed Markie a silver heart with their names engraved and the year, 2005.

Markie's was a round ornament with a hand-painted picture of the house on the ocean. "I took a picture and this really great artist down in the mall put it on here. This house holds everything I love."

Jordan pulled a small wooden figure out of his pocket. "This one is for Dan and me. This little fella represents all the children we helped and will help in the future. My Darlin' here," he touched Danny's cheek, "Has taught me the true meaning of giving from my heart." He handed the little carving of a small boy holding a curly-haired puppy to Markie.

"This one is from Sam," Markie smiled. "He may be small, but he's made a big difference in our lives." She held out a little angel with a golden halo dancing at the end of a slender golden thread.

Jordan looked at Dan, "How about you? Cough it up, big guy."

Danny reached in his hoody pocket and pulled out a small figure. He looked at it for a long moment and then held it up. "I saw this in a store window and wanted to put it on our tree for all the kids out there that feel less than they are. I wish I could find them all and show them that life can be better; to never give up."

Jordan choked. He felt hot tears burn and reached for Dan. Dan held out the small carving of a sad-faced boy sitting in a little black wheelchair. "Dan.........."

"I don't mean for it to be a sad thing. I want it to be a symbol of what we can all do; what we can all be," he said with a smile on his beautiful face, his eyes shining brightly.

Amid the sniffles, Markie hung the ornament on the highest branch so that the light from the star would shine brightly on the child's face.

"Me," JD said quietly. "I have one." He ran to his room and hurried back with a small box. "Gabrel helped me get it. I wanted just the best one."

"It took lots of looking," Gabriel agreed, grinning.

JD opened the little box and brought out a little round black bug on the end of a bright red ribbon. "Is a roly poly," JD exclaimed happily. "Is like Bug when he is sleeping." He carried it over to his baby brother and swung it above his grasping little hands. "Look Bug. We will put you on the Christmas tree."

Mary watched her adopted family and said quietly, "May I add something this year?"

"Of course, Grandma Mary," JD crowed. "You have something in your pocket?"

"No, but if you'll walk across the street with me, I do have something I think will be just right."

Coming back, cheeks red and rosy from the cold winter wind, Mary helped JD off with his jacket. He was bouncing excitedly. "Mommie, wait til you see what Grandma Mary has for our tree."

Mary shyly held out a beautiful antique crocheted star, the points threaded with gold. "My mother made this for me when I was just JD's age. I have kept it carefully all these years."

"Oh, Mary, you can't.....................," Markie began.

"I want to. You have made my 2005 the best year of my life. My mother would love to know that I am so happy. I think it will look lovely on your tree."

"OUR tree, Grandma," JD said, taking her hand.

*********************

Later, after dinner, after the 'one gift exchange', after JD and Nikki and Bug set cookies out for Santa, after JD was snuggled in bed with his new King Kong friend, after the dishes were washed and the leftovers tucked away.....

"Are you bored with me?"

"Excuse me?"

"Are you bored with me?"

"Are you talking to moi?"

"Answer the question."

"Hmmm, let's think about this a moment. I've been crazy in love with you for twelve years, some of those years spent moping and pining while you figured out what was going on. Am I bored with you? Hmmmm....I'd have to go with a big fat NO! Now, where are we going with this topic?"

"I was just wonderin'."

"Daniel Alan, you never just wonder. You seethe and you pout and you fret and you let your imagination run amuck, but you never ever simply wonder."

"Are you saying I'm emotional?"

"Are you having a PMS moment?"

"Jordy!"

"Dan!"

"Are you sure you aren't bored?"

"Hmm, wait, I'm not sure.......let me go ask my other self."

"That is so not funny."

"Well, you're being kinda freaky. Want to tell me what brought this on?"

"Nothing."

Jordan watched Danny fidget. "Name the nothing."

"Well, it said in this article..............," Danny trailed off.

"Oh, Lord, here we go. What did it say?"

"It said that gay men keep looking for better partners to prove that they are attractive and that they are worthy. It said that one man can't expect to keep another interested for a long time, much less forever."

"And you are reading this and picturing us in this scenario?"

"I just was thinking.......,"

"Daniel, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, 'That is bullshit up with which I will not put'. I don't even want to have this discussion."

"Now you're pissed at me."

Jordan sighed, "What gave you your first clue?"

"I was just.............,"

"I know, you were just.........just being a stupidhead."

"Jordy!"

"Hmmm?"

Jordan sat very still. Here was another of those forks in the road; minor but potentially hurtful. Over the years, he had learned that Danny sometimes let his disabilities overcome his feelings of self-worth. It was totally wrong because Dan Trainor was the strongest man he'd ever known, but he also knew that the feelings were there.

"Danny."

"Mmm?"

"I'm sorry."

Danny looked up, his eyes wet, those cobalt eyes blinking back tears. "I am too. I just........,"

"I know, Baby, but I loved you when I was fifteen. I love you more now. I will love you on the day I die. I will love you until we can be together forever."

"Jordy."

"We have something special; like the Christmas present to end all presents. I opened mine when I was fifteen and every day...every day, Dan, you surprise me, excite me, make me proud, make me happy. I don't ever, won't ever need anyone except you in my life."

"Really?"

Jordan bit his lip, a slow smile creeping across his face. "You will never change. You will always need to hear the words, won't you?"

"Yes," Danny's voice trembled.

Jordan walked over and lay down beside Dan on the bed. He pulled Danny to him and grinned, "Nose to nose and toes to toes. Maybe one day, we'll be tubby and won't be able to reach noses and toeses at the same time, but I will always love you."

Danny giggled, "What if I lose all my hair and get round and hair grows out of my ears?"

"Hahaha, I will love you because I prolly will be the same way. There is no way you will ever lose me, Darlin'."

"What if I died, Jordy?"

"I'd wait around impatiently until I could see you again and I'd know that you and Nic and Sam were prolly up there reading one of these dang magazines and analyzing each other."

"What if you died?"

"I'd sit up there on the edge of my cloud and throw stuff at you."

"Jordy!"

"Daniel!"

"I love you."

"I know. I love you too. I'll remember to say it outloud a lot more, k?"

Danny's body was warm and welcoming. It was Jordan's home, his haven, his refuge. There was old well-known intimacy and always new special delight. Knowing every move that would turn each other on, they slowly eased into a leisurely exploration of muscle and nerve, soft skin and tight sinew. They didn't need fantasy; they had each other.

*********************

4:30 Sunday, December 25, 2005 Christmas Day

"Daddyyyyyyyyyyyy!! Papa D!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Up Up Up !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Santa has been to my house!!!"

"Oh dear God," Jordan groaned. "It's still night."

The bouncing body on their bed said different. "Up Up Up!! Come see what Santa brought meee!" He leapt off the bed and raced back through the open door.

"Coffee?" Dan's groggy voice mumbled from under the covers.

"Can we just lay here and pretend we died?"

"If we're up, you have to get up too," Griff's voice boomed from the living room.

Groaning, they climbed out of their warm bed, smiled at each other remembering the night.

"I love you this fine Christmas morning, Daniel."

"Me 2 U, always."

"Come, Daddy. Come, Papa D. Mommie says I have to wait for you. Come onnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!"

Plopping down on the sofa, Jordan and Dan gratefully accepted steaming mugs of coffee and laughed at Griff's attempt to start the reluctant fire in the hearth.

"Florida Crackers aren't supposed to build fires," Griff groused.

"Look at JD," Dan whispered. The little boy was quietly sorting the presents into piles, counting as he went.

"Anal retentive, anyone?" Jordan laughed. "I have to say, Markie.......,"

"Don't start this morning. He'll be what he'll be," she grinned. "JD, how about starting with Nikki?"

Bug, all cozy in his little carry cradle, was watching the flashing lights on the Christmas tree, his little hands bobbling in the air.

"One for Niksie," JD chirped, "And one for Mommie. One for Daddy and one for Papa D. One for Pops and one for Gabrel. Oh, I'll put his over here, k? Now, one for meeeeee !!"

The colored paper flew, no one saving, everyone ripping.

"Hey, cool. Thanks for the carry case for my digital camera....if I had a digital camera," Danny laughed.

"Oops, JD hand him the one with snowmen all over it."

"Hmmm, I wonder what this is?" Danny giggled, shaking the box.

"A broken digital camera if you keep shaking it," Jordan grinned.

"Thanks for the shirt."
"Thanks for the tie."
"Thanks for the DVDs."
"Thanks for the perfume."
And on and on................................

Exhausted and starving, Danny shoved a tray of cinnamon rolls in the oven and leaned against the corner, watching his family examining their booty. Life was good. He tapped over into their side, clicked on his cell and said happily, "Merry Christmas, Mom. What you and Dad gonna do today?"

Jordan came up behind him, snugging his arms around and saying loudly, "Merry Christmas, Mrs. T. We'll be down to see you this spring."

He walked over to the window and stared out at the white-capped waves while Dan finished talking. Jordan knew his parents wouldn't be home right now. When Christmas fell on a Sunday, they went to church first. When he was small, the waiting was excruciating. He would call his mother later and well, he would call.

*********************

The pretty paper all garbage bagged, the new items moved out from underfeet, it was time to spread out the leftovers for the afternoon of football and laughter, naps and pure contentment.

Easy and Val arrived with Gabriel and eleven scrubbed faces. Mr. Miller would be bringing Jonathan by later in the afternoon. The smell of apple cider and hot chocolate filled the house and the visitors, all minding their manners under Gabriel's watchful eyes, accepted steaming mugs and plopped around on the floor as the pre-game activities cranked up on the TV.

Bug and Nikki napping, the house was full of noise and laughter, when the doorbell rang. JD raced for the door and flung it open.

"Hello, you are here to watch football too?" He looked at the skinny boy standing slightly behind the man.

Laughing, Easy put out his hand, "I'm Easy Langley, Mr. Miller. I'm glad you could make it. Hello, Jonathan. Come on in."

The boy drew very close to his father and his eyes darted frantically from right to left as he took in all the excitement.

"You can sit here and I'll get you a cup of coffee? Hot chocolate? Cider?" Easy smiled and pointed to the quickly vacated chair.

"You sure have a lot of children here today," Mr. Miller commented, slightly overwhelmed by all the chaos.

"Yeah, twelve are mine from the Center, three live here, right JD? Christmas is a time for being together."

"This is my house, yes," JD said. Mine and Mommie and Pops and Daddy and Papa D and Bug," Easy nudged him, "And Niksie."

"Oh," was all Mr. Miller had time to say before JD whipped around and ran off to watch the bands playing.

"It might seem a bit much right now," Easy laughed, "But it's a very controlled chaos, believe me."

"Ray Arnold speaks very highly of you."

"And I have the highest regard for him too. I'll let you settle in and introduce you to everyone at the first advertisement."

"You okay?" Mr. Miller touched Jonathan's arm lightly, watching as the boy seemed to ignore it.

"Would you like to sit here with me? There's room."

The boy stood, watching every movement from under half-closed eyes.

He just stood, ramrod stiff, his thoughts, his emotions all closed down. What he wanted, what he felt, even he didn't know anymore.

Jordan introduced himself to Mr. Miller and called Dan over. "This is Dan Trainor. We help Easy at the Center on our days off."

All afternoon, they watched Jonathan out of the corners of their eyes, over the rims of their hot chocolate mugs. As the afternoon turned into evening and the last of the leftovers was gobbled up, Easy began to gather eleven sleepy kids and shove them into parkas for the ride home.

"Next time, we'll have a game of touch out on the sand," Jordan promised. "Merry Christmas, guys."

As Mr. Miller walked toward the door, Jonathan a wraith behind him, JD asked, "Jonthan, you are going to come back to my house?"

The boy raised his eyes and looked at JD. A slight nod of the head was all they saw, no words, no action. But it was enough for JD. He barreled in with a big hug and promised Jonathan that the next time they would play with Fiddle, watch Bug try to roll over, hide Niksie's dolls, eat good stuff and get Daddy and Papa D to take them to Chucky Cheese for a giant RataRama pizza.

It was nothing...a slight nod of the head. It was a beginning.

*********************

"I would have bought you your very own star," Dan said, as they lay quietly watching snowflakes fluttering down through the porch lights. "I went to the site and then I realized that stars are for wishing on, not owning."

"Dan, you amaze me. Actually, you make me totally happy. I don't need to own a star. I have my own right here." Reaching out, Jordan stroked Dan's cheek.

"2005 was a good year. We found Mary Kessler. We are helping Easy at the Center. Easy and Val got married. We have little Bug. Everyone is healthy and happy. Yep, I'd say it was a very good year."

*********************

Jonathan Miller lay awake in his bed, watching snow flakes fly in swirls through the moonlight, his mind a clutter of anxious thoughts. He had been in a happy house today. For a little bit of time, he hadn't hurt so much. Maybe there was room for him...maybe.

*********************

The next morning, JD sat watching Bug like Mommie asked. She was cooking his eggs and he was watching Bug. Bug wasn't doing anything to watch, but JD was watching him anyway cause Mommie said. He laid his head on the edge of the carry cradle and wrinkled his nose at his baby brother. "Hiya, Bug."

Mommie dropped the big soup pot when she tried to put it on the top shelf. It made a humongous WHAM! as it hit the floor. JD nearly jumped out of his chair. Daddy yelled, "What happened?" Papa D yelled, "Everything okay?" Pops came running. Niksie started to cry with everyone yelling.

JD watched Bug. Bug didn't blink an eye. Bug was just Bug. JD frowned. Hmmm! Bug's big brown eyes weren't wide. Maybe babies don't jump. Maybe babies don't get scared. Funny Bug.

Mommie called JD to come eat his eggs. JD leaned over and kissed his little brother gently on the forehead. "I love you, little Bug."

*********************

"Sam, come look," Nic called. He took Sam's hand and they watched their little family. "They've come to end of another year."

"I wish we could tell them that everything will be okay; that things have a way of working out if you just have patience."

"I remember how much patience you NEVER had," Nic laughed.

"It's so different when you're right there, right in the middle of it. This next year will be a defining time for them all. I hope they have the courage and strength."

Two very unlikely guardian angels, Nic and Sam, listened as they heard the tinkling of tiny bells. "Time to go. I love it when an angel gets his wings."

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