Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 5- Joy to the World! Installment One

How can a person who’s paraplegic and still struggling with insomnia be legally pulled away from a nap?

I was seriously considering calling the police because when I was just about to fall asleep Mrs. Rivers comes running into the B&B and insists that all the Matthews’ girls came with her on a special shopping trip.

I love Mrs. Rivers, I truly do, but as we drove back to the B&B I was felling everything but love for Mrs. Rivers.

Sleep had long left me. I had been sleeping fairly well since the accident. I didn’t lay awake at night thinking about sleepwalking that’s for sure.

But the night we moved back to the B&B, sleeping soon became a problem.

The hospital/rehab was relatively quiet and peaceful enough that I easily went to sleep. At the B&B I had two choices. Either I slept with Noel and Natalia or I with Momma and Daddy. And neither option was better than the other.

I love my little niece, but she’s loud and can cry for over an hour.  I don’t mind the midnight feedings, but the midnight screams are a totally different story. Natalia likes to cry. I don’t know why but she likes to cry even if nothing’s wrong. Sleeping in the same room as her was a nightmare, and I was amazed at how easily Noel fell asleep in the middle of a cry fest.

Momma and Daddy weren’t any better to sleep with. Momma’s up half the night using the bathroom. It can take her up to an hour to find a comfortable sleeping position which is usually her stomach squished against mine. Momma likes to talk to me when she can’t go to sleep. She’ll talk about anything, but it’s mostly about the triplets. Just last night we decided to find out the genders of the triplets (Daddy was forced to stay awake for that one though, which was rare). Daddy usually falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow. Now I have mentioned before that Daddy snores. He was a very moderate snorer six months before. But now his snoring is very loud and he actually snorts in his snoring. His snoring sounds like a chainsaw that is locked in Carnegie Hall and has a megaphone attached to it. Sometimes Momma would have conversations with him even though I’m between them. They fought for three hours about nursery themes…UGH!

I tried sleeping with Jaci for a little less than a week and she wasn’t any better. She talked to me about wedding plans and what type of fabric should she use for her wedding dress, and when she did fall asleep she kicked me in the legs. I couldn’t feel the kicks too well since I can feel only on certain spots (usually were my psoriasis is the worst), but in the morning I always found myself face down on Jaci’s bedroom floor. I was almost helpless in that position, but I always got into my wheelchair with no help.

I even tried sleeping with Megan and Bella. The two of them must be on the same clock because they will wake up at the same time in the middle of the night and start talking. Was this family just filled with blabbermouths?

And being paraplegic didn’t help. Somehow not going to sleep felt different. I mean I had it before the accident, but now it just felt well…different.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding out of my chest. When that happens, I know I’ve had a bad dream and all I want is some warm milk. But I am now unable to go get it myself. If we still lived in the apartment that wouldn’t be a problem, but I’d never trade Florida just so I could get milk myself. Daddy doesn’t mind getting it for me, but it annoys Momma. And Noel just doesn’t understand. She just stashes some lavender under my nose and goes right back to sleep.s

Thankfully this problem would soon be over. Momma and Daddy were house searching. It saddened me that we might not actually live in Florida, but there were only two house in all of Florida that would fit all of us. The B&B and Drury Hall. As I already explained, the B&B wasn’t working out so great, and Drury Hall was Stewart property. Mr. Stewart owned the house and there wasn’t that great of a chance of us moving in there.

As we pull up into the B&B driveway, my eyelids started to feel heavy. I looked at my watch. It was five-thirty. Maybe I could get a nap in before dinner.

The B&B looked dark which was strange. Ms. Donna should have been starting to make dinner.

Mrs. Rivers insisted that we enter the B&B through the restaurant door and that annoyed me for some reason. I was hoping to transfer the the couch and catch some Zs.

We found Daddy, Yule, and Mr. Rivers standing outside the restaurant entrance.

“Both doors are locked,” Daddy huffed, “and nobodies answering the phone.”

“Open up!” Yule shouted pounding on the door. Mrs. Rivers pulled a key out of her purse and opens the door.

“BON VOYAGE!”

Confetti was thrown into my face, and the lights were turned on. All our friends were crammed into the restaurant. French music was playing, and French decorations were all over the wall.

“Now we know that you’re going to going to France for a week but we couldn’t resist having a party!” Mrs. Rivers shouted.

“But it was her idea to have a surprise one,” Jessie-Maria said pointing at Virginia.

“What?” Virginia asked as she stuffed a cupcake into her mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“I’ve got to get a picture for our blog,” Momma said pulling her ever ready camera out of her purse.

Momma and Daddy started a blog about their natural triplet pregnancy. All though my parents try to say it’s a ‘parenting’ blog, and they do have stuff about being the parents of a teenager, toddlers, autistic child, Down Syndrome child, and paraplegic. It’s mostly about the triplets. The blog is called Christmas Everyday, which frankly I find amusing.

“You should start a blog!” Virginia shouted. “And that way I don’t have to wait to see the pictures!”

My mom instantly said yes and started saying how it could be a spin-off to her and Daddy’s blog.

Two hours later, the party was still going on and sleep had left me once again. I was trying not to show my frustration when two police officers walked through the door.

“We’re looking for a Ms. Lori Mary Stewart!” One of the officers shouted over all the noise. Mrs. Stewart walked up.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Stewart, but you’re husband’s dead,” The other officer said.

**

Everyone left soon after that.

The officers said that they thought Mr. Stewart died of natural causes, and that Mrs. Stewart could either pick up his body in the morning or have to medical examiner look at him.

Mrs. Stewart didn’t seem to care that Mr. Stewart was dead. She just went back to eating cake and ice cream right after the officers left. Emily started to bawl her eyes out. Timmy looked like he almost didn’t believe the officers, but when he got over that he started to mope. Yule announced that he was no longer hunger and made himself disappear. Noel just sat down in a booth and held Natalia close. Momma didn’t look happy. I think she was sad for Yule, Noel, Emily, and Timmy. Mr. Stewart had done so much to her. He hurt so horribly. Frankly, I was surprised she wasn’t happy that he was gone. Daddy looked happy about it and joined Mrs. Stewart in her ‘celebration’. I think he was a little upset that Momma wasn’t happy about it.

And how did I feel about this?

I was trying to figure that out as I lay in bed in between Momma and Daddy.

Daddy was snoring louder than usual and Momma was talking to me.

“Joan wants to throw a babies shower for me,” Momma said, “but I’m not sure if it would be appropriate. This would be for number eight, nine, and ten. What do you think?”

“Sure, why not? I mean a baby shower is a celebration not a birthday party,” I said. “And you can tell Mrs. Rivers just to invite our closet friends and not every woman in Florida. The gifts not make the shower.”

“Honey!” Momma shouted. I tried not to giggle. Daddy was not going to like being woken up over this.

“Eh?” Daddy asked. “What?”

“Joan wants to throw me a babies shower,” I said.

“Ok,” Daddy said. He started to close his eyes.

“But I don’t know if it’s proper,” Momma said. “I’ve never had a baby shower before though so does that make it ok.”

“What does this have to do with me?” Daddy asked.

I inwardly groaned. The nursery fight started off with those eight words.

“What does it have to do with you?! The babies are just as much yours as mine! If you think it’s not proper etiquette to have a baby shower then I won’t have one!” Momma shouted.

“Riley,” Daddy sighed, “I personally don’t care if you have a baby shower or not. And in a way they are the first babies. They’re our first children together.”

“But won’t doing that be like ignoring our other children?” Momma asked.

Daddy gave a frustrated sigh.

“Just have the stupid baby shower!” Daddy said rolling over. Here we go again.

“It’s not stupid!” Momma shouted.

“It’s stupid to be talking about it at three in the morning!”

“You don’t love me.”

“Not this again!”

“I just feel like there’s something between us,” Momma whimpered.

“Yeah,” I said, “me!”

SMASH!

“What was that?” Momma screamed.

SMASH!

Momma hurried out the bedroom door. Daddy carried me downstairs. Everyone else was already down there. The windows in the family room had been smashed.

“Stewart Revenge?” Mrs. Stewart asked. “Fowler spoke of such things but…”

BANG! BANG!

Gunshots.

Daddy must have forgot that he was holding me because he ran outside while I still in his arms. That was a very terrifying moment for me at least. If Daddy got shot, I was out of luck.

Thankfully the shooter had already gotten into his car and was driving off. I couldn’t see the car because I had my eyes closed and was praying like crazy. But I could hear the car and it was speeding like crazy.

“Did you see who it was?” Momma asked when he walked back into the house.

“Nope,” Daddy said. “I could barely see the license plate but I’m pretty sure that car had Florida state tags.”

My face fell. I had a pretty strong feeling who that was.

Posted in Natalie

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

**

This morning I woke up to a pleasant surprise, it had snowed. And it was one of those good snows. It was still snowing now and I was determined to make a Marshmallow World Day out of it.

I was about to ask the very important question of going to The Hill when Virginia walked up to take our orders.

Momma insisted that everyone order before her because she didn’t know what she wanted. Virginia gave me a look that only I understood.

“I’ll have one order of pancakes, one order of waffles, one order of French toast. two biscuits, three…no four servings of bacon, and I’m craving some blueberries. Do you have any?” Momma asked. Virginia didn’t answer at first. She had a huge smirk on her face.

“No, but we do have blueberry jam,” Virginia said.

“That will have to do,” Momma said handing Virginia her menu. Virginia winked at me and walked towards the kitchen.

Daddy looked at Momma but he didn’t say anything.

“Can I go to The Hill?” I asked.

“Sure, I don’t see why not,” Daddy said before Momma could say no.

“Really?” I asked. I gave Daddy a hug.

“I don’t know, Steve,” Momma said with worry on her face.

“We’ll be there,” Daddy said.

“But we’ll be watching Megan and Bella,” Momma said.

“Yule and Darcy will look after her,” Daddy said. “She’ll be fine. She can go.”

Daddy said the last part with authority. Momma gave up her fight and started to complain about how long it was taking the food. And when the food came, she complained that she was only given three servings of bacon not four.

I wonder…

**

“You’re getting heavy,” Darcy said as he carried me back up The Hill. I smiled. Today has been a perfect day. I sledded with just about everybody but mostly with Darcy. The plan was that Darcy would carry me up The Hill on his back while I carried the sled in my hand. It was awkward but I wasn’t complaining.

“The only thing that could make this day better is if it was Christmas,” I said when we got back to the top of The Hill.

“It’s been that perfect, huh?” Darcy asked. “Then I guess carrying you up The Hill a hundred times was worth it.”

I smiled at him and the sled started to go down The Hill. Then we crashed, and Darcy landed on top of me. I started to laugh. This was our first crash of the day.

Then I felt Darcy’s cold nose against my nose. Darcy leaned towards me and this time I was sure I wasn’t imagining it. Then a scream filled the air. It sounded like Noel.

Darcy jerked his head up, and I couldn’t help but let a small frown cross my lips.

“It’s time!”

That sounded like Bennet. Noel was in labor.

Darcy picked me up and put me on his back. He ran up The Hill as fast as he could.

As we got closer to the top, I could hear Noel screaming like crazy. I felt sorry for her. No thirteen year old should experience that kind of pain.

“I’ll take her from here,” Yule said picking me up off Darcy’s back. Yule put me in the car.

“You ok?” I asked Noel who was sitting in the car screaming her head off. Noel looked at me. Ok, I know that was a stupid question.

“Do look ok!?” Noel shouted. Noel started to calm down. I guess the contraction stopped.

“I can’t find Bella!” Momma screamed. Bella ran up The Hill with Rachel by her side.

“Hey! I want to go too!” Grandma Shirley whined.

Soon everyone was in the car and we were off.

By the way Daddy was acting you would have thought Momma was the one having the baby. First he drove off in the wrong direction. When Momma corrected him, he got on the highway and passed the hospital exit. We had to turn around and then Daddy went to the cancer center instead of the hospital. A trip to the hospital that should have been no more than twenty minutes took thirty. Then he nearly blacked out when we walked into the hospital.

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long. Noel had the baby two hours later.

“That’s the prettiest little baby girl I’ve ever delivered,” Dr. Walters smiled. “And I’m not just saying that because she’s family.”

“I’m way too young to be a great-grandmother,” Grandma Shirley said, “but she’s so cute I don’t mind.”

Noel couldn’t stop smiling. My little niece started to cry, and Noel didn’t seem to care.

“What are you going to name her?” Momma asked taking to baby out of Noel’s arms and trying to calm her down.

“Can’t be two Natalie’s so… Natalia!” Noel shouted. I felt honored.

“You wanna hold her?” Momma asked. I nodded.

“Hi, Natalia, I’m your auntie,” I cooed.

I was wrong. There really was something besides Christmas that could make this day better.

**

Since Natalia was born on the Eve of Christmas Eve, the hospital let Noel and Natalia come home on Christmas Eve.

Daddy, Darcy, Nelson, and Yule went to go get a tree from an actual forest. While the rest of us got out the many Christmas decorations.

“Hey, this isn’t ours,” Regina said pulling out an old looking wreath.

“Our wreath!” I cried. Regina handed the wreath to me.

The wreath had been here in Florida the entire time. I hadn’t even thought about it when we moved to New York City, but now it all made sense. New York City wasn’t home. Florida was and would always be.

Momma looked thoughtfully at the wreath. She unconsciously let her hand slip to her belly. I think I was the only one who noticed this since everybody was cooing over Natalia, who was just waking up.

“We’re back!” Daddy shouted. Yule and Darcy dragged the tree into the house.

“Oh! You’re getting pine needles everywhere, Yule!” Grandma Shirley complained.

Yule rolled his eyes. Grandma Shirley looked shocked.

“Humph!” Grandma Shirley said. She took one look at Natalia and started cooing over her.

Grandma Shirley held her tongue until it was time to put decorations on the tree.

“No, that doesn’t belong there,” Grandma Shirley said to Mrs. Stewart.

“What’s wrong with putting Natalia’s first Christmas ornament up there?” Mrs. Stewart asked pointing to the spot she was going to put the ornament.

“It should be on the bottom of the tree closer to where Natalia can see it,” Grandma Shirley said.

“Natalia won’t remember where the ornament was, but we will!” Mrs. Stewart shouted.

“Who is Natalia’s great-grandmother?” Grandma Shirley screamed.

“Stop!” Noel shouted.

“I’m her stepgrandmother!” Mrs. Stewart screamed.

“Stop!” Noel shouted but neither Grandma Shirley nor Mrs. Stewart paid her any attention.

“Please stop. You’re upsetting Noel!” Yule shouted.

“Shut up, you!” Grandma Shirley shouted at Yule.

“Don’t you talk to my son that way!” Momma shouted. Grandma Shirley burst out crying.

“You didn’t have to leave!” Grandma Shirley cried. “If you would have just told me what happened…I admit I might not have seem as loving but…I had high expectations of you. You had something special. You had this drive. You seemed to just be able to handle anything. I didn’t think that you needed all that extra loving and hugs and kisses. And I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Yule and Noel too. I’ve been resenting you. I felt like you took my daughter away from me but that’s not true.”

“It’s all right, Grandma,” Yule shrugged. Grandma Shirley started to weep and hugged Noel.

“Ah!” Noel screamed. She pushed Grandma Shirley away. She put Natalia in Grandma Shirley’s arms and all was forgiven.

The doorbell rang.

“Who is that?” Momma asked walking towards the door.

“Surprise!”

Grandpa Baldwin, Grandma Baldwin, Aunt Cerys, and Aunt Louise walked into the family room.

“Natalie!” Aunt Cerys shouted. She ran and gave me a hug.

“And this must be Natalia,” Grandma Baldwin cooed looking at Grandma Shirley. Grandma Shirley put Natalia in Grandma Baldwin’s arms.

“What are you guys doing here?” Momma asked walking into the family room.

“We came to surprise you,” Grandpa Baldwin said. “We couldn’t think of a better Christmas gift for our granddaughter.”

I smiled. Grandpa and Grandma Baldwin came and gave me a hug.

Soon everyone was talking and decorating the tree. I couldn’t help but smile. This was turning out to be a great Christmas.

**

I yawned. It was close to eleven o’clock and It’s a Wonderful Life had just gone off. Everyone else had already gone to bed, and Momma was the first to go. Daddy was the only one who stayed up with me.

“Daddy,” I said as Daddy turned off the TV and lights, “who’s in your family?”

After Grandma Shirley’s breakdown, I started to seriously ponder that question. What does the word family mean? Who’s in my family?

“You, Yule, Noel, Megan, Bella, Jaci, Abby, your mother,” Daddy started. “Grandma Shirley” He wiggled his eye brows and I laughed. “Grandpa Jack, your aunts and your uncles, Mrs. Rivers, Mr. Rivers, the twins, Jessie-Maria, Aunt Jane, Virginia, Rachel, Andrew, Caroline, Zach, Timmy, Bennet, Ms. Donna, Cece Elizabeth, Darcy, Mrs. Stewart, Emily, and just about everybody else in Florida!”

“That’s a mighty big family,” I said as Daddy carried me up the steps.

“Natalie, family isn’t just someone you’re related to by blood,” Daddy said. “Family is a person you deeply care about and love.”

“And what does home mean to you?” I asked. Daddy stopped walking and paused on the steps.

“Home is wherever my family is,” Daddy said. Then realization sunk in.

“I guess our family is spilt up, huh?” Daddy asked. I gave him a sad nod.

“So where would you like to sleep tonight?” Daddy asked. “With your mother and I or with Noel and Natalia.”

Natalia cried out.

“With your mom and me,” Daddy stated. I nodded.

As Daddy carried me into the room, I saw out of the corner of my eye Bennet stumble into Noel’s room. I couldn’t help but smile.

**

I woke up at eight A.M. on Christmas morning. I could hear Megan screaming for somebody to wake me up. I heard what sounded like two little feet and one set of huge feet walk up the steps. Then Megan, Bella, and Yule walked through the door.

“You’re up!” Megan screamed. Bella smiled at me and handed me a flower.

“Thank you,” I smiled as Yule carried me downstairs.

Everyone sat around the Christmas tree. Bennet was cradling Natalia, and Noel was smiling at him. Momma and Daddy were sitting on the couch. I noticed at Momma’s stomach looked a little bit bigger, but I could have been imagining it.

“Wait,” Daddy said as Megan started to open one of her gifts. “I think Natalie should open the first gift.”

“I agree,” Grandma Shirley said. She picked up a box and handed it to me.

“It’s from the entire Walters’ family,” Grandpa Jack said. I smiled and opened the present.

“It’s a camera,” I smiled. Momma laughed as she took a picture of the camera.

“Look inside the box,” Aunt Clarisse said mysteriously.

I opened the box and inside was a broacher for Paris, France and inside the broacher there was a voucher.

“Redeemable for one week in France!” I shouted reading the voucher.

“I’m taking the entire Matthews’ family on my yearly trip to France!” Grandma Shirley shouted. Abby started to scream.

“Here,” Daddy said handing a card to Yule. Megan pouted.

“You want to adopt Noel and me?” Yule asked.

“Only if you want me to,” Daddy said. “I mean we’ve started the process but if you don’t want me to…”

“No, it’s ok,” Yule smiled. “I’d like that.”

Soon all the presents where open or so we thought.

“There’s one card and nine gifts hidden way behind the tree,” Daddy said pulling them out. He handed the gifts to Yule, Noel, Abby, Bella, Jaci, Megan, Grandpa and Grandma Baldwin, Grandpa and Grandma Walters, and me. He kept the card for himself.

Momma stood in front of all of us with the camera. I could tell that she was taking a video because the red light was on.

I opened my presents and found three pacifiers. Huh?

Then all of a sudden Noel started to scream and jump up in down. She was waving a piece of paper in her hand. Momma was laughing her head off.

I started to look around. Yule looked very confused as he held up three bibs. Abby and Zach were pondering over three baby bottles. Grandma Shirley was having trouble opening her gift. Grandma and Grandpa Baldwin looked at the book that was there present with pride and joy. Jaci sat there with three spools of yarn and three pairs knitting needles. Daddy sat there smiling. I didn’t get the connection until I saw Megan’s gift.

“I didn’t ask for any clothes,” Megan pouted. She held up a shirt that said BIG SISTER!

Abby, Jaci, and I started to scream. Noel handed me the piece of paper in her hand, but before I could read it Grandma Shirley started to scream.

“My baby girl is having a baby!” Grandma Shirley screamed. She held up a photo album with an ultrasound photo on it.

“So Virginia was right,” I said out loud.

“Riley, I don’t get this card,” Daddy said.

He passed the card around. It said “We’re going to need a bigger car!” and the ultrasound photo was underneath it.

“We can fit one more in our car,” Daddy said.

Momma smiled a sly smile.

“Gather round,” Momma said. Everyone but Grandma and Grandpa Baldwin gathered around.

“There’s the head,” Momma pointed out on the ultrasound photo. “Then there’s his…or hers shoulders. There’s the head. Then there’s his…or hers shoulders. Then there’s another head and another set of shoulders.”

“Wait…you just said head and shoulders three times,” Daddy said.

“EEEE!” Grandma Baldwin shouted. She held up a book called How to Be the Godparents of Triplets.

I laughed as Daddy sat there lifeless looking. It turns out that Momma was thirteen weeks along and had been hiding her humongous baby bump by wearing body shapers and layering up.

“I just found out it was triplets this week,” Momma said. “I knew I was pregnant back in November but I had a feeling there might be more than one in there after stepping on the scale!”

What could make this Christmas better?

**

Virginia’s reaction.

It took us three minutes to decide to tell them by taking a picture with my new camera and asking everybody to say: Riley’s having triplets!

So when the Rivers’ and Powers’ came for dinner we were ready.

“Say: Riley’s having triplets!” Daddy shouted after he set up the timer.

Jessie-Maria screamed and hugged Yule. Aunt Jane dropped Caroline, but Andrew caught Caroline. Mr. and Mrs. Rivers smiled and laughed and then started to give multiple tips like computers. When Rachel found out that triplets meant three babies, she started to scream. But Virginia’s reaction was priceless.

First Virginia started to scream, then she started to cry, and finally she fainted.  Her face in the picture is a cross between happy and sad. She is also tumbling towards the floor.

“I didn’t know!” I shouted when Virginia came too. She was giving me accusing looks.

“Sure,” Virginia said rolling her eyes as Mr. Hank helped her towards the kitchen. I think to this day Virginia doesn’t believe me.

But dinner was even better than Virginia’s reaction.

“We have announcement to make,” Daddy said when everyone had finished eating. Virginia looked at me and I shrugged.

“We’re moving back to Florida!” Momma shouted.

“Joy to the world!” Virginia shouted standing up. “The Matthews’ are moving back!” She soon sat down looking embarrassed.

“We have something to say!” Grandma Shirley shouted. “Jack’s retiring!”

Everyone started to congratulate Grandpa Jack.

“And we’re moving to North Adams!” Grandma Shirley shouted.

“You are…,” I said.

“Speaking of announcements,” Mr. Hank said standing up and thankfully changing the subject. He got down on one knee.

“This really isn’t an announcement. It’s more of a question, but um will you Jane Powers marry me Hank Moore?” Mr. Hank asked Aunt Jane.

Aunt Jane screamed and then very tearfully said yes.

“I’m so full,” Darcy said as he pushed me towards the family room. Everyone else was cleaning up dishes in the kitchen.

I looked up and saw that we were under the mistletoe.

Darcy leaned in and gave me a kiss…on the lips…and it wasn’t a peck. 🙂

Best. Christmas. Ever.

THE END

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.

Posted in Natalie

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

How can a person not want to go home for Christmas?

I knew it was a nearly impossible dream. When I first got to rehab, the thought of Florida at Christmastime was the only thing that kept me going.

Well it was December 16, and not a word about being released from rehab had been uttered. I guess I’d be spending another holiday in rehab. First my birthday, then Thanksgiving, and now Christmas.

“Why the long face?” Daddy asked when he, Momma, and Yule walked into my room. They were trying their hardest to hide their smiles and smirks. Something was up.

“Was I wearing a long face?” I asked knowing I was.

“You were looking nostalgic,” Momma said.

“Well with Christmas coming up and all,” I said.

“You want to go home,” Daddy stated.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, I’m sorry,” Momma said, “but December 20th was the best we could get.”

“That’s ok,” I said turning around. “Wait…what!”

“You’re being released!” Momma, Daddy, and Yule shouted. Noel walked into the room with a noisemaker in her mouth.

“Natalie’s going home for Christmas!” Noel shouted.

“I’ll be home for Christmas?” I asked. This just seemed so unreal.

“Yup,” Momma said. She pulled a suitcase from behind her back.

The next four days were torture.

I had a bunch of doctor’s visits just make sure that I was breathing ok and my spine wasn’t swelling. Momma and Jaci had to pack for me since couldn’t leave rehab. I had to do a test on December 19th to make sure that I really knew everything I needed to know. Then at ten A.M. December 20th I was free.

“How does it fell to be in a car again, kid?” Yule asked me as we got on the highway.

“Nauseating,” I said. I hadn’t been in a car since early October.

Momma seemed to agree with me. She looked sick. She had her head in her hands.

“Stop the car,” Momma groaned.

“Riley, are you all right?” Daddy asked.

“Stop the car!” Momma shouted. Daddy pulled over on the side of the road, and Momma ran out the door. She started to vomit on the side of the road.

“Yuck!” Megan screamed. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit.

Momma got back in the car without saying anything. She fell asleep right away, and ten minutes later she woke up and started yelling about how she had to use the bathroom.

And that’s how our trip went. Momma would fall and asleep and less than thirty minutes later she would have to pee.

At one o’clock, the time we were supposed to be arriving in Florida, we still had another hour to go, and everyone was starving.

“I want Wendy’s!” Megan screamed at the top of her lungs when Daddy asked what did we want to eat.

“No, McDonald’s!” Noel screamed. She started to scream “I’m lovin’ it®” over and over again.

“Please stop, honey,” Momma said. She sounded like she was dizzy, and she looked like she could vomit again.

Noel stopped and then started pointing at a sign that had a picture of McDonald’s one it. She kept pointing in the direction of the sign even when it was out of sight. After about two minutes though she stopped and started staring at her hand.

“Natalie, honey bear, what do you want to eat?” Daddy asked.

“I want some greasy fries,” I said in a desirous voice. Rehab food is not much better than hospital food. It’s all healthy too, which isn’t a bad thing but eating that food for two months makes you want some McDonald’s fries real bad.

McDonald’s it is,” Daddy said.

“Good,” Momma said. “I have got to use the restroom.”

We got off, used the bathroom, and ate lunch. We got stuck in traffic once we hit Berkshire County, and didn’t arrive in Florida until three P.M.

“The sign with the snowman!” Megan screamed when the sign appeared. Momma and Daddy let out a well held sign. Yule, who had been here before, started to amaze me by telling me what was coming up next and the names of trees. Noel didn’t really seem to care and just sucked her finger. Jaci looked excited, and I just couldn’t stop smiling.

“I’m home. I’m finally home,” I said as we pulled up into the B&B driveway.

I saw that someone had put up a wheelchair ramp. Virginia, Emily, and Regina ran out of the house and to the car.

“You’re here!” Virginia cried as I got out of the car. “There’s so much to tell. First I think I should tell you that Darcy didn’t take anyone to Homecoming in October. Second, Ms. O’Donnell has a BOYFRIEND! He’s her next door neighbor, and yours truly got the two of them together! Mrs. Stewart became a Christian. Jessie-Maria is on her way. Ms. Donna is calling her now. We thought you’d guys never show up. Oh, um, who’s this dude?”

“Slow down,” I laughed. “This is my big brother Yule.”

“You have a brother?” Emily, Regina, and Virginia said at the same time.

“Long story,” I said. “Where’s Darcy?”

“Who knows,” Virginia said running up the B&B steps.

“Nice of ya to mention me,” Yule joked as I rolled up the wheelchair ramp.

“You know I love you,” I said. Yule laughed.

Nothing about the B&B had changed. It was the same was when we left. Darcy was standing in the arch looking unsure of what to do.

“Darcy!” I shouted. I rolled as fast as I could and gave Darcy a huge hug.

“Can’t…breathe…,” Darcy said.

“Sorry,” I said letting go.

“Somebody’s excited,” Darcy said. He looked the same except he was taller. His voice had changed.

“Put me down!” I shouted as Darcy picked me up out of my wheelchair.

Darcy laughed.

“You’re strong,” I said. “Put me down.”

“You’re heavy,” Darcy laughed. “Nope.” I smiled. Darcy looked at Yule.

“Darcy, this is my big brother, Yule,” I said. Darcy’s face was priceless. He almost dropped me.

“Haven’t I seen you before?” Darcy asked.

“Um, yeah, I’m a relative of Fowler Stewart,” Yule said. He hurried towards the restaurant.

Darcy put me back into my wheelchair and pushed me into the resturant.

Jessie-Maria came running into the restaurant and fainted.

“Sean? Sean, are you all right?” Yule asked walking up to Jessie-Maria’s limp body. He ran his fingers through her newly highlighted hair. He gave one of those memorable laughs. He picked Jessie-Maria’s body up and set her down in a booth.

Jessie-Maria came too soon after that. She looked at Yule in disbelief.

“Hey, Blondie,” Yule laughed.

“My hair is not blonde!” Jessie-Maria argued. “I got it highlighted. My dad wouldn’t in a million years let me dye my hair.”

“I bet he fainted when he saw your hair,” Yule smiled. Jessie-Maria shook her head and laughed.

“Wait, you two know each other?” I asked. A sweet smile came to Jessie-Maria’s face. She took a necklace off of her neck. On it instead of a pendant there was a class ring on the chain.

“You actually wear it? I thought you would just stash it away in your underwear drawer,” Yule said.

“Actually,” Jessie-Maria said with embarrassment in her voice, “This was the first time I’ve taken it off in two years.”

Yule put the necklace back on Jessie-Maria’s neck; Jessie-Maria’s face lit up more than the New York City night skyline.

“I’m lost,” Virginia said. She was pouting, and I laughed.

“Let’s see,” Jessie-Maria said. “I met Yule two years ago. I was volunteering at a hospital/rehabilitation center. Yule had been shot in the hip and was acting like a snake” Yule laughed. “Nobody who was paid to work there wanted to work with him so they had me, a ten to eleven year old girl, take care of him. I had to do everything for him, even feed and dress him which made no sense because he had a hip injury. For some reason I was the only person he didn’t shun. After a while I started to love this grump, and it turns out the feeling was mutual. I convinced the Johnson’s to let me stay long enough to help Yule out. When he got better, the Johnson’s called Mr. Bill, and I was gone. But before I left Yule gave me his freshman class ring. It was way too big for my fingers so I put it on a chain and wore it around my neck…everywhere.”

“How romantic!” Virginia squealed.

“I’m outta here,” Yule said getting up and walking up the steps. Jessie-Maria laughed and smiled.

“Yule never said anything about a girl,” I said shaking my head.

“How did you meet him anyway?” Virginia asked. “And how in the world is he your brother? Are your parents adopting him or something?”

“It’s a long story,” I said shaking my head.

“Well promise us that you’ll tell us all these long stories at the sleepover we’ve planned for you,” Emily blurted.

“Emily!” Jessie-Maria, Virginia, and Regina cried. “It was supposed to be a surprise!”

“Ooops…,” Emily said blushing.

“Come here!” I cried opening my arm. The girls gave me a hug that hurt my ribs so badly, but the hug was worth it.

**

For dinner just about everyone in Florida crammed into the restaurant to come see me. I received lots more flowers and candy…and a lot of hugs.

Mr. Stewart and Timmy came late. When Timmy showed up, Jaci practically flew into Timmy’s arms. Timmy carried Jaci to the least crowded part of the restaurant, and they started talking about a mile a minute.

I noticed Momma made herself absent when Mr. Stewart showed up. When he spotted Yule and Noel, I thought he was going to drop down dead.

“Grandpa! You won’t believe it! Cousin Yule and Cousin Noel are Natalie’s brother and sister!” Emily shouted when Mr. Stewart walked towards the table she was sitting at with Jessie-Maria, Yule, Noel, Virginia, Darcy, and me on the end.

Oh, he better believe it.

“Hello, sir,” Yule said offering his hand. There was sadness and pain in his eyes. Mr. Stewart’s eyes were as cold as stone.

“Hello, son,” Mr. Stewart said shaking his hand. The words seemed to stab Yule’s heart. It was like Mr. Stewart was talking of code. He was recognizing Yule as his son, but nobody would give a second thought about it.

“And hello, Noel,” Mr. Stewart said to Noel sweetly. She looked at Mr. Stewart’s forehead for a second and then went back to stealing food off of Yule’s and my plate.

“I wonder what’s up with him,” Emily mumbled as Mr. Stewart walked away. “He’s never changed moods like that.”

Yule just put a big mouth full of macaroni and cheese in his mouth.

“So how do you like the new menu?” Ms. Donna asked walking up to the table.

“I really like the mac and cheese,” I said rubbing my belly. Ms. Donna smiled.

“I decided that two choices were just too plain,” Ms. Donna said. “So I added macaroni and cheese, baked and fried chicken, grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids, and hamburgers. I’m thinking about adding pizza!”

“That would be so good,” Virginia said. “Pizza is the one thing I haven’t master yet.”

Ms. Donna laughed and walked away.

“FOWLER STEWART!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Everyone looked to the door where Mrs. Stewart was standing. She was mad and looked ready to throw the book in her hand at Mr. Stewart.

“Lori,” Mr. Stewart said looking at the book in Mrs. Stewart’s hand and not her eyes, “not here.”

“Yes, here!” Mrs. Stewart screamed. “The whole world deserves to know the snake of a husband I have!”

“Lori,” Mr. Stewart said with a shaky voice. “What are you talking about?”

“This!” Mrs. Stewart yelled opening the book. “Explain yourself!”

Even from afar I could see that the book was a photo album. I couldn’t really see the pictures but I was sure they were baby pictures of some sort.

“And this!” Mrs. Stewart screamed flipping the page. The entire room gasped.

Mrs. Stewart started to walk around the room showing just about everyone the picture. It was a picture of my mom. She was holding either Yule or Noel in her arms. She looked young and scared; she had several scares on face. Mr. Stewart was in the corner looking at the baby in Momma’s arms. His expression was downright scary.

“And this!” Mrs. Stewart screamed. She looked around for Momma, and when she didn’t see her, she handed Daddy two pieces of paper.

“Read it! Read them both!” Mrs. Stewart cried. Daddy hesitated for a second, but he didn’t dare deify Mrs. Stewart in this mood.

“Name: Yule Nicholas Walters-Stewart. Date of birth: August 1st. Place of birth: Berkshire Pittsfield Hospital. Parents: Fowler Stewart and Riley Anne Walters,” Daddy read.

“That’s enough of that one,” Mrs. Stewart said. “Read the other one.”

“Name: Noel Joy Baldwin-Stewart. Date of birth: December 25th. Place of birth: The Hospital of Tampa, Florida. Parents: Fowler Stewart and Riley Anne Baldwin,” Daddy read.

“That’s quite enough,” Mrs. Stewart said.

Everyone was staring at Mr. Stewart. Mr. Stewart was looking around for Momma, but she still hadn’t come back. Mr. Stewart looked mad.

“Lori, I can explain everything,” Mr. Stewart said.

“Then explain!” Mrs. Stewart screamed.

“Not here,” Mr. Stewart said. “Let’s go home and talk about it.”

Mrs. Stewart looked reluctant.

“Fine,” Mrs. Stewart said gritting her teeth. She marched out of the restaurant, and Mr. Stewart followed.

Momma walked into the restaurant looking sick. Everyone stared at her with sad and companionate looks.

“What did I miss?” Momma asked.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Twenty-Three

**

I stared out the window. Snow was falling from the New York City sky. It was seven weeks later and my thirteenth birthday.

I felt like the snow was for me. I had been feeling rather depressed lately. I had been in rehab for a couple of weeks now. I was learning how to use my wheelchair, get in and out of bed, bathe, eat, get dressed, and some fun stuff too(which included piano. Surprisingly Daddy tried to talk me OUT of taking lessons). But no matter how hard I tried or how much determination I built up, I was still depressed. I couldn’t find the heaven in my accident no matter how hard I tried.

I flipped through one of my old art notebooks. I was going to take an art class that night and was feeling nostalgic. On one of the pages instead of a picture or drawing, it was a list.

Thirteen Things To Do Before Turning Thirteen

1. Visit Grandma and Grandpa in London, England

2. Go on a road trip

3. Visit New York City

4. Go to a dance with a date and everything

5. Be in a wedding party

6. Get my ears pierced

7. See snow!

8. Visit Washington D.C.

9. Learn how to ride a bike or skateboard

10. Break a bone

11. Get a job

12. Perform in a talent show

13. Make a BFF for life

I ripped the piece of paper out of the notebook and started to shred it. Tears started to pour out. Nowhere on that list did it say “Become Paraplegic!” or “Go to rehab!” But through my tear stained eyes I noticed something.

I had visited Grandpa and Grandma Baldwin on spring break. The night Momma and I drove to Florida could count as a road trip. I did way more than just visit New York City. I went to the Valentines’ Day Dance with Darcy. I had been in three weddings parties in less than a year. I got my ears pierced…against my will but still. I had got to see snow. I was seeing snow right then. Momma and I drove through Washington D.C. I learned how to both ride a bike and skateboard. I had broken my foot and my back…I had been a waitress at the B&B. I performed in the Christmas in July show. And Virginia, Regina, and even Emily were my best friends for life.

Tears started to pour down my face faster. I don’t even remember making the list, but I had done all the things on it. And in less than a year. I sighed. I opened the drawer of my desk and took out some tape. I was starting to repair the list when Daddy walked in the room.

“I know you’re about to have cake,” Daddy said placing a cupcake in front of me, “but it’s supposed to be one of the best cupcakes in New York City.”

I stared at him. A year ago I didn’t even know he existed. Three months ago I didn’t even want him in my life. And now seven weeks after a life changing event, I couldn’t imagine life without him. If Daddy hadn’t been here, I would probably still be in stage one of my learning.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” Daddy asked.

“I was just thinking,” I said.

“Just thinking,” Daddy said in a goofy voice. I smiled and nodded. I handed him the list.

“What happened here?” Daddy asked as he read the list.

“I got angry,” I said.

“Why? Didn’t you do all these things?” Daddy asked.

“Yeah, I did them all,” I said, “but…”

“But what?” Daddy asked taking my psoriasis lotion out of my bag.

“I can’t find the heaven in my accident,” I finally said.

“The what?” Daddy asked as he rubbed the lotion in.

“The beauty. The meaning. I call it heaven,” I said. Daddy nodded.

“I mean what good can come out becoming paraplegic?” I asked.

“To tell you the truth, honey bear, I’m as in the dark about it as you, but I do know that in the end it will work out,” Daddy said screwing the lid back on the lotion. He dropped the bottle of lotion because his hands were trembling so much.

I smiled and couldn’t help but laugh. For the first week I was in the hospital, Daddy was a total wreck. He passed out a couple of times and had to change his shirt at least four times a day. He and Momma soon made up after Momma saw how real his fear of hospitals was. By the third week, he had gotten better, but when he saw a dead body…Now he just trembled a lot and rarely passed out. He got out of the hospital/rehab at least once a day. Sometimes he went to Central Park for fresh air. Sometimes he went to the apartment and took a nap in peace. And on special days like this, he brought me back something. I bit into the soft and moist cupcake. It was by far the best cupcake I’d ever had.

“You think it’s funny?” Daddy joked handing me the bottle of lotion so I could do my arms and neck.

“A little,” I smiled. Daddy returned the smile.

“I just noticed something,” I said looking at him.

“What?” He asked.

“You have dimples!” I shouted. “No wonder my mom likes you so much.”

I pictured my father’s face. He had dimples too.

Daddy laughed and shook his head.

“You’re just noticing that?” Daddy asked.

“Yeah,” I said sheepishly.

“Did you do your weights?” Daddy asked.

“Yes,” I mumbled. I hate lifting weights but it was necessary. I had to keep a strong upper body and lifting weights ‘fit’ me. But I couldn’t complain. My lung capacity had already expanded.

“Hide me!” Yule cried running into the room and locking the door.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“The nurses,” Yule said in a disgusted tone.

I laughed. Ever since we got here, the unmarried nurses and female doctors went crazy over Yule. Nicole, who helped me learn how to get dressed and feed myself, can’t stop talking about Yule during my learning time. It had gotten so bad that if I wasn’t almost finished with my course I would ask to switch teachers.

“Happy Birthday!” Noel shouted from the other side of the door. “Unlock, now!”

I rolled over to the door and unlocked the door.

Noel pushed in a cart full of flowers. There was also three very small present on the cart. Momma, Abby, Zach, Jaci, and Megan followed Noel into the room.

Momma looked overly tired, but the smile on her face seemed to wipe the sleepless nights away. Abby, who had recently started to wear maternity clothes, had a hint of frosting on her lips and I guessed that Daddy had brought her a cupcake too. My suspicion was answered when I noticed that Noel had a red tongue, Megan had frosting in her hair, Jaci still had a cupcake in her hand, and Momma well Momma just looked like someone who had just tasted the joy of a cupcake.

“So you told us that you wanted nothing for your birthday,” Momma said taking one of the little gifts off the cart. “But they were out of nothing at the story. Apparently they were out of nothing in Florida too since all these flowers or for you.”

I laughed.

Momma handed me the box.

“That’s from us,” Yule said. “Your siblings.”

I opened my box and inside it was a necklace that had my name on it. My name was surrounded by hearts.

“It’s beautiful,” I smiled. Yule put it on me.

“It’s low enough that it won’t choke you,” Yule said.

“I thought of the gift!” Noel said slowly. I opened my arms for a hug, and Noel squeezed me very tight.

“Almost lost you, sister,” Noel said. “Love ya.”

“I love you too,” I cried. Tears poured out of Noel’s eyes.

“And this is from me,” Daddy said handing me the one of the boxes. “Your mother and I couldn’t agree on what to get you so we got separate gifts.”

Momma smiled and shook her head.

Inside the box there was a ring. It had a heart on it and a tiny diamond was inside the heart. Inside the band it said “My daughter, my love.” It was my turn to be speechless. I soon found myself crying my eyes out.

“Do you not like?” Daddy asked with worry in his voice.

“I love it,” I cried. “I love you.”

Once again Daddy was speechless. We had come a long way in seven weeks. If it hadn’t been for the accident, we would probably still be bickering and fighting. Maybe that was the reason this had to happen. Something had to happen to get the fact that Daddy loved me through my head. In the past seven weeks, Daddy had done so much for me. He hated hospitals, yet he was there for me every day. That meant more to me than words could explain.

“I love you too,” Daddy finally managed to get out.

“Open my present!” Momma shouted like an excited child.

I took the little box from her hand and opened it. Inside there was a gold bracelet with my name on it.

“To match your necklace,” Momma said.

“Thank you,” I smiled.

Then we cut the cake, but everybody was full from the best cupcakes ever except Yule and Zach. They were saving their cupcakes for ‘later’.

It was the most sentimental birthday I’ve had so far. I’ve only taken my bracelet off once when the clasp broke. I wore my necklace and ring expect when I was sleeping and showering.

My life was now limited, but somehow it was just…better. I had a dad again. I had siblings! I had a family.

Now the only thing that would complete the year would be going home for Christmas.

THE END

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Twenty-Two

**

“I still can’t believe you brought that thing,” Abby said as Momma handed her some ice for the bump in her head.

“What?” Zach asked as he grabbed a Wii remote controller. “You said we weren’t leaving New York until after Thanksgiving.”

“I thought maybe we could go sightseeing,” Abby said. “Not Just Dancing.”

Zach laughed.

“How’s everyone?” I asked sitting down next to Abby.

“Virginia has been hanging out at the B&B a lot recently. Jessie-Maria devotes all her time to the twins. Emily has been extra bossy. Darcy kinda mopes around and swears that he’s fine,” Abby said. “And I have been counting down the days until Thanksgiving in vain.”

I laughed.

“So what’s this news that can’t be told over the phone?” Momma asked sitting down on the couch.

“Well,” Abby started, “I’m going to have a baby.”

Everyone gave Abby a hug and congratulated Zach.

“So how have you been?” Abby asked me after everyone gave her a hug.

“A mess,” I said. “But I’m trusting.”

Yule winked at me.

“Now, who wants to play against me?” Zach asked waving a couple of remotes.

**

“Aren’t you getting tired?” Yule asked. It was almost eleven o’clock and everybody else had already gone to bed, and Yule, being Yule, had stayed up with me.

“I’m only ten points away from beating Zach’s high score,” I said. “You can go to bed you know.”

“I know,” Yule shrugged. “You can always try in the morning you know. The Wii’s not going anywhere.”

“I have insomnia remember?” I asked jokingly. Yule sat down on the couch and contemplated what to say.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” Yule said. “If you go to sleep now I’ll take you to that brand new skate board park tomorrow and teach you a couple of tricks.”

“Deal,” I smiled. I put down the controller and walked into my bedroom.

Noel was sleeping on my bed. I climbed in and soon fell asleep to her rhythmic breathing.

**

When I woke up, I was flying in the air. My ribs hurt. In the corner of my eye I saw a car speeding away. My back hit the sidewalk hard, and there was a loud popping sound.

“Natalie!” Yule cried. He was shirtless and shoeless.

“Why don’t you have a shirt on?” I groaned.

“That’s the least of our worries right now,” Yule mumbled.

I tried to get up, but my legs didn’t even twitch.

“Don’t move,” Yule said. He held my head in place.

Momma, Jaci, and Noel ran out the apartment building. Noel started to vomit. Momma was screaming into the phone.

“My daughter has just been hit by a car.”

That’s when I started to panic.

Why hadn’t the driver of the car stop?

Who was driving the car?

How did I even end up outside?

Sleepwalking.

Oh no, this was it. I had done it. My sleepwalking was going to kill me. I started to feel scared and seeing blood all over Yule’s abdomen did not help.

My life started to flash before me. I saw days at the beach with my father. I saw my Dad giving me my fudge tin. I saw days at the beach with my mother just after my dad died. I saw myself on my first day of first grade. I saw myself painting and sitting at the lunch table with other ‘artistic’ people. I saw Ryan trying to grab me and screaming. I saw the long car ride to Florida clearly. I saw the Christmas Party. I saw that Christmas morning. I saw the panic attacks, Grandma Shirley, and almost leaving the country. I saw Jaci and Megan’s coming. I saw the Marshmallow World Day. I saw the Valentine’s Day dance. I saw the Bridal Shower. I saw my mother’s wedding. I saw England. I saw myself riding a bike. I saw the Father-Daughter Dance. I saw Abby’s wedding and Momma’s conversation with Mr. Stewart. I saw the night Mr. Steve told us we were moving. I saw us moving. I saw Yule’s face at the door. I saw the sad look on Noel’s face. I saw Dr. Janet’s face. I saw dance class. I saw Yule teaching me how to ride a skateboard. I saw Ms. Angela’s face. I saw Momma’s face when we learned she was Yule and Noel’s mother. I saw Abby fainting. I saw Yule staying up with me. I saw Noel sleeping on my bed and could almost hear her calm rhythmic breathing.

People were staring at me. Some were laughing and taking pictures of me. Some of the women were crying. One guy kept yelling and cursing out the driver of the car that hit me. Abby and Zach had come out. Abby was trying to shield Megan from seeing me, but Megan had seen me and kept asking why I was lying on the sidewalk. Mr. Steve wasn’t outside, but I could vaguely see some activity in our apartment window on the sixth floor.

I wanted to cry, but no tears would come out my eyes. Then I noticed Jaci. I had seen her run out of the apartment, but I just didn’t notice her. She was in her pajamas. She was saying something and it was very familiar to my ears. She was reciting the words from my pictures. She kept repeating it over and over again. Those words soothed my fears. The scared feeling I had washed away. God will save me. God will save me from whatever was going on right now. What Jaci said felt better than crying. It was like music to my ears.

The rest was very hazy. I remember being loaded into an ambulance. Neither Momma nor Yule could come with me and that just made me even more scared.

I remember having to have a CT scan, an X-RAY, and a MRI scan. Then they told me that I had to have surgery right away.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I mumbled as they sedated me.

**

When I woke up, everything hurt. There was a strange brace on my body. My legs still felt unattached and that’s what scared me the most.

“You’re up.”

I tried to turn my head, but I couldn’t. I didn’t need to see the person to know it was Yule.

“What happened,” I said. “My brain feels fried.”

“Excuse me,” Yule said walking out.

That didn’t help any.

“Should one of us tell her or the doctor?” I heard Yule ask.

“You tell her,” I heard Momma say.

“Why me?

“The two of you have a correlative relationship. I don’t like the idea of a doctor telling her. She loves Abby and Jaci, but I just don’t think they should tell her. Noel would barely be able to get the words out and she may seem a little insensitive. I can’t trust myself to tell her, and well…Steve’s not here and she wouldn’t want to hear it from him anyway.”

Mr. Steve wasn’t here? Anger built up inside of me. I knew in my heart that if it was Abby or Jaci he would be here. Even if it was Megan. But when it came to me…he just didn’t care.

Yule walked back into the room. He had a large envelope in his hand. I looked up at his eyes. They were even more sunk in with age now. I saw the clock out of the corner of my eye. It was seven P.M. I couldn’t even imagine the kind of day the rest of the family had.

“That thing does not look fun,” Yule said sitting back down.

“Trust me,” I said. “It’s not.”

“It’s supposed to keep your spine in place,” Yule said.

“What happened to my spine?” I asked. “Did I fracture it?”

Yule sighed.

“Kid, you broke your back,” Yule said. “And fractured some ribs.”

“Oh,” I said.

Yule took a scan out of the enveloped and showed it to me.

“Ouch,” I laughed.

The color drained from Yule’s face.

“I don’t know how to saw this but…,” Yule started. “You’re an L1 complete paraplegic.”

I stared at him. How could you just say that? No warning. No nothing. Just like that. You’re paralyzed at twelve years old.

“What?” I asked. “No!”

Tears started to pour out of Yule’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, kid,” Yule said. “I saw you. I saw you standing in the middle of the street. I knew you had sleepwalked there. I ran as fast as I could, but…when I got outside I saw the car hit you. I saw your lifeless and limp looking body land hard on the sidewalk. I failed you, kid. It should have been me. I’m the one that deserves to be lying in a hospital bed paralyzed. I’m the one who’s turned their back on God and has done some many wrong things that I should be sitting in jail for. I’m sorry…I’m..”

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!”

I tried my best to look at Yule. That sounded like Momma and she was not happy.

“Around.”

Pain shot through my heart. That was Mr. Steve.

“Do you just think you can waltz in here and act like everything is ok?”

“I never said everything was ok.”

“I don’t know how you can watch a car hit Natalie and then go to work!”

Mr. Steve didn’t answer.

“I thought maybe it was just all in Natalie’s head. I thought that you really did care. Your actions have clearly spoken louder than your words. You made it very clear today that you don’t care or love Natalie.”

“You know that’s not true.”

Momma didn’t say anything, but I could just imagine her face. I could just see her smirking.

“I hate being lied to.”

“I’m not lying.”

I just knew my mom was shaking her head and was starting to cry again.

“Here, I don’t want it anymore.”

I heard the sound of a ring being thrown on the floor.

“Riley, wait!”

I heard the sound of feet running down the hall.

Mr. Steve stumbled into the hospital room. He was twirling Momma’s wedding ring. He had a duffel bag under his arm. It was clear that he had been sweating. He was trembling and his feet were shifting all over the place.

Yule stared at him. It was easy to see that Yule hated Mr. Steve and who could blame him? Probably Mr. Steve.

“I bet you’re hungry,” Mr. Steve trembled. “I think everybody else in the cafeteria. I bet that’s where your mother is going.”

Yule looked at me. It was clear that he wasn’t about to leave me alone with Mr. Steve.

“What’s in the bag?” Yule asked not moving.

“Some of Natalie’s clothes,” Mr. Steve said placing it down on the ground, “her psoriasis lotion, and some pictures that were on her wall.”

“Didn’t you hear?” I asked. “I’m paraplegic now.”

“Abby told me,” Mr. Steve said sitting down.

He seemed as unaffected as it got.

Yule’s stomach growled.

“Go ahead,” I said to him. I stared at Mr. Steve. I was going to make him miserable.

Ok, ok, I know it’s wrong, but for the past several months he’s been the one making me miserable. Now, I was lying here in a hospital bed unable to walk and he didn’t care.

Mr. Steve would never become my father. That was impossible. Especially after this. He didn’t care. He didn’t love me. I felt stupid. It hadn’t occurred to me until I was getting my spine scanned, but I really did care about Mr. Steve. My heart was aching because I never got a chance to call him Dad. My heart wasn’t hurting so much anymore. Now my heart was full of spite. And the most dangerous kind.

“I’ll be right back,” Yule said. He stared down Mr. Steve as he walked out the door. Mr. Steve shivered.

“I guess you heard,” Mr. Steve said more to Momma’s ring than to me.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Good riddance,” I said under my breath.

“Your mom probably wants to divorce me right now no matter what the Bible says. Jaci and Abby want to disown me. Yule and Noel hate me. And Zach is trying to stay on my good side while not angering Abby,” Mr. Steve said.

And I really want you to leave me alone.

“I hate hospitals,” Mr. Steve said after about a minute. “Nosocomephobia. I hate that word.”

What does that even mean?” I snorted.

“It’s the fear of hospitals,” Mr. Steve said sitting down.

I laughed. He had to be kidding me.

Mr. Steve looked at me like I was the most insensitive person in the world.

“It’s a real thing,” Mr. Steve said in a hurtful voice. “The only time I can stand being in a hospital is when someone’s having a baby.”

“Then what are you doing here?” I asked. “I’m clearly not having a baby.”

“I remembered something,” Mr. Steve said.

“What?” I asked.

“I was seven years old. It was the first time I’d ever been to a hospital and I was scared to death. I had broken my arm. My mom was stuck in traffic, and my father well he didn’t feel like a broken arm was a real emergency. I blacked out at least twenty times when I was there. I threw up just about everything I’d ever eaten. I sweated my shirt out. I couldn’t stop trembling. I just felt like I was going to die. I stayed as far away from hospitals as I could. I didn’t even go see my grandfather when he was dying from cancer. I…I really regret that,” Mr. Steve said.

“So you’re afraid of hospitals. That’s a cowardly phobia,” I said. Mr. Steve chuckled.

“Yes, yes, it is,” Mr. Steve said. “Abby probably doesn’t remember this, but when she was three years old she was in a car accident. It wasn’t a serious car accident, but she was taken to the hospital as a precaution. I walked into the hospital, and I fainted. I kept blacking out and trembling. It got to the point where I had to call my parents to get Abby because I literally woke up in the hospital bed and fled. A year later my parents’ house caught fire. They were sent to the hospital. I just couldn’t walk in there. I never saw them again.”

I stared at Mr. Steve. He hadn’t been there for Abby. He couldn’t even bear to go into a hospital to see his dying family. Why was he sitting here in this chair? If he hadn’t been there for Abby, he surely wasn’t going to be there for me.

“After that I tried to overcome my fear,” Mr. Steve said. “I thought…I thought I had overcome my fear. I was able to visit you after your panic attacks, take you to get your cast off, and take you to the hospital to see Yule and Noel. But…I promise you, Natalie, that I told myself that I was going to go to the hospital. When the turn to the hospital came up my hands started to tremble and I started to shake. I parked my car and just sat there. I called into work and told them what happened. They said that I didn’t have to come in. I sat in that parking lot all morning. Around lunch I told myself that I was going to in. I walked towards the door and ran back to the car. I sat in there the rest of the day. I finally got the courage to walk into the hospital. I fainted. They wanted to check me out, but I just made my way over here. Abby wasn’t too happy to see me though.”

“So you’ve been in the parking lot this entire time?” I asked. Mr. Steve nodded.

So he was there for me…just in the parking lot. I tried not to cry. I felt bad about wanting to make him miserable. He was afraid of hospitals but here he was. He was sweating and trembling. I knew everything within him wanted to pass out or faint. I knew he desperately wanted to flee. But here he was. He was here for me. He hadn’t even been able to do this for Abby. He had come a long way in seventeen years.

“Mrs. Quinn told me that I didn’t understand you,” Mr. Steve said. “She said I didn’t know you, and you said that when we moved. When I saw your mother, I knew that I’d been given a second chance. She left without a word to anyone. I wanted to marry her…”

“I have a question,” I said sourly.

“Shot,” Mr. Steve shrugged.

“My mom left seventeen years ago. Abby’s almost twenty, and Jaci’s almost nineteen. So you got married before my mom left. Why didn’t you just marry her?” I asked.

“Good question,” Mr. Steve said. “Karen and I’s marriage was arranged by none other than my mother. My mom and your Grandma Shirley didn’t get along.”

“Imagine that,” I mumbled. Mr. Steve chuckled.

“I didn’t want to marry Karen, but what choice did I have? My mother hated the Walters and there was no way I would ever be able to marry your mother while she was alive,” Mr. Steve said. “When I saw your mother on that cold December day I recognized her immediately. She recognized me too. I knew I wanted to marry her, and I knew that you were part of the deal. There was no doubt in my mind that I could love you just as much as Abby. But um after a while doubt crept into my mind. You made it very clear that you were just as stubborn as me. I wasn’t going to be the first one to say sorry and you surely weren’t going to be the first one. I’m sorry, Natalie. I really do love you. Can you ever forgive me? Can we please start over?”

I didn’t answer him. I didn’t know what to say. A tear rolled down my cheek.

“Fine,” Mr. Steve huffed after a couple of minutes. He got out of his chair angrily and walked towards the door.

“Daddy,” I cried, “please don’t go. I’m scared. I need you, Daddy.”

Daddy stood in the doorway for a second. He turned around and looked at me. I looked at him. Tears poured out of his eyes like a waterfall. He tried to talk, but no words came out. I had made him speechless.

Daddy sat back down in the chair, and that was all he had to say.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Twenty-One

**

Something just didn’t feel right when we arrived at the hospital. I saw Yule sitting on a bench and smoking.

“Drop me off,” I said. Momma pulled up to the curb and I got out of the car.

“Hey, Natalie, I wasn’t expecting you,” Yule said trying to hide his cigarette from Momma’s view.

I contemplated what to say. I didn’t want to get Noel in trouble.

“Grandma’s sick,” Yule said not waiting for me to answer. “The doctors are in there working on her now. They…they don’t know if she’ll make it.”

I could tell by Yule’s voice that he was trying not to cry. Yule squinted like he was trying not to cry. I sighed. I had a feeling he’d never let a tear fall from his eye in his life.

“What good is that going to do?” I asked pointing at the cigarette. “I thought you were quitting.”

Yule sighed and put the cigarette out.

“Does this hospital have a chapel?” I asked. I was surprised at my words. Where did that come from?

“Yeah, but I’ve never been,” Yule said almost laughing.

“I think going to chapel would work a lot better than sitting out in the cold October wind smoking,” I huffed. I shivered for effect.

“Look, kid, God and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms,” Yule said not looking at me in the eye.

“Why not?” I asked sitting down next to him.

“Look, kid, He doesn’t look out for people like me. Grandma had the absolute most faith in and look where it got her,” Yule said. “Noel just doesn’t get it. She’s the chapel right now praying. I don’t want to shatter her by telling her that God doesn’t listen to her. She doesn’t understand that He just causes disasters and leaves. Her faith in Him is so amazing. I wish I could be so naïve.”

“I know how you feel,” I said. Yule looked at me.

“Why would God do this to me? Why do I have to have so much trouble going to sleep? Why do I sleep walk? What I do?” I asked sighing and wishing I had put on a better coat.

“You’re lucky, kid. The hardest thing you’ve had to deal with is sleep problems,” Yule said looking at me.

“My dad was murdered,” I blurted. Yule pulled him into a hug.

“So was mine,” Yule whispered. “He got involved in a fight. He told me to stay in the car, but when I heard gunshots I jumped into action. I saw right away that my father had been shot. I ran out to to try and save him, but before I could reach him I was shot in the hip. That’s why I have a limp.”

“I was five when he died,” I said letting tears slip from my eyes.

“I was fourteen,” Yule said rocking me a little. “I’m sorry. I just assumed your parents were divorced.”

“It’s ok,” I shrugged. “Is it all right if I ask what happened to your mother?”

“Sure,” Yule shrugged. “She died of a drug overdose. I found her on our kitchen floor. I tried to do CPR on her, but it was too late.”

“I’m sorry, Yule,” I said hugging him back.

“Why would God not let me save my parents? Why would he take them away from me? Ok, so they weren’t the best parts in the world. They didn’t even seem to notice Noel and me, but you know what. I cared about them. I loved them. I watched both of my parents die. Why would God do that to me? Why? I trusted that Guy with my life and this is what He gives me in return?” Yule said. He was angry, but he was speaking from the heart.

“I don’t know why, Yule,” I said. “But I do know that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. I don’t know why God let my foot break? I don’t know why I struggle with insomnia. But I do know why I had to move here to New York.”

“Why?” Yule asked.

“To meet you and Noel,” I smiled.

“You’re something else, kid,” Yule said.

I smiled and hugged him tighter.

“I’ve learned that you just gotta trust God. God will save you. It just might not be in the way that you expected,” I said. “And I never expected this.”

Yule smiled at me.

“So you’re asking me to trust Him?” Yule asked.

“Only if you want to,” I shrugged.

“Good. Cause I want to,” Yule said. “I want to believe in Him more than I never imagined I would; it’s just when bad things happens it’s hard to really believe. I’ve spent the past two years searching for something that was right in my backyard.”

Momma walked out of the hospital door with tears in her eyes. Noel followed looking equally as sad.

“Yule, I’m…so sorry,” Momma cried. “Your Grandmother’s gone.”

Yule held back a cry. Momma walked over and hugged him.

“Cry out to Jesus,” I whispered repeating Jaci’s advice. “Lay it down. Trust Him.”

Tears fell out of Yule’s eyes.

“I’ve never cried before,” Yule cried. “It feels…so good.”

“Keep crying to Jesus,” Momma smiled. “It does a world of good.”

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen next,” Yule said as Noel hugged him. “But I’m just going to have to trust Him.”

Noel nodded.

“Trust,” Noel said. And Yule nodded.

Trust I repeated to myself over and over again.

**

 “Now,” Mrs. Betty Stewart’s lawyer, Lester Chadwick, said adjusting his glasses, “Mrs. Stewarts will leaves all the money in her bank account, a total of ten thousand dollars, to her two grandchildren, Yule and Noel Stewart. Her will also states who she wishes to be the legal guardian of her grandchildren.”

“Are Noel and I staying together?” Yule asked nervously.

“Yes,” Mr. Chadwick said looking at my mother. “Shall I read from the will.”

Yule nodded, while Noel looked at the floor.

“’In my bones I know death is upon me. I have recently been given custody of my grandchildren after their mother’s tragic death. When I die and Fowler is going to hate me for this, I want all legal custody to go to their mother, Riley Anne Walters of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, no custody will be given to their father Fowler Stewart. And if Ms. Walters is married partial custody will go to their new stepfather. Well I guess since she is their mother and she was forced to give up any custody…they really are in her custody and not mine. Riley’s a good woman and it ain’t her fault that that no good Fowler Stewart took a liking to her and got angry, twice, when he couldn’t have her,’” Mr. Chadwick read.

Everyone looked at Momma. Momma looked like she wanted to run. Yule looked at her. His eyes were wondering if this was real.

Momma got out of her chair and ran. We all got out of ours chairs (expect for Mr. Chadwick. He was packing up) and ran out after her.

“Mrs. Matthews…oh…!” Yule shouted grabbing Momma’s arm.

“He won’t hurt you if he finds out that I didn’t tell,” Momma said. “Fowler might do something to me, but he won’t hurt anybody if he finds not I’m not the one who told. Steve, take care of them.”

“Wait, so you’re leaving?” I asked angry. No wonder she acted so weird when Yule and Noel were mentioned.

“What else is there to do?” Momma asked. “One person has already died because of this. If I don’t leave somebody else is gonna get hurt or worse.”

“One person has died, but many have suffered,” Jaci said. Her voice was different. Her voice had none of her usual politeness. Her voice was tough, scolding, and rude. New York City was really changing her.

“Excuse me?” Momma asked surprised.

“I used to think that Mrs. Walters was just some mean woman who was rude beyond understanding, but now I know why she’s so nasty. Her daughter left. Her daughter left her. She tried to convince herself that you were kidnapped or something, but you left on your own free will just because you were scared of some man! And you’re going to leave your husband and your children just because someone found out? That’s really low and pathetic,” Jaci said.

I nearly cried. And not just because of the thought of my mother leaving. Jaci sounded so different. It was strange and foreign. But what wasn’t now a days?

Momma didn’t say anything. All the desire to run away drained out of her eyes. She didn’t look mad. She looked regretful. She looked guilty. She let tears fall from her eyes.

I looked at everyone else. Mr. Steve looked angry. Jaci looked sorry for ever speaking to Momma that way. Yule’s face was unreadable. He looked upset, but there was something else in it. I had no idea how I looked, but I felt sorry for Momma. Noel lingered close to Momma, and looked down at the ground. She didn’t look like she understood, but she did. She was just showing it in her own way.

“Who’s hungry?” Momma asked drying her eyes.

**

“So what do I call you?” Yule asked Momma at dinner. Mr. Steve chose some Chinese restaurant. Everything looked weird and smelled funny.

“Anything but Riley,” Momma said with her mouth full. “Mom, Momma, Mommy, Mum, Mother, Ma, Mrs. Matthews, Ms. Riley, whichever one is fine.”

Yule nodded and went back to looking at the weird thing rolled up on his plate.

“Look,” Momma said putting down her fork. “I don’t want this to be awkward. I want you and Noel to know that I love you. I always have, I do know, and always will.”

“I know,” Yule nodded. “I’m just still in shock.”

“That makes the two of us,” I said as I sipped my strange looking drink mixture. “Now I know why you didn’t name me Noel.”

Momma gave a sad smile. I looked over at Mr. Steve. He looked mad.

“What do I call you, sir?” Yule asked Mr. Steve. Mr. Steve looked shocked.

“Um, Mr. Steve, Mr. Matthews, Dad, Father, I don’t know,” Mr. Steve shrugged. Yule nodded.

“Sir, if Noel and I are going to be a problem…,” Yule started but Mr. Steve put his hand up.

“You’re not going to be a problem. I’m just surprised, mad, shocked. There’s a lot going through my mind right now,” Mr. Steve said. He looked over at me.

“I’m not hungry,” I huffed. Momma smiled at me.

“I guess if everyone’s finished we can leave,” Momma said. Everyone got up and walked towards the car.

“I don’t understand,” Megan whispered in my ear when I picked her up.

“What don’t you understand? Yule and Noel are you’re older brother and older sister,” I said.

“Oh,” Megan said. “They’re nice.”

I nodded and gave her a kiss.

I put her in her car seat and sat down in my seat. I tried to think about how I was feeling. I looked over at Yule.

“Hey, kid,” Yule said. “You ok?”

“I’m trying to figure that out,” I said. I stared at his eyes.

“I wish I had Momma’s eyes,” I blurted. “You’ve got them.” Yule smiled.

“I guess that makes sense,” Yule said. He started to tickle me and I l started to laugh hysterically.

“My sister is ticklish,” Yule laughed. I tried to catch my breath.

“I’m ok,” I smiled. “Everything is going to be fine.”

I looked over at Mr. Steve. His eyes were focused on the road but he was clearly upset. He hated me. He hated Yule. He hated Noel.

Everything’s going to be fine…in time I thought. I put my head on the headrest and closed my eyes.

**

“Stop. Stop.”

I woke up to find myself in Yule’s arms.

“I’m sorry. Did I wake up?” Yule asked.

“What am I supposed to stop?” I asked.

“Your legs were moving,” Yule said. “You were trying to sleepwalking. You were kicking me.”

I smiled sheepishly.

“I don’t know. Maybe they aren’t home,” A familiar voice said.

“Abby!” I cried leaping from Yule’s arms.

“Natalie!” Abby cried hugging me. “Have you grown in two months?”

I laughed.

“Don’t forget about me,” Zach said. I gave Zach a hug.

“What are you guys doing here?” Mr. Steve asked opening the apartment door.

“I couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving,” Abby said. “We thought we’d surprise you. Timmy wanted to come, but school called. Oh, well I have news that just can’t be told over the phone.”

Abby looked at Yule and Noel.

“Now who are you?” Abby asked Yule.

“Abby,” Mr. Steve sighed. “Meet your brother.”

Abby fainted.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Twenty

**

I walked into Jaci’s bedroom. I needed someone, and I needed someone now.

The past week had been rough. No sleep. Mr. Steve didn’t talk to me that much. I got a C on a history test. For some reason I couldn’t enjoy dance class. I fell down a million times at skateboarding lessons today and didn’t learn anything new. We didn’t have another therapy session for a little less than a month, and I was worried I wouldn’t make it until then.

“Natalie?” Jaci asked as I crawled into her bed.

“Can I sleep with you?” I asked turning towards her. Jaci nodded and pulled me into a hug.

“How are you holding up?” She asked me.

“I’m not,” I said. “I just don’t understand anything anymore. I don’t know anything anymore. I just feel like God has left me. Why do I feel so miserable? Why does he not answer me? Why does he let me suffer? I’m only twelve years old and I feel like I’m eighty. I’m so tired. My grades are slowly slipping. I don’t want to come home for fear of facing Mr. Steve. I just…I just feel like God’s not with me.”

Jaci turned on a lamp and pulled her Bible from the drawer.

“O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully [and] wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee. Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. For they speak against thee wickedly, [and] thine enemies take thy name in vain. Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” Jaci read. “Psalms 139.”

I let the tears fall from my eyes.

Jaci flipped a little through her Bible and started reading again.

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live forever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this,” Jaci said. “Psalms 22.”

I started to sob.

“I know it feels like the darkness has covered you, but remember God is still with you. I don’t know why you have to go through this. I don’t have all the answers. I know God knows all the answers and He sees the outcome of this. God does answers prayers. It might not be the answer we want; it might not be in the way that we want Him to. But He will answer you,” Jaci said. She turned off the lamp. I snuggled close to her and cried.

“Cry out to Jesus,” Jaci said. “Cry out to Jesus. Lay it all down.”

And I did.

**

I sighed. I had been resisting for so long. We had moved her a little less than two months ago and I still wasn’t finished packing. I opened the final box. It contained my Christmas fudge can, some of my father’s journals, and a box I hadn’t put in there.

I opened the box and found a little Christmas bracelet.

Dear Natalie,

  I put this in one of your boxes because I’m too chicken to give it you in person. I’m gonna miss you. I hope you miss me. Florida will never be the same without you. When you first came I was mean to you and I’m sorry about that. Will you forgive me?

Love,

Darcy

I sank into the corner and started to cry. I had forgiven him long ago. I put the bracelet on and it warmed my heart a little. I picked up one of my father’s journals. I opened it up not caring where I landed.

September 16th,

  Today Riley had an appointment. All is well with our baby. The doctor keeps asking if we want to know if it’s a boy or a girl. Riley doesn’t want to know. I want to know, but Riley wants it to be a surprise. Boy is it hard buying and picking out a name for a surprise.

  Of course Riley wants the baby’s name to be Christmas themed so we’re thinking of everything we can. Riley immediately ruled out Yule for a boy. I agreed with her. Yule is a strange name, and Yule Baldwin just doesn’t flow. Riley doesn’t like Holly, but I do. Riley likes Mistletoe, and I hate it. The other day I mentioned the name Noel and she nearly had a panic attack. I thought she’d like the name, but by the way she acted, I’m never saying that name again. We only have two good names. Nicholas and Natalie. I know this wrong but I’m really hoping for Natalie Baldwin.

Something inside of me went off. My mom sure attacked strange when I mentioned Yule and Noel. It couldn’t be because she disliked the name. Why would Momma nearly have a panic attack at just the mention of the name Noel? A cruel idea came into my mind. I got up and found my mother in the kitchen.

“Momma, why didn’t you name me Noel?” I asked. Momma looked like her heart stopped for a second.

“What kind of question is that?” Momma asked putting her hands on her hips.

“Well, I’ve been thinking. Noel has a closer connection to Christmas than Natalie does. I mean Noel means Christmas. Why didn’t you name me Noel?” I asked. I could see the hurt in my mother’s eyes. I shouldn’t have asked this question. I had a feeling a wave of bad memories were attacking Momma.

“Cause when you were born you looked more like a Natalie than a Noel so we named you Natalie,” Momma snapped. Momma walked off towards her room leaving me there to feel miserable.

The phone rang. I checked the caller ID. It was Yule’s cell phone number.

“Hello?” I asked.

“Grandma sick. Yule crazy. Natalie, come quick. Yule no admit but need you,” Noel said. She hung up.

“Momma!” I called. Momma walked out of her bedroom.

“What?” Momma snapped. Her eyes were red. Her hair was a mess. I sighed.

“Noel just called. I think something’s wrong,” I said. Momma’s features relaxed.

“Come on,” Momma said. “I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

I got into our car not knowing how different my life would be in forty-eight hours.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Nineteen

**

“How would you like to go on a picnic?” Momma asked me in the morning.

“With who?” I asked.

“Yule and Noel,” Momma said looking at a loaf of bread. “Yule called this morning and asked if Miss Natalie Matthews was available. Today is his only Saturday off work, and Noel begged him to call us at six in the morning. Thankfully I was up.”

“Sure,” I said relieved it wasn’t a ‘family’ picnic.

“You seem to be getting pretty close to Yule and Noel,” Momma said putting some turkey into a little basket.

“Oh, please don’t start,” I said. “If anything Yule is like a big brother to me.”

Momma dropped the mayo bottle on her foot.

“Are you all right?” I asked as Momma rubbed her foot.

“I gotta get a better grip on things,” Momma joked sitting down. “Can you pack the rest of the basket for me?”

I nodded and put all things in the basket that she asked me to.

“Morning, Riley,” Mr. Steve said walking out of his bedroom.

I rolled my eyes and walked into my room. He didn’t even have the decency to say good morning to me.

I closed my door and let tears fall from my eyes.

“I need help,” I said as I checked today’s temperature. I took off my pajamas. “Why do I feel like Mr. Steve hates me? Everybody says that he doesn’t hate me, but I beg to differ.”

“Natalie, I don’t hate you,” Mr. Steve said standing in my doorway.

“Go away!” I cried closing the door. I was only in my underwear. I locked my door out of embarrassment.

“Natalie, unlock this door!” Mr. Steve shouted with force in his voice.

“Can’t you knock?” I cried grabbing my robe.

“Open this door!” Mr. Steve shouted. I opened the door.

“Didn’t somebody ever teach you have to knock?” I asked.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Mr. Steve said. “You ran out of the room too fast for me to say good morning.”

“You opened my door without knocking just to say ‘Good morning’?” I asked.

“Yup,” Mr. Steve said.

“Goodbye, Steve,” I said closing my door.

I felt my hands tremble. I had never called him just Steve before.

“That is the last straw!” I heard Mr. Steve shout.

“You should have knocked,” I heard Momma say.

“I’ve had just about all I can take of that kid!” I heard Mr. Steve shouted.

Those words felt like a stab in my heart. Isn’t that what I wanted? Didn’t I want Mr. Steve to leave? Nope, not anymore.

“You’ve just got to give her time, Steve,” I heard Momma say.

“It’s the middle of September, Riley, we’ve been married for six months and she’s known me for ten months! How much time does she need?” I heard Mr. Steve yell.

“I don’t…,” Momma started.

“We have to do something about this,” I heard Mr. Steve say. I imagined him running his fingers through his brown hair.

“I agree but…,” Momma started.

“Maybe we should go to a therapist,” Mr. Steve said.

“Therapist?” Momma asked.

“Riley, I can’t take too much more. The child hates me,” I heard Mr. Steve say in a quieter voice. I felt tears splash out of my eyes. I didn’t hate him. Something inside of me was stopping me from doing what needed to be done. I don’t know what that something is, all I know is it was hurting me big time.

“She doesn’t hate you,” Momma said. “So much has happened in less than a year. She just needs…”

“What she needs is a therapist,” Mr. Steve said raising his voice again. “I gotta go or I’ll be late for work.”

I heard the door slam. I walked out of my bedroom door to find Momma near tears.

“No wonder you don’t want to talk,” Momma cried. She looked hurt. I was hurt too. I bet Mr. Steve was hurt too.

God, where is the heaven in this? I asked.

**

“There’s nothing like Central Park in the early fall,” Yule said as we lounged on the blanket. I had to admit. Central Park was pretty. It was a warm early fall day. I looked up into the clouds and sighed. Had we really been in New York City for a month?

Yule pulled out a cigarette, and Momma frowned.

“How old are you?” Momma asked as Yule lit up his cigarette.

“Sixteen,” Yule said sheepishly. All the color drained from Momma’s face.

“Aren’t you a little young to be smoking?” Momma asked. “I mean you are under the legal age.”

“True,” Yule shrugged as he puffed.

“Can you even smoke here in Central Park?” Momma asked.

“What do I look like? A police officer?” Yule asked. “I don’t know, but I’ve done it before and no cop has ever stopped me.”

“Should you really be smoking around your pregnant sister?” Momma asked. Yule put out his cigarette in anger and got up. He started to walk away.

“Wait! I’m sorry. I’m prying into your personal life. If you want to smoke, that’s your business,” Momma said. There were tears in her eyes and they were about to spill. She looked a little embarrassed. There was something else there but I just couldn’t seem to detect it.

“Oh, Mrs. Matthews,” Yule said smiling at her. “I was just going to the bathroom.”

“Oh!” Momma laughed. “You got up so fast…”

“It’s ok, Mrs. Matthews, really. You’re right. I’m smoking underage and I shouldn’t be smoking at all. You really should have called the police on me, but instead you tried to point out why I shouldn’t smoke,” Yule said. “You’re right. I’m going to stop smoking. It’s not healthy for me.”

The tears slipped from Momma’s eyes. Noel looked over at me totally confused.

“Aw, Mrs. Matthews,” Yule said. He gave Momma hug and I heard Momma start to sob. Yule winked at me and gave a sad smile.

“I’m sorry,” Momma said pulling away. Momma walked over towards a tree and started to cry some more.

“Wow,” Yule said. “I feel really bad now.”

“You really weren’t going to the bathroom were you?” I asked catching on.

“No, I wasn’t. I was going to go smoke somewhere else. But when I saw the look on your mother’s face, I just couldn’t,” Yule said sitting down.

“She really does seem upset,” I said looking over to where Momma was. She had stopped crying, and from what I saw it looked like she was praying.

“My anger caused her to feel bad,” Yule sighed. “Natalie, when your anger hurts others, it hurts you back. Knowing that you made someone upset or cry over as simple as a thing as smoking. It really makes you feel stupid.”

I pondered over Yule’s words for the rest of the day. Was that how I was with Mr. Steve? Was my anger hurting him? Is this why I wasn’t happy when he said he couldn’t take me anymore? I didn’t know anything anymore. I just didn’t know. So this is what it feels like to fall apart.

**

“Ok, bend your knees,” Yule said. It was another day. Another skateboarding lesson.

“Shift your weight in the direction you want to turn,” Yule commanded. I nodded and shifted my weight.

“You’re doing it!” Yule shouted. “You’re skateboarding! STOP!”

I stopped just before I hit a wall.

“How does it feel?” Yule asked.

“I did it!” I squealed. Yule laughed.

“That explains that,” Yule said. “Come on. Let’s try that again.”

I smiled. It was amazing how something I really had no interest in doing made me feel so good.

**

I sat in the office of Heaven Everywhere. I tried not to laugh as I thought about my father’s words. It wasn’t a coincidence that the name of the Christian Family Therapist office was Heaven Everywhere. That was confirmation from God.

Mr. Steve had gone to talk to our therapist, Angela Quinn, first. Jaci and Megan stayed at the apartment because they really weren’t the problem here. It was Mr. Steve and I. My skin crawled as I thought about all the awful things Mr. Steve was saying about me.

“Natalie, you can come in,” Ms. Angela said as Mr. Steve walked out. Mr. Steve didn’t look at me as he walked out, and I felt my heart go to the souls of my feet.

“Now, Natalie,” Ms. Angela said with the coolest Irish accent ever. “Your stepfather told me that you didn’t really like the idea of going to a therapist. So if you think you may call me a counselor.”

“You’re not what I imagined,” I said. Ms. Angela smiled.

“Tell me a little but about yourself,” Ms. Angela said.

“Well, I’m twelve but I’ll be thirteen this November 25,” I said. “I love Christmas.” Ms. Angela smiled.

“Do you have a lot of friends?” Ms. Angela asked.

“Not here in New York,” I said shaking my head no. “I have two here. Yule and Noel. They’re more like a brother and sister to me. They don’t know about everything going on but they just seem to know that things are tough. Things are tough for them too so we can kinda relate.”

Ms. Angela nodded.

“Do you have lots of friends back in Florida, Massachusetts?” Ms. Angela asked.

“I know just about everyone there,” I said. Ms. Angela nodded and wrote something down in her notebook.

“Honey, I know how hard it can be to accept a stepparent,” Ms. Angela said putting her pencil down. “When my dad got remarried it took me two years before I really truly accepted my mom. Those two years were the worst in my life.”

“How long should it take me?” I asked.

“Honey, as long as you it needs to take,” Ms. Angela said. “But, Natalie, don’t delay the process. Honey, healing is a wonderful thing. Steve will never replace your father, but I believe that every girl deserves to feel the love of a father. That’s how God intended things to be.”

“I don’t hate him! I really don’t! He hates me!” I cried. I burst out into tears. Ms. Angela got up and gave me a hug.

“Steve doesn’t hate you. He’s just…trying to figure things out. This isn’t easy on him. He’s trying to love you, but you won’t let him,” Ms. Angela said.

“So he doesn’t love me,” I said. I knew it.

“No, I didn’t say that. He loves you. You love him. I know you do deep deep down. I know he loves you. He’s just trying to complicate the situation. You dislike him, so he dislikes you back. He’s fighting fire with fire and the last time I checked you fight fire with water,” Ms. Angela said. “Honey, the man is stubborn. So if he’s not going to make the first move, you’re going to have to make it. Show him that you don’t hate him. Behave and obey him. He’s waiting for you to make the first move, and you’re waiting for him. He won’t make a move unless he feels comfortable with you. He knows you’re not ready. He just feels like you should be.”

“And what if I’m not ready to rip the bandages off?” I asked.

Ms. Angela sighed.

“I have to admit that your mother did marry him a little too quickly. But honey, your wound is infected and the only way to disinfect it is to rip off the bandage. If you don’t rip it off yourself, one day God, the doctor, is going to rip the bandage off for you because it’s what’s good for you. It’s going to hurt a lot to have that bandage ripped off, but trust me. You don’t want to live with an infected heart,” Ms. Angela said.

Everything she said was true; I just didn’t want to believe her. My heart was infected with hate and anger. I didn’t want to admit it. I was tired of this fight, but I didn’t want to be the person to blink first. Boy, do I wish I had though.

I walked out of her office never to walk back in there again.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Eighteen

**

“Where were you guys?” Momma asked when we walked into the apartment.

“The funniest thing happened,” I said. “I had to deliver some homework to a friend and it turns out that my friend, Noel, is the sister of Yule the guy that put in our cable.”

“Ow!” Momma cried as she dropped a pan on her foot.

“Are you ok?” Mr. Steve said rushing to Momma’s aide.

“I’m all right,” Momma said rubbing her foot. “Steve, did you have a chance to go down to the hardware store?”

“Um, no,” Mr. Steve said. “Why do I need to go to the hardware store?”

“We need a durable lock on the door,” Momma said taking the glasses out. “Natalie got out of the house once. I’ll suspect she’ll do it again.”

“Um, ok,” Mr. Steve said walking towards his bedroom.

“Honey, don’t forget that your first dance class starts tomorrow,” Momma said as we took out the plates. I nodded and walked towards my room.

“Oh my goodness,” I said looking at the pieces of paper on the walls. No, they weren’t pieces of paper. They were work of art.

“Save me, O God! For my sleepless nights measure to my neck. I sink deep in sleepiness.  Am tired and weary with my crying out. My throat is parched. My eyes are heavy with waiting for my God. More in number than the hairs of my head are those who make fun of me without cause. Mighty are those who want to destroy me. Those who attack me with insults. What I did not steal, must I now restore. O God, you know my stupidity. The wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me. O Lord God of hosts let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me. O God of Israel for it has to be for your sake that I have borne reproach that shame has covered my face. I have become a stranger to my sisters. I have become an alien to my mother. But as for me, my prayer is to you O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sink in sleep let me be delivered from my bullies. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the sleep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, o Lord, for your steadfast love is good according to your abundant mercury turn to me. For I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my bullies. I am afflicted and in pain. Let your salvation, O God, set me on high! But I will praise God with song. I will magnify him with thanksgiving. Let heaven and earth praise him. The seas and everything that moves in them. For God will save me,” I read from each little picture.

“Do you like it?” Jaci asked from the doorway. “I was reading from Psalms 69 this morning and it reminded me of you.”

I gave her a smile and started to cry.

“Jaci,” I said hugging her, “you are the beset big sister a girl could ever ask for.”

Jaci smiled.

“Things aren’t going to be easy in the coming months,” Jaci said. “But remember God will save you. It just might not be in the way that you think or want him to.”

I smiled.

“Right now I don’t care how he saves me,” I sniffed. “As long as he just saves me.”

“Come on,” Jaci said taking my hand. “Let’s help Mom with dinner.”

**

When we got home from dance class, we found Mr.Steve had the paper laid out on the floor and a red marker in his hands.

“Steve, honey, what are you doing?” Momma asked walking into the apartment and putting her purse down.

“I’m reading the paper,” Mr. Steve said circling something.

“What are you circling?” I asked already knowing the answer.

“Piano teachers,” Mr. Steve said. “How was dance?”

“Interesting,” Momma said. “But it was nice to talk to another insomnia mother.”

“Hey, Natalie, what is that guy you like name?” Mr. Steve said looking at an ad.

“Darcy Chadwick Edwards?” I asked really confused.

“No, here in New York,” Mr. Steve said still looking at the ad.

“Um, no one,” I said walking towards my room.

“I’m just teasing you,” Mr. Steve laughed. “That guy Yule Stewart? Your friend’s brother. He teaches skateboarding. I just thought you might be interested.”

“Skateboarding?” I asked. “I just learned how to ride a bike this summer.”

“Just a suggestion,” Mr. Steve shrugged.

“When?” I asked. Mr. Steve winked at me.

“Never mind,” I said walking into my room. I reread my pictures and went to wash up for dinner.

**

“Now the first thing is to get comfortable with your board,” Yule coached.

I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I had no desire to learn how to ride a skateboard, but here I was taking skateboarding lessons.

I put my foot on the skateboard and fell down on my bottom.

“Are you ok?” Yule laughed helping me up.

“No broken bones,” I said. Yule smiled.

“Don’t let the skateboard go out from under you,” Yule instructed. “Now I want you to get on the board and find a position you’re comfortable in. There is no wrong way to stand on a skateboard.”

I got on the skateboard and fell off four times before I found a comfortable and balanced place to stand.

“Good,” Yule smiled. “You’ve now completed the first step in learning how to skateboard. Now I want you to see which foot you push off with. Push off with which ever foot feels the most comfortable.”

Neither foot came natural to me so I pushed off with my left foot. I fell down on my bottom and hit my head.

“Ok, so you push off with your left foot,” Yule said helping me up. “You shouldn’t push off too fast or you’ll fall down.”

“I think I just learned that,” I said pushing my hair down. Yule smiled.

“Don’t give up, kid,” Yule said ruffling my hair. “Nobody learns how to ride a skateboard on their lesson first lesson and very rarely on their second lesson. Learning how to ride a skateboard takes time and commitment.”

I sighed. I didn’t know if I had the commitment in me. I don’t even know why I decided to take lessons.

“Look when I started to learn how to ride a skateboard I fell down a lot. It took be three years before I could even think about half pikes and fancy tricks,” Yule said.

“Three years?” I asked. Yule smiled.

“You’re probably a faster learner than me,” Yule said. “Enough talking. Get back on that board and learn what your speed is.”

**

“Ugh.”

“Here,” Jaci said handing me some ice.

“Everything hurts,” I said putting the ice on my head.

“What did you accomplish today?” Jaci asked sitting down on the couch next to me.

“I learned how to balance on the skateboard,” I sighed.

“That’s good right?” Jaci asked. “I mean it was just one one hour lesson.”

“I don’t know if I want to continue,” I blurted out. Jaci looked at me.

“Oh, you’re going to your next lesson,” Jaci said. “You can’t give up. Just because you crashed doesn’t mean you have to burn.”

“Did Mr. Steve tell you to say that?” I asked. Jaci shook her head no.

“Why do you call Dad Mr. Steve?” Jaci asked.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“I mean I call your mom Mom, but you call Daddy Mr. Steve,” Jaci said.

“I don’t really feel like talking about it,” I said getting up.

“I’m sorry. I was just wondering,” Jaci said.

“Well, next time why don’t you just stick with being tactful Jaci and don’t ask questions,” I snapped venomously.

“Natalie…,” Jaci started but stopped.

I walked into my room and looked at the pictures of Darcy and me.

“God, I don’t understand. I don’t understand why my mother had to get married. I don’t understand why we had to move here. I really don’t understand anything anymore, but You worked things out with Florida. You wouldn’t have us move here without a purpose so I’m going to try to find heaven in this. What do you want me to do? What do you want me to learn? Who do you want me to help?” I cried. I was angry. I was at the end of my rope. I was more tired than I had ever been in my life. I was more confused than I had ever been in my life. All I wanted was to go back to Florida, but that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

“Natalie…,” Mr. Steve started walking into my room.

“Where you listening to me?” I asked outraged.

“Jaci asked me to talk to you,” Mr. Steve said. “I just happened to hear.”

“Or were you snooping again?” I asked mad.

“No,” Mr. Steve said. “I wasn’t trying to listen to your personal talk with God. I just happened to hear.”

“Get out of my room,” I said angrily.

“Natalie, can we talk?” Mr. Steve asked.

“What if I’m not ready to talk?” I asked. “What if I’m not done talking to God yet?”

“Look, I just want to explain why I married your mom and why we moved here,” Mr. Steve said.

“Just in case you didn’t understand, I was asking God,” I said slamming my door in his face.

I flopped on my bed. What had happened to me? A year ago, I had been happily living in Miami, Florida. I was counting down the days until we could hang the wreath up again. It was just Momma and me, and I had never heard of a little town in Massachusetts named after my state. Wow, a lot can change in a year.

 

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Sixteen

**

I woke up in a cold sweat. I hadn’t gone to sleep until around two A.M. I wasn’t in the apartment. I was in a dark hallway. I tried to scream for help but nothing came out of my mouth. I stood up on my feet and wobbled a little. I walked to the elevator and found that I was on floor four of my building. I had no idea what time it was but if I hurried I could make it back to the apartment before Momma and Mr. Steve woke up.

When I got to our floor and reached for the door knob but it was yanked from my hand. Mr. Steve had opened the door and now stood in the doorway. Worry screamed from his face. His hair was a mess and he was still in his pajamas. His eyes focused straight on me. They were cold. I felt like taking off but he grabbed my wrist.

“I found her!” Mr. Steve shouted. Momma put down the phone that was in her hand. Jaci was sitting in a chair in the kitchen with Megan in her lap. Megan looked like she had been crying and so did Jaci.

“Where were you?” Momma asked. She had been crying too. Tears slipped from her eyes. I didn’t answer.

“Now, I want an answer from you,” Mr. Steve said forcibly.

I tried to speak but I still couldn’t talk.

“Something’s wrong,” Momma said noticing. “Steve, take her to the couch.”

Mr. Steve picked me up and put me on the couch.

“I.I.I.I.I.I.,” I tried. Why couldn’t I talk?

“Get her some water,” Mr. Steve said. “She looks scared as I don’t know what.”

Jaci handed me a glass of water. I gulped it down.

“Honey,” Momma said rubbing my shoulder.

“I…sleep….walk….,” I manage to get out. The words were hard to get out but they felt good to get out. I had been keeping this a secret since April. It was September now. I had been waking up in odd places and having bad dreams for six months. Why did I ever think it was a good idea to keep this a secret?

“You sleepwalk?” Mr. Steve asked.

“Some nights I don’t sleep at all,” I said finding my voice. “Some nights I have horrible dreams that I can never remember. Sometimes I run away in the dream and run away in real life.”

“Honey,” Momma said hugging me. “How long has this been going on?”

“Since April,” I cried.

Momma looked at Mr. Steve.

“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” Mr. Steve asked clearly mad.

“The first time it happened Momma would have never believed I didn’t know how I got there,” I cried.

“When you dropped the mug,” Momma sighed. “So you also sleep eat?”

“You woke up in the fridge didn’t you?” Jaci shouted. Momma and Mr. Steve looked at her.

“Yeah,” I said not looking at her.

“Should we take her to a doctor?”  Momma asked Mr. Steve. Mr. Steve just simply nodded.

“I’m ok,” I said. “Really.”

“Where did you wake up?” Jaci asked me.

“I was on level four,” I said.

“How did you get down there?” Momma asked.

“Walked,” I guessed.

Mr. Steve handed Momma the phone.

“Hello? Dr. Janet?” Momma asked.

**

“Good morning, Natalie,” Dr. Janet said. “Your mother tells me you gave her and your father and her a fright this morning.”

“Yeah, I sleepwalk,” I said like it wasn’t a big deal.

“They also tell me that you’re suffering from insomnia,” Dr. Janet said.

“So what if I don’t fall asleep until the early morning. I’ve been functioning just fine,” I said crossing my arms.

I knew it was stupid to resist the doctor but I didn’t want things to change any more than they already had.

“They also say you have bad dreams that you can’t remember,” Dr. Janet said.

“They aren’t all that bad,” I lied.

“Natalie, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Sleepwalking is serious and dangerous. Insomnia is not good for a growing person. And let’s be honest. Bad dreams are bad,” Dr. Janet said. “Now we can go through this as friends or this can be a war and I promise you I will fight you until you are able to have a good night’s sleep without any type of medication.”

I didn’t say anything.

“While you decide if you want to do this the easy way or the hard way, may I ask you a few questions?” Dr. Janet asked.

“Sure,” I shrugged.

“How bad is your insomnia? Has it gotten worse since you moved to New York?” Dr. Janet asked pulling out her clipboard.

“No, not really,” I said really wishing it had gotten worse since I moved here. Maybe it would convince my parents to move back.

“Do you often sleepwalk?” Dr. Janet asked. I nodded.

“I’ve woken up in some odd places,” I said. “I’ve woken up with a full plate of food in front of me. I’ve woken up in the middle of the road.”

Dr. Janet looked at me and wrote something down. I knew she wanted to scold me and tell me that sleep cooking was dangerous but she kept her mouth shut.

“Do you have any worries? Or you afraid of something?” Dr. Janet asked writing something done.

“Sure, I have worries,” I said. “Who doesn’t?”

“What do you worry about?” Dr. Janet asked.

Did I really worry about stuff? I worried about fighting in and making friends here in New York. For some reason Mr. Steve worried me. I knew some day I’d have to call him dad and that worried me. I felt bad for not doing it by now but I just couldn’t. I missed my dad more than I’d ever admit. I felt robbed. He didn’t have to die. It was an accident that someone planned and whoever planned it cheated me out of a lifetime of memories. I was worried I’d never go back home which was silly since Momma and Mr. Steve promised me that we’d go back someday and Jaci was getting married this summer. I would we go back this summer, but would my friends still be my friends? Would I be different? Would I ever stop sleepwalking and waking up in strange places? Would I ever have a good night’s sleep again or would this just get worse until I got to the end of my rope? Would I kill myself sleepwalking? Would I die before I fulfilled my father’s commands? Would Darcy still like me? Would I love Florida as much as I do now? Will Florida be different? Will my friends be different? Will I ever stop feeling like I’m trapped in a never ending cycle of long nights?

I had more worries than I thought I had but I couldn’t tell Dr. Janet all of them no matter how much I wanted all of this to end.

“I’m worried that I won’t ever have another good night’s sleep,” I said. Dr. Janet looked at me.

“Ok,” Dr. Janet said putting down her clipboard. “This is off the record. I promise not to tell your parents. What scares you, honey? What really worries you?”

“I don’t know,” I said trying not to cry. It didn’t work. I burst out crying.

“What if I never go back to Florida? What if I kill myself sleepwalking before I go back? What if I change? What if my friends don’t want to me my friends anymore? Will Darcy still like me or will he like someone else? Will I be able to make friends here in New York City? Will I ever be able to at least like Mr. Steve? Will I ever stop feeling like I was robbed of time with my father?” I cried.

“Natalie,” Dr. Janet said, “Moving is hard. When I first moved here I longed to be back in Tulsa. But New York isn’t a bad place. It’s the Big Apple for goodness sakes. Your mom tells me that you refuse to go sightseeing. Not finding things you love about this city will just make you more homesick. And about your stepdad…”

“What about Mr. Steve?” I asked.

“He’s generally worried about you,” Dr. Janet said. “I would say he cares about you. Don’t you care about him?”

“I don’t want him dead for my mom’s sake,” I said. Dr. Janet sighed.

“It’s your choice to like him or not,” Dr. Janet said. “But if you don’t choose to get along with him the next six years are not going to be pleasant.”

“Natalie, what do you do for fun?” Dr. Janet asked picking up her clipboard again.

“Um, not much,” I said. “I don’t have any friends.”

“I’m going to recommend a dance therapy group. Don’t worry its freestyle. Not ballet or anything like that. The dance therapy group helps girls with insomnia, anxiety, and depression. I think you’ll enjoy it,” Dr. Janet said. “And for your sleepwalking I recommend a deadbolt lock.”

I sighed. Maybe this was all a bad dream. Maybe this wasn’t real. Funny, I’ve been able to convince myself of a lot of things but for some reason I couldn’t convince myself this wasn’t real.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Fifteen

**

“How was work?” Momma asked Mr. Steve at dinner.

“Noisy,” Mr. Steve said. “I don’t know if I’d rather work with children or adults. How was your day?”

“It was all right,” Momma said. “But we stayed in all day watching TV.” Momma looked at me.

“Hey, my idea of a good TV day is not Blue’s Clues, Dora, Mickey Mouse, and Max & Ruby,” I said.

“Let me guess,” Mr. Steve said tickling Megan. “Megan had the remote.”

“Yes,” Jaci, Momma, and I said.

Mr. Steve laughed.

“What time did the cable guy get here?” Mr. Steve asked. “Late, I guess?”

“Nope, he came right on time,” Momma said.

“Natalie practically stalked him,” Jaci joked.

I laughed. That’s something Abby would say not Jaci.

“Does Darcy have competition?” Mr. Steve joked.

“No!” I cried. “He said I reminded him of his little sister, and he’s probably too old for me.”

“Sulking?” Mr. Steve joked.

“Nope,” I said. “He’s more like a big brother.”

Momma started coughing like crazy.

“Did something go down the wrong pipe?” Mr. Steve asked patting Momma’s back.

“Um, sure,” Momma said taking a sip of water.

“You ok?” I asked.

“Just fine,” Momma said. “So what should we watch tonight?”

**

I woke up feeling cold. I opened my eyes and found that half my body was jammed into the refrigerator. I quickly got out of the fridge. I was ending up in the strangest places.

“Morning, Natalie,” Jaci yawned. “Ready for your first day of school?”

The past week had been boring. Momma had tried to get me to go out and go sightseeing, but I didn’t feel like it. I was feeling homesick. I wanted to go back to Florida. I wanted to explore the Mohawk Trail with Darcy, not the Empire State Building.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I sighed.

“It makes me feel better that you’re going to an advanced school and not a regular public school,” Jaci said touching my arm that had been in the fridge. “Your arm is cold.”

She touched my other arm.

“I was looking in the fridge for something to eat,” I lied. Well maybe it wasn’t a lie. I could have been looking for something to eat. It wouldn’t be the first time I slept ate.

“Oh, I’ll make you some breakfast,” Jaci smiled. “How do you like your eggs?”

“Scrambled,” I said.

“I’m ready to face the world!” Megan screamed running into the kitchen.

“And how to you like your eggs?” Jaci smiled picking her up.

“Hard,” Megan smiled. I laughed.

“One hardboiled egg coming up,” Jaci said turning the stove on. I went to go get dressed.

“Morning, Natalie,” Momma said. “Natalie, it’s going to be eighty degrees today. I’m sorry but you’re going to have to wear a short sleeve shirt.”

I sighed and walked back into my room and changed my shirt.

“Morning,” Mr. Steve said rushing from his bedroom.

“Natalie! I made you some bacon too,” Jaci said putting the plate on the counter.

“Thanks,” I said. I said grace and started eating.

“And here’s your hardboiled egg,” Jaci said putting another plate on the counter. “I started peeling for you.”

“Thank you,” Megan smiled. “Thank you God. Amen.”

I smiled.

“You better hurry up if I’m going to give you a ride to school,” Mr. Steve said after he finished his milk. I put my last little bit of egg in my mouth and got my backpack.

“Have a wonderful day!” Jaci smiled.

I huffed. Not likely.

“Be good,” Mr. Steve said when he dropped me off.

I didn’t answer him. I just walked into the school and didn’t look back.

There was a line to get your school schedule. I stood in line for fifteen minutes. The girl in front of me did not want to have gym first and got into a fight with the lady who was handing out the schedules.

“Name,” The lady at the front desk said flatly.

“Natalie Zoey Matthews. Grade Eight,” I said.

The woman found my schedule and handed it to me.

“Thank you,” I smiled. The woman looked shocked. I stood off to the side to see what my first class was. Advanced Math. Well I might as well get it out of the way.

It took me ten minutes to find Mrs. Roberts Advanced Class. It was in the front of the school by the main office. I thought that 10B would be in the back of the school but the ones and twos were in the back of the school. Well at least I knew were history class was.

I let a girl go before me into class. As she passed me I noticed she was quite pregnant. She couldn’t be any older than me. I actually felt sorry for her.

She turned towards me. The look on her face was sad and lonely. She had soft long silky red hair. Her grey eyes were hard but I saw some softness and hurt in them……….and maybe a little bit of beauty in them.

“Excuse me,” She said quietly. She walked towards the back of the class.

Daddy, you better be right about finding heaven everywhere.

“What’s on your arms, polka dots?” A girl with silky blonde hair laughed.

“It’s called Psoriasis,” I snapped. “Don’t worry. You can’t catch it.”

I walked to the back of the class and sat next to the girl.

She looked at me but didn’t make eye contact. She looked almost uncomfortable. She moved around in the chair. I told myself she was just uncomfortable in the chair.

“Hi, my name is Natalie,” I said offering my hand. She didn’t even look at me. I couldn’t tell if she heard me or not.

“Hi, I’m Natalie,” I said louder still offering my hand. She looked at my feet and turned away. I sighed and opened my math book.

I looked over at her one more time. Her elbow slowly knocked her pencil over the other side of her desk. She noticed that her pencil wasn’t on her desk and started to freak out.

“My pencil!” She cried. “Pencil!”

She was the most distressed and desperate person I’ve ever seen and it was all over a pencil. I got up and picked up her pencil.

“Thank you,” She said with some trouble. Relief washed over her face.

“Welcome,” I shrugged. She looked at the pencil with the most admiration in the world. The pencil was almost down the the eraser. It was perfectly shaped and just waiting to be broken. There was no way she could possibly use this pencil to write anything down. She then did something that shocked me. She licked the pencil. She then took another pencil out of her backpack and started to doddle.

Mrs. Roberts walked into the classroom. She walked to the back and put her hand on the girl’s shoulder. She pulled away quickly.

“Noel, are you doing ok?” Mrs. Roberts asked.

“You all right,” I stuttered. Mrs. Roberts smiled.

“If anybody gives you any trouble you know you can come to me,” Mrs. Roberts said. Noel didn’t respond to her but Mrs. Roberts seemed satisfied.

“You must be my new student,” Mrs. Roberts smiled. “Welcome.”

I smiled. Mrs. Roberts noticed my rashes but she didn’t say anything.

“Welcome to advanced eight grade math,” Mrs. Roberts said when she got back to the front of the class.

I stole one more look at at Noel and then paid attention to what Mrs. Roberts was saying.

**

“How was school?” Mr. Steve asked when he picked me up.

“All right, I guess,” I said. The rest of the day went fine. I didn’t see Noel the rest of the day but that didn’t mean she wasn’t on my mind.

“Make any new friends?” Mr. Steve asked.

“Nope,” I answered.

“Well, you’re a very likeable girl. I’m sure you’ll make some friends soon,” Mr. Steve said.

“Whatever you say,” I mumbled.

“People teased you didn’t they?” Mr. Steve asked.

“One girl called me polka dots,” I said. “But its ok.”

Mr. Steve sighed as we pulled up into the parking garage.

“Natalie,” Mr. Steve started but I walked out the car.

Posted in Natalie, The Berkshire County Chronicles

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Fourteen

**

“How do I look?” Mr. Steve asked.

Nothing looked different about him. He wore the same suit he wore everyday as a teacher. You would think that if he got some big job as a businessman he would buy himself a new suit.

“I don’t like the tie,” I said just to be saying something.

“What’s wrong with my tie?” Mr. Steve asked. “You got me this tie for Father’s Day!”

“It says ‘I’m a math teacher!’ not ‘I’m accountant!’” I said. Ok, so there really wasn’t any difference. The tie had pi, addition, multiplication, and division symbols on it.

Mr. Steve laughed.

“I’ll just tell them that my daughter gave it to me,” Mr. Steve said. He gave Momma a kiss and walked out the door.

“When’s the cable guy coming?” I groaned. Momma laughed.

“Can’t you survive one day without TV?” Momma asked. “Anyway there’s nothing good on TV especially on Mondays.”

“School doesn’t start until next week,” I whined.

“Go read a book,” Momma said. “We can go to Central Park. Do a little window shopping.”

“And miss the cable guy,” I added. Momma shook her head and laughed.

The doorbell rang. I ran to open the door, but Momma stopped me.

“This isn’t Florida,” Momma said. “Always check before you answer the door.”

Another disadvantage to living in the city.

“Who is it?” Momma asked looking through the peephole.

“I’m Yule Stewart. I’m here to install your cable box. I have my work badge and your appointment arrangement papers,” The man on the other side of the door said.

Momma’s face screamed unbelief. She opened the door and her face fell.

The man standing in the doorway couldn’t be more than eighteen. He was very handsome(don’t get any ideas). He was wearing the cable company’s uniform. His dark brown hair was slicked back. He had hazel eyes that looked exactly like Momma’s. His eyes were sunk into his face with age but like he said he couldn’t be older than eighteen. He was smiling, and you could easily see that his teeth were crooked. His voice had a New York accent. It sounded tough, but for some reason it was music to my ears.

“I…um..,” Momma stared. She blinked at him in disbelief.

“Are you all right, ma’am?” Yule asked Momma.

“I’m fine,” Momma said forcing a smile to her face. “Can I see your work badge?”

“Here,” Yule said handing it to Momma. Momma looked at it and nodded.

“Come in,” Momma said.

Yule limped into the apartment.

“Where would you like the main cable box to be?” Yule asked.

“This TV right here,” Momma said pointing to the family room TV. Yule nodded. He noticed the Christmas tree and started laughing.

“Oops, sorry,” Yule said when he bumped into me.

“That’s ok,” I smiled. “I’m Natalie.”

“Yule,” Yule said offering his hand. “Natalie. I like the way that sounds. My sister’s having a baby. A girl. Every night she asks me if I’ve found any new names.”

“It means born on Christmas day,” I said shaking his hand.

“That’s funny,” Yule said moving the TV a little. “That’s what my name means.”

“I know,” I said. “I guess you guessed from the fact that we have a fake golden Christmas tree up in August that we’re Christmas freaks.”

“Yeah, I guessed,” Yule nodded hooking some cables up.

“My mom and I love Christmas. It hasn’t quite rubbed off on my stepdad yet,” I said. Yule smiled.

“I’m hungry,” Megan said walking into the family room.

“You just waking up?” I asked.

“Nope,” Megan said. “Jaci was dressing me. She wanted me to wear my blue polka dot dress outfit, but I wanted to wear my purple polka dot dress. She had to look through the boxes to find it.”

Megan screamed when she saw Yule.

“What’s wrong?” Momma asked walking from the kitchen.

“Stranger Danger!” Megan screamed pointing to Yule.

“Megan, honey, he’s here to set up the cable,” Momma said. “Can you say ‘hi Yule?’”

“Hi, You,” Megan said not able to pronounce Yule.

Yule laughed.

“Hi, Megan,” Yule said. “That outfit looks very pretty on you.”

“I told you, Jaci!” Megan cried running into the kitchen. Jaci walked out of Megan’s room.

“Welcome,” Jaci said to Yule. “Can I interest you in a cup of tea?”

Yule laughed.

“No, I’m just setting the cable box up,” Yule said. He moved the TV back. The cable box was set up on that TV. That was fast.

“Would you do the honors?” Yule asked handing me the remote.

I hit the power button and the news popped up.

“Where would you like the three other cable boxes?” Yule asked.

“In the kitchen, the second room on the left, and the junior cable box goes in the first room on the left,” Momma said. Yule nodded and walked towards the kitchen. I followed.

“Is it hard to set up cable boxes?” I asked.

“Nope,” Yule said. “But fixing them is. Last week all the cable boxes in one building crashed. I spent two days taking apart the cable boxes and replacing the parts. Ugh.”

“There are so many steps,” I said as I watched Yule. “How do you remember them all?”

“Photographic memory,” Yule said pointing to his brain. “Personally, I don’t know how all the other suckers do it either.”

I laughed.

“How bout you do it this time?” Yule asked Megan. Megan took the remote, turned the TV on, and then turned to Dora.

Yule, Momma, and I laughed.

“Uno!” Megan shouted.

Yule walked off towards the hallway, and I was about to follow but Momma stopped me.

“Natalie,” Momma said, “I think you’re bothering him.”

“She’s fine,” Yule said waving his hand. “It’s nice to be recognized every now and then.”

Momma nodded. Her face looked sad. She quickly turned back to making Megan breakfast.

“So you said you have a sister,” I said as Yule set up Momma and Mr. Steve’s cable box.

“Yup,” Yule said. “I see you got two.”

“Three actually,” I said. “My oldest sister is married and lives in Massachusetts.”

Yule nodded.

“I bet you miss her,” Yule said nodding his head in understanding. “You’re not from New York. I’ve never heard your accent before.”

“I’m Floridian, but my father was British,” I said

“I’m guessing this is your room?” Yule laughed walking into my room.

“Yeah,” I laughed. Yule looked at the pictures of Darcy and me.

“That your little boyfriend?” Yule asked pointing at the pictures. “I didn’t think you were old enough to have a boyfriend.”

“You could call him that,” I said. “I’m twelve but I’ll be thirteen in November.”

“That kid looks familiar,” Yule mumbled as he moved my TV. “Did you say your twelve? No wonder you remind me of my sister. You aren’t much younger than her.”

“Oh, so you have another sister,” I said.

“Nope,” Yule said. “Just me and her.”

“But you said she was having a baby,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s um complicated. Since the trial hasn’t happened I can’t really say anything,” Yule said. “Finished.”

“You are fast,” I said. Yule smiled.

“And you have been a delight,” Yule said. “Natalie. I like that name.”

“I hope to see you again one day,” I said.

“Me too,” Yule said. “If your cable box ever has a problem just ask for Yule.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said. “Goodbye.”

“Bye,” Yule smiled. And with that he walked out the door, but not out of my life.

Posted in Natalie

Natalie: Part 3- Heaven Everywhere Installment Thirteen

**

I tried to breathe as the car drove away. This wasn’t it. This wasn’t goodbye. We weren’t actually leaving Florida. There was still time for this nightmare to end.

I had only one week to try to stop this horrible move. Maybe if I prayed real hard Momma and Mr. Steve wouldn’t like the noisy city and decide to stay in quite Florida.

“So there are five boroughs of New York City correct?” Jaci asked. There were tears in her voice. She was mad about this too. But she had nothing to worry about. Timmy had proposed. They were getting married. They had Mr. Steve’s blessing. She would be moving back here within a year. I was still a minor and would still be living under Mr. Steve’s roof for six more years.

“Yes. The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island,” Mr. Steve said.

“Which part will be living in?” Jaci asked.

“Well my job is in Manhattan so probably Manhattan,” Mr. Steve said. Jaci nodded.

“Does a man make hattan there?” Megan asked. I looked at her.

“No, baby,” Mr. Steve laughed. “What makes you think that?”

“It’s called Man hattan,” Megan said. “I’m happy though. I don’t like hattan. Yucky!”

I stared at her. What in the world was hattan?

“What’s hattan, honey?” Momma said almost reading my thoughts.

“It’s a secret,” Megan said. “Every time you ask they never tell you.”

“Who are they?” Momma asked.

“I don’t know,” Megan shrugged. “They are they.”

Momma looked at Mr. Steve. The look on their faces said, “That’s weird.”

**

It took us almost four hours to get to New York City. Four hours between Florida and New York City. That was a long ways away.

Mr. Steve showed us the building he would be working in. It was a skyscraper of course.

There were several apartment buildings in the area, and we visited just about every one.

“What do you think about this one?” Mr. Steve asked. “It’s big enough for everyone to have their own room. And there still would be a guest room.”

This place could never become home. The B&B was home and always would be.

“Free!” Megan shouted running around the empty apartment. Mr. Steve smiled.

“It’s very nice,” Jaci said politely.

“Natalie?” Momma asked.

She didn’t want me to say anything, trust me.

“Natalie, this is a family decision. If you don’t like the apartment…,” Mr. Steve started.

“It’s not that I don’t like the apartment. The apartment in general is fine, but it never will be home. Florida is home. The B&B is home. This apartment is never going to become home. New York City will never take Florida’s place. Not ever,” I said as calmly as I could.

Mr. Steve seemed relieved I hadn’t started yelling and annoyed our possible new neighbors.

“Well if anyone likes the place,” Mr. Steve said. Thankfully, he didn’t dare look at me.

No, this couldn’t be happening. I couldn’t be leaving Florida like this. Not this quickly. No, not like this.

**

This was it. I couldn’t believe that I was actually leaving Florida.

After all I’ve been through this year. Last Christmas when we got here I would have never imagined that I’d fall in love with this place, but I was in love with it bad. I knew everyone, and everyone knew me. It would take a thousand lifetimes to get to know everyone in New York City.

I had friends here. I didn’t really have friends back in Florida. I usually ate lunch with the people who liked art and books. We had something in common to talk about, but as far as having a real good friend who you knew you could count on no matter what I never had one until I came here.

I could count on Regina, Darcy, Virginia, Jessie-Maria, and even Emily to have my back. They were my best friends (well Emily might not be a bestie but she was a closeie). My heart broke to leave them, especially Darcy.

I had tried everything. I pleaded to stay and live with Abby. I tried to get them to let me stay here during the week and be in New York on the weekends. Nothing worked. Mr. Steve was determined to ‘keep the family together’. This wasn’t a family. This was a mess. What Mr. Steve saw as a ‘family’. I saw as a horrible attempt to act like we were happy. We weren’t happy. We were on the edge of our seat just waiting for the ‘fight’ to happen. The fight that would end this all. Or maybe it was just me who was waiting for this to happen. Sooner or later Mr. Steve had to get sick of me, and just wanna leave. I mean how much can one person take?

Jaci was just as upset as I was about leaving Florida, but she was too polite to even frown. Megan was no help. She wanted to go to the big Toys R Us in NYC. Some little sister. Abby had been in shock for about a week. She kept saying that Mr. Steve should do what was best for the family. Well leaving Florida wasn’t best for me, and wasn’t I part of his idea of a family?

It seemed like the entire town was there to watch us leave. Everybody looked sad, but nobody was sadder than me well maybe Virginia was. She kept complaining that she would resort to hanging out with Emily and have to hear her talk about how wonderful Nelson was.

Darcy had barely uttered a word to me all week. It kinda hurt me. Weren’t we supposed to be gushing over each other and trying to spend every possible second together?

“I’m going to miss you!” Virginia cried hugging me so tight I thought I was going to die.

“I’m going to miss you too,” Regina said hugging me not as tight.

“Me too,” Jessie-Maria said hugging me. “The twins are going to too.”

I smiled and let tears fall from my eyes.

“Natalie, we got off to a bad start. I’m not exactly the friendliest person in all of Massachusetts, but I like to think of you as a friend. And trust me. I don’t have too many friends,” Emily said to me. She gave me very light hug. I smiled and shook my head on the inside.

“You will be missed,” Nelson said. I smiled at him.

“Bye, Natalie,” Timmy said. “See you this summer…for the wedding I mean.”

I tried to punch him in the side, but since Timmy was so tall I had to settle for the stomach. Timmy laughed at my pathetic attempt.

I walked towards the car. Darcy wasn’t even there. So what? I was leaving, and if Darcy didn’t care why should that bother me?

“Natalie, wait!”

I turned around the find Darcy standing there.

“What?” I asked.

“I.I.I.,” Darcy tried. He soon gave up on his attempt at words and gave me the quickest kiss on the lips ever.

I stood there for a second staring into Darcy’s eyes. I climbed into the car.

“Bye!” I cried sticking my head out the window. Virginia, Jessie-Maria, Regina, and surprisingly Emily gave me tearfully goodbyes. Darcy said goodbye with tears in his eyes.

I blew kisses and then put my head in the car because I could feel Mr. Steve’s eyes on me.

I broke down hysterically crying in the backseat. And did Mr. Steve turn back? No, Mr. Steve did not.

**

I fell asleep after I cried for like forty minutes nonstop. I know that’s being childish, but I truly couldn’t stop. I tried after the first five but the tears kept pouring out. I hadn’t felt this kind of emotional attachment to Miami, but I had it bad with Florida. Florida was home now. It was where my friends where. It had people I loved and cared about. And most important: Darcy.

When I woke up I felt kinda stupid for crying over a boy, but Darcy wasn’t just any boy at least not me. He was special to me. He was the first guy I ever really really liked. His kiss was short but sweet.

“Whoa,” Megan said. I looked out the window, and skyscrapers met my eyes. We were in New York City already?

“Welcome to the Big Apple, girls!” Mr. Steve smiled. I scowled. We were almost four hours away from Florida.

“There are a lot of people,” Jaci said craning her neck to look out the window.

“There are over a million people in Manahan, and over eight million people in New York City. Jaci, honey, you’re gonna see a lot of people,” Mr. Steve said.

“What’s that?” Megan asked pointing to the newly finished One World Trade Center.

“It’s called the One World Trade Center or 1 WTC,” Mr. Steve said. “It’s the tallest building in New York City.”

“It’s pretty,” Megan said.

“Yes,” Mr. Steve said smiling a sad smile, “it’s pretty.”

I closed my eyes not wanting to think about the 9/11 attacks. A disadvantage to living in New York City: not feeling safe.

I sighed. I lived here now. I couldn’t believe I was one of eight million and no longer one of seven hundred.