Disclaumer: See Part 1
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“Welcome to the Barton Home child. I'm Doreen McCullen, the housekeeper.” Doreen exclaimed warmly, delighted to finally get to meet the infamous Charlie the children spoke of so highly. The petite young woman jerked her head up from looking down at the Italian marble tiling that ran the length of the huge entrance. Her strained pale features and suspicious gaze found the housekeepers warm smile. Her tension filled shoulders relaxed slightly at the obvious sincerity behind the words. She managed not to frown in response to someone who was offering her something she'd rarely been given. The immediate response of sarcasm and negativity that sprouted in her mind was censored by a tightening of her lips. It was crazy for Becky Barton to offer her this place to live, much less the children. She refused to believe otherwise.
She managed to give a polite little smile to Doreen and kept her poker face silent response to hide the insecurities. Doreen clucked her tongue at the painfully thin frame of this young woman. Except for the slight bulge at her waist Charlie showed little body fat. Charlie lifted a trembling hand to tuck hair behind an ear. The bruised area of an IV puncture showed on her wrist giving evidence to her recent stint of being hospitalized. Doreen noticed the small cane Charlie held in a vice-like grip was directly in front of her body in an unconscious defensive position. The girl was positively skittish.
About to urge her to sit down on the nearby settee before she collapsed, Doreen watched a sudden transformation take place in the younger woman's posture and attitude. In the blink of two green eyes, Charlie's gaze looked passed the housekeeper to catch a glimpse of the interior of the house. Her hunched shoulders straightened, her chin lifted and she licked her lips. A gleam within her eyes flared with strength when they both heard the rapid stomping of a dozen feet running through the hallways. The soft click of the cane against the tile was ignored by the user as she moved deeper inside to meet the other half of her welcoming committee.
“Charlie!” Multiple children shouted as they rushed into the foyer and surrounded the one they sought.
Manual and Penny held a large ‘welcome home' sign by all the kids. It had butterflies and hand prints and flowers brightly painted on the design. They all spoke at once.
“It's so good to see you.”
“We missed you so much.”
“Welcome home, Charlie.”
The woman and children seemed to merge together into a group hug that was filled with excitement and relief. Charlie smiled at each child and noticed their groomed looks and healthy faces. The twins were giggling and looked so handsome with their matching boy clipper cut hairstyle. Manual gave her a confident smile. Natalie waved the sign and laughed, her hands smudged with dried paint. Penny was tucked against her side like a second skin, beaming up her, as well.
The kids wore new clothes that fit well and made them look fresh and in style. They were all so full of energy. Charlie briefly lifted her eyes upward and blinked rapidly, acknowledging the changes were definitely for the better, regardless of where they came from.
“I've definitely missed you guys, too.” She managed to whisper through a suddenly hoarse voice.
The front door swung open and Becky's tall frame entered. Her arms were crammed full. Clothing, medicine, flowers, and some balloons were clutched tightly. The huge duffle bag Charlie owned was draped over one shoulder. Everything Charlie owned was carried into the foyer and set down on one of the entry benches. Those dark eyes looked over at the group near the hallway as she straightened from her task and turned to hand a small box to Doreen.
“It's some medicine that need to be refrigerated. Charlie will have to tell you about it.”
“Oh my, yes. I'll speak to her when she has caught up with everyone. I'm going to go fix her something to snack on. She needs to be fattened up.” Doreen gave a warm smile to Charlie as those haunted green eyes looked their way.
Manual jogged over from the tight knit group and pointed at the bags. “That stuff Charlie's? She asked me to take it to her room. Which one is her room?” The young boy emphasized the word is in his question.
“Well, if she is ready to go take a look we can all go see it. The room is on the 2 nd floor and is right next to the nursery.” Becky turned to the group and looked at the strain on Charlie's face. “How bout you guys meet us up there and we will take the bags up in the elevator? Alright, Charlie?”
Charlie turned and reluctantly nodded. Becky pointed down the far hallway on the left. The built in elevator to the 2 nd floor was easily found once Becky pointed it out behind a four foot tall statue of Hermes with his entwined snake staff. They both listened to the pounding of feet racing up the stairs and Charlie didn't even pretend not to be tired as she leaned heavily against the elevator wall. The normal feeling of claustrophobia was conquered by exhaustion. The silence was overly loud as Becky shifted her tall frame and brushed one of the plastic bags that Charlie was bringing some of her hospital items home in. Biting her lip Charlie leaned her head against the cool paneling of the mobile wall.
“They look good. The children, they…look good.” Her soft statement was said in a low tone, rich with underlying emotions. Becky gave a little nod to acknowledge the comment as she carefully watched to make sure Charlie didn't sink down to the floor. The pure streak of stubbornness in Charlie's attitude instantly rejected the wheelchair that Becky suggested for the trip.
Becky turned too looked at the four lit numeric buttons intently. Her dark eyebrows were furrowed. She felt compelled to cheer Charlie up. Beating up on herself forever over something so out of her control would not benefit anything, much less her health and welfare while she was pregnant. Fighting the instant impulse to reach out a hand in support she tilted her head to the side and felt it pop as it realigned. All of her attempts to help, in any fashion, seemed to rile Charlie up so fast, Becky almost felt staying quiet would be safer. But, she worried about the heavy pillar of guilt the younger woman carried across her shoulders. That guilt was eating at her constantly. The quality of living, Charlie's attempts to single handedly provide, for seven needy children was completely impractical. But she didn't need to say that to the one person hell bent on destruction before any one of those children were sent back to an orphanage. Becky just needed to find a middle ground topic that would keep the weaker woman calm. Since Charlie didn't trust her or anyone that wasn't one of her kids, Becky decided on discussing the one thing Charlie could relate too.
“They have been doing really well with the vitamins and daily play time outside but, they seriously missed you.” Charlie stared quietly. She looked on the brink of collapse. With a soft ding and a harsh grimace Charlie pushed off the elevator wall to move outside.
Trying to forget how close Charlie came to permanently harming herself and her baby by taking on the overwhelming responsibilities of the seven children, Becky drew a deep breath to calm herself and followed. She was just beginning to understand the enormous amount of energy it took to raise a child, much less six more. There wasn't enough imagination in her mind to grasp trying to raise seven kids and be pregnant. Her dark eyes roamed quickly over the backside of the petite frame in front of her. She shook her head amazed.
They both met an excited group of children in front of a closed door. Charlie smiled and narrowed her eyes pointing at the suspicious group.
“What are you guys up too?” Penny and the twins giggled, about to burst with repressed energy.
“This is the nursery. The room next door is your bedroom. The children are excited because they helped decorate and I think they want to see the finished product now that the furniture was delivered. Becky set the bags down against the wall. “Doreen said you gave her very little guidance so I believe she went a bit overboard.” She turned and nodded to Manuel to open the door. Charlie walk past his smiling countenance and gasped as she caught sight of the riotous colors within. Everyone quickly entered and swept their gaze around wide-eyed.
The room was a rich tapestry of Disney theme with all seven dwarfs and Snow White along one wall while Peter Pan, Tinkerbelle, Lady and the Tramp, as well as Mickey and Minnie danced along another. The furniture was covered with a neutral white but there was a huge bassinette with a beautiful lace cover concealing the contents, a changing table, a crib, plenty of shelves, and a closed armoire, also in matching white tones. Near the far window was a super soft looking rocker recliner. The evident painting design of butterflies and flowers from the kids could be seen but they were mixed in with fields of grass and white floating clouds on a clear blue sky done by professionals. Everything looked exactly like it belonged where it was placed. It was magical. Becky pointed out to Penny her big purple flower she worked so hard on. Natalie ran over to check out her butterflies surrounding Peter Pan. The boys checked out the seven dwarfs and made the faces of each as they went thru the characters. Charlie rubbed her eyes multiple times, remaining beside Becky at the entrance.
“What do you think Charlie? Come try this chair? It's a rocker, see?” Manual pushed it forward and set it in motion. A slow walk brought her to the chair where she practically fell into it. She faced the room and the children as she rocked back and forth. The light from the window made her blonde hair shine. The tall silent figure standing across the room met amazed green eyes. An unconscious motion of her hand rubbed over her stomach soothingly.
“Its beautiful.” Charlie managed while swallowing a lump in her throat.
“What's this thing?” Manual asked flipping up the lace covering over the bassinette.
“It's a baby bassinette, like a cradle, for newborns to feel more cocooned in their sleep, just like they felt in the womb.” Becky walked over and lovingly touched the lace overlay that spoke of age and delicacy.
“Why does the baby need that when we have this crib?” Manual frowned at Becky.
“Well I felt I wanted to contribute something myself.” She tilted her head to the side.
“It looks old. The rest of this stuff is new.” His chin jutted outward. Becky looked at him with her dark gaze in silence. She patted the small cradle once more and shifted away to turn and walk toward the French doors against the far wall.
“It was my mothers.” She stated softly as she reached out to open the double doors. Manual watched the tall figure moved out of the room. Natalie slapped his arm hard.
“Ow!” He rubbed at the pain looking back at the fourteen year old with a scowl. “Why'd you do that? I didn't know it was her mothers.”
“You deserve that for being an idiot.” Natalie poked him in the chest pushing him back step as she walked by. She turned back briefly. “From now on, if it's old looking, think of it as important and expensive and do not touch.”
Charlie got up and walked over to the bassinette and lifted the lace regarding the pillowy soft silk filled interior of the cradle. It was exquisite, made in a time when quality was prized above all else. She ran her hands inside and could almost feel the warmth from a small bundle of joy. Her eyes misted. She closed them and fought against the sudden onslaught of emotions.
Turning to eye the children she ran a hand thru her hair. “I agree. Be careful around here. Try not to break anything, we don't live here, we are just guests.” Charlie's voice was flat as she pushed away from the cradle and walked toward the bedroom.
Continued in Part 10.
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