Hey loyal readers! This chapter is in response to a request I had a long time ago. I just couldn't make it happen until it made sense. If you live pretty much anywhere in the eastern half of the United States, you've seen billboards for Bronner's, The World's Largest Christmas Store. (You may even have seen some in the west half as well.) If not, I just want to let you know that this place actually does exist. If you're interested, here's the web site: .

How It Happened

Chapter 27

Grace

Once lunch is finished, my parents offer to clean up so we can help Christian change his clothes. Elliot has already made it up the stairs. I'm sure his shoes are on opposite sides of the room and his pants are on the floor in a heap. Carrick calls to him to put them on his desk chair, neatly, so he can find them later for the picture. We head into Christian's room and I realize he doesn't have any chair to lay the clothes over. I guess we'll just hang them on his bedpost.

He's not undressing, but looking around again. I can see he's taking it all in. "You need to get changed, Christian," I tell him as I pull out some play clothes from the dresser. I hold them out to him, and he walks over to me and looks down at himself as he is. His expression almost conveys that he likes what he's wearing right now. "You need to change so you can play with Elliot. We'll put your dress clothes on the bed for the photo later. Come on. Time to change." I really want to help him, but manage to hold myself back.

He struggles a bit with the sweater but manages to get it over his head without stretching in out too badly. The shirt is more of an issue because of the buttons. His little fingers aren't quite dexterous enough to undo them all. "Little Man…," Carrick offers, "…let me help. I won't touch you. Just the buttons." That's met with two quick steps back. So instead, Carrick demonstrates with his own buttons. As much as Christian's trying, the top button is just too stiff. Carrick motions for Christian to come closer. He doesn't move; he's looking at Carrick as if he's weighing his options, or maybe calculating the risk involved with letting him help. "Come on now. It's just a button. It's OK." He's holding out his hand and letting Christian come to him. I start to think this just may not happen and we'll have to pray he doesn't get that shirt dirty before our appointment with the photographer. Then Elliot comes in to find him.

"You're not changed yet? What's takin' so long?" Christian looks over to his big brother who's much more comfortable in his jeans and t-shirt. "I'm going down to the game room. You comin'?" Christian looks back to Carrick and slowly steps toward him. His expression conveys his deep fear and I can hear his breathing quicken. I see his chest rise and fall as he does. He turns his head away and we hear two small whimpers as Carrick reaches his one hand out to carefully undo the button.

As soon as it's undone, he quickly moves out of Carrick's reach and removes the shirt by himself. His scars are prominent and I can tell he's self-conscious of them as he rolls his shoulders in and moves his arms to cover his chest. I hand him the t-shirt which he puts on as fast as he's able. The pants are much easier for him, and the jeans go on without any issue at all. "Finally. Let's go." Elliot is already heading down the stairs and Christian is right behind.

"No fighting!" I hear Carrick call out. "Just thought I'd be proactive on that one. They are brothers now…" He nonchalantly turns back to me. "Gracie? Baby?" Carrick is in a state of surprise at my emotional state, I'm sure.

"I know it's going to sound strange, Carry, but I'd almost forgotten… I mean, he's had a bath here before and he didn't hide like that… But I guess he didn't have all three of us watching…"

"Maybe one of the kids at the Collier's made a comment about them…." Carry offers.

"Did you hear him almost in a panic, over a button? Do you see why I'm not sure just touching him and letting him deal with it, is the best idea? His fear is not irrational, Carry. It comes from a very real place. Even he knows that."

"OK." Carrick has his arms around me and I melt into his chest. "We have an appointment with Dr. Evans next week. We'll go with her recommendation, alright? We'll do whatever is best for him."

My parents leave, my mother telling me it's time we just start living as a new family. I appreciate her understanding. My father tells me he's very happy for us and to do whatever I need to do for his new grandson. I think my father sees what I see; this whole situation needs attention to details we haven't even thought of yet. Carry actually gets some work done in his office here at home and I… don't know what to do with myself.

The boys are playing downstairs, and I actually have some time to do whatever…. It's odd. There's nothing left. No bedroom to prepare, no dishes left to put away, not even any worrying to do. I don't have the same things filling my mind; I have spent so much time worrying and thinking about Christian not being with us, and it was less than twenty four hours ago that I was told the adoption would be final, so my thoughts were filled with that situation... So right now, I honestly don't know what to do.

I find myself in the living room, sitting on the sofa, almost in a trance. Then I look at the piano. I haven't played for enjoyment since, I can't even recall. I played that night of Christian's meltdown, but that was out of desperation. I could actually play for myself for a change.

I sit on the bench and start playing a piece by some composer. I don't remember who it is. It was actually a recital piece I did when I was about twelve. Out of all the piano recitals I did, it's the only piece I can still play from memory. And it's wonderful! I feel myself smiling and relaxed for what feels like a lifetime. So, I try another. This time I get out some sheet music and play a few pieces from The Nutcracker. We're coming up on the holiday season and it's putting me in the mood.

When I finish the Waltz of the Flowers, I turn and see Christian right beside me. "Oh! Darling! You surprised me." When did he come back upstairs? "Everything OK?" He nods, and I have to smile at that mess of hair. It just goes every which way but where it should. "Is Elliot still downstairs?" Another nod, but he's no longer looking at me. His attention is on the piano keys. I hear Elliot stomping up the stairs and he's calling for Christian. "We're in the living room, Sweetheart!" I call to him.

"What are you doing in here? We were playing pirate ship…" Pirate ship? Was Christian actually pretending? Does he even know what pirates are? My worrying is back but quickly interrupted by the sound of several notes being plunked out on the keyboard. I turn back around and place my fingers in the appropriate place and play a scale. Christian tries and actually does a pretty fair job of using his finger tips and not his whole hand. A switch from our older son's version of playing. Christian's scale is, understandably, missing a few notes and completely off key. He notices his doesn't sound right and makes the most adorable crinkled nose expression.

"Oh! Hey, Mom! Look what I learned when I was at the Kellerman's last week." Elliot reaches over and rolls his fist on the keys, and I'm treated to his less than melodious voice ... "I ripped my pants… I ripped my pants… I ripped my pants…On the fence!" Oh, that was absolutely wonderful! I reach around him for a deep hug.

"So, are you telling me you're ready for lessons, Darling?"

"What?! No way!" His wide and panicked eyes are quite humorous. "I just like that one 'cause it gots ripped pants! I like it when you play stuff. Can you play somethin' funny, too?"

"For you? Of course. Let's see…" I trying to think of a piece he'll find funny and notice Christian hasn't even acknowledged our conversation. He did this last time too. He's continued playing and it's like the piano puts him somewhere else. Maybe that's a good thing. I get out my book of children's songs from the bench. First I find 'Scales and Arpeggios' from the movie The Aristocats. That one's fun and both boys seem to enjoy it. Elliot is stomping around and almost dancing. Christian is still fascinated with my fingers.

Next I play 'Thumbelina' from Hans Christian Anderson. I remember Elliot's Kindergarten class doing that one for Parents' Day last year. He's singing along and even remembers the thumb dance. Christian is looking back and forth between my fingers and Elliot's thumb. I'm not sure he's ever seen his brother dance like this before. There's actually a small smile on his face.

"Do the duck one, Mom!" Elliot squeals. The duck one? Oh yes, The Ugly Duckling. I start playing, but I'm more interested in watching my sons having such a wonderful time! I start singing along and soon Elliot and I are quacking and making faces at each other. Christian doesn't know what to make of me acting like this. I'm sure it's very different from most of his experiences with me. This is the first time since I was called to the E.R. that night that I can have fun and not worry about what happens next! I don't have to leave him, he doesn't have to leave us, everything is final, and hearing Elliot laughing and seeing Christian actually smiling is an absolute joy!

We're pulled out of our reverie by Carrick's applause. "Dad! You didn't see me dancing, did you?" Elliot worries.

"Of course I did, and you were fantastic!" He picks Elliot up in his arms and kisses his cheek. I notice Christian reach over and pull on his sleeve when Carrick does this. "Why would you be worried about me seeing you having fun?"

"'Cause boys aren't supposed to dance." He's beet red and trying to wiggle out of his father's arms.

"That's a load of hooey! Whoever told you that was flat out wrong! You should dance if it makes you happy." He puts Elliot down with another kiss on his head. "And how about you, Little Man? You look…" Christian steps back when Carrick moves toward him. I'm sure he's afraid of being held too. "Well, I was going to say happy." I let Carrick in on Christian's fascination and my hopes that maybe I'll get a piano player yet!

Carrick tells us all it's two o'clock and our appointment at the photography studio is scheduled for five. That means it's time for the boys to get a nap. Personally, I'm thinking a nap now means they'll be up way too late tonight. But he's right; no nap means a meltdown when we're trying to get the photo done.

We walk the boys upstairs listening to Elliot protest that he's too old for a nap, that he's not even tired, that he's not a baby and he's not going to sleep! For once, I'm not too upset that Christian isn't talking yet, or we'd be getting bombarded from both of them, I'm sure.

For a little boy who was not tired, Elliot was out in a relatively short period of time. Christian didn't complain. I know he was still napping in the afternoon at the Collier's, so for him, it's a normal thing.

Carrick and I get to sit down together and have a few moments of just grown-up time. He holds me and I curl up into his arms. After all the piano playing and Elliot's usual noise level, it seems almost too quiet. It's getting a bit unnerving, if I'm honest. "Grace?" Carrick's voice has me immediately on edge. "Can I ask you something, Baby?"

Do I really want him too? I'm feeling really good right now… "Sure… As long as it's not going to upset me. I'm too happy for anything like that." I feel him chuckle more than hear it.

"OK. It's nothing bad. Actually, I was going to ask if you think we could take the boys to Bronner's this year." We wanted to take Elliot last year, but time got away from us as we were getting everything set to visit Dennis in Washington. "It's kind of important to me, but I'm not sure about how big that place is. I think Elliot will be fine, but do you think it will be too overwhelming for Christian?"

'Overwhelming' may be one of the best ways to describe Bronner's. It's the world's largest Christmas store. And by largest I mean it sits on several acres! And I know why he's asking. It was a significant part of his family traditions as a child. His parents took him every year; see Santa, get that year's new ornament, see all the decorated trees... Even when he was a young adult, they all still went together. I remember the first time I went with them. I'd actually never been there and it was amazing! But, yes, it can be incredibly overwhelming. It's crowded and noisy; mostly in a fun-of-the-holiday kind of way, but wow…

"Baby, my parents have been gone a while now. Since… since El was three, I think. And we're heading into our first Christmas with an addition to our family. Can we add this too? I'd like there to be something from the Grey side in our family holiday traditions. I'm just asking your opinion because everything will be new for Christian and I don't want things to be too much."

"Hmm. I bet if we go during the week when there's less people, and maybe even before Thanksgiving, it may be less over-stimulating. Maybe we just have to do it in small chunks. It may be way over the top, or it may be magical!"

I know not having his parents around anymore is tough on Carrick; especially as we head into the holidays. He's an only child, so Elliot and I have been his whole world! I'm so glad we have another person to be in that world too. I can't blame him for wanting such an important part of his memories to become a part of his children's as well. We talk a bit more about how to best do this and decide to give it a try the week of Thanksgiving.

"Carry? Can I ask you something now?"

"Of course, Gracie." He kisses my head. "I think you already have the lion's share of the knowledge where the boys are concerned, but I'll give it my best shot."

"Well, it's not about the boys, really. I was wondering… Remember when we had brunch with my parents and Dennis?" I feel his nod as I continue. "What was eating at you that day? You were almost beside yourself, and the boys were just being boys…" I hear his deep sigh.

"The truth?" I sit up and look at him slightly concerned.

"That would be nice, yes."

"I was upset." He reaches up to run his hands through his hair. He does that when he's frustrated. Uh oh. "We had just had a great evening; telling Christian, taking the boys out, the party was great, Dennis was even there… And I realized that once brunch was over, we still had to take him back to Helen and Ben." He lets out another deep breath. "It made me so mad because we couldn't even really explain to him why… I don't know if you heard that morning, but Elliot didn't know and when I said something about the Collier's he just lost it. 'But we had the party! But we had the party!' He just kept repeating that. Like in his mind, since we had the party, everything was done. I saw how hard this was for him, for you, I knew how hard it was for me… It had to be so confusing for Christian… All the back and forth, back and forth… That poor kid, we don't even know how much of this whole thing he even really gets!"

I reach around his neck for a tight hug. I love this man so much! He's always taking on all the hard stuff. "And instead of just letting you see me upset, I let it get to me and affect my temper. I'm sorry, Baby. That wasn't fair to you, or the boys." I feel another kiss on my head. "But I will add that Dennis talking about 'becoming a Trevelyan' and leaving off Grey, pissed me off."

Now I'm chuckling. That's been a running bit between them since the day I announced I was hyphenating the names. I reach up and kiss him gently. "I love you, Carrick Grey… Emphasis on the Grey."

"I love you too, Grace Trevelyan-Grey… Emphasis on the Trevelyan." We kiss again and I'm leaning on him for a few more moments. "You know, Baby… The boys are asleep and we still have plenty of time before we have to get them up. We could go spend some 'quality time' together upstairs." I can hear an unspoken request in his tone. I stand up and reach for his hand. As we head toward the stairs, I'm certain that "quality time" should involve a locked door.

We got the boys up and dressed for the photograph. I let Carrick take the lead on the buttons as Christian had trouble with them again. It gets so heartbreaking to hear those panicked whimpers and see him turn away. There isn't even any touch, just the thought of it… But when Carrick is done, Christian gets himself into the pants and sweater and through Elliot's grumbling about having to get dressed up twice in one day, we head to the studio.

I know Carrick let the photographer in on everything as he reaches to shake hands with Elliot, but keeps his hands folded for Christian. Carrick and I get assigned where and how to sit, Elliot is standing in between us and the basic idea is for Christian to sit on my lap. Oh what I would give for that, but Christian lets us know it's not happening. We decide to sit Christian between Carrick and Elliot and I stand in the back.

The photographer takes a few shots and we switch to try several other poses and arrangements. After about fifteen minutes, I'm warming up and relaxing more. Carrick is laughing because Elliot has started sharing his six-year-old bodily function jokes. I have to chuckle to myself noting that boys tell those jokes until the day they die; the only difference between little-boy jokes and adult-man jokes are the bodily functions!

Throughout this whole thing, Christian sees us getting more and more relaxed, but that seems to send him the opposite direction. I sense him getting more and more tense and nervous. As Elliot and Carrick are laughing, I note he's moving to stand farther away from us. Maybe he's never seen us this at ease. I don't know why I think about it, but maybe the more fun we have, the less predictable we become for him. He knows us in a more serious frame; there haven't been many times we've all been this laid back.

There's more pulling on the sleeve and he's looking at me with a worried expression. I don't want to stop the fun we're having, but I have to look out for him too. I whisper to my husband, "Carrick? Did we bring Christian's blanket?"

"What? Why?" He's still in a joke contest with Elliot, but turns to me. He's surprised by my expression. "You're not thinking of having that thing in our family picture, are you?"

"Why not?" His expression tells me he thinks I'm daft. "We'll, it's been an intricate part of this whole… experience. It's part of him. Why wouldn't we?" Carrick looks like he's about to give me a hundred reasons why we shouldn't. "Carry, look at him please. He's going to break down in about one minute."

My husband glances at Christian and sees what I see. I can tell he's a little disappointed; obviously this is not going to be the family photo he envisioned. "OK. I'll get it. Can we have him shoot a few of just the boys while I'm out?"

We do get several of just the boys, but when the blanket makes its way into the studio, Christian's demeanor improves. We get one with the original posing; Elliot between Carrick and I, and while he doesn't sit on my lap, Christian actually leans on me, blanket in hand. I sure hope Carrick and Elliot look good in that one, because I'm sure it's the best expression I've had this whole time!

Monday, November 23, 1987

We're in Frankenmuth, getting ready for our day at Bronner's. Carrick is the most excited of all of us. He told the boys about it three days ago, and Elliot has been asking when we're leaving since then. Christian has had no response, other than watching his brother. He takes so many of his life cues from him.

Given his mother's physical, emotional and most likely, financial state, I assume celebrating Christmas was not something Christian's had much experience with. So as we make the long drive, I have Elliot tell us all the things he thinks about when we say 'Christmas.' The list is long. Toys made it on the list five different times. Carrick adds his favorites; cookies and rock candy. I have to think that stuff is so bad for you. It's just solid sugar, but I concede it's really good. I add going to see the decorated windows downtown; all the different scenes and animated dolls bringing it all to life… By the time we arrive, three of us are anxious to get into the holiday spirit. I'm hoping number four is just as excited before our day is over and we leave to head home.

We arrive about ten thirty and the parking lot is already pretty packed. I debated bringing the stroller. I know Elliot is too big for it, but Christian is right one the edge; this place is so big I'm sure he's going to get tired, but if Elliot's not doing it, he won't want to either. Surely they have strollers to rent if we need one. There is a giant Santa and snowman at the entrance. We haven't even gotten in the store and Elliot is already overly exuberant.

As we enter, we hear the holiday music and see the first of many decorated trees. Elliot gasps and we hear a 'Whoa! Check that out!' and we've only walked in the door. He's going to spontaneously combust once we get into the thick of things here. We get our map… I have to wonder how many other stores can you go to where you need a map to get around and not get lost? … Then we see a short film about the history of the store and the Bronner family. After the film, we start our day of Christmas magic!

And it is overwhelming! It is sensory stimulation overload, but in the most exciting and positive way imaginable! There are holiday carols playing, a lot of people are talking and laughing, and Elliot is right there with them. "Mom! Let's go this way! Mom! Look at these! Mom!" He's grabbed my hand and is pulling me along. Thankfully Carrick has Christian, but I note that our younger son has a tight grip on his blanket and it looks like he's trying to cover his ears. We've only been here twenty minutes and he's finding this place that overwhelming already… "Mom! Come on!" Elliot seems to be oblivious that his father and brother are being left behind.

We do a quick stop to regroup. Carrick lets Elliot know that we are here as a family, we will see as much as we can, and we will stay together. Although he's less than enthused about the family meeting, Elliot knows better than to argue with his father. We head out again, all together. Elliot continues to be his inquisitive and talkative self, noting and pointing out all the different decorations he sees; ornaments of every possible kind… footballs, fire engines, frogs, and millions more that begins with the other twenty-five letters of the alphabet. Seriously, if you can name it, they have it in a Christmas ornament.

There are holiday wall hangings, garland and wreaths hanging from the ceiling with thousands of holiday lights, decorated trees in every direction, and images of Santa Claus everywhere you turn… Apparently, Santa is a cattle farmer, astronaut, and a member of every branch of the US Military, as well as a player on every Big Ten football team there is!

Don't get me wrong, it's amazing to be in this place again. We haven't been here for three years and it's just bigger and better! Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I can feel the holiday excitement building in myself and it just multiplies when I look at Elliot's expressions! Carrick is in his element too. I know this visit is giving him some happy memories of his parents. Christian still has his ears covered. I'm a little nervous about his day, but as we've make our way through the store, his attention has been diverted and we make some mental notes about what catches his eye; helicopters, no surprise there… basketballs, that's kind of new…, In the musical instruments section he is immediately drawn to the several different piano ornaments, that's my boy...

"Carry? See anything we need yet?"

"Need? No. Would love to have? That's another thing altogether, Baby." His smile make me smile even more. We take some time to look in the many different sections and in the process find an ornament of a female doctor with brown hair. We pick that one up. We find a blonde lawyer and grab that one too. Elliot found some bulldozer ornaments and believe it or not, an ineptly painted reindeer that he swore was Godzilla. So we let him pick those out. Of course we get the helicopter for Christian as well as one of the pianos. They'll personalize anything you want here, so I get our names on each of them.

I head out to find an ornament to commemorate our new family and an employee directs me to the 'family' section. I'm surprised to find several adoption ornaments. Not sure why I'm surprised; they have everything here. We decide to get one for each of the boys. Elliot's says 'Loved and Chosen,' and Christian's says 'God's perfect match for our family.' Then we find a snowman family; mother, father and two boys that we think would be perfect. We get that one personalized as well.

We decide to take a break from the store and head off to get some lunch. Elliot starts complaining that he hasn't seen everything yet, which really is an impossibility, but Carrick explains we'll return after lunch and see a lot more. That seems to placate him as we head to Zehnder's for fried chicken. No need to see a menu, this place is literally famous for their chicken. We order the family meal; fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables, stuffing, noodles….

"Hey Dad!" Elliot's voice calls out over a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "We don't need to have Thanksgiving now, 'cause this is just like it!" Carrick laughs because he's right.

"Good point, Son. It pretty much is just like Thanksgiving, isn't it? Next time, swallow your food first, please." I lean over to Carrick and give him a kiss on the cheek. This trip has worked a little magic on Mr. Manners. At home he would have started with the etiquette comment, and it probably would have been a bit more reprimanding. "Christian? How's the chicken?"

We both let out a chuckle when he looks up at us with those wide grey eyes and two very full cheeks. He nods adamantly which we take to mean 'It's great, Dad.' He's shoveling in another forkful of noodles and I step in to slow him down. We haven't seen this kind of reaction to food for several weeks. I guess it's a testament to the cook!

After lunch it's back to Bronner's. We take some time just to look around at the décor in that place. They've got to have a thousand different trees in here. They even have trees hanging upside down from the ceiling! They're lit and the ornaments hang down so they look like elegant green chandeliers. It makes a pretty unique decorating idea. I wonder if we have room to try that this year. Supposedly, Santa Claus will be in the store if you can spot him. Elliot is on high alert, but we don't see him yet.

We're deeper in the store and just as mesmerized as before, but now Carrick is leading us somewhere in particular. I have Christian's hand as we head past shelves and walls full of more and more Christmas. Carrick is saying something about something but I'm only catching every fourth word as he's ahead of me and talking to the air in front of him.

All of a sudden Christian starts whining and it's getting harder and harder to keep him with me. He's pulling on my hand and I know he'd love me to stop and look at something. "Not now, Darling. We'll see it on our way back. Daddy wants to show us something special right now." Carrick is basically on a mission. We're hoofing it left, right, through here, through there. He's not going too fast, just focused. Christian is pulling again. "Darling, just walk with Mommy, please. Carrick, where are we heading?" I feel that same pulling but it's joined by a screech and head shake. "Christian, stop it!" When I look down at him, he's pointing back the way we came. "I said, we can see it on the way back. Now…" I'm interrupted by his letting go completely, a loud grunt, and very angry eyes. "Do not look at me like that, young man…" Christian takes two steps backward and hugs his blanket tightly. He's surprised by my expression and tone, I'm sure.

"Grace? What's the hold up?" Carrick has stopped and has his hands on his hips. That's a stance I haven't seen for a while. It's his 'I am completely relaxed and in my element' stance. I'm kind of frustrated that Christian is acting like this on a day that's so important to Carry. "There's something special I want to show you, Baby. I'll take Christian. You grab Elliot and…" We both look around and realize it at the same time.

"Oh my god! Where's Elliot!? Carry!" Carrick is already looking over my head and around to find our son. I've got that chest-tightening fear that someone has snatched my son right out from under us. I'm overtaken by guilt that I wasn't watching him and now he's gone! We're both looking every which way and then we her another loud screech from our younger son. He's pointing back the direction we came again. "Is he back this way, Christian? Is that what you were trying to tell me?"

I get a frightened nod and more pointing. Carrick is already on his way and I hear him calling Elliot's name. Part of me wants to tell him to tone it down in the store, but I hear myself calling his name too. I have Christian's hand. I wish I could just pick him up and carry him as we can't move as quickly as I'd like. Carrick is panicked and I can tell he's wanting to go in every direction at the same time to find our son. Then somewhere in the back of my mind, I get an odd idea. "Christian," I stop, squat down, and look him directly in the eye. "Do you know where Elliot is? Can you show me?" I get a hesitant nod, and he takes my hand to lead me back toward the area where we found the construction truck ornaments. Of course. Why didn't we just start there? "Carrick! Over this way!" Carrick heads over as well, but when we get there, there's no Elliot. Again, I'm stricken with fear. I see one of the Bronner's employees nearby.

"Excuse me Miss," I hear Carrick's worried voice before I can even say anything. "… But our son is…"

"Dad! There you are!" Elliot comes running up to us from just beyond her. He grabs Carrick around the legs. "I was worried 'cause this is a big place!"

The employee gives him a smiles as she tells us, "He came up and asked me if I'd help him find his Mom and Dad. He told me he was afraid you were lost." She looks back at us with a knowing grin.

"Thank you, so much," Carrick says as he shakes her hand. He looks down as our son still wrapped around his legs. "Elliot!" I can hear the combination of frustration and relief in my husband's voice.

"What?" He looks innocently up at his father. I can see he actually has no idea he was the one who was lost here. Then again, maybe he knew where he was the whole time and we were the ones in the wrong. We didn't notice he was missing. His younger brother sure did though.

We thank the employee who was helping Elliot 'find' us and we head back in the direction Carrick was taking us before. To be sure there are no more issues, he puts Elliot up on his shoulders. Our older son thinks this is great and I'm a bit concerned that we just rewarded him for wandering away from us. But if Carrick isn't too upset about it, I won't make a big deal about it either. I'm just happy we found him and I can breathe again.

If anything, Christian deserves the reward; he was trying to tell me. This whole situation reminds me of that fortune cookie on his adoption day. What did it say? Something about communication being the things that are not being said… Isn't that the truth. They're being pulled, whined, and screeched!

We finally arrive at Carrick's destination and I'm breathless! It's an entire Christmas village… Scene after scene of Santa's elves busy in the workshop, forest animals playing in the snow, and even a Nativity scene, complete with sheep and a donkey. "I know you liked looking at the windows as a kid. I thought you'd appreciate this." Carrick has made my day! I am mesmerized and am in awe over all the animated dolls; some almost as tall as Elliot, moving back and forth, or up and down… My brain tunes into the music again and I'm transported back to my childhood in front of the department store downtown…

"So you asked if I saw anything I needed. How about you, Gracie? You need any of these dolls?" What did he just ask me? If I want one of these animated Christmas dolls? Are they even for sale? I look back and notice every single one has a price tag… I find myself thinking You can actually buy these things? I guess the department stores got them from somewhere… Maybe from Bronner's! "I mean, within reason, Baby. That polar bear over there is like, seven hundred dollars."

I must be in a trance because Carrick is waving his hand in front of my face. "You in there, Baby?" I look down at the boys, who are both still with us and both fascinated by the whole thing themselves. "I'm serious. You want one? Let's get one. How many other people do we know who have something like this? Not that I care what anyone else thinks, but you know what I mean."

I glance over the whole display again and when I look back at my husband, I decide to take him at his word, as crazy as it sounds. At first I head to the Nativity scene. But the donkey is a bit too big, and a moving sheep sitting in my living room would probably creep me out. The woodland creatures are so sweet, but again, a moving animal in my house would make me jump every time I walked by.

I find myself drawn over to the workshop area and I take in the sight of so many little elves… Some are moving hammers, some are using saws, and others are painting trains or toy soldiers. Then I'm taken by two little elves on a teeter-totter, they're smiling and going up and down… up and down… "I want that one." I point it out to Carry. He takes a closer look. It's not cheap, but it's not the polar bear. We both notice one of the elves is blonde and the other has lighter brown hair. It's not copper, but I'm not complaining. That would just have been too perfect, like one of those sappy holiday TV specials.

We tell a clerk what we want to buy and he tells us it will be waiting at the front of the store. Looking at the time, we decide to give it another half hour and call it a day. We don't take the boys to see Santa as he's not here until after Thanksgiving. Carrick is disappointed, but I'm secretly OK with that. I think both boys have been way over-stimulated by this place for one day. And really, I'm not sure how Christian is going to do with Santa. I think seeing his image all day will help prepare him for a visit on another day. Besides, there's a whole floor dedicated to visiting with Santa at Hudson's back in Detroit. They have their own village to walk through and then there's all the displays of Santas from around the world… We'll do that one.

Our drive home is quiet. Both boys fell asleep before we even got five miles down the highway. Carrick reaches over for my hand. "Thank you. Baby. This really meant a lot to me."

"I should be thanking you, Carry. That gift was way over the top. But I love it!"

"Well, that place holds so many memories for me from my own time growing up… I just wanted to make sure we have something to remember life back here, when we're living in Washington."

"Washington?! Carrick!" Did he seriously just say what I think I heard?

"Shhhhhhh! You'll wake up the boys." He looks over at me and I'm sure my expression is speaking volumes even though I can't find any other words at all. "Now don't get overly excited. I'm not saying it's a done deal. We'd have to discuss that one together, but Dennis has really been talking it up to your folks. And your dad told me their trip in March is more to find a house than just look around." I'm stunned.

"My dad told you? Why isn't he talking to me about this? But… Are you seriously considering a move like that? I mean, that's a big change and we're both pretty settled in our careers here."

"No we're not. I mean, it's not like we have jobs directly related to the Great Lakes that we have to be in Michigan." I think he's serious! Has he even thought about… "So we have to jump through a few hoops or take a state test out there… There's no reason we can't work in Washington." I guess he has. "And you love being by the water Grace."

"We live in Detroit, Carry. Lake Huron is a hop skip and a jump from the house. Everywhere you turn in this state there's water. And it's fresh! No sharks!"

"And it's cold. And it's snowy. And every winter you love it until Christmas, then complain about it until April. Seattle isn't southern California, but it's a totally different climate than here; warmer, and a lot less snow." Again he looks at me, and again I have nothing to say, I'm just so stunned. "I'm not saying right away. Maybe not even for another year or so. But be honest… Would you want to stay here if your parents, and both brothers are on the west coast?" That stops me cold. Could I stay here if everyone I care about is thousands of miles away? I look in the back seat and see my children. Elliot would love to be near Uncle Dennis. Christian, not so much. But if my parents make the move…

"We'll talk about this, right?" I can't believe I'm even having this conversation.

"Of course. We can even wait until after the holidays, or after your parents get back from their trip out there. This is joint effort, Baby."

"OK." I turn back around to look out my window. Then I realize what I just said. "I mean, OK we'll talk about it. Not OK let's do it. You get that, right?" Carrick chuckles and lifts my hand to kiss my knuckles. "And I don't even want my parents to know you told me until after the holidays. They get stressful enough. And by they, I mean my parents, although the holidays can be too." More quiet laughter. "Can we just focus on Christian and Elliot and Christmas first? Please?"

"Of course, Gracie. Like I said, this is a joint effort. I won't say another thing about Washington unless you are ready to talk about it. Deal?"

"Deal. Thank you." He kisses my hand again and we ride along for a few moments, listening to the quiet music he's put on. Nope, can't just sit here and pretend he didn't say anything…

"Ow! What the hell Grace? I'm driving!" Big baby… They weren't that hard.