“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.
“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.
“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.
“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!”
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.