by Merkin

Jesse's Journey

Jesse Schofield rode northward through the swirling snow and the gloom of the winter afternoon, the tracks thumping monotonously underneath the rail car. Just his luck to have reserved a seat in the Quiet Car, which was not so quiet after all. He was getting very tired and nearly regretted his last-minute decision to make this trip on top of a week already filled with frustration and fatigue from work. For one thing he missed his husband; the empty passenger seat beside him did nothing to improve his mood. Brian had told him, in no uncertain terms, how foolish he was to be setting out on his own on a 400 mile train trip from suburban Washington, D.C. to Amherst, just for a high school reunion.

"But Brian," Jesse had protested, "it's the ten year reunion. It's been ten years since I've seen most of those people."

Brian snorted. "Yeah, people you didn't much want to see when we lived there."

"Well, maybe your ties are less strong."

"Why, because it's been twelve years for me?"

"I just mean because you were the one who needed to leave."

Brian took a deep breath. "Jesse, I thought we'd settled this years ago. Are you still holding the fact that I wanted to study journalism somewhere else than UMass Amherst against me? You didn't have to follow me to Boston, you know."

Jesse opened his eyes wide in shock. Was this turning into a spat? He reached out and hugged his partner. "Of course I did, Brian. Gladly. With all my heart. Please don't think that, love. I just meant that you were anxious to leave, and I wasn't so anxious."

Brian relaxed and returned Jesse's embrace. "I know, and I'm sorry. I still worry that I made you change your plans."

"It wasn't really a plan, Brian. I just had always thought I'd go to UMass like my dad. I was a high school kid going with the flow, not really thinking things through. You were the one with a plan, and I've never regretted that I hitched on to it."

"Well, I'm glad things worked out the way they did, but I'd change it all in a heartbeat if it isn't working for you." Brian leaned back in Jesse's arms and studied his face. "Any regrets?"

Jesse grinned. "Nope. I love my job as a pediatric nurse at the medical center, and I'm guessing covering Washington politics is a lot more interesting for you than filing news stories from the Amherst Town Meeting about the ban on unleashed dogs."

"Got that right. Except..."

"What is it, lover?" It was Jesse's turn to lean back, his brow wrinkling.

"I just wish we had more time for each other. These are great jobs, but the hours never end. Washington will suck the life out of us if we aren't more careful."

"That's why I grabbed at the chance to get a few days off."

"Well, enjoy your 'vacation' in the icy north woods." Brian gave his husband a long kiss.

They'd hugged and gone upstairs.

Jesse sighed. He'd patched things up with Brian, but he really missed him. As the train clacked and jittered he realized just how seldom they'd been apart over the years. Sure, Brian had had assignments where he flew off for a day or two, once even on Air Force One with the press corps, but somehow it was different when Brian was gone and Jesse was the one who stayed behind. He loved their house in Burleith, almost in Georgetown, and Max the cat, and the gay-friendly neighborhood. They'd made a home, and Jesse felt the warmth and comfort of it every time he stepped inside. No, the pang of separation never really hit until he was the one who went off and left his partner.

He was tempted to ring Brian at work, but cell phones were among the no-no's in the Quiet Car. Jesse glanced over at the asshole sitting across the aisle, who'd been on his phone almost nonstop since they'd left Washington. At one point Jesse had leaned over and said "Hey, this car is supposed to be quiet," but the guy had glanced at him in disdain and replied "That's why I'm sitting here, buddy. I need to make these calls without being disturbed."

So much for civil behavior. Riding the train really sucked.

Jesse hadn't remembered that the Amherst train station was devoid of amenities. That meant no toilet, among other things. No enclosed shelter, no seats, no ticket agent, no heat, and no toilet . No Enterprise rental car waiting for him, either. That wasn't surprising, since the train was nearly an hour late and the automobile reservation he'd remembered to phone in had been for an hour earlier.

He pulled out his phone and discovered six missed calls from Brian. That was his penalty for shutting off the ringer and observing the precious silence of the damned Quiet Car. It was nice to know that his husband apparently missed him as much as he missed Brian, though. Jesse punched the speed dial.

Brian answered immediately. "Jesse! Where are you? Did you know your phone was out?"

"Hello to you too, sweet lips. I hope you're not on speaker phone."

"Are you alright?" Brian's voice was rising.

"I've been isolated in Amtrak's version of Time Out. Now I know what's behind all those kindergarten riots."

"What's going on, Jesse?"

"I've just arrived in Amherst and I'm standing on the cold bare station platform wondering where my rental car is. I may have to pee behind a bush any minute now, but my dancing helps to keep me warm."

"I warned you about setting out into the dark and the cold."

"Not so dark yet but damned cold. I'm staring at a plaque that says this shed was built in 1853 by the Central Vermont Railroad and restored in 1992. Only in New England would they restore a station without adding a restroom."

"You'll love the way your piss will look on all that snow."

"I'll think of you and spell your name. Sorry to cut this short, Bri, but I have to call Enterprise and find my car. Then I'm heading to Mom's house."

"Your house, too, sweetie."

"Listen, if she had her way I'd still be living there, so don't push the point."

"I love you and miss you, Jesse."

"I love you and miss you too, Bri. Whoops, I think this might be my car coming." A dark SUV was turning into the drop-off area in front of the platform.

"Kiss, kiss, Jesse."

"Kiss, kiss." Jesse dropped his phone into his overcoat pocket as the driver of the van lowered his window.

"Mr. Schofield?"

"Thank goodness. I thought I'd have take a cab over to your location."

"Naah, this train is always late. I've learned to listen for the whistle."

Jesse was puzzled. "Is that my car? That's an awful big SUV."

"All-wheel drive and plenty of clearance. You're going to need it. They're calling for more snow tonight."

"Swell." Jesse hoisted his bag into the vehicle, climbed in, and pulled the door shut. At least it was toasty warm.

After Jesse dropped the Enterprise driver off he made his way through still-familiar streets until the welcome glow of lighted windows signaled his boyhood home. He pulled into the driveway—thankfully cleared—and ran to the front door. He was fumbling with his key ring, trying to remember if he actually still had the right key on it, when the door swung open and there was his mother.

"You're late." Katherine Schofield reached out to smooth the lapel on Jesse's coat.

"Hi, Mom." Jesse gave her a hug and a hasty kiss on the cheek while bouncing up and down. "Bathroom." He dashed past her into the house and up the stairs.

"I'm happy to see you, too," his mother called after his retreating back. Shaking her head, she pulled the overnight bag into the foyer from the stoop and closed the heavy door against the winter chill. "Boys," she muttered. "Never closed a door in his life." She walked slowly down the hallway toward the kitchen.

"Ah, ah, ah," Jesse murmured, sighing as he zipped back up. "Not a moment too soon." Everything in the bathroom was just as he remembered: same brand of soap, familiar blue towels, even what really looked like a remembered red toothbrush. No it couldn't be. It would be petrified by now.

He turned to the doorway that led to his old bedroom and took a quick peek inside. Yep. Same stuff. Same furniture, same bed, same desk with the same computer now at least ten years past it's prime, its antique monitor a hulking chunk of ballast. On the shelves the same dog-eared collection of science fiction and fantasy novels and the handful of classics Miss Erica, the retired schoolteacher whose lawn he'd mowed, had led him to love. Same faded posters of bands whose members were now aging and mostly forgotten. It was all still here. What was up with this time warp? Did his mom have a secret yearning to be a museum curator? Did she sell tickets and conduct tours?

"Jesse?" His mother was calling him. "No shutting yourself into your room. Come down for dinner."

Jesse quickly dried his hands and ran down the stairs, his shoes clattering on the hardwood.

"Running, Jesse!" His mother may have looked older, but she hadn't changed a bit.

"Wonderful meal, Mom. Great prime rib, and the roasted vegetables were just the way I remember them. The Yorkshire pudding was to die for. " Jesse patted his lips with his napkin and made to move back from the table.

"Dessert coming up. Sit still, young man."

Jesse groaned, and surreptitiously loosened his belt.

"Apple pie, just the way you like it, with ice cream. You can take whatever is left over back to Washington with you. I'm sure Brian will enjoy it, too. I remember you two eating a whole pie between you at a sitting."

"Mom, we were teenagers." Jesse stared at the huge wedge of pie, mounded with vanilla ice cream, that his mother was presenting to him.

"This bed is way too short. I can't believe I loved this bed when I was a teenager." Jesse was chatting with Brian while he got ready for bed. "Plus my stomach is actually distended. I'm never going to go to sleep."

"But you finally have a bed all to yourself, Jesse. It's what you keep saying you are going to get every time we have a disagreement."

"Not funny, Brian. After this I never want to sleep alone again."

"Aww, that's sweet, Jesse. I feel the same way every time I go away on an assignment."

Jesse sighed. "Well, two more days and I'm heading straight into your arms."

"I can't wait. So who have you seen besides your mother?"

"Absolutely no one, except for the Enterprise driver who was old enough to be my grandfather. I didn't know him, he didn't know me, and he was too old to fix him up with my mom."

"How is she doing?"

"Well, same old story. She's lonely and she'd love to get her hands on us and treat us like kids again." Jesse grimaced at his recollection of the recent dinner table conversation.

"I know! She's a sweet lady but why is it our families love so to remind us that to them we've never grown up?"

"I totally get your point. If we ever were to move back here we'd have to draw some pretty firm boundaries." Jesse stopped short. What was he saying?

After a pointed pause Brian spoke. "What are you saying, Jesse?"

"Nothing, nothing, Brian. Delete that. I guess I was channeling my mother there. Her dinner conversation was filled with plans for us here in Amherst."

"Ouch. I bet she'd have you mowing the lawn again, if it weren't for the snow. Listen, isn't your reunion get-together and banquet tomorrow night? At least you can get out and about tomorrow and escape some of that smothering."

"You know it. But Mom already has my job jar filled with little items, so I won't be able to stray too far for too long."

"Hang in there, Jesse. Keep your return ticket on your person at all times."

"You better believe it, Brian. Oh, don't forget, I've labeled the casseroles in the freezer for you."

"Maybe I'm going out drinking with Seth and Joey."

"Maybe you should eat a good meal before you exceed your one-drink limit. By the way, Mom's sending three-quarters of an apple pie home with me for you."

Brian groaned.

"I know, I know," laughed Jesse. "Good night, Brian. I miss you terribly."

"Me too, Jesse. Kiss, kiss."

"Kiss, kiss."

When Jesse clattered downstairs for breakfast in the morning his mother stopped him at the foot of the steps. "Breakfast on the porch," she announced.

"Porch? In this weather? No way! Count me out."

"Come and see!" She led the way to the curtained French door leading to the porch and threw it open. Moist heat hit Jesse's face as he peered into a room where a riot of green plants and blossoms greeted his amazed stare. The once-screened summer porch had been transformed into a solarium with double-glazed windows all around and, miracle of miracles, tropical levels of heat.

"Mom! What have you done?"

Katherine Schofield led the way to a pair of rattan chairs with a low table where breakfast was laid out. "Don't you love it? Artie's father helped me with it just before they moved to Arizona. He found the contractor and supervised the entire project."

Jesse's eyes widened in surprise. He stepped to the windows and peered at the empty house across the street. "They've moved? You mean Artie doesn't live there anymore?"

"Jesse, Artie hasn't lived there for years. You know that. He and Judy moved to Boston right after they were married. Now his parents have put the house up for sale and gone off to sit in the sun."

"My God, that's the last time I saw them, too, at their wedding." Stricken, Jesse slumped into a chair. "Where has the time gone?"

"Well, you've always said that you and Brian were too busy to visit."

"But we've seen you often enough."

"Yes, but we only get to really visit when I come down to Washington."

How could Jesse explain how painful it had been, those last few trips he and Brian had made to Amherst, stretched out over the years? Every time, it seemed, they were centered around tragedy—the funeral of someone dear, someone once close and still held close in his heart. Just a year or so after he'd graduated from high school, while he was still a college student with Brian in Boston, his uncle Fred had died suddenly and unexpectedly. Fred was followed soon afterward by Dave, his partner, who had never quite recovered from the loss and apparently died of a broken heart. Jesse had had his own share of broken hearts, but none exceeded the pain he'd experienced at the loss of the uncles. They'd been his substitute fathers throughout his teen years, standing in for his own father, who had never returned from the war in Iran.

Then time and the lingering wounds of war had claimed Corporal Walter M. Duckett, USMC, who had been his father's friend and on whose farm Jesse had spent those last sunny summers of his youth, while Brian, two years older, had gone off to study journalism. Finally, just a year ago, he'd lost the remaining pillar of his boyhood support system. Miss Susan, loving partner of his deceased mentor, Miss Erica, had gone to sleep and not awakened, and he and Brian had made yet another trek to Amherst to wear dark suits and sit in sorrow. It seemed that the duty of the young was to attend the deaths of their elders, and Jesse was superstitiously aware that his own mother was noticeably slowing down. His heart was heavy at the thought of the next time he and his husband might be required to come north.

For a while mother and son ate silently, then Jesse shook off his mood and looked around the jungle-like setting. "This room is magnificent, Mom. What can I get for you , to add to the wonderfulness?"

His mother sat in thought for a moment. "You know, I've always wanted a Norfolk Island pine. They are such lovely ornamentals, so symmetrical and graceful. And they grow so well in pots. But here in New England they only thrive in settings like this, and now that I've got the porch finished maybe you could find one for me."

"Let me make a few calls. Maybe I can do that while I'm here."

The good news was that the threatened snowfall had not occurred and the roads, though wet, were clear. However the roadsides were banked high with previously ploughed snow, now speckled black and rotted and ugly. Parking anywhere was a challenge, since most parking lots were already filled with cars and more piles of snow. Jesse drove carefully back toward Amherst from Hadly, glancing from time to time into his rear view mirror to check the SUV's wayback where a small green Norfolk Island pine swayed and jounced in its container. Luckily it was short enough to clear the roof liner; just the right size for his mother to shift about in her tropical garden until she became satisfied with its location.

Jesse had spent a good deal of his morning tracking down the plant. Dozens of phone calls ranging halfway to Boston had failed to produce it, and when the clerk at the Weston Nursery in Hopkinton had stated, in his unmatchable gravitas, that "The Weston does not stock such a plant," Jesse was ready to give up the search. Then inspiration hit, and a call to the garden shop in the nearest big box Lowe's Building Supply, just a few miles away, was a winner. Now he'd have to make sure all identifying tags and store labels had been removed before presenting the little tree to his source-conscious mother.

He wondered what he could really do to smooth his mother's path. Clearly she was restless in her retirement, anxious to return to mothering him and Brian, filled with the desire to engage in projects like the solarium. She needed a fresh horizon, in Jesse's estimation, and this brief trip, focused on his high school reunion, was not going to afford him much of a chance to help out with that quest.

He turned his attention back on the tree behind him. He still needed to find a suitable container for the small fledgling; one with room for its roots to flourish and handsome enough to rub shoulders with the other elegant botanical containers Jesse had observed occupying the porch. He hoped the small pottery he remembered still existed. It was close to the bookstore that belonged to Brian's family, where he'd spent so many happy hours. He could drive the route in his sleep, although this was not the time to try that, given the weather conditions and the fact that he'd better get his ass in gear if he was going to get home in time to clean up for the banquet at the high school. It was already clear that he wasn't going to make it to the afternoon program, whatever that had been .

Damn! Jesse didn't believe he'd been inside the little pottery showroom more than ten minutes. Yet when he'd returned to the rental car the Norfolk Island pine tree was gone, container and all. He stood there, pot in hand, staring at the half-latched rear door.

He saw a track in the snow where the thieves had dragged the tree down a walkway alongside the shop. But it really wasn't that heavy: why drag it? He followed the trail as it led behind the shop, cursing every time he bent down to retrieve yet another small broken fragment of the delicate tree.

The trail led across an alley behind the pottery and into a decrepit concrete structure, apparently an old parking garage with several levels. It appeared to be abandoned; no tire tracks led to it, and the snow was still not cleared, although soiled and filled with footprints. Beyond the gaping doorway Jesse could see a few more small pieces of branches, and he moved quietly into the dark, damp building.

He heard voices below, coming from the lower level. Jesse made his way down the crumbling concrete car ramp, stepping carefully in the dim light. He reached the bottom and looked around.

Off in a corner he saw his tree, standing somewhat crookedly, and two small figures. They were two young boys; one was moving about the tree and draping some sort of bits upon its branches, while the other, a smaller boy, leaned, huddled and shivering , against a wall.

"It doesn't look like a birthday tree," the smaller boy was saying between sniffs. His nose was running and a heavy, moist cough interrupted his talking and briefly doubled him over.

"You just wait, it'll look great." The other boy, slightly taller, flung a bit of material onto a branch of the tree. "I'll get some more decorations. Here, drink some water."

The smaller boy took a few sips from some sort of fast-food cup, then bent to cough again. "It hurts, Les." He wrapped his arms around his thin frame and shivered.

Jesse moved closer and realized that the bits he was seeing on the tree were torn and muddy candy bar wrappers. Even the string that had held the foil wrapping around its base was now draped over the branches like a garland. The boys appeared to be very young; one might almost be a teenager, while the one with the cough was probably a couple of years younger. Both boys looked pale and thin and more than a little grimy.

"That's my tree," said Jesse, stepping out from behind a pillar.

"Oh, shit." The older boy quickly moved between Jesse and the younger one, who broke into a paroxysm of coughing. The rough sound of his hacking filled the damp concrete cavern.

"Your friend is pretty sick," Jesse said.

"What's it to you, mister?" The older boy curled his hands into fists.

"I think you need help." Jesse stopped moving forward and spread his open hands.

"Are you a cop?"

"No, I'm just a guy who recently had that tree in my car."

"Well, then, take the fuckin' tree and leave us alone."

"How about we take the tree and also take you both someplace warm?"

"What are you, some kind of queer? We ain't peddling our asses, so fuck off."

"Look," said Jesse. "I'm a nurse. I work with sick kids every day. Your friend is sick and needs help. I'd like to look at him and see if I can help."

"Do it, Les," the smaller boy gasped. "I'm really hurtin'."

"But Mikey, he'll call the cops on us."

The boy called Mikey began to sob, interrupted by episodes of coughing. "This ain't workin', Les. We got to do something."

Les looked helplessly at Jesse. "He's my brother, mister."

Brian wasn't answering his phone, and Jesse was getting worried. They'd been out of touch with one another many times in the past when Brian's work assignments took him off for hours on end, sitting in Congressional hearing rooms on Capitol Hill or waiting at one of the military airbases for some dignitary to arrive or depart. But he usually had a good idea where Brian was, and knew when he'd be back in touch. This time he felt very much out of reach, and he had so much to tell his husband.

Jesse's mother had been beside herself, a tornado of activity all centered around caring for the two forlorn kids. They had pulled into the driveway late in the afternoon, and Jesse assured Les over and over that it was indeed his home before the older boy would let Jesse pick his brother up and carry him, fast asleep, into the house. Les had hovered by his brother, but he had been willing to tell Katherine his name, Les Miller, and that Mikey was ten years old today.

Katherine had burst into tears when she learned that Les had been trying to create a birthday party for his brother with the Norfolk Island pine, and so the tree was placed beside the kitchen table, still festooned with candy wrappers, while the boys, hands washed at the kitchen sink, were served and soothed by Jesse's mother. The boys were soon filled up with her homemade vegetable soup, hastily thawed, and cups of hot cocoa. Jesse was glad to note that a significant amount of the apple pie also had gone missing.

Katherine was masterful at drawing information from boys, and soon she had Les and even Mikey offering her bits and pieces. The boys hadn't been eating much more than the candy bars whose wrappers had decorated the tree, plus cokes from Dairy Queen around the corner from the parking garage. Les recounted how their mother had died, giving birth to a stillborn sister, and Donnie their father—if that's who he was—had taken them away from the trailer somewhere in the countryside where they had been living and bundled them into an old rattrap pickup truck. They'd driven for hours in the dark and the boys had no idea where they were going. He'd given them twenty dollars and dropped them off somewhere in downtown Amherst at the break of day. Then he had driven off.

That had been at least a week ago—the boys weren't too sure how long they'd been holed up in the dim garage, which they'd found after making their way through the dark toward the lighted Dairy Queen sign. They'd used up most of the twenty in the first couple of days, although Les realized from the outset that they wouldn't see their dad again and had been carefully hording what little they had. He'd been going out at night to the dumpster behind the Dairy Queen to retrieve what he could that seemed edible. Jesse grimaced and bowed his head when they got to that part of their story. Jesse's mother sat there, horrified, covering her mouth.

Jesse turned away from the medicine cabinet where he'd stashed the prescription bottles for the boys and relocked its door. He took a quick look around the bathroom and saw that his mother had already cleaned up the sopping towels and wiped down the shower stall where the boys had sluiced off about a pound of mud apiece. Satisfied, he returned to his old room, where Mikey was bedded down and sleeping peacefully, filled with the antibiotics and expectorants and suppressants designed to make a child's first experience with bronchitis a little more tolerable.

Thank goodness old Doc Hagy still lived just around the corner and still kept his little black bag at the ready. The venerable physician had dosed Jesse and Artie and other neighborhood kids throughout their childhoods and Jesse trusted him to know as much if not more about treating childhood illnesses as any of the pediatricians Jesse worked with at Georgetown General.

Les, clad in a thick set of flannel pajamas and a bathrobe Jesse's mother had resurrected from somewhere in the attic, was still scanning Jesse's books, and the pile beside him was growing. Jesse grinned and wondered how many days it would take the youngster to work through them. Les refused to move far from his brother, and Jesse had shifted his own stuff to the guest room and set up a folding cot for the older boy in another corner of Jesse's old room.

Jesse realized it was time to leave Les on his own to poke around, so he closed the door, leaving it slightly ajar so he could hear if Mikey called out, and went into the guest room. Time to try to reach Brian again, then he was bound for bed. It had been an exhausting day. He sat down heavily on one of the twin guest beds and reached for his phone.

Suddenly warm hands covered his eyes and Jesse froze. Could it be? He twisted and found Brian standing behind him. He was laughing.

"I understand I missed a lot of excitement," he said. "And I understand you missed your reunion banquet."

"Ohmigod!" Jesse's eyes opened wide. "I forgot all about it."

"I learned that when I showed up in the high school gym, determined to join my husband at his festivities."

"Brian! How did you...when did you...?" Jesse was sputtering.

"I missed you from the moment you left, dear heart," Brian said. "I decided to fly up as soon as the weather cleared and be with you. I landed in Hartford around noon and grabbed a car—well, an SUV, they wouldn't let me have a sedan for some reason. I drove right to the high school, fully confident I'd find you hoisting some of that pathetic punch with all your old buddies and confidantes."

" You're my buddy and confidante," said Jesse, and flung his arms around his beloved.

Brian embraced him. "I gathered that, when everyone I asked denied all knowledge that you even existed."

"Wait a minute," said Jesse. "I have to tell you about something really important."

"Your mother filled me in," Brian said. "Two abandoned boys, one sick, both with no known home or parent. Rescued by my very own Jesse. Less talk, more kissing."

After a long interval they were interrupted by a slight noise by the doorway. Jesse looked up and saw Les staring at them with big round eyes. "Les, this is my husband, Brian. Brian, Les is twelve and older brother to Mikey, who celebrated his tenth birthday today and who I hope is still fast asleep."

Brian turned and stuck out his hand. Les hesitated, then reached out and shook it. He smiled tentatively and dropped his eyes.

"Welcome to the family," Brian said.

Les looked up, startled.

Brian smiled. "As long as you and your brother are in our care you're family. That's the way it works."

Les looked quickly at Jesse, who smiled and nodded . The boy's eyes welled with tears and Brian and Jesse moved to envelop him in a hug. They looked down at the trembling boy, then their eyes met. Brian raised his eyebrows. Jesse nodded again .

"Did you remember to give the keys to Nick?"

"Jesse, stop worrying. Yes, I gave the keys to Nick. Get in the car, it's time to go."

Jesse stared out of the window at the Burleith neighborhood they were leaving. "I liked that house."

"It was a great first house."

Jesse sighed. "I'm not so good with change."

"I've noticed that." Brian put his hand on Jesse's knee.

"Watch the traffic Brian."

Brian steered adroitly around an orange pylon marking a pothole. "Les called."

"Why does he always call you?"

"For the same reason Mikey calls you. It's a shared-soul thing. Besides, Les is the elder and so am I." Brian glanced at Jesse, who made a rude noise.

Jesse gave Brian a Look. "You know, we each have to be a dad to both of them. No favorites."

Brian nodded. "Of course. Besides, your mother is their court of last resort."

Jesse smiled. "She's loving being a foster mom. I don't think she'll give them up that easily, once the adoptions go through. The boys have brought her so much happiness. I can hear it in her voice every time she calls."

Brian braked hard and made a rude gesture at a delivery truck blocking the lane.

"Careful, Brian. It's probably an FBI listening post."

Brian rolled his eyes. "Won't get that in Amherst."

"We really got lucky when Mr. Baxter accepted our offer for Artie's old house," Jesse continued. "Living right across the street will give the boys an incredible way to experience family. Our turn is coming up, and the boys really want us there."

Brian patted Jesse on the knee again. "Your mom's been entitled to her time at the helm, while we got things wrapped up down here. She's had them for the past three months, adjusted their diet, got them up to speed in school, got their teeth fixed, and worked on their table manners. Maybe she's even got them to put the seat back down and shut the lid. Now it's summertime and school's out. The boys need their dads."

"They need to learn to mow the lawn," added Jesse. "I can't wait."

They smiled at one another.

"Kiss, kiss, Bri."

"Kiss, kiss, Jesse."

--THE END?--

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