Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Ten

 

**

I looked at the clock. Only one more minute.

Ms. O’Donnell stared us down. We had just been sitting here for fifteen minutes. We had finished out schoolwork early but she refused to let school go out early.

The bell rang and the room erupted.

SUMMER!

Ms. O’Donnell put her hands on her ears and walked out the room muttering something.

“Ms. O’Donnell!” I cried running out the room.

“Yes, Natalie?” Ms. O’Donnell asked. I pulled a box of chocolates out of my backpack.

“Happy summer,” I smiled. Ms. O’Donnell smiled back.

“I expect to see you at this weekend Christmas in July meeting/Erin’s dress making?” Ms. O’Donnell asked. I nodded.

“Everything’s almost set up and July 25th is a month away. All we need to do is get the word out,” I said.

“Don’t worry about that,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I’ll handle the media.”

I smiled.

“Thank you, Ms. O’Donnell. I had my doubts about you but you really are a good teacher,” I said.

“You’re welcome, Natalie,” Ms. O’Donnell said with tears in her eyes. “That really means a lot to me.”

I smiled and walked back to the class.

Maybe Ms. O’Donnell had a little bit of heaven in here.

**

I looked out the window. A black limo pulled up and a short blonde girl got out of it.

“Don’t move,” Mrs. Stewart commanded. She poked me.

“Ow,” I said.

“We’ve been over this before, Natalie,” Mrs. Stewart said. “If you don’t stand still I’m bound to poke you with one of these pins!”

“Who is that girl?” Sean asked looking out the window.

“I think that’s one of Ned’s friends. I believe her name is Kristen. She’s from Hollywood and is married to Ned’s best friend from there,” Ms. Erin said looking out the window.

“I can tell,” Mrs. Stewart said looking out the window.

In less than two minutes Kristen walked into the room.

“You’re even prettier than Ned said,” Kristen said hugging Ms. Erin. “Omygosh!”

“What?” Ms. Erin asked.

“You got Jessie-Maria Sean for your wedding!” Kristen shouted looking at Sean. “No way! I tried to get her for mine but they said she had left the state and was no longer preforming! Leave it to Ned Davis to get what he wants!”

Wait, what? Sean was famous?

Mrs. Rivers looked at Sean. Sean looked like a deer in a car’s headlights. She tried to run away but as she ran Abby lost her grip on the pins and they pierced her skin and caused her to fall down. Blood dripped from her leg.

“I’m sorry, Jaci,” Sean cried. “I’ve bloody the dress.”

“It’s ok,” Jaci said grabbing a Band-Aid from the first aid kit. “We’ve got plenty of fabric if we can’t wash it out.”

“Honey, why did you tell Tom and me about this?” Mrs. Rivers asked.

“Most people once they find out I’m gifted use my gifts for…profit,” Sean cried.

“Oh, baby,” Mrs. Rivers said hugging Sean. “Sean, honey, Tom and I would never use the gift’s God’s given you for profit.”

“Sean?” Kristen asked. “Why do you call her by her last name?”

“Cause my first name is embarrassing,” Sean said. “My name means bitter gifted.”

“Let’s get the dictionary,” Mrs. Rivers said. Emily came back a minutes later with a dictionary.

“B…,” Mrs. Rivers said flipping through the dictionary. “Bitter!”

“See, it means something that is unpleasant, distasteful, and distressing,” Sean pouted.

“It also means being relentlessly determined,” Mrs. Rivers read.

“Determined?” Sean asked.

“Relentlessly,” Mrs. Rivers said hugging Sean.

“Sean, I have an idea but I don’t want you to think I’m trying to use your gifts,” Ms. O’Donnell said.

“What is it?” Sean asked.

“I think that we should not only have a little carnival thing but a Christmas show and nativity play! Sean could perform in the show and we could advertise it!” Ms. O’Donnell said. “What do you think? It would be for a good cause.”

“On one condition,” Sean smiled. “You call me Jessie-Maria.”

“Deal!” Everyone shouted.

“Oh, thank you!” Virginia shouted hugging Jessie-Maria. “I just know we’re going to help all my friends! Thank you. It means a lot to me.”

“My pleasure,” Jessie-Maria said. “We’re supposed to use or gifts to help others right?”

Everyone laughed.

**

“Oh, where is my camera?” Momma asked. “I had it at Abby’s wedding.”

“Mrs. Matthews! Abby and Jaci are on their way from North Adams,” Regina said. “Everything isn’t finished yet! Oh, this is going to be a disaster!”

“The baby shower isn’t going to be a disaster!” Momma shouted. “As long as I can find my camera.”

“Well at least the cake is finished,” I said looking up at it. Ms. Donna had made the cake, and Jaci made the icing. The cake was kinda silly. It was decorated with question marks and diapers.

“I brought the baby shower umbrella!” Mrs. Stewart shouted running into the house. “Where’s the rocking chair.”

“Can I get a little help here?” Ms. Donna asked from the steps. “Steve said he was going to help me carry it down from the attic. I don’t know where he is.”

“I’ll help,” Mrs. Stewart said dropping the umbrella and helping Ms. Donna.

“Ok,” Mrs. Stewart said setting the chair and umbrella up. “Now all we need is the mother-to-be or is she already a mother? She has Jessie-Maria.”

“Where is my camera?” Momma cried. “Oh, Natalie, can you go check upstairs in my room. Knock first. Oh and bring our gifts down too.”

I nodded and walked up the steps.

“Come in,” Mr. Steve’s voice said when I knocked.

“What are you doing?” I cried when I heard a familiar tune and saw Mr. Steve with my mom’s camera.

“You’re really good,” Mr. Steve said not taking his eyes from the camera. “When did you start playing the piano? You couldn’t have been but four or five in this video.”

“I was three when I learned the basics and how to read notes,” I said trying not to cry. What was Mr. Steve doing snooping on my mom’s camera card?

“Why’d you stop?” Mr. Steve asked. “You’re really good. You should start taking lessons again.”

“No!” I cried. Mr. Steve looked up from the camera.

“What’s wrong?” Mr. Steve said. “With talent like that you really could become something.”

“What’s wrong? You’re wrong!” I cried.

“Excuse me?” Mr. Steve asked.

“How dare you snoop on my mother’s camera card?” I cried. “That card has special memories on it! Memories that you shouldn’t see!”

“And why shouldn’t I see them?” Mr. Steve asked folding his arms and getting angry.

“Because,” I said.

“Just because,” Mr. Steve said. I nodded.

“And what’s wrong with taking lessons? You have a gift and you should pursue such a talent with all you’ve got,” Mr. Steve said.

“Music was something I shared with my dad,” I shouted as calmly as I could. “When he died I stopped playing and Momma didn’t mind. So I haven’t touched a piano since I was five.”

“That’s not right,” Mr. Steve said shaking his head. “There aren’t any piano teachers in Florida. So we’ll have to try North Adams.”

“Don’t you understand?” I screamed. “I don’t want to take lessons! My father was my teacher! He understood how I learned music better than anybody else ever or could!”

“Natalie, this music teacher isn’t going to replace your father,” Mr. Steve said with disgust in his voice.

“Oh, but you can!” I screamed. I grabbed the gifts and walked out the door before Mr. Steve could say anything else.

“Did you find my camera?” Momma asked. “What’s wrong?”

If I looked how I felt, I was a mess. How could Mr. Steve force me to take piano lessons? So what if I had a talent? My father loved music, and introduced it to me. I couldn’t learn music with anyone else. I just know I couldn’t.

“Mr. Steve has your camera,” I said. “Tell him to stop snooping!”

“Snooping?” Momma asked.

“He was looking through your card,” I said.

“Um, ok,” Momma said not seeing the invasion of privacy.

“You just don’t understand!” I cried walking towards the bathroom. “Nobody understands.”

I understand.

What in the world was that? Is that you God?

“If it’s about those naked baby pictures of you…,” Momma started but I slammed the bathroom door.

By the time I finished crying the baby shower was underway. The shower might have been a lot of fun if Mr. Steve had destroyed it for me, but looking back I think I destroyed it for myself.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Seven

**

Ms. O’Donnell is the meanest teacher in all of Berkshire County.

I wasn’t contagious anymore but that didn’t mean my symptoms had gone away. My throat was still sore and all I could eat was applesauce and stew. My fever was being controlled by Tylenol, but I was still above average. I’d vomited a couple times, and even though I hated it I resorted to sleeping with Momma and Mr. Steve. I snuggled as close to Momma as I could and tried to ignore Mr. Steve’s snores.

I hadn’t asked Momma about her going missing. I figured she tell me she couldn’t talk about it and encourage me to read on so I cut out the asking and feeling hurt part and kept reading. My dad was pretty skimp on journal entries which doesn’t surprise me but doesn’t tell me a lot about what was going on. It was almost Christmas time and Momma still hadn’t been found. The funny thing is Momma always skipped the Christmas of this year when she told me about her Christmases with Daddy.

Ms. O’Donnell had been livid when she heard I wasn’t contagious and still didn’t come to school. I don’t think she understands the difference between contagious and sick. I couldn’t get anybody else sick but that didn’t mean I wasn’t sick.

But here I was sick as a dog learning where to place comas. It had only been three days since I learned I had strep throat. Darcy looked at me. He smiled and I smiled back. Ugh, my stomach hurt. I wish I had a Tylenol but you couldn’t bring medicine to school and Momma didn’t want to take a chance with aspirin.

“Girls, listen up,” Ms. O’Donnell said. “I am pleased to announce that North Adams annual Father-Daughter Dance will take place May 31st. Tickets are five dollars apiece and as you know all the funds will go to A Father’s Presence. Class dismissed.”

I felt like laughing. Ms. O’Donnell was indorsing the dance at school? That didn’t seem like her. I waited as Darcy handed Ms. O’Donnell some money.

“You’re not going to the dance are you?” I asked. Darcy chuckled.

“No, but every year I do give Ms. O’Donnell some money for her cause,” Darcy said. “She started A Father’s Presence. She quit her teaching job when she started it but had to start teaching again when she couldn’t pay herself since A Father’s Presence is nonprofit. A couple years back she started pairing the boys without fathers with one of the temporary fathers. She chose Mr. Stewart for me since we’re related, but Mr. Matthews and Mr. Drew stepped in more than he did as a temporary dad.”

“You’re related to Mr. Stewart?” I asked surprised.

“My mom is anyway. She’s on the other side of Stewarts. She’s a Stewart-Chadwick hence my nickname,” Darcy said. He walked over to Nelson which gave me the feeling he didn’t want to say anymore.

Then a thought made me vomit (literally I vomited right in front of everybody). Momma was for sure going to make me go to that dance with Mr. Steve. I mean it would be weird if he took Abby, Jaci, and Megan but not me. I couldn’t go to that dance. I just couldn’t. Not with Mr. Steve. The thought of having to dance with him made me vomit again.

Darcy led me to the nurse’s office. God must have an interesting sense of humor because Mr. Steve came by to pick me up from school just as the nurse picked up the phone to call my mother.

**

“How could you do this to me?!”

That was Jaci’s voice and she wasn’t too happy. I crawled from under the covers and tiptoed down stairs.

“I’m sorry but Erin and Ned wanted to get married in July,” Abby said to Jaci.

“I still can’t believe you’re getting married in June! That’s less than a month away. There is absolutely no time to make dresses!” Jaci cried. She really did look upset.

“You can make my dresses, Jaci,” Ms. Erin said hugging Jaci.

“I’m sorry, Jaci, I didn’t know it was that important to you,” Abby said truly looking sorry.

“It’s my sister’s wedding! How could it not be important for me to make the dresses?!” Jaci asked clearly outraged.

“Honey,” Mr. Steve said. “It’s not normal no I shouldn’t use that word. Let’s just say most people don’t have handmade dresses for their weddings.”

“They don’t?” Jaci asked with her eyes filled with wonder. “They just buy them?”

Mr. Steve nodded.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Jaci asked. She wasn’t as anger but she was still angry.

“Natalie! Go back to bed!” Mr. Steve shouted spotting me.

“Oh, all I did was throw up,” I said.

“Go. Back. To. Bed,” Mr. Steve and Momma said in unison. I walked back up the steps. Parents, can’t live with them but wouldn’t survive or be here without them.

**

“Tada!”

I stared at the purple bicycle that just moments ago had been hidden underneath a white sheet. Mr. Steve smiled at me and I looked at him totally clueless. I’d never ridden a bicycle before. When Dr. Walters heard that he said no wonder I had gotten Scurvy.

It had been two weeks since my strep throat diagnosis and the symptoms were almost all gone. I still had a lingering sore throat but I could eat more than apple sauce and stew. I hadn’t had a chance to read too much of my father’s journals. I still was where I was at two weeks ago. We had testing at school and Ms. O’Donnell doesn’t play around.

I wasn’t sleeping well. Just yesterday I woke up to discover myself in the shower.

Abby was getting married June 1st the day after the Father-Daughter Dance. Abby knew this of course and Mrs. Rivers and Sean had been upset when they learned there would be no bridal shower sleepover to plan. Abby told them they could have their shower a week before the dance and they agreed but not without kicking and screaming.

“Thank you,” I said remembering my manners. “but I can’t ride.”

“You can learn,” Mr. Steve smiled. By the way he looked you would think he was the one who was about to learn how to ride.

I wanted to say “Not from you.” But that would be rude. I just smiled and walked back into the house.

“Hi, Natalie,” Virginia said walking into the house. “Is that bike outside yours?”

“Yup, and I don’t have any clue how to ride it,” I said. Virginia opened her mouth.

“I guess you being a Farm Girl it’s really hard to believe that a twelve year old doesn’t know how to ride a bike,” I said.

Virginia just nodded.

“I just stopped by to say hi since I have a feeling Aunt Jane, Rachel, Caroline, and I won’t be by for supper,” Virginia said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Aunt Jane is taking Rachel and me shopping for dress for the Father-Daughter Dance,” Virginia said. She had a big grin on her face.

“Who’s taking you?” I asked.

“Mr. Hank. He came by last week and asked Aunt Jane if it was all right if he took us,” Virginia said. “If you ask me he’s a little sweet on Aunt Jane.”

I smiled.

“I hope you have a good time,” I said. “I can’t see to worm out of the dance.”

“Why would you want to?” Virginia asked. “You got a real dad.”

“Mr. Steve is not my real dad!” I shouted.

“Sorry,” Virginia said. “I just thought since he married your mom and all.”

“He may have married my mom but he’s not my dad,” I said. “My dad’s in heaven.”

“So is mine,” Virginia said. “And I plan on enjoying the Father-Daughter Dance with Mr. Hank. Did you know that Emily is going too? Zach’s taking her.”

“So what?” I asked.

“Virginia!” Aunt Jane called.

“Mr. Steve cares about you, Natalie,” Virginia said walking towards the door. “I’d go as far as to say he loves you. And I hope one day you’ll see that too. I just hope God doesn’t have to do something drastic to make you see that.”

I was pretty mad at Virginia after that but only for about the rest of the day. Virginia was my best friend, and I knew there was some truth to her words. I just didn’t want to believe them. I knew I was hurting Mr. Steve’s feelings, but if I could just pretend that he didn’t care about me I could just go ahead and hurt his feelings and not feel guilty about it. And I would have to learn the hard way just how much Mr. Steve really did love me.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 2- Marshmallow World Installment Twenty-Seven

**

“A play?” I asked Ms. Erin after church.

“Not just any play but a Nativity Play for your mother’s wedding,” Ms. Erin said. “I know that your mother loves Christmas and I just thought that it would be a nice little surprise.”

“I like it,” I said. “And I’ll think my mother will be pleased.”

“Great!” Ms. Erin shouted. “We’ll have auditions Wednesday night after we audition for the Easter play and I’ll email the parents about it and tell them to keep this a secret.”

“What a secret?” Momma asked walking up.

“Oh I was just asking Natalie some questions about my wedding,” Ms. Erin smiled.

“See you tomorrow afternoon,” Momma smiled at Ms. Erin. Ms. Erin winked at me and walked away.

**

“It’s snowing!” Megan squealed looking out the window later that day.

“NO! NO! NO!” Momma shouted running to the window.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “We’ve seen a lot of snow since we moved here.”

“It can’t be snowing!” Momma cried. “My wedding is in two weeks! It’s a SPRING wedding not a WINTER wedding!”

“Calm down, Riley,” Aunt Clarisse said. “It’s just a light dusting. The snow will melt soon.”

“Well it better!” Momma cried. She stormed up the steps.

“What’s up with Momma?” I asked.

“Just pre-wedding jitters,” Aunt Clarisse shrugged. “She’s going to get more and more frazzled in the weeks to come. Her previous wedding was probably a lot simpler. Did she and your father elope?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “My father just took her to England for their wedding.”

“Huh?” Aunt Clarisse asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve been reading my father’s journals and I’m up to their wedding.”

“I wish I could have met your father,” Aunt Clarisse said. She walked away looking sad.

The doorbell rang and Grandma Shirley answered it.

“Who are you?” I heard Grandma Shirley snap.

“Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin,” A deep British voice asked. “You wouldn’t happen to be Donna Edwards the lady who runs the Sunshine B&B?”

“You insult me!” Grandma Shirley cried. “I’m Shirley Walters!”

“You can’t be,” A woman’s voice with a British accent asked. I walked towards the door to find an old looking man and middle-aged/older looking blonde haired lady.

“You’re nothing like your daughter!” The man shouted.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Grandma Shirley said leaning on the door.

“And who are you?” The woman asked.

It took me a second to answer. What should I call myself? These people were clearly my grandparents. Would they be offended it I used my new name?

“Natalie Matthews,” I decided on. Grandma and Grandpa Baldwin smiled.

“Then you must be our granddaughter,” Grandma Baldwin said. “Where’s your mother?”

“Crying because it’s snowing,” I said. Grandma and Grandpa Baldwin laughed.

“Mom! Dad!” Momma cried running down the steps. She gave Grandma and Grandpa Baldwin a hug. Grandma Shirley scowled. She slammed the door shut leaving Grandma and Grandpa Baldwin along with Momma out on the porch in the snow.

Momma opened the door and looked at Grandma Shirley.

“Whoops, the um doorknob slipped through my fingers,” Grandma Shirley lied.

Grandma and Grandpa Baldwin raised their eyebrows at her and walked into the B&B.

Only two weeks and five days to go.

**

“The dresses are purely ugly.”

Of course Grandma Shirley just said that to be contrary.

Jaci and Mrs. Stewart sighed. I personally thought my dress looked beautiful except for the bow though.

“Mrs. Stewart, the dress are lovely,” Momma said giving Mrs. Stewart a hug. “Thank you Jaci and Mrs. Stewart.”

Sean looks like she wants to disappear. The bridesmaids’ dresses don’t have sleeves. Sean had bunch of scares on her arms and some spilling from her chest. Mrs. Rivers ran over to her and hugged her.

“The dresses are very pretty,” Grandma Baldwin said laying on the British charm. “The hems are very very good.”

Mrs. Stewart smirked at Grandma Shirley, and Grandma Shirley scowled.

“Now go try on your dress!” Abby squealed at Momma. Momma walked into the temporary dressing room and five minutes later walked out of the dressing room.

Grandma Shirley opened her mouth but Aunt Clarisse opened her mouth and talked faster than I ever heard somebody talk in my life.

“Huh?” Momma asked. Everyone else had a confused look on their face but they didn’t say anything.

“I said the dress looks beautiful!” Aunt Clarisse shouted walking towards Momma. “It’s exactly the dress you always said you’d marry Steve in.”

“I know,” Momma said. Her face was bursting with joy. “Jaci and Mrs. Stewart got it perfect. I love it!”

“We were happy to do it,” Jaci said. Mrs. Stewart nodded her head. Tears streamed down Momma’s face. Then the tears turned into sobs.

“Riley, what’s wrong?” Mrs. Rivers asked walking over to Momma.

“I have the strangest feeling,” Momma cried. “It’s almost like I’m burying Alexander again.”

Grandma Baldwin gave Momma a hug. Grandma Shirley ran (and in Mrs. Stewart’s sewing room there is no room for running especially with all the girls that were in here) to Momma’s side and embraced her in an awkward hug.

“Mother, you’re choking me,” Momma said. Grandma Baldwin let go probably thinking that would help. Grandma Shirley just hugged Momma tighter.

“Mother, get off of me!” Momma shouted. Her tone was quick, short, and unforgiving. I sensed hurt in it also. Grandma Shirley did not seem surprised by Momma’s voice. She snorted.

“You were always begging for me to hug you and when I did you didn’t want me to touch you,” Grandma Shirley said with such hatred and hurt that I almost cried. “At least that hasn’t changed about you.”

“Nothing’s changed about you,” Momma snapped. “You didn’t seem to get the message I had been sending out for all of my life until I went to high school. You didn’t sense the desire I had to please my mother. To be loved my mother. And even when you seemed to at least grasp a little of that you still pushed me to side. You hugged Clarisse, John, and Cael with all the love in the world but you hugged me like you wished I’d never been born. You just gave me that same cold hug just now. The hug was always too late. I had been begging and begging for you to help me and you’d hug me just after everything had gone wrong. The hug was never sincere. You just hugged me to put on a show. You just hugged me to make it look like you were a good mother. What did I ever do you to? I tried to please you. Papa was always proud of me but you never were. For a time Cael and John were proud of me. Always talking about how I had great expectations and how I was going to be some big name lawyer someday. When Clarisse was little she’d go around telling people that she was Riley Walters’ little sister. But when it came to you. You didn’t even have a picture of me on your desk!”

Momma ran out the door with tears flowing like a river. Grandma Shirley stood there looking surprised but not shocked. Her eyes were trying to focus on the wall but you could still see that there were tears in her eyes. But there was no sense of remorse in her eyes though and that hurt me. Aunt Clarisse, after she got over her shock, walked out the door to go search for Momma. I quickly followed.

I managed to walk out the door just in time to see Mr. Stewart push my mother into the road and be semi-hit by an oncoming car.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 2- Marshmallow World Installment Twenty-Five

**

“When I found out that the world famous Ned Davis was moving into the apartment next to me, I almost moved out,” Ms. Erin said as she told the story of how she met Ned. “I was appealed at the time that I was going to be living next to a man who played the Devil and was a Stewart.”

“You played the Devil?” Virginia asked.

“And won an Oscar for it,” Ned said.

“So I guess you were pretty famous,” I said.

“Yup. I’ve got two Oscars and five Golden Globes,” Ned said.

“Then why did you leave Hollywood?” Nelson asked.

“I got in trouble a lot. Fights at clubs and bars. And when my daughter Emma was born I knew I had to change,” Ned said. “So Emma and I left Hollywood and came back to where I grew up.”

“If I was a famous actress making lots of money I wouldn’t leave,” Virginia said. Ned smiled.

“Well I’m glad Ned left,” Ms. Erin said hugging Ned.

“We about ready to go?” Zach asked. We nodded.

“It’s really snowing out there,” Darcy said looking out the window.

“Again?” Emily asked also looking out the window. “We just had that terrible blizzard.”

“Let’s get home before it gets worse,” Zach said.

We piled into Zach’s car and started on the road for home.

“Honey, can you see?” Abby asked.

“Nope,” Zach said.

“Pull over!” Emily shouted putting her hands over her eyes. Nelson hugged her.

“I think we’re almost home,” Zach said. Abby groaned.

“What?” Ms. Erin asked.

“Nothing,” Abby laughed.

“LOOK OUT!”

Zach slammed on the breaks and just barely missed hitting another car.

“Seriously!” I shouted throwing my hands up.

Mr. Stewart walked from the other car and Emily looked at Timmy.

“Don’t worry,” Timmy said squeezing her shoulder.

“Mr. Stewart, what are you doing?” Abby asked rolling down her window.

“I could ask you the same question,” Mr. Stewart said.

“Zach, Erin, Ned, Natalie, Darcy, Emily, Nelson, Jaci, Timmy, and I went out on a group date,” Abby said. “What are you doing?”

“If you have to know I’m coming from Pittsfield,” Mr. Stewart said. “I don’t remember giving Emily and Timmy permission to go out this evening.”

“Grandma said we could go!” Emily screamed loud enough that Mr. Stewart could hear her. Mr. Stewart nodded.

“Uncle Fowler, why were you spending?” Zach asked rolling down his window. “And why are driving on the wrong side of the street?”

“Zach Davis!” Mr. Stewart shouted. “I’ll get on the right side of the road.”

Mr. Stewart got in his car and got out of the way.

As we started to drive towards the street where Ms. Erin and Ned lived, I had a strange feeling that Mr. Stewart was out to get me.

**

“Meehghneojgsosanivgsnhiigsiogils.”

“Huh?” I asked Mrs. Stewart. Mrs. Stewart took some pins out of her mouth.

“Hold still,” Mrs. Stewart said. I tried to stand still.

“Ow!” I shouted.

“I said hold still,” Mrs. Stewart said. “Now I don’t want to poke you but if you keep moving I’m going to.”

“Are you sure about this bow in the back?” I asked Jaci.

“I’m positive,” Jaci said. “I think the daughter of the bride’s dress should be a little different from the other bridesmaid’s dresses.”

“Darcy better not laugh at me,” I sighed.

“I’ll have a talk with him,” Mrs. Stewart winked.

I sighed.

“I feel like a princess,” Abby said. “OW!”

“Sorry!” Momma said. “I’m not the world’s best pinner. I still can’t believe Jaci talked me into letting her and Mrs. Stewart make my wedding dresses and my bridesmaids’ dresses.”

“We will not disappoint,” Mrs. Stewart smiled.

“Well I was impressed when Mrs. Stewart put the pattern instructions in her pattern drawer without even reading it,” Momma laughed.

“I’ve made these dresses a thousand times.” Mrs. Stewart said. “Ok not a thousand but I know what I’m doing and so does Jaci.”

“I’m just glad you were able to find the color pink I wanted in fabric,” Abby smiled.

“I feel like a penguin,” Mrs. Rivers sighed. Sean smiled.

“You should,” Momma smiled. “You’re carrying twins.”

“We should start planning your baby shower,” Regina said.

“Riley, you know the only reason I’m doing this is because you’re getting married next month,” Mrs. Rivers said. Momma smiled.

“How are we going to get these dresses made by April 20th?” Emily asked.

“I can help,” Sean said in a low voice.

“Do you know how to sew?” Jaci asked.

“Yeah,” Sean mumbled.

“I can help out too,” Mrs. Rivers said. “It will give Jessie and me something to do.”

“Why don’t you go to school?” Regina asked Sean.

“I…I….I….,” Sean started.

“She already has her high school diploma and is taking online college courses for Oxford. They made a special exception,” Mrs. Rivers said.

“You must be mighty gifted to be get into Oxford at your age,” Emily said. Sean dropped the pin cushion and went running out the door.

“I meant it as a compliment,” Emily said looking hurt.

“I know sweetie,” Mrs. Rivers said hugging Emily. “I know.”

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 2- Marshmallow World Installment Fourteen

**

“What does it feel like out there?” I asked as I put on my coat. We were about to leave for Bible study and lately it had been feeling like it was below zero.

“It feels like -12o but it’s really only 4o,” Momma said looking at her phone.

“Oh I don’t mind the cold,” Jaci said. “I am from Maine.”

“Well I’m from Miami,” I said. “And its 72o there.” Jaci laughed and smiled.

“Who’s ready for church?” Mr. Steve asked. He had on three scarfs and four coats.

“You look funny, Father,” Jaci said putting on her third coat.

“I am sweating but I know that will stop when I step outside,” Mr. Steve said. Momma nodded her head feverishly.

“It is COLD out there!” Darcy shouted running into the house. He had gone to get the mail.

“Close the door all the way!” Momma cried as she put a second pair of mittens on Megan’s hands. Darcy shut the door.

Ms. Donna hurried downstairs and put up her closed sign.

“Will it snow again, Mommy?” Megan asked as we walked outside in the freezing out.

“They say we may see some flurries,” Momma said. Megan smiled.

“Me cold,” Megan said as we reached the car.

“Oh, this car is freezing!” I cried sitting on the seat. Darcy laughed. I gave him a sharp glance.

“Hopefully the car will warm up. It’s a twenty-five minute drive to church,” Mr. Steve said. I blew on my hands.

“Natalie Zoey Baldwin! What in the world is wrong with you!” Momma shouted looking at me.

“What did I do?” I asked.

“You walked out of the house with two coats on! Its 4o outside! You could get sick and not to mention the fact that you have no mittens on!” Momma shouted.

“Oh brother,” I mumbled under my breath. I heard the faint sound of gunshots.

“Stop the car!” Jaci screamed. Mr. Steve stopped the car.

“What?” He asked.

“Go up to Aunt Jane’s front yard!” Jaci screamed. Mr. Steve drove up a little. The gunshots got louder.

“Timothy-Caleb!” Jaci screamed rolling down the window. Timmy was shooting at Aunt Jane’s chickens.

“Jaci, I, um,” Timmy stammered.

“Timothy, why are shooting chickens in 4 degree weather?” Jaci asked. I heard Mr. Steve give a faint chuckle.

“Well Aunt Jane doesn’t like me shooting at her chickens and she’s gone to church,” Timmy stammered.

“And why do you think she doesn’t like you shooting at her chickens?” Jaci asked. Timmy sighed.

“Cause it confuses them and sometimes I kill them,” Timmy said.

“Sometimes? Last year you killed Aunt Jane’s prize egg laying chicken. Darlene laid two eggs a day,” Darcy snorted.

“Timothy-Caleb it feels like it’s below zero! Is it really worth risking hypothermia just to shoot some chickens?” Jaci asked.

“No, but I was bored!” Timmy shouted.

“I have a solution for that,” Jaci said with a twinkle in her eyes. “How would you like to go to Bible study with me?”

**

Light flurries were accumulating outside by the time we got to church. Timmy didn’t say anything the entire ride. Jaci smiled the entire ride.

Jaci came with Darcy, Timmy, Regina, Nelson, and me to Youth Group. Jaci was eighteen so technically she was too old for Youth Group. I had a feeling she wanted Timmy to feel welcome. And I’m ashamed to say it but the rest of us probably wouldn’t have made Timmy feel too welcome.

I could tell that Timmy felt out of place at Youth Group. Most of the tweens/teens from town were in Youth Group and most of them shunned Timmy. They didn’t really acknowledge that he was there.

I felt sorry for him but I didn’t go over there and talk to Timmy. As we sat down for class I felt a little like a hypocrite. The Bible tells us to love our enemies. Timmy wasn’t my enemy. He was the brother of my almost enemy but still. Why hadn’t I gone over there and talked to him?

“Some of you may not know this,” The Youth Group leader Ms. Erin said. “But I sit in this chair and watch you children. I watch who you talk to. I listen to what you talk about. I’ve known most of you since you were young. I watched you today and I was ashamed of you.”

Gasps and whispers flew through the room like a wildfire. I felt ashamed of myself at that moment. Why hadn’t I done what was right and went over there and talked to Timmy?

“You did what was popular and not what was right. Today we have a guest. And just because his last name is Stewart you chose to ignore him. Instead of welcoming him with open arms you didn’t even welcome him at all. You left the job of the church to one person and I know for a fact that Ms. Jaci Matthews doesn’t care about what’s popular,” Ms. Erin said.

I saw some girls roll their eyes.

“I was going to talk about the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead but I feel like I need to address the seriousness of this further,” Ms. Erin said. “But before I do.”

Ms. Erin stood up and opened the storage closet. She took out a blue bag that said Welcome!.

“Here you go Timothy Stewart,” Ms. Erin said handing the bag to Timmy. “It’s a welcome bag.”

“Thanks,” Timmy said taking the bag. Jaci smiled and gave his arm a squeeze.

“I’ve lived in Berkshire County my whole life. Berkshire County is rather large but just about everybody has heard of the Stewart clan,” Ms. Erin said. “The Stewart’s are most notably known for Stewart & Stewart law firm which is in Pittsfield. That law firm is the most feared law firm in Massachusetts. Stewart & Stewart is known for being deceitful. It’s known for getting what they want no matter how they get it. A person could lose their life for all they care. And it’s a known fact that Timothy’s great-grandfather and great-uncle helped build that law firm and it’s a known fact that his grandfather has kept the firm going since his great-grandfather’s death,” Ms. Erin said. “Everyone’s heard the story about how Timothy’s father was speeding and crashed. That crash killed Timothy’s mother. It’s a known fact that Timothy’s father lied about that crash and that Timothy’s father is sitting in jail right now for murder. Surely with all this family history Timothy is a corrupt young man. I’ve sure you heard about when Timothy shot Ms. Jane’s prized chicken. It was front news headline and I’ll never forget that headline. It said, ‘We all knew it was coming. Timothy-Caleb Stewart was arrested.’”

Ms. Erin looked at Timmy. Timmy looked like he wanted to run from the room. I think the only thing that kept him there was Jaci. Jaci was gently stroking his arm now. She looked at him with compassion not with hate. She smiled at him even thou there was nothing to smile about. There was just something in her face that screamed compassion and love.

She wasn’t looking down at Timmy even thou she was hearing awful things about his family. I could tell that she didn’t think any less of Timmy. She smiled at me. The smile had the look of forgiveness to it. I felt this relief wash over me. She didn’t judge me. She didn’t dislike me because I did what was popular.

“Ever since I read that article I’ve prayed that someone would show Jesus to the Stewarts. The Stewarts have been known to be wild, deceitful, and corrupt. The majority of Stewart men and women have been either arrested or put in jail. The Stewarts are all over Berkshire County. You can’t escape them but no one has ever shown love to them as far as I know,” Ms. Erin said. “What is in a name? I just happen to know what Stewart means. It means steward or house guard. The Stewarts are proud people. They don’t go to church because they know the people will look down on them. They try to protect themselves from hurt. They try to guard themselves. But the other part of the meaning is the word steward.For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. A steward in today’s world is a person who manages something and to be a good steward you have to care about your job. When you’re a steward on a ship, airplane, or some other travel provision you have to care about the customers wants and needs. You have to have a heart to help people to be a good steward. I believe that there are good Stewarts out there. They’re just living in the shadow of their last name.”

“Let’s look at scripture,” Ms. Erin said. “I know that some of you sitting in this room may have been hurt by the Stewart family or someone you know was hurt by a Stewart. It may have been something they said. It may have been the way the law firm treated someone you know. Matthew 5:44 says But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And 45 goes on to say so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. The rest of the chapter goes like this, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

“As most of you know this is Jesus talking. He is the only perfect person out there so this is easier said than done! We slip up sometimes but 1 John 1:9 says, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ Goes on to say that, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.’,” Ms. Erin said. “Just because Timothy is a Stewart you didn’t talk to him. Is that what Christ wants us to do? Is Timothy a lost cause just because he’s done some bad things? Is he a lost cause because his family history tells him that he comes from a long line of evil people? No! The Bible says, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.’”

Ms. Erin looked at Timmy. You could tell by the way he looked he was hanging on to every word she said. She was standing up for him. She was defending him. He looked grateful. Jaci smiled at him with her incredible smile.

“Timothy Stewart, would you like to be a new creation in Christ? For God so loved you, that he gave his only Son, that if you believe in him you should not perish but have eternal life. And eternal life is easy to get. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. The Bible says for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. It says in Romans 10:11 ‘For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”,” Ms. Erin said.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Jaci recited. Timmy looked at her.

“Psalms 139 1-18. O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.  And Psalm 68:5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation,” Jaci said.

I felt like clapping.

“I want to be a new creation. I’m so sick and tired of feeling like not a person in the world cares about me. I’m tired of being fatherless. I want someone to be with me always no matter what. I want to stop feeling lonely,” Timmy said. He was near tears.

Jaci smiled at him and picked up a Bible.

“I have a solution for that,” Jaci said with a smiling and tears in her eyes. “Salvation.”