Castle Roland

Feel, Don't Think

by Michael Kyle-Ducharme

In Progress

Chapter 21

Posted: 5 Feb 15

We left for New Hampshire at first light. The weather report showed snow in the mountains of Massachusetts. It wasn't going to be a major storm, just a slight annoyance for traveling. Marcus was driving and really having no difficulty at all. On the other hand, the falling snow was causing me to have the beginnings of a headache. The way the snow looked as it moved toward the windshield was having a serious affect on my brain.

"Babe, what's wrong? You have gotten awfully quiet."

"Marcus, we need to stop at the next rest area. I'm going to put on my sunglasses and close my eyes. The snow is really giving me a headache. Please stop when you get the chance. I want to grab some meds out of the suitcase."

"No problem, there should be a rest area soon. Just lay back and keep your eyes closed. Are you going to be okay?"

"I think so. For some reason looking at the snow as we drive is messing with me a little bit. I'm sorry."

"Hey, no apologies; I'm glad you're letting me know. Look there's a rest area about two miles ahead. Just lie back and close your eyes. We will be there soon."

At the rest stop, I continued to lie still with my eyes closed. My head was pounding and my stomach was doing flips. Marcus looked concerned when he handed me some meds.

"Please stop worrying. I think it was just looking at the snow as we drove through it. The medicine should start to work soon. Thanks for stopping."

"Are you sure you are going to be okay? It looks like the snow is letting up. Why don't you just continue to lie back and wear your sunglasses? We should be there in about an hour and a half."

"Okay, the headache should be gone by then. No need to mention it to my parents."

"You know... you really don't need to keep things from your parents. I'm sure your mother knows the look on your face when you are bothered even better than I do. Now that we are talking about your parents, why didn't you ever tell them about the assault? I know why you didn't tell them at the time, but why are you so intent on keeping that information from them now?"

"I don't know. Initially, it was because of my mom's heart and health. Now it just seems like a bad memory from the past I just don't want to revisit. I mean I pretty much put the whole incident behind me. The nightmares are gone and he's dead. I don't see anything to gain by going into it. If it hadn't been for the new concussion, we wouldn't even still be talking about it."

"True. But, I just worry you are still having some issues with it, and that's why you have been so intent on keeping it from them. I promise to let it drop, if that's what you want."


We arrived at my parents' house at one. After lunch, Marcus and Dad started looking through photo albums. Mom and I were sitting at the breakfast bar chatting. The headache was completely gone.

"Are you guys going to church with us tomorrow? I know your father wants to go to brunch. I'm cooking a big ham dinner with my pineapple casserole, and then we can open presents."

"We really haven't talked about it. I know Marcus's family is Catholic, but he has never expressed a desire to go to church. I'll double check. Don't forget we are leaving first thing on Monday, though. Marcus needs to spend a couple of hours at the office Monday afternoon."

"I remember. How are you feeling? What did the doctors say at your last appointment?"

"I have headaches every so often. I had one starting on the way here. I think staring at the snow out of the windshield was causing it. But other than the headaches, I'm doing well. There haven't been any other symptoms yet.

"The orthopedic doctor says the arm seems to being healing well. He wants me to leave it in the sling for a little while longer. I know I'm getting sick of this rotten cast. It gets in the way of everything. Wait a second, have you seen what the boys drew on my cast."

I showed Mom the artwork the twins created for me. I had a great big green dinosaur breathing orange fire on one side, and the other side had four stick figures with trees all around them and what looked like a flying saucer in the sky. I found out it was a picture of the boys, Marcus, and me playing Frisbee in the park. I told Marcus when my cast got cut off; we were definitely saving the pieces. The dinosaur was really well done, and the picture of the four of us in the park just melted my heart.

"Those boys are incredible. They love you guys to pieces. It really was special to watch." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Not to change the subject, but if you are anything like your father that ring is in your pocket right now. I was worried when you were in the hospital that Marcus was going to find it in the clothes you were wearing. I rifled through your pants but didn't find it."

"Actually, I had taken the ring out after we got home from the mall. We weren't going anywhere that night so I didn't need it. I rarely go anywhere without it."

Mom burst out laughing. "I would have won that bet."

"What are you two conspiring about now? And Tony, if you are betting against your mother you are going to lose almost every time." Dad chuckled. "Anyway I think we're done for the day."

"Come here you two and look at the pictures we found." Marcus sounded excited.

Mom gave me a wink and took a seat at the table. Marcus and Dad had about two dozen pictures spread out on Mom's Christmas tablecloth. You could barely see the snowmen on the tablecloth.

Marcus got up from his chair and gestured to me to have a seat. He put his hands on my shoulders and started to gently massage them. The cast and sling on my left arm always caused my shoulder to tense up. Marcus had the best touch when it came to loosening it up.

As I looked at the pictures they had chosen, there was one of me inside a snow fort. I was probably about the twins' age. Dad and I had built that fort during Christmas vacation, and we had used red and green food coloring to decorate the walls. I was dressed in a snow suit, scarf, gloves and knit hat, none of which matched, but all in Christmas colors.

I looked at the photo and then gave Marcus a questioning look. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

"That one is not for Crystal and the gallery. That one is for your boyfriend to bring home and show the twins. They can get a good chuckle at Uncle T, or get ideas about building their own fort."

"Don't think I don't know what your boyfriend is doing, Tony. He's running out of excuses in his efforts to stop me from choosing any more pictures of you. But that's okay, there are enough other shots I don't need him spending his money on shots of your childhood." Dad burst out laughing. "I saw that shot of you from the first show hanging on the office wall. I think between that picture and the one I sent you of the whale watch, there isn't any more room on the office walls."

Marcus chuckled, "I thought I was being pretty subtle. Apparently not... I see your son didn't get his cluelessness from you."

Both Mom and Dad started laughing. Mom added, "He's only clueless when it's directly about him. He always thinks the best of people and never expects things to be about him, either good or bad.

"Since it's the night before we celebrate Christmas with each other, I'm making Christmas Eve dinner tonight."

"Awesome," I shouted. "Are you making both potato and cheese pierogies? Marcus, have you ever had homemade pierogies?"

"I can't say that I have ever had any pierogies, ever. Is this just a Christmas Eve thing? I told you that you were holding out on me, Betty. There must be hundreds of recipes you haven't shared yet."

"Well, it's a holiday thing because my mother always made them just the one time each year. I'm not sure exactly why, but it's turned into a tradition. Your boyfriend puts away platefuls of them."

"They are so good. I'm wicked excited now. Pierogies tonight and pineapple casserole tomorrow, we may not have to eat Monday night, Hon."

"Look, you need to get these albums cleaned up so I can get started on supper. Why don't you boys relax in the living room? I figure tomorrow's pineapple casserole recipe will be the one you need to take home, Marcus."

"Sounds like a plan." Marcus smiled. "Unless you are up for a walk, Babe, I've been sitting too long today. I need to move my legs."

"That sounds great. I could use it to work off some calories before I eat all those pierogies tonight. Let's take a walk by the pond."

"See you boys in a little while."

Because of the cast and sling, I had to leave my arm next to my body and have someone zip up my coat. Marcus grinned at me as he pulled my hat down over my face.

"Okay, you can quit being a pain in the ass."

"Tony!" Dad laughed

"Sorry, pain in the butt."

Marcus and I started to walk towards the pond. There was just enough snow to cover the ground, but not enough to need the shovels yet. Temperature was right around freezing. We held hands as we walked. The pond was at the north end of the neighborhood. In the winter, with all the leaves dropped from the trees, you could see the whole pond. The path around it was probably just over a mile total distance. One of my parents' neighbors always put a big raft in the middle for swimming. They also had a dock we fished from. Both had been pulled out of the water for winter, and were stacked in a pile on his lawn. The pond hadn't frozen yet.

The sky was mostly overcast, but Marcus had suggested I wear my sunglasses anyway.

"Babe, just to be on the safe side put your sunglasses on. The sun reflecting off the snow might bring that headache back."

"Hopefully, not; this morning's was a little more intense than I'd like to repeat. Oh before I forget, Mom asked if you wanted to go to church with them tomorrow before brunch. I told her I'd ask. I know your family is Catholic, but you never mentioned going to church."

"Honestly, Babe. I went to mass every Sunday growing up. I even went while going to Notre Dame... but I got tired of being told I was a bad person, that I was a sinner and going to hell. You can only hear it so often in a sermon. I have no problem going to church. I would love to go with your parents if that's what you want. I miss the reflection time and feeling closer to a higher power. I don't miss the sermons, especially the ones from the priest in the parish we grew up in."

"I'll let Mom know. The 'rents will be happy about going to church together. I really hope they like our gifts."

"Don't worry, Babe. They will love them."

We continued to walk around the pond. The sun peaked out from behind the clouds every now and then, but never enough to restart my headache.

"This is such a beautiful place. It must have been so amazing to grow up here. I remember the first trip we made here. The leaves were breathtaking, but the snow makes everything look so pristine. No wonder your father takes so many pictures down here."

"Growing up you don't really appreciate the beauty, it was such a fun place, every season brought something new to do. Even in the winter, between sledding and ice skating, we kept wicked busy down here."

Marcus started to chuckle, he pulled me in for a kiss. I melted into his arms. I looked into his eyes and saw love. It was intoxicating. I was overcome with joy. Here I was with my best friend, the man I had shared every thought with for years, and still he loved me.

I pulled away from him and just stared, reveling in the moment.

Suddenly, I grabbed his hand. I smiled and bent down on one knee.

"Marcus Lucas Taylor, you are my best friend and the man I want to spend the rest of my life loving. I am the luckiest man on the planet because you are in my life."

When I pictured this moment in my head, I certainly didn't have a cast on one arm. I fumbled for a second trying to get the ring out of my pocket. I smiled as I opened the box.

"Marcus, you make me the happiest man alive. Will you marry me?"

He smiled at me, but pulled me up off my knee...

"I can't..."

My heart stopped. I couldn't breathe. How could he say no? Tears started to roll down my cheeks, as I bowed my head and began to turn away. And then...

He got down on one knee and fumbled in his own pocket.

"Unless you promise to let me spend the rest of my life loving you... Anthony Michael Wallace, will you marry me too?"

He was grinning from ear to ear. My tears turned from heart break to complete joy. I tried to pull him up with one hand. He stood up; he had tears in his eyes. He put his hand under my chin and kissed me. I wrapped my good arm around him. We stood there holding tight to each other.

"I wish I could put both arms around you. Marcus, I love you more than I ever thought possible. I thank God every minute of every day that I literally ran into you that unbelievable night at Noah's. I really am the luckiest man alive. You are the most amazing person I have ever met. I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I hope it never ends."

"Babe, you're wrong. I'm the luckiest man alive. You complete me in ways I never thought possible. Every minute with you is such a joy and an adventure. You are un-flipping believable." He smiled slyly.

I grabbed his hand. I tried to get the ring out of the box, but I was fumbling badly.

"You are too cute. Let me help."

He handed the ring to me. I slowly placed it on his finger. Tears welled up in my eyes again. The ring looked so perfect on his hand. He cleared his throat.

"Babe, it's beautiful. Where did you find it?"

"Actually, I had it made for you. It's my Nana's wedding ring with the diamond from her engagement ring cut and set on it. Your brother and sister-in-law helped me get the size right. It looks exactly as I hoped it would on your hand."

"Your turn; Let me unzip that jacket so I can try to get this on your finger. I really hope the cast doesn't screw this up. Sit on this rock so we can get this to work."

He brushed off the large out cropping of rocks that we always called "Old Man Jones's Rock." My parents' neighbor, Mr. Jones, fished off that rock for the longest time before he died a few years ago at about ninety-years old. Marcus put his foot on the base of the rock and set my arm on his knee. Finally he took the ring from its box. It was gold and platinum layers swirled slightly with a small diamond set flush in the center. My fingers were still warm from being inside the coat. The cast finished just below my knuckles, so Marcus could easily slip on the ring. It fit perfectly.

"Marcus, it's incredible."

"I had a jeweler design it for me. It took me a couple of weeks to get it just right. I just got it last week, finally."

I chuckled slightly. "You are better than me. I've been carrying that ring in my pocket for the longest time. I kept hoping for the perfect moment. Today, I finally realized every moment with you is perfect."

"Okay, we had better get back to the house before the smaltz police come and arrest us." Marcus laughed. "Babe, I love you."

"I love you more."

He zipped my coat back up and put his arm around me. We strolled the rest of the way around the pond and back towards my parents' house.

"Are your parents going to be okay with this?"

"Are you kidding? I asked Mom's permission to have the rings combined. Earlier she and I were laughing because she was worried you would find the ring in my clothes at the hospital. She rifled through my pants before she let you take them home. Actually, Mom is the one who convinced me I would know when the right moment came. I had been driving myself crazy trying to set up my proposal. Trying to figure out the place and how I wanted things to be arranged.

"Trust me. My parents are going to be thrilled. Your mother, on the other hand, will not be happy with me. 'You are not the best for my son.' I think those were her words to me."

"Yeah, well I don't fucking care. She has never been more wrong about anything. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you, period. Let's go inside and see what your 'rents think about it."

We walked in the door, removed our shoes and coats. Marcus held my hand as we walked towards the kitchen. My mother took one look at us, and she squealed.

"Did you?"

Marcus spoke up. "We both seemed to have the same idea at the same time. Your son actually beat me to the punch."

Mom had tears in her eyes. "Where?"

I grinned at her and told her the story. I even told her about sitting on Old Man Jones's Rock.

"You are so your father's son... I can't believe it. That is the exact spot he proposed to me. We still go sit on that rock every now and then."

Dad cut in. "Well, congratulations boys. But I warn you, look out because now Betty has a wedding to help plan. You two have no idea what you are in for."

My father walked over and gave Marcus a hug and whispered in his ear. He then turned to me and smiled. He drew me close and said, "I am so happy for you, son. I love you and am so proud of you. Don't ever forget that."

"Thanks Dad. I'm incredibly proud to be your son."

"Okay, I still need a hug." Mom said.

Marcus and I both squeezed her. She started to sob. We let her go for a moment. Finally, she grinned at the two of us.

"Don't ever forget this feeling. When life throws things at you, always think back to that moment. Your love for each other will get you through absolutely anything."

Marcus smiled and said, "Babe, we had better lock the doors. The smaltz police are going to arrest all four of us."

We all started to laugh. I felt myself get a little dizzy, so I sat down at the table. Marcus gave me an inquiring look, but I shook my head and smiled.

"What time is dinner? Do I have time to take a quick cat nap?"

"Sure, it's still about an hour until supper. You boys relax, I'm almost done cooking."

Marcus grabbed my hand and led me to the bedroom we always stayed in. After he closed the door, he gave me a 'what's wrong' look. I shrugged my shoulders and sat on the bed.

"It's nothing. I got a little dizzy for a second. I think I'm just a little tired. Plus, I really wanted to spend a few minutes alone with you."

"Are you sure?"

"Please don't worry. I have kept my promise to you... I am fine."

Marcus got a confused look on his face. I gave him a kiss and laid my head on his shoulder.

"Hon, nothing about our relationship has been for lack of a better word... normal. I wasted three years being clueless, caused both of us a world of hurt, and finally needed someone else to clue me in. But I wouldn't change a minute of these last few months. I never thought love could be like this. I love you so much and I can't wait to be your husband."

I started to tear up. Marcus pulled me closer.

"Babe, you get a little extra emotional when you're tired. Those years were not wasted. We became best friends. You needed that time to grow into the amazing man you are today. If we had started seeing each other back then, who knows where we would be today. I can't wait to be your husband either. I would love to try to get married as close to one of our anniversaries as we can."

"What anniversaries?"

"Well the day we met was the twentieth of August, but the night we got together was August tenth. I'm pretty sure the ninth and the sixteenth are Saturdays next year... so I was thinking maybe we could try for one of those days. Or we could do the tenth, but it will be a Sunday. That is if you don't think that it's too soon."

I couldn't believe it. He remembered the date of the night we met over three years ago. He even knew the night we finally got together.

"Marcus Lucas Taylor, how do you remember those dates? I'm speechless, completely speechless."

"I'm a lawyer. I am trained to remember thousands of unimportant facts and cases, but how could I forget two of the most important days of my life. What do you think? Should we shoot for August of next year or do you want more time?"

"August would be amazing. Tomorrow would be better, but my mother would kill me if I cheated her out of planning a wedding. God, you are the most amazing man. I love you."

"I love you more. But, relax; try to get some sleep before dinner."

We just lay there for a while. I was beyond content. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep. I was startled awake by Marcus rubbing my back.

"Babe, we need to get up. I'm sure dinner is almost ready and I need to use the bathroom. How are you feeling?"

"I'm good. Happy as hell."

Dad was just finishing setting the table when we walked back out to the dining room. Mom was finishing up the last few pierogies.

"Everybody take a seat. I'm just about done. Marcus, I want you to try one of each of these. I think the potato one is best with sour cream, but your boyfriend thinks they both need it. "

"Actually Betty, he's not my boyfriend anymore... I suppose he's my fianc now..." Marcus had a huge smile on his face.

"Well then, your fianc," She grinned. "He likes to smother them with sour cream, but I think there's enough in the dough. I baked some chicken in case you don't like them."

Marcus quietly tried each kind of pierogy, first without sour cream and then with it. He then grabbed the whole platter and set it down in front of himself and smiled.

"Well, Betty, I hope you made enough chicken for the rest of you, because I may just eat the whole platter myself. These are delicious. I think the potato ones are best with just a hint of sour cream. I bet the cheese ones would be even better with a tomato dip. Not a salsa, but not a spaghetti sauce either. What are you going to feed everyone else?" He said laughing.

Mom burst out, "Be careful Marcus, my son might try to take the ring back if you steal all his pierogies." She got a thoughtful expression on the face and said, "I think I know exactly what you mean by the tomato sauce... I never gave it a thought before... Give me just a minute... "

Mom went back into the kitchen and started chopping. In no time at all, she returned with a warm tomato, onion, and green pepper sauce.

"Okay, try this."

"Oh my, Betty, the touch of vinegar and garlic is absolutely perfect. This is incredible. Sam and Tony, you aren't going to believe how good this is."

In no time at all, we had devoured the entire plate of pierogies and the chicken she baked. The new sauce Mom created was delicious. Usually I was the sour cream king when I ate this meal, but the cheese and tomato just melted together in your mouth.

Dad finally came up for air. "Betty, I think you may have started a new tradition here. I didn't think it was possible to improve upon your pierogies, but this sauce is really good. I'm a little upset however. Usually there are a few leftover for me to have for lunch. I can't believe we ate the whole batch."

"Well Dad, I saw who took the last two... So you have no one to blame but yourself. Although, two pierogies are hardly enough for a lunch," I chuckled.

"Well maybe I did get the last two, but I saw you giving them the eye. They weren't going to be left over anyway. Goodness, I am so full I can barely move."

All four of us started to laugh. Marcus cut in and told Mom and Dad to go relax, he and I would clean up the table and kitchen. After getting everything back to where it belonged, Marcus suggested a card game. We played for a few hours and then called it a night.

The next morning, I was woken up by Marcus kissing my neck.

"Well my love, you had better get your ass out of bed if there is any hope for us to make church with your parents. They are already dressed."

"Okay, I just need to shower. I will be out in a couple."

Mom and Dad were really excited to have us join them at church. The bishop was in attendance for this service. It was so fitting that his sermon was about love. Mom kept introducing Marcus to all her friends as my fianc. Everyone was very welcoming and congratulated us. Marcus remarked at how he missed services and for Episcopalians it was a pretty good mass. Mom gave him a good punch in the arm.

Brunch was more of the same. I was thrilled at how accepting my parents' friends and neighbors were. Don't get me wrong, we got a few nasty looks from some of the restaurant patrons, but most people seemed genuinely happy for us. I suppose since we lived so close to the University of New Hampshire, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that people were accepting.

After brunch, Dad and Marcus took a ride down to the drug store to get me a new cast protector. While they were gone, Mom started pelting me with questions.

"How soon do you think this wedding will be? Do you think Marcus's mother will throw a big stink? How will his Dad be? I know the rest of his family will be happy, especially Jamie's clan. When are you guys telling his family?"

"Mom, holy cow, please enough with the questions."

"I'm sorry, Baby. I'm just so excited for you."

"The only thing I know for sure is we think we want to try for next August. It's quick, but Marcus wants to get it close to our anniversaries. Can you believe he remembers the date we met and the date we finally became a couple? He is unbelievable."

"I told you that man loves you to pieces. Don't ever doubt that. August is good. That gives us eight months to throw this wedding together; you are going to have to start making decisions right away. Caterer, venue, music, and stuff like that needs to be decided soon. A lot of places are already going to be booked. I think after the first of the year we need to get things decided quickly."

"Mom, we've been engaged for less than twenty-four hours. I know we have a lot to talk about. But can we wait until after Christmas."

"Of course, but seriously Tony, you guys really need to talk about this right away."

Marcus and Dad returned from their shopping. They walked into the house laughing. I smiled.

"Okay, Betty. It's time to learn this infamous pineapple casserole your son keeps going on about."

Mom gave me a wink and grinned. They started working away in the kitchen. I could hear them talking, but I really wasn't paying any attention. Shortly, they joined Dad and me in the living room. The four of us chatted casually for a couple hours. Every now and then, Marcus would get up and check on dinner. I must have fallen asleep briefly, because I was gently being woken up by Dad. I could smell the ham.

"Tony, time to eat, Marcus and Mom have everything on the table."

Dinner was delicious. The four of us laughed and joked the whole meal. Soon, Dad started his pre-Christmas ritual. When I was a kid, he tortured me by slowly stirring and drinking his tea. Presents couldn't be touched until Dad's tea was finished. It always felt like hours to get through that cup of tea as the anticipation of presents built. He always kept the most serious look on his face the entire time, as though nothing mattered except that cup of tea. It made me insane as a child.

"Sam, I see you are doing the tea trick. I bet growing up you made your son crazy, he has no patience to this day." Marcus laughed. "My grandfather used to use hot chocolate, which he would stir with a candy cane. No presents until the candy cane was gone, it made my brothers and me nuts."

Dad burst out laughing. "I guess every family has one of those traditions. I guess once your kids get into their twenties it loses some of its fun. I suppose we can do presents now."

Dad got down on the floor and started handing out gifts. We each had one gift to open. I wanted to see my parents' reaction to their gifts so I waited to open mine. We all just stared at each other for a moment until Marcus burst out laughing.

"Okay, I can't believe Mr. Patience is waiting. But I know he wants to see your reaction to our gift. So why don't you guys open your presents first."

Mom started. We had gotten her a gift certificate to her favorite store and a stoneware casserole dish with a lid. She smiled from ear to ear.

"I heard these stoneware dishes are pretty amazing to cook with, but they are a little expensive. You really shouldn't have, but I absolutely love it."

"Betty, I love using stoneware. The best part is food stays warmer during the meal, if you decide you like that one there is a couple of other pieces we would love to get you. Okay Sam, your turn."

Marcus was just like a little kid. It was so amazing to watch him get pleasure out of seeing other people's enjoyment. I just kept wondering how I got so lucky.

For Dad, I bought a zoom lens for his new digital camera. It was top of the line, but I found a really good deal on-line. He quickly ran for the camera and started playing with the lens. I gave Marcus a big grin. Dad keep switching lens back and forth and looking at different things in the room. It was too cute.

"Sam, put the toy down. The boys still have gifts to open. Well obviously boys your father loves his gift. Now you need to open yours."

Marcus went next and ripped into the wrapping paper. Inside there were two more packages wrapped. He got a twinkle in his eye and started opening the smaller box. He held it up and showed me. It was a book of recipes. Mom had hand written a number of pages and bound them in a book, she took a photo of her and Marcus for the front cover.

"I know it's not much, but these are some of Tony's favorites."

"Betty, this is the most amazing present. I can't thank you enough. I know I won't be able to make them as well as you, but this means so much to me."

"Open the other part. Hopefully you will like it."

The other box contained a leather briefcase with Marcus's initials on the top corner. It was a rich chocolate brown with gold accents. This gift was the one I knew my parents had gotten. They actually bought it at the mall the day of my accident.

"Wow, this is beautiful. I guess you got a look at my briefcase. I have had it since college. I guess it is a little worse for the wear. Thank you so much. These are just amazing gifts."

Marcus gave both my parents a hug. Then they all looked at me. I got so caught up in everyone else's gifts I forgot I still had one to open.

I unwrapped my present and found a briefcase that matched Marcus's. It was jet black and had silver accents. It was made of the softest leather.

"This is amazing. Apparently, you weren't one hundred percent honest with me about your purchases at the mall. Thanks so much."

Dad smiled and said, "Open it up; I think there might be something on the inside."

Sure enough, a small album was in the briefcase. I started to look through the pictures and teared up again. The photos were of Marcus and me. Some from the whale watch, a few from Thanksgiving, and others from our other trips out here, the album was full of photos. My father had captured so many moments of us. I handed the album to Marcus and gave my parents each a hug.

"You guys out did yourselves this year. This has been an amazing Christmas. I love you both so much. Thank you."

"Betty and Sam, now I know why your son is such an amazing person, he comes by it naturally. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This has been unbelievable."

"Okay boys, what do you say to some cherry cheesecake and some Christmas music before we head off to bed?" Mom asked. "You said you wanted to make an early start tomorrow, but I don't think I'm ready for Christmas to be over with yet."

Thanks as always need to go out to the special people in my life:

Ray, my wonderful husband

David, "that" great editor

And Fitz...

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