The Lernier Family
© 2011 Russ Nielsen
All Rights Reserved




Chapter 32: Trains, Trains, and more Trains

Rick was looking out of his office window at the Pentagon.   He was contemplating the recent changes in his family.   Things were going smoothly with Purev's transition to living in their home.   Rick had reassured Glenn that David and Purev would live up to the promises they made.  Purev had moved in over the last weekend.   Since their first meeting with Purev, he had stayed at home with his mother until his Dad had returned from his trip to Mongolia just after Thanksgiving.   The time he spent with his mother had done Purev a world of good.   She had made him realize that she still loved him and would work on his father.   Purev had visited with them after school each day until his mother arrived to take him home.   Rick had noticed that Purev no longer had that shadow of sadness behind his eyes.   He seemed happy with his new situation.  

Rick had pointed out to Glenn that David was blossoming as he and Purev became very good friends.   Glenn had acknowledged that he was right; but still worried about the two boys.   His thoughts were interrupted by the chirping of his cell phone.   He pulled it out of his pocket and noted he'd received a text message from Glenn.   He keyed in his security code and retrieved the message.

"I love you!   8314!"

He smiled to himself.   Their secret code still meant a lot to him after all this time.   He texted back "8314!  XOXOXOXO"

He was startled when he heard a voice behind him ask, "What does 8314 mean?"

Rick turned his head to see Phil leaning over his shoulder.    Rick replied, "It's a secret code that Glenn and I used whenever we were around people we didn't want to know we were a couple."

"I thought you two had always been out and proud," Phil said, straightening and moving to sit in a chair next to Rick's desk."

"When I was still in the Marine Corps, we had to be very careful about who we told we were gay," Rick said.   "Once I left the military, Glenn and I began living our lives free from the restrictions that being a Marine placed on us."

"Didn't Glenn hate that?" Phil asked.

Rick winced at the memory of the many arguments they had had over the subject of his continued military service.   "Yes, you could say that."

Phil said, "I can totally understand his position.   I feel the same way about Garth.   I can't be open about our relationship because he's in the Marine Corps.   I want him to retire so we can be married."

Rick looked at Phil and said, "Please be patient with him, Phil.   I know Glenn didn't mean to worry me to death about it; however, it was a constant source of contention in our relationship.   Garth made it clear from the beginning that all he wanted from you was a good fuck and that was the extent of what he was looking for in his relationship with you."

"I know; but I've fallen in love with him, Rick," Phil said, despondently.  

He looked so forlorn that Rick stood up and walked over to him.   He put his arm around him and said, "Don't give up hope, Phil.   Garth seems to have similar feelings for you."

Phil's face lit up and he asked, "Has he mentioned anything to you about me?"

Rick returned to his chair and sat down, putting his feet up on his desk.   He looked at Phil and said, "I don't want to get your hopes up, Phil.   Things could change in a heartbeat and you could be hurt badly."

Phil immediately jumped to a conclusion.   "He doesn't love me!"

Rick held up his hand and said, "Whoa there!  Slow down a bit!   I haven't said anything about Garth other than to say that he has feelings for you.   I can't claim to know what those feelings are; however, I've seen how he looks at you, and there's more than just a desire for sex."

"He seems to have a soft spot for me; but I'm not sure if it's because he's fallen in love with me, or if it's because he sees me more as a good friend, or even worse, as one of his children," Phil said.

"I don't think he sees you as a child, Phil," Rick said.

There was a tap on the door and it opened before either of them could move to answer it.   They looked over to see Garth standing in the doorway.   "Am I interrupting?"

"No, Garth.   Please come in," Rick said.

He closed the door and locked it.   This last action caused Rick to raise his eyebrows in surprise.   Noting Rick's look, Garth said, "Just a precaution.   I don't want anyone to walk in on our conversation."

Rick nodded his head and said, "Okay."   He wondered what Garth wanted to talk to them about.

Garth pulled a chair over to where Phil was sitting and sat down.   He looked at both of them and said, "I've decided to retire from the Marine Corps.   I wanted you two to know before I put in my paperwork.   It will mean that your jobs may be eliminated since the new guy taking my place might decide to have the work done by someone else.   I wanted to give you time to seek other employment."

Phil looked like the end of the world had happened right before his eyes.   Garth saw the look of devastation on Phil's face.   He took Phil's hand and said, "Phil, you don't have to worry.   I know I'm not the most romantic person in the world so I will do this in the only way I know how.   Will you marry me?"

Phil's face reflected the surprise and joy he felt.   "Yes, I'll marry you."

Garth leaned over and kissed him, "I knew your answer would be "yes."  I've known you were in love with me for quite some time.   I was afraid I'd lose you if I didn't do something about it soon.   Therefore, I decided it's time for me to move on with my life and make a fresh start with you, Phil."

Phil eyes were glistening with tears as he said, "I love you."

"I love you, too," Garth responded.

Rick looked from one to the other and said, "I'm glad you two finally figured things out because I was beginning to think I was going to have to take the situation in hand myself."

Garth saw Rick's expression of mock severity and laughed.   "I was moving rather cautiously, wasn't I?"

Rick smiled and replied, "Yes, you were."

Phil asked, "When are you planning to retire?"

"I'm going to put in my paperwork as soon as I leave this office," Garth said.   He stood up and pulled Phil to his feet.   "Come with me, Phil.   I want you to be there when I hand in my retirement papers."

Phil put his arm around Garth's waist as they walked towards the door.   He looked back over his shoulder at Rick and grinned.   "Thanks for everything, Rick."

Rick said, "Don't mention it.   You guys did all the hard work."   After they left, Rick sat staring at the door, thinking about the future.   He wasn't sure what he wanted to do.   He pulled out his cell phone and called Glenn.

"Hey, Babe," Rick said.

"What's up?" I asked; a little surprised at Rick's phone call.

"I need to tell you some good news," Rick said.   "Garth and Phil got engaged a few minutes ago."

"That's wonderful.   I'm happy they finally got things together," I said.

"It also means Garth is retiring.   He warned me that when he goes, they may hire someone else to do my job," Rick said.

"That's not good.   What do you want to do?" I asked.

"I don't know.   That's why I called," Rick said.   "I wanted to hear your thoughts."

"Well, I could go to work full time with Todd.   He mentioned he wanted to expand his company and needs to hire some good programmers to help him with the increased workload," I said.

"But then who would stay home with the children?" Rick asked.

"You could if that is what you want to do.   Otherwise, you could find another job and I could continue to stay at home with them just like I do now," I said.   "I'm just laying out options for us to consider.   I'm perfectly happy with the way things are now; where I work occasionally for Todd and I spend most of my time homeschooling the children."

"We could move to a smaller home and reduce our costs, so we can live off of the investment income we get from our various businesses," Rick said.

"That's a thought," I responded.   "Zach's contract is up for renewal next year.   Todd has mentioned they are thinking of moving back to Toronto.   If they move, I think that we should definitely move to a house closer to the children's schools."

"Where would we dock the boat?" Rick asked.

"There are several marinas around the area," I replied.   "I'm pretty sure we could rent a slip at one of them.   We might consider selling the boat."

"You're right about selling the boat.   However, I'm not sure we should do that.   The General would be very upset if we sold the boat," Rick said.

"That's true.   I guess we will have to find a marina that is handicap accessible," I said.

"I'm not sure how soon I'll know what is going to happen here," Rick said.

"Well, let's not hit the panic button until we know for sure that you won't have a job.   I'm thinking that they will find a way to keep you on board; even if it's in a different job.   You've proven yourself to them and they know they need you," I said.

Rick said, "I know that they are aware of what I bring to their project; but I'm not sure if that will translate into keeping me on the job."

"Rick, let's be positive!   I know how wonderful you are and they do, too.   I have faith that you will be just fine," I said.

Rick sighed and said, "I hope you're right."

"Sweetheart, listen to me.   You are a bright, hard-working employee and you will have a job even if it's not the same one you have now.   Trust me, Rick.   They won't let you go," I said.

"Thanks, Babe.  You always know what to say to help keep me going," Rick said.

"I love you," I said.   "That's why I know what you need."

"I love you, too," Rick said.   "I'll call you later."

"Hugs and kisses," I said.

"Back at you," Rick responded and cut the connection.

He smiled as he looked at the photograph of Glenn on his desk.  He was glad he had called Glenn.   His husband's confidence in him always buoyed him up.   He knew Glenn was right about the fact that his company saw him as a highly valued employee.   He knew that they would do their best to keep him on their payroll.   He turned his attention to the stack of papers on his desk and lost himself in the tasks at hand.

The next morning Rick was up early.   They had purchased tickets to eat breakfast with Santa Claus at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore and needed to leave within the hour in order to make it there on time.   He ruffled Glenn's hair and gently shook his shoulder to wake him.

"Glenn, it's time to get up," Rick said.

I mumbled, "What?"   I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and yawned broadly.  

Rick repeated, "It's time to get up.   If we plan to have breakfast with Santa Claus, we need to get up soon."

I said, "Okay."

Rick lifted my chin and kissed me.   "Let's get in the shower."

Rick rolled me off of him and then got out of bed.   He reached his hands toward the ceiling and stretched; his perfectly sculpted muscles rippling under his skin.   I couldn't take my eyes off of him!   Rick noticed my hungry gaze and grinned.   He reached down and took my hand.   "Come with me, Glenn.   Let me take care of you."

He pulled me into his arms as I came to my feet.   We kissed and he led me into our en suite.   He turned on the water in the shower and adjusted the temperature.   Rick pulled me under the warm cascade of water and proceeded to satisfy my need for him!

Later, we helped each other dress and I crossed the hallway to the twins' room while Rick went downstairs to start making coffee.

I stood looking at the two sleeping boys for a moment.   They looked so peaceful and happy.   I leaned down and gently shook each boy awake.   "It's time to get up.   We're going to have breakfast with Santa."

JJ looked up at me and said, "Okay, Daddy."

Josh asked, "Are we really going to see Santa Claus?"

"Yes, Josh, we're really going to see Santa Claus," I replied.

The two boys got up and walked with me to Kyle's room.   JJ opened the door and they went in and climbed into bed with Kyle.

Kyle opened his eyes and asked, "What are you doing?"

"We're waking you up.   We're going to see Santa Claus this morning," JJ answered.

Kyle sat up in bed and looked over at me.   "Do I have to go?"

"No, you don't have to go," I said.

Josh said, "Kyle, please come with us."

"Yes, Kyle, we want you to see Santa Claus," JJ said.

As I stood in the doorway, I was pushed aside by Cameron and Skye.   They joined the boys on Kyle's bed.   Cameron asked, "Are you ready to go see Santa?"

JJ and Josh chorused, "Yes."

When Kyle didn't answer, Skye said, "Kyle doesn't want to go."  Kyle nodded his head.   Skye asked, "Don't you like trains?"

"Yes, but we've been to the train museum so many times already," Kyle complained.

Skye replied, "This time is special because Santa Claus will be there."

I saw Kyle about to respond and decided I needed to intervene.   I know Kyle wouldn't intentionally try to destroy the magic of Santa Claus for the younger boys; but I didn't want him to say something he'd regret later.   "Boys, I need to talk to Kyle alone for a minute.   Will you go wake up Purev and David and make sure they are getting ready?"

The four younger boys jumped off of Kyle's bed and scampered across the room.   Cameron said, excitedly, "I get to wake up, Purev."

Skye objected, "It's my turn to wake up Purev!"

"First one there gets to wake him up," Cameron responded and took off running down the hall, with Skye close on his heels.   JJ and Josh followed in their wake.   I stepped back inside Kyle's room and closed the door.

I looked at Kyle and said, "I sent them off because I was afraid you were going to tell them that you don't believe in Santa Claus."

Kyle looked at me in surprise and said, "I wouldn't have done that."

"I know you wouldn't have done it intentionally; but I could see where your argument with them was headed," I said.

Kyle nodded his head.   "I see what you mean.   Thanks for stopping me from ruining Christmas for them.   The twins are always so cute on Christmas morning.   I love seeing their eyes get as big as saucers and their squeals of delight."

I smiled and said, "Exactly!   And they aren't the only ones, Kyle."

Kyle laughed.   "Okay, I used to do that, too."

"There's no "used to" about it.   You still get pretty excited on Christmas morning!"

"Yes, but I don't go completely nuts over that huge stack of presents under the tree like the twins do," Kyle responded.

I sat down on the edge of Kyle's bed and looked him in the eyes.   "So what are you doing today?   Are you coming with us, or are you staying home?"

Kyle considered my question for a moment before responding to my question.   "I'll go; but I want to be the official photographer.   I don't want to be in any photos."

I grinned at him and ruffled his hair.   "Why don't you want to be seen with Santa Claus?"

Kyle pushed my hand away from his hair and said, "I'm too old to sit on Santa's lap."

"Okay, you can take the photos; however, I can't promise you that your Dad won't insist that you sit on Santa's lap," I said, laughing.  I stood up and said, "You need to get up and get your shower, son."

Kyle replied, with a smirk on his face, "Yes, Mother."

"Alright, smart Alec, just make sure you don't make us wait for you.   We're leaving in about 30 minutes," I said as I left his room.

I met Zach and Todd in the hallway.   Zach said, "We've already showered."

"We have, too," I said.   "The boys are in David and Purev's room."

They followed me down the hall.   We could hear the boys talking to David and Purev.   We entered the room to find JJ and Josh on David's bed and Cameron and Skye on Purev's.

Skye looked up and said, "Dad, Purev is going to help us put up the train set when we get back."

Zach smiled and said, "That's sounds like a great idea."

Purev said, "The boys insisted that I had to help them with the train."

Zach laughed.   "They can be pretty persuasive when they want to be.   You have to admit they are persistent if nothing else."

Purev grinned.   "That is so true and they are so cute."

Cameron protested, "I'm not cute; I'm handsome!"

"Okay, you're handsome," Purev said, correcting himself.

I said, "Boys, we need you to get ready to go.   JJ and Josh, let's get you out of your pajamas.   David, please wake up your sister. "

The twins raced back to their bedroom and I followed them.   I heard Zach and Todd shepherding their twins back to their bedroom as well.   A few minutes later we were all assembled in the kitchen.   Rick handed out hot chocolate for the kids and coffee for the adults; except me, of course.   He handed me a cup of hot chocolate and leaned over to kiss me. 

"When are you going to graduate to drinking coffee, like every other adult?" Rick asked.

I grinned up at him and replied, "Never!"

Rick turned to Zach and Todd.   "You see the child I married?"

Todd laughed, "I'm glad Glenn has never grown up.   He would be so boring otherwise."

Ashley said, "Yes, Daddy is rather silly."

"I learned everything I know about being silly from you, Ashley," I responded, laughing.

Ashley shook her head and smiled.   "No, Daddy, Dad told us you were silly before you adopted us; so you can't have learned it from me."

"Well, maybe that's so.   At least I'm not goofy," I said.

Kyle guffawed, "I beg to differ."

I looked over at Purev and David and asked, "What do you two think?"

Purev laughed, "I think you're great."

Kyle said, "Yes, Daddy is pretty funny."

"Yes, Daddy can be quite entertaining," David agreed.

Rick put his arm around my shoulders and said, "We love you, Glenn."

"I'm glad you do," I said, smiling at my husband.  

As we were finishing up in the kitchen, there was a knock on the door.   Rick got up and answered it.   He returned with Jeff and his two daughters, Caroline and Marie.

When Kyle saw them, he said, "Hey, I'm glad you're going with us."

Caroline smiled at him and said, "Thanks."   She blushed and lowered her gaze.

Marie said, "Caroline couldn't sleep last night because she was so excited to be going with you."

Caroline protested, "That's not true!"

Jeff said, "It's okay, Caroline.   Do you want to ride with us, Kyle?"

"Sure," Kyle said.   He smiled at the girls and then said, "I get to ride shotgun."

Marie started to protest, "But…"

Jeff cut her off, "It's okay, Marie.   You can ride in the front seat with me on the way back."

Marie gave him a mutinous look; but didn't say anything more about it.   Kyle, seeing her look, said, "I'm sorry, Marie.  You can ride in the front seat if you want."

Marie said, "It's okay, Kyle.   I'll wait until the ride back."

Jeff sighed and said, "Now that we've worked that out, let's go."

"I think we're ready," I said.   I turned to the kids and asked, "Are you guys ready to go?"

Cameron and Skye chorused, "We're ready."

"Cammy and Skye, will you help the twins put on their coats and gloves?" I asked.

Cameron said, "Yes, we'll help them get their coats on."

A few minutes later, we were all standing in the foyer.   Cameron asked, "Dad may David and Purev ride with us?"

Zach looked over at me and Rick.   I said, "I'm okay with it if you guys are."

Rick turned to the two young men in question and asked, "What do you two want to do?"

Purev took David's hand in his and said, "We'll ride with Cammy and Skye on the way up and with JJ and Josh on the way back."

We left the house and climbed into our respective vehicles and caravanned north to Baltimore.   We arrived on time, and were seated just in time to see Santa Claus enter the room.   The boys squealed with delight.  

JJ said, "There's Santa Claus."   He tugged on my arm and pointed towards Santa Claus.

"I see him.   After you've eaten, we'll go up and you can talk to him," I said.

We had a great time and snapped a few good photos of the younger set sitting on Santa's knee.   The teenagers slipped outside and waited for us to join them.   We toured the roundhouse and rode the train.   The Lego model train was totally awesome.   We ended up with a Thomas the Tank Engine book, video and Christmas ornament from the museum gift shop.  

Rick and I stood outside the gift shop waiting for Zach and Todd.   Rick burst out laughing when he saw the big bag of stuff Zach was holding.   "I won't complain about how many souvenirs we ended up purchasing!"

Zach grinned, "Cameron and Skye can be pretty adamant about their trains."

Todd punched Zach in the shoulder.   "Zach is just as bad as the boys!   He's the one who insisted on buying a new electric train to put under the Christmas tree."

Zach smiled and admitted, "I like trains even more than the boys do."

I said, "Then you will want to go with us to the U.S. Botanical Gardens this afternoon.   They have several model trains running through their exhibits during the holiday season."

Zach looked at Todd with raised eyebrows.   Todd laughed, "Okay, we can go with them to see the trains."

Zach leaned over and gave Todd a quick kiss on the lips.   "I love you."

"I love you, too," Todd said.

Jeff came up behind us with the girls and Kyle.   Jeff asked, "What are your plans for the afternoon?"

Zach said, "We're going to the U.S. Botanical Gardens in DC."

Kyle said, "They have the coolest exhibits."

Caroline asked, "May we go with them?"

Jeff said, "If that is what Marie wants to do as well."

Caroline turned to Marie, "Please, Marie!"

Marie asked, "What will you give me?"

Caroline replied, "You can ride in the front seat all you want and I won't argue with you about it."

Marie smiled and said, "Deal!"

Jeff said, "It looks like we're going with you."

"Let's grab lunch at Timbuktu's.  They have the best crab cakes!" I said.

Zach said, "That's sounds good to me.   The boys like their chicken fingers."

I turned to Jeff, "Are you okay with Timbuktu's?"

Jeff smiled and answered, "Yes, I love their seafood."

"We'll eat lunch there and then head south to DC," I said.

Kyle asked, "May I get the lobster tail instead of the crab cakes this time?"

Rick said, "Sure."

Kyle grinned, "You're so awesome, Dad!"

Rick ruffled his hair.   "You'd better say that!"

Kyle hugged Rick and then turned to follow Caroline and Marie to Jeff's car.   Timbuktu's food was as good as I remembered it to be.   Everyone left the restaurant very much satisfied.   The U.S. Botanical Garden was also a hit.


We arrived home late in the afternoon.   The twins immediately ran into the family room to play with their Thomas the Tank Engine toys.   Before the teenagers disappeared from the scene, I said, "Dinner will be ready in about an hour."

Kyle said, "Got it."

Ashley said, "I won't forget.   I'm working on a charcoal sketch for my art class.   I'll show it to you when I'm done."

Purev asked, "Is it okay for me to help Cameron and Skye set up their trains?"

"Sure," Rick replied.   "David, are you going to help them as well?"

David nodded his head and said, "Yes, I'll help them.   Purev already asked me to go with him."

Zach said, "Okay, we'll see you guys later."

Zach and Todd left with the boys, leaving Jeff and his girls with us in the kitchen.   Jeff said, "Thanks for inviting us to go with you today."

"You're welcome," Rick said.

Caroline said, "I had a good time.   I'm glad we got to go with you."

Marie said, "All you wanted was to be with Kyle."

Jeff said, "That's enough, Marie."

Caroline said, "Marie's right, Dad.   I did want to be with Kyle."

Jeff looked at me and Rick to see our reaction.

"Well, Kyle didn't seem to mind," Rick said with a smile.

Caroline smiled and said, "He told me he had a good time."

"I think that means things are okay," I said.

Jeff smiled and said, "Okay, girls.   It's time for us to go home."

The said their "good byes" and we were finally alone.   I looked at Rick and I said, "Thank you for the wonderful day, sweetheart."

I walked around the table and pulled Rick into my arms.   I kissed him passionately to let him know how grateful I was!   I felt Rick's body responding to me as I pushed my hands into the back pockets of his jeans to pull him closer to me.

When we came up for air, Rick looked deeply into my eyes and said, "I wonder what you have on your mind."

I grinned and responded, "You know what I want and I think we need to ask Kyle to watch the little ones for a wee bit."   I pulled my hands out of his pockets and then slipped my hands inside his shirt; my fingertips tracing the outline of his abs.

Rick nodded his head in agreement.   "Come with me, Babe."   He grabbed both of my hands and led me out of the kitchen.   "You go get ready while I talk to Kyle."

We climbed the stairs together and I went into our bedroom.   I quickly stripped off my clothes and walked into the en suite.   I turned on the water to fill up the Jacuzzi tub.  I climbed in and relaxed in the hot water.   A few minutes later Rick joined me.   I looked up from the tub to admire the gorgeous man who married me.   I let my eyes wander over his perfect body.  

I finally raised my eyes to his and he laughed.   "Do I meet with your approval?"

Instead of answering him directly, I smiled provocatively and crooked a finger at him.   I said, in a seductive voice, "Come hither my husband."

Later, we rested in each other's arms, enjoying the closeness that lovemaking always brought to us.   Rick played with my hair, twirling it around his finger and then running his fingers through it to make it stand straight up.  "I love your hair," he said.   "I've always liked the feel of it.   It's so soft and silky; so different from my own."

I looked at him and said, "But I like your hair.   It's so thick and curly."   I reached up and brushed his hair away from his face.

"I know you do; but it's so thick and coarse compared to yours," Rick said.

"It's part of what makes us so interesting to the other.   You complete me in so many ways; where I'm weak in an area, you are strong and vice versa," I said.

We heard a light tap on our door.   Rick said, "I bet that's JJ.   He said he wanted me to help him build a train track."

I smiled and said, "Then I guess it's time to get up."

There was a second tap on the door.   I disentangled myself from Rick and rolled off of the bed.   I pulled on some clothes and then opened the door.   Sure enough, JJ was standing there.   He looked up at me and said, "Dad said he would help me build a train track for our trains."

Rick said, "I haven't forgotten, JJ.   I'll be right down as soon as I get dressed."

I bent down and picked up our little guy.   "While you're waiting for Dad, do you want to help me get dinner started?"

"Yes, Daddy," JJ said.   He wrapped his arms around my neck as we descended the stairs.  

I put him down and asked, "What do you want to eat?"

"Macaroni and cheese," JJ said with authority.   "I want the box kind."

I grimaced.   I hate the boxed macaroni and cheese.   It tastes so processed!   Todd had introduced it to the twins and they have begged me to cook it for them ever since!  I remembered the first time they asked for boxed macaroni and cheese.   I looked over at Todd in surprise.   Rick and I had never given the boys boxed macaroni and cheese to eat.   Todd had thrown up his hands and said, "Sorry, Glenn.   I'm at fault.   I gave it to them for lunch yesterday while you were running errands."   I love Todd very much; however, I didn't appreciate the introduction of one of the worst culinary disasters to ever occur in human history to the twins' palette.

I asked, "Are you sure about that?"

"Yes.   May we add tuna fish to it?" JJ asked.

Much chagrinned, I shuddered with horror.   Not only was JJ asking for boxed macaroni and cheese, he wanted me to add a can of tuna fish to add insult to injury.

"JJ, what do you think of pasta with a red sauce instead?" I asked, hoping to redirect his thoughts toward a menu choice that would more acceptable.

JJ thought for a moment and then countered with another of his favorite dishes.   "I want chili mac."

"Okay, chili mac it is," I replied with a smile.   At least I wouldn't have to try to eat macaroni and cheese!

"But you have to make it like Grandma does," JJ said.

"Okay, JJ.  I'll call Grandma and ask her how to make it taste just like her chili mac," I promised.  

Rick appeared in the kitchen doorway and asked, "Are you ready to build your train track?"

JJ shouted, "Yes, I'm ready!"   He jumped up and down with excitement and then ran from the kitchen.

Rick laughed and said, "I wish I had his energy."

I winked at him and responded, "I think you do, Babe.   You just use it in more important ways!"

 Rick laughed and said, "I guess you're right about that."   He turned and followed our son out of the kitchen.

I went to the pantry to retrieve the needed ingredients for chili mac.  I pulled my cell phone out and dialed Mom's number.  She answered, "Hi Glenn!

"Hey!   How are you today?"

"I'm fine," she replied.

"Mom, how do you make your chili mac?   JJ wants it to taste just like yours does," I said.

She laughed and replied, "I'm glad to hear that my grandson likes my cooking.   Here's how I do it."

She gave me the particulars and then she said, "Good luck and let me know how it turns out."

"Thanks, Mom," I said and cut the connection.

Rick followed JJ into the family room where they found Josh had dumped all of the wooden train tracks out on the floor.   Rick sat down on the floor next to the pile of tracks and said, "Let's build a gigantic train track."

Josh smiled up at him and replied, "I want lots of bridges!"   He picked up a train bridge and handed it to his Dad.

"Okay, how many bridges are ‘lots' of bridges?" Rick asked.

Josh looked at the pile of train tracks and then back at his Dad.   "I don't know."

"Why don't you look for the bridges in that pile and JJ and I will start laying the other tracks?" Rick suggested.

Josh said, "Okay."   He started rummaging through the pile of tracks.  

JJ picked up several straight pieces of track and walked over to Rick.   "Here, Dad," he said, handing the wooden tracks to Rick.

They had laid out several connecting figure eights with a bridge in each one when Kyle entered the room.   He looked over the tracks and then asked, "May I help?"

Josh said, "Yes, you can help me build bridges."   He pointed to the stack of bridges he had collected.

Kyle looked at them and said, "We need some straight connectors and then we can hook them to the rest of the tracks."  

The four of them continued building out the design until it covered the entire room.   I stood in the entrance to the family room and watched the final pieces being put into place.   I watched Rick as he quietly directed JJ on the placement of each piece.   He was so gentle with them and seemed to be having as much fun as they were.   Kyle was working with Josh to put in the last bridge in the far corner of the room.  

Josh was the first to notice me and shouted, "Daddy!   Look at our train track!"

I replied, "I can see it.   You guys did a good job laying it out.   Do I get to play with a train, too?"

"Yes, you do; but I get Thomas and JJ gets Percy," Josh said.   He walked over to the toy chest and pulled out the train case.   He put it on the floor and opened it up.   "You can have one of these other ones," he said, pointing to the remaining train engines.

I said, "Okay, but I get Edward and I get Clarabel, too!"

Josh looked at me and said, "Alright, you can have Clarabel."

Rick looked up at me from where he sat next to JJ.   He smiled and said, "I know you have probably finished cooking dinner; but can we hold off for a bit?"

I laughed and replied, "Yes, Babe, we can hold dinner until you've had time to play with your boys.   I'll put it in the warmer until we're ready to eat."   I turned and went back into the kitchen to take care of the food.   I returned to the family room to retrieve my train engine.   "Edward is a much better engine than Thomas.   Don't you think so, Kyle?"

Kyle smiled at me and said, "No, I don't think Edward is better than Thomas.   Thomas is really cool; but I like Percy the best.   I like Gordon as well.   I love playing with trains."

Kyle still amazed me because of how childlike he could be even at 15 years of age.   I ruffled his hair and said, "I'm glad you still like to play with trains as well."

JJ said, "We have to divide out the train cars evenly so everyone has the same amount."   He began handing out train cars from the train case.   He ended up with one extra.   He said, "We'll put this one back in the case."

Josh said, "JJ, I want Hector.   Here, take Harold back.   I decided I don't want him."

JJ handed Josh the coal car and took back the helicopter.   JJ put him back in the case.  We spent the next hour pushing the wooden trains around the track.   Josh and JJ supplied the sound effects as we journeyed from one place to the next.   JJ pulled out the Legos and began building a train station.   When it was completed he said, "We need to build a town."   He and Josh pulled out the little people and wooden houses and arranged them around the train station.

I glanced at my watch and said, "Okay guys, it's time to eat.   We can return to our trains after dinner."

Josh asked, "Can't we eat in here, Daddy?   We promise not to spill on the carpet."   He walked over and put his arms around my neck.   "Please, Daddy!"

I looked over at Rick who smiled and said, "It's up to you, Glenn."

I looked into Josh's eyes and replied, "Let's eat in the kitchen.   It will be much faster that way."

Josh nodded his head in acquiescence.   "Okay, Daddy; but let's hurry."

I said, "Help me get up then."   I gave him my hand and Josh pulled hard.   I said, "You have to pull harder."

JJ came over and took my other hand.   He said, "Dad, come help us get Daddy up."

Rick laughed and said, "Okay, son.   I'll help you."   Rick stood up and stretched before he walked over to assist the twins.   He said, "Watch how it's done, boys."

The twins let me go and Rick took my hands in his.   He lifted me up and into his embrace.   He stole a quick kiss before releasing me.   Kyle laughed behind us.   "I saw that."

Rick turned to look at Kyle and asked, "What did you see?"

Kyle gave Rick a huge grin.   "You know what I saw."

Rick gave Kyle his "I'm innocent" look and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

I laughed, "Come on you two.   Let's go eat.   Kyle, will you go upstairs and let your sister know we're ready to eat?"

Kyle answered, "Yes, I'll tell her."  He came up to us and put an arm around each of us.   He gave us a sly look and then said, "I'm glad to know you two aren't too old to have sex.   I was beginning to get worried that you were headed to a nursing home for the decrepit and the senile."

Rick laughed and said, "If anyone is getting too old, it's you."

Kyle responded, "I expected you would say that."   He patted Rick's stomach and said, "But I think I feel a little bit of blubber beginning to form here."

Rick said, "Why you…"   Rick reached for Kyle; but he skipped away, laughing as he bounded up the stairs two at a time.   Rick smiled at me.   "What are we going to do with that young pup?"

"Love him and care for him," I replied.   "There's nothing else you can do."

We walked arm in arm into the kitchen.   Kyle returned with Ashley.   Rick said, "As your just reward for your smart comments, you can set the table."

Kyle laughed and said, "I'll do it as long as Ashley helps me."

Ashley looked at her brother and said, "Don't be dragging me into something that you brought on yourself, brother dear."

Kyle quickly set the table.   David and Purev walked in the door as we were getting ready to say grace.   Rick said, "Please have a seat, boys.   I'll say grace."

We enjoyed our meal as we talked about our day.   Purev and David excitedly related to us their experience with the electric trains next door.  

Purev said, "We should go back after we eat to help finish setting things up."

David agreed.   "Uncle Zach has two more model trains he wants to set up.   May be go back to help him?"

Rick said, "Yes, you may.   In fact, we can all go over to help."   He looked over at Ashley and said, "Unless, of course, you don't want to go."

Ashley said, "I'll go.   I like trains, too."

We finished cleaning up the kitchen and then made our way over to Zach and Todd's house.   We spent the rest of the evening putting the train sets together and testing each of them to make sure the trains would run.   It was quite late when we returned home.

We put the children to bed and retired to our bedroom to unwind a bit before going to bed.   As we cuddled in front of the fireplace, Rick's cell phone rang.   I got up and walked over to retrieve it for him.   I handed it to him and he looked to see who was calling.

He looked up at me and said, in surprise, "It's my sister."   He answered the call, "Hello Julie."

"Rick, Dad has had a stroke," she said, without any greeting.   "Dad is brain dead and Mom is going to authorize them to pull the plug on the life support.   I thought you should know."

Rick's stricken expression let me know something was very wrong.   "Thanks for letting me know."

"I'm sorry that you weren't able to see him before he died," Julie said.   "Maybe Mom will soften her attitudes now that Dad is gone."

"I don't think that will happen, Julie.   If anything, Mom will become more extreme in her views," Rick responded.

"I'll take photos and I will send them to you," Julie said.   "I wish we could heal the breach in our family."

"That is impossible, Julie.   Mother declared war against me and my family many years ago now and I don't see her declaring a cease fire any time in the future," Rick replied.

"Maybe if you reach out to her first, she will be moved to soften her heart," Julie said.

Rick said, "I would like to do that; however, I don't trust her or her family.   They have attempted to murder me and my husband on more than one occasion.   I'm not about to open myself up to that danger, again."

Julie said, "Can you find it in your heart to forgive her and Uncle George?"

"No, I can't, Julie.   They ruined Peyton's life in addition to what they did to me and Glenn," Rick responded.   "I only hope that someday our Mother and her family will come to realize just how wrong they are."

Julie said, "I understand why you feel so bitter about what happened; however, hasn't it been long enough?"

"I don't know, Julie.   Has it been long enough since you told me not to visit you or your family?   You told me you didn't want your boys exposed to their gay uncle.   You tell me if it's been long enough," Rick responded, the anger and the bitterness he felt making his voice hard as steel.  Rick heard Julie crying and relented somewhat.   "Thank you for calling, Julie.   I appreciate the fact that you have been willing to accept my phone calls; despite your feelings about who I am and who I married."

There was silence on the other end of the line for a long while.   Julie finally said, "Good bye, Rick."

"Good bye," Rick said, cutting the connection.

I put my arms around Rick and pulled him close.   "I'm sorry, Rick."

Rick clung to me as sobs wracked his body.   I held him tight for a long time.   I rubbed his back and smoothed his hair.   Rick's eyes were red from crying and the tears still stained his face when he pulled back from me.   "Thank you for being here, Glenn.   I love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart," I replied.   "Let's go to bed.   You need to rest."

Rick numbly nodded his head as I helped him out of his clothes.   I quickly stripped and joined him.   Tonight, I took him in my arms and he slept with his head on my breast.   I whispered, "Go to sleep my love.   I will be here when you awaken in the morning."

Prev To be continued . . .

A Note from Russ:

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends -

Timbuktu Restaurant -

Help for Homeless LGBT Youth in NYC -

Baltimore and Ohio Train Museum -

U.S. Botanical Gardens -

An excerpt from their web site:

"Get into the holiday spirit at the U.S. Botanic Garden's annual holiday exhibit, Season's Greenings. The Conservatory will be adorned with wreaths, garlands, living ornaments and filled with model trains, buildings made from plant materials and a vast collection of poinsettias to celebrate the wonder of the winter holiday season.

The famous Garden Railway in the East Gallery will feature model trains running through an imaginative Enchanted Forest, with fanciful fairy dwellings along the rail line, all created with plant materials. Enjoy blooming plants throughout the Conservatory and a living history of poinsettias. The West Gallery will house one of the largest indoor decorated trees in Washington, D.C., and the Garden Court will be home to a display of model landmark buildings from our Nation's capital, all made from plant materials."