COPYRIGHTS: All original characters that appear are ©copyright to the author, LJ Maas. The character names of Xena and Gabrielle are ©copyright Renaissance Pictures & Studios USA from the syndicated series, Xena: Warrior Princess.
VIOLENCE WARNING: Nope! Well, there is a tornado & its aftermath.
SEX: Nuh uh...Not in this series...this is a kids story all the way! Okay, the adults may hint at it, but that's it.
I can be reached for comments, literary praise, or a screenwriting gig at firstname.lastname@example.org
A Charlie & Katie Adventure
#1 in the Our Little World Series
© LJ Maas
"Jace, will it be like that movie?" Katie asked in a worried voice.
The tall, dark-haired woman squeezed the young girl in her arms and displayed a confident smile, a certainty she didn't really feel.
"What movie, princess?"
"The Wizard of Oz. Will the tornado pick us up and put us down somewhere else?"
"No, sweetheart," a small blonde woman answered as she scooted closer to her partner and their daughter. A sharp crack of thunder caused the woman to jump, even though she was trying to appear unconcerned about the storm for Katie's sake. "That's just make-believe."
"Oh," the young girl answered.
"You sound a little disappointed." Jace chuckled.
"Well, I thought, just maybe, if it happened like it did in the movies that the tornado would pick us up from here," the youngster gestured with her hands, "and then set us down in the big lot next to Charlie's house." Katie finished with a brave smile to each of her two moms.
"Well, you just keep wishing, princess." Jace couldn't keep from laughing at her daughter's hopeful scenario. Ever since the owners of the lot placed a for-sale sign on the property, Katie and Charlie had put on their thinking caps. Both girls seemed to be competing over who could come up with the most outlandish scheme to sway Jace and Beth to purchase the land. If wishing could make it so, the dark-haired woman had no doubt that the two best friends could pull off the unlikely scheme.
"Mama, will Charlie's house be okay? What if they come home from vacation and it's not there?" Katie asked.
Beth smiled at the things over which her daughter thought to worry. "Jace already checked on their place, sweetheart."
"Locked up tighter 'n a drum," Jace responded.
Another loud clap of thunder, followed by a tremendous gust of wind, and Katie burrowed herself into the shoulder of the strong woman holding her. Jace listened to the wind outside increase in strength. They began to hear the sounds of trees, debris, and assorted other items as the high winds buffeted them against the walls of the house. Beth cast a fearful glance in her wife's direction. The dark-haired woman leaned over and kissed her partner's forehead.
"Will the boards Jace put over the windows keep the tornado out, mama?" Katie cast a fearful glance in Beth's direction.
"All we can do is hope so, honey," Beth answered, running her hand through her daughter's hair in a reassuring gesture.
The dark-haired woman flipped the weather alarm on again, turning the volume down low. The spotters for the storm had been tracking the funnel cloud as it moved closer to the small subdivision they lived in. Having been born and raised in Illinois, tornadoes were nothing new to Jace, but she could see the worried frown creasing her partner's brow. Beth had grown up in Vermont, where snow had always been their biggest weather catastrophe of the year. This storm had been a while in building, giving Jace time to secure the outside shutters closed with nails before they headed into the basement, and into the storm shelter.
Jace knew they were quite safe in the storm shelter they had added right after they bought the house, but the sounds outside were beginning to worry even her. It had only been a couple of years since an F5 storm had leveled all those homes outside of Oklahoma City. The sound of crunching metal, and splitting wood caused the tall woman to wrap her free arm around her wife, pulling the small blonde closer to her.
"I'm frightened, Jace." Beth whispered quietly.
"I know, baby, but we'll be okay." Again, she kissed the younger woman's forehead.
Jace began to gently rock the youngster in her embrace. Even with the excitement and fear of the storm outside, Katie's eyelids grew heavy as Jace hummed the child's favorite music. Even Beth smiled up at her dark-haired lover when she recognized the tune to Katie's beloved television show, Xena: Warrior Princess. Jace simply winked at the blonde.
Suddenly the noise outside abated as though the flip of a switch toggled the storm off. Both women stared at one another.
"Are we safe enough in here, Jace?"
"Hey there. You know how cheap I am. Do you honestly think I'd spend five thousand dollars on this thing if I didn't think it would keep you two safe?"
Loving blue eyes smiled down into emerald green. Although Beth couldn't remember ever having been this afraid before, she pressed herself against her partner's body and trusted in the older woman's judgment.
The blast that hit the house above them caused Jace to wonder if there was even anything left up there. The lights in the shelter flickered and went off. The soft glow of an amber light immediately cut the darkness as the backup generator came to life. Ripping noises, along with breaking glass filled their ears and Jace tightened her hold on both the precious responsibilities in her arms.
As quickly as the storm had descended upon them, in the space of a few moments it moved on. With all of the commotion and destructive noise surrounding them, Jace still had to chuckle quietly when she looked down at Katie. Snoring lightly, the tiny blond figure was sound asleep in her mother's arms.
I think she'll be upset when she finds out that she slept through the biggest storm of our lives," Jace said
"Biggest so far, love. We live in Tornado Alley now. I think these might be common occurrences in Tulsa. I'm sure we just lucked out this summer," Beth added.
"Yea, well, let's hope sleeping beauty is able to sleep through all of them like this."
"I hope that she'll always trust in us this much." Beth commented as she observed her daughter sleeping contentedly in her mother's embrace.
"Oh, Jace," Beth said. The small blonde covered her mouth and just stood there, trying very hard not to cry. The tall woman stood behind her, placing her hands on top of Beth's shoulders.
"Me too! Lemme see, lemme see." Katie scooted her way past Jace's long legs. "Whoa, look at this!"
Katie ran through the destroyed upper level of the house, stopping at each new devastation to exclaim the same words. "Whoa, Jace did you see this?"
Beth sorted through the hundreds of pieces of broken china that had been her curio cabinets. She had been collecting the Hummel figurines since she had been Katie's age.
"Stay away from this stuff, princess." Jace easily lifted Katie away from the area of broken glass. "I'm sorry, baby." The tall woman offered as she squatted down beside Beth.
"My grandmother brought this one back from Germany." The small blonde's eyes filled with tears, as she held up one half of the statuette.
"Jace! Mama!" Katie's voice brought both women to their feet and they ran toward the back of the house.
They found Katie standing in stunned silence. "My bed's gone, Jace," the small girl finally said in absolute wonder. The tornado had ripped away the corner of the house.
"And my toys . . . my Xena dolls, and my backpack . . . and Mr. Monkey! How can I go to sleep at night without Mr. Monkey?"
"We'll probably find him outside, sweetheart," Beth said in an attempt to console the suddenly tearful youngster.
Mr. Monkey was a stuffed doll that Jace's mother had made for Katie when the child was only a few years old. He had been fashioned from hunting socks and he wore a small, red vest. Katie adored the stuffed animal. Not only had Jace's mother passed away six months after having made the toy, but Katie saw a picture of Jace as a young girl and the brunette had a Mr. Monkey of her own. Katie loved to drag Jace's old photo albums out and study the old photographs. Once she realized that the stuffed monkey was her mother's childhood companion, it became hers as well.
Thinking of the old photographs, Beth made her way into what had once been Jace's office. The glass windows had been shattered. Rain and debris soaked everything in sight. A good size branch from the large oak tree that the storm had felled was now sticking through the space where a window had once been.
The tall woman bent down to retrieve some of the framed pictures from the floor. The tree had smashed the glass frames and the pictures inside were water logged, and barely recognizable. Beth knelt beside Jace and rubbed the dark-haired woman's back. The pictures had come to mean even more to her lover since both of Jace's parents had passed away in the last few years. Jace was an only child with no other family and her memories were all she had left of her growing up years. It seemed as though they had all lost cherished possessions.
"Well," Jace straightened up and lifted Katie into her arms. The dark-haired woman put her free arm around her lover and shook away the tears that threatened. "I guess we'll just have to work on making new memories, won't we?"
"Whoa, Katie, we're gonna have a ball playing around here!" Charlie scrambled over the fallen oak trees that lined the streets of the neighborhood. The sound of chainsaws filled the air as the inhabitants of the usually quiet subdivision began the cleanup process.
The storm had damaged or destroyed two full blocks of homes while countless other areas in the neighborhood saw the tornado's wrath. The twister had touched down sporadically several more times before moving out of the area. The destruction to property had been great, but thankfully, injuries weren't serious.
The tornado had damaged the roof of the grade school, so the girls had an impromptu one-week holiday. Charlie's family had cut their vacation short, returning immediately after hearing about the storm on the local news. They had been visiting Charlie's grandparents and the active youngster was rather glad to come home. She missed her best friend and she didn't think it was much fun having to be quiet all day.
Charlie noticed that her friend hadn't been her usual cheerful self. Katie sat upon a newly cut tree limb. The small blonde kicked the heels of her tennis shoes against the wood and stared off into space. Katie was tired a lot lately because she kept waking up in the middle of the night with bad dreams. The workmen boarded off the part of their house that the storm had destroyed, which included what was left of Katie's bedroom. Katie had to sleep on a futon in her moms' bedroom. She had started out on the living room couch, but it was too scary in the big room alone at night. Nothing seemed any fun to Katie anymore. She knew that she was disappointing Charlie, but she just couldn't help herself. Not even her mother's promise to give Katie as large of a birthday party as the young girl wanted could bring the child out of her funk.
Charlie sat down beside her small friend. Charlie had heard her mom and Katie's mom, Beth, talking yesterday. Beth said that Katie had nightmares a lot since the big storm. The two women talked about how sad Katie had been at losing all her special things. Charlie knew how her friend felt about losing Mr. Monkey. When Katie stayed overnight at Charlie's house, the small blonde always brought Mr. Monkey to sleep with.
"I guess it must have been kinda scary when the tornado was here, huh?" Charlie asked.
Katie shrugged. "I slept through it."
"Wow, that's pretty brave."
Katie had to look at her friend to see if Charlie was teasing, but the older girl's expression was serious. "I'm brave...for falling asleep?" Katie asked.
"Oh yea." Charlie looked around and lowered her voice slightly. "I heard that Judy Maples cried like a kindie garten kid."
Katie didn't mean to laugh at Judy Maples, even though Judy was quite a bully at school and took every opportunity to act mean to Katie. Even though Katie thought it was very bad mannered, she couldn't stop the giggles that started. Charlie was happy that she'd said the right thing. It was always hard for her to say nice things like Katie knew how to say, but Charlie did know that it was easier when she was around her best friend.
"I'm real sorry about all your stuff getting broken, Katie. I bet you get lots of cool stuff for your birthday, though."
"Jace said she would buy me new Xena tapes. She said I could even have all six seasons of the show. It's not just about me, though."
"Mom and Jace, too. We all lost stuff that we can't get back, ya know?"
"Can't you just buy new stuff?"
"It's not that kind of stuff. It's like if you lost your baseball mitt, that nice soft one you like so much."
Charlie smiled at her friend. Katie didn't know much about baseball, but she tried. "It's soft because it's all worn in."
"Well, remember when we looked at those new ones in the store? You just scrunched your nose up and said they were all stiff and it would take too long to break in another one. Sometimes new ones just aren't the same."
"Yea, I get it. What did Jace and Beth lose that was like that?"
"Mom's whole cabinet of those little statues she collects. She said she got one when she was a girl from her Nanna. Jace doesn't have the pictures from when she was a little girl anymore. I know it made them sad, too."
Charlie sat in silence with her friend for a while. Charlie didn't like to solve problems. She felt she was a lot better at just dashing in and taking care of something instead of thinking about the situation. Her mom always said Charlie was a girl of action.
"Maybe you could get them stuff that means a lot, then."
"What do you mean?" Katie asked.
"Well, like for mother's day, mom always says that I have to make something as a present. She says that those kinds of presents are better than store bought stuff 'cause they have special feelings or something like that. So, maybe you could make something for your moms that would be kinda like what they lost, but...new." Charlie hoped she was making herself clear.
Suddenly Katie's eye widened and she smiled brightly. She remembered the words that she had heard Jace use after the storm. "Like making new memories!"
"Yea, that's it," Charlie agreed.
"What could I make, though, Charlie?"
"I don't know, but we could look around. My mom's going to that crafty store tomorrow. I could look around for you."
"Cool! Thanks, Charlie. If I make something by Anniversary Day, it could be my present."
"What's Anniversary Day?" Charlie asked in confusion.
"It's the day when mom and Jace met. They said they ran into each other at a baseball game in Chicago, where we used to live. So, every year we all celebrate." The youngster smiled. "We buy each other one present."
"So, when is it?"
"Mom says one month. Can we find the right things for me to make in time?" Katie asked.
Charlie beamed at her friend. She kind of liked the way Katie thought Charlie had all the answers. "Sure we can. You can count on me to keep my eyes peeled."
"You're the best, Charlie!" Katie was actually beginning to feel a little better after talking to Charlie about things. Do you want to help me plan my birthday party?" Katie noticed that Charlie suddenly had a strange expression on her face. As if the youngster didn't feel well. "What's wrong, Charlie? Do you have a tummy ache?
"Don't you want to be a part of my birthday?" Katie didn't understand her friend's behavior.
Charlie felt very uncomfortable, but she felt even worse when she looked over at Katie. The small blonde looked as though she were going to cry and if Charlie had done something to make Katie cry, Charlie felt like she would start crying herself. "Of course I do, Katie. It's just that..."
"Well, you aren't gonna have a really...uhm, girly party, are you?
"A girly party?" Katie repeated. "What do you mean?"
"Well...Andrea and Courtney's mom took them and their friends to the beauty shop for their birthday parties. They got their hair all fixed and put makeup and stuff on. They even had some ladies paint pink polish on their fingernails."
Katie watched Charlie's expression grow more unhappy, as she spoke of the two sisters' birthday parties. The small blonde smiled inside. She knew that a party like that would be a fate worse than death for Charlie. Part of Katie thought that the beauty shop might be a fun idea for a party, but there was a part of her that indeed thought it was a pretty girly thing to do.
"And you wouldn't like a party like that?" Katie asked her friend.
Charlie's uncomfortable expression returned and she managed to look everywhere but at Katie. "Well...I would if you think I should..."
Katie suddenly felt awfully special, but she began to feel sorry that she was teasing Charlie. "Well, I don't know about you, but I think spending the day at Big Splash sounds lots better than the beauty shop."
"Really?" Charlie could hardly contain her excitement. She and Katie loved going on the huge water slides at Big Splash.
"Sure, you didn't think I would really have my party at a beauty shop, did you?"
"Nah," Charlie fibbed. "Not for a minute."
"Look, Mom. I'm Xena!" Charlie called out from the middle of the store aisle.
Maggie Cunningham gave her daughter what she hoped was a stern look. Unfortunately, the woman couldn't stop the chuckle that escaped her throat. "Charlie, what am I going to do with you?" Maggie plucked the embroidery hoop from her daughter's hands before Charlie had time to fling it across the store, chakram style.
"Charlie, do me a favor. Try to behave and I'll take you to McDonalds for lunch. Okay?"
"It's a deal, Mom," Charlie answered. The dark-haired girl continued to look longingly at the embroidery hoop, which her mother had returned to its place on the shelf.
Sometime later Maggie was looking at an aisle full of candy making supplies. She wasn't too worried about Charlie. The women in the small shop all knew the youngster and Maggie could hear her daughter's voice occasionally as she spoke with the clerks. Maggie was a little surprised since Charlie usually couldn't wait for her mother to reach this part of the store. Charlie loved picking out the molds that Maggie used to create chocolates and lollipops. Although, it became tiresome for Maggie to have to explain to her daughter, every time they were there, why there were never any Xena molds. Suddenly, Maggie heard Charlie's voice from a few aisles away.
"Mom, Mom...come quick! This is it...This is it! Mommmm!"
Maggie skidded to a halt before her daughter, two aisles over. "Charlie, my goodness, what's wrong? I thought you were being kidnapped!" Maggie exclaimed, trying to catch her breath.
"There, there, there!" Charlie punctuated each word by jumping up and down and pivoting in a circle at the same time. The youngster pointed to the top shelf as she continued to dance around in glee.
Maggie looked at the box Charlie pointed to and handed it to the young girl. "Is this what you wanted?"
"Yes, yes, yes...please, please, can I have this?"
Maggie looked at the box that Charlie held out for her mother to see. "Isn't this the same doll that Katie has?"
"It's not a doll, Mom." Charlie wore an affronted expression and stared up at her mother as if the woman had grown an extra head. "It's Mr. Monkey! He got lost in the storm. I could get this for Katie's birthday."
Maggie looked at the cover on the box. The kit contained a pair of hunting socks and enough felt, and accessories to complete the strange looking animal. She had never seen her daughter act quite so desperate before. Maggie looked at the girl and the woman almost laughed to think she had been afraid at one time to let Katie and Charlie play together.
"But you have to make this, Honey. It looks a little...well, advanced. Would you like me to help you make this for Katie?"
"No, Mom," Charlie whispered as she pulled the box away and clutched it possessively to her chest. "I hafta do it myself or it won't mean anything. It has to be a new memory for Katie."
"You want to sew?"
"Well, you could show me, but that's all. No doing just showing," Charlie replied.
"All right, sweetheart, I think I can manage that. It's going to take a lot of work, though. You may have to give up some play time after dinner."
"Okay, I will!" Charlie held the box tightly against her chest and kept envisioning her friend's face when Katie opened her birthday present. "This is gonna be the best birthday ever!"
Beth paused in front of the laptop she was working on and rubbed her temples. She was trying to work on the park district schedules for the girl's softball and soccer leagues. Her head had recently begun to throb with every swing of the workmen's hammers. They worked during the day on the rear half of the house and it seemed to Beth that they always began making noise just when she sat down to work.
The blonde looked up just in time to see Jace's Expedition swing into the driveway. Jace had said she might try to leave the office early today. Katie was spending the evening with Charlie and the Cunninghams, which afforded Jace and Beth some rare time alone. Beth watched as Jace walked around to the other side of the house and stopped to talk with the contractor.
Beth resumed her computer work. She assumed Jace was checking on the progress the men were making. Beth nearly forgot her lover was home since thirty minutes passed before the tall woman kissed Beth's cheek.
"Hi, noisy enough for ya?" Jace grinned down at the seated woman.
"Very funny." Beth pulled the dark-haired woman down for a proper kiss. "I've been listening to this all day."
"Then let's get out of here."
"Katie's over at Charlie's already, right?"
"Yea," Beth replied slowly.
"Well then, let's blow this popsicle stand. How about a drive out to the lake and dinner at the seafood place?"
"That's the best offer I've had all day," Beth replied as she closed her laptop and clicked the button on her PDA.
"It better be," Jace returned with a knowing smile.
The drive out to Pelican Point was relaxing and pleasant. The restaurant overlooked the lake and even the heat from an Oklahoma summer couldn't detract from the beautiful evening. They had a dinner of fresh striped bass and decided to walk along the sandy portion of the lake to watch the sun set. As usual, the sunset was spectacular. Beth typically wondered why the sunrises and sunsets were so much different here than in Chicago.
"I wanted to talk to you about something," Jace began. Beth arched an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. "No, it's nothing bad," Jace quickly interjected.
"Okay." Beth's face broke into a relaxed smile. "So what was so unimportant that you had to wine and dine me in preparation?"
"I didn't say it wasn't important, just that it's not bad."
They both laughed. "I had a talk with Dave when I got home."
"The contractor? As a matter of fact, what were you doing out there for so long?"
"I asked him a couple of days ago to come up with some figures in case we wanted to add on to the house."
"As in another room?"
"Not just another room. Maybe another 500 square feet."
"Wow," was the only response Beth could make.
"Well, we pretty much decided that this is the spot for us. When we bought the house, we were debating on whether we would even stay in Oklahoma. That small room is fine for Katie now, but when she gets older, it's going to be too small. Then, you know we talked about expanding my office so I could work from home more..."
"Ahh, you at home more. That's just what I want," Beth teased.
Jace grinned at the younger woman. "Are you going to be a smart you-know-what, or do you want to see what I came up with?"
Beth laughed aloud and nudged her partner's shoulder. "Okay, whatchya got?"
Jace pulled a few folded papers from her back pocket and handed them to Beth. The tall woman watched as Beth's eyebrows both went up at the figures. They finally stopped and sat down on a large piece of driftwood. Jace removed her shirt to reveal a pale covered tank top underneath. She stretched her arms into the air as Beth continued to read.
"Stop that." Beth glanced over at Jace out of the corner of her eye.
"That. Flexing. There's no one here to show off your tan or your muscles to."
"It worked on you a few years back, as I recall." Jace gave her partner one of the dark-haired woman's most charming smiles.
"It sure did. Okay," Beth shook her head and put some space between she and her lover. "Back to these numbers. Have you thought about this?"
"Not seriously...yet. You know I wouldn't do that without hearing how you felt. So...how do you feel?"
"It's a lot of money. Do you think it would be cheaper with another contractor?"
"Not from what people tell me. This seems to be par for the course."
"Well, I don't know, Jace. Frankly, it would actually be cheaper in the long run to just build a whole new house."
Jace sat silently and Beth paused. She turned to look at the woman beside her. Jace suddenly began to look at her fingernails, totally engrossed in her own hand.
"You set me up, you rat," Beth said. "You want to build a new house."
Jace laughed. "Really, Honey, it wasn't a set up. I just wanted to see if you'd come to the same conclusion. I didn't want to prejudice your thoughts."
"You lawyers." Beth shook her head back and forth, as she handed the papers back to Jace.
"I have an idea, if you want to hear it."
"If you're thinking what I think you're thinking, then I bet I agree with your idea," Beth replied.
"It sucks!" Charlie said in defeat. She pouted and let her arms fall to her sides.
"Sweetheart, don't use words like that," Maggie chided.
"But it does! He looks like a teddy bear...not a monkey."
The youngster had bandages on three fingers from sticking herself with the sewing needle. She sat at her mother's sewing table, surrounded by bits of thread and felt. Maggie examined her daughter's handiwork. Mr. Monkey was indeed turning out to look more like a terribly deformed grizzly bear than a monkey. Whenever Maggie stepped in to help, Charlie pushed her away. Her daughter looked thoroughly defeated and the sight broke Maggie's heart.
I can't do it," Charlie finally said. She pushed her creation away.
Maggie looked at the sad object in the middle of the table. It wasn't so much about pleasing anyone any more, or making the perfect birthday gift. No matter how the goofy little doll turned out, Maggie wanted her daughter to feel as though she could accomplish anything to which she set her mind. Maggie had spent all her life afraid to try new things and she felt as though she had missed out on a great deal. She didn't want her daughter to experience that same fear.
"Well, Honey, I have to admit that you might have to redo a few things."
"I can't." Charlie lowered her head. "I give up."
Maggie thought for a second and then went to kneel before her daughter's chair. "You're just going to give up?"
"I have to. I can't do it good enough. Katie will just laugh at my gift and I wanted it to be special." Charlie looked as close to the verge of tears as Maggie had seen the girl in a long while.
"What does this say?" Maggie pointed to the necklace that Charlie had received from Katie last Christmas.
"W-W-X-D." Charlie spelled each letter aloud.
"And what does it mean?"
"What would Xena do," Charlie replied in a soft voice.
"Uh huh, and what do you think Xena would do if she were in your place?"
"She would already know how to do something stupid like sewing."
"But even Xena admits, she doesn't know everything, right?" Charlie reluctantly nodded her head and Maggie continued. "Now, if Xena wanted to make Gabrielle something very special, and Xena didn't know how to make this special something, what would she do?"
Silence reigned for a few moments before Charlie mumbled an answer. "What was that?" Maggie cupped a hand to her ear.
"She would learn!" Charlie said loudly.
"And she wouldn't give up 'till it was all done, would she?"
"No," Charlie shook her head. "But, Mom, Katie will laugh at this."
"I'm surprised at you, Charlie. Is that what you think of your best friend?"
"First off, you can do the work yourself, but I can show you some of the places where you went wrong. Secondly, would Gabrielle laugh if Xena gave her a gift that looked a little funny, if Xena tried her best?"
"No," Charlie answered slowly.
"That's because they were best friends. Katie would never laugh at your gift because she knows you and she'll realize just how hard you worked at this."
"For real?" Charlie asked, suddenly brightening.
"For real, munchkin." Maggie bent over until she and her daughter were so close their noses touched. "Now, what do you want to do?"
"Start again!" Charlie beamed up at her mother.
"That's my girl. Okay, here's what you do..."
"Wait, Mom, wait!" Charlie's voice echoed above all else and Maggie Cunningham stopped on a dime. When she turned, she saw her daughter and Katie standing next to one of those instant photo booths. They had just come from the mall's movie theater and by the time Maggie backtracked to where the girls stood, the youngsters were already deep in conversation.
"Daddy and I used it. See, you go inside and sit down, and then you close this curtain. Then, wham! It takes your picture. You said that Jace lost all her pictures in the storm, right? Well, you could make her new pictures, and they'll be special because they're you." Charlie smiled brightly, a little impressed at her own ingenuity.
"Yea," Katie responded, warming up to the idea.
"Katie, if you want pictures to give to Jace, why don't we take you to one of the photography studios in town? They can make some very nice looking pictures and you can consider it my treat." Maggie hesitantly peered into the small booth.
"No, mom. Then Katie wouldn't be doing it herself." Charlie spoke up as Katie nodded behind the taller girl.
"I see," Maggie retrieved a hairbrush from her purse and motioned Katie to step forward. She brushed the youngster's hair from her eyes. "So, this is how you'll make a new memory for Jace."
"Yea, how did you know that?" Katie asked.
Maggie looked down at her daughter who looked stricken. "Uhm, well I guess it's just makes sense, right?"
"Right," Katie agreed with a smile. The small blonde girl pulled a crumpled dollar bill from her pocket and gave it to Maggie. "Would you show me what to do, Mrs. Cunningham?"
"Here, I'll show you where to sit," Charlie added.
Maggie inserted the bill into the slot and Charlie said something, which caused Katie to turn her head. "Hey, I wasn't ready!" Katie called out. The second picture caught Katie when she wasn't quite smiling. "Hey!"
Charlie waited until the last moment and then shouted from behind the curtain. "Smile, Katie!"
The blonde's giggles came from the other side of the curtain just as the flash went off. "Now, do something goofy," Charlie called out again.
Katie made a face at the camera. She knew her mother would frown when she saw it, but Jace had taught her how to make this scary face. Katie wanted to be sure that Jace remembered her daughter was helping her mom to make a new memory.
The four pictures came out of the slot on the side of the booth and Charlie and Katie both laughed. They all agreed that Jace would like the last two best. Maggie told Katie that when they went back home, she would let Katie have some colored paper and markers to make a background for the pictures.
"Okay, why don't you two take some pictures together?" Maggie held up another dollar bill for the girls to see.
When the pictures were finally ready, Maggie smiled at the best one of the bunch. The girls each had their arms slung over the other's shoulder and they smiled until all their teeth were showing, and their eyes almost squinted closed. It was a lighthearted reminder of their friendship.
In the years to come, every time she looked on top of the fireplace mantel, an enlargement of that picture would remind Maggie of this day. When the girls were grown, and their lives so entirely different, they would always remember a time when nothing else in the whole world mattered but the friendship they shared.
"I can see it, Katie. You almost got it!" Charlie grunted with the effort of holding up the nearly life size, plastic pig that held Katie's money. "You must be rich. This thing weighs a ton." The dark-haired girl held the bank into the air and squinted to look into the slot on top. She could just see Katie's small fingers poking through the bottom.
A ten-dollar bill blocked the change from falling out, which was just as well, since Katie wanted the bill and not the coins. She had it between two fingers and was in the process of giving it a good tug. "Uh oh." Katie cried out. "Quick, Charlie, turn it over!"
Charlie felt her body jerked forward. At first, she thought that Katie had lost her grip and ripped the bill in half. Suddenly the bank became lighter and lighter. She felt coins hitting the tops of her shoes and struggle to lift the bank upright again. Charlie fell back onto the floor just as the last few coins rolled out of the bank. "Uh oh." Charlie repeated Katie's sentiment.
"I got the ten dollars, though!" Katie held the bill aloft for Charlie to see.
The two girls each scooped handfuls of change and dumped it back into Katie's plastic piggy bank. "Where'd you get so much money, Katie?"
"My allowance. You get allowance, too, Charlie."
"Yea, but I have stuff I hafta get with it."
"Like what?" Katie stopped to look at her friend.
"Well, bubble gum, Xena cards, Laffy Taffy, fireballs. You know...important stuff."
"Oh. I don't like fireballs. They make my teeth red and my tongue burn," Katie answered. "Okay, ready to go?"
"Yep," Charlie responded once she had placed Katie's bank back into the closet. "Let's go find Jace."
The girls went in search of Jace, who was spending her Saturday morning cleaning up the garage. "Jace, will you still take us to the place?" Katie whispered the last two words.
"Sure thing, princess. Let me get cleaned up real quick and then we'll be off. Did you say good bye to your mom?"
"Uh huh. She says it's not nice to have secrets," Katie answered with a serious expression on her face.
Jace laughed. "Don't worry, princess. She's only saying that because she wants to know what you're getting for her."
Less than an hour later, Jace, and the two girls pulled up in front of a small store outside of Tulsa. The large window advertised ceramic classes and displayed a variety of objects. Painted on the window, in bright neon colors, were the words, You Paint...We Fire!
"Hi, Mrs. Maggio." Jace greeted the older woman with a smile. "We've all decided to give it a shot."
"Well, how wonderful. Have you decided on which pieces you'd like to do?" Mrs. Maggio looked down at the Katie affectionately, while keeping an eye on Charlie. The older woman quickly realized that Charlie and shelves full of porcelain were a dangerous combination.
"Yes, ma'am," Katie answered. "I'd like that one." Katie pointed to the figurine of a little girl. It reminded her of the kind that her mother used to have before they were all broken.
"And I think I'll try that one." Jace pointed to a graceful dancing woman. "Which one, Charlie?"
Charlie carefully walked back and forth before the shelves. "No Xena, huh?"
"No, dear." Mrs. Maggio chuckled slightly.
"Ooh, that one could be cool." Charlie pointed to a fanciful dragon with his tail curled around his body.
"All right, let's go into the shop and you can get to work."
"Okay, where do we go on Anniversary Day?" Jace called out in an enthusiastic cheer.
Charlie had spent the night and she and Katie were eating their cereal. Beth just sat down with eggs and bacon for herself and Jace.
"Wrigley Field!" Katie shouted. "But, Jace, we're not in Chicago anymore."
"Right you are, but Tulsa has a baseball team we can watch." Jace reached under the table and brought out a baseball cap, which she placed on her head. "How 'bout it?" she looked at the girls.
Katie looked confused, but Charlie, having grown up in Oklahoma, knew right away. "The Tulsa Drillers!"
"But, I thought you said the Cubs are the only real baseball team?" Katie questioned.
"That's very true. I've taught you well, little grasshopper." She winked at her daughter. "But, in extreme cases, we implement a new rule. That rule says that the team that belongs to the town in which you now live is perfectly acceptable to cheer for."
"Are we really going to watch baseball, Jace?" Katie asked.
"We sure are."
"Whadaya say, Charlie?" Jace asked.
"All right then, Charlie too."
"Are the Drillers in the National or the sissy league?" Katie asked.
"Katie!" Beth gave her daughter the eye.
"That's what Jace calls the American league. Jace says--"
"Okay, lets not help me anymore, huh, princess." Jace winked at Katie and put on a charming smile for Beth. "I don't know where she gets all this stuff, Honey."
"I have no idea." Beth simply shook her head.
"To answer your question, princess...well, the Drillers are a farm team for the Texas Rangers. They're in a different kind of league."
Katie stopped eating and she and Charlie exchanged glances. "Do we have to go to a farm to watch them?"
"Don't the animals get in the way? My grandpa has a farm and the cows are all over," Charlie added as she spooned cereal into her mouth.
"No guys, it's not that kind of a farm." Jace began to explain as Beth tried to hide her own growing smile. "See, a farm team is where they start out, before they actually get on the big team."
"So, do we get to go to a farm?" Katie's eyes lit up.
"No, there is no farm."
"But you said--"
"It's just an expression!" Jace's voice rose in frustration, the girls looked confused, and Beth was desperately trying not to burst into laughter.
"See, these guys play on a farm team for a certain organization. When they get really good, then they go to the big team. These guys that play here are owned by the Texas Rangers," Jace explained slowly.
She thought she finally had it until Katie spoke up. "So, why don't they play on a farm in Texas? That seems like so far to drive to hafta play on a farm in Oklahoma."
Jace opened her mouth to start over when Charlie answered. "I bet my grandpa would let them play on his farm. He has lots and lots and lots of room. I still think all the cows would get in the way, though."
Jace made a small squeaking noise as though she'd finally lost it when Beth did just that. The blonde began laughing uncontrollably at Jace, who looked thoroughly defeated.
"That's good, Honey," Beth whispered to Jace. "Now why don't you explain the theory of relativity to them?"
Jace's long frame stretched out on the couch, her head in Beth's lap. They relaxed after the long day in the sun. After dropping Charlie off at home, the three had come home and crashed. They all slept soundly, Katie curled in between her mothers on their king size bed.
After a two-hour nap, they cleaned up and the three then exchanged their Anniversary Day presents. Katie oohed and ahhed at the storybook her mother had made her. Beth drew pictures to a story that had Xena and Gabrielle sharing their adventures with a small blonde-haired child named Katie. Beth made Jace the perfect gift. Before the storm, Beth had scanned almost every old picture she could find that had belonged to Jace. Then Beth played around with her new computer and put all the images onto videotape, along with music, and titles. They had already watched it two times and Jace cried every single time. Beth never even realized at the time that her partner's pictures would soon be lost.
Jace had never been able to talk Beth into buying a plastic Xena sword for Katie. So, the dark-haired woman picked up some hard rubber and fashioned a miniature facsimile of Gabrielle's staff. The weapon was relatively soft and Jace had decorated it with pieces of rawhide, beads, and feathers. Katie had twirled it, and herself, around the house until she grew dizzy and conked herself in the forehead. Beth gave her wife that look, but Jace pretended to ignore her.
Jace's anniversary gift to Beth sat in the corner. While she hadn't made the object, Jace knew that she had to get it for Beth as soon as the tall woman happened upon the item. It was an exquisite curio cabinet that was lit from inside. The polished cherry wood and Queen Anne legs made the piece look even more splendid.
Katie's gift to her mother sat on the top shelf, so the light struck it just perfectly. The ceramic figurine wasn't a Hummel, but Beth cried all the same when she opened it. To think that her daughter even thought about replacing some of the things that Beth lost made Beth want to cry all over again.
When Katie gave Jace the gift of the photographs the youngster had taken of herself, the older woman was speechless. Katie had placed the pictures on colored paper and drew designs all round the edges. A little glitter and paint made the paper look like a special frame. Jace laughed aloud at the picture of the face she had taught Katie how to make, much to her wife's chagrin.
It had been a great Anniversary Day. Katie had fallen asleep on the love seat, surrounded by a mound of pillows and her new book and staff clutched to her body. Beth took the opportunity to kiss her wife soundly. Jace's eyebrows shot up at the words Beth whispered in her ear.
"I'll tuck her in where she is and meet you there," Jace whispered back to her wife.
The tall woman kissed her daughter and tucked the blanket all around Katie's sleeping form. Jace reached over and turned the lamp on to its lowest setting, so Katie wouldn't be afraid if she woke up during the night. The tall woman stretched and smiled to herself as she made her way into her own bedroom.
"Happy Birthday, Katie!" Everyone shouted after the young girl blew out the candles on top of her cake.
The Cunninghams joined them for dinner and cake. Katie and six of her friends had celebrated her birthday yesterday at Big Splash, Tulsa's water park. Today, Katie's actual birthday, she spent with her own family, along with Charlie's parents. The youngster didn't usually get so many gifts, but with the loss of so many of her toys and prized possessions, Beth and Jace admitted that they probably went overboard. They told Katie they had a special present saved for last.
Finally, Katie was ready to open Charlie's gift. The dark-haired girl appeared worried, but she smiled when her mother nodded her head. Charlie held out the package and couldn't seem to meet Katie's eyes. "Uhm...I made this, Katie, but if you don't like it I can get you something better. I tried my best."
Katie looked confused, but she accepted the gift and took off the wrapping. Her eyes opened wide when she lifted the lid to the box. Beth watched her daughter as the young girl squealed in delight.
Katie scooped the contents of the box into her arms and squeezed it tight. "Mr. Monkey! You made me a Mr. Monkey!"
Jace arched an eyebrow. She inconspicuously pushed a wrapped package that was on the floor beside her, until the couch hid the box. The object that Katie held in her arms had lopsided ears and his tail was a bit off center. His tiny red vest looked as though it was two sizes too small and his grin appeared like a leer.
Maggie leaned over to Beth and Jace and whispered under her breath. "I know it's the most horrid looking thing in the world, but Charlie made it herself. She was just terrified Katie would laugh at it."
Beth looked on as her daughter reached over and hugged Charlie tight. Beth thought at the time that her daughter had never looked happier. She couldn't help but smile at the shocked, but pleased, expression on Charlie's young face. The girl reminded Beth of Jace and the first time Beth had hugged her wife like that. It was an expression filled with fear, surprise, and happiness.
"I don't think we have to worry about that," Beth told Maggie.
"Well, what do you know," Maggie responded.
"Mama. Look!" Katie held out the stuffed animal for display.
"I see. Charlie, that's...really something. You did a wonderful job," Beth finally said.
Beth went into the kitchen to serve up the chocolate cake and chocolate chip ice cream for dessert, Katie's favorites. When the girls ran outside, Jace took the opportunity to slip the package out from under the couch. She brought it into the kitchen just as Beth was cutting the cake.
"Did she miss one?" Beth asked.
"Sshh." Jace placed a finger to her lips. She tore off the wrapping and opened the small box. Inside was a perfect version of Mr. Monkey.
"One of the gals in the office has a daughter who makes this kind of stuff," Jace explained in a low voice. "I gave her some money and asked her to make one." The tall woman grinned and shook her head as she replaced the lid. She opened the pantry and placed the box high on the top shelf. "I'll drop it off at the shelter tomorrow. There's bound to be one other kid in the world who wants a Mr. Monkey."
"You could have still given it to her," Beth said.
"Nah. Did you see the look on her face when Charlie gave her that thing? It doesn't matter what it looks like to Katie. It matters where it came from. Besides, knowing Charlie the way we know her...how much agony do you think she went through making it?"
After cake and ice cream, Jace and Beth said they had an announcement for Katie's birthday. "Well, we decided that when this house is fixed, we're going to sell it and move."
They were met by complete silence. Katie and Charlie looked at them with open mouths. "Move...away?" Katie asked softy
"We're going to build a new house. It'll have a great big room for you, Katie, and a new office for me. Wouldn't you like a new house?" Katie and Charlie simply stared at the two women. "I tell you what," Jace stood up. "Why don't we take a drive and look at the property we bought, huh?"
Minutes later they were all in Jace's Expedition. "You're mean," Beth whispered into the tall woman's ear.
"Nah," Jace replied. "Once they see it, they'll freak."
Jace drove around for about ten minutes until the youngsters in the back seat were hopelessly turned around. Then she headed back to their neighborhood.
"It seems kinda far away," Charlie spoke up from the back seat.
"Nope. As a matter of fact, we're here."
"But this is Charlie's house," Katie said as she peered out the window.
"Not over there, it isn't." Jace pointed to the empty lot of land next to the Cunningham's house.
The girls screamed so loud that the adults had to open the car doors in order to hear. Beth had already told Maggie and Darryl of their plans. They both thought it would be wonderful having the couple living right next door.
"Maybe even room for a pool in the back." Jace's comment brought another round of shouts from Katie and Charlie.
The girls danced on the lawn and carried on until it was dark. The adults sat on the Cunningham's porch and wished for their daughters' energy. Katie had brought Mr. Monkey with her and had him tucked under her arm.
"You really like him?" Charlie asked Katie.
"He's perfect!" Katie answered proudly. "Now I won't have bad dreams."
Just like that, Katie seemed to have finally gotten over her fears, or one of them at least. The adults looked on and received a simple confirmation of the fact that it was possible to see beyond the physical. Katie held an object that could only scarcely be mistaken for a monkey, and even less so the doll she owned before. The youngster's vision completely bypassed any of the physical imperfections of her gift. All she recognized was the fact that her best friend had tried her very best to provide Katie with a sense of happiness and security. There would be days when Jace, Beth, and Katie would miss the mementos they had lost in the storm. They found out that making new memories, however, could be even better.
The End (for now)