Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Lernnier Family Chapter Fifty Four - Christmas In July

Chapter Fifty-Four – Christmas in July

A few days later, I found myself sitting in my mother-in-law’s room at the nursing home in Smithfield, North Carolina.  She sat in an armchair with the twins seated on either side of her.  I smiled, as I watched JJ and Josh talking animatedly to their grandmother about the sand castles they built on the beach earlier in the week.  Seeing the joy on her face as she listened intently to them reaffirmed the rightness of my decision to attempt healing my relationship with Rick’s mother. 

It was time for me to move on and let go of the anger and hurt I carried around with me for so many years.  That didn’t mean I had forgotten the tremendous injury she and her family had inflicted on my husband.  Their attempts to murder us because of who we loved had left wounds too deep to forget.  Giving myself a mental shrug, I pushed away those bad memories, as I watched our boys creating good memories with their grandmother.  It was much better to focus on the present, instead of reliving the past, as my husband so often told me during his attempts to persuade me to let go of my anger toward her.

After a few minutes, Josh said, “Daddy has photos on his phone of the sand castles we built.”  He jumped down from his chair and ran across the room to me.  “May I show Grandma our sand castles?”

“Sure, sweetheart,” I responded, smiling at his impatience as I pulled out my phone, tapping on the screen to bring up the photos of our vacation at the beach.  I scrolled through them until I found the sand castles.  I handed him the phone.  “There you go.”

He grinned up at me and said, “Thank you, Daddy.”   He ran back to his grandmother, handing her the phone.  He pointed to the photo on the screen and said, “See, this is the one JJ and I built.”  He swiped his finger across the screen, bringing up the next photo, and continued, “And this one is the one Uncle Todd and Uncle Zach made.”  He and JJ went on to describe the wonders of their sand creations in great detail! 

Rick took my hand in his, giving it a gentle squeeze.  I looked over and smiled at him.  Rick leaned over to whisper in my ear, “Thank you for coming with me, today.”

“I said I would,” I said, my gray-blue eyes meeting his brilliant blue ones.

“Thank you still the same,” he said, giving me a gentle kiss.  “I love you.”

When he pulled back, I caught my mother-in-law, Vickie, watching us.  Meeting my gaze, she smiled, and said, “I’m glad you came to see me, Glenn.  It’s easy to see how much my son loves you.”  She paused for moment, a sad expression on her face, before continuing, “I know you don’t trust me after all that’s happened, and I don’t blame you; however, I’d like to get to know you better.  Then, maybe, we can eventually become friends.”  She stopped and cleared her throat, as she tried to regain control of her emotions, and failing.  She managed to speak past the tears clogging her throat.  “I can see how happy you’ve made my Rick.”

Seeing the tears rolling down her cheeks, JJ asked, “Grandma, why are you sad?”

She wiped her tears away with the backs of her hands, and answered, “I miss being around my family.”

Hearing the loneliness in her words, I blinked back my own tears and said, “I know how much I miss seeing my own mother.”

“I wish I could meet her.  She raised a wonderful son,” she said, smiling at me.

The smile that lit up Rick’s face, upon hearing her words, could’ve been used to power the entire state of North Carolina!  He said, “Yes, she did and he’s all mine!”

To say I was surprised by her words was an understatement!  Her opinion of me had certainly swung from one extreme to the other.  I used to be the evil villain who corrupted her son.  Now, I’m a wonderful son!  Rick turned his head and leaned over to kiss me again.  He whispered in my ear, “See…she’s changed.”

Josh pulled on her arm and said, “Grandma, you’re not paying attention.”

Smiling, she turned back to the twins.  “I’m sorry, Josh.  What were you telling me?”

Josh continued narrating the events of our vacation to the beach, showing Vickie more photos on my phone.

As the twins were winding down, our teens returned with a late lunch for all of us.  Kyle grinned, and said, “I hope all y’all like Sonic burgers and fries, because that’s what we brought for you.”

Vickie looked up at Kyle and said, “Thank you.  Anything is better than what they call food in here.”

Rick asked, “Is it really that bad, Mom?”

She grimaced, and replied, “Yes, it’s terrible.  I’ll take a greasy burger and fries anytime!”

Kyle, grinning broadly, handed her a paper bag.  “Well, we got you the right meal since there’s a cheeseburger and fries in there.”

Ashley walked over and handed her a soda.  “Here’s a diet soda, Grandma.  We didn’t get you a slush because they aren’t sugar-free.”

“Thanks, dear.  I love their slushes, but I know I can’t have them, anymore,” Vickie said, taking the soda from her.  I noticed how her hand shook as she reached to place the drink cup on the table in front of her.

Kyle and David handed out the rest of the food, while Ashley and Purev handed out sodas and slushes.  After we consumed the fast food, Rick looked over at his mother and asked, “How much longer do you have to stay here?”

“They tell me I might be able to go home in about two weeks, if I continue to make good progress,” she said, a hopeful expression on her face.

“You’re welcome to come visit us, when you’re able,” I said.  Seeing Rick’s startled look, I met his gaze and asked, “What?  Can’t I invite your mother to visit?”  When Rick didn’t respond right away, I continued, grinning at him, “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen you speechless, Babe.”

Rick finally managed to recover from his surprise.  “Are you sure?”  His expression changing to one of concern.

“Yes, I’m sure,” I said, looking over at Vickie.  “We have a spare bedroom on the main level, so you won’t have to worry about going up and down stairs.  Will you come?”

There were tears streaming down her cheeks as she managed to nod her head.  JJ reached up and touched the tears on her cheek and asked, “Why are you crying again, Grandma?”

She turned to him and said, “Now, I’m crying because I’m so happy.”

JJ looked confused.  “I only cry when I’m sad.”

“Well, sometimes people cry because they’re happy,” Vickie said, wiping the tears from her face for the second time since we’d arrived.

“Then it’s settled,” I said.  “We’ll work out the details when you know the date you’ll be leaving here.”

By now, Rick knew I was serious about having his mother to the house for a visit.  Finally getting with the program, he said, “I’ll call Julie and arrange for her and her family to join us for a few days, while you’re visiting with us.”

Vickie smiled.  “That would be lovely.  I’ll be able to have my entire family with me for the first time in years.”  She met my gaze.  “Thank you, Glenn.”

Josh said, “We could take you out on our boat.”

JJ said, “Yeah!  Do you know how to fish, Grandma?  If you don’t, Josh and I can show you how.”

Josh nodded his head enthusiastically and added, “We love fishing from our boat.”

“I would love to go fishing with you boys, but I have to warn you I’m not very good,” Vickie said, laughing.

JJ said, “Kyle and David know how to fish and they are good teachers.”

Johnny said, enthusiastically, “Yes, they taught me how to fish and I caught the biggest fish!”  He put his hands up to show its size.  “It was this big!”

“Mine was bigger than that,” JJ said, throwing his arms wide to show his was the biggest fish!

Ignoring JJ and Johnny, Josh said, “Dad is a good teacher, too; but don’t let Daddy teach you.  He doesn’t like fishing.”

Ashley smiled at me and said, “That’s okay because I don’t like fishing either.”

Josh said, “But you’re a girl and girls don’t like fishing.”

“Being a girl has nothing to do with it,” Ashley said, with asperity.   “I don’t like touching their slimy skin or cleaning them.”  She shuddered dramatically.

Purev said, “I like fishing, but I don’t like cleaning them either.”

David poked him in the ribs and laughed, “That’s why I end up cleaning yours.”

Kyle said, “And I clean the fish the twins catch.”

Josh said, “That’s because Daddy doesn’t want us to use the knife until we’re older.”

“That’s right,” I confirmed.  “I’m sure we can find other things to do with Grandma besides fishing.  I think we can convince her to stay a couple of weeks with us, so we’ll have plenty of time to do fun things with her.”

Rick took my hand in his, intertwining my fingers with his.  “I have the best husband ever.”

I laughed and said, “You’d better say that!”

He kissed me and murmured against my lips, “You’re the sexiest man on the planet and I intend to show you just how much I love you when we get home.”

I gave him a broad grin and said, “I’m going to hold you to that!”

*** ***

Later that night, after Rick had fulfilled his promise to show his love for me, he smoothed my damp hair back from my face and asked, “What made you change your mind about my mother?”

I lifted my eyes to meet his and said, “It was a conversation I had with my mother last week.  She asked me how long I was going to hold a grudge against my mother-in-law.  When I told her it wasn’t a grudge, she informed me, in no uncertain terms, I was wrong not to forgive her and let my anger go.”

I paused before continuing.  “She said she could’ve held a grudge against my father and continued to punish him for his unfaithfulness to her.  It would’ve led to a lot of hard feelings, leaving our family divided.  She chose to let go of her hurt feelings in favor of reuniting our family.”

Rick asked, “Is that why she welcomed Johnny into her home?”

I responded, “Yes, she said she couldn’t punish an innocent child for the sins of his father and decided she would do her best to make Johnny a part of our family, because he is.”

“Your mom is a real saint,” he said, giving me a quick kiss on the lips.

“Yes, she is,” I agreed.  “She counseled me to do everything in my power to build a relationship with your mother to heal the breach before it’s too late.”

Rick stared into my eyes and said, “I love you so much.  Thank you for trying to overcome your feelings and give my mother a second chance.”

I reached up to stroke the stubble on his cheek.  “I only want to make you happy, babe.  I know you’ve wanted me to reach out to your mother for some time now.  So, I’m making my best effort to do what I can to develop a civil relationship with your mother, so our children can get to know their grandmother.”

“What do we need to do to get ready for her visit?” he asked.

I rattled off a half a dozen items to start and as we talked, we added more things to our to do list!

*** ***

Two weeks later, Rick sat in the front passenger’s seat, playing the part of navigator, while Kyle drove from our home in Lorton, Virginia, to my mother-in-law’s home in Selma, North Carolina.  She had been released from the care center a few days earlier and was eager to visit with us.  Since receiving her phone call letting us know she was ready to come for a visit, we had spent the intervening time preparing her room on the main level of the house, so she wouldn’t have to negotiate the stairs.  I stocked the kitchen with appropriate food stuffs to keep her on her doctor-approved diet.  I hoped we had everything ready to make her visit as pleasant as possible for all of us.

I sat in the back of the mini-van with the twins, listening to their chatter.  Driving with Kyle makes me nervous.  Not that he isn’t a good driver, but he sometimes makes mistakes and that makes me just a little bit jumpy.  It’s better for all of us if Rick rides shotgun and keeps an eye on Kyle’s driving.  I’m very glad Rick enjoys teaching Kyle how to drive because I would not make a very good driving instructor parent!

The rest of our teens had elected to stay home, while we retrieved Vickie.  As soon as Kyle parked the mini-van in her driveway and turned off the engine, JJ and Josh were anxious to get out.

“Daddy, I want out,” Josh said, trying to unbuckle himself from his car seat

JJ echoed his twin’s sentiment, “Please, Daddy, help me get out.”

I reached over and unbuckled them from their booster seats.  In a flash, they were out of the van and running toward their grandmother’s front door.

I laughed and said, “I wish I had their energy.”

Kyle looked over his shoulder and smirked.  “From the amount of noise I heard coming from your bedroom last night, it appears you do!”

I blushed, but grinned at our son.  “That was all you father’s fault!”

Rick laughed.  “Don’t blame me, babe!  You’re the one who can’t keep quiet when you’re being well fucked!”

Kyle smirk grew wider.  “I never hear Dad screaming when you guys are having sex.”

I glared at them both.  “I’m SO not having this conversation with our teenage son.”

Rick reached between the seats to caress my cheek.  “I’m sorry, Babe.  We didn’t mean to make you angry.”  He paused, before continuing, “You know teenage boys are a walking bag of hormones and we haven’t exactly hidden our sexual activities from them, so they’re bound to notice.”

I met his gaze, and nodded my head.  “I know.”  I turned to look at Kyle, who looked confused and a little hurt.  “You didn’t do anything wrong, Kyle; but you need to remember I’m a little shy when it comes to talking about sex with you, where your father isn’t that way at all.”

Kyle smiled and said, “I know.  He’s been pretty open about talking about sex when I’ve had questions.”  He stopped and blushed, before adding, “Sometimes, he gives me unsolicited advice.”

Rick ruffled Kyle’s hair.  “That’s what dads are for…keeping their kids on their toes.”

Ignoring Rick’s statement, Kyle handed the car keys to his Dad and opened the door.  “Grandma’s waiting,” he said, nodding toward the front door of the house.

We climbed out, following him into the house.   As soon as we stepped inside, our ears were assaulted with the excited chatter of our twins.  We followed their voices down the hallway and into the kitchen where we found the twins sitting at the table with cookies and milk.

Seeing us, Josh said, holding up a chocolate chip cookie, “Look!  Grandma gave us cookies and milk!”

“That’s wonderful!  Just be careful not to spill your milk,” I said, smiling at my son.

“Okay,” he replied, then stuffed the entire cookie into his mouth.

Vickie pushed her walker toward us and reached up to hug her son.  “Thank you for coming.”

Rick embraced her and kissed her on the cheek.  “I’m glad you’re out of the nursing home.”

“So am I,” she said, smiling up at him.  “This old lady never wants to see the inside of a nursing home again!”

“That means you need to keep doing the exercises they taught you,” Rick said.

She made a face and said, “I know, but they hurt.”

“But that’s how you’ll ‘stay’ out of the nursing home,” he said, holding her gaze.

“I get it, dear.  Please allow me to complain just a little bit.”  She turned to me and said, “Thanks for inviting me to your home, Glenn.”

I hugged her and said, “You’re most welcome.  Do you need us to help you pack your things?”

She shook her head.  “Thank you for offering to help me, but I’ve already packed everything.”

Kyle asked, “Where is your stuff?  I’ll get it and put it in the car.”

“It’s in my room.  When you’re done, there are plenty of cookies and milk.”

Kyle grinned and kissed her on the cheek.  “Thanks, Grandma Vickie.”

He left the room and Vickie shuffled over to the kitchen table and sat down, letting out a sigh of relief.  She looked up at us, and said, “I still get really tired.”

Rick and I joined her and the twins at the table.  “Don’t you have a motorized wheelchair?” Rick asked, furrowing his brow.

“Yes, but I don’t know how to drive it,” she said, a slight whine in her voice.

“Didn’t they show you how?’’ he asked, his expression darkening.

“Yes, they did, but I still don’t have the hang of it,” she said, a note of frustration in her voice.  “I tried using it yesterday, but I kept running into stuff.”

“Did you damage anything?” Rick asked.

“No, just my pride,” she responded, smiling at her son.

Kyle returned from taking her things out to the car and sat down at the table, after pouring himself a glass of milk.  He grabbed a chocolate chip cookie from the plate on the table, taking a huge bite out of it.

“Maybe you can show me the contraption and we can figure it out together,” Rick said.

Giving him a doubtful look, she said, “I’m sure I’ll ever be able to master using the accursed thing.”

After downing half his milk, Kyle interjected, “Grandma Vickie, it’s like learning to drive a car, it takes practice.”

She smiled at him.  “I guess you’re right, Kyle.  I shouldn’t get so frustrated.  It’s just I’m afraid of breaking something when I run into things.”

Rick said, “We have room to take your motorized wheelchair with us, if you want it.”

She shook her head.  “I don’t need it.  I have a regular wheelchair I can use and I’ve got my walker.”

Kyle said, “I put your wheelchair in the back of the car along with your suitcase, Grandma Vickie.”

She patted his arm.  “You’re a good grandson.  Thank you.”  She looked over at us and said, “I’m ready to go when you are.”

Rick laughed.  “Okay, mother, we’ll go as soon as the boys are done eating their snack.”

*** ***

A few days later, I sat in the front room with my mother-in-law when the twins ran into the room and made a beeline directly to their grandmother.  They each handed her a little booklet made of colored construction paper.
JJ said, “We made you a coupon book, Grandma.”

Taking them in her hand, she read the first page, “This coupon is for one free!!!!! hug…expires on October 20,  2008.

She asked, “Thank you for the coupon books, but why the October 20th expiration date?”

With a serious look on his face, Josh said, “All coupons have to have an expiration date and we chose that date because it’s your birthday.”

JJ added, “We’re going to give you a new coupon book for your birthday so this one has to expire on that day.”

She nodded her head, sagely.  “I see.  I wondered why you asked when my birthday was.”  Turning her attention back to the coupon book, she asked, “What are the rest of these coupons for?”  She turned the page.

JJ said, “This one is for a free wheelchair ride.”

“And the next one is to watch a free movie of your choice,” Josh said, pointing to the coupon as she turned to it.

“The last one is for one bedtime story,” JJ said.  “We love bedtime stories, so we thought you would like one, too.”

Vickie hugged them both, giving each of them a kiss on the cheek.  “Thank you for the wonderful coupons.”

JJ said, “You’re welcome, Grandma.”

The twins turned and ran from the room.  We heard them talking to Ashley in the hallway.  “Ashley, we gave Grandma the coupon books you helped us make,” Josh said.  “When can we give Dad and Daddy theirs?”

“Yeah, when can we give them the ones we made for them?” echoed JJ.

“You can give them their coupon books when Dad gets home from work.  Meanwhile, let’s go get some cookies,” Ashley said.  The sound of their voices faded as they moved into the kitchen.

Vickie smiled.  “Ashley is such a wonderful young woman.  You and Rick have done a wonderful job raising her.”

I blushed from her praise.  “We didn’t do anything other than provide a loving environment for her.”

“That is saying a lot, Glenn.  There are so many children who don’t have a secure, safe place to be and loving parents to support them.  I’ve only been here a few days and I can see how close knit your family is.  That closeness only comes when the parents love each other and their children.  The children trust you and Rick.  They know you’ll be there for them,” she said.  Her face crumpled and sobs began wracking her frail body.

I got up and joined her on the couch, slipping my arm around her frail shoulders.  She turned into me as I rubbed her back soothingly.  The storm subsided and she pulled back from me. 

She met my gaze, and said, “I wish I could do things over, Glenn.  I wasn’t there for Rick when he needed me.  I turned my back on him and violated the trust he placed in me as his mother.  I wish I could turn back time and do things over.  I’ve squandered the time I’ve been given on this earth, because I’ve spent it being spiteful and self-righteous, thinking I was doing the right thing.  There are so many bad memories.”

“The best thing you can do is start to rebuild the trust between you and your family.  Most importantly, we need to make new memories to replace the bad ones,” I said.  “It’s time for us to move past our grievances and heal the breach between us.  I want my children to have the benefit of knowing their father’s family.  I want them to be proud of who they are and that includes being proud of their family.  You’re part of that family, Vickie.  I’ll do what I can to help them see their grandmother as the wonderful person you are.  You raised Rick to be the fine man he is today.  My mother has always told us her children are the jewels in her crown and I believe that.  Rick and Julie are the jewels in yours, Vickie.  Both are great people.”

“I’m so grateful Rick married you,” Vickie said, smiling at me.  “You’re perfect for him.”

I smiled and said, “I’m glad I married him, too, and thankfully, he’s perfect for me.”

Just then, Rick entered the room, grinning broadly.  “So, someone said I’m perfect in every way?”

I looked at his mother and we both burst out laughing.  “No, sweetheart, I said you’re perfect for me.”

His face momentarily fell, but then a big grin broke out on his face.  “Of course, that makes me the perfect husband.”

I stood up and walked into his embrace, lifting my lips to his for a kiss.  “Welcome home, Babe; and yes, you’re my perfect husband.”

He held me tight and gave me deep kiss.  I heard someone clear their throat.  “You two need to get a room,” Kyle said, grinning at us as Rick released me.

“What?” Rick asked.  “Can’t I show my husband I love him?”

Kyle laughed.  “Sure, Dad.  Just make sure you keep it G-rated.  Remember there are teenagers around.”

“And old ladies,” Vickie added, chuckling.

Just then, we heard Josh shouting from upstairs, “Dad’s home!  Hurry, JJ!  Get your coupon book!”

Rick looked at me and asked, “What’s that about?”

I laughed and said, “Just wait a minute.  The twins have something to give us.”

We didn’t have long to wait!  Two very excited little boys appeared in the door way, holding their homemade coupon books in their hands.  Ashley followed them in, smiling.  “They’re very excited,” she said.

Rick raised an eyebrow and said, “That’s kind of obvious.”  He looked down at the boys in question, smiling, and said, “I heard somewhere I had a coupon book.”

Josh and JJ rushed over and each handed us our own coupon book.

JJ pointed to the coupon book in Rick’s hand and explained, “The first coupon is for a free hug. Then we gave Daddy one free dishwashing help and you one for free lawn mowing help!  The rest are like the ones we gave Grandma minus the wheelchair ride.”

Josh clarified, “You don’t have a wheelchair, so we couldn’t give you one of those.”

I looked over at Rick and grinned.  “I’m sure your Dad’s getting old enough to need one.  Don’t you think we should get him a wheelchair?  His knee hurts a lot lately.”

Josh looked up at Rick with a solemn look on his face, and asked, “Do you need a wheelchair, Dad?  Maybe Grandma can share hers with you.”

Rick laughed and said, “No, son, I don’t need a wheelchair, yet.”

“Are you sure, old man?” I asked with a smirk.

“Yes, I’m absolutely sure.  Just remember, you’re almost the same age as I am,” Rick said.  When Josh pulled on his hand, he returned his attention to our son.

“But your knee hurts,” Josh argued.  He pointed to the knee brace on Rick’s knee.  “See, you have a bandage on it.”

Rick knelt beside Josh and patted his knee.  “I wear this knee brace to help stabilize my knee.  I hurt it years ago, playing football.  I only wear the brace when I’m exercising or doing a lot of walking.  So, I don’t need a wheelchair.”

Deliberating misunderstanding his dad’s comment, Kyle laughed and said, “I knew you were getting old, but I didn’t realize you were so old you needed a wheelchair.”

Rick stood up and reached for Kyle, who nimbly skipped away from him.  He laughed and said, “You’re just too slow, Dad!”

Rick laughed and said, “I’ll show you who’s slow.”  He sprang after him at a dead run, causing Kyle to turn and bolt from the room, laughing.  As he ran, Kyle looked over his shoulder and shouted, “You can’t catch me, old man!”

We heard the front door slam, as Kyle led his Dad outside.  Vickie looked over at me and smiled.  “It does my heart good to see Rick happy.  I can tell the children simply adore him.”

“Yes, they do,” I agreed.  My heart felt warm as I thought about my husband and our children.  They belonged to a mutual admiration society.  Each thought the other was totally awesome!  “I’m very fortunate I married a fantastic man who is a wonderful husband and father.  You did a great job raising him, Vickie.”

Vickie blushed at my praise and said, “Thank you for saying so, Glenn.  I’m glad he survived all the things I did wrong as a parent.  I think Rick’s innate goodness is what helped him remain the wonderful man he is today, rather than anything I did.”

I shook my head and said, “Maybe so, but you provided him a loving home and encouraged him to reach for his dreams.  I agree he has been hurt by your actions at times, but hopefully we can make new memories to replace the bad ones.  Eventually, the hurt will heal itself and disappear.”

With tears shining in her eyes, she nodded her agreement.  “I hope so, Glenn.”

“I’m sure we can,” I said.  I related to her what we had gone through as a family when my father cheated on my mother.  I told her of my mother’s determination to bring us together as a family, including reaching out to Johnny, my half-brother.  I concluded, “She encouraged me to reach out to you and reminded me she raised me to be loving and kind to everyone, despite our differences.”

“Your mother is a wonderful woman.  She is much more forgiving than I would’ve been; but I’m hoping I can learn from her and become a better person,” Vickie said.

“We all can be better at overlooking one another’s faults,” I said, smiling at her.

“That’s for sure,” she said, returning my smile.

*** ***

A few days later, JJ walked into my home office with a couple of lined sheets of paper in his hand.  He climbed onto my lap and handed them to me.

I looked at the drawings he made and asked, “What are they?”

JJ looked up at me and said, pointing to the red one, “This one is a monster.”  Then he pointed to the blue and brown one, and continued, “This one is a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean.  I made them for your office.”

I kissed his cheek and said, “Thank you, JJ.”

He pointed to his name on the paper.  “Grandma helped me write my name in cursive.  She showed me how to make it look fancy.  She says I have a beautiful name and should use it instead of JJ.”

I smiled at him.  “You did a wonderful job, JJ.  Did you thank Grandma for helping you?”

He nodded his head.  “Yes, I did.”

I said, “Good.  Now, let’s talk about using your real name instead of a nickname.  How do feel about being called Jared instead of JJ?”

He pondered the question for a few minutes, before answering me.  “I want to be called Jared, because I’m a big boy.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Let’s tell everyone about your decision at dinner tonight.  Would that be alright?”

JJ nodded his head, smiling up at me.  He put his arms around my neck and kissed my cheek.  “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, son,” I replied.  “Did Grandma talk to Josh about being called Joshua instead of Josh?”

JJ answered, “Yes, she said she doesn’t like nicknames.  She said she wanted everyone to call Dad, Richard, not Rick.  But Grandpa insisted on using Rick and it stuck.  So, when the rest of the family called him Rick, too, she finally gave up trying to call him Richard.”

“So, what did Josh say to that?” I asked, curious to know how his twin had responded to my mother-in-law’s request.  “Does Josh want to be called by his full first name as well?”

“No, he likes being called Josh, not Joshua,” JJ said.

“But Joshua is a great name,” I said.

“Yes, but Josh wants to be called Josh,” JJ insisted.  “He told Grandma he was Josh and would always be Josh.”

I laughed and hugged JJ.  “And you’ll always be JJ, too, but we can still call you Jared from now on, if that’s what you want.”

JJ said, “That’s what I want.”  He looked at me curiously, before asking, “Why do you go by your middle name, Daddy?”

“I’ve never liked being called by my first name, Russell, or Russ, as a nickname.  I was about your age when I told your Grandpa and Grandma Nielsen I wanted to be called by my middle name, Glenn, because I hated Russell,” I said.

He asked, “Why don’t you like Russell?”

I thought back to that time, before answering.  “My older brothers were always teasing me about my name.  I remember being so angry at them, I asked my parents to never call me Russell again.  My Dad didn’t want to call me Glenn, but my Mom convinced him it was okay and I’ve been called Glenn ever since then.”

JJ absorbed this information and nodded his head.  “I guess that’s okay then.”  Obviously finished with the conversation, he wiggled free from my embrace and jumped down from my lap.  “I’m going outside to play,” he announced as he sped from the room.

I smiled and shook my head as I thought, “I wish I had his energy.”  I taped his artwork to the wall above my desk and returned to my work, feeling very blessed to have such a wonderful family!

*** ***

After dinner, we retired to the family room to watch movies.  It took us a few minutes to sort out which ones to watch, eventually we settled in with bowls of popcorn and other snacks.  The twins cuddled on either side of their grandmother while Johnny snuggled up with me and Rick. 

Vickie looked over at us and asked, “Why do you have notes taped up all over the house?”

I said, “Johnny is learning to speak Spanish, so we put up notes with both Spanish and French on them to help him.  When Rick and I took Spanish in college, we used the same method to learn our vocabulary words; only we used Spanish and English and it worked pretty well.”

His eyes shining with hero-worship, Johnny looked up at me and said, “I want to speak as many languages as Glenn does.”

I smiled down at my little brother and ruffled his blond hair.  Meeting his adoring gaze, I thought to myself, “I just hope I can always live up to his high expectations.”  Out loud I said, “If you keep working at it, you’ll soon catch up to me.”

Josh looked up at his grandmother and said, “We speak English, French and Spanish.”

JJ added, “And we’re learning American Sign Language.  I already know the alphabet in sign language.”  He began reciting his abc’s, while showing Vickie the sign for each letter.

When he finished, Vickie looked at him in surprise.  “Why are you learning sign language?”

“Daddy is learning sign language at work, because his co-worker is deaf,” JJ said.  “He likes practicing sign language with us.  He says he’ll bring Geoffrey home to meet us when we can sign well enough to talk to him.”

“Actually, I’m re-learning sign language because I studied it in college along with German, Greek, Swedish, Sanskrit, Russian, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese,” I said.

“Why did you study so many languages?” Vickie asked, in amazement.

Before I could answer, Rick said, “He was bored and wanted to try something new.”

I nodded my head in agreement.  “At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted study.  So, I took as many foreign languages as I could fit into my schedule.  I thought I would be a linguist; however, I finally settled on a dual major of Spanish and Business Management with a minor in Economics”

“Do you still speak all those languages?” she asked.

“Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of them now.  I’m fluent in Spanish and French because I use them all the time.”

JJ said, “We not only speak French and Spanish, we’ve learned about French and Spanish culture.”

Josh nodded his head in agreement.  In a very good imitation of me, he said, in a professorial tone of voice, “You can’t speak French or Spanish properly if you don’t understand the cultures of those countries that speak them.”

The teens burst into laughter.  Ashley high fived Josh.  “Way to go little brother!”

Kyle said, “Josh, you’re awesome!”

I protested, “I don’t sound like that!”

JJ said, “Yes, you do, Daddy.”

David said, “Daddy, you do sound like a professor when you’re trying to emphasize something you think is important for us to know.”

I turned to Rick, who put his hands in the air.  “What can I say?  They’re right, Babe.”

Purev added, “Daddy, you sound a lot like my English teacher, Mr. Johnson, when he introduces a new assignment to the class.”

I sighed and said, “Okay, I’ll admit sometimes I get into lecture mode.”

Smiling, Purev said, “But you’re way cooler than Mr. Johnson is.”

I reached over to ruffle Purev’s jet black hair.   “I’m glad you think so.  I would hate to think I was old and boring!”

Purev fixed his hair before asking, “When are you going to learn to speak Mongolian?”

I met his gaze and replied, “When you decide you’re going to teach us.”

Purev grinned at me and said, “Okay, I’m ready when you are.”

“We can add the Mongolian words to the notes we already have in place for Johnny,” I suggested.

Purev said, “I like that idea.  I’ll start writing them down tomorrow.”

“Is that okay with you, Rick,” I asked, turning to meet his gaze.

He nodded his head.  “Yes, it’s important for us to learn more about Purev’s Mongolian heritage.  Maybe he can teach us some of the cultural things as well.”

Ashley said, “I’d love to learn some Mongolian dances and songs.”

Purev’s face lit up with a huge grin.  “I would love to teach you.  I would like to invite some of my Mongolian friends over to help teach you guys some of our folk dances.”

Ashley gave Purev a kiss on the cheek.  “I love that idea.  You’re an awesome brother!”

Purev blushed and rubbed his cheek where she’d kissed him.  “Thanks, Ashley.”

*** ***

The following weekend, we caravanned to Great Falls National Park with Kyle driving the mini-van followed by Jeff with the rest of the teenagers.  We reached Great Falls just a little before noon.  Kyle pulled into a handicapped parking space and cut the engine.  He pulled the keys from the ignition and handed them to Rick with a broad grin.

“I didn’t make a single mistake on the drive here,” Kyle said.

Rick agreed, “You did a great job driving, today.”

Vickie said, “Thank for bringing us here.”

Kyle turned in his seat to look at her and replied, “You’re welcome, Grandma Vickie.”  He opened his door and got out of the car.  He walked around to the back and got out her wheelchair.  He opened her door and bowed low.  “Your chariot awaits.”

She laughed and said, “Why thank you, sir!”  She gave him her hand and she carefully maneuvered herself out of the mini-van and into the wheelchair.  Once she was settled, Kyle moved the wheelchair away from the van and closed the door.

Rick opened my door and said, “I can’t be outdone by my son.”  He gave me a hand out of the van, then unbuckled the twins.  “Let’s go, boys.”

The twin jumped out of the van and ran to catch up with Kyle and Vickie.  As we started toward them, Jeff and the rest of our family caught up to us.

We entered the park’s visitor’s center where there was sign at the ranger station that read, “Water flowing over the falls today is 15,400 cubic feet per second.” 

I pointed out the sign and said, “Boys, when we go to the look out point, remember how much water is going by.”

Purev said, “That’s a lot of water.”

Rick agreed, “Yes, it is.”

David said, “Let’s go see it.”

I said, “Lead the way, son.”

David led us out of the visitor’s center and down the path to the lookout where we snapped photos of the water flowing over the falls.

Great Falls, Va.
Rick reached down and lifted JJ to his shoulders, while I did the same with Josh, so they could see over the wall. 

Seeing the rush of muddy water below us, Josh exclaimed, “Wow!”

JJ pointed at the water and said, “Look, Dad, there someone trying to paddle up the river.”

Rick said, “You’re right, Jared.  I think that guy must be crazy trying to paddle his kayak up the falls with so much water coming over them.”

We watched as the kayaker attempted to climb the falls only to be pushed back downstream by the strong current.   Kyle pushed Vickie’s chair up to the wall and helped her to stand up, holding on to the top of the wall to look out over the falls.

“This is a beautiful place,” she said.

Ashley said, “This is one of my favorite places.  I like coming here.  My parents used to bring us here for picnics before they died.”

Kyle said, “I love the photos of us all together looking out over the falls.  Dad used to put you on his shoulders, Ashley.  Mom used to yell at him to put you down so you wouldn’t fall because you wouldn’t hold on.  You would let yourself hang upside down while Dad held onto your legs.  It caused Mom to panic!”

Ashley grinned and said, “It was so fun to do that.”

“You would just laugh and tell Mom not to worry because Dad would never let you fall,” Kyle said.

 Vickie asked, “Do miss them?”

Ashley nodded her head and, with a sad smile, said, “Sometimes, like today when we’re somewhere where we used to come with them.

“It’s okay to miss your parents, Ashley,” I said.  “They loved you very much.”

Ashley’s eyes grew bright with unshed tears.  “I know, but I wish they were still here.”

I put Josh down and pulled Ashley into my arms.  She buried her face in my shirt as she cried.  When she stopped crying, she pulled back and wiped her tears from her eyes, while I brushed her long dark hair back over her shoulders.

She said, “I’m sorry I’m being such a big baby.”

I looked into her eyes and said, “It’s okay to cry, Ashley.  You miss your mom and dad.”

“I love you, Daddy,” Ashley said, hugging me hard.

“I love you, too,” I said, returning her hug.

David and Purev ran up to us, having gone ahead to the next lookout point.  David said, “You guys need to come with us.  The next lookout is awesome!”

Kyle helped Vickie into her wheelchair and we followed the boys down the path to the next lookout point.  As we approached the wall separating us from the steep drop off, Kyle said to Ashley, “I miss them, too, Ashley.”

“But you don’t break down and cry,” Ashley said.

“No, but I miss them just the same,” he said.

Rick put his arm around Kyle’s shoulders and said, “What he’s trying to say is that he cries in private where no one can see him.  Kyle has this tough guy image to keep up and crying in public would ruin his reputation!”

Kyle laughed but admitted, “Dad’s right.  I do cry sometimes when I miss mom and dad too much.”

David said, “I remember the day mom and dad died, Mrs. Evans brought us to your house and Daddy held us tight while we cried.  Daddy’s is always making us feel better.”

I smiled at our teens and said, “That’s my job.”

Rick agreed, “You always do your best to do what you can to make us happy.”  He leaned down and kissed me lightly, as we arrived at the next lookout point.  “You’re the light of my life.”  He took my hand in his, threading his fingers through mine.

Catching Vickie’s gaze on us, I blushed and smiled at her.  “I have the best husband ever.”

She smiled back and said, “Yes, you do.”

Rick said, “Of course, how can I be anything but the best.”  He grinned as I lightly punched him in the shoulder.  He pulled me over to the wall to peer down into the gorge to watch the muddy water roaring over the falls.  “It’s so awe inspiring.”

“It’s pretty amazing to think of that much water moving downstream all at once,” I agreed.  “I’m glad we came here today.”

“I am, too,” Rick said.

I leaned over to whisper in his ear, “I think your mom is enjoying herself.”

He turned his head, his lips capturing mine in a quick kiss.  He murmured against my lips, “Yes, she is and so am I.”

He pulled back and grinned at me.  “I can’t wait to get you home so I can throw you down on our bed and ravish you.”

I squeezed his hand and grinned back.  “I’m holding you to that.”

I looked over to see Kyle helping Vickie to her feet.  She shuffled a few steps to the wall next to us with Kyle holding her arm to stabilize her.  She grabbed the top of the wall and peered into Mather Gorge below.

She looked up at Kyle and said, “Thank you for helping stand up.  This is such a beautiful place and I would’ve missed out on the fantastic view, otherwise.”

Kyle release his hold on her and said, “You’re welcome.”

David and Purev approached us and David asked, “May we take the twins with us to the dam?”

Rick said, “Sure, but make sure to keep them out of the water.”

Purev laughed and said, “We’ll try, but those two have a natural affinity for water.”

I agreed, “They do, but remind them to stay out of the water anyway.”

Purev turned to Kyle, Johnny, and Ashley.  “Do you want to come with us?”

Ashley said, “Sure.”

Johnny said, enthusiastically, “Yes!”

Kyle looked at us and raised his eyebrows.  I laughed and said, “Go with them.  Your Dad and I will take care of grandma.”

He grinned at us and left with our other teens as the twins ran ahead of them down the trail toward the dam.

Vickie said, “I’m glad to see Johnny is loved and accepted by your family.”

I said, “He’s a good kid and I’m glad his mother let him stay the summer with us.”

Rick said, “He’s growing like a weed.  It’s a good thing he brought lots of shorts from home, so we don’t have to worry about buying him new pants while he’s here.”

I smiled at my husband.  “I disagree, sweetheart.  We have to take the rest of the children school shopping in a few weeks anyway; so we’ll pick him up some new clothes then.”

Vickie said, “Doesn’t Johnny have to wear a school uniform?”

“Yes, he does, but he’ll need new clothes to tide him over until Christmas,” I said.

Vickie nodded her head in agreement.  “That’s what we did with our children as well.  They got new clothes at the beginning of the school year, then again at Christmas.”

Rick said, “Yeah, that’s right.  I hated getting clothes for Christmas, instead of more toys.”

Vickie laughed and said, “You and your sister were just alike in that respect – always wanting more toys.”

We helped her back into her chair and pushed her to the lookout point.  We enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon with her, while the children explored the many trails and lookout points.

*** ***

A week later, I was sitting in the family room with my mother-in-law when the doorbell rang.  Kyle jumped up to answer the door.  He returned leading Rick’s sister and her family into the room. 

Vickie smiled and said, “Julie and Kevin, I’m glad you could make it.”  Vickie stood to embrace them.  She turned to Julie’s children and continued, “Matt and Kenya, come give your grandma a hug.”

I gave Matt the once over as he moved to his grandmother’s side, openly admiring the handsome 18-year old who stood at 6’4” (193 cm.) with blond hair, mischievous blue eyes and a generous mouth.  His broad shoulders giving emphasis to his very lean frame.  Meeting my eyes, he winked at me and leaned down to give Vickie a peck on the cheek and wrapped her in his long arms.  I blushed at being caught.

He said, “Hello, Grandma.”

Vickie said, “It’s so good to see you Mattimus.”

He cringed and said, “Grandma, nobody calls me that anymore.”

She cackled and said, “I still do because you’ll always be Mattimus to me.  I’ve called you that since you were old enough to talk and couldn’t say your own name.”

He rolled his eyes and asked, “Will you ever let me forget I couldn’t say my name when I was a toddler?”

His mother, Julie, stepped forward and said, “No, Matt, we won’t let you forget any of your nicknames.”  She greeted her mother with a quick hug and a kiss before turning to me.  “I’m glad you’re doing better, Mom.”  She turned to me and smiled.  “You must be Glenn.”

“That I am,” I responded.  I stood up and was surprised when she pulled me into an embrace.  Julie was a female version of my husband, only shorter with feminine curves where Rick was all hard muscles. 

She pulled back and said, “I didn’t realize we’re the same height.”  Her eyes meeting mine as she grinned.

I laughed and said, “That’s because you’re wearing heels.”

She joined my laughter and agreed, “A girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do to even out the playing field.”  She turned to pull her daughter forward.  “Besides, I have to keep up with Kenya here.”

Kenya, 16, at 5’8” (173 cm.) with the same blond hair and blue eyes as her brother, matched her mother in height.  But where her mother is solidly built, Kenya is thin and willowy, like reed on the river bank.

Kenya smiled and said, “Hi.  Don’t let mom fool you.  She wears the heels because dad likes them.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, returning her smile.  “It’s good to finally meet you in person, Kenya.” 

She smiled and said, “I’m glad to be here.”  She turned to her grandmother and hugged her.  “You’re looking good, Grandma.”

Vickie smiled and said, “Thank you, sweetheart.  I feel good, too.”

Kevin made his way over and hugged his mother-in-law.  “It’s good to see you, Mom.”  Kevin is 6’2” with dark brown hair and eyes.  He’s solidly built and has deeply bronzed skin from working outdoors.

Vickie looked up into his eyes and said, “Thank you for bringing your family to see me.”

Kevin said, “I’m glad we came.  I’ve wanted to meet Rick’s family for some time now.”  He turned to me and thrust out his hand to shake mine.  “Kevin Lundquist.  Thanks for inviting us to you home, Glenn.”

“Thanks for coming,” I replied.  “Please make yourselves at home.  Rick should be home shortly.  He had an emergency at work he needed to resolve.”  As I finished speaking, I heard the twins on the stairs.  They rushed into the room and climbed onto my lap.  “These are the twins, Josh and Jared.”

Kevin sat down in the armchair next to the sofa and said, “I’m glad to meet you two.  I’m your Uncle Kevin.  You guys must be the awesome twins someone was telling me about.”

Jared grinned and said, “That’s right!  We’re the great and wonderful Lernier twins!”

Josh nodded his head in agreement.  “We like pretending to be superheroes!”

“That’s because you are!” I said.

Jared looked up and asked, “May we get our capes and show them to Uncle Kevin?”

“Sure,” I replied, laughing as they jumped down and ran from the room.

“I bet those two keep you very busy,” Kevin observed.

I sighed and nodded my head.  “That they do.”

Kevin said, “I understand Rick works for the Marine Corps as a civilian contractor.”

“That’s right,” I replied.  “He’s really good at what he does.”

“What do you?” he asked.

“I work for a computer software company,” I replied.  “I work from home 4 days a week and go into the office every Tuesday to meet with the rest of my team.”

“You’re lucky, Glenn.  I work as a construction foreman.  I used to be a welder and worked on high rise buildings, but now I’m the boss – more or less,” he said, grinning.  “My guys are hard workers, so I don’t have too many problems with them.”

While we waited for he twins to return, David, Purev and Johnny joined us.  Seeing them, I said, “David and Purev, this your Aunt Julie and Uncle Kevin.”

Julie stood to give each of them a hug.  “I’m so glad to finally meet you.  Your dads have told us all about you.”

David said, “I hope it was all good.”

Purev said, “Yeah, I hope they didn’t tell you anything embarrassing.”

Julie said, “It was all good, I assure you.”

Kevin stood to shake their hands and said, “Nice to meet you both.”

The two teens took seats on the floor next to Kyle.  I pointed to Johnny and said, “This is my youngest brother, Johnny.”

Johnny smiled and said, “Hi!”  He crossed the room to sit next to me.

I heard the twins coming down the stairs and said, to the room at large, “Get ready, folks, here come the superheroes to save the day!”

The twins burst into the room, each wearing a black cape and a bright yellow bandana wrapped around their heads and shouted in unison, “Ta-Dah!”

We clapped and whistled.  The twins made their way over to Kevin and he high-fived each of them.  “Those are some pretty awesome capes.”

Josh said, “Ashley made them for us in her home economics class at school.  She had to sew something and she chose to make us capes.”

I glanced over to see Ashley appear in the doorway and waved her into the room.  “Ashley, this is Aunt Julie, Uncle Kevin, Matthew and Kenya.”

Ashley moved across the room and took a seat next to me.  “It’s nice to meet you,” she said, acknowledging my introductions.

Julie said, “We’ve heard so much about you, Ashley.  My brother tells me you’re a fantastic artist.”

Ashley’s cheeks pinked up as she nodded her head.  “I don’t know about the fantastic part, but I do like to draw.”

Kenya smiled and said, “I do, too.  I like to draw anime (an-ah-may) characters and I read a lot of manga.”

Julie confirmed her statements.  “Kenya’s room is full of Japanese comic books.”

Kevin added, “She’s into everything Japanese.  She even asked us to buy her a kimono.”

Kenya smiled and said, “It’s a beautiful one and I love it.”  She pulled up a photo of it on her phone and passed it around for us to see.

After seeing the photo of Kenya’s kimono, Ashley met Kenya’s eyes and asked, “Would you like to see some of my drawing?”

“I’d love to,” Kenya said, enthusastically.

Ashley stood and indicated Kenya should follow her.  As the two girls left the room, Jared announced, “We’re going outside to play.”

“Okay,” I said, as the two boys ran from the room, not waiting for my permission.

Kyle caught my gaze and asked, “Can we show Matt our boat?”

“Sure,” I replied.  The boys made a hasty exit, only too glad to have a reason not be stuck talking with the adults in the family.

After the kids left the room, Julie said, “You have a wonderful family.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I’m sorry we’ve stayed away for so long,” Julie said.  “I let my fears overrule my better judgment.”

Kevin added, “We both have gay brothers and were afraid it would rub off on Matthew.”  Seeing my expression, he put up his hands, as if to ward off a physical blow.  Before I could say anything, he went on, “I know being gay isn’t something you catch or get recruited into.  When my brother, Nicholas, came out, followed by Rick a few weeks later, we were shell-shocked.”

Julie said, “I’m not proud of how we reacted.”  She looked over at her mother and continued, “I’m just sorry we didn’t reach out to you sooner.”

“So, did you disown Nicholas, too, like you did Rick?” I asked.

Julie winced at my tone of voice, but answered, “Yes, we did, unfortunately.”

“Well, at least we can say we weren’t treated any differently than your brother in law,” I said.  I was having difficulty maintaining a civil tone with my brother and sister-in-law.  I knew they were sorry for how they treated us, but their ignorance and bigotry were inexcusable.  I was glad Rick wasn’t here to hear it!

“Nick and his boyfriend, Oswaldo, are coming to see us next week,” Kevin said.  “It will be the first time we’ve met Nick’s boyfriend.  They’ve been together for nearly 5 years now.”

“So, did Matt get the gay gene or is he straight?” I asked.

“He’s straight, I think,” Julie said, looking over at her husband.

“He’s dating a girl named Brianna,” Kevin said.  “But that doesn’t mean he’s not interested in guys, too.”

“Brianna bought Matt a smoker for his birthday last month,” Julie said.  “He’s working at the supermarket near us in the meat department and brings home the meat that’s past the sell by date.”

“He’s smoked pork loin, a leg of lamb, chicken and a pork shoulder last week,” Kevin added.  “The smoked meat was delicious.  You guys should join us for BBQ next time Matt uses his smoker.”

I said, “We would love that.  Has Matt smoke any fish?”

Julie said, “Yes, he smoked a whole salmon.  It was great!”  Julie looked over at her mother.  “Maybe we can convince him to do it before you return home.”

Vickie said, smiling at her daughter, “That would be lovely.”

We continued to chat while we waited for Rick to get home from work.  Kevin was telling me about the building his crew was working on when he walked into the family room.  He stood in the doorway and looked around the room.

“I’m glad to see you made it,” he said, smiling at his sister and her husband.

Julie stood up to cross the room to Rick, who took her into his arms.  “It’s good to see you little brother.”

Rick looked down into her eyes and grinned.  “I don’t think I’m so little anymore.”

She laughed and said, “No, you’re not, but you’re still the youngest.”

He released her and turned to shake Kevin’s hand.  “You’re looking good, Rick,” Kevin said.

“Thanks,” Rick said.  He crossed the room to sit beside me.  He leaned over to kiss me on the lips.  “Honey, I’m home,” he whispered against my lips.

I put my hands in his hair to prevent him from pulling away and kissed him hard, before releasing him.  “I missed you.”

He pulled back and grinned at me.  “I missed you too, Babe.”  He turned to his sister and asked, “Where are the kids?”

“Kenya is upstairs with Ashley and the rest took Matt outside to check out the boat,” I responded.

Julie asked, “Has Rick told you about the time he woke me up claiming their were little green men coming out of the light socket in the bathroom?”

I glanced a Rick, before replying, “No, he’s never mentioned it.”

Rick blushed and said, “Well, since we’re telling stories from our childhood, I remember one time I went outside to find Julie stomping her feet on the sidewalk.  When I asked her what she was doing she said, ‘I write the names of the people who make me mad on the sidewalk, then I stomp on their names because Mom told me I’m not supposed to hit people when I get angry.”

Julie laughed and said, “I still do that, only now I write their names on a piece of paper now and stab it with my pen!”

Kevin nodded his head in agreement.  “It’s truly scary sometimes, watching her stab her paper.”

Julie gave Kevin a death glare, then she smiled and turned to look at me.  “It’s true.  It keeps me from doing violence to their person!”

We made small talk until it was time to make dinner.  Julie joined me in the kitchen.  “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Sure, will you put together a green salad?  The ingredients are in the fridge,” I said.  “I’ll put the water on to boil for the pasta.  I plan on making a white sauce while the water heats up.”

As she washed the lettuce and sliced carrots, celery and cucumbers for the salad, she asked, “How has mom’s visit going?”

“It’s good to have her here with us.  The children have gotten to know their grandmother which was the reason I invited her to stay with us,” I said.

Julie smiled and said, “Mom is like a kid in a candy store when it comes to her grandchildren.  I’ve talked to her a couple of times since she got here, and she sings your praises.”

I met Julie’s gaze and said, “Then I’ve accomplished my second goal as well.”

Julie laughed.  “What was that?  To get my mother to fall in love with you?”

I grinned at her.  “Yes, I set out to win her over with my wit and charming personality!”  I paused, then said, “Seriously, though, I wanted to help her see how important she is to us.  But more importantly, I wanted Rick to have a relationship with his mother.  You see, Rick has carried a deep sadness inside himself since the day your parents ran us out of their home.  Rick loves me deeply and I him, but there was an emptiness in his heart where his family should have been.  We’ve tried to fill that void with our immediate family and my extended family; but it was never enough to take way the pain of losing his parents.”

Julie’s eyes were shiny with unshed tears.  “I know my dad wanted to be reconciled with you guys, but my mother wasn’t ready to admit she was wrong.  I’m sorry he passed away without seeing Rick.  He really did love Rick and felt guilty about how he treated him when he found out he was in love with you.”

“It hit him hard when he got the news of your father’s death,” I said.

She brushed her hand over eyes, to wipe away the tears that had escaped.  “It was hard for all of us.  But I think it helped my mother realize she needed to change.”

“Maybe that is so.  All I know is her visit has been very pleasant and I’ve enjoyed her company,” I said.

***  ***

Later that night, I lay in Rick’s arms as he brushed my hair out of face with his fingers.  He leaned in to give me a gentle kiss.  “Thank you for making today possible.  I love you so much.”  He kissed me deeply, leaving no doubts about his feelings for me. 

When we came up for air, I said, “I love you, too.”  His arms tightened around me, pulling me closer.

“I feel like I’m finally whole again,” he whispered in my ear.

“I know, babe.  The haunted look in your eyes is gone,” I said, pulling back far enough to look into his eyes.  “Part of you died when your family rejected you and you’ve never recovered from it.  I know you’ve tried to hide your sorrow from me and have always insisted it isn’t my fault your family disowned you; but I had to do my best to give your family back to you because falling in love with me was the catalyst for what happened.”

He smiled at me.  “You know me so well, sweetheart.  Falling in love with you may have been the start of what happened, but you are the best thing that has ever happened to me!”  He rubbed noses with me, before continuing, “I feel like a kid at Christmas!  Mother is here with us and our reunion with my sister and her family today finally closed the breach between me and my family.”

I smiled back at him.  “Mission accomplished.”  I brushed my lips against his and whispered, “Merry Christmas early.”

*** ***

Author’s Note:

Great Falls National Park -

Music for this chapter:

Scott Callum – You Are The Reason -

Yiruma – River Flows In You -

Roxette – Some Other Summer (LGBT Version) -

Roxette – It Just Happens -

RedOne – Don’t You Need Someone (LGBT Version) -

*** ***