Alden's Surprise

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  Beyond the Series - August 11-13, 2012
Spoilers:  None
Size:  83kb
Written:  January 19-22,27,29, February 1,4-7,29, 2008
Summary:  A Mouseketeer surprise makes the next leg in the Jackson-O'Neill road trip particularly poignant.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Hanky warning, so I've been told.
2) “An Irish Lullaby”, words and music J.R. Shannon.
3) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
4) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
5) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Transitions: The Next Ten Months”
6) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Tammy, Tonya, Caro, Melissa, Jo, Linda, Keri!

Wanderin' in the USA
Chapter: Alden's Surprise
by Orrymain

“You're dawdling, Jonny,” Jack called out as he waited for the brood to join him at the cash register of the small diner where the family had stopped for lunch.  The family was still in Pennsylvania, but was headed westward now.  “Lulu, did you want to take your drawing with you or leave it here?” he asked about her paper place mat that she and each of the younger children had been given to draw on while waiting for their meal.

“Oops,” Lulu giggled, turning and heading back to the table to retrieve her artwork.

“Dad, please!” Jeff requested.

“Okay,” Jack agreed.  “Betsy's a big gal; be careful.”

“We will!” Jennifer chimed happily, following her brother out of the restaurant now that their older father had given the teenagers permission to bring the RV from its parked position, which was quite a distance from the entrance of the restaurant, to the entrance so that the children could climb right in.

~I hope I don't regret this,~ Jack thought about allowing the teens to do more than just park Betsy, also known as their RV.  ~Stop worrying, O'Neill.  They took lessons; they can do this.  I have to stop worrying about them; it won't be that much longer before they're out on their own soon.~  He grimaced.  ~Stop thinking about that.~

Still, Jack wondered if maybe he should have waited for his husband to agree with his response, but Daniel was in the restroom at the moment.

~He sure is taking a long time,~ Jack noted, checking his watch and beginning to wonder if something might be wrong.  “The food was great,” he said to the waitress a moment later when she rung up the family's tab.  “Brood, let's go.  Daddy will meet us outside.”

Just as the last of the children stepped aboard the RV, Daniel ran out, calling, “Jack, you'll never believe it!”

“Where have you been?” Jack barked lightly.  “Well, I know where you were, but ...”

“Jack, listen.  I had a phone call,” Daniel spoke excitedly.

In fact, Jack suddenly realized that he hadn't seen his husband look this enthusiastically wide-eyed in quite a while.  Something was definitely up.

“Daddy, look!” Jennifer said proudly from behind the wheel of the RV.

“You let them drive?” Daniel asked his lover.

Up until now, Jennifer and Jeff had mostly just helped with parking the RV, but they hadn't really driven the motor home more than the distance required to park.  Both, however, had gone through a specialized driving course before the family had left on their vacation and were therefore qualified to drive the deluxe vehicle.

“Betsy's still in one piece,” Jack replied.

“Right.”  Daniel looked at Jennifer and instructed, “Drive Betsy back to where we were parked.  Dad and I will meet you there.  We need to talk about something.”

“Okay, Daddy,” Jennifer replied happily.  She knew it was an odd request, and she was extremely curious, but even more so, she wanted to utilize this unexpected opportunity to drive the luxury motor home for another couple of minutes.  ~Cool!~

“Daniel ...”

“Jack, we need to talk about Noa,” Daniel said as he eagerly began to fill his lover in on the phone call.

====

“They've been out there a long time,” David remarked as he looked out the window at his parents, who were standing quite a bit away from the vehicle to make sure they weren't overhead.

“It's serious, whatever it is,” Brianna opined from her spot next to her brother.

“I wonder if something's wrong,” Jennifer sighed.

“Maybe Callie's sick?” Lulu spoke and almost sniffled.

“No, Lulu,” Jennifer said, kneeling down in front of the curly-haired girl.  “If that were the case, you know Dad and Daddy would have told us right away.”  Wanting her sister to feel better, she suggested, “Why don't you use your special phone and go see Calico and Mittens for yourself.”

Lulu smiled and hugged the teenager before turning around and proceeding to call home and checking in on the felines with the special webcam that had been set up.  Chenoa and Little Danny immediately followed her.

Jennifer stood up and looked over at Jeff, who smiled reassuringly.  Neither had a clue about the topic of the conversation that was going on outside, but it had been fifteen minutes now, and the looks on their parents' faces were serious, intense, and even uncertain.  Something was definitely up, and they hoped they'd find out soon.

====

“Are we agreed?” Daniel asked.

“You get the atlas, and I'll get Noa,” Jack stated, after which the two parents returned to the RV.

“No questions,” Daniel called out, being the first one inside the vehicle and hearing a slew of queries about what was happening.  “I need to get something,” he said, going to an area where some books were being stored.

“Noa, Daddy and I would like to talk with you outside for a few minutes,” Jack stated.  Looking at the children, who all wore concerned or worried looks on their faces, he assured, “Nothing's wrong.  I promise.  Girls, why don't you come outside with us so you can stretch a while.”

The happy beagles stood up and shook their bodies, waiting patiently for their harnesses to be put on.

“Jen, Jeff, everyone stays inside, please,” Daniel instructed, his arms loaded down with the atlas, some maps, and a few other items, should they be needed.

====

After walking Bijou and Katie and just playing with them for a few minutes, Jack and Daniel sat down on the grass to talk with Chenoa.  Katie eagerly slid into Chenoa's lap while Bijou sniffed the grass, wanting to stretch a bit more before sitting down again.  The archaeologist was seated to the little girl's right and Jack was directly across from her.

“Am I in trouble?” Chenoa asked worriedly.

“No, Sweetie,” Daniel answered.  “Noa, we wanted to show you a map and talk to you about something very important.”

“And before we even begin,” Jack interjected, “we want you to know that if you don't want us to go, we won't go.”

“Absolutely not.  We'll just get back in the RV and keep going west,” Daniel added firmly.

Chenoa gulped, not really understanding what was happening.

“Noa, Dad and I made you a promise that we would never, *ever* go back to New York City unless you were okay with it.”

Shaking her head, Chenoa said, “No like New 'ork City.”

Both parents caught the backsliding of their daughter's grammar, and both shared a look that said they'd pass on the surprise if they didn't believe that the little girl wasn't totally fine with what they were about to propose.

“Noa, I'd like you to look at a map of New York.  Will you do that for me?” Daniel asked.

Chenoa nodded.  She wasn't afraid of pictures of New York.  It was just going there.  She hated New York City.  It was where her parents had died.

“See, New York *State* is a very big place.  Look how big it is,” Daniel instructed.

“See these other states,” Jack pointed out.  “This is Pennsylvania.  Pretty small, right?”

“New York is a lot bigger,” Chenoa agreed.

After a small geography lesson in which the size of New York was compared to other places the family had been, the parents got into some specifics.

“This spot, way down here, is New York City,” Daniel stated.  “Noa, we don't want to go to New York City.  In fact, we don't want to go anywhere near it.”

“It's right there?”

“Right there,” Jack affirmed.

The little girl bit her lip and asked, “Where do you want to go?”

After a look to reaffirm they were ready to move forward, Daniel answered, “We'd like to go here, to Alden.  Alden *is* in New York *State*, but it's nowhere near New York *City*.”

Chenoa studied the map carefully as her parents talked.

“To go from here,” Jack pointed at Alden on the map, “to here,” pointing to New York City, “it would take at six hours, and that's in a regular car.  Going in the RV, it would take us a lot longer.”


“It's almost four-hundred miles, Noa,” Daniel added.

“We're in Pennsylvania, right?” Jack questioned.  Seeing the nod from the girl, he continued, “The *entire* width of Pennsylvania could fit between Alden and New York City *three* times, and lengthwise, there would still be over a hundred miles to go.”

Chenoa patted Katie while she stared at the photos and listened.

“One more thing, Princess,” Jack spoke.  “Where we are now, and where we were yesterday, and the day before that, was actually a lot closer to New York City than Alden is.  Let me show you.”

Jack pointed out the various locations where they'd been recently, noting that Chenoa was watching with intensity.

“Noa, there's something special we just found out about that's in Alden, and we'd really like to go there, but we won't lie to you.  It *is* in New York State, but you can see how far away it is from New York City.  If you don't want us to go, we won't,” Daniel stated.

“How do you feel about it?” Jack asked.

“I don't like New York City,” the young girl spoke, now speaking normally and not with the tiny voice she'd used earlier.  “It's a far away place from Alden.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Mommy and Daddy never went there.  They just went to New York City,” Chenoa said, seeing the nods from her adoptive parents.

“Dad, Daddy, if I get scared, can we turn around?”

“Yes,” both parents said in unison and with force.

“All you have to do is say you don't want to be there,” Jack stated.

“Noa, we won't hesitate.  We'll turn around just as fast as we can,” Daniel promised.

“And here's the route we'd take,” Jack said, using a map to show where they were and the highways the family would take.

“Will I like the surprise?”

“I think so,” Daniel answered with a smile.

Chenoa smiled and said, “I want to try.”

“Are you sure?” Jack asked.  “If you aren't sure, Honey, tell us.”

“It's a long way from here to here,” Chenoa said as she traced the path on the map.  “We won't go that way, right?” she asked, pointing in an eastward direction from Alden.

“No, Noa.  Just straight here, and then we'll continue on the way we've been going,” Daniel answered.

“Okay,” Chenoa agreed with a steady voice.

“Super!” Jack said.  “I'm proud of you, Princess.”

“Me, too,” Daniel added as the family moved into a gentle hug.  “Now we want to make sure your brothers and sisters are okay with it.”

====

“Alden is about twenty miles east of Buffalo, New York, in Erie County,” Daniel said, concluding his comments about where he and Jack were hoping to take the family for their next stop on their road trip.

There was a pause as everyone contemplated what the parents had suggested, and then the children began to look over at Chenoa.

Holding Chenoa in her lap, Jennifer requested gently, “Noa, tell me the truth.”

“I am, Jen.  We looked at the map, and Dad showed me were we are and where we'd be going.  It's okay.  It's a long ways to that place,” Chenoa spoke.

“David?” the teenager asked.

“I don't mind, Sis,” the boy responded.

Jennifer's hold on Chenoa was tight as old bonds and feelings of needing to protect her Mouseketeer siblings surfaced.  She looked at her parents, whom she trusted with all of her heart.

“If she changes her mind ...”

“We're out of there,” Jack spoke, looking Jennifer straight in the eye.

“Jen, it's okay,” Chenoa told her sister, her voice confident and unafraid.  “I don't wanna go to New York City.  It's the bad place, but Alden will be fun.”

Jennifer chuckled, “How do you know it'll be fun?”

“The surprise is there,” the little girl grinned.

“I vote yes,” Jennifer stated, relieved at Chenoa's positive attitude about the adventure to come and confident that the trust she placed in her parents wasn't misplaced.

“What about the rest of you?” Daniel asked.  “You all get a vote, too.”

After a few more minutes of convincing themselves that Chenoa was truly okay with the trip to Alden, the brood voted to venture onward and see what their surprise was.  Inwardly, Jennifer and the older children vowed to keep a close watch on Chenoa to look for any signs of nervousness or fear.

“Time to hit the road,” Jack said when the impromptu family meeting came to an end.

“I need to make a phone call,” Daniel said, standing up.  He leaned over to give Chenoa a supportive kiss and then looked at his husband, saying, “I'll be outside for a few minutes.

Jack nodded and then, as the rest of the family dispersed, he whispered to the teenager, “Jen, if you see anything that makes you think she ...”

“Trust me, Dad,” Jennifer began.  “I'm going to watch her like a hawk, but I think she knows how far away Alden is from the city.  We've been studying a lot of geography on this trip, and I think that's helped her to understand.”

Jack nodded, but added, “Just watch her.”

“I will.”

====

The Jackson-O'Neill family rolled into Alden about seven o'clock that evening.

“It's small, but bigger than McBee,” Brianna observed.

“New York State has a lot of farmland,” Daniel pointed out.

“This is the place,” the older man announced as he drove up to the address on Exchange Street that his lover had given him.

“I'm so excited,” Daniel heard himself say, his grin already big in anticipation.  As the family unbuckled their seatbelts and began to stir, he called out, “Jeff, would you get JD, please.”

A minute later, Daniel opened the door of the RV and as soon as he stepped foot on the ground, a familiar sight appeared on the porch.  He couldn't help it.  He began to shed a couple of tears of joy.

“Daniel, me boy!” the woman called out, running carefully but excitedly towards the archaeologist and the RV.

“Oh, my gosh!” Jennifer exclaimed.  “David, look!”

“Holy Hannah!” the boy shouted, channeling his Aunt Sam, and then quickly headed for the door.

“Who is it?” Jenny asked, not recognizing the lady.

“Noa, come on,” Jennifer urged, taking her sister by the hand and hurrying out of the RV.

“Dad?” Brianna asked, not knowing who the woman was, either.

“Let's go,” Jack responded, ushering the children outside.  “Bri, you're in charge of the girls,” he added, handing her their leashes.

“Do you two know who she is?” Brianna questioned.

“Wooooof!  Woof!” the two dogs barked, practically jumping on the tomboy to hurry her up.

“Okay, okay.  Geez,” Brianna responded.  “Who is she?”

Outside, Jennifer released her younger sister's hand as she burst into a run towards the woman.

“Oh, my!  That can't be my lovely Jennifer!” the woman said emotionally, bringing her hands to her cheeks as she smiled at the approaching teenager.

“Mrs. O'Hanlon!” Jennifer exclaimed as the two embraced.  “I'm so happy to see you.”

“My turn, Jen!” David spoke.  “Hi, Mrs. O'Hanlon!” he greeted, hugging her himself.

“Molly, you're still the most gorgeous lass on the Earth,” Jack greeted in his patented Irish brogue as he hugged his old friend.

Then Molly smiled as she looked down at Chenoa.  She walked forward and kneeled down in front of her.

“I'll bet you don't remember me,” the spry older woman said gently to the little girl.

Chenoa stared into the woman's eyes.  She'd been just eighteen months old when her parents had died, and she, Jennifer, and David had been placed in the care of Molly O'Hanlon and her shelter in Colorado Springs.  A few months later, Jack and Daniel had adopted the Mouseketeers.  Later that year, Molly moved back to her native Ireland, and the family hadn't seen her since.

“The last time I saw you, you were just a wee sprig of a thing.”

“Mrs. O'Hanlon?” Chenoa asked, a smile coming over her face.  “I love you, Mrs. O'Hanlon,” she said, surprising the woman with a big hug.

“I love you, too, Sweetness.”

“Munchkins, this is ...”

“Oh, the triplets!  You were tiny little things, in diapers!”

“Aww, man,” Jonny whined, absolutely hating it whenever he was reminded that he'd been in diapers.

Over the next few minutes, Molly was introduced and reintroduced to the entire Jackson-O'Neill brood, after which they went inside the home to visit.

====

“Danny, do you think Noa really remembers Molly?” Jack asked.

“She remembers New York City, not saying goodbye to her parents, Uni,” Daniel began.  “Yes, I do.  Molly gave her love after their parents died, and Noa remembers that love.”

“There have been the Christmas cards,” Jack said.

“Yes, and a few phone calls that Noa has taken part in.  Jack, she remembers, just like Little Danny remembers Egypt.”

“Look at her over there, sticking so close to Molly while she reads her that story,” Jack observed.  “I can't believe how lucky we were with the timing here.”

“I couldn't believe it when she said she was in New York.”

“Noa looks happy,” Jack stated.

“Letting this be her decision was the right choice, Babe,” Daniel opined.  “Showing her the maps and talking about where we've been in relation to the city helped her a lot.”

“Nightmares,” Jack whispered, not even wanting to think about the possibility that their little princess might be in hidden turmoil.  “Danny, we need to watch her tonight.  If she so much as shakes ...”

“Agreed.”

====

Molly was seated on the long couch, her left arm draped around Chenoa, who was nestled into her.  David was on her other side, while Jennifer was seated on the floor in front of Molly.  She was sitting Indian-style, with Bijou in her lap.  The rest of the Jackson-O'Neill children were all sitting around, some on the sofa next to Chenoa and David and some on the floor or in other chairs.  Only JD was asleep, being watched over by Katie, in a borrowed crib in one of the bedrooms.

“What were they like?” Brianna asked from her spot on the floor, a few feet to Jennifer's left.

“They were inseparable, they were,” Molly answered, squeezing both David and Chenoa.  “Jennifer was so protective of them and so afraid.”

Jennifer bowed her head, hating to admit that she'd been terrified during that period of her life, but it was the truth, so she said nothing.

“Their dear parents had been lost so suddenly; their whole world turned upside down over night,” Molly said gently.  “Jen kept them together.  She held the little white dove in her arms all the time.”

Chenoa looked up grinning, knowing that her name meant white dove.

“Jennifer devoted herself to David and Chenoa and making sure they'd never be apart.  She was brave and strong,” Molly elaborated as she smiled in the teenager's direction.  “She worked hard not to let anyone see how vulnerable she really was.  She hid behind that music of hers.  What was the name of that girl?”

“Britney,” Jennifer sighed.

“Jen doesn't listen to her very much any more,” David answered.

“No?”

“I decided it's not really a good idea to idolize someone, Mrs. O'Hanlon,” Jennifer spoke.

“She was a disappointment?” Molly asked, seeing the sad nod on the girl's face.  “Well, life is full of those, but as corny as it sounds, it's how you survive those disappointments that matters.”

Jennifer smiled and said, “I know.”

“David here hid behind his smarts.  He's a little genius, you know.”

Little Danny spoke up saying, “He knows a lot of stuff.  I learn from him all the time.”

David grinned, enjoying the compliment from the child prodigy.

“I'm afraid the other boys just didn't understand him,” Molly sighed.  Running her right hand through his hair, she continued, “You took your share of blows, Sweetness.”

“Aw, it wasn't so bad,” David responded shyly.

“I had to keep a big budget for eye glasses,” Molly quipped, causing everyone to laugh.

“We still keep a big budget for those, Molly,” Jack interjected as he and Daniel watched from the doorway.  ~Not to mention the constant supply that we have to maintain at the SGC.  I think Danny's glasses lasted an average of five missions each, maybe.~

“Only now it's for different reasons,” Daniel clarified.

“Like falling off of our pyramid,” Ricky chuckled.

“Your pyramid?” the woman questioned curiously.

“We like to build pyramids, using just us, and David fell off the top once,” Brianna explained.

“I was fine, but my glasses weren't,” David explained.

“And this little one just wanted to be loved, that's all,” Molly said, giving Chenoa a kiss on her head.  “She just didn't understand what had happened to her happy home.”

“Mommy and Daddy died,” Chenoa said sadly.  Then she smiled and said, “But we're okay now.  We have Dad and Daddy.”

“And we're part of the brood,” David added happily.

“Thank you, Mrs. O'Hanlon,” Jennifer said appreciatively.

“For what, Dearie?”

“Well, Dad and Daddy have never really said it, exactly, but I've sort of picked up the pieces, and, well, I think you tricked them into adopting us.”

“Jen,” Daniel called out.

“It's okay, Daddy.  She did,” Jennifer said, looking at her father and then at the Irish woman, “didn't you?”

“I just gave them a wee nudge.  They loved the three of you from the moment they first saw you at the shelter.”

“We sure did,” Jack said softly.

“But if you hadn't given them that nudge, we might have been separated,” Jennifer acknowledged sincerely.  “Thank you so much,” she repeated, getting up to hug the senior citizen.

“You're welcome, Jennifer,” Molly spoke as she patted the teen's back as they embraced.

“You're a nice surprise,” Chenoa said.  “I'm glad we're here,” she added with bright eyes.

Daniel had told Molly during their first conversation at the diner why the family might not be able to come and visit, so she understood the little girl's statement.

“I understand you and little Lulu are dancers,” Molly stated.

Chenoa brightened even more and looked over at her sister while affirming, “We love to dance.”

“Will you show me?”

“Can we, Dad, Daddy?” Lulu asked from one of the chairs in the living room.

“Sure, you can,” Jack answered.

Happily, Chenoa and Lulu got up and whispered together for a minute or so as they agreed on what routine to do.  Then they asked if they could do their dance in the kitchen, since that was easier for them than dancing on a carpeted floor.  Obligingly, everyone got up and entered the large kitchen for the impromptu performance.

====

“You have a lovely family,” Molly spoke later that night when all of the children were asleep.

“We never knew we'd end up with an even dozen,” Daniel said serenely.  “Molly, Jen is right.  We owe you an incredible amount of thanks for that nudge.  I'm not sure we would have had the courage to step up without it.”

“You would have, Daniel.  Maybe it would have taken another day or two, but there's no way you would have let those sweet babes be separated from one another.”  Molly smiled and said, “Jennifer seems so at ease now.  She was always so much on guard back then.”

“She had to be,” Jack replied.  “It's like you said, she was protecting David and Noa.  She knows we'll do that now.”

“Molly, I never thought you'd be back here,” Daniel spoke, curious why the woman had returned to the United States.

“And why didn't you tell us before?”

“I wasn't really sure, but Maeve and Eileen wanted to visit, and I just couldn't say no.”

Maeve and Eileen were two of Molly's cousins, and both had relatives living in the States, mostly on the East Coast.  In fact, Molly was currently staying at Eileen's granddaughter's summer home.  The granddaughter, however, was on vacation for two weeks with her immediate family and wouldn't be back until after the Jackson-O'Neills were gone.

“How long have you been here?”

“Just a few days,” Molly answered.  “We'll be here a month.  I'm so glad you were able to come.  They've got so much planned that I know I wouldn't have been able to get to Colorado Springs.”

“Where are Maeve and Eileen?”

Smiling, Molly answered, “They've gone away for a couple of days, to visit Maeve's daughter, Fiona.”

“You stayed for us,” Daniel surmised.

“I wanted to see your Mouseketeers dearly.  You know, I've kept in touch with some of the other children and their parents.  I love them all, and all the ones that spent time in my shelter, but I must admit, my heart has a very special place for the Morgan children.  When you said you could come, there was no way I couldn't not be here.”

“We love you, Molly,” Daniel spoke emotionally, getting up and hugging the woman while struggling to stop himself from crying.  “You changed our lives forever, and, gawd, we're so happy you did.”

“Amen to that,” Jack agreed as he stood and joined in the hug.

“Now sit, and tell me all about this road trip of yours.  The children sound like they've enjoyed it very much.”

Well into the late hours of the night, the three adults talked, catching up on one another's lives before finally calling it a night.

====

The next morning, the Jackson-O'Neills and Molly visited and continued catching up.  Molly loved spending time with the newest members of the brood, and she was tickled pink whenever she found a chance to tease Jonny about his diaper years.  It was quickly becoming a game between them.

Jack and Daniel had taken turns getting up to check on Chenoa, not that they needed to since, in the first place, Jennifer was sleeping with her sister wrapped in her arms and, in the second place, the youngster was smiling in her sleep and never woke up once.  She had successfully separated Alden from the Big Apple and was as happy now as she'd ever been.

After lunch, Molly wanted to take a nap, claiming she wasn't as spry as she used to be, so Jack and Daniel took most of their brood onto the streets of Alden, deciding it would be a good chance to see what this town was like, especially since they knew virtually nothing about it.  Ricky and Jenny, however, had stayed up extra late the night before, and both were tired, so they stayed with Molly, with Bijou and Katie remaining at the house as well.

The family had just walked onto Broadway Street, ambling leisurely as they took in their surroundings.

“I keep trying to think what this place reminds me of,” Jack stated as he pushed JD's stroller.

“It's like a painting,” Jennifer stated.

“Like on Christmas cards,” David added.

“A Rockwell painting,” Daniel spoke, smiling down at Aislinn, whose hand he was holding.

“That's it,” Jack agreed.

Walking just ahead of their parents, Jonny and Little Danny stopped to look at a house.

“This house has a big sign in front of it,” Jonny said.  “And they have a big rope in front of it.”

“It says it's the historical society,” Little Danny said, reading the sign.  “What's that?” he asked, looking back at his parents.

“It's a place that keeps track of a town's history.”

“It's a wonderful museum of our past,” a female voiced, causing the family to turn and look behind them at the approaching woman.

Jack and Daniel smiled in acknowledgement of the five-foot, six-inch redhead.  Her long hair was accentuated by her hazel eyes, which shone through her glasses.  She was in her mid-to-late twenties and was wearing a tan T-shirt over a pair of long, brown shorts.

“The town of Alden is a wonderful place, but the Village of Alden is like going back in time, and our historical society helps us preserve our past,” the woman spoke.  Smiling, she extended her hand towards the adults and introduced, “Hello.  My name is Lisa Goodheart.”  Seeing the smirk in Jack's eyes, she spoke, “Please, no jokes.  I've heard them all.”

Laughing, Daniel greeted, “Hi.  I'm Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.  This is,” he pointed at each person as he called their name, “Jack, Jeff, Jonny, Little Danny, Brianna, Jennifer, David, Aislinn, Chenoa, Lulu, and JD.”

“That's a lot to remember, but I think I can handle it,” Lisa teased warmly.  “Are you new to Alden?”

“Just passing through,” Jack said.

“Have you been in there?” Little Danny asked about the house.

“Many times.  It's full of railroad equipment, toys and dolls, military artifacts, kitch...”

“Military?” Jack questioned.

“Yes,” Lisa acknowledged.

Jack grinned, but it was Jonny who said, “Dad's a general with *two* stars,” holding up two fingers.

“My brother's in the Army,” Lisa said proudly.

“Air Force,” Jack spoke.

“Wrong branch, but it's the service that counts,” Lisa responded.

“I'm gonna be in the Air Force, too, when I grow up,” Jonny stated.

“That's a good thing.  I'm very proud of the men and the women who serve our country.”  As Jonny grinned, Lisa looked at Daniel and asked, “Are you in the Air Force, too?”

“Uh, civilian consultant,” Daniel responded.

“But mostly we run our archaeological company these days,” Jack said, pulling out a business card and handing it to the woman.

“J-O Enterprises,” Lisa read.  “J-O for Jackson-O'Neill?”

“Bingo!” Jack exclaimed animatedly.

“Are there really dolls in there?” Aislinn asked about the museum.

“Several.  We have all kinds of things in there to help us remember who we are and what our heritage is.”

“Rocks?” David questioned.

“As a matter of fact, we do.  We have a nice rock and fossil collection.  You should take a look.”

“It doesn't look like it's open,” Daniel commented.

“Saturdays only,” Lisa answered.

“Oh, well, I'm afraid we'll be gone by then,” Daniel stated.

“Daddy, can we stay until Saturday?” Little Danny asked eagerly, now that fossils had been brought into the equation.

“That's an entire week from now, Son.”

Lisa smiled at the family and said, “Well, I happen to have some pull with the folks who run the place.  If you give me an hour, I think I can arrange for you to have a private tour this afternoon.”

“Dad, Daddy, can we?” Little Danny asked, his question cheered on by several of the other children as they looked anxiously towards the museum.

“You're on,” Jack agreed.

“Great!  Meet me back here in an hour.  Um, if you keep going east for a couple of minutes, you'll run into the best chocolate shop on the East Coast.”  Lisa laughed, “It's really just down the street; right there.”  She pointed eastward and then shrugged, “Sometimes it's fun to make the town seem bigger.”

“We were in a town that wasn't any bigger than this street,” Jonny said.  When Little Danny nudged him, the oldest Munchking admitted, “Okay, it was bigger, but not by much.”

“Compared to McBee, Alden's huge,” David commented.

“Can't miss the best chocolate shop on the East Coast,” Jack said brightly, seeing how big the children's eyes had become, not to mention the approving look on his husband's face.

“Bye!” Lisa said as she pulled out her cell phone and walked away.

“Chocolate!” Little Danny exclaimed.

“Sugar Zone, here we come,” Jack joked as he pushed the stroller forward.

====

“Jeff, what are you doing?” Jennifer questioned.

“I have to get a picture of this place, Jen,” the teen replied.

“It's just a ... oh,” the girl laughed.

“What?” Jack questioned, looking at the building on the street corner.  “I don't believe it.”

“Fantastic Sam's,” Brianna laughed.  “Aunt Sam will love it.”

“It'll go to her head,” Jack groused.

“Babe, there's one in the Springs.  I've seen it,” Daniel pointed out.

Jack just shrugged, not recalling having seen the hair salon in their home city.

“I'm sure she's seen it, Jeff,” Jennifer asserted.

“Yeah, but she'll know we were thinking of her while we were on vacation.“

“Now that's sweet, Bro,” the other teen praised, putting her hand on her brother's shoulder.

“Speaking of sweet,” Jack began anxious to move forward.  “That must be it,” he said as the family crossed the street and reached the shop on the other corner.

“Henry's Candy and Gifts,” David said, looking up at the sign.

The place wasn't a particularly large store, but the aroma of delicious chocolate couldn't be missed.

“Free fudge!” Chenoa called out, seeing the large sign that hung down from the top of the store.

“This is definitely it,” Daniel chuckled as the family headed inside.

====

“Do you have the free fudge?” Little Danny asked eagerly of the woman who was putting some boxes of freshly made chocolate on the shelves.

Chuckling, the woman said, “I sure do.”

“Hi,” Jack greeted.  “Ah, the kids saw the free fudge sign.”

“Sugar high time,” the lady laughed as she headed for the fudge.

“It smells great,” Jack spoke.  “Do you own the place?”

“No, but one of my cousins does.  His father and mother began the business in 1960, and they opened this store in 1976.  Did you notice that clock outside, just around the corner?”  Seeing the nods, the woman continued, “That's dedicated to Nancy, his mother.  She passed on several years ago.”

“Daddy, look!” Jonny exclaimed.  “It's a chocolate fire truck!”

“There's a helmet,” Aislinn pointed out as she looked over at the table of chocolates.

“That's how the business got started.  Paul Henry was a photographer here in town.  He was hired to shoot some pictures for a local chocolate mold maker and was fascinated with the idea of making chocolate like that.  When the job was done, the man gave him some molds to experiment with.  Paul loved it, and he and his wife started selling chocolates, molded into shapes.  We have all kinds,” the woman said, motioning at the tables loaded with all kinds of chocolate treats.

Lulu chuckled as she held up one of the items, saying, “Chocolate pizza.”

“There you go!  Two of my favorites,” Jack replied with a happy expression on his face.  “You wouldn't happen to have chocolate beer, would you?”

====

After enjoying their free pieces of chocolate, the family was taking a look at all of the candy choices the shop offered.

“Sponge candy?” Jonny said with a grimace.  “Does it soak up water?”

“Not exactly,” Daniel answered, his amusement at the question showing in his dimply smile.

“Then what is it?” the oldest Munchkin asked.

“Well, I guess you'd say it's caramelized sugar that's a little bit like molasses.  The center is loaded with milk chocolate, and its texture is crispy at first, but then it ... well, it melts away.  It's actually a little odd.  I mean, it's like two opposing sides being brought together -- the firmness of the outside and the softness of the inside, and it just ... melts out,” Daniel spoke, licking his lips.

Jack couldn't help but notice the dreamy look on his spouse's face.

“It's not just the texture, but the taste of the chocolate and the caramel together. Actually, it's a little hard to describe until you taste it.”

“My husband, the chocolate expert.”

“Can we try some?” Aislinn asked.

“Sponge candy all around,” Daniel chuckled, motioning for the woman to hand each of their children one piece of candy.

“How come we haven't had it before, Daddy?” Lulu inquired as she took possession of her candy treat.

“It's only made in New York,” Daniel answered.  “There are places that sell similar types of candy, calling it Sponge Taffy, Molasses Puffs ...”  He chuckled, “I even had something called Fairy Food once that was supposed to be sponge candy.”  Looking at his lover, he mused, “That was Chicago.”

“I've had it,” Jack admitted.

“Anyway, it's considered a bit of a western New York delicacy.  I think Buffalo likes to claim it originated there, but I don't know,” Daniel added.

“It's different,” Jeff opined as he enjoyed the candy.

“They are kinda spongy, but not squishy,” Jennifer mused.

“I think they're kinda airy,” Brianna added, licking her fingers after imbibing the last of her candy.

“Can we buy some for later?” Jonny questioned with his mouth still full of the chocolate delight.

“And we need to get some for Ricky and Jenny,” Little Danny said.

“And for Mrs. O'Hanlon,” Chenoa added.

“And her cousins,” David suggested.

====

Several minutes later, the Jackson-O'Neills walked out with several bags full of candy.  Looking across the street, they saw a church, the local funeral home, the town's bank, and the building that housed the Alden Advertiser.

“That must be the newspaper office,” Brianna stated.

“Let's take a look,” Jack said, leading the family to the building in question.

On the other side of the street, Jack purchased a copy of the weekly paper, which had been published the previous Thursday, and showed it to the family.

“Remember, this is a much smaller town than Colorado Springs,” Daniel spoke as they reviewed the headlines.

“This is about the size of the sports section,” Jack mused at the paper that was comprised of just thirty pages.

The headlines for the week included stories about a grant having been approved for the local water district, an upcoming band concert, a new change to EMT procedures for the local area, the ongoing Farmers Market during the summer, and the announcement of three births.

“Not exactly earth-shattering,” Jeff chuckled.

“It might be if you live here,” Daniel pointed out, happy when Jeff nodded in awareness.

The family went inside and charmed their way into a quick tour of facility.  In truth, it was a combination of Little Danny's encyclopedia knowledge about printing presses and Aislinn's adorable smile that had convinced the local proprietors to take a few minutes out of their day to show the family how the operation worked.

It also gave the children a chance to ask a couple of questions.

“How come the village is called Alden, but there's a town of Alden, too?” Chenoa asked.  “That's confusing.”

The proprietor smiled and explained, “It can be.  Notice that the town isn't called just Alden, or even Alden Town, but the Town of Alden.  Back in 1823, the Town of Alden was created.”

“Were you brand new?” David inquired.

“No.  We were part of the Town of Clarence.  Back then, townships were forming and splitting all the time.  In fact, just thirty years later, a part of our town separated from us and became the Town of Marilla in 1853.”

“The town doesn't look very big,” Brianna commented.

“The Town of Alden is less than thirty-five square miles and has a population of under eleven-thousand.”
 
“But what about the village of Alden?” Little Danny asked.

“We're much smaller, not even three square miles and with a population that is less than three thousand people.”

“So you're not part of the Town of Alden?” David queried.

The man answered, “Not since 1856 when we incorporated and became Alden Village.”

“I still think it's still confusing,” Chenoa sighed.

“It's politics, Noa,” Daniel tried to explain.

“Daddy, I don't think I like politics.”

The adults chuckled as their tour and questions continued.

“Have you always been a newspaper man?” Jonny asked.

“It's been in our family for three generations.  We're very proud of it,” the man answered.

Soon it was time for the family to head back to the historical society.

====

“Hello again,” Lisa greeted when the family arrived back at the museum.  “I see you found Henry's.”

“Sponge candy is good,” Little Danny opined with a grin.

“Is that our tour guide?” Jack asked humorously, noticing, as had the rest of the family, that Lisa had a dog with her.

“Hardly,” Lisa laughed.  “This is Lady.”

“Where's Tramp?” Jack joked, not terribly surprised when the only response was his husband rolling his eyes.

“Can we pet her?”

“Sure.  She'll love it,” Lisa said, laughing as the younger children quickly knelt down and began playing with the dog.

“What kind of dog is she?” Jeff questioned as he looked down at the canine that weighed about twenty-five pounds and was mainly black, but with tan coloring on her belly and part of her face.

“Now that's a good question.  Not even the vet has been willing to tackle that,” Lisa mused.

“I love her ears,” Aislinn giggled as she ran her fingers along the floppy ears that looked almost like feathers.

“Shepherds have brown coloring like this,” Little Danny noted.

“But she's too tiny, Little Danny,” Jonny refuted.

“That doesn't mean she isn't part shepherd,” the middle Munchkin insisted.


Jonny laughed as he ignored the issue and asked, “Lady, can I use your tail to clean my hand?”

“Geez, it does look like a feather duster,” Lisa laughed as the children played with the happy dog.  A few seconds later, she looked at the parents and said, “The curator is just opening things up.  She'll be right out.”

“Thank you for arranging this,” Daniel spoke.

“No problem.  I love history.”

“Me, too,” Little Danny said as he looked up.  “It's fun to learn about places.”

All of a sudden, JD began to cry.  Daniel picked up the baby, attempting to  comfort him as he checked the warmth of JD's skin.

“Jack, I think he has a fever,” Daniel said.

“Maybe, but let's not overreact,” Jack replied, feeling JD's forehead.

“Look, why don't you stay here and take the children on the tour, and I'll take JD back to the house.”

“Is he okay?” Lulu asked with concern.

“He probably just needs a good nap,” Daniel assured.

A couple of minutes later, the curator appeared and, after introductions were made, led Jack and the children inside, showing them the many historic wonders that were on hand.

====

Meanwhile, just as the majority of the Jackson-O'Neill family was going inside, Lisa asked, “Daniel, do you mind if we walk with you?”

“Not at all,” Daniel answered, making sure JD was snug in the stroller before beginning to head back for the house.  “You said you like history?”

“American history is my specialty, but I dabble in Irish history, too.”

“Oh, well, Jack is part Irish.  He'll get a kick out of that,” Daniel spoke.  “I'm a bit of a history buff, too.”

“It's the little things that really pull me in, like the name Alden,” Lisa began.  Seeing the man's curious look, she continued, “When this new town was born, one of the founders, Seth Estabrook, said that the town was as small and as sweet as his mother-in-law, who was a lineal descendant of John and Priscilla Alden.”

“The Mayflower,” Daniel surmised.

“Yes and ...”

JD's cry interrupted the conversation as the concerned father stopped and began to go to the front of the stroller to check on the boy, but Lady beat him to it, wagging her tail and smiling at the upset infant.

Instantly, JD's sobs stopped and little spouts of laughter broke out as he watched Lady dance around a little and then give him a big, sloppy kiss.

“I hope you don't mind,” Lisa said, concerned her pet may have overstepped the boundaries of acceptable dog-baby behavior.

“Animals can be the best medicine,” Daniel said as he touched JD's forehead and determining that nothing had changed.  ~I think he's just tired.~

“Uh, please, go on with what you were saying,” the father requested, again stepping behind the stroller and pushing it.

“Where was I?”

“The Mayflower,” Daniel reminded.

Nodding, Lisa continued, “When the early settlers of Alden realized the town had been named after someone's grandmother, for quite a while they referred to Alden as 'Grannytown'.”  With a chuckle, she added, “In fact, the newsletter for the historical society is called 'The Grannytown Gazette'.”

Daniel was about to reply, but the woman's voice continued on, so he just smiled and listened.  In fact, she continued on for about six minutes, all about Alden, the Mayflower, and the pilgrims.  She clearly knew her history.

“This is where we're staying,” Daniel interrupted.

“Oh, I babbled, didn't I?”  Lisa laughed, rolling her eyes, and letting out a sigh.  “My friends tell me I'm a babbler.  Give me a topic, and I can babble on for hours.”

The archaeologist smiled and revealed, “Jack calls it prattling, and I'm pretty good at doing that myself.”  After a pause, he asked, “Would you like to come in?”

“No, thank you.  Lady needs her exercise.  Um, there's a special band concert over at Fireman's Park tonight.  It starts at six.  Your family is welcome.”

“Where is that?”

“Oh, just walk back up to Broadway, and turn left,” Lisa answered, twisting around and pointing back in the direction the two had just come from.  “It's a small, triangular park.  Nothing fancy, really, just a few small grills and picnic tables and a couple of stone and wood benches, but it's where our bandstand is.  It's cozy.”

“Thanks for the invitation, and thank you again for arranging the tour.”

“It was good to meet you, Daniel,” Lisa said.  Smiling, she said, “Lady, let's run.”

Watching as the woman and her dog jogged down the street, Daniel reached into the stroller and picked up his son, saying, “She's a nice woman, JD.  I bet she'd be fun to talk to when you're feeling better.”  Giving the boy a kiss on the forehead, he said, “We'd better get you inside.”

====

“Ricky, me boy,” Molly laughed as Daniel and JD entered the home.

“Wha...Ricky, what are you doing?” Daniel asked.

“Mrs. O'Hanlon was teaching me to sew because I had a loose button,” Ricky answered.

“And I'm helping,” Jenny added.

“I'm afraid the sweet things got a wee bit carried away, Daniel,” Molly laughed.

Ricky and Jenny had worked together to sew Molly's sleeve to Ricky's shirt.

“I can fix it, if you'll just remove your shirt.  Don't be shy now,” Molly urged the young boy.

“Where's Dad and the brood?” Jenny called out.

“They're at a museum.  I brought JD home to take a little nap,” Daniel stated.  “I'm going to make sure he gets to sleep okay.  Excuse me.”

“We need some work on our tailoring skills,” Molly teased the twins.

“What's a tailor?” the boy asked.

“One who sews.”

“Like Jen!” Jenny said excitedly.

“I can be the best tailor in the whole, wide world,” Ricky claimed.  “'Cept I'm gonna be a fireman, or maybe an architect, or a baseball player, or ...”

“He doesn't know what he wants to be,” Jenny chuckled.

“But I could be a tailor, if I wanted to,” Ricky maintained.

“You'd be as brave as the sprightly tailor, I'm sure.”

“The who?” the twins asked at the same time.

“What's sprightly?” the boy asked.

“You mean, you've never heard of the sprightly tailor?” Molly asked, acting shocked as Ricky finally removed his shirt and handed it to her.  “Well, first, sprightly means full of energy; vibrant.  Now then, back in Ireland, the sprightly tailor was employed by the great Macdonald, in his castle at Saddell, in order to make the laird a pair of trews.”

“What are those?” Jenny asked.

“Trews were like jumpers, a vest and your breeches in one.  Very comfortable, they were, and easy on the body when walking or dancing.  So, Macdonald challenged the tailor to make the trews by night in the graveyard next to the church.  If he did, he'd get a handsome reward.”

“Ewww,” Jenny said with a grimace.

“In a graveyard?” Ricky asked with wide eyes.

Nodding while she sewed, Molly continued, “But legend said the church was haunted, ghosts everywhere.  Mmmm,” she shivered, “It was said that terrible fearsome things were to be seen there at night.”

Ricky and Jenny moved closer to each other as Molly continued her tale.

“The tailor knew the stories, but he, being a sprightly man, accepted the challenge, wanting the extra reward for his sewing.  So, when the night came, and all was quiet, the tailor went up the glen, about half a mile distance from the castle where the great Macdonald lived, till he came to the old church.  He found a gravestone that fancied him and sat down.  He lit a candle to work by, put on his thimble, and set to work.  His mind was full about the reward, and his fingers working nimbly to complete his task.”

Suddenly, Molly startled, causing the twins to jump and look all around.

“Must have been my imagination,” Molly stated without further explanation.  “For quite a while, the tailor went 'bout his business.  Then, all of a sudden, he felt the floor tremble under his feet.  Looking about him, but keeping his fingers at work, he saw the appearance of a great human head rising up through the stone pavement of the church; and when the head had risen above the surface, there came from it a great, great voice that asked, 'Do you see this great head of mine?'”

“Oh,” Jenny whispered, raising her right hand to her mouth.

Molly smiled and said, “The tailor answered that he could see, but he was going to keep sewing, and he did.  Every time the spirit rose a bit further, he'd ask if the tailor could see, and the tailor would answer that he could, but that he was going to keep on sewing.  'I see, but I'll sew this,' he said, over and over again.”

“What happened?” Ricky asked with a bit of trepidation in his tone.

“The spirit, he kept risin' on up,” Molly answered.  “His head, his neck, a great pair of arms that he put right in front of the tailor's face, rose above the ground. The tailor was so brave and absolutely determined to finish his sewing to win the reward.  He sewed hard and fast and made long, long stitches to make the trews, but the spirit rose even higher.”

The children gasped, and Ricky took Jenny's hand in his.

“The spirit lifted out a great leg and, stamping with it upon the pavement, asked in a roaring voice, 'Do you see this great leg of mine?'”

The children were totally engaged in the story, not seeing Daniel smiling in the doorway.

“'Aye, aye, I see that, but I'll sew this!' cried the tailor.  His fingers flew with the needle, and he took such long stitches that he had just come to the end of the trews when the ghostly creature began taking up its other leg.”

“Did the ghost get the tailor?” Ricky asked with a quaking voice.

“Well, the story goes that he finished his task, blew out his candle, and sprang with the youth of a child from the gravestone.  He ran and ran, his feet going as fast as he could.  Behind him, he heard the great thud of the spirit as he stamped with both of his feet onto the pavement.  He roared, sounding mightier than any lion or creature ever known to mankind, he did.  Then that spirit hurried after the sprightly tailor.”

“Oh, my,” Jenny said fearfully.

“Down the glen they ran, faster than the stream when the flood rides it.  The tailor did not want to lose the reward.  He ignored the spirit's roar to stop and ran and ran and ran, holding his trews tightly to his vest.”

Ricky and Jenny gasped again and then grabbed each other tightly.

“He didn't stop until he had reached Saddell Castle,” the woman spoke.  “He had no sooner gone inside the gate and shut it, than the apparition came up to it.  Oh, that was one unhappy spirit.  He struck the wall with all his might, leaving a mark of his five great fingers.  Ye may see them plainly to this day, if ye'll only peer close enough.”

“What about the tailor?” Jenny asked.

Smiling, Molly answered, “He gained his reward.  Macdonald paid him handsomely for the trews and never discovered that a few of the stitches were somewhat long because of the tailor's worry.”  Holding up Ricky's shirt, she said, “There we go.  Good as gold.”

Releasing his sister, Ricky retrieved his shirt and put it back on, saying, “I could do that.  I wouldn't be afraid of that old spirit, either.”

“Boo!”

“What?” Ricky said, jumping.  “Jennnnny!” he whined.

The little redhead giggled as she stood up and hugged Molly while speaking, “Thank you for telling us the story.”

“You're welcome, Sweetness.”

“JD's asleep,” Daniel said as he walked in.  “You're a great storyteller, Molly.”

“I learned from the best, my gran-da,” Molly announced.  “Would you be a good sport, and help me with the dinner?”

“Love to,” Daniel agreed.

====

Later that evening, Molly accompanied Jack and the brood to the concert in the park.  Daniel stayed at the house with JD and the beagles.  As a precaution, they'd called their pediatrician, Doctor Sylvia Preston, and it was decided that JD was just a little tired.  His slight fever, having never risen more than a degree above the norm, had gone.  Sylvia reminded the concerned parents that they were in the middle of a long, hectic trip, and it was bound to affect their youngest child a little bit.  She was equally confident JD would be his normal self in the morning.

At the park, Lisa saw the family and came over to chat for a bit.  She was pleased to meet Molly and talk a bit of Irish history with her.  Somewhere along the line, after a brief discussion about the fairytale Molly had told the twins that afternoon, the conversation had turned to folklore and mythology.

“Daddy says that Dad thinks mythology is nothing but rumors, lies, and fairytales,” Brianna stated.

“I'll never live that down,” Jack groaned, shaking his head.  Looking at Lisa, he said, “That was years ago, and we were in the middle of an argument.”

“How do you know the difference between something that's a folk tale and something that's a myth?” the tomboy questioned Lisa.

“A myth has to follow certain guidelines.”

“Rules for a myth?” Jack chuckled.

Nodding, Lisa said, “Yeah.  There has to be some kind of supernatural being.  Some folks might say that's defining this as a religious element, but it just has to be something supernatural; it will explain how something came to be or why something exists; it ...”

Jack chuckled inwardly as Lisa continued her impromptu lesson on mythology.  He loved that the children were all paying attention and learning, but he could tell she was a prattler.

“Okay, but what's the difference between a myth and a legend?” Aislinn asked after the mythology discussion had settled.

“A legend is usually based on both fact and fiction.  It's usually regarded to be true, but it's probably got an equal amount of fiction in it as it does in truth.  Um, King Arthur is a good example.  Most historians believe that while King Arthur is fictional, the legend of Arthur and his round table are based in fact.  I actually wrote a paper on Arthur in college.”

Jack coughed, not wanting to think about King Arthur's legend.  He'd met part of that legend, sort of, and didn't really want to talk about it right now.

“That band is great,” the general commented, dramatically shifting the conversation.

====

“And it's by the high school?” Jack questioned Lisa after the concert had ended.

Lisa nodded and elaborated, “Alden Memorial Park has a small skate park, a couple basketball hoops, a baseball diamond, and an open area at the front of the park for football or just playing towards the front of the park.  Further back, there's a more tree-laced area, which is where the kiddie pool is.  It's pretty small, only about four feet deep, but there are pavilions with picnic tables and larger grills that you can use.”

“Are there swings there?” Jenny asked eagerly.

“Yes, and slides, a sandbox, and a really neat fort.”

“A fort?” Jonny questioned.  “We wanna go there for sure, don't we, Little Danny?”

“We can play cowboys and Indians,” the middle Munchkin added.

“It sounds fun,” Jack opined.

“We like it.  Oh, you'd probably enjoy the nature trail, too.  In fact, a sled ramp takes you right down to it.”  Lisa glanced at her watch and let out a little sigh.  “Sorry, but I really have to go meet a friend.  I hope you enjoy your visit, and maybe I'll see you again.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Jack spoke.  “Kids, we need to go, too.”

“Bye!” the children said, waving at Lisa.

“Bye!” Lisa responded.

“Don't forget!” Little Danny called out.

“I won't.  I'll email you my Arthur essay when I get home,” Lisa promised, waving and watching the family walk away.

“She's nice,” Little Danny said to his siblings.

“I'm glad we came here,” Jonny said.

Suddenly, the oldest Munchkin walked over to Chenoa and gave her a little kiss on the cheek.

Giggling, Chenoa asked, “What's that for, Jonny?”

“For being brave, and because you're my sister,” Jonny said before hurrying over to walk by his Munchkin brother.

Chenoa giggled some more, and Jack grinned from the action.  Jonny wasn't that overt very often, but this was a good time for it, and Jack couldn't be prouder.  He couldn't wait to tell his lover about it, too.

====

“Jen, will ya put a knob of butter in the skillet for me?” Molly asked as several of the brood were up early to help with breakfast.

“Knob?  How much is a knob?” the teenager asked.

“A knob's a door handle, Mrs. O'Hanlon,” Jonny said in a correcting tone.

“Maybe she means a teaspoon,” Brianna guessed.

Molly laughed, “A couple of tablespoons would be about right.”

“Then why didn't you say so?” the confused oldest Munchkin asked.

“Mister Tiny One,” Molly began, trying not to laugh at the boy's grimace from her nickname, “not everything needs to be so precise.  Individuality and creativity is what makes cookin' so grand.  Cook with your heart, not with your head.”

Jonny stared at the woman, taking in the words.

“She means sometimes a knob can be two tablespoons and sometimes it's just one.  It depends on how we like it or what we want our food to taste like,” Little Danny explained to his brother.

“I know that,” Jonny said, sounding very much like his older father.

“I never even knew there was Irish butter,” Jennifer spoke as she added the butter to the skillet.

“That there is,” Molly said.  “It's a much different taste than using cooking oil.”

“What can I do?” Lulu asked.

“You can help me with the bacon.  Pull apart all the slices and put them very carefully into the skillet.”  Molly looked over at Jennifer and said, “Don't Americanize the bacon, Lassie.”

“Huh?”

“Cook the bacon, but don't overcook it.”

“She means don't charcoal the bacon the way Dad does the steaks,” David quipped, responding in laughter from everyone in the kitchen.

“We want it tender and soft, so you can really taste the juice of the bacon, not crispy so that it's dried out.”

Jennifer was careful to make sure Lulu didn't burn herself as she put the bacon in the large skillet, and then she double-checked to make sure the heat wasn't any higher than medium.
 
As they chatted, Brianna and Chenoa helped to get out all of the breakfast dishes and then put four plates in the oven warmer.  When the bacon was done, they put the bacon on one of the plates, placing a paper towel on the plate to absorb excess fat from the bacon.

“What's next, Mrs. O'Hanlon?” Aislinn asked.

“You know something, Sweetness?  How about all of you call me 'Molly'?  We know each other too well now for all that formal gibberish.”

Aislinn smiled and asked again, “What's next, Molly?”

“It's time for sausages,” Molly answered, handing the packages of Irish sausage to the youngest Munchkin to open and then take over to Jennifer to put in the skillet and cook.  When they were golden brown, she said, “Brianna, these need to go on the second warming plate in the oven.”

“Okay,” the tomboy acknowledged.  “Have you always liked to cook, Molly?”

“Oh, yes.  It's tradition in my part of the world.  I've always enjoyed it.  My late husband loved my cookin'.  I made sure he ate hearty every day of his life, bless his soul,” Molly sighed as she got lost in a brief moment of sadness from missing her soulmate in life.  As she emptied a can of beans into a small saucepan, she smiled recalling their wedding.  “We had the most beautiful wedding, up on the knoll overlooking the valley.  It was a beautiful morning, the day after a rain.  A rainbow was overhead, its colors of pink and gold shining down on us.  We were blessed by that rainbow,” she sighed quietly as she placed the pot on low heat.

“What was your wedding like?” Jennifer asked curiously.

“Nothing fanciful.  I wore my ma's wedding dress and a bouquet with my lucky horseshoe in it.”

“Horseshoe?” Brianna asked in disbelief.

“Yes, a real horseshoe, and I carried it upside down so the luck wouldn't run out.” Molly smiled and said, “It kept us in luck our entire marriage.  The luck didn't run out, until he died.”

Little Danny ran over and gave Molly a big hug.

“Aw, I'm sorry if I made you sad,” Molly spoke, hearing a tiny sniffle from the sensitive youngster.  “We had a good life, and I have a good life now.  Don't you fret,” she said, patting the boy's back.  “David, can you help your brother slice some white pudding for me?”  She looked back at the middle Munchkin and asked, “Are you a big enough boy to do that?”

“How do you slice pudding?” Little Danny asked with a frown.

“It's not a liquid pudding, Lad.  It's another kind of sausage,” Molly answered as she handed the sausage to the boy.  “This has sugar, oats, and shredded pork in it.”

“Oh,” Little Danny commented as he walked over to the table with the sausage.

“Then why don't they call it sausage?” Jonny asked, frustrated by all the strange words that didn't sound like what they meant.

“Diapers,” Molly muttered teasingly, chuckling when Jonny squirmed and walked over by Aislinn.

With Jennifer's nod, Brianna also walked over to supervise the procedure.

“Tell us more about your wedding, Molly,” Aislinn requested.

While she cut tomatoes into quarters and placed them in the pan where the cut white pudding would go, Molly replied, “We did all the traditional things.  Our folks were there and a few friends.  I could smell the wildflowers in my hair as we faced each other and the herbs of the bouquet that matched.  We danced; oh, did we dance.  Of course, I made sure both my feet were on the ground at all times.”

“While dancing?” Chenoa asked, wondering how or why anyone would do that.

“Otherwise, the fairies might get the upper hand, and that just wouldn't be right.”

“Like the tooth fairy?” Aislinn asked.

Molly smiled, “In a way.”  For several minutes, Molly talked more about her wedding ceremony.  She concluded, “After the ceremony, my husband tossed coins into the crowd for good luck.  It was a very beautiful day.”

“Molly, I think this done,” Jennifer called out.

The woman walked over to observe the mixture of tomatoes, pudding, and boiled potatoes that had been cooked.  With a nod, Molly got out one of the unused hot plates and held it as Jennifer put the foods on it.  Then the plate was returned to the warmer.

“Your wedding sounds so memorable and beautiful,” the teenager sighed longingly.

“It was; oh, it was that.”

Finally, Brianna fried some eggs, while Jennifer grated some Dubliner cheese and sprinkled it onto the eggs.

“Aislinn, Darlin', will you let the others know, breakfast is ready,” Molly requested.  “David, if you'll get the Irish tea, we'll be ready to serve.”

====

“Wow!” Daniel expressed when his plate was served by Jennifer.

“Molly says it's a traditional Irish breakfast,” Jennifer spoke.

Jack stared at his plate of bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, beans, brown bread, and white pudding and said, “It sure looks like it.”


“I don't think I can eat it all,” Little Danny commented.

“I can,” Jonny said, licking his chops, causing everyone to laugh.

“How's JD this mornin'?” Molly asked, walking over and giving the baby a kiss.

“He's fine,” Daniel spoke happily.

“This is gonna be great,” Jack opined enthusiastically as he began to eat.  He closed his eyes as he took his first bite.  “Home, sweet Ireland.”

====

Molly had already said her good-byes to the Munchkins, Spitfires, and Mavericks, all of whom were already in the RV, as were the beagles and JD.

“Molly, I know you're tired of hearing it, but thank you,” Jennifer said emotionally, hugging the woman.

“You'll live a wonderful life, Lass.  If I helped in the least little way, you're welcome,” Molly said with a smile.

David hugged the woman tightly, said, “I love you,” and ran into the RV, hoping to keep Molly from seeing his tears.

“He appreciates all you've done, too,” Jennifer said, a tear falling as Chenoa walked up to Molly.

Molly kneeled down and placed her hands on the sides of Chenoa's head.  She looked deeply into the little girl's eyes and then placed kisses on each of her cheeks.

“Be well, Beautiful Dove,” Molly expressed tenderly as she took Chenoa into her arms.  “I know you're scared about New York City, but one day, you'll be brave enough to face those demons that are there.  Nothing will ever defeat you, Chenoa -- nothing.”

“I love you, Molly,” Chenoa sniffled as the hug continued.

“Precious, sweet precious,” Molly whispered as the embrace ended.  “Thank you for letting me see how beautiful you've all become.  I love you all.”

With a grin, Chenoa hugged Molly again and then ran into Jennifer's arms, unable to hide her tears from the joyful but sad parting.

With Jack's nod, Jennifer picked up her sister and headed for the RV, leaving just Jack and Daniel with their friend.

“Aw,” Molly said, cocking her head slightly as she saw a tear running down Daniel's cheek.  She took him into her arms and said, “You're one of the dearest men I know.”

“Thank you, Molly.  Thank you for the Mouseketeers.  Gawd, I'm sorry,” Daniel said, realizing that now he had multiple tears running down his face.  He hugged her close, fully aware he would probably never see this wonderful woman again.  He loved her so much and was so thankful for the impact she'd had on his life.  “I love you, Molly,” he barely got out, his voice cracking as he spoke.

Molly couldn't speak, not even when the two parted, especially since just a second later, Jack was holding her, burying his chin against her neck.

“You're the tops, Molly.  You changed our lives in nothing but a good way.  We thank you so much for that.  *I* thank you, and I love you, too.”

“Now, now, now.  What's with all these tears?” Molly asked when the hug ended.

The problem was, all three were holding hands, and all three were crying.  All three knew the odds were against them seeing each other again, and that was the fact that was tearing at their souls.

“Crap,” Jack finally said, looking down.  “Okay, forget this morbidity,” he said sternly.  “Molly, you've got another thirty years, if I've got a day.  We're coming for a visit, and you're going to be there to welcome us and cook the brood every traditional Irish meal there is out there.”

“I love a man full of blarney,” Molly mused, leaning forward and giving Jack a kiss.  “I love you.”  She repeated the process with Daniel, saying, “I love you, and thank you both for enriching this old woman's life.”

“We're coming for a visit, and you'd better be there,” Jack threatened.

Molly nodded and then said, “Go on now.  Your children are waiting.”

The still-crying parents nodded and slowly backed away, stopping at the door of their RV to look back and wave.  Seeing the woman's tearful, but bright and smiling face and her gentle wave goodbye, Jack and Daniel got into the vehicle.

“Jeff, drive,” Jack said, knowing he and Daniel were both too emotional to maneuver the motor home safely at the moment .

“Where to?”  While Jeff was aware of the fact that he was only being asked to drive the motor home because his parents were unable to at the moment, he was also secretly thrilled at the trust his parents had placed in him.  ~I love driving Betsy.~

“Anywhere west,” Daniel answered as he walked back to join the brood.  He smiled at them and attempted to explain, “We're just a little emotional right now.”

With the children waving out the window one last time and then settling into their seats, Jeff drove the RV away from the Alden Village and westward as directed.  In the living area, the children were quiet, some silently guessing at the reason for the sadness, though the younger ones were a bit confused.  Jack and Daniel sat together, their hands joined and both unafraid for their children to see their tears.

Suddenly, Aislinn began to hum.  It was a familiar tune.  Jack had sung it to all the children ever since they were babies, and they'd seen the movie that had made it famous in America.  Not only that, but just last night, Molly had sung the tune to the younger ones as they'd gone to sleep.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, sighing as they let go of their sadness with soft smiles.  They looked over at their daughter with the light and airy voice that sounded like that of an angel.

Softly, Aislinn began to sing:

Over in Killarney,
Many years ago,
Me mither sang a song to me
In tones so sweet and low.

One by one, the brood joined in, their voices soft at first and then growing in strength.

Just a simple little ditty,
In her good ould Irish way,
And I'd give the world if she could sing
That song to me this day.

Taking a deep breath, Daniel began to sing the chorus.  By the time it was done, Jack was singing as well.

Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral,
Too-ra-loo-ra-li,
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral,
Hush, now don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral,
Too-ra-loo-ra-li,
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral,
That's an Irish lullaby.

Jack and Daniel trailed off, letting Aislinn lead her siblings in the second verse.

Oft, in dreams I wander
To that cot again,
I feel her arms a huggin' me
As when she held me then.

**Jack ...**

**I know, Angel,** Jack replied, knowing there was really nothing they could say.  They had hopes of seeing Molly again, but neither really knew if they would.  **I love you.**

**I love you, too.**

And I hear her voice a hummin'
To me as in days or yore,
When she used to rock me fast asleep
Outside the cabin door.

====

The family was out of New York State now and had stopped for lunch.  Things had still been a bit subdued.  In fact, this had been their quietest morning aboard Betsy since they'd left Colorado Springs.  Finally, Jack and Daniel sat their brood down for a chat.

“We're sorry,” Daniel said.  “It's just ... we love Molly so much, and seeing her again reminded us of what a wonderful person she is.”

“We're missing her,” Jack added.  “We're us, the brood, in large part because of Molly O'Hanlon.”

“We won't forget her, Dad, not ever,” Jennifer spoke, brushing back a tear.

“Okay, enough of feeling sad.  We had a wonderful visit with Molly,” Daniel said, regrouping.  “Noa, thank you for being so brave.  Now, what's next?”

It took a couple of minutes to rev up the brood, but once they were in full gear, they were chattering up a storm, except for David, who had gone into his parents' bedroom to be alone.  With the teenagers watching their siblings, Jack and Daniel walked in and sat down on their bed, one on either side of David, just waiting until the boy decided to share his thoughts.

“When Mommy and Daddy died,” David suddenly began, “that first night at the shelter, I had nightmares.  Jen was with Noa.  I couldn't stay with her because I'm a boy.”

As David sniffled, Jack and Daniel listened, not interfering, but just rubbing his arm and foot gently.

“Molly came in and sat with me for a long, long time, and then she said she was scared and needed company.  We played card games or sometimes watched a movie.  I never told Jen, and she never did, either, because I didn't want her to tell Jen what a scaredy cat I was.  I remember her doing that.  When she held me, I pretended she was Mommy,” David cried unabashedly.  He lunged upwards into Jack's arms, since he was the easiest to get to, and cried, “We're never going to see her again, are we?”

Daniel rubbed the boy's back as Jack held him securely.

“I don't know, Son,” Jack answered.

“But we're going to try,” Daniel added.  “No promises, but we're hoping that one day, we will.”

“Molly sat with me for weeks before I could finally sleep without crying and having nightmares.”

“Molly's a wonderful woman.  She loves you,” Daniel said softly.

“I wish I could have said something more, but it hurt to say good-bye to her,” David admitted.  “I want to see her again.”

“Me, too,” Chenoa said from the doorway.

“Me, three,” Jennifer admitted, suddenly appearing in the doorway.

Jack and Daniel looked at each other, trying to figure out what to say, when they heard several voices, all talking at the same time, saying things about wanting to spend more time with Molly.

“Dad, Daddy, who says we had to leave today?” Jennifer questioned.

“Molly said we could stay longer.  We could have met her relatives,” Jeff added.

“They're family,” Little Danny said.

“Jack?”

“They probably have plans,” Jack said.

“No, they don't,” Jonny announced.

“Molly told me that they were just going to play this week.  She said next week they're going someplace.”

“To ... I forget,” Jenny admitted, though she quickly added, “But she told me she wished we were staying longer.”

As the brood spoke, Jack broke out in a grin and stood up, saying enthusiastically, “Brood, let's roll!  It's back to Alden Village.”

“Noa?” Daniel asked.

“Daddy, don't you know that Alden Village is a long, long, long, long, *long* way from that bad New York City?” Chenoa asked almost as if chastising her younger father.

“Let's go!”

With cheers all around, the Jackson-O'Neills headed back to Alden Village, surprising a very happy Molly with their presence.  Their final farewell a few days later would be equally as tearful as today's was, but it would be also much more cheerful.  Alden's surprise had been a very special gift, one of love and happy remembrances, and of a very special Irish woman who would never be forgotten by Jack, Daniel, and their brood.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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