Charlie and Claire rolled down the tracks, in the back of the freight train that had kindly allowed them to tag along. Claire was in no condition to be on the rails, and the whole train knew it. She was in the back, in front of the engine that had been pushing from behind, to help keep the engine in front from overworking himself. It was a steam engine, and he seemed deeply concerned about both of the cabooses. He'd explained that he lived in the yard, coming up, and would gladly give them shelter, if they needed it. They'd accepted, grateful for the help.

Claire looked over her shoulder, at the engine. He was older than most engines she'd seen, and had kind, gentle eyes. He looked to be in his mid-forties, and had kind eyes. She was curious. Why had he allowed them to join the train? Why had he offered them shelter? Most engines didn't care a bit for cabooses. In fact, they hardly ever paid any attention to them, at all.

"So… I'm Claire. My boyfriend is Charlie."

"Poppa. I've got a family at home. Belle, and our son, Rusty. Belle's a sleeper, and Rusty's an engine, like me."

"Sounds like you have a nice family… So… Why are you offering us a place to stay…?"

"Can't a fella be nice?"

Claire turned around, as Charlie tapped her on the arm.

"And why are you so curious?" he asked. "Poppa's only trying to do us a favor. Be grateful. The three of us do need a place to stay, after all."

Claire looked down at her swollen stomach, and sighed. Her boyfriend was right. They needed a place to stay, until their child was born, and until they could get enough money to take care of the new life they were bringing into the world. She sighed. She couldn't help it, if she was mistrustful, it was the way she was. She was a caboose, after all.

The cabooses instinctively braked, as the engines began slowing, when they entered the yard. They looked around, and waited for Poppa to finish his work, before they followed him toward a sleeping car that held a tiny, young steam locomotive in her arms. Claire smiled, hoping her child would be just as cute as the one she saw.

"Poppa!"

"Hey, Belle. Hey, kiddo. I want you to meet Charlie and Claire. They sort of need a place to stay, for a while… It okay with you, Belle?"

Belle looked them over, and smiled.

"Of course. We can't leave them out on the rails, with winter coming, can we? Especially not with them expecting a kid."

Claire smiled, and ducked her head. She wasn't embarrassed, only shy. She wasn't used to being around groups of trains, it was usually just her and Charlie, at the back. She was usually in front of him, with him in the back. He was stronger, and it was much easier for them to brake a long train, when he was behind her. Not that she would be working, much, for a while. She was really going to miss being on the rails, after the baby was born.

Belle took her arm, and the group went toward the roundhouse. Her eyes went wide. They were going to stay with the family? She wasn't sure she wanted to spend time with them, until she got to know, them, but they seemed so nice.

"This is just until we get back on our feet."

"Don't worry about it, Charlie," Poppa said. "Stay as long as you need to."

Charlie nodded.

"If you say so… I'm going to start looking for work, tomorrow, though."

"Good idea."

A month passed. Claire seemed to grow larger every day. Soon she needed help even getting out of a chair. She grew to like Belle, and Belle took her under her wing, teaching her to cook, and such, skills she had really needed to work on. She watched Charlie leave for work, every time. Sometimes he and Poppa were gone for days, and she was left with Belle and Rusty. She and Charlie had gotten their own home, but with her being so close to her due date, Charlie and her friends wouldn't hear of her being alone.

The caboose delighted in letting Rusty babble his toddler-talk at her stomach. Belle thought it was absolutely hilarious, and had Claire broadcast it to Charlie and Poppa, one night, as they were on their way back home. The engine and the caboose had become good friends, just as Claire and Belle had. It seemed like everything was wonderful, until a night about two months after the cabooses had come to stay with Poppa and Belle.

Claire awakened, confused. She automatically reached for Charlie, before realizing he was on a run, and would be home in a few hours. She slowly sat up, and called for Belle, as a blast of pain announced what it was that had awakened her. The sleeping car came rushing in.

"What is it, Claire?"

"Belle, the baby…"

"Starlight… Okay, just stay calm, I'm going to call for a repair truck, and tell the trains that stay near the entrance of the yard to watch for Poppa and Charlie. They should be here, soon."

"I hope so…"

Claire was worried about something. She could sense something was wrong. She had no idea what it was, but it was something. Belle glanced at her, and she knew Belle could sense it, too. She let her head drop back to the pillow, and whimpered, as she looked out the window. It was a white out, outside. She knew help might not make it, in time. She prayed it would, because she had a feeling that if it didn't arrive soon, she wouldn't survive the night.

A few hours later, Belle sat, quietly humming, as she placed a cold cloth over Claire's forehead. The caboose wasn't doing well. Belle rushed toward the door, as she heard knocking, and let in the repair truck. She was trying her hardest to keep calm, for Claire's sake. The caboose was obviously in a very bad way, and didn't need to know her friend was stressed out.

"What took so long?" she asked. "I called for you hours ago!"

"I'm sorry!" the repair truck replied, perhaps a bit too tersely. "There's a lot of emergencies! There was a derailing. Charlie and Poppa are in the repair shops, they'll be here as soon as they can… There's a blizzard going on, out there, in case you hadn't noticed, Belle!"

"Of course I noticed! But I've got a close friend here, having a baby! She's not doing too well, either."

"Calm down, Belle… You just go check on Rusty, I'll check on Claire, okay?"

"All right…"

Belle checked on Rusty, and then sat down on the couch, and cried, for a bit. Things weren't looking good, and she knew there was a good chance that she was going to lose her friend. Poppa rolled in, then, having gotten the news. He took one look at Belle, and sat next to her.

"Oh, Poppa…"

"Claire…?"

"I don't know…"

The repair truck rolled out, then, a grim look on his face.

"Belle, please come with me, I need your help. Poppa, make sure Charlie stays out here, things aren't going well…"

"Right," the steamer replied.

Belle followed the repair truck. She managed to regain her composure, and rolled up to Claire. The caboose looked up at her, and smiled weakly.

"Hi, Belle…"

"Hi, Claire…"

Belle gently dabbed the caboose's forehead with a damp cloth, and did what she could, to help the repair truck. Claire's condition didn't improve, and she seemed to be having more and more trouble, with each passing contraction. It took all Belle's willpower, to keep her composure, when the repair truck told Claire it was time to push.

Twenty minutes later, the repair truck set the baby down in Belle's arms, since Claire was too weak to hold him. The sleeping car looked at him, and held him so that his mother could see him.

"Oh, Claire… He's beautiful… He looks just like you…"

"No… He has… He has Charlie's eyes…"

"What are you going to call him?"

"Chatterbox… CB…"

"That's cute, Claire. I like it."

Claire never answered. She was gone. Belle and Poppa broke the news to Charlie. The next morning, the caboose didn't show up to work. He was found, too weeks later, at the foot of a cliff. CB was left in the care of Belle and Poppa.

And thus began his life. The calm before the storm had ended, and the hurricane had begun.