Posted in My Crazy Life

My Crazy Life: Episode I-The Summer Everything Changed Installment VIII

Chapter VIII

Sleepovers & School Switches 

I lay outstretched on the B&B lawn. The sun shone on my face and kept my body warm. Cars passed by and almost all of the them honked. Becca Lou, who was supposed to be watching Mini-Lou, ran around the yard making bubbles with Rachel and Bella. Meanwhile, Mini-Lou threw mud on unsuspecting people.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Leo said laying down next to me.

“I wish summer could last forever,” I whispered.

“I just wasted a penny,” Leo mumbled as he threw a penny on my stomach.

“Jokes on you! I didn’t even feel it!” I shouted.

“Well do you feel THIS?” Leo shouted. He turned over and started tickling me.

“Stop it!” I shouted as we started to roll down the driveway.

“Never!” Leo shouted as he continued to find a feeling spot.

“Aren’t you supposed to say ‘as you wish?’,” I joked.

“Huh?” Leo asked as we landed at the end of the driveway.

“Leo? CHARLLY!” Virginia screamed from down the street.

“Oh no,” Leo mumbled. For the first time ever, Leo actually looked scared of Virginia.

Leo quietly picked me up and carried me back up the driveway to my wheelchair.

“Well aren’t you going to say anything?” Virginia asked sending daggers with her eyes at us.

“What do you want me to say? You’re controlling, bossy, and loud?” Leo asked.

“Excuse me?” Virginia asked outraged.

“Or would you me to say I made a big mistake when I sent you that mushy Valentine?” Leo asked.

Virginia tried to speak, but no words came out of her mouth.

“It’s been fun. No actually, that’s a lie,” Leo said.

“I’m breaking up with you Leopold Logan the Second!” Virginia screamed.

I tried not to laugh at this very tense and serious moment. Leopold?

“I never asked you to be my girlfriend in the first place!” Leo shouted as he walked down the driveway.

Virginia looked at me and then at Leo who was almost out of sight.

“That did not just happen,” Virginia spit. “He did not just break up with me.”

“Virginia, I’m sorry,” I started.

“No, you’re not!” Virginia screamed. “You planed this whole thing! You just stole my boyfriend!”

“What!” I shouted. “I’ve only been here for three weeks!”

“So your plan worked faster than you expected!” Virginia shouted.

“What plan?” I asked.

“Mi Scusi! Excuse me!”

Virginia and I turned. Neither of us had noticed a yellow taxi drive up the driveway or a young man get out of it.

“Can we help you?” Virginia asked.

“Maybe you can,” The young man said with an Italian accent. “I’m looking for an O’Donnell residence.”

“Ms. Shelby O’Donnell?” Virginia asked.

“Yes! She’s my sorella sister,” The man said.

“You’re Giovanni!” Virginia shouted in full drawl. “The Italian half-brother.”

“And you must be Virginia,” Giovanni said. “The girl with the terrible drawl.”

Virginia blushed.

“Ms. O’Donnell doesn’t live in Florida. She lives in North Adams. You’re about twenty minutes away from your destination. Her orchid is the first house on the outskirts of North Adams. If you see a brown barn, you’ve gone too far. That’s the Woods property.”

“Grazie,” Giovanni smiled. He got back into his taxi and it took off.

“Who was that?” Regina asked sneaking up behind us.

“Giovanni Moore,” Virginia said all dreamy.

“Does Leo have competition,” Regina joked.

Virginia stared at Regina. The fire was back in her eyes.

“UGH!” Virginia screamed. “Rachel! We’re going home!”

“No, I’m not!” Rachel shouted back. “I’m staying over for the sleepover.”

“Sleepover? What sleepover?” Virginia asked.

“Becca Lou’s having a Before School Sleepover here tonight,” I said.

“Well, then I’m having a sleepover tonight!” Virginia screamed. She ran into the B&B.

“Virginia’s heartbroken,” Rachel said. “Virginia does crazy things when her heart breaks.”

“Why would a sleepover be crazy?” I asked.

“Charlly!” Mom shouted. “We need to talk to you!”

What had Virginia done?

**

Actually, Virginia had not uttered a word about my ‘evil’ plan to steal Leo away from her. When I rolled into the B&B, I found Virginia on the phone trying to convince her aunt to let her have a sleepover and Laz, Mom, and Lou sitting on the couch.

“I should go,” Cece Elizabeth said getting up.

Lou almost looked disappointed.

“Charlly, we need to talk about school,” Mom said.

“Ok,” I said. “Are we going to start late or something? I hear that this new CO/OP center for homeschoolers.”

“Charlly, honey, you won’t be homeschooled this year,” Mom said. “Neither will Becca Lou.”

“What! Why?” I asked.

“Charlly, we aren’t going anywhere,” Mom said. Lou and Laz nodded in agreement. “Laz and I have decided to stay in the Berkshires for at least until after Becca Lou’s graduated. We love it here. We love that you guys have made friends so fast. Laz has his family here. I’ve finally found a place I can call home.”

I just stared at them. I thought about the words Natalie had said when she finally realized that Florida was the perfect place for her. Was Florida the perfect place for me? I jumped in my wheelchair as Virginia slammed the door as she left. I had already made an enemy, but even with that the want to go back to Chicago was slowly fading away.

“I’m staying too,” Lou said looking off in the direction Cece Elizabeth went.

“You like her,” I blurted.

Lou’s cheeks turned crimson.

“That’s a discussion for another time,” Lou said.

I winked at him and he winked back.

“So tomorrow I will take you down to the high school and sign you up,” Laz said quickly. He gave Lou a quick stare.

“Charlly!” Natalie shouted rolling into the B&B. “Virginia’s having a sleepover! And I can guarantee it’s gonna be CRAZY!”

**

Just the sight of chickens, a goat, and a pig told me why a sleepover would be a crazy idea.

“You have to be careful when you’re at Virginia’s house,” Natalie explained. “I almost squashed a chicken once.”

“Note to self. Don’t go out in the yard,” I said.

“Forget the yard,” Natalie said. “There are chickens in the house.”

“Are there goats too?” I asked.

“Nope,” Natalie said, “but I think Rachel keeps one of the baby pigs in her room.”

“Who lives like this?” I asked as Natalie rang the doorbell.

“Farm people,” Natalie said.

A tall boy yanked open the door.

“In the family room and FYI I’m not lifting you girls up the steps,” The boy said with a Massachusetts accent.

“Hi, Andrew,” Natalie said sarcastically.

“What did ya’ll think of that? Leo’s been giving me voice lessons,” Andrew said.

“I think you should do what I did,” Natalie said.

“And that is?” Andrew asked.

“Let it naturally find its way into my accent. I love the way I say ‘car’ now!” Natalie shouted.

“You’re accent is cute. You got a little British, a little Southerner, and dash of Massachusetts. My accent is a big piece of Southern pie,” Andrew said.

“And you want to sound like you’re from Boston?” I asked.

“Why not?” Andrew asked.

“A teacher told Virginia her accent hurt her ears and she only embraced it more. Own who you are!” Natalie shouted.

“Andrew! Stop harassing my friends!” Virginia shouted. “Well my friend.”

“Sorry, Ginny,” Andrew said.

Tears mounted in Virginia’s eyes.

“Just let them in,” Virginia shouted at Andrew. She marched down the hall.

“She was dumped earlier,” Andrew whispered as we rolled in the house. “And she’s pretty sour about it. Frankly, I don’t know what Leo saw in her in the first place.

Natalie rammed him with her wheelchair and left him silently screaming his pain.

“I haven’t seen you in a while,” Jessie-Maria pouted as Natalie rolled into the family room.

“I haven’t seen my brother in a while,” Natalie said. Jessie-Maria blushed.

“So how’s that going away?” Emily pried.

“None of your beeswax!” Jessie-Maria shouted throwing her pillow at Emily. “How’s your relationship with Nelson?”

“It’s officially and that’s all that I’m saying,” Emily smiled. She started to pet a chicken that had just snuggled up under her arm. “How ya doing Aggie?”

“You know the chickens by name?” I asked.

“Yup,” Emily said. “This is Aggie and the one leaving droppings by your wheelchair is Ellen.”

“You don’t have these chickens potty trained?” I asked.

“All but Ellen,” Virginia giggled. “She refuses to poop anywhere but that spot you are sitting in.”

I immediately rolled away from that spot.

“Hey, girls,” Aunt Jane said walking into the family room. She had a chicken on a leash.

“Hi, Aunt Jane. Hi, Alice,” Natalie said.

“Bock!” Alice shouted. She started to run towards Natalie.

“Stop!” Aunt Jane shouted. “I have a flight risk here. She ran out in the middle of the street. Timmy almost ran over her. He was racing Jaci to the clinic. The poor girl had resorted to puking in her purse.”

“Oh no,” Emily said. “My big brother is gonna be a daddy!”

“What’s so horrible about that?” Aunt Jane asked.

“Think about it,” Emily said. “My big brother Timothy-Caleb Stewart raising a child…with his genes.”

“God help us all,” Aunt Jane said.

Everyone laughed.

“Well, we all know he’ll be a better father than Lou,” Virginia said.

Nobody said anything. Natalie and Aunt Jane stared at Virginia in shock that she had just said that.

“Virginia, that wasn’t a very nice thing to say,” Aunt Jane said. “Apologize.”

Virginia looked at me and smirked.

“I’m sorry, Aunt Jane, but I can’t do that,” Virginia said.

“And why can’t you?” Aunt Jane asked folding her arms.

“Because from this moment on, I am never speaking to Charlotte Lily King ever again!” Virginia shouted.

Natalie and I stared at each other. We were both thinking the same thing.

Oh, snap.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 4-I’ll Be Home for Christmas Installment Three

**

The next morning we went to church. It was nice to see everybody again. And the looks on their faces when they found out that Yule and Noel were my brother and sister were priceless.

I looked out the window as I wondered when it was going to snow. It had snowed several weeks ago (yes, I check Florida’s weather), but it had melted. The ground looked dull and bare without snow on it. I tried to imagine the perfect snow day, but I kept thinking about the Marshmallow World Day. I guess that made sense since that was the perfect snow day.

Ms. Donna pulled out her keys, but when her hand touched the lock, the door opened.

“That’s odd,” Ms. Donna said. “I’m sure I locked the doors.”

“Does anyone else smell Beef Stew?” Cece Elizabeth asked.

Everyone ran into the house (I rolled). When no one was found in the living room or family room, we went to the restaurant.

A man was sitting down in one of the booths. A cane leaned upon his chair. He looked like Darcy only he had blonde hair. His hair was in a military cut. The man was eating Beef Carrot Stew and didn’t seem to notice all the people staring at him.

“Hello,” The man said. He went back to his stew.

“Bennet!” Darcy shouted. He hugged the man.

“Whoa, little brother,” The man, who I guess name was Bennet, said.

Wait…did he just call Darcy little brother?

“It really is you!” Daddy shouted. He shook Bennet’s hand.

“Wow,” Bennet said looking at Cece Elizabeth. He grabbed his cane and walked towards her.

“I’d know that voice anywhere!” Cece Elizabeth shouted. She jumped onto Bennet, and Bennet tumbled to the floor.

“You have pretty good aim for a blind person,” Bennet said out of breath. “But next time, please don’t jump on me.”

“Sorry,” Cece Elizabeth giggled. Bennet looked like he was in pain. Cece Elizabeth got up off of him, and Bennet struggled to get up.

“You all right?” Daddy asked helping Bennet up.

“Didn’t Mom tell you? I was shot in the back several times, lumber spinal nerve 5 to be specific,” Bennet said. “I just finished rehab in California last week.”

Everyone looked at Ms. Donna.

“She didn’t tell you?” Bennet said with sadness and surprise in his voice. “It happened almost a year ago…”

Bennet stopped talking when he noticed Noel standing off towards the side. I don’t know if Noel understood what was going on cause frankly I didn’t understand what was going on. Noel was more fascinated with the salt and pepper shakers than Bennet’s story.

Bennet looked at Noel with surprise at first. At first I thought it was because he was surprised to see a nine month pregnant stomach on a thirteen almost fourteen year old girl, but then a sweet soft smile crept onto his lips. I remembered that smile coming to my dad’s lips when he saw my mom. I’d seen the smile quite often on Daddy’s lips since I got out of rehab. Bennet was in love with Noel.

Nobody but me saw Bennet fall in love with Noel. Everyone else was too busy yelling and asking Ms. Donna questions. Momma and Grandma Shirley were asking the questions that were in my head (although Grandma Shirley was saying them rather rudely), and everybody else was asking questions like they knew Bennet personally. Cece Elizabeth stopped asking questions and then broke down crying.

When Bennet heard Cece Elizabeth’s cries, he stopped looking at Noel and turned to her.

“Don’t cry, Elizabeth,” Bennet said in a soothing voice. “I’m all right now.”

“I told you that joining the military was a dumb idea!” Cece Elizabeth cried. “And look at you know.  Nineteen years old and paraplegic!”

That caught my attention. Bennet was paraplegic? I thought he spinal cord ended around L1 and L2, but I guess you’d still be called paraplegic. He could walk with the help of a cane, but he wasn’t wheelchair bound. Jealousy and anger arouse in me. I was an complete paraplegic, and most paraplegics were incomplete including Bennet. Why did this happen to me? Why did I have to completely break my back at L1?

“Lizzie,” Bennet said turning Cece Elizabeth towards him because she had been screaming at the wall, “Joining the military was something I always dreamed about. I’m not mad at God or anybody else about what happened…well not now.”

Of course he’s not. He can walk.

Then Bennet noticed me. I must have either been looking very spitefully at him or very angrily because he looked almost afraid of me, but nobody is truly afraid of a wheelchair bound girl.

“You must be Natalie,” Bennet said with a hint of something in his voice. “You look exactly like the picture Darcy sent me expect you looked a lot happier.”

Darcy sent Bennet a picture of me. My expression softened.

“I see you’re in a wheelchair,” Bennet said grabbing his cane. “I guess we have a lot in common. What type are you?”

“I can’t walk,” I sneered. Then I remembered Bennet’s question. “I’m L1.”

“L5,” Bennet said. “I’m only using a cane because I’m in the house. I use a wheelchair when I’m out and a bout because I can’t walk long distances and walking is painful at times.”

I shrugged.

“Who’s that girl?” Bennet asked sneaking a glance at Noel.

“That’s my older sister Noel,” I said. I decided to let him be in love for a little longer and not tell him that Noel had autism.

“So what connection are you to Ms. Donna?” I asked.

“I’m her son. The older brother to her other son Darcy and the younger brother of  her daughter Cece Elizabeth,” Bennet said.

Looks like Momma’s got some competition for the Most Secretive Award.

**

As I rolled into the North Adams Community Center, I was determined to find out more about Bennet, Cece Elizabeth, and Ms. Donna’s husband. Tonight was the night of the North Adams Christmas Ball and just about everyone in Florida and lots of people from surrounding Northern Berkshire County towns. So there was a pretty good chance that a lot of Stewarts’ and Chadwick’s would be there.

I wasn’t going to come tonight. Momma and Daddy had already had it set up with Yule and Noel for them to stay home with me, but after hearing that Bennet and Cece Elizabeth were Ms. Donna’s children, I had a really strong desire to go.

“This party is so much grander than our little school one last year,” Regina commented. I nodded. The room was large. It was in the same building where the Father-Daughter Dance is held, but the Christmas Ball is held in a different room and a much larger one.

“It sure is loud in here,” Yule said. Noel looked at him like he was crazy.

“Need to turn up music,” Noel said shaking her head. Bennet looked at her like she was crazy, while the Matthews family just shrugged that comment off.

When I saw the Rivers’ and Powers’ arrive I thought I’d start with them. Mrs. Rivers would surely know something since she’s lived in Florida her entire life.

“Bennet Chadwick Edwards!” Mrs. Rivers cried when she saw him. “You’re hurt!”

Bennet was getting out of his wheelchair at the moment. He stopped and smiled at Mrs. Rivers.

“Hi, Ms. Joan,” Bennet said.

“What happened to you?” Mrs. Rivers asked.

“Shot in the back,” Bennet said.

“You poor thing,” Mrs. Rivers said. “I’m just glad you didn’t meet your father’s fate.”

“Me too,” Bennet mumbled. He turned to Noel.

“Would you like to dance?” Bennet asked her. Noel shrugged.

“May I have this dance?” Daddy asked. Momma gave him a sad smile and nodded. The song Let it Snow! was playing.

I tried not to laugh at Noel’s idea of ‘dancing’. Noel didn’t want Bennet to touch her, which I understood but Bennet did not. It would be even harder for Bennet to dance with her since he couldn’t even try to lean on her. Since they were dancing close to the food table, which was where I was hanging out, I was able to hear their conversation.

“So when are you due?” Bennet asked.

“Soon,” was Noel’s reply. The truth was she was three days overdue.

“Well you look ready to pop any moment now,” Bennet said. I mentally slapped myself. Maybe I should have told him that Noel has autism. She was not going to like or understand that expression.

“Excuse me?” Noel asked furiously. She stopped ‘dancing’.

“Let me rephrase that,” Bennet said embarrassed. “You look like you’re ready to give birth any day now.”

Noel nodded but it was easy to see she was still mad.

“Three days overdue,” Noel said. Bennet nodded. Noel looked off to the side. It was obvious to me that she was no longer interested in the conversation or Bennet. But by the way Bennet looked, he thought she just didn’t like him.

“I have autism,” Noel said when saw that Bennet wasn’t giving up. Usually when Noel shows signs of being disinterested, we leave her alone or change the subject.

Realization and relief overcame Bennet’s face.

“I’m bothering you aren’t I?” Bennet asked. “Oh, and sorry about the popping comment.”

“Nope,” Noel said. “Think bout baby lot since three days overdue.”

Bennet laughed and smiled. Noel actually made eye contact with him. It was only for a second, but any eye contact from Noel is an honor. I had a sneaky suspicion that Noel had a little crush on Bennet.

“That looks utterly hopeless,” Virginia whispered walking up to me. Of course she noticed Bennet and Noel. Virginia is a farm girl and matchmaker at heart.

“I think Bennet is in love with Noel,” I whispered back.

“Oh, so that’s who that man is,” Virginia said. “When Aunt Jane saw him, she burst out crying.”

“Do you want to help me?” I whispered.

“With what?” I asked.

“I want to find out more about Bennet and Cece Elizabeth,” I whispered.

“Sure,” Virginia said in mischievous voice. “I may be a farm girl and a matchmaker, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a snoop.”

I laughed and Virginia pushed me over to where Mrs. Rivers was watching the twins and Mr. Rivers and Jessie-Maria dancing.

“Hello, girls,” Mrs. Rivers smiled. Mrs. Rivers looked over at Noel and Bennet.

“He’s in love with her,” Mrs. Rivers stated. Virginia and I laughed.

“That’s what Natalie just told me but I didn’t really believe her,” Virginia said.

“It’s that smile,” Mrs. Rivers said. “When I first saw Tom, he had that exact smile on his lips. I call it the love smile.”

“Did you have the love smile on your lips?” I asked.

“No,” Mrs. Rivers laughed. “I was scowling at the man who kept smiling and looking at me. It took me a little bit longer to fall in love. But six years later, we are happily married with three kids.”

“Noel doesn’t look interested in him,” Virginia said.

“I think she’s just not interested in the conversation,” I said. “And she doesn’t really know Bennet. Noel is very wary of strangers, but Bennet doesn’t seem to care about that or the fact that she’s autistic. And she made eye contact with him.”

“Love is patient. Love is kind,” Mrs. Rivers joked. I smiled.

“I’m surprised Donna didn’t talk your ear off about him,” Mrs. Rivers said. “I mean she had to of known that he was coming home.”

“I actually never heard of him until today,” I said.

“Me too,” Virginia said.

Mrs. Rivers looked shocked.

“Donna was so proud when Bennet joined the military. Cece Elizabeth and Darcy were furious but…,” Mrs. Rivers started.

“You knew about Cece Elizabeth!” Virginia and I interrupted. Mrs. Rivers looked surprised at our rude interruption.

“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Rivers said. “It’s not big secret.”

I felt like laughing.

“I tell you the truth, Mrs. Rivers. Ms. Donna never uttered a word about Bennet, Cece Elizabeth, or her husband,” I said. Mrs. Rivers sighed.

“I shouldn’t be doing this for Donna,” Mrs. Rivers said. “But since I have known her all my life and since she’s practically like a big sister to me, I will tell you what you want to know. Fire away.”

“What happened to Mr. Edwards?” Virginia asked. Tears mounted in Mrs. Rivers eyes.

“While Donna was pregnant with Darcy, there was a shooting,” Mrs. Rivers said very sadly. “It happened in a North Adams coffee shop. A Stewart went crazy. He went in there with a gun and shot everybody. Eleven people were seriously injured; two people died and one of them was Mr. Robert Edwards.”

“So Darcy never met his father,” I said sadly. At least I had memories of my father even though they were few. Darcy never even saw his father.

“Nobody in Florida or North Adams talks about the shooting much,” Mrs. Rivers said. “We knew it upset Donna to talk about it, and well nobody in Florida felt comfortable talking about it around Darcy.”

“What about Cece Elizabeth?” Virginia asked.

“Well, when Cece Elizabeth was born blind, Donna and Robert told everyone in Florida and close family. It was easy to see that Robert and Donna were a little embarrassed about having a blind daughter. Don’t get me wrong Donna loves Cece Elizabeth just as much as Darcy or Bennet and although I don’t like the fact that they hid Cece Elizabeth and never told new comers like Steve about her, I know that Donna loves Cece Elizabeth even though she’s a little ashamed of her,” Mrs. Rivers said.

“And Bennet?” I asked. “Bennet said his accident happened a year ago.”

“Donna is a very private person,” Mrs. Rivers said. “I’m extremely close to her and she has barely said a word about Bennet. Bennet was never far from anybody’s mind since he was deployed to Afghanistan. I’ve frequently asked Donna about Bennet and she always said something like ‘He’s fine.’ A year ago Donne might not have known how bad or stable Bennet was at the time, and Bennet might not have communicated with his mother quite often. I’m a little offended that she didn’t tell me, her closet friend, about Bennet’s injury, but I can think of a million excuses.”

Virginia and I walked away because Mr. Rivers came over to ask Mrs. Rivers to dance. Jessie-Maria was dancing with Yule, and surprisingly Bennet and Noel were still ‘dancing’. Bennet looked like he was in pain, but he also looked happy.

I looked over at Momma and Daddy, and Virginia looked too. They were now swaying to the same Christmas Song that played at their wedding.

Virginia looked at me and smiled.

“Look, I know your parents probably told you to keep it a secret until Christmas, but I have to know now. Is your mother having a baby?” Virginia asked.

“What?” I asked. I looked at Momma. Sure she had put on some extra weight and was tired a lot, but I just thought she had gained the weight because after the accident the family didn’t exactly eat healthy and I thought she was just tried because of the lack of sleep she was getting sleeping on a rehab couch.

“You can tell me,” Virginia said. “I promise not to tell anyone.”

“I would tell you if I knew,” I said. “But as far as I know my mother is not having a baby.”

Virginia’s shoulders slumped.

“Fine, don’t tell me,” Virginia huffed.

“Virginia, you know that you and Jessie-Maria would be the first ones I told,” I said. “Even before Darcy.”

“Really?” Virginia asked. “You’re not under some secret vow or anything?”

“Nope,” I shrugged.

“Well, she fooled me,” Virginia said. She spotted Leo and walked over to him.

I sighed and took a close look at my mother. I wonder…

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 4- I’ll Be Home for Christmas Installment Two

**

 “Goodnight, girls,” Daddy said closing Abby’s bedroom door. When we heard my parent’s old bedroom door closed, we broke out in giggles.

“Do you girls need anything?”  Yule asked walking into the room without knocking.

“Knock!” Noel shouted throwing a pillow at Yule. Yule looked at her surprised.

“Yeah, knock!” Jessie-Maria shouted throwing some popcorn at him. I joined her.

“All right, all right, I know where I’m not wanted,” Yule said. He closed the door.

“Go away!” I screamed. We heard Yule break out laughing through the door. He walked away and slammed his bedroom door shut.

“So tell us about New York!” Regina said.

“How was rehab?” Emily asked.

“How was rehab?” I repeated trying to not to laugh.

“Dr. Walters wants me to go to rehab next month. He doesn’t like how my spine healed,” Emily said. “I’ve been having a hard time walking lately. My back hurts really badly all the time. I just got my halo ring off last week.”

“Rehab was actually kinda fun,” I said. “But that’s probably because I wasn’t trying to learn how to re-walk and all that jazz. I learned how to feed myself, dress myself, move from my wheelchair to my bed all on my one, and um… bladder control. The fun stuff was learning how to knit, sew, crochet, type, play basketball, kinda sorta swim, and piano lessons.”

“Rehab sounds like the Y,” Virginia said. I laughed.

Crash!

“What was that noise?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Jessie-Maria said. “Regina?”

“I’ve never heard that noise before,” Regina said. “It’s probably just the wind.”

“So…Jessie-Maria, tell us more about your long lost love,” Virginia said in a mushy voice.

“Um, it’s only been about two to three years,” Jessie-Maria said.

Bang!

“That was a different noise,” Emily said with fear in her voice.

“It’s probably just Yule playing a joke on us,” Jessie-Maria shrugged.

Emily seemed to accept that answer.

“So tell me more about Ms. O’Donnell’s boyfriend,” I said.

“He is so cute!” Regina squealed. “What? He is.”

“He’s forty-five too,” Virginia said. “He’s a carpenter. He’s got two kids. A daughter who’s fifteen and an eight year old son. His wife died mysteriously after giving birth. He lives on a farm right next to Ms. O’Donnell’s orchid.”

“Wait, Ms. O’Donnell has a orchid?” I asked.

“There’s a lot about Ms. O’Donnell you don’t know,” Virginia said. “Did you know that Ms. Erin is her daughter?”

“Her what!” I shouted. The room erupted into giggles.

“After you moved Emily and I got involved in A Father’s Presence. During harvest we helped collect the fruit. Ms. O’Donnell can be fun and laid back…when’s she’s not in school,” Virginia said. “She was raised by a single mother. Her father lives in Italy with her stepmom. She has a brother who lives in California with his wife and three kids. She has a half-brother in Italy who is twenty-something. She married Ms. Erin’s dad…not for love. When he died in a tragic accident, she got to orchid and has been running it ever since.”

“Wow,” I said. “You’ve been spending  lot of time with Ms. O’Donnell.”

“Like I said she’s fun when she’s not in school,” Virginia said.

CRASH! BANG!

“It’s a ghost!” Emily screamed.

“Come on, Emily,” Jessie-Maria said, “there is no such thing as ghost.”

“You…you don’t know that,” Emily said.

“I’ll prove it to you,” Jessie-Maria said. “Let’s go check the attic.”

“Have you lost your mind or has love made you blind?” Emily asked. Emily looked at me. “Anyway, Natalie can’t go up all those steps.”

“We’ll get Yule to carry her up the steps,” Jessie-Maria said. “Will having a man come along make you feel better?”

“You’re crazy!” Emily shouted. “What if it’s some robber or murderer?”

“In the B&B’s attic?” Virginia asked. “How in the world would he get food?”

“He sneaks out at night,” Emily said. “What if he’s trying to get out of the window?”

“Come on, Emily,” Virginia said grabbing onto Emily’s wrist. “Regina, can you give me my handcuffs out of my bag.”

Regina handed Virginia the handcuffs, and Virginia put them on Emily’s wrist.

“There,” Virginia said. “Let’s go get Yule.”

Jessie-Maria and Virginia walked out the room and came back minutes later with a sleepy eyed Yule.

“Emily, there’s no ghost in the attic,” Yule yawned. “I’m going back to sleep.”

“No!” Virginia shouted. “You have to proof it to her!”

Bang!

“That was odd,” Yule said. He picked me up, and everyone followed him to the attic door.

“AHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Emily screamed when a red haired girl fell out.

By the way she was crawling on the floor; I could tell that she was blind.

“What in the world is going on?” Daddy asked walking out of his bedroom door. He stopped when he saw the blind girl sprawling on the floor.

“Darcy!? Who are you? Have you come to feed me? What is this stuff on the floor?” The blind girl asked.

“Honey, what’s your name?” Daddy asked helping the blind girl up.

“Cece Elizabeth,” The girl said bluntly. “You got anything to eat? Darcy must have forgotten to feed me with all the excitement. He said something about a girl coming home after being in rehab.”

“Come on, honey,” Daddy said helping Cece Elizabeth walk a little. “Somebody go wake Donna.”

Regina started to pound on Ms. Donna’s door.

“What…,” Ms. Donna started when she walked out of her bedroom.

“I’m hungry,” Cece Elizabeth said.

“I have some leftover fried chicken in the refrigerator,” Ms. Donna offered.

“You’re the lady that cooks the delicious food Darcy brings me?” Cece Elizabeth asked. “You’re the best cook in the world…but you are the only cook I’ve ever eaten from…I’ve told you all this before…I forgot your name. Dana? Are you Donna or that other lady. Your voices are so similar.”

Ms. Donna didn’t say anything. She walked down the steps, and Daddy helped Cece Elizabeth down.

“I can walk,” Cece Elizabeth said. She tripped over the couch.

“Are you all right?” Daddy asked helping her up.

“What I can’t figure out is why we put things in certain places. We’re bound to trip over them, but we put them there anyway. I guess since you know where it is it’s all right for you, but you should really warn visitors,” Cece Elizabeth said.

“Didn’t you see the couch?” Daddy asked helping her into the restaurant.

“See?” Cece Elizabeth asked. “What does that mean?”

The realization came to everybody else. Cece Elizabeth was blind, and she thought the entire world was blind also.

“Honey, sit down,” Daddy said helping Cece Elizabeth sit down.

“Thank you,” Cece Elizabeth said as Ms. Donna handed her a plate. She started to eat the chicken ferociously.

“Honey, how long have you been in the attic?” Daddy asked.

“The attic? Is that where my room is located?” Cece Elizabeth asked. “I’ve lived there ever since I can remember. Darcy usually comes and feeds me. But today when he forgot I decided to sneak out and get my own food. I haven’t eaten in twenty-four hours!”

“Donna, did you know anything about this?” Daddy asked. Ms. Donna didn’t answer. She had to have known about this. I mean how do you not know about a child living in your attic?!

The clock rang twelve A.M. and that’s when the real craziness started.

We heard fire trucks, and the phone rang.

“Hello?” Ms. Donna asked picking up the room.

“THE STEWART’S HOUSE IS ON FIRE!” I heard Aunt Jane scream.

“What?” Ms. Donna asked, but Aunt Jane had hung up.

“The Stewart’s house is on fire,” Ms. Donna said putting the phone down.

I had a strange feeling that Mr. Stewart had set his own house on fire.

**

When we got to the Stewart’s house, the fire had already been put out, and Mrs. Stewart and Timmy were being loaded into ambulances. Jaci managed to get into Timmy’s ambulance, and Emily managed to get into her grandma’s ambulance. There was police tape everywhere. I kinda wanted to explore, but Daddy had to carry me because no one thought to bring my wheelchair.

The police were there. They were reading Mr. Stewart his rights,

“Are you Riley Walters-Baldwin-Matthews?” One of the officers asked.

“Yes,” Momma said shaking her head and looking sick.

“Ma’am, Fowler Stewart is being arrested for arson, two counts of attempted murder, three counts of fraud, several counts of harassment, and three counts of involuntary manslaughter,” The officer said. “If you come down the station and tell us your story, we can charge Fowler with any wrong doing he’s done against you.”

“I forgave Fowler Stewart a long time ago,” Momma said. “Why should he go to jail for what’s already been forgiven?”

“Excuse me, ma’am?” The officer asked.

“With all those charges Fowler’s probably going to be in jail for the rest of his life,” Momma said. “And anyway everyone deserves a second chance.”

“Um, ok,” The officer said walking away.

“I’m tired,” Momma said walking towards the car.

“Your mother is one good woman, children,” Daddy said walking towards the car.

He could say that again.

**

DING-DONG-DING-DONG-DING-DONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Ugh,” Virginia said groggily. “Doorbell, please shut up!”

The doorbell stopped, and we broke out laughing.

“Can you make my brothers disappear?” Regina joked.

YOU’RE HER WHAT!

“Oh, no,” I said recognizing the voice.

“What’s wrong?” Jessie-Maria asked.

“Don’t you recognize that voice?” I asked.

YOU LIAR!

“Grandma Shirley!” Jessie-Maria, Virginia, Regina, and I screamed. Noel stared at us like we were crazy. The girls made a desperate attempt to lift me. We went fumbling out the door and down the steps; we crashed on the family room floor. Noel waltzed down the steps and stared at us.

Daddy and Yule rushed to help us up. Grandma Shirley kept yelling at Momma for not uttering a word about Yule and Noel. Grandpa Jack and Uncle Cael were bringing luggage into the B&B. Aunt Clarisse was trying to control her kids while Uncle John was trying to control Grandma Shirley.

I instantly knew why they were there. Christmas. They came for Christmas and to see me. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy they came and all but…

“Who is shouting!” Cece Elizabeth screamed. She tumbled down the steps and started to fumble around.

“Are you all right, Miss?” Uncle Cael asked helping her to the couch.

“No, I’m not ok,” Cece Elizabeth snapped. “Somebody woke me up! Somebody was screaming louder than a fighter jet.”

Everybody but Grandma Shirley chuckled.

“I don’t mind the joke very funny,” Grandma Shirley snapped.

“Ah ha! You’re the loudest woman on this planet,” Cece Elizabeth said getting up from the couch.

“Excuse me?” Grandma Shirley asked.

“Next time could you please refrain from screaming at six o’clock in the morning?” Cece Elizabeth asked. “I do believe this is a place of rest not an anger management session.”

I was beginning to like this girl.

“Well I never!” Grandma Shirley huffed. She stomped off.

“In all my days I have never seen anybody talk to my mother like that!” Uncle Cael laughed. “Did you see the way she was scowling at you?”

“No, I didn’t,” Cece Elizabeth barked. She stomped back up the steps and slammed the attic door.

“What did I say?” Uncle Cael asked.

“She’s blind,” Ms. Donna said looking sadly up the steps.

“Whoops,” Uncle Cael said. He went running up the steps.

“The girl who insulted me so rudely is a blind girl?” Grandma Shirley shouted outraged. “I’m never telling her if a train is coming, and she’s standing in the middle of the tracks.”

Grandma Shirley stormed up the steps.

“Mean,” Noel said pointing in the direction Grandma Shirley stalked off in.

“She’s a smart girl,” Grandpa Jack laughed.

“Yes, she is,” Momma said hugging Noel.

**

“He tried to kill us!” Mrs. Stewart cried for the millionth time.

It was dinner time, and just about every woman in Florida was surrounding her trying to hear her ‘survival’ story. Grandma Shirley made a big show of being bored by the story and frequently interrupted to give her opinion.

“He locked Timmy and me in the bedroom and set the house on fire!” Mrs. Stewart cried. “I thought I was going to die!”

“Why didn’t you just command the fire to stop?” Grandma Shirley asked. “You were able to command people in high school.”

Mrs. Stewart rolled her eyes.

“Anyway lucky for us the phone still worked, and I was able to call 911. It doesn’t surprise too much that he tried to kill me but trying to burn your grandson? His own flesh and blood?”

“Fowler Stewart has made it very apparent that he doesn’t care too much for his flesh and blood,” Grandma Shirley said. She took a quick glance at Yule and Noel, and everybody got the message.

“Well he can’t hurt you anymore,” Ms. O’Donnell said changing the subject back. “He’s in jail without bail.”

“Is your house still livable?” Mrs. Rivers asked.

“Our house burned to the ground,” Mrs. Stewart said with tears streaming down her face. “The police said that Fowler was trying to burn the evidence against him. Like the baby pictures and birth certificates.”

Mrs. Stewart pulled two crumpled pieces of paper out of her pocket.

“Here,” Mrs. Stewart said handing them to Yule. “There your birth certificates. I managed to save them. I thought you’d might like to have them.”

“Thank you,” Yule smiled. He handed the birth certificates to Momma.

“Where are you, Emily, and Timmy going to live?” Mrs. Hardy asked.

“Um, I’m sure somebody in the Stewart family will take us in,” Mrs. Stewart said.

“Why don’t the three of you stay here until further arrangements can be made?” Ms. Donna asked. “I’ve got plenty of extra rooms.”

“Well you are part of the Stewart family,” Mrs. Stewart said. “Sure.”

Momma looked like she was about to puke.

And then I felt my food come back up too.

Grandma Shirley and Mrs. Stewart in the same house equaled trouble.

The doorbell rang.

“Now who is that?” Ms. Donna asked looking around. “Just about everyone is here.”

“I’ll answer it,” Darcy said walking towards the door. He came back seconds later with a large wooden box in his hands.

“Delivery for Mr. and Mrs. Steve Matthews! Boy, this box is heavy!” Darcy said dropping the box on the floor.

“Darcy! You don’t know what’s in that box!” Ms. Donna shouted.

This seemed very familiar.

“Ow,” The box said.

Daddy looked at Momma, and Momma took the lid off the box.

“Oh my!” Momma shouted.

“Not again!” I shouted.

“I have got to find out if that’s legal or not,” Darcy said shaking his head.

“It’s not,” Daddy said looking at the box.

“The poor thing,” Ms. Donna said.

This time instead of a two year old blonde girl staring back at me, a four year old brunette little girl stared back at me. The poor little girl had Down Syndrome. She was smiling at us.

“What’s your name, honey?” Momma asked her.

“Bella,” The girl answered. “You Mommy?”

“Um, yes,” Momma said.

“Here,” The little girl said handing Momma a note.

  Dear Mr. and Mrs. Steve Matthews,

 Hello! It’s me, Fowler Stewart. I’ve asked one of my workers to send you an early Christmas gift. Now you know how Yule and Noel got to their home.

P.S. Sorry Yule, there weren’t any boys in the warehouse and we just can’t seem to find a home for this girl.

Merry Christmas,

Fowler Stewart

Mr. Stewart might be in jail without bail, but he was still the head of the Stewart family, and that’s what scared me the most.