A Second Chance -- Chapter 7
By Dawn Natelle
Sorry to have taken so long to get this out. It is hard for me to have two series going at one time. But now River is finished (although still at the editor) so I have no excuse not to get this one out quicker. At least weekly, although I am going to aim for two a week: Dawn.
SUNDAY, May 1, 2016
Bobbie really didn’t want to get up on Sunday morning, until Rachael told him that they were going to make breakfast to take to his new Grandpa. Then he was into the bathroom like a bomb had gone off.
Rachael again made French toast, something easy to carry, and had the first batch done by the time Bobby appeared in the Sunday clothes that Rachael had laid out for him. “Do you want to eat now? Or shall we take it to Grandpa’s and eat there with him?”
Bobby hesitated. He was hungry now, but he really wanted to eat with the old soldier. “How much longer?” he asked.
“I hear Momma getting dressed. I think we can all walk down to his house together. Momma hasn’t met him yet. Why don’t you pick out one of your books, and we can take it down so you can show him what a good reader you are.”
Maria was down just as the second batch of French Toast was done. Rachael handed her a cup of coffee, and then started packing her knapsack with the food. “I saw tea in his cupboard when we cleaned the kitchen,” she told her mother. “I’ll just pack some sugar and milk for it. I’m going to have to start buying groceries for him too.”
“He means this much to you, does he?” Maria asked.
“Yes Momma, he does. And he means more to Bobby, and Bobby means so much to me. Wait ‘til you meet him, Momma. He is so old and frail, and we owe him so very, very much.”
“Well then he means a lot to me too,” Maria said lovingly as Rachael shifted her bag onto her shoulder.
“Come on Bobby, we’re going,” Rachael said and before she turned around the little boy skipped out the door ahead of them.
It was only a couple of minutes to walk the few blocks to his house, with Bobby singing “We’re going to Grandpa’s house, Grandpa’s house.”
“I hope we aren’t too early,” Maria said. “It would be a shame to get him out of bed.”
“No he said he gets up at dawn,” Rachael said. “Look, he is out on his step already.”
“Bonjour, bonjour,” the beaming veteran said. “Company so early in the morning.”
Bobby ran up to hug the old man’s legs. “We brought breakfast, Grandpa,” he sang out. “Are you hungry? I’m hungry. Did you get hungry during the war, Grandpa?”
“Yes Bobby we did, but we had a job to do. And after we met the people in Holland, we never complained about being hungry again. The Nazis pretty much starved the people there. It was so sad.” He slowly rose and opened the door. “So what surprises has my wonderful new granddaughter brought? Other than her older sister, I guess. Do you want to be my granddaughter too?”
“No sir,” Maria said. “I am the mother of these two, but I guess if you want to you can adopt me as a daughter.”
“A daughter?” the man choked up a bit. “My Marie so very much wanted a daughter. And you must be a fine woman, to raise such special children as these two. They make my life worth living again, so see their smiling faces, and to hear their laughter. You must be very proud.”
“Come. Sit, Grandpa, Bobby wants to show you how well he can read now,” Rachael said. “Momma and I will make some tea for your breakfast. I hope you like French Toast?”
“I do, sweetheart,” he said as he and Bobby nestled into his recliner and the boy started to read.
Five minutes later the breakfast was ready, and Bobby proudly helped his Grandpa out of his recliner and into a chair at the table. After a short prayer, where Rachael made sure to remember the veterans, they started eating. Rachael told him that they were going to church later in the morning, and then visiting Michaela after lunch.
“But I did pack another nice sandwich for you,” she told the old man. “It is in the fridge. Don’t wait too long to eat it, we have dinner plans for you tonight.”
“You are all coming back tonight?” he said, with tears in his eyes. “This is too much.”
“No Grandpa,” Bobby squealed. “We want you to come to our house for dinner.”
“Oh son, I wish I could. But I can’t walk very well, and …”
“No need to walk,” Maria said. “Rachael called the Legion, and they were most happy to send a volunteer over to drive you. And they will drive you home as well. I would be honored to have you visit my house, tiny as it is. But it will be Rachael who is the cook and hostess. I am working from just after church until just before we eat. She is doing everything.”
It took a few seconds for the old soldier to compose himself. “I would be honored to visit. I don’t think I have been out of the house socially for years. Doctor’s visits and hospital tests, yes. But never to dinner. When? And should I dress up? I still have a uniform that fits.”
“No Grandpa,” Rachael said. “Come as you are. This is just the four of us. Our little family. The driver will come at 6:30 tonight, so if you can be ready for then.”
They spent about an hour with him, with Bobby reading for him, and then listening to his stories of his days in France, and both before and after here in Ingersoll. Maria got a chance to see how intently Bobby listened to the old man, and how his eyes shone with respect and admiration. After Rachael and Maria had cleaned the kitchen, leaving another pot of tea ready for him to heat in the microwave when he awoke from his morning nap, they left the tired, but pleased man and headed off to church.
It was about a five-block walk back to the house, where they stopped in for a moment so that Rachael could drop off her bag, and Maria could pick up one with her uniform for work. She had a friend coming by the church to pick her up, and she would change at work. Bobby also had slopped syrup on his shirt, so that was quickly changed. Rachael also ran a wash cloth over his sticky face, getting him clean for church.
Ten minutes later they walked into the church and easily found an open pew. The church was slightly less than a quarter full, with a broad range of patrons. There were a lot of older people, along with a few families with younger children. A greeter at the door had told Maria that there was a Sunday School downstairs that Bobby could attend. Rachael was also invited to the youth group, but she said she wanted to hear the sermon.
There was a small choir of six women who led the congregation in singing hymns to open the service. Rachael knew many of the songs from her prior life, and discovered that in this one she had a fine singing voice, clear and high soprano. Maria joined in, and the two voices harmonized perfectly. Bobby was also a soprano, but not able to hold key very well, but made up for lack of range with his enthusiasm as he sang the words he could read in the hymnal.
The minister came in and greeted the congregation. Rachael noted that he appeared to recognize their new faces in the group. Rev. Thomas McNaughton, according to the sign at the front of the church, was an elderly man, overweight but not obese, with only a small collar of white hair from one ear to the other. He did have a powerful voice and his welcome to the congregation seemed sincere.
He then invited the children to go down to Sunday School, and many got up to do so. Bobby was reluctant, but Rachael accompanied him down and turned him over to a lady who would be his teacher. She then headed back to the main church and slipped into the pew next to her mother, taking her hand.
The sermon was “Navigating the Waves” and was about the church adapting to changing times and the difficulty Christians faced in an increasingly un-Christian world. It was based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and while Rachael didn’t know that chapter of the Bible well, she was pleased at the moderate tone of the sermon.
Near the end of the service, the Sunday School classes rejoined the congregation as the minister was finishing up with announcements and church news. He noted that the church caretaker of the past 25 years was retiring, and asked that anyone who knew of a good replacement to let him or the deacon know.
There was another series of hymns to close the service, and the Cartright family joined in happily. A collection plate was sent around, and Maria and Rachael each dropped in a toonie, and Bobby dropped in a loonie.
After the service ended the three were thanked for attending by the minister. He again mistook Maria for the older sister, and asked the group if their parents were also going to attend services.
“This is my mother, not my sister,” Rachael said. “We don’t have a father.”
“Oh,” the minister said curtly. “A single mother. I see. Well, we welcome all types to our church.” He then turned to greet other parishioners, an elderly couple.
“That was a little rude,” Rachael said. “After a sermon about moving ahead with the times, and then treating you like you were some kind of dirt on his shoes.”
Maria giggled. “Don’t be upset. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way. “Oh, look. There’s my ride. Are you two okay?”
“We’re fine, Momma. Don’t worry about us. Go get some good tips today.”
Maria hustled off to the waiting car and her two children walked hand in hand home.
“How was Sunday School,” Rachael asked Bobby.
“It was fun,” the boy said. “I met some new kids, and there were some from my school too. We learned about Jesus and the fishes. How did he do that, Rachael?”
“I don’t know. They say it is a miracle. Miracles can happen,” the girl said, noting just how her own case proved that.
“I wish I could do a miracle,” Bobby said. “I’d do a miracle where I could eat hundreds and hundreds of cookies from just one.”
“Well, to be a Christian miracle, you would want to share your cookies with everyone else, not eat them yourself.”
“Hmm. I like cookies. How about if I shared, and only ate some?”
Rachael broke out laughing. “We have about a half hour before we head to Mikki’s. How about we bake some cookies to take to them, and share those?”
“Do I get some?”
“If you are good. I want you to switch into play clothes, and I’ll make you a sandwich for lunch.”
An hour later the two were approaching Michaela’s house. Rachael had to check twice on the address she had written down. The house was massive. The garage, with its three doors open, looked larger than their entire house.
The front door opened, and Mikki poked her head out. “You’re here. You really came.”
“Hi BFF,” Rachael said. “You didn’t tell me you lived in a mansion. This place is huge.”
“Yeah, I guess it is big. It is a lot bigger than the house we had in Toronto. That’s why we moved, I guess. We sold the house there, and were able to buy this one, and pay off the mortgage. It means Dad has to drive to Toronto a lot, and he stays overnight in a room there for a couple days. He also works from here on Monday and Fridays.”
Mikki gave them a tour of the house. Her bedroom was huge. They poked their head into a neat room. This is Danny’s room. Rachael noted that the bed, neatly made, was covered in stuffed animals. What Bobby saw was a PlayStation. “Look Rachael, he has a PlayStation!”
“Do you want to play?” Mikki asked. “Let’s go downstairs and see if we can find him.”
As they walked down, Mikki pointed out the other rooms. Her older brother Kyle had a closed door with a scrawled “Keep Out” sign on it. They also didn’t go into her parents’ suite, or the rooms that were her Dad’s office or her Mom’s office. There was also a guest bedroom.
Downstairs they found Danny, getting his pretty hair combed out by his mother.
“Hi Mrs. Stoner,” Rachael said. “I brought cookies.”
“Cookies?” Danny’s head popped around, and Rachael was amazed at how blue the boy’s eyes were, and how pretty he looked. If she didn’t know he was a boy, she would have sworn he was a girl.
“One cookie each,” Mrs. Stoner said. “I don’t want you kids spoiling your dinner. Are you and Bobby able to stay for supper?” she asked Rachael.
“No. But thanks for asking. We can only stay for a couple hours. I have to start the roast for tonight then. We are having company over.”
“I can’t believe someone your age cooks,” Mrs. Stoner said. “I don’t even attempt a roast very often.”
“Danny, why don’t you take Bobby up to your room,” Mikki said. “He is interested in your PlayStation.” Both boys ran off, nibbling on a cookie as they went.
“This is awesome,” Mikki said as she bit into her cookie. Her mother took a bite of one, and then agreed. “Isn’t the cook having one?”
“No, I’m trying to lose weight,” Rachael said.
Michaela stopped eating. “Maybe I shouldn’t as well.” Then she took another big bite. “But they are so good. And I lost three pounds this week,” she beamed. “I deserve one cookie.”
“One cookie is not a problem,” Mrs. Stoner said. “It is a whole bag at a time, when you are depressed. Luckily Kayla hasn’t been down like that this week. And she is even making salads for the family, although it is pretty much her and I enjoying them. Bob eats them, grudgingly, since Kayla made it. He can stand to lose some weight with all the driving he has been doing.”
It took a minute for Rachael to understand who ‘Kayla’ was, when she remembered that was the nickname for Michaela that the family used. She would have to remember not to call her Mikki here.
“What do you girls have planned for today,” Mrs. Stoner asked.
“Well,” Mikki said with a grin, “we are hoping we can plan a sleepover.”
“A sleepover? How fun. How many girls?”
“We don’t know yet. I hope we can get six.”
“That sounds doable. Where will you have it?”
“I was thinking about the studio,” Mikki said. “Do you think Dad would let us?”
“He is down there now. Let’s go see.”
They headed down to the basement, which included a room that was nearly half the square footage of the house. At one end there were cameras on tripods and professional looking lights that seemed to have umbrellas attached. Mr. Stoner was there, working on a Macintosh computer with the largest screen Rachael had ever seen.
“Bob, the girls are interested in having a sleepover next weekend,” Mrs. Stoner said. “They want to use the studio.”
“Well, I guess. If Kayla will put everything away. I don’t want the girls knocking over the cameras, or lights. She knows how to do everything. I can live without my studio for one night.”
“Wait,” Rachael said. “You mean Mikki … I mean Kayla, knows how to use all of this stuff?”
“She does,” Mr. Stoner says proudly. “She is almost as good as me with it. I’m hoping to do some weddings this summer, and she will be my second shooter.”
“She is better than he is at retouching,” Mrs. Stoner said with a smile. “But he doesn’t like to admit it. The student surpassing the teacher kind of thing. But what did you just call her? Mikki?”
“Sorry,” Rachael said. “That is the nickname I gave her. I didn’t even think of Kayla. That’s what I have been calling her.”
“I like Mikki,” Mikki said. “Kayla is okay, but I want the girls at the school to think of me as Mikki. Kayla is a fat boring, depressed little girl. Mikki is a skinny, vibrant, cool kid … or she will be.”
“No problem here,” Mr. Stoner said.
“Daddy, can you take a picture of Rach and me? A ‘best friends’ portrait?”
“BFF. That would make a good section for my portfolio. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop working at the brokerage, and shoot full time, but I can always hope.”
For the next half hour the girls posed in front of several of the lights, and when they were done there were dozens of pictures on the computer monitor to choose from. To Rachael they all looked perfect, but Mikki pointed out flaws in half of them. “This one: my hair is over my eyes too much, and here my face looks fat. There is a shadow on your nose here. But a lot of them are good. Can I do the post on them, Dad?”
“No problem, since your Mom thinks you are the expert at it.”
“Post?” Rachael asked.
“Post production,” Mikki explained. “It means taking the picture and using Photoshop to hide any little imperfections or errors. I will be making my face look thinner, for one thing. I’ve gotten really good with that.”
Suddenly Rachael had a brainstorm. “You know what would be so neat? If the sleepover was a photoshoot? All the girls could be models, and dress up, and have makeup done, and then Mikki would shoot us, and we’d get pictures done.”
“That sounds so fun,” Mrs. Stoner said. “Bob?”
“If she uses her own camera, and all mine are packed away in the closet. And only the oldest two lights.”
“Three,” Mikki begged.
“Okay,” he relented. “But keep the good ones packed up. And you do all the post on all the pictures.”
“Come on girls,” Mrs. Stoner said, sounding almost as excited as Mikki was. “I’ve got some ideas too.”
They followed her upstairs. And then up another stairs into the attic.
“What’s up here?” Mikki asked.
“Your aunt Susan’s stuff,” Mrs. Stoner said. She turned to Rachael to explain. “My older sister had cancer, and passed on three years ago. She battled it a long time. Susan was a real free spirit, and when she left us I just couldn’t bear to throw away her stuff. It is all up here. I think this is the perfect time to use it. Susan could never turn down a party, and if you use her stuff, it will be like she is back at the party. She would love that.”
It turned out that there were several dozen different outfits in storage, ranging from the pedestrian to the outrageous. Apparently Susan had been involved in cosplay, and had several outfits from conventions. There were cosplay wigs, as well as real ones that the woman had worn when cancer had taken her hair. They were of different lengths and colors, since Susan liked to be able to shock people with a change of appearance.
“What is this,” Mikki asked, holding up a beige blob.
“Oh my goodness,” Mrs. Stoner said with a smile. “That my dear, is your aunt’s left breast. Is the other one in there?”
“There are a bunch of them,” Mikki said. Apparently Susan had lost both her breasts several years before her final cancer, and had purchased several sets of replacements. Mikki handed the two biggest ones to Rachael. “Here, try these on.”
Rachael didn’t know what to do at first, then held the prosthesis up to her chest. “That’s what you will look like if you grow as big as your Mom,” Mikki said.
“No way.” Rachel was astounded at how different she looked. There was this huge difference to her chest as she looked down at the flesh-colored mounds. Maybe she didn’t want her mother’s figure after all.
“This could be the most fun sleepover in history,” Mrs. Stoner said. “I wish I was 13 again so I could come.”
They continued to explore, and found more things. There was a huge collection of bras, in different sizes to accommodate the different breast forms. There were some outrageous hats, and shoes, all in size eight, ranging from sneakers to stiletto heels five inches high. “I wear a size 10,” Mrs. Stoner said. “You can have some of my old heels if there are any girls who can’t fit into an 8. But I don’t have anything like those stripper heels.”
They went downstairs, making plans as they went. Rachael was surprised to see that it was nearly time to go. She had to wait a few minutes for Bobby to finish up the racing game he was playing on the PlayStation, and then they headed back home. As she waited she realized that a super cool sleepover could make Michaela a star at school.
At home Bobby got his books together and read them again as Rachael started dinner. The roast had been marinating all night, and just had to be popped into the oven. Carrots and potatoes were added to the pot shortly thereafter, and Rachael also made a tray of cookies, using the last of the premade dough, so that Bobby could have some for school on Monday (and to keep him out of the kitchen while she was busy, with the promise of a cookie once they cooled). It was gone into the bottomless pit before she managed to get her tray of biscuits into the oven.
While things were cooking, they tried to read Harry Potter, but it was difficult with Rachael having to pop up every few minutes to check the oven. She came back to discover that Bobby had continued to read, sounding out the words himself. He was only able to read a sentence or two every time she left, but he was quite proud to be reading a ‘grown-up book’ by himself.
Finally Bobby helped her make a salad, which was just finished when Rachael heard the unusual sound of a car in their drive. An elderly man, about the age that Ron had been, was helping M. Verdun up the steps. She guided him to the best chair, the reading chair, and then thanked the man who had delivered Bobby’s Grandpa to him.
“Thanks for doing this,” Rachael said. “Would you like to stay for dinner? We are having roast beef.”
“I can tell by the smell,” the man said. “It is tempting, but I just finished dinner at home, and my wife would kill me if she found out that I ate two dinners.”
“Well, here, at least you can take a biscuit. These are still warm out of the oven. A little butter on top.”
“Thanks,” the man said as he took a bite of the warm biscuit. “You know there was a contest to see who could drive Sgt. Verdun today. I won. Once the other boys find out the treat I got, they’ll all be jealous. Ron Brown will be by at 8 to pick the sergeant up.”
“Well, maybe next time you’ll be able to stay. We hope to be able to bring him over for dinner every Sunday.”
“Really? The boys will be glad to hear it. Everyone wanted to help out. We’ll all get a chance then.”
“He’s a nice young man,” M. Verdun said, leaving Rachael amazed at the concept of a retired man being considered young.
Just then Maria entered, blasted by the aroma of a roast just out of the oven, warm biscuits, and the sight of her son sitting on M. Verdun’s lap, reading to him. She thought back to this time last week, where she and Rachael had been in a raging fight over whose turn it was to do dishes. The tired waitress thanked God over the change in her daughter, and in her life.
“I made sallid,” Bobby said, helping the old man out of the chair. “Do you like sallid, Grandpa?”
“I do like salad,” he replied. “Although by the smells coming out of that kitchen I think there is a lot I will like tonight.”
The four sat around the tiny table, and linked hands. Rachael led the prayer, thanking God for bringing them all together, and hopes that they will have many more chances to do this. She remembered the veterans and asked Grandpa to name three of the ones who did not come back.
“That is a lovely blessing,” Maria said. “If you can give three more names next week, that would be nice.”
“Next week? Do you mean you plan to do this for me every week?”
“Whenever we can,” Rachael said. “You are part of our family now.”
“My family,” he stopped, choked up. “Marie would have loved this.”
“Do you pray to her?” Rachael said. “You should. Tell her all about this. About us. She will love to hear it.”
“I will, I will.”
“Now tell me if this roast is any good,” Rachael plated a dish for the old man, then Bobby, and then her mother before helping herself. There looked as though there would be roast left over for sandwiches next week.
Bobby was the first to pass judgment on the meal. “Best dinner ever,” he announced.
“I have to agree,” M. Verdun said. “And I’ve had more dinners over the years than the rest of you combined. It makes me feel young again, eating like this. Having such fine company for dinner.”
“Well, they say you are only as young as you feel,” Maria said. “I know I feel blessed to have a daughter who cares so much, and who looks after her brother so well.”
They had a nice hour after dinner visiting, with the old man reveling in having an avid audience for his stories. All too soon the sound of a car on the drive came again, and another ‘young’ retiree came by to pick up the old veteran. Rachael insisted on accompanying him home.
She thanked the driver for the ride after they had gotten the man to his door. She then helped M. Verdun into his house, and then to his bedroom at the back. She unbuttoned his shirt for him, and helped get it off, and then unbuckled his belt, but going no further to allow him his modesty. She then left, wondering what it would be like walking home in the dark.
When she got out the door she discovered that she needn’t worry. The man from the Legion was there waiting. “You didn’t need to wait,” she said.
“There is no way I would let a girl your age walk home at this time of night,” the man said. “I have a granddaughter your age. I would hate for her to be out alone at night.”
Rachael was soon back at home. Bobby was already in the bathtub, after Maria had promised him more Harry Potter when Rachael got back. Maria had finished the dishes, and was making sandwiches for lunches. Bobby got his traditional jam sandwich (and a cookie), but Rachael made herself a roast beef sandwich.
Rachael gathered up Bobby’s books, and put them into her book bag. She had another week on the Harry Potter, and figured they would be able to finish it by next Monday. But Bobby would be able to select another five kids’ books to read from.
Then there was a little voice from the top of the stairs. “Rachael. Can you read to me?”
“I would love to sweetheart. How about Momma come up and join us?”
“Goody, goody,” he said, running to his bed.
So there were the three of them sprawled across Bobby’s child’s bed as Rachael and Maria took turns reading to the little lad sandwiched between them. Rachael was about to turn the reading over to Maria, when she noticed that Bobby was asleep. She went to comment about it to her mother, when she noticed that Maria was also asleep. She pulled a quilt over her sleeping mother, and then padded off to her own bed.
Thank you for this life. It is so much better than my old one. I feel so loved. M. Verdun, my new grandfather, my sweet mother, Bobby, Mikki, the men from the Legion who are so helpful. I know I was put here to help others, but I feel that I am the one who is benefitting from all of it. Again, let me know if I need to do more, and I will try.
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