A Second Chance -- Chapter 14

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

Another long chapter, and a hard one to write. I hope it is interesting to all of you. I have spoiled you all with daily postings for the past week, but I think it will be two or three days until the next one. Dawn

SUNDAY, May 7, 2016

Rachael was back to her early rising schedule on Sunday. She decided to make pancakes again for her family today, since they had missed out on the batch she made at the Stoner’s yesterday. She had a batch well underway when Maria came down, followed shortly thereafter by a sleepy looking Bobby.

“You are making smells in here that make my tummy hungry,” Bobby said. He was still wearing his pajamas but Rachael decided to let him, since he would be dressing for church after. She slipped a plate of pancakes in front of him, and poured syrup on them. She was not going to let him pour his own and risk losing half the bottle.

“These are excellent, as usual,” Maria said. “Ooh, they are blueberry, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they had fresh blueberries on sale so I bought some at the store. We can have a few blueberry things this week.”

“Blueberry cookies,” Bobby voted.

“Yuck, I don’t think they would be good in cookies. Pies, muffins, or more pancakes I think. They should last until the end of the week, so we can be surprised at how we use them. You might even find a couple in your lunch this week. Think of them as flavor bombs that go off in your mouth.”

“Cool,” Bobby said. “The boys I eat with all get jealous when I eat, because you put so many cool things in my lunch. You are the best sister ever, Rachael.”

“And you are the best brother ever too, Bobby,” she said.

Bobby practically needed a bath when he finished eating, with Rachael herself scrubbing his blue-stained face and syrupy hands before letting him put on his Sunday clothes. She went down to see her sad Mom.

“We can’t go,” she said. “I don’t have $5 for us to put into the collection plate this week. I thought I had some tucked away in my purse, but I don’t. We can’t go to church and not contribute.”

“Don’t worry Mom,” Rachael hugged Maria. “I have money left from shopping.”

“You can’t use your money, I should have some.”

“It is not my money, it is our money. It is from the money you gave me for groceries, but I found some deals and spent less than you gave me. That means it is your money. Our money,” she handed Maria a twoonie plus a loonie for her to hand to Bobby when the time came.

“You are so good to me,” Maria said.

“I just want to let you know, even if I had to use my babysitting money for us to go, I would. Church is important to me.”

The young family walked to church in the early morning sunshine, and got the same pews as they had the week before. The service this week was “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” and the elderly minister droned on for over an hour about it. He seemed to stare at the back corner of the church several times, with a frown on his face. Rachael could stand and turn around to see what was bothering him until the final hymns. Then she peeked back as she stood and saw John and Paul from the art shop.

Bobby had gone down to the Sunday school early in the service, but was back to put his loonie in the collection plate. Finally service was over, and Maria and Rachael took Bobby out the door, where the minister pointedly turned away from greeting them, and from John and Paul. Rachael rushed over to hug John, and shook hands with Paul, who was a little more reserved.

“Momma, these are the guys with that great art shop I was telling you about. John, Paul, meet Maria Cartright, my mother.”

“Mother? No! Sister perhaps,” John flirted in that way that gay guys will with a pretty girl. “Did we just get snubbed here? I notice that the minister didn’t greet us after service.”

“I’m sure he just missed you,” Rachael said.

“And he stared at us through the service,” Paul added. “What crime is a lovely family like yours conducting against Mother Church?”

“Single mother,” Maria said. “If I was married to a womanizing philanderer who beat his wife and children, that would be okay. But raising two children to love God on your own apparently is a sin buried in the back of the Book somewhere.”

Paul laughed. “I like you. Since you come to this church I think maybe we will give it one more try. There are a few others in town we could come to, and I’m glad we found this one.”

“We don’t have that option,” Rachael said. “This is the only church in walking distance to our house. We don’t have a car. Right now we could walk further, but when winter comes, having church only two blocks away will be a blessing.”

“Well that is no excuse. If the old man is as bad next week, we will all pick a different place to worship. John is very religious, and needs to go to church, but the church has to be accepting of our lifestyle. I don’t think this one is. We’ll all give him one more chance, and if he doesn’t measure up, we will go elsewhere. And we will take you with us each week, rain or shine.”

“Well that is very Christian of you,” Maria said. “But as you say, let’s give him one last chance. Next week.”

“So can we drive you home,” John chuckled. “Our Range Rover is just a block that way.

Now Rachael giggled. “But our house is just two blocks that way. See, the little white house with the blue door? It doesn’t make sense to walk one block the other way to save a two block walk.”

“No it doesn’t. Well then, bye bye Rachel, Maria, and Bobby who is a good boy and doesn’t touch my paintings with sticky hands.” The two men shook hands with the family, with John giving Maria a French-style cheek kiss, and then left.

The family had just gotten into the house when the phone started ringing. Rachael was closest and picked up. It was Mikki and she sounded panicky.

“Rachael, is Danni there?”

“No Mikki, he isn’t. We just got back from church this minute. Where is he?”

“We don’t know. He didn’t sleep in his bed last night, and now we can’t find him. Momma is in a state, and Daddy is grumpy. It is all his fault. Can you come help us find him?”

“I will be over in two minutes.” Rachael hung up, and tore up the stairs to her room, explaining the situation to Maria as she changed out of church clothes and into something more casual. Maria said she would look after Bobby, and that she should go to her friend. As she was about to leave her room, Rachael stopped and picked up Mrs. Periwinkle, one of the dolls Danni had played with when he was over. Then she ran from the room and was out the door in a second.

All the walking from school paid off, as Rachael ran all the way to the Stoner house. Mikki opened the door, and was clearly distraught, with eyes red from crying. Mrs. Stoner was on the sofa, also crying. Mikki went over and hugged the woman. “Don’t worry Mrs. Stoner, we will find her,” Rachael said.

A moment later Rachael had an idea. “Can you two wait here? I want to see something in Danni’s room.”

Rachael went upstairs to the room with all the stuffed animals. As she thought, one seemed to be missing from the middle of the row lined up so neatly at the head of the bed.

“Danni!” she called out. “Danielle! It is Rachael. I’ve come to see you.” Was that a sob from somewhere? She tried again. “Danielle. Mrs. Periwinkle has come to meet all your animal friends. Don’t you want to be a good hostess and introduce them all?”

Yes. There was a definite sob, and a sniffle. Rachael walked towards a door. Opening it, she saw a closet, and suddenly she remembered a vision: the one where Bobby had hidden in his closet in a cubbyhole after finding his sister hanging from a rafter. After Ron became Rachael, she was confused, because there was no such cubbyhole in their house. The closet was just too small. But that same cubbyhole was here, in the Stoner house, and when she looked in she saw two tiny legs sticking out.

“Mrs. Periwinkle would like to see you,” Rachael says. “She said you are being very unladylike in not greeting her politely.”

“No. I’m never coming out,” Danni sobbed. “He cut off all my hair. I look like a boy now. I will stay in here and just die.”

“Who cut off your hair?”

“Daddy. No, that hair guy Daddy took me to. A boy hair place with all old men. The man took off all my hair.”

Rachael gasped. Please don’t let it be a brushcut, please don’t let it be shaved.

“I would still like to see your new haircut. I’ll bet it is still pretty. I have short hair, and I don’t look like a boy, do I?”

“No.” More sobs.

“Mrs. Periwinkle says that if you don’t come out now, right at this very minute, she is going to come in there and carry you out.” There was a tiny giggle for a second, followed by a big sob.

“She is too little to carry me,” Danni sobbed. “But I will come out. For you Rachael, and for Mrs. Periwinkle.” Slowly she backed out of the closet and soon sat holding Mrs. Periwinkle as Rachael encircled her with a hug. They got out and moved over to the bed.

“Oh your hair isn’t as bad as I thought,” Rachael said. The barber hadn’t given the dreaded brushcut, but gave Danni a cut that resembled the helmet-head that Justin Bieber wore when he first got on the Internet. “That is actually a very pretty hair style.”

“But all my curls are gone,” Danni sobbed. “I loved my long hair.”

“Mikki, Mrs. Stoner, I found her,” Rachael called out. In seconds the women entered the room and Mrs. Stoner took Danni from Rachael’s arms, with both of them sobbing. “Danni, my sweet Danielle, I thought I had lost you,” Mrs. Stoner crooned as she held her little daughter.

“Danielle?” Mikki asked confused. “And why is everyone calling him a her?”

“We think she might be transgendered, a girl in a boy body,” Rachael explained. “I had a cousin like that once. But she died. I think your Mom might have thought that Danni did the same thing?”

“I told Bob I was going to take her to a doctor yesterday, and he freaked out. He grabbed Danni and took her off in the car. I was worried he was going to do something stupid. And he did, although it was not the stupid thing I thought. He came back from the barber shop with her looking like this.”

“Which is still pretty,” Rachael prompted.

“Of course it is. Danielle is beautiful,” Andrea hugged the little girl tighter again.

Rachael whispered into Mikki’s ear, and the older sister left the room.

Danni and mother just sobbed and held each other for a few minutes, and finally the little girl said “Mommy, you are squeezing Mrs. Periwinkle, and she is going to be ever so cross with you.”

“I’m sorry honey. And I am sorry too, Mrs. Periwinkle.”

“Let’s move over to Mikki’s room,” Rachael suggested. “I think she has something on the computer to show you.”

They moved into Mikki’s room, where Mikki was sitting at her computer desk. “Snuggle up there on your sister’s lap,” Rachael said, as she and Mrs. Stoner stood behind the chair.

“Do you know that girl?” Rachael said. “It is the girl who played Hermione in Harry Potter. She cut her hair short like that for a while. It is longer now, but does she look like a boy?”

“No, she is pretty,” Danni said.

“And look at this lady,” Mikki said. “I didn’t know about her, but Rachael says she is Audrey Hepburn.”

“She is beautiful,” Danni admitted. “I like that style. And that one, with the waves. They are almost like curls.”

Then Mikki typed in ‘short hair styles’ to Google, and brought up another page of pictures. Some of these were longer than Danni’s hair, but many were shorter. The little girl started pointing at one picture after another, and saying ‘she is pretty’ to each one, usually blondes like her.

“So you see honey, you can be pretty with short hair,” Rachael said. “And do you want to know a secret? Your hair is growing. Even right now, it is getting longer. If you look really hard, you can see it grow. Look, pft, that one just got a tiny bit longer. And pft, another one over there is longer now. Pft, there is one more. Your hair grows slowly, but in one year it will be down to here,” Rachael held her hand six inches down Danni’s back. Then she moved it another half foot. “And a year later it will be down to here. That is nearly as long as it was yesterday.”

“Really?” Danni said, jumping off Mikki’s lap. “I need to go introduce Mrs. Periwinkle to my animals. Pft, pft, pft.”

Rachael could see Mrs. Stoner visibly relax. “I don’t know how to thank you enough, Rachael. We searched her room, but couldn’t find her. Of course it didn’t help that her father was yelling her name angrily. Of course she would have crawled deeper into that niche rather than facing him after he … violated her like that.”

“Should we phone them? Lyle and Daddy are out in the car, looking.”

“No, let him stew. He wants a son? Let him think he might find a dead son out there,” Mrs. Stoner said bitterly. “I thought I knew him better than this.”

It was an hour later that the men came back, to find Danni playing happily on the livingroom rug with Mrs. Periwinkle and three of her stuffed animals.

“Where did you find him?” Mr. Stoner said loudly. “And why is he playing with dolls. I forbid that.”

“I said she could,” Mrs. Stoner said softly.

“This is my house, and I will not be overruled. I will not have a son of mine playing with dolls.”

“My house?” Mrs. Stoner repeated, her voice rising. "I thought it was ‘our house’. Now you think it is your house?”

“I paid the mortgage in Toronto for 15 years, so yes, it is my house,” the man shouted. Rachael and Danni were both near tears watching their parents fight, and Kyle was also looking uncomfortable.

“Oh, so you paid the mortgage while I was having your babies, is that it? Is that all I am to you? A bearer of children? Are you going to get me pregnant again, to replace the son you lost?”

“I didn’t lose my son. He is right over there.” Danni broke out in tears as her father pointed and yelled at her.

“You are scaring her.”

“Him. He. Daniel is a boy, and no crazy doctor will ever change that,” Mr. Stoner yelled.

“Mr. Stoner,” Rachael decided to try and help. “Why do you object to Danni seeing a doctor? If she was ill you would get her medical care, wouldn’t you. How is this so different”?

“You!” the man raged, turning red in the face. “You have been nothing but trouble since you started hanging around my daughter.” He turned to Mikki. “You are not to speak to this girl again, nor see her. No more walking home from school together.” Mikki gasped as her father turned back to face Rachael. “First Kayla says her name is Mikki, and then you want to turn my son into a girl. I want you out of my house.”

“I think I should leave,” Rachael said, standing.

“NO!” Mrs. Stoner shouted. “This is my house, and it is you who is leaving,” she said, arraying all her rage at her husband. You can go back to Toronto and do whatever you want there, but I don’t want you back here until you come to your senses.”

“I’m going with Dad,” Kyle said.

“No you are not,” Mrs. Stoner said. “You have six more weeks of school here, and you will finish that. Then we will decide what to do. But you,” she stared at her husband “will get out of MY house NOW!” Kyle raced up to his bedroom hearing this.

Mr. Stoner looked from left to right, and then wheeled and fled out the door. A second later, the sound of a car squealing its tires could be heard tearing out of the drive and speeding off.

Rachael immediately went and picked up the sobbing Danni, and hugged her for a few seconds until her mother came and took her. Rachael then moved over to hug Mikki, who was sobbing as hard as Danni.

“Are you guys getting a divorce?” Mikki choked out the words towards her mother.

“Oh honey, I don’t know what is going to happen. I do know that I am taking Danni to the doctor tomorrow, and hopefully he will get her a referral to a psychologist specializing in gender issues of the young. We need medical advice before we decide what to do. Maybe Danni is just going through a phase, as Bob likes to think. But I think there is more to it than that, and I need to be sure. I do know that no man will tell me how to care for my child.”

Mikki continued to be tense as she sobbed, worrying that her parents might be splitting up. Or had they split up already? Her Dad was gone to Toronto. She shuddered.

Rachael spoke up, while still hugging her friend. “It is important for the girls to know that they are not the reason why this is all happening. Danni, don’t blame yourself for your Daddy getting mad and going away. It is not your fault, and doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still love you. He and your Mom just have different ideas about what to do, and they argued about it. It is not your fault.”

“That is true girls. Hopefully in a week or two we will know about Danni’s health, and we will all be a big family again.”

“And Danni, would you like to keep Mrs. Periwinkle? She told me she really likes this house, and likes your animals better than the dolls at my house. She will give you someone to talk to when you need to think about things. Is that a good idea?”

“Oh yes, yes. Thank you, thank you. Mrs. Periwinkle is such a good friend.” She wriggled free from her Mom and picked up the doll. “I will take her upstairs to see her friends.” She walked over to the stairs, then turned around. “But I do not love Daddy any more,” she said with fire in those beautiful blue eyes, “I hate him, and I never want to see him again.”

With that she stomped up the stairs, whispering something to Mrs. Periwinkle, leaving the others looking at her in shock. “Well I still love Daddy,” Mikki said. “I want you two to get back together.”

“That can be a good thing,” Rachael said. “It would be good for you to call him once a day or so and tell him that. I suspect that when your Mom calls things might get tense, at least at first. But if Mikki can call and let him know she still loves him, that could be healing. I suspect that nothing good will happen until a psychologist sees Danni. Hopefully he will listen to professional advice. That might be why he was so reluctant to have one see Danni. He knew if he loses there the battle is over.”

“Rachael, you are so wise,” Mrs. Stoner said. “Are you sure you are only 13?”

“For another two months I am,” she answered, knowing how close to the truth that question was. You gain a lot of wisdom in 60 plus years, and all that seemed to have been brought forward to Rachael.

“Look, I have to head home. We are having Grandpa over for dinner tonight, and I haven’t even started cooking.”

At home Rachael got out the slice of ham that she had bought the day before. An inch thick, it should make a good meal for the four of them. She seasoned it with mustard and spices, and popped it into a slow oven to bake. It should be done about a half hour before Grandpa arrived. To complement it, she got baking potatoes into the oven as well, and both baby carrots and peas as vegetables. She got Bobby to help with his ‘sallid’. The little guy loved making something for his Grandpa to eat.

There was a surprise as well. She had bought a small block of ice cream. Bobby had been exercising well all week: she thought she could spoil him on Sunday. And Grandpa had mentioned a love of ice cream as well. With luck, they could get two Sundays out of the small block.

The now familiar sound of a car on the drive signaled that Grandpa was here, and a young man from the Legion (young meaning late 40s) helped Grandpa into the house. He was soon seated in the easy chair, with Bobby on his lap seconds later.

They didn’t read for long. Maria and Rachael set the table and served the meal only 10 minutes later. As promised, Rachael asked Grandpa to add to the grace by telling about one of the men who hadn’t come back from France.

The old soldier choked up a bit, and Maria suggested that perhaps this was too much for him, but instead he shook his head, saying ‘it’s important’ and then related the story of a young man who died on the beaches the first day, and died clutching a rosary in one hand and a rifle in the other, without having spent a single shot.

“And please Lord, tell Private Harper that we still will remember all he did for us, and how important he was to us having the freedom and prosperity we have today. I know he is with you. Amen.”

Maria handed Grandpa a tissue to wipe her eyes and took one for herself.

“You know, sweetheart,” Grandpa told Rachael, “I have been thinking all week about which soldier to mention. Some were braver, many did much more. We remember those longer. But young Brian … I couldn’t even remember his face at first. Me, who should never forget. But then it came to me, and I couldn’t not name him. His name is probably on a cenotaph somewhere. I think he was from down Sarnia way. But for us to no longer remember his face. I hope he had family: nephews and nieces, for he was too young to have children of his own. He deserves to be remembered. And now we have. Thank you for suggesting this. I can only hope to live long enough to name all of them. There were so many.”

With that they ate the dinner. Bobby decided that he liked ham, and both Maria and Grandpa were amazed at how tasty Rachael’s recipe was. Bobby ate all his vegetables, and was amazed when Rachael suggested that he eat his potato skins. In the kitchen before bringing them out Rachael had split his, and put a liberal coating of butter on the skins to melt and soak in during the meal.

She ate some of her skins, which she had not buttered, and when he picked his up with his hand and took a bite his eyes widened. “These are really, really good,” he said. “I like them even more than mashed potatoes. More than French Fries … almost.”

The small bowls of ice cream were a hit. Bobby looked as if he wished the helpings could be larger when he first saw the dessert, but when he finished it he noted that he was “filled to the very top.”

Maria and Rachael shared the cleanup duties as Bobby read to Grandpa. When the women came out of the kitchen, they stopped reading, although Bobby didn’t move from his comfortable seat on Grandpa’s lap. They had a good half-hour before the other Legion man would come and get Grandpa.

“Dear,” Grandpa said, looking at Rachael. “I found the bill for the groceries on the counter, and saw that you spent more than I gave you.”

“That is all right. You needed some other things, and you deserved some treats as well. I know that was your last money, so I borrowed a bit from our grocery money. We are all family.”

“Yes dear, that was the last money I had in my purse, but it is not all the money I had. I have a pension that goes into the bank each month. It is more than I spend most months, so you see, I am not hard up for money.”

“Oh.” Rachael was so used to being short of money that she assumed that he was as well.

“In fact, my dear granddaughter,” he added. “The bank gave me a silly little card a few years ago that they say can get money out of a machine. Do you know about those?”

“An ATM. An automated teller machine. Yes, I know of them, although we don’t use one here. Mom gets paid in cash, and tips. We don’t use a bank much.”

“Well I have to. A few years back the pension people stopped mailing checks out and wanted to just put it in the bank. I was upset at the time, but now it is pretty convenient. I don’t have to take a taxi to the bank just to cash my checks.”

“You use a taxi?”

“Oh yes. I have an account with Kings Cabs. Jerome Kingsmill was in my company, and he started the taxi with one old Ford back at the end of the war. I think there are a dozen now. It seems to be a different driver each time now. But I heard you paying for the cab when you got my groceries, and I intend to phone Bill Kingsmill, Jerome’s grandson, and tell him that you are to be added to my account. You can use the taxi whenever you need one, not just to get my groceries.”

“Okay.” Rachael said hesitantly. She wanted to protest, but couldn’t think of any good reason. “I don’t want to waste all your money,” was the best she could come up with.

He laughed. “Unless you start taking a taxi two or three times a day it won’t be a waste, and I trust you more than that. I get a pretty special rate from Bill, and he includes the tip to the driver on my bill.”

“Okay then, I will make sure I use Kings next weekend, and see how it works.”

“The other thing I would ask is if you were to take my bank card thing,” he said. “I never get out, and as you know I am short of cash right now. If you can find one of those machines, I would like to get $100 for my purse, and $100 more for you. I will give you my bank card number.”

Rachael gasped. “I can’t take $100. That is too much. Bobby and I do what we do for love, not money.”

“I know sweetheart, but you deserve it. And I want to treat for the next week’s dinner. Do you know that I didn’t go out for five months before I met you two, other than doctors and tests at the hospital. Maybe once to the grocery store. You two have made my life full. I wait every day to see you, and I wait every week to come and visit with your beautiful mother. It makes my life worth living again. Will you do that for an old man?”

How could she say no? Rachael agreed. It was only a few minutes later when the man from the Legion arrived. “I guess you really don’t need these guys, do you,” Rachael asked when they heard the car pull in.

“I do like meeting them, though,” Grandpa said as Rachael helped him from his chair. “Most of them are sons or grandsons of veterans, and joined the Legion for that. They do good work for those of us left, as few as we are now, and the new ones coming in from Afghanistan and those other places. As long as they are so happy to do it, let them drive me on Sundays.”

This driver agreed to wait and bring Rachael back after dropping off the Sergeant, as he called him, so she was able to accompany him home again, taking a few of her soups for his fridge.

When they got into the door, the old man went to a desk, and pulled it open. “Here it is,” he said handing Rachael a bankcard. “The password to make it work is 6644.”

“D-Day,” Rachael whispered. “I won’t forget that. Ever.” She put the card into her purse and then helped Grandpa up to bed, unbuttoning his shirt for him and loosening his belt before leaving him to his bed.

After returning home, Bobby was ready for his double helping of Harry Potter. They were nearing the end of the first book, but would have to get another two-week renewal at the library to finish it.

Again, Bobby fell asleep before long, and Rachael put the bookmark in to mark the place. She then went downstairs, curling up next to Maria on the sofa.

“What is that for?” Maria asked, enjoying the cuddle.

“For being you. For being such a perfect Mom.” She then proceeded to tell Maria about all the drama over at the Stoner house earlier in the day.

“That is horrible,” Maria said. She looked at the clock. “Do you think it would be too late to call Andrea? She may need a friendly ear at a time like this. I know what it is like to have a husband leave, and maybe I can help.”

“I’m sure she would appreciate that, Momma,” Rachael said. “But everything over the last few days has left me exhausted. I’m off to bed early tonight.

Dear Lord

I do hope I am doing things right. I tried to help with Danni, and look at the mess it created. I am supposed to help people, and instead I may have broken up a family. And I don’t even know if I am right about Danni. What if it is just a phase he is going through? Anyway, bless Bobby and Mom. Grandpa and the girls from school. And especially bless the Stoners, and let them get over this in a good way. I will try harder from now on. I promise.

Amen



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