Disclaimer: See Part 1

1. Copyright: These are all my characters. Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved. Send comments to JLNickymaster@yahoo.com

2. Special thanks : to the persistent fans who are sending me feedback

Trouble Times Ten

By JLNicky

Chapter 6

“We drew you some pictures. Ms. Becky let us use some of her mother's art supplies. The paper is really nice.” Penny commented enthusiastically, once again bringing up the woman that was completely overwhelming Charlie with her intrusions. Charlie accepted the multiple drawings chuckling and smiling at the different drawings. The three kids on the foot of the bed were excited to describe their art. Manual stoically leaned against the wall off to the side and Penny sat in the only chair. After enough laughs, she eventually laid them over the small table beside her hospital bed.

It seemed every comment and every moment since her incarceration here at the hospital involved that woman. Charlie couldn't get away from her.

“She showed us some Karate moves too!” Trevon held his hands up in front of him and Terry slow motioned the strike while Trevon blocked it. “It was really neat. Manual even practiced with us.”

Charlie looked over at the most defensive boy of her small family and caught the dark eyes looking back at her without embarrassment. She was glad he was participating but it worried her a little to know it was in Karate. It seemed such a violent sport and he really didn't need any more violence.

“You guys be careful. Don't break anything in her house and make sure you don't hurt each other.” Manual nodded and unslung a gym bag from his shoulder.

“Ms. Doreen said she forgot a few things and she told me to pick some books out for you to read. I found a whole bunch of those Science Fiction paperbacks you used to read. So I grabbed the ones with the dragons on them. They seem pretty used with folded corners and stuff so I didn't think you would worry so much about damage and stuff. Ms. Doreen said the other stuff might come in handy too.”

Charlie opened the paper bag and looked in to see some bathroom supplies of qtips, washcloths, a big fluffy towel, and a small plastic zippered clutch looking bag that after opening it Charlie found lotion, and some simple makeup items a comb and brush and a nice shampoo/conditioner set. She pursed her lips and tried to smile naturally. She didn't want the kids to think she was ungrateful. But, she could just smell Becky in on this, using Doreen again as a cover and now Manual was unwittingly assisting. She was growing angry at the ruse.

Charlie let the children show her the pictures and took in the freshly scrubbed looks. They were definitely dressed in new and improved kid's ware. Brand names, new jeans, and sparkling white tennis shoes were abounding. Charlie urged the kids to take care of the new things, trying not to sound to controlling or overbearing. She was certain the expenses Becky had already purchased were adding up to some ungodly amount.

“Ms. Becky said you had some news for us? Are you OK? Is everything alright with Gywn?” Penny asked with a touch of fear in her voice.

Manual stood up from his slouched position against the hospital wall and leaned forward interested as Charlie realized the moment to explain her illness had arrived. She felt an awful nervous flutter in her stomach. How the children would take the news she just couldn't fathom.

“Well, first things first, Gywn went through the surgery for her leg just fine. She will be under some medication for a few days to ease the pain but she woke up on schedule and said she wasn't hurting as much as she thought she would.”



“That's wonderful”

Charlie nodded with the rest of them as they all smiled.

“I guess the biggest news is that we will be staying with Ms. Becky for the next year.” The children gasped and looked wildly at each other. Charlie caught Manuals frown.

“I've arranged to work for her and in return, she will let us live with her, if you guys agree to it. I mean I don't want to force you to do anything you don't want.”

The children all started chatting at each other at the same time. Manual's voice cut across the higher pitched tones of surprise.

“What kind of work? She's not making you do anything illegal is she?” The other kids quieted, but Charlie noticed a few weird looks cast Manuals way.

“Umm, she wants me to catalog some antiques her parents have collected. I'm not sure of the entire job but there is another reason, I've asked to work for her.” Charlie looked down at the thin blanket covering her stomach. She let her unbound hand slide over the blanket cover, a somewhat calming gesture to what she had to reveal next.

“It seems I am…going to have a baby.” She looked up from the cover to see total surprise on everyone's faces. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the tall form of Becky silently entering the room. For a moment she felt relief. Then she fought against the feeling and looked back at the kids.

“What? Are you crazy?” Manual let loose with the sharp remarks with a viciousness Charlie partially felt with her self already. His flagrant anger at her pregnancy was clarified as he pointed out the flaws with her condition.

“You can't have a kid? How are you going to raise it? You're not even healthy. Hell, you can't even take care of us!” Charlie flinched at the truth of the young teens direct and painful words. Her features paled.

Becky broke the tension slightly, letting her presence be known, as she moved into the room and somehow found an available spot directly beside Charlie's bed. Her dark eyes were taking in the tense and pale features Charlie sported. She understood Manuals anger to a point, but taking it out directly on Charlie was not acceptable. Before she could say a word, Penny cut off Manuals attack with one directed back at him.

“You're one to talk, Manual. Look at all the trouble you've caused while staying with us. How many times did Charlie have to come and get you out of some problem at school or at a store where you were caught red handed shop lifting. How many times did she lose a job doing that? None of us have exactly made it easy for her along the way. I'm not an angel either but she treats me like one. She's the only one. I think you need to apologize.” Penny stood before the sullen boy with her arms crossed and a determined look on her face. Becky could almost feel her anger toward her foster brother.

Manual shifted uncomfortably. His eyes looked anywhere but at the young girl.

“Apologize to Charlie right now Manual or we can bring it to a group vote.” Penny stated, with a strong headed will that knew she was in the right. Manual paled under his brown skin. Becky wondered why the threat of voting would be considered so extreme.

Charlie leaned forward on the bed and touched Penny's taut arm.

“No need to vote on this Penny. He has a right to speak his mind. Maybe he is just as worried as I am about a new child.” Charlie struggled to find the words that would heal this burden she seemed to have caused with her family. “I'm not exactly sure how I would raise this baby. Ms. Barton has graciously offered to provide a home for us all, and a job I can do while I figure things out. Manual is right about something's. I wasn't doing so well with all of you.” She shushed down the grumble of no's that rose up from the kids. “I'm not saying it was horrible but I know it wasn't all good.” She paused to look over at Manual and cock her head to the side. “I'm not exactly healthy right at this moment but I'm getting better with each day. I'll get stronger too.”

“We can help you too, Charlie.” Penny exclaimed, grabbing the small hand that had retreated to the bed cover again.

Charlie leaned back into the pillow looking deflated of any energy she had earlier. But she gave an easy smile to the five sets of eyes watching her.

“I know you all will. You are the best kids anyone could have. “

Manual scoffed at that remark and Penny shot him a dagger filled look.

“What, she's totally right. I'm the best at everything I do.” His arrogant remark had Penny rolling her eyes. Manual looked back at Charlie and bit his lower lip. “I uhhh…even apologize the best!” He raised his eyebrows asking for confirmation from Charlie.

She nodded, and sighed, holding out her hand to him. He took it gallantly and gave a lopsided grin.

Manual felt a tension in his body relax at her nod. He felt the guilt slide from his shoulders. His gut reaction to the news hit him deeply. Letting his big mouth uttering such mean things to one of the only people he felt he could trust was unforgivable. He was immediately contrite after his selfish ramble. But, she still let him off the hook. He was going to have to make up for it. He suddenly noticed the tall silent figure of one Becky Ann Barton standing next to Charlie's side. His brown eyes widened as he met her dark penetrating gaze. Her stare held his without mercy. She said so much to him in that disapproving look, he felt a lump form in his throat from his short life of culpability. While no words were spoken, he knew with out a doubt, he should never talk to Charlie that way again.



After the children were done visiting Charlie, they tiptoed in to say hi to Danny and take a look at Gwyn. Gwyn slept through the visit but was left a candy gift basket with stuffed animals in it. Penny set the flower pot tiger lilies she'd picked out on the night stand so Gwyn would see it right away.

The boys ‘ohhd' and ‘ahhd' at the posters on the wall and gave Danny a couple of friendly jealous remarks. He shined with pride at his room.

Becky mentally tacked on redoing the interior of the rooms at the house and thought she might ask Penny for some input since she seemed to be the little mother when it came to the family.

Rounding them up, Becky flipped open her cell phone to call the van service. She put in a quick call to Doreen as well, to let her know the schedule the older woman had created was still on track. Doreen's immediate input into the entire group was to make sure they got on a schedule. Kids felt more comfortable when they knew what was coming.

“How are those Angels, and when will the little mama be coming home?”

Becky's chuckled. “I'm not sure what little Angels you are referring too?” She glanced around her at the children rolling her eyes. Trevon and Terry gave her some raspberries vibrating lips and giggled.

“The kids are behaving and we all are a bit hungry. We should be home in about 15 minutes. Did you have any trouble with that little project? I'm looking forward to having that all arranged for next week.”

“Yes, your lawyer is coming over after dinner. Also, I've got a few catalogs for the baby furniture. I just know Charlene is going to adore some of these styles.”

Becky ran a hand through her hair and ruffled the curls even more.

“Don't be too surprised if she fights you all the way on that. I have the feeling she won't be as accepting unless we can come up with a valid reason why we need new things. She might try to convince you to go to some yard sales or something.”

“Well having a baby is a valid reason Becky. We can make her see the light. If she doesn't pick out the style then I'm going to pick it out and God forgive me, my taste can run to the outlandish. My three girls will attest to my ridiculous idea of baby furniture. I think I still have a blanket with that neon pink ruffled taffeta. I'm all about lace and frills. Charlene doesn't sound to me much like lace and frills. We will see who picks out what.”

Becky eyed the children and smiled a wry grin.

“I'm sure you two will get along just fine. The doctor said she could come home at the end of the week if her tests show progress to Doc's satisfaction. We will have to get a room ready. Are you able to stay a bit late this week?”

“Yes, I think the girls will be spending a little more time here anyway. They like your new friends.”

“Great to hear, I'll talk to you later.”


Becky checked her watch and realized her lawyer would be arriving soon. She needed to spend some time in her office to write down a list of the unknown legalities she intended to ask for advice on. Since the kids were fed and doing their own projects in the rec-room, Becky thanked Doreen for the wonderful dinner and left the dining room.

Sitting down at her desk she looked at the spotless surface and grinned. She obtained her favorite Mont Blanc and twisted the pen to let the ink flow. This is just the kind of project I need to get into, I think.


It's not an easy one, dear. Make sure you follow your heart.


Trying, mother.


Yes, she will be trying and trying and trying.


Becky's thoughts paused, her motions stilled with that echoing reply running through her head like a broken record. Her grin faded. She was going to have to know more about one Charlene Jordan.

A clean white sheet of paper was found and Becky began making a list. She put down a series of questions she wanted answers too about the person she was bringing into her household.

Who was Charlene Jordon? How old was she? What did she do for a living? When was her birthday? What is her favorite color? What is her favorite meal? Is she gay? Becky looked at the last question and crossed it off. Charlie was pregnant. Not to take things at face value but that's a pretty strong counter to being gay in Becky's book. She sighed. Getting another sheet of paper she began to list down her initial questions she would inquire with the lawyer, the first thing being a foster license. She was positive she couldn't just keep seven children and an adult in her house without permission from someone. And what legal issues could arise for taking care of a newborn, as well providing the continued medical for Gwyn.

She made a second column of bullet points for obvious concerns for the entire group; dental, school enrollment, previous foster records, any juvenile records, and after a moment she put down possible next of kin. The list went on. Her script etched out and underlined a boat load of requests that would probably cost her a small fortune in docked legal hours. Finally she flipped back to the earlier paper and wrote down a request to get the background of her new pregnant houseguest. It could help her learn more, Becky hoped.

When the doorbell rang she looked up and set the pen down. A couple of pounding feet were heard and Becky could hear the twins challenging each other to beat one another to the door. She stood up and without any hurry moved around her desk to walk to her office door. The boys were standing side by side and looking up at her lawyer who was looking down at them fascinated.

“I have an appointment with Ms. Barton?”

“What is your…”

“… name?” Trevor finished the question for Terry

“My name is Tika Truman.” Tika answered with a friendly smile in her Indian vernacular just missing the correct accentuation on the phrasing.

Terry jabbed Trevor in the side as the boys grinned.

“I'll go get Ms. Becky.” Terry turned to head toward her office and saw her standing there leaning against he open doorframe. He gave a cheeky grin and came over to her. His three foot six all boy charm was in full force.

“There is a Tika Truman at the door for you Ms. Becky. She says she had an appointment with you.”

Becky nodded. She reached out and turned him around and pushed him toward the door.

“Come inside Tika. I'll introduce you to these two and their foster siblings.”

Trevor stepped out of the way when the lawyer entered the foyer. She was really tall like Ms. Becky. He'd never seen so many tall women in his life. He had to look way up high to see her smile as she moved foyer. She carried a leather briefcase in one hand; with a matching jacket over her other arm. She even looked smart. A very nice dark purple business suit, with a skirt and a white blouse was her smart looking outfit. Trevor moved near his brother and stared fascinated at the glinting shine of the gold trimmed bauble necklace and long dangling earrings. He decided she was really pretty even if she spoke a little strangely. The glitter of her jewelry made her brown Indian skin seem darker than the lighter tan reality. Her hair was down at shoulder length but very thick and black. She shook Becky's hand and leaned in for a quick one armed hug.

“Good to see you Becky. Yes, please do introduce me to your charming friends.”

“Trevor and Terry, meet Tika Truman. She is my lawyer.”

The boys gave each other a nervous look and then looked down at their shoes.

Tika gave Becky a frown. Becky shook her head and gave a little shrug.

“She is here to help me figure out how to let you guys stay here with me, without breaking any laws.”

The boys gave each other a look and seemed to sag with relief.

“Nice to meet you, ma'am. I'm the older brother.” Trevon held out his hand to shake hers as he explained his positive birthright. His young voice was filled with evident pride.

“Gah. Nice to meet you too, ma'am, I'm the YOUNGer brother.” Terry exaggerated and rolled his eyes. He shook her hand politely too.

“It's great to meet you both.” Tika's dark brown eyes sparkled with mirth. She enjoyed their matching grins sent back to her.

Becky eyed the three of them and blinked at a stray thought that suddenly formed. She cleared her throat and nodded to the boys to head back to the rec room.

“You guys go watch some TV or play a board game in the library? I've got some serious homework to give to Tika to study. She and I will be in a meeting for an hour. Will you please ask Manual to come to my office by 9:00. Everyone should be getting ready for bed by then.”

The boys groaned but nodded and ran off down the hall.

“How many is everyone, Becky and where did you find them all?”

Becky guided Tika with a hand pointing toward her office.

“That is just one of the many things you will be looking into for me. I feel a big huge bonus coming your way if all things work out.” Becky gave a lopsided grin at Tika's back as her long time friend and personal lawyer moved into her office. Maybe two bonuses.


“How is Teddy doing these days?” Becky casually asked about the elusive wonderful husband of hers, that Tika was evidently head over heals with in love. In fact, in love enough to leave her family in India and follow him to California, where they were both moderately successful in their careers. Becky and Teddy were solid friends from the gym she used to train in for her Karate. The computer graphics expert in Teddy found the architect in Becky to be quite intelligent and knowledgeable as well as a complete challenge on the mats. He sparred many a time with her until Tika came to the gym to check out just who the woman was that seemed to beat her husband to a pulp twice a week. Inviting Becky to dinner was the first step of friendship between the three of them that evolved into monthly regular event. Tika was surprised to hear from Becky a week early from the normal schedule. After Becky retired, her lawyer skills for the tycoon were reduced. Even though her curiosity was urging her to ask more questions, Tika hesitated. She knew Becky would get back to it, eventually. So she updated the current news of her husband. She began to elaborate on Teddy's fickle eating habits and how they had tremendous success with the eco garden they had planted.

Almost an hour later, the two women sat back from the desk and collected their notes. Tika flipped through the twenty pages of scribbled shorthand and let her eyes wander back to the woman in front of her.

“Wow! Talk about a serious case of the law. I'm going to start with the easy stuff and progress to the harder issues, except for the license. I believe you are going to need that right away. I'll call a friend tonight.” She pulled out her iphone and twirled through the mini rolodex app.

“I'd like you to wait on that for about 10 minutes while I introduce you to the children.”

Tika nodded and gathered all of her stuff. Becky regarded the last sheet of paper in her hands and hesitated. She could only imagine the horrific elements of Charlie's life from what she'd stated and from what Charlie had gleaned from the children. Becky wasn't exactly sure if she wanted to know every single detail, but, she felt obligated to try and fill some of the blank areas of information about the woman she just barely met.

Regardless of the strange connection she felt with Charlie she was taking on a huge responsibility that didn't end with just money and a house. If only for a safety perspective she slowly lowered the single sheet of paper to the now clean desktop.

“I have one more request, Tika and it's a little…” Becky struggled to find the right words, “…intrusive. So I'd like you to be on this personally.” Tika leaned forward to look at the flowing script her employer and friend had written.

A detailed list of personal documents such as birth certificate, drivers license, passport, high school diploma, and more were listed as well as work history, criminal record, hospital records, foster records, and basically an entire investigation of Charlene Jordan's life. The list also included information on the unknown father of her child. Tika raised an eyebrow at the request for his medical history and that of his parents. Becky just stared at her lawyer with a poker face.

“I supposed you don't want to just ask her? I'd be lying if I didn't relay to you this is a privacy invasion since you will be her employer shortly.”

Becky nodded.

“I'll take that under advisement. I just want to..,know her.”

“Is she cute?” Tika said with a beguiling smile. “You've always had a thing for the cute factor.”

Becky ran a hand through her black curls and bit back a smile.

“Ah HA! She is a hottie.”

Becky rolled her eyes and handed over the paper.

“Rest assured, boss. I'll find out every single miniscule detail of Charlene aka Charlie Jordon.”

Becky frowned at the slightly cavalier tone. She was about to comment on it when a knock was made on the door.

Becky let Tika put the paper into her bag before she said ‘Enter'.

Manual opened the door and stood looking at the two women. His brown eyes darting from one to the other and back. His glare was full of suspicion and after finalizing that last request with Tika, Becky was feeling slightly off balance. Somehow she felt his suspicion was warranted. She knew by just asking for that private information to be obtained, she was crossing a personal line that Charlie would probably never forgive.

“Hello Manual. I wanted to introduce you to my lawyer, Tika Truman. Manual is the oldest of the children. At 14 he is the man of the household. I believe he and Kelly will be attending the same middle school once we get him enrolled, that is.

He met her remark with a frown and a suddenly stony look.

“Nice to meet you, Manual?” Tika raised her eyebrows in question at his frosty attitude. She smiled at him for a moment, her eyes softening a little as he shifted to cross his arms defensively.

“Not fond of lawyers huh? I get that a lot. But, in this case, I'm on your side. Becky has hired me to get a foster license to be able to let you guys stay here. She doesn't want to break any laws that might endanger you guys. So let's try this again?” Tika cocked her head to the side, slightly. Her warm smile and encouraging hand thrust his way was friendly enough.

Manual looked at Becky and back at Tika.

He slowly reached out and shook her hand and seemed to relax into a slightly less defensive posture.

“I haven't met too many friendly lawyers. They tend to think we are losers.” He murmured to the Indian woman and looked away at some of the bookshelves behind Becky.

“Well let's just make a truce to see how I do. I think everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves, hmm?” Tika gave Becky a sideways glance and then turned to gather her coat and satchel.

“Manual, are the kids dressed for bed? I wanted to let them meet Tika.”

His suspicious gaze was back in full mode when he turned to look at Becky. She ran a hand through her hair and returned his look with a poker face of her own. She was seeing a bit more hostility than she'd seen in a few days.

“We're in the rec room.”

“Great. Let's go talk to everyone, shall we?” Tika smiled and ignored his dark gaze. She moved toward the door leaving Becky and Manual in the room looking at each other. Becky felt the need to escape from his reproachful stare. She motioned for him to precede her and felt a smidgeon of relief when he finally turned away. This is going to be a tough transition but they seem like good kids.

Keep repeating that to yourself, sweetheart.


Yes, mother. Good kids. Good kids.




“She may be irritable, distracted, tired, light-headed and have more symptoms than you can count during the process of child birth. Bladder control issues, sensitive breasts…”


The sudden mental picture of Charlie with larger breasts made Becky wipe her hand down her face and cover the sudden grin. She set the book down on the night stand next to the stack of nine other books. Tilted her head to one side then the other, she felt the crack of her vertebrae realign. This particular expert was very graphic. Becky hoped some of the examples given were slightly exaggerated but she was beginning to think that having a baby is going to be quite a wild experience.

Hell, having seven children descend on you is quite a wild experience. Becky snorted with sarcasm as she pushed back the covers and made a beeline for her bathroom. Today was going to be another interesting day. School enrollment followed by haircuts and the mall. How hard could it be?


Charlie is coming home in three days. Becky grinned at herself as she brushed her teeth and foamed literally at the mouth.

They traveled to the two schools for enrollment and the kids were surprised to receive brand new books for their class. The loud moans and groans emanating from the van as they drove away were so over the top Becky had to laugh. Trevor even asked Penny to start crying to make everything perfect.

They eventually arrived at Becky's favorite beautician shop ‘Hair to Toe'. Everyone piled out of the van and stumbled into the interior of the beauty salon.

“Becky Ann Barton, you old dog you!,” came a screeching shriek from the back. The children backed out of the way one very outspoken Scarlett Shodan, owner of the Hair to Toe Salon came running out of the depths of the salon to jump and hug Becky. Her petite form landed in Becky's arms automatically as Becky reached out to protect herself and grab the hurdled form in surprised reaction.

The kids giggled and snickered as the smaller woman wacked Becky on the shoulder repeatedly in annoyance. Becky felt a blush rise as she tried to defend herself from the well deserved smacks.

“Hi, Scarlet, I guess I haven't seen you in a while.”

“Seen? What about called or written? A while? A while means within the year. It's been almost two. You are really on my crap list if I didn't love you so much I'd have already written the sorority to tell them a verbal reprimand was in order.” At Becky's gasp of surprise she nodded her superiority and turned to the others in the room. “What the devil did you get into this time, stretch?” She looked around at the children and gave them a wicked grin. “My, my, my, you've been a busy one. Tell me who these little chips off the ole block are and I'll get busy. Looks like you need a whole passel of cutters today. Thank goodness Doreen gave me a call and scheduled for all of you. I asked Nancy and Tre'jon to come in and help us out.” As she rambled on she led the group inside the salon area and introduced Nancy and Tre'jon. Before everyone finished introducing themselves she started pointing to the kids.

“You two rascals can work with Nancy.” She pointed at Trevon and Terry and they quickly wondered back to get their hair cut by the young beautician who winked at them.

Manual and Natalie went with Tre'jon, the flamboyant man who held a mean pair of scissors. His bright orange and red shirt sported the Australian Cricket team colors and surprisingly, Manual was a fan. Natalie liked his flair.

“That leaves just you and me darling, oh and Ms. Becky, hmmm?” Scarlet put her arm around Penny and had her scramble into a nearby nail painting chair. She patted the nearby chair to Becky and smiled a huge grin on her face. “Give me your little hand honey. I've got some kids designs that might surprise you, if that's alright with Ms. Becky?” Scarlet blinked at the larger woman and with a hesitant nod in return Scarlet broke out a few brushes and some red and yellow nail polish. Penny stared in fascination, her thick glasses making her eyes seem so much larger as she looked thru the lens.

“So stretch, what's the scoop. It's been two years and you never call, never email, never do anything, then all the sudden you show up with kids in tow. A girl's gotta be let in on the big picture or she ends up calling the house keeper later? Hmmm?” Scarlet never paused to take a breath. She systematically cleaned the nails of one hand of the young girl and dropped it into a bowl of warm liquid. Starting on the other hand she gave Becky a quick look.

Becky reached up and scratched her head and chuckled. Her college friend hadn't changed a bit. Still wild and crazy, Becky felt the rush of those college days flow over her again. Staying up late and playing the practical jokes, eating the bad foods, studying till 3AM for a test at 6, she remembered the good times when they dormed together and suddenly felt awful for not contacting Scarlet when she retired from her company.

“I'm sorry, Scarlet, I should have kept in touch. I decided to make some changes in my life and I didn't keep my friends as close as I should have.”

Scarlet nodded her French braided hair not far different than how she styled it in college, although the purple and red streaks were a little more subdued than she seemed to remember. Becky watched as she put Penny's other hand in warm liquid and pulled out the first to begin drying it and applying a clear shine of nail polish to the tiniest nails. Becky gave a little wince at the thought of Charlie not approving.

With the thought of Charlie she began to explain the circumstances, highlighting the positive changes in regard to the little ears listening. Scarlet pursed her lips a few times and kept painting. Twenty minutes later and a severely truncated version of what happened; Scarlet pushed Penny out of the chair to have her go get Natalie. The little girl was ecstatic over the tiny smiley faces now adorning her finger tips.

Scarlet smiled at the older girl and beamed when Natalie asked what color nailpolish she used since it was the perfect brightness for the smiley faces. Scarlet stopped bothering Becky for more info with a quick ‘I'll get back to you later' look as she began the routine over again, cleaning, soaking, drying, and painting Natalie's fingernails.

Becky noticed the young girl's long hair was now trimmed shoulder length and was clearly in a more popular style that enhanced her teenage face. A light sprinkling of freckles ran over the bridge of her sun burned nose and she was smiling with Scarlet as if her life was hunky dory. Becky shook her head once and fought off the angry injustice of these orphans having to go thru the system and fight for their identity.

An hour later, the two young girls were best friends with Scarlet and the boys were feeling light hearted with their fresh new buzz cuts. The twins went full out buzz and Manual trimmed up tight on the sides but left the length in the back to be able to pony tail. Becky even had her curls tamed down a little as she sat through the other kids giving Scarlet directions on her perfect style. She felt lucky just a trim was the only result.

They piled in the van and Scarlet with her husband Roger was promised a visit for the following week. She wanted to meet this mysterious Charlie. Becky gave her a big hug and tipped all three beauticians generously. She dropped the kids off at the house with Doreen and headed to the hospital, only two and 1/2 more days to go.


Manual kicked at the edge of the grass along the sidewalk. He felt a little frustrated at their shining new whiteness on the surface of the sneakers. They were cool, no doubt, but new and not broken in. They hurt his feet slightly. But, he felt like he was betraying where he came from by accepting the goods Becky gave them. Who just gives people stuff? Nobody does that. He regarded the quiet girl next to him. He kept walking and found a littered Pepsi can. Kicking this he felt slightly better as the residual liquid splashed on the tip of his shoe. But it wouldn't matter much anyway since he was wearing brand new jeans, a new t-shirt and brand new underwear. He couldn't even remember the last time he had brand new underwear, straight out of the package just for him. He didn't have to share the package with anyone. All four pairs were his alone. It was crazy.

He lifted his head and saw her walking beside him. It was like he was in a movie or something. She smiled at him. He looked back down at his tennis shoes. Still another three blocks to go before they arrived at the school campus. That thought made him bite his lip nervously. It was a whole ‘nother story for school. Again, he was heading to a new school with new teachers and new kids. Nobody there would know he previously stole food to eat, avoided the cops, or lived a whole different life just two weeks ago. It was surreal. He started to run his hand through his hair and once again realized it was cut much shorter. Nothing was the same. Everything had changed and was different. He just couldn't decide if it was good or bad. The shoes, he finally decided, were definitely cool.

”I like your haircut.” Kristen commented. Manual shrugged. She gave a half smile. “It looks good. I'm a little jealous since I won't be having that short style when summer time hits.” Kristen lifted her hair off her neck and let its length fall back down.

“Yeah.” Manual ran his hand over his head. “Summer got crazy hot last year.”

“Have you ever been to this school?” Kristen wondered as she side passed the Pepsi can back to Manual.

“Well I ran across the soccer field one time.” He didn't mention it was to avoid getting caught and sent back to foster care. The remark didn't seem to faze her. She brushed a few strands of her long straight hair out of her eyes and looked at him.

“It's a pretty big school, being middle school. I'm kind of nervous about it.” She shoved her hands into her vest jacket pockets. “I know a lot of the kids from my old school will be here but there are a lot of different kids coming from other schools too. I'm thinking I'll be a little lost at first.”

Manual nodded slowly, comprehending they were sort of in the same situation regarding knowing anyone. Although she probably had a ton of friends she would hook up with. While he…his sour mood kicked in and he kicked the littered can savagely far ahead of them.

“Well once we get our classes sorted out we should be OK. This is the first time I have to switch from class to class. It sounds like everyone will be a little lost trying to find their rooms at first.” Kristen brushed her hair back and ignored the sharp whistle from some creeps driving down the street in a dark car. “I can't believe I'm officially in 9 th grade. We get to change teachers every hour. It's going to be really fun. What classes did you end up getting? I don't know any of the teachers but I'm really excited about some of the classes I get to take.”

“I just took whatever they assigned. I think we registered a little late, so I'm probably in the afterthought classes.” Manual shrugged again.

“Well my Mom mentioned to Dad, Becky was putting you into some advanced English since you obviously like to read.” Manual looked at her surprised. She didn't seem to notice. “I'm in advanced English too. I wonder if we have a class together? Who is your English teacher on your schedule?”

Kristen pulled out a pink slip of paper listing times and classes and Manual was just reaching into his jeans to find his schedule when he heard the screech of tires.

The black Camero was making a u-turn and swinging around toward them. He moved further away from the curb and closer to Kristen.

“Hey, hey, hey. What do we got here?” Manual stepped in front of the girl as a grating voice shouted out of the car. He recognized one of the dealers from his old neck of the woods.

“Looks like we got us some fresh meat, Devo. What do you think?” Another guy said as the car stopped, the door swung open, and one of the guys jumped out. The driver stepped out of his side and gave Manual a slow look.

“Yep, looks like a good runner. Right boy?” Manual looked at the driver, then over at the guy moving toward them. They were looking for kids to push their products. A ‘runner' was street slang for someone that ran the goods back and forth between the dealer and the kids that bought drugs. In his old world being a runner could have saved him a lot of grief, but he just couldn't lower himself to do the job. He'd read enough to know pushing drugs to kids would lead those kids to get hooked and become addicts. Since the age of seven, when his mother OD on Heroine, Manual avoided any connection to the murdering substance or its equivalent. He just didn't want to see any more addicts in his lifetime.

“I ain't nobody's runner. You don't scare me.” He quickly slipped his new backpack off and found his balance in the stance Becky had showed him. The freely moving guy came closer and Manual gave a quick shove to Kristen.

“Run for help, Kristen. Run to the school.” He stuck out his foot quickly and caught the guy in the kneecap. A quick yelp and the creep was cursing, hopping on one foot.

“I'm gonna get you for that, you little shit.” His big hands seized Manuals shirt and although the material ripped it held fast. He was jerked back and thrown down onto the ground. A couple of random kicks hit his leg and foot. The ham fisted brute reached down and yanked him up by his arm and hair.

The guy named Devo came around the car and smiled.

“That wasn't too smart. We were just getting to know each other and already I know you have a thing about being my friend.”

“I'm not your friend.”

“Shut the hell up.” A hand slapped Manual's head. “He didn't tell you to talk.”

“That's right, boy. Buster here doesn't take kindly to smart mouths. And I don't take kindly to some young punk talking back to me at all.” Devo pulled a knife and flipped it open with a quick wrist flip. “I could cut your tongue out right here and now.”

Manual tried to wrench away from the cretin holding him. He only succeeded in having the hands tighten unmercifully.

“Let go.” He couldn't stop the tears that sprang to his eyes from the pain.

“Oh is little punk gonna cry? What a poor sorry ass kid.”

“Maybe he just needs to give me these nice shoes he is wearing, before I break his legs.”

A car passing by screeched to a sudden stop and before Manual could yell for help, a black booted foot swung into view and connected with Devo's knife hand. Manual heard the crack of the broken bone with a deep satisfaction. He felt the hands gripping him loosen and he stomped with all his 14 years of running legs down on the cretin Busters foot. Both men screamed in pain. He was instantly loose and Buster hopped onto one foot. A fast sweep of his leg and Buster was down on the ground. It was simply incredible that the sweep kick worked perfectly.

He looked up to see those familiar blue eyes filled with worry and a spark of pride looking him over. Becky leaned down and with apparent ease lifted Devo by his belt and shirt and tossed him over by his buddy. They rolled around for a minute together before realizing they were under watch by the woman and a boy.

“I'd stay there if I were you. The cops were called and I'm sure he'd give anything to be able to kick you right where it counts.” Her ominous voice made both criminals still and look upward at her carefully.

She took a step back next to Manual.

“Are you OK? Are you hurt?”

“I..I'm fine…I think. Where is Kristen?

“She's in the car. I was just passing the school when she came running up to the gate.”

A second later a cop car arrived and the two thugs were tossed into the back seat. The cop took Becky's name and Manual was patted on the back. He winced at the pressure but tried to grin.

“Uh oh! I can see a visit to Dr. Chella in your future.” Kristen whispered to him as she stood nearby and witnessed his pain.”

He looked down at his shoes in embarrassment. A frown covered his face when he noticed the dirt scuffs and grass stains on their now filthy surface. Dang it, those had better come out! He looked up to see Kristen looking at him like a hero.

Continued in Part 7


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