A Second Chance -- Chapter 4

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A Second Chance -- Chapter 4

By Dawn Natelle

THURSDAY, April 27, 2014

The morning routine was much the same, with Rachael getting up early enough to shower and do her makeup before yanking Bobby out of bed. It was harder for her to get up because she had stayed up writing her English paper. Bobby didn’t want to get up, and she realized that they might have read Harry Potter for too long the night before. She finally got him out of bed and downstairs with a breakfast in front of him before her mom made it downstairs.

“Thanks,” Maria said as she gratefully accepted the cup of coffee that was handed her. “You really are looking after your brother for me. I didn’t think it would last.”

“It will, Mom. I promise you.”

“I believe you, for some reason. You seem to have grown up so much in only a few days. When I talk to you, it is like I am talking to an adult. When you laid into me about that job last night, I felt like you were my Mom, giving me hell for not thinking something through. It was like our roles were reversed.”

“Well, I’m glad they aren’t. I like being the kid. But it will be a kid that helps out. Come on Bobby, let’s go out early and surprise the bus driver by him not having to wait. Grab your lunch.”

They were at the bus pick up spot early, and chatted about their day. Rachael really liked the energetic, imaginative little boy and hoped she could be a good influence on him. Soon she was on her own bus and soon an energetic and enthusiastic looking Michaela bounded down the aisle to plop down next to her.

“Well you seem to be in a good mood,” Rachael said with a smile. The shy, insecure girl seemed to be gone, replaced by a cheery, fun teen.

“Yeah. I went to bed early and got up early, so I had a good breakfast, then made my own lunch. No more mystery meat for me.”

“Good girl. What did you have for breakfast?”

“Three scrambled eggs, five slices of bacon and four pieces of toast,” she said with a smile. “It was so yummy.”

“Michaela Stoner, you didn’t,” Rachael said in shock.

“No I didn’t. I ate healthy. A bowl of Special K with low-fat milk, one toast, and some fruit.”

“That’s better. What about lunch?”

“ A meat sandwich and some more fruit. I’ll get a low-fat milk at school. Mom says that I can keep my school lunch money if I keep making my own lunch.”

“Cool.”

“Oh yeah, Mom is going to call to see if I can get permission to skip the bus on nice days and walk home with you.”

“Michaela, are you sure? It is a long walk for us. Bobby wouldn’t have made it if we hadn’t stopped to talk to Mr. Verdun. And you have another three or four blocks after our house.”

“I know, but I will make it. I mean, if you collapse half way home, they have to take you home, don’t they?”

“No, they take you to the hospital and that is way downtown. In your case it would be the looney bin, and I don’t know where that is,” Rachael said with a giggle. “But you are welcome to walk home with us. In fact, you can stop in at our house and rest up for the last part of the trip.”

Michaela’s eyes were wide. “I can come to your house? I’ve never had a friend invite me to their house. That would be so cool.”

“Chill, Michaela,” Rachael laughed. “It’s just for a half hour after school. It’s not a sleepover or anything.”

“A sleepover? Can we do that? I’ve never had a sleepover.”

“We’ll see,” Rachael said with a laugh. “Are you sure you aren’t high on something.”

“Just happiness,” Michaela said. “I finally have a friend. I think that yesterday was the best day of my life.”

“So far.”

“What?”

“The best day of your life so far. There will be better days in the future. Graduation, first dates, getting married, having kids, kids graduating. Your whole life is full of best days to come.”

Michaela stopped and thought about it. “That is so cool. Is that from a movie or something? It is a great way to think about stuff. Before yesterday I was depressed a lot. Now I think I was just lonely. Having a friend helps. Please always be my friend.”

“I will, don’t worry about that. Look, we are at the school already,” Rachael said.

“Yeah … do you think it will happen? The part about first dates and getting married?”

“Of course it will,” Rachael said. As they waited, the cool kids at the back of the bus barged past to get off first. “Nice barrette, Carly.”

Carly stopped and looked at the chubby girls and looked like she wanted to say something nasty. But instead she just said: “Thanks. It’s gold you know.”

“Well, it really makes your complexion look nice. The boys will be all over you today.”

“Really? You think so? If only Leon Michaels would notice.”

“He might. Do you want me to set it up for you?”

“Get out. No. You mean you would actually go up to a boy and talk to him.” Carly said. “I mean, maybe. It would be cool.”

“Come on, Carly,” Layla Patrelle said. “Let’s go. These guys are losers.”

Carly did move on with her girlfriends, but as she walked away she could be heard to say “I don’t think they are losers. They are kinda nice.”

Michaela and Rachael stared at each other, then started to giggle. “Did that just happen?” Michaela said. “Carly Henderson was nice to us.”

“We were nice to her, and she was nice back,” Rachael said. “People work like that, although I have to admit I thought it was going to take more than a couple days to get on her good side.

Courses at Ainsborough Middle School rotated the schedule on alternate days, so today Rachael started with French and then a double class of Phys. Ed., eventually ending with English. French was easy for her and she headed to the locker room to change into the sports gear she had washed the night before.

Midge Smith, the phys ed teacher was about 30, and nearly 6 feet tall in sneakers. She was thin and athletic, with short brown hair in a pixie cut. Most boys in the school considered her to best looking teacher in the building, and were upset that she was “wasted” on the girls while they had a middle-aged pot-bellied male teacher who couldn’t do half the things he made the students do.

Ms. Smith, on the other hand, was very hands-on. Today she was starting basketball, and Rachael smiled. Ron had been very good at basketball 40 plus years ago. Ms. Smith started bouncing balls out to the students, and telling them to warm up with shots on the eight baskets around the gym. She stopped when she saw Rachael.

“Rachael Carson, right?”

“Cartright, Miss,” Rachael corrected.

“We haven’t seen much of you this year, have we,” the coach said.

“No, sorry about that. I’m going to do better from now on. I promise.”

“We’ll see about that,” she said. Rachael gestured for her to pass the ball she was holding. The coach sent it over in a hard, fast spiral that may have been designed to knock the truant student off her feet. But Rachael caught it cleanly and took it to the basket for a mid-range jump shot.

Rachael took 15 or 20 shots before the coach next blew her whistle. She made one or two, but missed on most. Apparently 40 years of inactivity makes one a bit rusty, and having a smaller, more compact body with a different center of gravity didn’t seem to help.

The girls sat down in a semicircle around the coach after the whistle. Ms Smith told them she was going to teach them how to make, and defend, a lay-up shot. She explained the technique and then made a couple lay-ups to show how it was done. Then she asked for volunteers to help her demonstrate defence. No hands went up.

She fired the ball at Rachael, saying her name as the ball was halfway there, aimed pretty much at her head. But the young teen caught the ball and quickly got to her feet.

“Nice catch,” the coach said. “Now I want you to come at me like I just showed everyone. I will stand here, and you try to get the ball past me to the basket.”

Rachael started dribbling the ball several feet away from the basket. She deked left and right, and then stopped and set up for a jump shot.

“Lay-up,” the coach yelled in annoyance, and at that instant Rachael broke in on her with a long stride that left her inches away from the coach. She jumped and seemed to turn in towards the basket, but then changed direction just as her trailing foot left the floor, spinning away from the basket. The coach was caught off guard and barely had a chance to swat the ball away.”

Rachael ran to get the ball, rubbing her arm where the coach had slapped it.

“What Rachael just did is called a reverse lay-up,” Ms. Smith explained. “It is a highly effective variation on the lay-up I just showed, and usually isn’t taught until high school for boys, and college for girls.”

“But she missed,” Lucy Davners said. Under her breath, she added “Loser.”

“Actually she only missed because I fouled her. I’ve never had a student beat me in a lay-up and I guess my competitive streak took over. As a fouled shooter, Rachael gets two free throws. Take them, Rachael.”

Lucy was sitting on the middle of the free throw line in the key, and had to scoot away before Rachael took her shots. Rachael made the first shot with ease. On the second attempt, as she dribbled the ball before shooting, Lucy stuck out her foot and the ball bounded away.

“Sorry,” Lucy said in a patently insincere voice, and the other girls in her clique laughed. The ball rolled over to another girl, who passed it awkwardly back to Rachael. Rachael dribbled again, and from the corner of her eye saw that Lucy was going to repeat her prank. So instead of a dribble, Rachael slammed the ball to the floor, hitting Lucy full on the foot and driving her ankle into the floor. Luckily the ball shot right back up and Rachael made a rather unwieldy toss to the basket, which just happened to go in.

She looked down at Lucy, who was writhing in pain. “She deliberately hit me,” Lucy whined.

“No, I think you deliberately put your foot in the wrong place,” Ms. Smith said. “If you are hurt, you can go to the school nurse.”

Lucy struggled to her feet, helped up by three of her cohort. “Just Lucy,” Ms. Smith said.

“I need help”, Lucy said, trying her puppy dog eyes on the teacher. Ms. Smith was not buying it.

“If you need help, Rachael can help you. Everyone else here needs to practise their lay-ups.”

“Oh … I think I am all right to go myself,” Lucy said, and she limped away slowly, until she got through the gym doors at any rate.

The rest of the class was largely uneventful. Students practised lay-ups and defences under the watchful eye of the coach, and for the last half hour of the double class, the girls were split into four teams and played two half court games at the same time. Rachael was one of the four girls who had looked best in the practise, and were chosen as captains and had to pick girls for their teams.

Michaela was one of the clumsier players at the start of the session, but Rachael had spent most of the class helping her, and she was starting to get more comfortable with the ball and both lay-ups and set shots. Her jump shot remained horrible. So the girl was astonished when Rachael picked her first for her team.

“Thanks,” she whispered as she moved to stand behind Rachael as the others were picked. “I’ve never not been last or second last picked.”

“I picked you because you will help us win,” Rachael whispered back as she continued to pick until Janice Schlepper was chosen last.

Rachael acted as coach as well as star of the team, and quickly scored 10 points, including three steals from the other team players, and a block. The lone shot they took was a miss. Then Rachael sat down on the bench and put in one of the subs. As the game went on, Rachael would go in for a minute or two, and then sub out after scoring enough points to keep the score close. In that last minute of the game, with the teams tied, Rachael subbed off again, and put Janice in to replace her. Her team nearly prevented the other team from scoring, but with a couple seconds left they scored.

“They won,” Michaela said at the end of the game. “If you had been in instead of Janice, we would have won.”

“Winning isn’t important,” Rachael said. “We had fun, learned something, and got good exercise.” She then went around to all the other girls on both teams, congratulating them on a good game. When she got to Janice, the girl seemed on the verge of tears.

“We lost because of me,” she sobbed.

“No we didn’t. We won because of you,” Rachael said.

“What? We lost.”

“No, we won in the long run. We all had about the same amount of time on the court, so we all got experience that will make us better. The other team played their five best players for almost the entire game.”

“If you had been in more we could have won.”

“Yeah, but what was better. Sitting on the bench watching, or playing.”

“Playing. Although I would have preferred to be watching at the end. There was a lot of pressure.”

“That pressure will make you better. I just want you to know that the next time I get to be captain, I want you on my team again. You are a great player.”

“Really, you mean that?”

“Yes, come on, we need to go to the showers before the water is cold.”

They started to head for the change room. “Cartright, come here,” coach called out.

“Yes coach?”

“I was watching you today. I know you skipped a lot of my classes this term, and I could fail you for poor attendance. But I saw you helping other students during the practise, and then you did a stellar job as a captain. You gave all the players a chance to play good minutes, and didn’t take over at the end to make yourself the star. That was good sportsmanship. But why didn’t you make sure your team won.”

“Winning isn’t important,” Rachael said.

“Winning is always important,” Ms. Smith shouted, as though Rachael had uttered a sacrilege. “It is the most important thing. I was going to ask you to try out for the school team. You are better than some of the girls we had last year.”

“I can’t,” Rachael said. “The team practises after school, and I have to take my little brother home and tend him.”

“Damn,” the coach said softly. “Anyway, if you keep attitude up for the rest of the term, I will make sure you pass phys. ed. this year.”

“Thanks, coach.”

Rachael headed into the locker room and discovered almost all the other students were gone. Michaela and Janice were the only two left, and they were getting back into their school clothes.

“Hurry Rachael,” Michaela shouted as Rachael ran into the showers. She screamed a little as the water hit her. It was ice cold. It did encourage her to make it the quickest shower ever taken.

When she got out, she saw that Janice was gone. “She didn’t bring a lunch, so she has to go through the mystery meat line. I told her to rush ahead. She wants to join us at our table. Is that okay?”

“Of course.”

“Good. ‘Cause I think she wants to be friends. We had a nice talk while waiting for Ms. Smith to ream you out. We heard some yelling. What happened?”

“Mostly good stuff. The yelling was just because I’m not as intense as the coach. Win or die, you know? She wants me on the school BB team.”

“That’s cool. You would be great at it. You gonna try out?”

“Can’t. I have Bobby to look after.

“Maybe I could look after him?”

“That is sweet, Michaela, but it is something I have to do. You see, I have a plan. I want him to be a real stud when he starts high school in a few years.”

“Bobby? A stud?” Michaela giggled.

“Why not? He has to lose a little weight, and get good at sports, and then he will have it made. I’m also hoping I can help him with his marks. His reading is atrocious, and I think that is why he is having trouble with other subjects.”

“What about me?” Michaela asked. “Do you have a plan for me, too?”

“Yep. I plan to be your friend forever.”

“Wow. Two days ago I had no friends, now I have two.”

“It’s a start.” They were in the cafeteria, and as they entered Janice finished paying for her food, and carried her tray over to them. “Wanna sit with my friends?” she asked.

“We usually sit over there,” Rachael pointed.

“What, at the nerd table?”

“Yep. You don’t have to come with,” Rachael said. “I know you are in the a-list groups.”

“Well b-list maybe,” Janice said. She hesitated for a minute, then seemed to make up her mind. “What the heck. Let’s go.”

When the three girls sat down at the table, the boys already there seemed to all be doing impersonations of a drowning fish. Rachael introduced the boys to Janice, and ordered them to close their mouths. You see, while Janice was short, and totally inept at sports, she was gorgeous. She had been “dating” one of the football players until a few weeks ago, when she caught him kissing another girl. Her short black hair was in a fashionable Audrey Hepburn type of style, and her breasts were at least twice what Rachael’s were. The boys had accepted two plain, chubby girls at their table, but couldn’t conceive of a hot girl joining them. Janice was friendly with them, in spite of them being tongue-tied a bit. Eventually they loosened up and were actually able to conduct a conversation with her.

“Oh. My. God,” Rachael said.

“What?” Janice said, turning away from the joke on the guys was failing badly in telling.

“This sandwich. The bread is to die for. Take a bite.” First Michaela and then Janice took small bites, and agreed with Rachael’s assessment.

“Where did you get that? It tastes almost like cake instead of bread,” Janice said.

“A little bakery a few blocks down the road, we will pass it on the way home,” she told Michaela.

“Well, I’m going to get some,” Michaela said. That stuff is wonderful. It looks healthy too.”

“It is, although that place can be dangerous … what with the pastries and other things in there.”

“I will have to get Mom to try it out,” Janice said. “Are you guys walking home?”

“Yeah. My brother goes to Wislow, so I pick him up there and then we will walk home.”

“Oh, I’m on the 14 bus, so I go the other direction. It must be fun walking together.”

“Well, this is the first time for the two of us, though I did it yesterday with Bobby. But we are mostly doing it to get into shape, and girl, you are in the right kind of shape already.”

“Aw, thanks.”

“Look, I have to see someone,” Rachael said getting up. “You guys stay here.”

Rachael made her way across the cafeteria to the sports table, where she saw Leon Michaels. He was nearly 6 feet tall, and looked 16 rather than 13. His short black hair and actual beard stubble helped contribute to his studliness.

“Leon?” Rachael asked,

He turned around and looked her up and down, with a sneer that said he clearly was not impressed. “Yeah. What?”

“Are you dating anyone right now?”

“What, you want to date me?” he said with a laugh. The other boys at the table were intently listening and started to hoot and holler. “I’ve got tons of girlfriends, but you aren’t going to be one of them.”

“What about Carly Henderson? Interested?”

He suddenly got a serious look on his face. “Carly? Do you know her?”

“A bit. I do know she likes you.” The hoots increased another notch.

“Get out. You aren’t serious.”

“I am pretty sure if you asked her out, she would say yes.”

“No way! Really.”

“Yep, all you have to do is ask,” Rachael said. Then she watched as the macho stud seemed to morph into the insecure 13-year-old that most teens are inside.

“I … uh … would you ask her for me?”

“No,” Rachael laughed. “Look. If you want, I will walk with you over to her table. But you have to ask her.”

“Okay. When?”

“Now silly. You don’t want someone else to ask her first, do you?”

“No, no. But now?”

Rachael practically hauled him to his feet, and pushed him across the room. Halfway there Carly saw them coming. You could see the light bulb go on over her head, and she pushed one of her girlfriends down the bench to leave a blank space next to her.

Leon tried to veer away a couple times, and Rachael had to reel him back. Finally they were standing next to Carly, who seemed just as nervous as Leon was. For a minute no one said anything, so Rachael finally spoke up. “Leon would like to say something, Carly.”

“Yeah, um … I … ah … she,” he gestured at Rachael.

“Rachael,” she prompted.

“Yeah, Rachael said, you … um. That is … ah … Do you want to go out with me? Sometime? Maybe?”

“Yes, I would,” Carly said.

“Well, don’t just stand there like a dummy,” Rachael ordered the boy. “Sit down and work out a time and place.”

As he sat down on the bench, Rachael looked back, and saw Carly mouth the words ‘Thank You’. Rachael headed back to her table where everyone was looking at her.

“What did you just do?” Janice asked.

“I just did my Cupid thing,” I joked.

“Can you do that for me?” she answered.

“Yeah, who do you want me to lasso so you can brand him like Carly seems to be doing with Leon.”

“I dunno. Let me get back to you.”

Soon after that, the warning bell rang, and the students all filed out to go to their next classes. History and then math were just as easy as yesterday for Rachael, and then came English. This time she was in her seat when Mrs. Cathcart entered the room. Her eyes immediately scanned the room and spotted Rachael.

“I see you have come to my class two days in a row, and on time too today. I am honoured.”

“The first of many to come,” Rachael said proudly.

“I don’t suppose you have your assignment ready to read, do you?”

“Yes I do.” Mrs. Cathcart looked surprised at this.

“Then you will read it to the class.”

Rachael then read the title that was assigned as the topic for the paper. About me. Then she added a subtitle, called There and Back Again. She verbally credited Tolkein for the subtitle and then started reading her paper. The first part of the paper was from Rachael’s pre-Ron memories. She talked about the spiral of depression she had been on, the self-abuse and cutting she had gone through, and finally the story of the day she had hacked off her long hair after a biting comment from a classmate. There was a gasp from the back of the room, where Carly was sitting, as she recognized that the comment was one she had made.

The story then moved to the episode on the ladder, and how close she had come to jumping off. She explained the revelation she had, and how she decided to turn her life around. To grow up and no longer care what others thought, but to do what was right. To be the best person she could be, and to be a friend to everyone she met.

When she finished the story, she could see that almost every girl in the room was in tears. Some of the boys had watery eyes as well, and once again a slow clap started, but this time it transformed into general applause.

Mrs. Cathcart had to call for attention several times until the noise quieted down, although many girls were still sobbing. “Very well written, Miss Cartright … if it is your own work and not something copied from the Internet. If it is, I will find the real source. However, it is clearly a work of fiction, or fictionalized, and the assignment was meant to be of real life, and not embellished like this was. Clearly all the events of your paper didn’t happen to you. I cannot award a pass mark on this assignment.”

“But it is all true, Mrs Cathcart. This is not something I could fake,” Rachael said. With that, she rolled up the long sleeves of her sweater, and showed the scars on her arms, some only a week old. She then turned and showed her arms to her classmates, eliciting gasps.

When she turned back to the teacher, it was clear that Mrs. Cathcart was upset. For a moment she didn’t seem to know what to do, but she finally looked at the clock and then addressed the class.

“I know that we are less than halfway through the class, but it is last class of the day and I am going to dismiss you early. Don’t get into any trouble and don’t miss your buses. Leave your assignments on my desk before you leave. Miss Cartright will come with me.”

With that she escorted Rachael to the office. On the way she asked if everything in the paper was true. Rachael swore that it was, and handed the handwritten paper to her teacher, noting that she didn’t even have Internet access at home.

“Well, in light of that, I am fairly certain that I will have to give you a good mark on the paper. I won’t say until I have gone through it, but I think a mark of 100 may be appropriate. It certainly made an impact on your classmates.”

At the office they were turned over to the principal, Edna Deboer. Ms. Deboer had minored in psychology in university, and then taken a Masters of Education course in counselling. The result was that Rachael spent the next 25 minutes being analysed by the principal. Her mother was called at work, and was asked to come in. Maria said she was unable to, but told the principal that she was aware of both the cutting and the attempted suicide. She said she had confidence the crisis had passed, and that her daughter was now a changed person.

It was ten minutes after the final bell that Rachael finally had enough.

“I understand your concerns, Ms. Deboer. But you can rely that I am okay now, and in no danger of harming myself in any way. I have responsibilities now, and one of them is to pick up my brother at Wislow in a few minutes. So I really have to go now.”

With that she got up, and walked out of the office. She trotted to her locker to get what she needed for the night’s homework, and then hurried out the door. She found Michaela standing there.

“What happened?”

“Let’s talk as we walk. I don’t want to have Bobby waiting.” The two girls started over to the adjacent public school. “Mostly everyone thinks I’m a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode. I was a week ago, but I’m not anymore.”

“Was all of that true,” Michaela said as they got to the Wislow entrance.

“Every word.”

“Oh Rachael, I am so sorry. I didn’t know.” She wrapped her arms around the other girl.

“Rachael?”

“Yeah?”

“I know where you were. I was there myself. When you let me sit down with you on the bus. I was so close to what you tried. I’m just not brave enough to try. But I know what you felt.”

“I know. I could feel that from you. And I wanted to help you just like I was helped.”

“Who helped you?”

“Jesus.”

“Oh. I’m not religious.”

“Either was I.”

“But now?”

“Now I am.”

“Should I become religious too?”

“That is something you have to decide. But not by yourself. God is there, if you want him. He spoke to me on the ladder, or an angel of his did. It doesn’t matter. He told me if I jumped I would ruin many lives. My mom, my brother, my best friend.”

“I’m your best friend.”

“You are. But what would happen if tomorrow morning you woke up and found that I had killed myself.”

“Don’t say that. Ever.”

“But what would happen.”

“I would probably do it too.”

And that would ruin the lives of your parents, and your brothers. It would just be a cycle. They convinced me to prevent it from starting.”

“Rachael.” They looked up to see Bobby running towards them, with an older lady following behind.

“How could I leave that? Ruin his life,” Rachael said as her brother nearly tackled her with a hug.

“Look, look,” he said, waving a paper. “I got a star … my first star.”

“Wow,” I said, reading the paper. It said ‘For Reading’. “Momma is going to be so proud. I am so proud.”

“This is Mrs. Devine,” he said, pointing to the older woman. “My teacher.”

“I am so pleased to meet you,” she said. “Bobby was in reading class this morning, and I asked him to read a sentence. He normally has trouble reading, and I don’t like to push them too much. But he read nearly an entire page. He tells me you have been working with him, and reading Harry Potter with him.”

“We both like to read,” Rachael said. “I always have, and Bobby is just starting to love it.”

“Reading at home is so important,” Mrs. Devine said. “If we could only get more parents and family members to do so. One-on-one is the best way to learn to read, and we just don’t have time for it in big classes.”

Rachael thought for a second. “What if some of the kids from the middle school were to come over to your class? We could do one-on-one reading with your kids, and it would be a good volunteer activity for us.”

“That would be beyond wonderful,” the teacher said. “Let me talk to your principal about it.” With only a few more words of chatting, she went back into the school and the three started walking home.

“Sounds like you had a great day,” Michaela said. “Getting a star from your teacher.”

“My first star,” Bobby boasted. “It was the second best thing all day.”

“Second best,” Rachael asked. “What was first best?”

“Lunch,” Bobby said. “It was the best lunch ever. I had carrot soldiers, and pizza, and the best cookie ever.”

“Wait, pizza? How did you get pizza. It costs $5 doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, but Benji Miniver gave me his slice. We traded for half my carrot soldiers. He wanted all of them, but I liked them too much. Then he said half for half his pizza, and I said no again. Then he gave me all his pizza. It was the best pizza ever.”

“So Benji didn’t get any pizza?”

“No, he went back and got more. His Dad gives him lots of money, so he had enough.”

“So who ate your sandwich?”

“I did. It was the best sandwich ever. And the cookie …”

“Let me guess … best cookie ever,” Michaela said, teasing the little boy.

“Better than that. Way better.”

“Well if you had pizza, soldiers, cookies, and a sandwich then you couldn’t possibly be hungry now,” Rachael said.

“Yes I am,” Bobby said. “Lunch was a long time ago.”

“Well, we are nearly at DaSilva’s. Maybe I will have enough money to buy you an apple.”

“Cookies? From that bakery?”

“An apple. You don’t need cookies. Although we do need to go to the Bread Baron and get a loaf of bread if you want the best sandwich ever again tomorrow. Since you got a star, maybe Momma will put another cookie in your lunch tomorrow.”

“But you make my lunch, Rachael. I can tell. Momma’s lunches aren’t so fun.”

“Momma helped make that lunch. And she is the one who pays for all the stuff we put into it.”

“Thanks for making me cool lunches. All the kids at my table are jealous when I get special treats from you.” With that Bobby gave Rachael a tight hug that surprised her, and gladdened her to her very core.

“Aww, you guys are so sweet,” Michaela said. “I wish I got along with my little brother like you do. We just fight.”

“Rachael used to fight with me, but she doesn’t anymore,” Bobby said. “Now she is the best sister ever.”

Michaela smiled. “You just have to start doing things for him,” Rachael said. “Hugs like that are great payoffs for anything I do.”

“Well, maybe I could read to him tonight. He’s a couple years younger than Bobby, but he really likes books.”

“You could get free books in the library,” Bobby said as they walked up to the building.

“Oh, Danny has lots of books at home,” Michaela said.

“Can we get more books, Rachael?” Bobby pleaded.

“Nope, not until we finish up with the ones we have. Come on, let’s see if DaSilva’s have any nice apples.

Bobby got his apple, and was happily munching it when they got to the Bread Baron. The baker was in front, writing on the special’s board. Rachael saw it was the man who had directed her to the fresh loaf of bread the day before.

“Are you the baker?” she asked.

“I am,” he said. “Geoff Barron.”

“Oh, so that’s where the name comes from,” Rachael said. “We have a complaint about the bread you sold us yesterday.”

“Oh my, what?” the man said in a concerned voice.

“It didn’t last long enough,” she said with a smile. “We have to get another loaf today … and there are only three of us in the family. Bobby here really loves it.”

“Best bread ever,” Bobby said.

“Oh my, that is a great quote. Can I put it on the sign?” He moved to the other side of the sign and wrote “Best Bread Ever. Bobby …”

“Cartright” Rachael said. “We even talked my friend Michaela into trying a loaf.”

“Good,” Geoff said. “We can use all the sales we can get. Take your loaves from the bottom shelf. Those are the fresh ones. Just came out of the oven this morning. The ones higher up are yesterday’s. Don’t tell Mom I said so.”

“Your Mom works the till?”

“Yeah. She has too. I start baking at 11 p.m., so there is no way I can keep the shop open till 6 p.m. I’m heading up to bed now.”

“It’s nearly 4. You mean you only get 7 hours off?” Michaela said.

“I get another hour sleep around midnight, when the bread is rising,” Geoff said. “But it is hard when you are just starting out. We’ve only had the store going for a few months. It is growing, but slowly.”

“Well, we will let you go then. Thanks for making such great bread.”

“And cookies too,” Bobby added.

“Thanks kids. It really helps to know people appreciate what I’m doing.”

Geoff headed to the back of the bakery. Apparently he had a room back there. The three went into the bakery, where Rachael bought another loaf of seven-grain bread, from the bottom shelf, while Michaela bought a loaf of seven-grain, a loaf of white, and a few pastries and brownies. Bobby just drooled at all of the tasty treats, but didn’t ask for anything.

After that they walked and chatted as they headed home. Just before they got to Mr. Verdun’s house Bobby noticed a sign in the window of the house next door. “What does that say,” he asked Rachael.

“You can read. You tell me,” his sister said.

“Pie-an-o … piano. Less-uns … lessons. Piano lessons,” Bobby proudly said. “Is it a school?”

“No, I think the lady teaches piano to people,” Rachael said. “Look, Mr. Verdun is coming out.”

They walked up the drive to the old gentleman’s porch as he came out on his walker. There was something in a white grocery bag tied to the walker.

Bonjour, Monseiur Verdun. Comme t’allez vous? ” Rachael said.

“Oh my, that takes me right back to the old days,” he said as he eased into his chair on the porch. “I was hoping to see my little friends again, and now I see that there are three, instead of two. Welcome.”

Rachael introduced Michaela to the old man, who then looked at Bobby. “I have something to show you, young man. He slowly opened the bag on his walker, and reached in with feeble, gnarled fingers. Eventually he pulled out a Canadian Army helmet from World War II.”

“Is it real?” Bobby’s eyes were about as wide as they could be.

“Yes it is,” M. Verdun said. “That helmet was at Dieppe and went from Juno Beach to Holland in ‘44 and ‘45.”

“Can I play with it?”

“No Bobby,” Rachael said sharply. “It isn’t a toy. It’s history.”

“Yes son, you can play with it. Even if your sister doesn’t think you should. It has seen a lot of history. And a lot of bad things too. I would like to see it being used as a toy. I just wish it could have been a toy for all its life.”

The old man seemed to have a tear in his eye as he handed the helmet to Bobby, who promptly put it on and began running around the yard, fighting battles and giving orders to his imaginary soldiers. Rachael and Michaela sat on opposite sides of the steps and chatted with the old man, who happily recounted his experiences. Occasionally he would touch on the war years, but more of it was the years before, when he was their age, and the years after. He told them that he remembered when his house was the only one on the street, which then was a dusty country road, with the next neighbour a half-mile away.

They chatted for a half hour, since they were in less of a rush and then Bobby finally returned the helmet. As they were leaving, it was clear that the old man was having trouble getting his walker up into the house, and Rachael stopped to help him. For the brief moment she was inside she noticed that the house was a mess, with newspapers all over.

“Would you mind if I came by on Saturday afternoon?” Rachael asked as she helped him in. “I could help you tidy this place up.”

“That would be a blessing,” the old man said as she helped him into a recliner. “I used to have a cleaning lady, but when she quit I couldn’t afford a new one … apparently she wasn’t charging me the full rate.”

“Well, my rate is a special one, for friends only,” Rachael said as she kissed the man on his cheeks again. “No charge if you tell Bobby more war stories.”

Such a sweet girl, the old soldier thought as she went out the door.

The three kids walked the five blocks to the Cartright home, with Michaela getting more and more excited about visiting a friend’s house. They got home, and Michaela got the grand tour of the tiny house. Then Rachael helped Bobby pin his paper, with a red star, on the fridge door with a magnet.

“Your house is cute,” Michaela said hesitantly.

“Most houses are a lot bigger,” Rachael admitted. “But it is perfect for the three of us. I bet your house is bigger.”

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Michaela said. “Maybe you will come over one day?”

“I’d love to. Maybe we could do the sleepover at your house? Do you think Janice would come?” Rachael asked as she started preparing supper.

“Oh my god, do you think she would? Imagine having a sleepover at my … what are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m making dinner,” Rachael said. “I do that so we can have a healthy meal. Although we are having chicken fingers tonight. I don’t know how I’m going to make that healthy. I guess they aren’t too bad, if we bake them instead of frying them.”

“You make dinner. Every night? My Mom does that, except on Fridays when we order in pizza.”

“Can I help? Sure. Bobby has to toss the salad though, or he won’t eat it. But you can chop up the stuff in it while I get the meat ready.”

Rachael turned away, and texted a message to her mother.

Can Michaela stay for dinner with us? There is enough stuff.

Maria answered right away. You are the cook. You get to decide.

Thanks Mom. She will have to ask her mom for permission.

“Great job Michaela. Do you want to stay over for dinner?”

The other girl looked at Rachael with wide eyes. “Are you serious? Can I?”

“If your parents say it is okay. Tell them Mom said it was okay.”

“Whee,” screamed Michaela as she hung up the phone. “Mom will come and pick me up at 8:00.”

The two girls made dinner, including making biscuits to stretch out the meal, something Michaela had never done (and Rachael had only done as Ron). They turned out perfectly, and Maria was blasted by the wonderful baking aroma when she got in a bit before 7. After Maria noticed the paper tacked to the fridge door, Bobby got more kudos for his good work reading, leaving the little guy bursting with pride. The four sat down and had barely finished the meal when Andrea Stoner arrived to pick up Michaela a few minutes before 8.

She agreed to sit for a coffee with Maria while the girls did the dishes.

“I want to thank you for letting Michaela stay over for dinner,” Andrea told Maria as giggling came from the kitchen. “My daughter hasn’t been this happy in months. We moved into town in the spring, and it has been hard for Michaela to make friends. She came home from school on cloud nine yesterday. And this … helping in the kitchen. I really don’t believe it.”

“It is something new with Rachael too,” Maria admitted. “I am just praying that it will continue. It is like she grew up 10 years overnight.” Just then the girls came in with two coffees, and a plate of biscuits.

“Oh my,” Andrea said eyeing the biscuits. “If I hadn’t just eaten.”

“Your daughter made them,” Rachael said.

“Really?” Andrea’s eyes went wide. “I’ll have to try one, then.”

“Well, Rachael did most of it, but I helped.”

The girls went back into the kitchen to finish the dishes. “To tell you the truth, I don’t have many friends in the city yet,” Andrea said. “Other than the girls from work, that is.”

“Well, I think my daughter would be upset with me if I didn’t offer my friendship to you,” Maria said. “She is on a kick to see people make friendships.”

“I would like that,” Andrea said.

That night, after the Stoners had left, Rachael only had about 15 minutes to read with Bobby from his picture books. Then it was off to bed, and a much shorter reading of Harry Potter.

Her prayer that night was much the same as the prior nights, although Rachael noted that during the day she had intentionally hurt Lucy Davners in basketball practise, and had upset Mrs. Cathcart in English class. She promised to try to make things up to both people tomorrow.



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