Copyright : These are all my characters. Copyright © 2012 All Rights Reserved. Send comments to c

Chapter 8

Natalie slowly pushed open the door to the empty art room with a shiver of anticipation. The darkness beyond the first step was thick with stale air and shadows, the hint of paint thinner clear to the young girl looking inward. Checking to her left and right, up and down the empty hallway, she stood as still as possible, listening for the others. In the distance of the large residence she heard the twins chattering busily to each other and maybe Manuel or Ms. Becky speaking in lower tones. She listened more to hear anyone nearby, at all, that might stop her from exploring the treasures just within her reach. Staring back into the cavernous darkness of the unknown, a huge rush of excitement gripped her body.

“She said it was OK.” Natalie whispered aloud. “Her exact words were ‘do not mix any chemicals and if you have any questions ask’. So, I can check it out, right? Right!” she worked on raising her confidence. Her small arms wrapped themselves around her torso and she squeezed tight. “Breathe.” she urged herself. “It’s just an art room filled to the brim with everything you’ve ever dreamed of having. Breathe and don’t pass out.” She giggled nervously.

A single step into the dark room and she paused. The thick air smelled of paints, mustiness, a bitter hint of some chemicals, and a slumbering creativity. Natalie just hoped to use some real paint for once in her life. Since they moved in, she dreamt of waking her inner painting beast, using some of the creativity stored in this room. Her hands shook as she reached out sideways, blindly seeking the light switches on the wall.

A set of four switches were found. She flipped the first, tentatively. Magic infused the room as wall sconces every four feet sitting high around the room lit in synchronized pairs, one after the other, all ten spilling warmth into the space before her. She swept the room with an avid gaze finding mystery and shadows still within. The rectangular 20 x 24 foot room held three full walls of bundles and lumps covered with cloth. The 12 foot ceilings showed more lighting. Natalie flipped the 2nd switch with more confidence. Recessed pot lights flipped on overhead revealing the covered work benches more clearly. Huge drop cloths covered a few hanging prints, as well as a large table in the center and a single covered easel off to the side. The brightness of the room was warmth and invitation. She really thought she felt the lingering essence of the previous user of this room. Ms. Becky said it was her foster mother, the kindest woman ever, who painted in here for hours. Anyone that loved painting that much was an instant likable person in Natalie’s opinion.

The 3rd light switch lit a few focus lights that beamed down spot lighting over the easel, revealing the legs of a stool also beneath the cover. Natalie itched to go whip off the tarp to see the contents on the canvas that lay beneath. But she waited.

Flipping the last switch a low hum was heard. Directly across from her the floor to ceiling drapes that covered the far wall began to part in sections. Four window panes were slowly exposed. The darkness of the night outside reflected back into the room showing the softly glowing patio lamps and some walkway lights that led out to the yard and toward the pool. Natalie recognized the area where they played in the yard in the afternoon. She stared at the outside for only a second before taking a deep breath and turning to the first covered surface on her left.

Her fingers found the edge of a dust cloth and began to pull it backwards. The wooden bench that ran around the room was discovered and containers of all sizes were upon the surface. She carefully pulled and wrestled the cloth onto the floor and fought to fold it up before turning to inspect the multitude of fascinating curios before her. Drawers and cupboards and shelves lay beneath but upon the surface were identical boxes of tri-layer fold outs. Each layer held small colored tubes of paint. Eyes wide with fascination she read some of the labels. Newton and Winsor, Old Holland, Rembrandt, Sennelier, Gamblin, and the paints went on. Each layer stored thirty or more tubes and she touched the colors of red ochre to palest yellow as she moved from one container to the next.

She discovered hundreds of different brushes and two racks of knives, some small empty but stained cups that once held liquids and piece after piece of broken charcoals. There was some brush mats that showed frequent use from cleaning or wiping off brushes. She pictured an older woman briskly rubbing her brush over the mat to wick off the cleaning solutions. A faint laugh sounded in her head and she embraced the warmth of the sound as she briefly touched the material with her fingertips.

A soft clearing of a throat nearby made her snap her fingers back from the paints and shove it behind her back. A deer in the headlights gaze landed on Becky and it took all of Becky’s control to keep from frowning at the frightened young girl. She gifted Natalie with a soft smile and mildly curious expression with a brief raise if an eyebrow.

“Are you finding some really cool stuff? My mother was an art collect-o-holic.”

Natalie stood rooted to the spot and tried to get her heart to stop hammering. She managed a little nod and Becky nodded back.

“I can help you uncover these shelves, if you’d like?” She offered the young girl and gestured at the many drop clothes. A bright smile was given as Natalie revealed her heart’s desire to her host. Becky tried to dim her own smile that grew wider at Natalie’s obvious happiness.

Within a half hour’s work they’d almost revealed everything but the easel and the far wall portrait. Natalie asked to keep the easel covered until she was ready to check it out.

“I want to practice a little first before I go to the level of using a canvas. I don’t want to ruin anything.” Natalie hoped Becky would understand. She seemed to as she gathered up the pile of drop cloths and didn’t even flinch at the request.

“From what I’ve seen you draw, Natalie, you couldn’t ruin anything if you tried. My mother would be ecstatic to know someone is using her things and striving to create like she always did. I’m sure Charlie will be very pleased with any of your efforts.”

Becky walked over to the far wall and pulled down the last sheet from covering a wall print. The painting caught her attention and she stopped to study it. Stepping closer she stared upward quietly. Natalie walked over to look and found a young girl much like herself staring out from the canvas. But this girl looked at the world with enormous dark eyes and a spark of intelligence you could clearly see from within her eyes. A small smile played on her lips and her hair was untamed with curls that sprouted wildly in all directions. Her cheeks were flushed and she reminded Natalie of someone. Looking up at Backy beside her she gasped in recognition.

“It’s you. Wow! Your foster mother painted that didn’t she?”

Becky drew in a deep breath and released it slowly with a low ‘uh ummm’ in reply. She had never seen this portrait. The last few years her job and life didn’t allow her to visit as much as she would have wished. She stared at the portrait imagining that young girl she used to be. She didn’t think she ever looked that excited at the world with such innocence. Her mother seemed to have erased all the childhood pain and anger. It was amazing.

Natalie thought Becky seemed a bit sad. She reached over and grasped the loose hand beside her and squeezed it. Becky tightened her fingers in automatic response and reluctantly looked away from the picture down to the young girl at her side.

“She captured your heart perfectly.”

Becky looked back at the painting and knew Natalie would someday become an awesome artist.


Charlie walked behind her wheelchair, listening to the hospital provided cheap slippers hiss with each step as she moved down the hallway just outside of her hospital room. She couldn’t help but look in a few rooms and noticed the double occupancy inside each space.

“Probably one more thing I have to thank her for.” She grumbled to herself as she realized her single room was not the norm.

She pushed the chair back into her room and found the bed was freshly made. A fresh pitcher of water with ice was setting on the small counter near the bed. The flowers were droopy but still smelled nice. Parking the chair, she unhooked her IV roller and shuffled over to the bed. Standing beside it she drew a deep breath. Her body practically begged her to get back into the clean sheets. She slid into the coolness with a sigh. The strength was short lived. She tired so easily; fighting the helplessness of her body’s sad shape, she stretched down to touch her toes and lift her hands to straighten her spine. The nurse must have been watching for her return as she chose that moment to show up with a smile and some daily vitamins.

“Here you go, dear, time to get the good stuff into your system.”

“Not like I haven’t had enough stuff pumped into me….” she gave the pills a narrow eyed glare as she mumbled grumpily.

Charlie lifted and shot the pills down with a grimaced. She was never a very good pill taker. The nurse handed over a freshly poured cup of water and stood waiting until Charlie swallowed and handed it back.

“Good girl.” The matronly woman nodded with satisfaction. Charlie looked back at her prison warden slash nurse. She was at a loss for words toward the older woman who disregarded her grumpy attitude and kept insisting her grandchildren were older than Charlie. She slumped back into the bed as the nurse wrote down some notes on the clip board she held.

“Doctor Chella says you might be leaving us soon. Are you excited?”

Charlie raised her head sharply off the pillow to look at the nurse who chose that moment to read the IV levels, just missing the daggers thrown her way within the hot burning gaze of green. Charlie let her head fall back to the pillow refraining from taking out her worker bee stinger and kept it down a notch to a bland drone bee.

“I’m not exactly allowed to be excited or your machines might fry me.”

“No frying happening today, pumpkin.” A man’s gruff voice echoed in her mind. She looked toward the door in confusion and looked at the nurse then around the room. The nurse gave her a glance and tilted her head forward.

“Something wrong, sweetie?”

“Nu-uh. Just hearing voices…I guess.” Charlie scratched behind her ear and narrowed her eyes at the warm chuckle the nurse answered her with.

“Hope they are telling you to eat your vegetables.” She tapped her clipboard and nodded to Charlie before turning to leave. Unexpectedly she reached out and gave a soft touch to brush bangs back from Charlie’s forehead. “You take care, missy. I may not see you before you leave; I rotate to another shift tomorrow. But, I’m sure I’ll see you again before the years out. I’ve heard you are going to work with Ms. Barton and she hosts the Christmas party each year.” The caring gesture was so unexpected Charlie forgot to lean back and avoid it. The older woman smiled and turned to leave, her tennis shoes squeaked out the door, into the hallway.

“Swank deal, that girl throws down.” The old man’s voice mumbled. It sounded like he was half asleep. Charlie looked around the room again and frowned. Cocking her head to the side and scrunching her nose, she listened to the hallway. Maybe he would enter? She had the weirdest sensation the old man was standing right beside her. A chill raced up her arms and she rubbed them. She couldn’t hear anything moving out in the hallway. A little shake of her head she sighed and let it go. Whoever decided to put in his two cents was definitely better than the swaying cobwebs that were drifting around her head lately.

This brought her thoughts flying back to the one person she did not want to think about. She was about to move into some mansion which the kids described as fantastic, wonderful, awesome, rad, bad ass, and more. Where she would work and earn a living and be pregnant. She closed her eyes and swallowed a lump that formed. Her emotions were already in a mess. And, shortly, she would be leaving the safety of the hospital to live near Becky Anne Barton.

Truth was, she barely thought of anything else for the last 24 hours, ever since that super tall blonde with the mega-watt-smile who should-be-a-model “doctor” swept into her quiet room and pronounced her able to eat solids and ordered her to start walking to strengthen her weak “puny” body from the enforced rest. The word ‘puny’ was never used but that didn’t excuse how good the doctor looked in comparison to her own skinny self. And enforced rest was a bit of an understatement, more like unavoidable or mandatory, but the good doctor refrained from smiling at her bland descriptive remarks. She simply stated Charlie would be able to leave in two more days if the results of her tests proved she was capable of not ‘passing out’, or as she eloquently stated ‘not showing excessive stress levels.’ Tomato, tomahto!

Charlie was just overly aggravated. She was irritated by the whole damn situation and she especially, most certainly, didn’t like change. At least not change she wasn’t in control of. Deep down the unknown landscape laid out before her absolutely terrified her with shifting shadows and gloomy atmosphere. And there was that one niggling little spec of minute particle that was a sparkle of excitement. She pushed that down into her recesses with everything she had. She couldn’t afford to think like that. It would bite her in the end and she felt her breaking point was just out of reach, this little hospital stay delaying the inevitable. With the surfacing of that depressing inner thought she heard a light knock on her door. Drawing her legs up to her chest she encircled her arms around them and rested her chin on her knees, a decidedly small person feat. She was sort of proud of it. The door pushed open after a polite second of complete quiet. Without seeing the unexpected visitor she knew before she entered it was the infamous Ms. Barton.

For a second Charlie almost smiled at the ludicrous fact that every time she felt horrible Becky showed up to throw her off balance. It was uncanny.

“Hi.” Becky stood at the entrance and looked a bit surprised to see her sitting there in her assigned bed in her assigned room in the hospital where Becky essentially put her. A second later Charlie just noticed a nice smile sent her way and Becky moved into the room. Her briefcase was set on the floor and the overly tall hugeness of Becky Barton folded herself into the nearby absurdly uncomfortable visitor’s chair.

“You look nice.” Becky stated as she held those blue eyes with her own intense dark gaze. Charlie just looked at her silently. Unfazed the tall woman blinked waiting. Charlie waited as well as they looked at each other. The silence went on for a full minute before Charlie narrowed her eyes. She pushed the covers back and with a politely muttered ‘excuse me’, she moved her IV pole into the bathroom and shut the door with a click.

“No getting out of this Charlie. She will be your landlord, the boss-woman, and pretty much your provider for the kids, yourself, and this little one.” She stared at her face in the mirror and watched the reflection of her own hand rub her stomach with the lightest touch; her head was still in partial denial about her impending pregnancy. She looked back up at her shimmering eyes and sighed. Deep down inside she knew her world changed as soon as she heard the news from Dr. Chella. The small bump to her midsection was truly the only part of her body that was acting normal in her roller coaster ride, having gained weight regularly while she was incarceration into the hospital.

Running some warm water she ran her hands under the liquid and let its caress calm her down. She glanced at the door, imagining Becky Anne Barton outside in that chair. Closing her eyes she noticed the long legs crossed and stretched out in front and that tall form relaxed, without concern.

“No, that wasn’t true. She was concerned about the kids, and me.” Blue eyes acknowledged the other woman’s kindness, her hands clenched under the stream of warmth. A debt that would definitely have to be repaid; she wiped her hands on the nearby towel and grabbed the tall IV stand to drag it back into the room.

Becky was just sitting back down into the chair. Charlie lifted an eyebrow at the movement. With an often repeated movement, a long arm reached down and clipped the briefcase closed with a snap.

“Are you interested in going to spend some time with Gwyn and Danny? I thought we all might share an early dinner together. Dr. Chella and her wife Michelle have setup a small area in the kid’s room.”

With a lowering of her brows, Charlie looked quickly down at her pajama clothes and bit her lip.

“Dressing is completely casual!” Becky lifted her eyebrows and smiled as she read Charlie’s signals so easily.

Charlie cleared her throat and tentatively nodded.

Becky grinned and clapped her hands together, rubbing them together in satisfaction. She sat up in the chair. Looking behind Charlie her dark eyes glanced at the wheel chair and back at the uncertain Charlie. She refrained from shoving the hindering device at the woman. She was absolutely certain it was a bone of contention that Charlie had to use the damn thing in the first place. She picked a different approach to using the transportation. Hopefully, Charlie would have sense to know the other wing was a bit too far for her to walk still.

“I’ll just step out to the nurses’ station and let them know we will be going over to that wing.” Becky stepped around the shorter woman.

Charlie gave a jerking nod and a small grunt. Blue eyes watched her benefactor leave the room. She rubbed her forehead in frustration. Sometimes being in her presence was utterly uncomfortable and sometimes it was as if she wanted Becky Anne Barton to never leave. Her brain was messed up and she needed to get it back on track.

She crossed carefully to the locker and pulled out a nicer outfit and quickly stripped off the one she wore. She unsnapped the IV connection and quickly slipped on the new top. Ditching the paper goods she put on some nice slippers. Tossing a lovely robe Ms. Doreen must have searched specifically for her height and weight, or lack thereof, the light pink robe fit perfectly and the color made her naturally fair features glow. She turned toward the bed to grab her pillow for the dratted bat-mobile (aka uncomfortable wheeling thingie) and stopped short at the sight of some fresh daisies in a vase on her nightstand table. The drooping ones from two days ago were gone. Beautiful perky little blooms were standing tall beneath the bright florescence. Eyes wide she tried to figure out when that happened.

This morning they were droopy, this afternoon nurse nice lady visits, but still droopy. Fiddling with the IV line and pole, she pushed the wheel chair over, locked the IV in place, and with small steps crossed over to the nightstand.

Her eyes were glued to the sweet daisies. She pursed her lips, thinking. A hesitant reach and she touch the soft petals. They were lovely. She instantly remembered the soft click of the briefcase when Becky Anne sat down into the chair as she came out of the bathroom. Falling carefully backward into the damn chair she looked down at her fingertips, her blue eyes swimming with unshed tears.

“Dammit.” She spoke to the empty room.

Nobody ever brought her flowers before. What was wrong with that woman? She was practically a complete stranger. Why? And what was wrong with her? Charlie fought the emotional onslaught. She didn’t cry, ever.

A soft knock and a quiet pause interrupted her thoughts. A quick swipe of her eyes and she reached down and pulled loose the breaks.

“Come in.” She heard her husky voice state and she swallowed rapidly to clear the thickness.

“Everything alright in here? Ready to go?” Becky hesitated seeing a slightly flustered Charlie look up at her from sitting in the wheelchair.

“Umm…it’s good, I’m ready.” The fair haired Charlie spoke softly and turned giving a genuine smile; her blue eyes were bright, full of a special warm emotion the taller woman previously only noticed when Charlie spoke to the children. The towering woman stepped back letting the wheelchair bound woman roll forward out of the room.

Watching her pass into the hallway, Becky ran a hand through her curly locks in confusion. She just smiled at me. Wow! Wide eyed and completely off balance, Becky exited the room to catch up to see what happens next.

Continued in Part 9.


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