By Jo


Part 16:


"How far did you guys walk?" Ryan asked, handing Terry a steaming cup of hot tea.


"Down the lake road as far as the fallen snag."  Terry met Ryan's gaze.


"Ah...there.  And how'd that go for you?"


Marshall had gone up to his room where Eden was with Morgan, so he wasn't in the area.  "Ok.  Did a lot of talking."


"It bother him?"


"The pines still do.  Bothers him a lot he didn't recognize what they were."


"He was busy dying at the time.  Seems like enough to handle without worrying about pine trees."


"But they were there, Ryan, and he saw them.  It's hard to get past that, past the not knowing what they were.  He has no

reference point to make the connections a sighted person does.  I try to put myself in his shoes, you know, but I don't have

a reference point for that."


"Luke stirs it up," Ryan sighed.  "Doesn't mean to, but he does."


"It's a hard balance.  Marshall means so much to the boy.  It's easy to see that.  And Marshall helps him deal with what he's got to

face now that his sight is gone.  I just wish..."


"What?  That Marshall hadn't had that experience that night?  That was my doing, you know."


"Nobody blames you for that, Ryan.  It was an accident, pure and simple, an accident."


"I blame me.  I wasn't being careful enough.  I should have..."


"Should have's will never get you anywhere."


"What should have's?"  Connie came into the kitchen, wrapping her arms around Ryan's slender waist.


"My big should have...that I should have been more careful with the sleigh that night."


"What brought that up, sweetheart?"


"Marshall and I just came back from a walk down the lake road," Terry explained.  "When I described the fallen snag,

he knew that was where the sleigh had tipped."


"He's been there since, last year with Eden.  He wanted to go back, wanted to feel the pines."


"He did that again this morning.  I think it bothers him more than anybody realizes."


"Incoming," Ryan alerted when he heard feet on the stairs.


"Hey, Marsh, you want some hot tea like our Aussie here?"


"You have cider?"


Connie looked in the 'fridge.  "We got cider.  I'll heat it up.  You, too, Eden?"


"I'm fine."  She had Morgan perched on her hip. 


Ryan looked at her, his brow cocked.  "They say a woman's hip width has something to do with childbirth but I say a

woman's hips are meant for a baby seat."


"You sayin' I've got wide hips, buster?" Eden mock growled.


"I'm saying what you've got works just fine," he grinned. 


She picked up a grape from a bowl on the table and threw it at him just as Martha came into the kitchen, quickly

bending over and picking it up.  "Sorry about the grape, Martha," Eden said.


"She's just afraid I'll step on it," Marshall chuckled.  "She watches over me like that."


Martha smiled at him.  She considered him a son almost as if she'd given birth to him.  "I like to."


Marshall went to where he could tell she was by the sound of her voice.  "I love you, too."  He kissed her cheek.


"I'm jealous," Ryan announced.  "He got a bigger kiss than I did."


"You didn't get a kiss," Martha chuckled.


"That's what I mean."  He leaned forward, presenting his cheek to his mother.


Martha loved it, loved that Ryan was acting like Marshall was his brother, was so comfortable he could be silly

around him.  She gave him a big, loud smacking kiss.  "Will that do?"


"For now, but watch it when you slice the cake."


"I'll be sure the pieces are the same size."  She patted his shoulder and went to the stove, stirring something she was

making in a big pot. 



After a while Terry motioned Amalie to follow him up to their room.  "Marshall suggested we come to Pittsburgh in

the spring for a visit.  I wanted to ask you what you thought of the idea."


"Terry, I've seen from the beginning there in Tuscany what he means to you and what you mean to him.  I think it's a

great idea.  I can bring some of my cover projects with me and it'll all be fine.  What about you? You want to go?"


"I do.  There's just this pull I have toward him.  Hard to put in words but he makes me think about things I never

have before, makes me appreciate all the simple things in life in new ways."


"Like me?"


He laughed.  "You are so far from simple, Amalie."


"But you like that about me."


"Very much."  He bent down and kissed her.  "And you have chocolate hair," he added.  "Very, very complicated

chocolate hair."  He kissed her hair in several places.





It was generally quieter in the inn now that Christmas was over.  Marshall sat at the parlor piano fingering the keys

as Eden was on the couch, bouncing Morgan on her knees.  After a moment his random notes turned into a melody.


"What's that?" she asked.  "I don't think I know that one."


"I'm making it up as I go along," he said.


"Did I ever tell you you amaze me?"


"Often," he chuckled, "especially when I'm gazing at..."


"Shhh!" she laughed.  "The youth of tomorrow is present."


Ryan and Connie came in just then.  "What's this about the youth?" Ryan asked.


"I was censored for morality's sake."


"You?"  Ryan let out a loud laugh.


"He was," Eden said.  "I was merely protecting Morgan's innocence."


"Good thing.  Marshall's such a corrupting influence on the young."  Ryan plopped into a big armchair, patting his lap

for Connie to sit.  "What was that song?  That's what drew me in.  I didn't recognize it."


Marshall played it again.  "Just making it up."


"Needs words.  You got words?"


"He's right, darling," Eden agreed.  "It's a lovely melody.  Can you think of something to go with it?"


He played a few variations on the melody while he thought, then softly began to sing about the snow and coming in to sit

by the fireplace.  He stopped and turned on the bench.  "Terry explained fire to me this morning."


"How'd he do that?" Ryan asked.


"Feathers.  He explained how flames are like feathers, only in motion, hot and dancing."


Ryan nuzzled Connie's ear.  "I've been hot when I've danced with you."


Connie laughed.  "And you worried about Marshall corrupting the young!"


"What's Marshall corrupting?"  Terry and Amalie joined them.


"He's not.  Ryan is," Connie said.


"Somebody's gotta do it," Ryan added, going after Connie's ear again.


"And you've had so much practice," she giggled.


Terry smiled at them.  For a long while he'd seemed like a fifth wheel with these two couples.  His hand sought Amalie's.

No more.  "Amalie and I talked it over, Marshall.  And she likes the idea of coming to Pittsburgh in the spring."


"Hey, great!" Ryan said.  "It'll be just like Tuscany."


Only Marshall won't be fading away before my eyes from liver failure,  Eden thought.  "I really like the idea," is what she

said.  The six of them got along splendidly.


"Spring is good," Connie nodded.  "We can do lots of outdoor stuff."


"Like getting Marshall to bungee jump off the West End Bridge."


Connie gave Ryan a piercing look that clearly said Don't joke about things like that in front of Eden.  Eden saw it and

knew exactly what Connie was trying to convey.  Sometimes she got tired of being the one everybody felt they had to

tiptoe around.  She knew it was her fault, but still...


"Wouldn't that be a sight," she said, surprising them all.  Marshall seemed the most surprised of all by her remark

but said nothing.  "But I doubt they really let you.  I mean with all those barges passing under the bridge, you'd go

splat on a mound of coal."  But then a shiver went through her.  It was too easy to picture Marshall splattered on a

mound of coal.


Terry realized what Eden was trying to do, to enter into the spirit of joking, but he also saw the shiver.  "I never did

ride the incline when I was there before.  That's something I'd like to do."


"I'm quite the accomplished incline rider," Marshall said.  "Been doing it for years."  He smiled at a memory. "Eden

slept on me the first time we rode it back down Mount Washington."


"On you?" Ryan was sensing an opportunity here.


"Well, against me.  She was tired and pregnant."  Then his face grew serious as he recalled how when they got to her

car in the parking lot below, he wasn't able to drive her home.  Driving, like so many commonly-done things of the

everyday world, was something else he couldn't comprehend the doing of.


Terry frowned at the expression that had come over Marshall's face.  Obviously he was remembering something.  He'd

ask him about it later.  "Play something we can all sing," he suggested.


"All right."  Marshall turned back around on the bench and launched into She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain When

She Comes.  Not an often-heard song anymore, but everyone in the room, not counting Morgan, knew all the words.



The next two days passed much like that.  The younger adults all helped Luke build a snow fort in the front yard.  Then

Marshall announced they had to build snow guards for the fort.


"Snow guards?" Ryan asked.


"Sure, warrior snowmen who'll keep away invading snow armies."


Ryan smacked a mittened hand across his forehead.  "Of COURSE!"


Soon four stalwart snow guards stood in front of the snow fort, each with a branch for a sword.  "Better'n Helm's Deep,"

Ryan announced.


"And colder," Connie added, surreptitiously gathering up a handful of snow and stuffing it down the back of Ryan's collar.


He yelped and grabbed her, flopping with her into a snow drift.  "Help!" she screamed.


Wadsworth barked loudly and hopped around them.  "Save me, Wadsworth!" Connie squealed, succeeding in making

Wadsworth bark even louder. 


Marshall couldn't see it but he laughed, pleased with what he could tell of what was happening.  Eden slipped an arm

through his.  "I love this," she sighed.  " this."


"I love us, too," he said, pressing her arm close to his side.  "I love us very, very much."