Further adventures of the Grayson family
Thank you, Sarah Jaune, for letting me write and publish this.
"I was fired today," Carolina told Jack. "Well, not exactly fired. Talitha has hired another mom, who really needs the job. She doesn't need me, and I don't need the money."
"One of the best things having money does is give you the freedom to do whatever you want to do, Carolina," Jack consoled his wife. "What do you want?"
"More babies," she giggled, "but not right away. I am getting active in our local La Leche League. Fr. Patrick needs a babysitter for some of the church meetings as well. We probably ought to start going a little more often. The Catholic Church is OK, and I like Fr. Patrick."
Carolina looked at the test strip. She was ovulating! Fiona had just weaned, and she was ready for another baby. She showed the strip to Jack, and grinned. "Shall we make this one on purpose?"
"Sure," Jack grinned back.
"Fiona is toilet trained, and Evelyn weaned," Carolina grinned as she showed Jack the positive test strip.
"We haven't filled up the minivan seats yet," Jack commented. "I was raised in a family of four, and don't find four children intimidating."
"Barbara, I'm Carolina Grayson. We are the people who purchased your house in Briarwood, and we saw you about five years ago. I know Jack send you a written account of what happened, adding in things that someone who didn't believe in spirits would not be told."
"I remember you well, Carolina," Barbara answered, surprised to hear from her.
Carolina continued, "We have been spending a couple of days outside Las Vegas seeing the sights, and are going to spend another day here. I'm calling because Jack is driving. We would like to see you, maybe tomorrow for lunch."
"Do you want to come to my house?" Barbara asked.
"If I remember, it is not exactly child safe or friendly," Carolina explained. "Owen is ten , and he is OK at watching his little sisters, but the older two are four and two, and they can get into everything. We'd need a high chair or two as well."
"I have nothing for children here," Barbara confirmed. They spent more time talking, and finally agreed to meet the next day at a family friendly restaurant.
They met the next day. Barbara had little to say, except she was still working on wind farms, helping to install and upgrade them. She still saw ghosts and demons, but mostly ghosts. She tried not to talk to any ghosts, and refused to have anything to do with the demons.
"I have not seen a ghost or demon since telling Amy to stay away," Caro told Barbara. "We've started to go to church, and that really helps. Owen and I were received into the Catholic Church, and Owen and the girls were baptized, last Easter. Fr. Patrick and I argue about theology a little; neither Jack nor I are exactly orthodox in our beliefs, but it is better to be in a church community."
Barbara shivered. She didn't like the ghosts, but the thought of not being able to see them bothered her as well. As long as she could control them, it was better to see them.
Carolina saw the struggle in Barbara. "You really are better not being able to see ghosts and demons," she told Barbara. "Some people say I can still sense spiritual things. I'm not sure it is true, and I sure don't feel like I am anything special. I know I would not want to go back to when Amy was talking to Owen and me."
Carolina left lunch uneasy. For all the help Barbara was five years ago, she seemed unwilling to cast out all the ghosts and demons. Caro wanted to spend hours talking to her, but unless Barbara spent time in Briarwood, it was unlikely to happen.
She and Jack had helped a number of people over the years, something she was very grateful for. Carolina felt they owed Barbara. She wanted to help her, but she couldn't see how she could.
"I bought the house next door," Jack announced. "We can get it blessed, and move in there while we add on to the original house.
"I don't gather we are done having babies yet, and we both like having family and even some guests stay over, so we are going to need a lot of bedrooms."
"I'd rather plan babies than have more accidents," Carolina confessed. "My problem is that I love babies, and children, and everything to do with mothering."
"We are out of room in the minivans," Jack observed. "I'm looking at a really large van, and we need a higher garage stall to hold it."
Carolina was used to Jack's moods. When he wanted to purchase something for the family the best she could do was influence what he purchased.
"I cannot drive a Mercedes!" Carolina complained. "Plus, it is huge! Do we really need a fifteen passenger van?"
"I expect we will take our children and friends and family on trips," Jack replied. "Humor me."
Chapter 1, Juanita and Arthur Garcia
Carolina Grayson felt this fire, and intense pain. She had to rescue her children! She grabbed the baby and the little boy, stumbled out of the apartment, down the stairs, and rolled them on the grass to put out the fire. Someone grabbed her, and rolled her as well. She then saw herself rising above the three burned people, and the woman cry out, "God help us. God, please."
Carolina did not know how she knew it, but she felt like God was telling her than she was the answer to this poor woman's prayers. She woke, but it didn't feel like a dream, not a normal dream anyway. It felt like when they were looking for Owen, or when her father talked to her as he died.
Six-month-old McKenna was starting to stir, and Carolina changed her and put her on a breast. She thanked God for all the blessings he had showered on her and her family, and then promised to help, if she could.
It had been a month since the dream, and nothing had happened. If it was just a nightmare Carolina would have dismissed it, but was too real, too much like the messages from her father after he died. The only clergy that believed in prophesies, but didn't see them everywhere, were the Catholics, so she went to Fr. Patrick, and explained the dream.
"Prophesy is thought of as fortune telling, or telling the future, Carolina," he explained. "However usually prophecy is forth-telling, 'if you do not do this, then this will happen.' 'Come back to God or I will destroy Israel.' Is it possible that you saw the fire as it was happening, but the woman and children are not yet here?
"Maybe God is telling you to welcome this family if they appear."
"Jack and I have tried to help a lot of people since we have been married," Carolina mused. "I don't think we are batting fifty percent. OK, if they come I've been warned."
"You have helped a lot of people, Carolina," Fr. Patrick told her. "Do not worry about the percentages. Every soul helped is a victory."
She could not remember how long she had been in this intense pain. She remembered the fire, and the man, the father of her children, getting mad, and the fire. People had tried to talk to her, but it had been too much to even listen to them.
She had to listen, for her children.
"What is your name," the nurse asked.
What was her name? He had insisted that they change names every time they moved, and they were always on the move.
"Can you tell us your name?" the nurse asked again.
"Anna? Rosario? Juanita?" she guessed. What was the latest name? "He has all our records. You have to ask him."
"He is dead, as are the oldest two children," the nurse replied. "You three were somehow rescued, but everything else is burned. Someone in the building said you were Juanita Garcia."
"OK," Juanita replied. She would have to remember that. She would be Juanita Garcia. It would be as good a name as any.
"What are your children's names?" the nurse asked.
"The oldest are Dick and Jane," Juanita replied, making up something. "The younger ones are Arthur and Emma." She would have to remember that. She thought they were calling the younger two Arthur and Emma. It was hard when you were always changing your names.
"Where were you born?" the nurse asked.
"California," Juanita answered. She had no idea where she had been born, but she was reasonably sure California was where she left her family and was given to him. He said she was illegal, but she had no idea if that was true. You could not really trust anything he said.
"Where were the children born?" the nurse asked.
"I do not remember." Juanita answered
"He is dead, and you do not have anything to fear from telling us the truth," the nurse informed her.
"He always moved us within days of my giving birth. He had our paperwork, but he was always changing our names."
Juanita Garcia. OK, she would be Juanita Garcia. She looked Hispanic, before she looked like a piece of barbequed meat. She was reasonably sure she was Hispanic, but she could not be sure of anything anymore. Just when she thought nothing could get any worse, it did, over and over. There was never going to be a way out. They would probably send her to a prison, or to Mexico, where she knew no one and had no way to support herself. Giving up her children was better than the living hell her life had become, but with no documentation, he had told her that the children would be deported too.
"They need to be discharged, but with no documentation, no identification of any kind, it is going to be difficult getting them the help they need," the staff member told the directors. "She and her children are one of the most difficult case we have had in many years. Her childhood was chaotic, and the life she lived with that man was even worse. What she needs is a family to take her in, no questions asked."
Peter looked at his phone. His son was in Baltimore, and Jack wanted to have lunch with him before heading back to Briarwood. It was a lot to ask of anyone, but if any family could take care of Juanita and her children, it was his son and that marvelous woman he married. A couple of times Carolina had mused that she would love to give some other woman the fairy tale ending she was living. "I have an idea," Peter told the assembled group. "Give me a few hours."
"Jack, come to the hospital, please," Peter told his son. "I have a favor to ask, a big one. I want you to meet someone."
Jack answered. "Let me see what I can do."
When Jack arrived, his father told him, "We are going to the burn ward." On the way there Peter explained to Jack the legal and medical problems of the family. "Without any identification, we are limited in where and how we can get the family help. Your mother's old law firm is working on getting them identification papers, but we are concerned that getting them will not be easy or cheap.
"I am out of ideas. Do you think you and Carolina could let her stay with you for a few days, or weeks, or…? She has to get out of Baltimore."
Peter took Jack into a room where a woman and two small children were. All of them were horribly burned. The woman and little girl had enough of their hands left to function, although parts of most of their digits were missing. The little boy had only a stub left on the one hand. All of them had scarred faces, arms and legs. Jack did not want to imagine what else was scarred.
"The babies lungs were damaged, which is why she is on oxygen," a nurse told Jack. "She does better being held, and outside of Intensive Care, but her health is very fragile."
Juanita agreed to go with Jack, if he could take her, but she really didn't have much to say. Jack though she looked as defeated as anyone he had ever met.
"Carolina, I am at John Hopkins with my father. There is a badly burned woman, who has two burned children, and they all need a home. They do not have any paperwork identifying them, so the hospital is having a hard time finding a place for them. I thought we could put them in the house next door."
Carolina took a deep breath. This was her dream. "You use the house for your office. The upstairs is vacant, though. How can we help her?"
"Let me just bring them home with me. I don't know. Pray, please. I spent an hour talking to dad, and the best either of us could think of was to get her out of Baltimore, where she may be in danger, and to our house."
Carolina said a short prayer, and remembering her dream of six months ago. God, if there was a God, didn't talk to her like the demons did, but she did feel led to tell Jack to go ahead. "Bring them here," Carolina told Jack.
It had to be bad, Carolina thought, to have Jack in tears. She and her husband had cried over many things over the twelve years of their marriage, but usually privately. For him to be in tears over the phone … The situation must be bad. A mother and two children, one five-years-old, the other just one, were coming with Jack from Baltimore to Briarwood, their small town.
Once she totally closed herself off from the demons, once she and the town were blessed, she no longer had messages from the demons. She did seem to be more than usually in tune with good spirits, however. She could always tell that these messages were from a different power. Carolina felt that whoever and whatever Jack was bringing, it was going to be important, and life changing.
The problem with allowing the Lord to use you was that He would use you. He, or She, or It. They were going to the local Catholic Church, because the priests blessed her, and the town, and eventually drove the demons away. Carolina wanted her children blessed, but she didn't exactly believed everything the church taught. As far as she was concerned, if there was a God the father, and Jesus was his son, then the Holy Spirt must be the mother. When she wondered what sex between the Father and the Holy Spirt was like, there were people who told her she was blaspheming.
Well, to her, sex was good, and life giving, and very important. It was a very important part of her fairy tale ending. Most fairy tale endings didn't have six children in twelve years, but sex, and having children, and loving them, and having more than enough money to care for them, was still part of her fairy tale ending.
Carolina brought all the children together. "Daddy is bringing some visitors," she told the children. "They have been in a fire, and badly burned, so they look strange. They look like they have been badly hurt, because they have been. I do not want you to be too surprised.
"We are going to set three extra places at the table for dinner tonight, and after dinner we can decide what to do."
"How old are they?" eleven-year-old Fiona asked.
"A five year old boy and a one year old girl," Carolina replied.
"ANOTHER baby," five-year-old Ryan announced. "We don't need ANOTHER baby"
"If they come to live with us, are you going to stop having babies?" nine-year-old Evelyn asked. "Doris says you guys must be really bad at birth control, because you are always having babies." A couple of girls at school had been giving her a hard time because it seemed her mother was always pregnant or nursing.
"You children are all twenty two to twenty five months apart," Carolina replied. "That's not a mistake, that's planning. I love all of you, and wanted all of you."
"Even the boys?" seven-year-old Kiara sneered.
"Hey!" seventeen-year-old Owen yelled.
"You are almost a grownup," Kiara explained. "You don't count."
Owen rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Kiara."
Carolina stood up, and started giving our assignments. Everyone had a job, except three-year-old Connor and one-year-old McKenna.
"I have an infant and a toddler car seat in my car," Jack told the staff at John Hopkins. "My wife and I have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter at home."
"Two children, a boy and a girl," one of the staff said. "That's what they call a million dollar family."
"We have seven children," Jack corrected, "Three boys and four girls, ranging in age from seventeen to one."
Once in the car, Jack explained to Juanita, "My wife's name is Carolina, like the state. Most people call her Caro, although I like Carolina. We have one son, Owen, who has a different father. His name is Owen Sharpe, and when I adopted him, we let him keep his father's name. Carolina's father is dead, but her mother just re-married, and her new husband knows that our family was part of the package. Our children have three sets of grandparents.
"Carolina and I have six children, ages eleven, nine, seven, five, three and one. The youngest has stopped nursing. I expect my wife will start longing for another baby soon."
"How can you afford so many children?" Juanita asked.
"I inherited a lot of money," Jack replied. "We have been blessed, and we want to share our blessings."
"Why me," Juanita asked. "What did I do to deserve your help? I'm nothing, just a worthless person without any family, any documents, any special skills or talents. I'm not even pretty any more. Just an ugly piece of barbequed meat."
"You are valuable, just because you are human," Jack emphasized. "Do me a favor, and give our family a chance."
Juanita fell asleep during most of the trip. She woke up as they pulled into Briarwood. Juanita saw them pull into a street and drive into the garage of a modest two-story house. As soon as Jack stopped the car, two young girls came flying out of the door.
"Are the babies here?" asked Evelyn. "Mom said I could take care of the baby. Kiara gets the older one."
"Emma, the one year old, is behind me, Evelyn," Jack told the older of the two children. "You need to take her oxygen device, and make sure the hose to her nose does not come loose.
"Arthur is behind Mrs. Garcia."
The girls opened both doors, looked at the children, and then looked at their father, shocked.
"Be gentle with them, girls," Jack said. "They have been through a lot."
Each girl took one of the children, and brought them into the house. Juanita gingerly exited the car, and slowly and painfully followed Jack into the house.
"Dinner is in about half an hour," Caro said. "I wasn't sure when you would get here. Meanwhile, you have time to change. I'm Caro, and you must be Juanita. I am happy to meet you, and to have you here with us."
Juanita carefully shook Caro's hand.
"They don't have any more clothes," Jack said.
"We will get them clothes, maybe tomorrow, after church," Caro announced. "Right now what they have on will have to do. Show Juanita the house while Owen and I finish dinner. Fiona has child care duties tonight."
"She seems very organized," Juanita remarked to Jack.
"With seven children, she has to be," Jack commented. "We have added onto the house, so we have room for all of the children, and plenty of guests. This area back here is the great room, with a dining area as part of it. We have a small living room in the front, but with this big room, plus the kitchen, we have room for lots of guests.
"The house was a four bedroom house, but when we pushed out the back we added two more bedrooms and two more baths. We also expanded the garage, and there are two more bedrooms and another bath over there, so upstairs we have eight bedrooms and five full baths.
"We added a full basement. Carolina sews. When her former boss needs help she still earns money sewing, but mostly she sews for the family, for pleasure." By this time they were downstairs. "This room has her sewing machine and serger, and a large table for cutting fabric."
Juanita looked at the large, well-lit room. There was tile on the floor, and in addition to the very well-equipped sewing area there was a wall with two washing machines, two dryers, bins for sorting dirty clothes and a couple of tables for folding clean clothes. "The older children have to fold and put away their own clothes," Jack told Juanita. There was a basement playroom, and a storage area as well.
"I have a workshop behind the garage," Jack told Juanita. "I'm a school teacher, so I'm pretty busy during the school year, but I do have holidays and part of the summer off."
When they sat down to dinner, Juanita notice that the Grayson family seemed to have enough baby and toddler things, including two high chairs.
Evelyn asked, "Can Arthur feed himself?"
Juanita explained, "He is getting better at it, although it is harder for him to use a fork and spoon than before his accident. He was right handed, and that hand was burned so badly they had to remove it."
They put food and utensils in front of Arthur, who exclaimed, "I do it. I can!"
Caro indicated that they should put up with more mess from Arthur than they were allowing Conner.
When they were finished with dinner Caro told Jack, "I'm going out to Walmart with Juanita to buy her a Sunday dress. We have clothes for Arthur and Emma."
Juanita looked at Caro in horror. "I can't pay you!" she exclaimed.
"Blame Jack," Caro jested. "I'm just doing for you what Jack did for me. I was poor once. You are not going to church looking like a beggar, not when you are living with us."
"Yes, Mrs. Grayson," Juanita humbly replied. She could not imagine Carolina Grayson ever being THAT poor, but she could see her husband buying things for her before they were married.
Juanita followed Caro into the garage, where they got into the other minivan parked in the garage. Like Jack's car, this one had an infant seat, two toddler seats, and a booster seat.
Caro insisted on buying new bras and underwear, as well as one nice Sunday dress and a couple of everyday dresses. "Pants are not comfortable, because of the burns," Juanita told Caro.
"I will make you some clothes," Caro told Anita. "My former boss and I have made special clothes for the handicapped.
"We are putting you in one of the bedrooms in the main part of the house. The three older girls have the two rooms over the garage. Until I know more about your health needs, and those of your children, I don't want you too far away."
The next morning Juanita and her children joined the Grayson household for breakfast, and then dressed for church. To her great surprise, the family marched to the third garage stall, where a large van was waiting. Owen took out a stool to help her and the younger children climb in. At some time during the night, someone had installed an extra infant seat and toddler seat, so there were two sets, in the first and second row behind the driver and passenger. They led her and her children to the first row. McKenna and Connor were put in the second row seats, and Evelyn plopped herself down between them. Fiona and Kiara took up two of the three seats in the third row. Ryan and Owen were in the big rear seat, leaving three seats free in the enormous vehicle.
As the family marched into church, Juanita noticed that Caro and all the girls were wearing similar dresses, all cut from the same fabric. The boys were all in matching dark pants and shirts. Her two children were dressed in different clothes, but Juanita was reasonably sure that they were also homemade.
Jack was handsome; there was no other way to describe him. Carolina was obviously a mother, but Juanita thought she was beautiful as well. She had a pretty face, striking long red hair, and the most beautiful smile. She was short and curvy, big enough on top to fill out the dress, a mother's baby belly but no big love handles on the side, and big hips that swayed noticeably when she walked.
Many of the church members knew the Grayson family. Juanita and her family were introduced as 'a family visiting us.'
After church Caro told Juanita, "We are meeting my family for lunch.'
Jack drove them to Ruth's, the local family friendly restaurant the family ate at often.
Juanita had never felt poorer, or of a lower social class, than when they arrived at the restaurant. All the Grayson children were impeccably dressed and well behaved. Jack came around and opened the door, and Ryan flew out.
Well, Ryan was not impeccably dressed. His shirt was not tucked in, and it looked like both his shirt and pants were already dirty. He came flying up to an older man, yelling, "Grandpa Sharpe, I learned a new 'F' word at school Friday!"
Everybody in the family paused, as Ryan continued, "I learned a new 'F' word, cause we was doing 'F' words, and I learned it, and it's FISH!"
"That's a good 'F' word, Ryan," Grandpa Sharpe sighed in relief.
A young couple with two children was walking towards the crowd, and Ryan yelled to the man, "Uncle Gary, Uncle Gary, I learned a new 'F' word at school!"
One of the couple's daughters, who looked to be about the same age as Ryan, grumbled, "We was all learning 'F' words."
"The 'F' word is," pausing for effect, "FISH. Can you see fish from where you is way up high?
"Mrs. Garcia, this here is my uncle Gary Allen. He works up high in them big windmills with them huge blades that go around about a hunered miles an hour, n he isn't even scared at all cause he is superman or something like that.
"Aunt Stacy is just a countant, sort of like the Count on Sesame Street, but not so much fun, cause she just sits at a desk and counts."
Caro rescued Juanita, who looked paralyzed with fear and rather befuddled. "Juanita, I would like to introduce you to Owens grandparents, Joe and Beverly Sharpe, their daughter Stacey, and their son-in-law Gary. Their daughters are Jessie, who is five and goes to school with Ryan, and Melody.
"Juanita Garcia and her children Arthur and Emma are staying with us for a while. Jack brought them here from John Hopkins."
The crowd went into the restaurant, and Jack said, "Hello Ruth."
Everybody filed through the restaurant to a back room, where two big tables were set for the family. Caro spotted her mom and step-dad waiting, greeting them with, "Hi, mom, dad.
"I would like to introduce a family that Jack brought here from the burn unit at John Hopkins, Juanita Garcia, and her children Arthur and Emma.
"Juanita, my mother Oceane Richards, and my step-father Tom Van Dyke."
Ryan, who seemed to feel he needed to introduce everyone, told Juanita, "Grandpa Tom is an engineer, but not the train driving kind of engineer. He's not working any more cause he is tired, but he was working on electricity for he is tired."
Juanita sat down with the family, this perfect family. Caro's first husband must have died, but it was obvious that she and Owen had been well supported by Owens loving grandparents. Caro's other children were not their biological grandchildren, but they were being treated the same way.
If Caro's father had been anything like her stepfather, then she obviously had their love and support as well. Caro had lost a husband, and that must have been traumatic, but except for that, she must have had pretty close to a perfect life. What was she, Juanita, doing in this perfect family? Why?
A middle-aged woman introduced herself to Juanita. "I'm Sara, your waitress, and I've been taking care of the expanding chaos that is the Grayson family since the two of them met. I will bring a seat for the baby and a booster for your son." She brought out two infant seats, a high chair, and a couple of booster seats for the small children. Juanita sat down next to one of them. Evelyn, who seemed to have claimed Emma, was right there with the baby carrier.
"Do you remember how to feed her?" Juanita asked, as she made sure Emma knew how to feed the baby without messing with her oxygen.
Arthur sat next to her on her other side, and Ryan sat next to Arthur, to "splain things," as he put it. Ryan could wear you out 'splaining things.' Owen sat next to Ryan, to try and calm him down, and Owen saved the next seat.
Shortly after the family sat down a young girl came into the room. She walked over to Owen, he stood up, and they kissed.
"That's Erica," Ryan explained to Juanita. "She's Owen's girlfriend. She goes to a pro stan church, but we go to a Catholic Church cause they believe in ghosts and demons and such. We even have a Holy Ghost, cept they call it a Holy Spirit cause ghosts is too scary.
"Mom and Owen seem ghosts and demons, but the priests and penta cost potal ministers blessed the town, and some of them pro stan ministers too, but some don't believe in ghosts so they didn't. It still worked, and them demons and ghosts is all gone now, and mother is not a black window any more."
Juanita thought it was going to take some time to untangle Ryan's story. She doubted much of it was true.
Erica was a pretty girl, in a chunky curvy sort of way. She made Caro look small and almost thin, but she could sure fill out one of those English Barmaid costumes.
Everyone went home after lunch, except Erica. She and Owen drove over to the family house in her car.
Caro, Owen and Erica disappeared into the living room late in the afternoon. Once there Erica sobbed, "I don't know what I am going to do. Nasty Nancy keeps threatening to kick me out of the house, and until I have my car paid for I can't really afford an apartment."
Carolina listened, but did not say much. Letting Erica stay with them was asking for a grandchild; she and Owen had been steady for two years. Erica may have been eighteen, but Owen was just seventeen, and he had to finish his senior year in high school.
Erica's stepfather and his girlfriend really were horrible people. She just didn't have any answers to this problem.
Caro didn't have any doubts that they were going to take care of Juanita and her family. She could not tell you why, but the woman was so obviously wounded, and Caro felt that their family could offer her healing. Her life was so much better than before she and Jack married, and she had been given so much. Maybe this was the other person who she could rescue, like Jack and so many other people had rescued her.
From the dream, she felt it was probably God's will. It was just going to be exhausting, at least for a while.
Caro sat on the toilet, started to pee, and then stopped, put the slip of paper down, and peed on it. She was almost certain she was ovulating, but the test strip would confirm it.
A nice solid "+". She was ovulating. Too soon to get pregnant. She wanted Jack to make love to her, but they would have to wait a few days. They called it 'natural family planning,' but she didn't think there was anything all that natural about taking your temperature every morning, and then confirming the results by peeing on a piece of paper. She didn't like how birth control pills made her feel, and you were better off not using them when you were nursing. She didn't think she would mind condoms so much, except she was two for two, twice trying condoms and twice getting pregnant.
When Jack came into their bathroom, she showed him the test strip.
"We wait," Jack told her. "We have waited before, and we will wait again. Back to school for me tomorrow."
"I have to bring Juanita and the children to physical therapy," Caro noted. "I hope we can have the therapists come over here instead of having to haul them over to the hospital every day."
"I don't do 'nothing' well," Carolina informed Juanita on Monday morning, before taking her to the hospital for Physical Therapy. "I just have to stay busy.
"We are using the big van because it has enough car seats for the little ones. I'm not fond of driving it, but I wanted a big family, so I cannot complain."
The first week Juanita could see that Caro indeed did not do 'nothing' well. "I had a full time job sewing, but my boss needed someone every day, so I was fired from my sewing job," Caro explained. "I keep busy, though."
Caro did more than keep busy. She taught breast-feeding and infant care in her home to young mothers. She seemed to have several groups of women she met with during the day and at night. She and Jack attended meetings of various types. Juanita found herself pressed into cleaning and watching children often during the next couple of weeks, something she found much better than just being taken care of and feeling useless.
Juanita watched Caro find help for three women over the next three weeks. "Jack is very good at finding help," Caro said. Juanita could see that Jack might have taught Caro, but Caro was very good at it by herself. If Caro had a fault, if was having a hard time accepting that she was responsible for so many of the good things happening around her.
Late Friday afternoon, one day short of three weeks from when Juanita and her family arrived at the Grayson house, a small limousine pulled into the Grayson's driveway. Juanita watched as a distinguished looking man and woman stepped out of the vehicle, followed by the driver. The man looked like a doctor she had seen once or twice at the hospital, and both of them were in photographs on the walls of the house. She guessed these were the Grayson grandparents.
The couple let themselves in, and as they did they were met by Ryan, who flew into his grandfathers arms.
"I'm busy," Caro yelled. "Introduce yourselves."
"This here is Juanita Garcia, and she is living here now, cause she was all burned up and needed someplace to stay," Ryan explained. "I need to call her Mrs. Garcia, but her name is Wan-E-Ta. She has a boy my age, Arthur, who is burned too. Grandpa, they need to get him a new hand, one of them things they can print for you, so he has a hand there again. She has a baby too, Emma, the same age as McKenna, and she is burned too, but she has most of both hands.
"These here is my grandparents. I call them grandma and grandpa Grayson, but their names are Peter and Katherine. Grandpa is a doctor, cept he mostly is a boss and he doesn't cut people up anymore. Grandmother is a sentor, that's some govment thing were you argue all the time, and them vote laws that tell people stuff. She is a US sentor stead of a state sentor, so she has to go to Washington a lot, and we don't see them as much as we see my other grandpas and grandmas."
"Thank you, Ryan, for introducing us," Kate told her grandson. "Is your mother in the kitchen?"
"We is all STARVING," Ryan decreed, "cause we all had to go to school, even Arthur, and mum would not let us have anything to eat cause she didn't want us to ruin our dinner and she STARVED us cause we didn't get a snack when we gots home cause she is cooking for you, and you is early than we usually eat so we had to wait and STARVE."
"Is there anything we can do to help you with dinner," a laughing Katherine Grayson yelled to Caro. "We wouldn't want your family to STARVE, just because their grandparents came to dinner."
The grandparents went into the kitchen, but Ryan stayed in the hall. "My name is Ryan Grayson," he said, introducing himself to the black man in a chauffer's uniform. "What is your name?"
"My name is Rochester," the man replied, shaking Ryan's hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Rochester," Ryan said.
"It is Rochester Smith," the man explained.
"We is always have to call grownups by their last name, to be polite, Mr. Smith," Ryan explained. "Thank you for splaining your last name."
Juanita thought that nothing could shock her anymore after living with the Grayson family, but she obviously was wrong. Jack may have been a high school teacher, but his father was Dr. Peter Grayson, the doctor who was chief of staff of the hospital. That is where she had seen the name Dr. Peter Grayson. Jack's mother was Senator Katherine Grayson. They had just arrived in a limousine, and they were going in to help with dinner. Juanita rushed in to see how she could help, but Caro had enlisted the whole family to help, and dinner was on the table.
"We both had meetings we attended remotely," Peter explained. "There is some minor emergency at the hospital, that I don't really have to be back for, but it will be better if I am. I apologize for making this trip so short."
"I have to be back in Washington tomorrow morning," Kate sighed. "I'm a key committee vote, and I don't dare miss it."
Grandpa Grayson sat next to Ryan, and Arthur sat on the other side of Ryan, who took it upon himself to introduce them. "Grandpa, this here is Arthur. Arthur, show him your burned arm."
Arthur held out his right stub.
"Arthur needs a new hand, and your hospital should be able to make one of them new printed plastic hands for him," Ryan pleaded. "Can you do it, please!"
"I am very aware of Arthur's case," Peter indicated. "Arthur came to your house from my hospital. We have several months of rehabilitation, and a couple of rounds of plastic surgery, before we can fit Arthur with a new hand."
"Arthur is going to be a bi-atic man," Ryan announced to the table.
"Ryan beat up one of the kids at school who was picking on me and making fun of me," Arthur bragged. "Cept the boy was a lot bigger, so Ryan got beat up instead, and then they both got into trouble."
"I'm proud of you for defending Arthur," Peter said. "Trying to beat up a bigger boy, or anyone, was not the right way to do it, though."
"Swat everybody says," Ryan grumbled.
Grandpa Grayson was able to corral Ryan enough to allow everyone to talk, and the grandparents received reports from all of the children by the time dinner was over.
When dinner was over, Katherine confessed, "This is not just a social visit. I have identification papers for the Garcia family. I had to pull a few strings to get them, but Juanita should be able to get a driver's license now."
"We are going through DNA analysis to see if we can find any biological relatives," Peter explained.
Jack and Carolina were out to dinner the first Saturday in October, just the two of them. "Owen is old enough to babysit," Caro noted, "but I feel better with Juanita there as well. Especially since Erica is over again. I understand why she doesn't want to go home, but she and Owen are too comfortable, if you know what I mean."
"I'm going to miss Juanita and the children when they go to John Hopkins for more plastic surgery," Jack mused. "It will only be for a week, but they really feel like they are part of the family now.
"Owen and Erica can babysit the younger children, but I agree we need to chaperone Owen and Erica.
"You'd make a cute grandmother, though."
"Don't think like that!" Carolina exclaimed. "I'm only thirty-eight."
"Owen is only seventeen," Jack agreed. "Erica is a year-and-a-half older, though.
"Juanita and Arthur seem to be fitting in."
"I'm glad they are settled in the other house," Caro reported. "She is beginning to be a big help. I never thought I would want household help, but Juanita is just the right mix of a person we are helping and a person who is helping us.
"Things really changed when she received her driver's license, and could help cart herself and the children around. I am not sure we will ever find out everything she has been through, but she seems at least accepting of where she is now. I like being freer to go out to dinner, to have some one on one time with you."
"Do they still want you to help at the hospital?" Jack asked.
"They want me on call, and available to help teach some classes," Caro said. "I told them I'm not a nurse, and don't want to go back to school until the children are grown, but somehow they think I can talk to young women. With Juanita helping, I guess I can do it.
"I feel stupid having household help, though. That just seems like something only really rich snobby people have."
"If I wanted to be snobby I'd trade in the big van for a stretched limo," Jack kidded.
Juanita was thrilled that Jack and Carolina could go out to dinner alone. They announced that they were going to schedule every other week date nights. They were helping her, but she was helping them as well.
Jack, and Stacey the accountant, had tried to explain why it was important that they paid her. She saved most of her money, but she was paying rent for the three rooms in the house next door where she was sleeping. She did have some spending money, and could buy personal items and a few luxuries with her own money.
Jack had even arranged to build a covered walkway from the back porch of the house where her family was sleeping to the big house, so she didn't have to walk outside in the rain or cold. There were going to be at least two more years of plastic surgery, and she was reasonably sure she was going to stay in Briarwood with the Grayson family until then. Beyond that, she couldn't plan. Maybe she would retire after working for them most of her life. That would be so much better than anything she could have imagined from her former life.
The day after their dinner out, Caro showed Jack the "+" on the test strip. "Make a baby with me," Caro said.
"Ryan must have had a good week in school," Jack kidded.
"We may have to hire a tutor for him," Caro laughed. "He is bright enough. He just is so energetic that he disturbs the other students."
Caro lay in bed, on her back, her legs closed, trying to hold Jack's deposit in her as long as possible. It wasn't like getting pregnant was hard; they were batting a hundred percent when they tried. She just liked to think of Jack's contribution moving into her, and meeting up with her egg, and a new person starting. She was thirty-eight, and would be thirty-eight when this baby was born. She had a few more babies left.
One more Ryan was probably her limit, though.
Carolina and Juanita loaded the little children in the big van and headed to school. There was a fight, and Arthur and Ryan were injured. Carolina was not happy with the school. The principal and some of the teachers did not seem to have enough control over the bullies. A couple of them were always picking on Arthur, and Ryan was always defending him.
After treating the boys, Dr. Chamness told the mothers, "Arthur's health is fragile enough that I don't want him going back to that school. Have you thought about home schooling Arthur?"
"I want to go to school with Arthur," Ryan announced.
"There are really good programs for home schooling now," Dr. Chamness announced, "along with some really horrible ones. I have two families, six children, who I see who are home schooled, and they are all doing very well."
Within the week, both Arthur and Ryan were settling into the home schooling routine.
Caro and Juanita were downstairs in the workroom. Arthur was doing some work at his little desk, and Ryan was reading. Part of Ryan's problem was probably boredom; he had been reading simple books since shortly after his fourth birthday, and was reading at a second grade level now. His math skills were closer to grade level, but home schooling them seemed to be going well. Both boys also had to take care of Connor. Caro assigned times for them when caretaking was one of their jobs.
Caro was sewing, and Juanita split her time between laundry and helping the boys. The two women even took an hour out most afternoons to watch a soap opera. There were times Caro thought her life was a soap opera, "As the Stomach Churns."
Juanita came back from the doctor's office discouraged. Emma was not doing well. Carolina was waiting for her, and the two women hugged.
"Emma stayed the same weight the first weeks she was here," Juanita told Carolina through her sobs. "But she is losing weight again. Dr. Chamness says we are just trying to keep her comfortable now."
Carolina thought her heart would break. How could you console a mother who was watching her baby lose her fight for life? How would she console Evelyn, who seemed to be trying to love little Emma back to health every day.
Christmas Eve was always a celebration of new life. Carolina was pregnant, and she always felt blessed when she was pregnant, or nursing, on Christmas Eve. When she thought about it, she had been pregnant or nursing every Christmas Eve since she and Jack had married. Well, it suited her, and she was happy.
Carolina was about as sure that Emma was losing her fight for life. The last couple of days the baby had eaten very little, and waking her was getting harder and harder. Christmas morning the baby was still alive, although they could not wake her to feed her.
Evelyn wanted to wear Emma, so early in the morning they put the baby carrier on Evelyn, and put the sleeping baby in it. About an hour later Evelyn shrieked, "Emma, Emma, wake up!
"Mom, dad, Mrs. Garcia, Emma shook and then, then, I don't think she is breathing."
Caro took Emma out of the baby carrier, and checked her. There were no signs of life. "We are taking Emma to the hospital," Caro announced.
"We will stay here with the children," Owen stated. "Fiona and I will make sure everything is OK here."
Jack, Caro and Juanita quickly put Emma in a car seat in one of the vans, and rushed to the hospital. Shortly after they arrived, a young doctor examined the baby. He then proclaimed, "I am Doctor Vern Boersma. What happened?"
"She has been in failing health ever since the fire," Carolina said. "We slowed her decline for a few weeks, but the last time Juanita was at the doctors he said we were just keeping her comfortable."
"There are protocols we have to follow when a child dies at home," the doctor decreed. "Do you have any proof she was in failing health?"
"You should have records from her physical therapy!" Caro exclaimed. "Look at her! Look at her mother. Call Dr. Chanmess's office."
"I cannot just take your word for it," the doctor explained. "I have to report cases where a child dies at home. I need a doctor's confirmation before I can just let you go."
"We have eight children at home," Carolina screamed. "You cannot just keep us here!" But the doctor looked at the three of them like they had just killed little Emma.
Jack placed a quick call to his father. "Emma just died," he explained. "The doctor at the hospital seems to be treating this as a potential case of child abuse. He wants a doctor's confirmation that Emma was sick."
"I'll talk to him," Peter said with a sigh. Jack handed the phone over to Dr. Boersma, telling him, "I have a doctor on the phone who knows about the case."
Jack put the phone on speaker, and Dr. Boersma put his phone on to record the conversation.
"Hello, I am Doctor Vernon Boersma, the attending physician at the Briarwood Emergency Room. I have a baby who died unexpectedly at home, and before I let these people just leave I need more information."
Peter Grayson explained, "Emma Garcia has been sick and in fragile health ever since the fire that burned her, her mother, and her brother. I am frankly surprised that Juanita and Carolina have kept her alive as long as they have.
"This must be your first assignment since graduating. I know you dealt with some tragic child abuse cases, but you are at a small hospital. You should be asking the nursing staff about the people, before accusing them of anything."
"Who are you, and how do you know of this case?" Dr. Boersma demanded.
"Dr. Peter Grayson, Chief of Staff of John Hopkins, the hospital you just trained at," Peter explained. "I am very familiar with the Garcia burn case. You need work on your bedside manner, Dr. Boersma, and use a little common sense as well.
"Carolina, how are my grandchildren handling this?"
"Evelyn was holding Emma when she died, and I am worried about her, dad," Carolina fumed. "We really need to get home as soon as possible."
"Dr. Boersma," Peter directed, "I would strongly suggest you let my son and daughter-in-law and their guest leave, and apologize for accusing them of anything. Listen to the nurses at the hospital, and learn from them. Jack, Carolina, I will see you all tomorrow."
The phone hung up, and Jack put it away.
One of the older nurses announced, "We can take it from here. Dr. Boersma, you are just going to have to sign the death certificate.
"Juanita, Caro, Jack, we can keep the body in the morgue until after you get back from Baltimore. You need to get back to your families."
Dr. Boersma looked like he was going to argue, but with zero support from the rest of the staff he let everyone go.
When they were back in the car Carolina ranted, "When I am at the hospital next week, a lot of people are going to hear about Dr. Boersma's lack of compassion and common sense."
Erica's car was in the driveway when they arrived home, and it looked like it was full of all of her possessions. Just when Caro thought the day could not get any worse or more confusing, it looked like they had another crisis. When they entered the great room, it looked like most of the children had been crying, including Erica.
Erica rushed up to Juanita and enveloped her in a huge hug, tears streaming down, sobbing. Erica's sobbing must have triggered something in Juanita, because, maybe for the first time in her life, Juanita found herself sobbing too. Caro sat down and pulled Evelyn into her lap.
Evelyn was still wearing the baby carrier, and she sobbed, "She was right here, and she was breathing, and then she sort of shook, and she wasn't and
"Little babies aren't supposed to DIE!"
Caro and Evelyn sobbed for about as long as Erica and Juanita.
Eventually all the rest of the presents were opened, trash was gathered, and the family settled down for lunch.
Caro whispered to Jack, "Something is going on with Erica and Owen."
"Let us allow them to bring it up," Jack replied.
At the end of lunch, Erica looked around the table, and then said, "Nasty Nancy kicked me out this morning. I … She … She had a reason. I… I… I took a pregnancy test this morning, and I'm pregnant. I… We… It's not like we planned this, but… I'm SORRY." Erica burst into tears, and it looked like Owen was close to crying as well.
"Jack," Caro whispered to Jack, who was sitting right next to her.
"I was worried about this."
"They were probably using condoms," Jack grinned. "It is not like letting her move in will cause her to become pregnant."
"I hate to reward them for what they did, but I cannot exactly hold myself up as an example," Caro confessed.
"Move your things into Owen's room," Caro told Erica. "You may have the empty room next to it as well. After Owen graduates the two of you can look for your own place to live."
"We want to get married," Owen said. "I hope I can be as good a dad as you, dad."
"Thank you, son," Jack told his step-son. "Remember, everybody, we have grandparents and the Allen family coming for dinner. Get everything cleaned, please.
Carolina orchestrated everything as they put food away, the dishwasher was loaded, dishes were hand washed, dried, and put away, and everything was pulled out in preparation for making dinner that night. When they were finished she announced, "Everyone has a couple of hours free. Just don't make too much of a mess."
"Mrs. Grayson, may we move my things in now?" Erica shyly asked.
"I feel silly having you call me Mrs. Grayson, Erica," Caro explained. "You are eighteen, working full time as a heavy equipment operator, which is hardly a little girl job, and about to marry my son and make me a grandmother. What would you like to call me."
Erica looked at Owen, and he said, "She would like to call you mom, but she doesn't know how to ask."
Carolina gulped. She knew enough of Erica's horrible history, and how she never really had a loving mother. So Caro whispered, "Welcome to the family, daughter. Of course you can call me mom, or mother. I love you."
The two women hugged, both just holding back tears. Finally Caro told Erica, "Get your things moved, and turn those two rooms into an apartment for a little while."
Caro sat down, exhausted, and did what every mother does all the time, make sure all her children are accounted for. Fiona and Kiara had decided that moving Erica into the house was a grand adventure, and they gladly helped. Evelyn and Juanita were quietly talking, both of them close to tears, consoling each other. Jack had Ryan, Connor, and Arthur. He sort of had McKenna, but she was really not playing with the rest of them, so Caro picked her up and held her close. Caro could not imagine what it would be like to lose a child. Well, maybe she could. There were those horrible hours when Owen was missing, kidnapped.
McKenna fell asleep, and Caro put her down. Caro really didn't do nothing well, and she thought of what she needed to do next. She needed to tell Fr. Patrick. They had baptized the baby, even though Juanita and Arthur had not joined the church. Caro guessed Juanita and Arthur would, eventually. Fr. Patrick seemed to be rather orthodox in his beliefs, but at heart, he was a pastor. Fr. Patrick and Caro were partners in helping people, despite her unorthodox beliefs and doubts, because they both cared about people. He had even sent people to her, a few times late at night. They were mostly women, sometimes with small children, sometimes alone or fleeing an abusive husband or boyfriend.
Sheriff Anderson had used her as well, and the hospital. The best feeling in the world were the success, the young couples who had made it, the women who had left abusive relationships and had made it, the happy endings. She guessed it was worth the failures. She couldn't blame herself for the marriages that didn't work out, the women who went back to abusive husbands, even the woman who went back and was killed by her boyfriend.
"Hello, Fr. Patrick, this is Carolina Grayson."
"How can I help you, Carolina?"
"Emma Garcia died this morning. I thought you should know."
"Thank you for telling me. How is Juanita holding up?"
"She and Evelyn have been talking, and crying some. Evelyn really tried to love that little baby better, and she is taking the death as hard as anyone.
"The baby is in the morgue at the hospital. Next Monday we will have to meet and talk about a funeral."
"I expect you will want her cremated and buried in the church columbarium. You can have any open niches. You and Jack did pay for half the cost when we built it."
"I still cannot get used to people saying I donated money; it is Jacks money, at least in my mind."
"I'm with family about two hours away from Briarwood, Carolina. I left just after Mass this morning, and just arrived. Is there anything else we need to talk about?"
"Erica, Owen's girlfriend, is pregnant, and they are talking about getting married, I think rather quickly. We are letting her move into his room today. It is not like we are risking her becoming pregnant, since she already is. We can talk about that later."
"Oh my, you have had quite a Christmas."
"Enjoy your time with your family, Fr. Patrick. By."
"Good by, and God Bless, Carolina."
Quite a Christmas. Carolina really hoped that Juanita was good with cremation. The local funeral home also owned the local cemetery, and she hated them. They were expensive, and treated anyone who did not want an expensive casket and funeral as dirt. She didn't like the cemetery either. Carolina never saw ghosts, not since she had exercised Amy, but she could almost feel ghosts in that cemetery.
Carolina looked around at all the people in the room. They were all her family, and she loved them all. Juanita and Arthur had become part of the family as well. Her children would all grow up and move out, even Arthur. Carolina doubted Juanita ever would. Her wounds were too deep, her spirit too damaged. The wounds inside were deeper than the horrible wounds outside. Here in the Jack and Carolina Grayson family she would slowly heal, though.
Chapter 2, Barbara
Two and a half years later.
"Ms. Stevenson, my name is Gary Allen, and I am the maintenance manager at the wind farm just west of Briarwood, Maryland. I understand you were an engineer who helped with upgrading the old wind farm. We have added a few new wind turbines, and one of them keeps ruining bearings. I've been told you might be able to come out and help us figure out what is going on."
Barbara Stevenson was intrigued. "I love this type of puzzle, Gary. My degree is in mechanical engineering, but these problems require you to understand the whole system, the fluid dynamics of the wind, feedbacks you might get from the electrical system, any transient out of balance conditions, just for starters."
The talked for almost an hour about the problems, things Barbara wanted Gary to do first, and setting up a consultant contract. Finally Barbara asked Gary, "I used to live in Briarwood, but some strange things were going on in the town. Do you know a Carolina, I think that is her name?"
"She is my sister-in-law," Gary said, and then explained, "Well, it is more like sister-in-love. Owen, her oldest, his father was my wife's brother."
"Your brother-in-law purchased the house I was living in. Are they still living there?"
"Yes, from what I understand. I moved here after the troubles, but I understand that they feel the house is blessed, and it would be hard to get them to move."
"Does the town still have strange things happening?"
"Hazel Anderson, the sheriff, says that all the troubles and problems have moved way out of town. No one is complaining, though. Give Carolina a call. We really don't have a good motel close, and the Grayson family seems to welcome people often. Maybe you could stay in your old house while you are working on the turbines."
"That would be interesting, Gary. I will call her."
"Hello, Carolina. I am Barbara Stevenson, the person who you visited in Las Vegas, the person who sold your husband your house."
"Oh, hello. We are still living in your house. We've expanded it since buying it, but it just feels like home to us. Why are you calling? If you are close you are welcome to come over."
"I've just talked to Gary Allen, because he wants my help with some problems with the wind farm. I may be coming out to Briarwood sometime in the next couple of months. I would very much like to see you, and my old house."
"I owe you everything, for blessing the house, and protecting it from demons. There aren't any around Briarwood now. Well, I cannot say there isn't anyone who still has a demon, but the town doesn't feel the presence of them now. The priests and ministers drove them out. You could stay with us, you know. As long as it isn't a holiday weekend or sometime where we have lots of guests."
"Do you have room?"
"We expanded the house, and we have lots of room. Call me when you know when you will be coming out, Barbara."
"I will. Thank you, Carolina."
"Dr. Dalton, you do not know me, but we worked on the same case about fifteen years ago," Mike said. "My name is Mike Sarsi, and I am an FBI agent. I was on scene in Briarwood working with Carolina Grayson."
Paul Dalton's stomach dropped through the floor. He could never forget that case. Not a case of possession. He had seen a few true cases of possession, but not many. Carolina was a good person who was oppressed, but never possessed.
"Tell me the story, Mike," Paul replied.
"Brenda's husband and infant daughter were just hit by a drunk driver and killed. Her parents died in a car crash a couple of months ago," Mike said. "Her in-laws died in a small airplane crash about a year ago.
"The devil, or ghost, is telling Brenda that if she does not kill her son and herself, several more friends and relatives will die. The FBI was called in because of what was perceived as threats to others, but I don't see any indication that she is a danger to anyone but herself, and maybe her son. I keep remembering Carolina, and I don't think Brenda is insane. I would like you to evaluate her. I am worried that different psychiatrists will dismiss her talk of demons and ghosts as proof of mental illness."
"I will evaluate Brenda, and her son. What if I don't find any mental illness? What do I do then?"
"Call the priest, Paul? Maybe you should call Carolina."
It was Saturday, right after lunch, and Carolina Grayson had a feeling that the day and week were going to get more and more complex and challenging. Most days and weeks were, in Carolina's mind, just wonderful, full of blessings. Some days, however, just seemed to go from one complexity to another. Six weeks ago, Fiona's clothes all fit. Three weeks ago her bust has swelled enough to notice, and, if you were a seamstress and knew how clothes should fit, her hips were bigger as well. Yesterday her clothes were embarrassingly tight. She was a full size bigger in the bust, and noticeably bigger around in the hips. Carolina needed to make a couple of new dresses in a hurry.
Fiona wasn't all that happy about it either. In addition to her breasts hurting, her shape had begun to attract the attention of boys she wasn't sure she wanted leering at her. It was hard enough being a girl going through puberty. Carolina was never more than cute, but Fiona was going to be more striking, and it wouldn't be easy on anyone.
Ryan was upstairs reading, and waiting for Barbara Stevenson. Jack was in his office, working on a history paper he was getting ready for publication. The rest of the children were in the back yard, being watched by Juanita.
Carolina didn't know why, but she just felt like more was going to happen. 'Lord, help me be ready for what you want me to do,' she silently prayed, and she went back to trying to make Fiona look pretty without making her look too much like it was too much.
Barbara drove the rented car into the driveway, parking towards the street so other cars could go in and out. The most noticeable change in the house was the extra two-stall garage next to the original one, and the higher roofline on the garage. It was the same house, however. She wanted to meet the family before deciding to stay; there was an acceptable motel in the area, but it was thirty minutes further away from where she would be working. It was easier staying in a house safe from ghosts than risking a new place. She went up to the front door and rang the doorbell.
A young boy opened the door, saying, "Hello. I'm Ryan Grayson. Are you the Ms. Stevenson I'm supposed to be waiting for?"
"Yes, I am. "
"Well, come in, please. We are supposed to be polite and say lots of pleases and thank yous. I can bring you down to see mother. She's making new dresses for Fiona because Fiona is growing out of all her old clothes. Fiona is not getting any taller, and she's not really getting any fatter. She's just getting more curvy like girls get when they gets older, and she's embarrassed by it."
"Do you have any more brothers or sisters, Ryan?"
"Oh, lots. There is Owen, he's married to Erica, and they have a girl, Tammy. They lived with us for a while, but they have moved to a big place, well, the houses isn't too big, but the property is, because Owen and Grandpa Sharpe have all this big equipment, see, and Erica, she's a magician on a bulldozer or backhoe, so they need lots of property for all that stuff, so they bought this big piece of property with three houses. One of the houses is an office, but grandpa and grandma Sharpe live in one house, and Owen and Erica and Tammy live in the other one."
By this time they were downstairs in the work room. Erica was trying on a dress, and she said, "Don't look, Ryan!"
"Why? It's no more than I can see when you is in that two piece bathing suit. Your boobs are getting too big for that bathing suit, thought."
"RYAR GRAYSON, when will you learn to talk less? Especially about girls bodies. Don't look!"
Ryan turned around, and signed. "I can tell you about more of us while I am here looking anywhere but Fiona's body."
"Your mother and Fiona seem to be very busy, Ryan. Please tell me about your other siblings."
"A sibling can be a brother or a sister," Ryan confirmed. "I have lots of both. Well, Fiona is the oldest, and she's a girl, as you've noticed. Then we have Evelyn, and then Kiara. I'm the oldest boy living here, since Owen's moved out. You have Arthur, he's not really a brother. He is just my age, and he was burned, and he lives here with his mother. Then we have my little brother Connor, and he has his own bed in our bedroom. Arthur and I have bunk beds, and I'm in the top, but Arthur is in the bottom because he was burned and cannot get into the top bunk as easy as I can.
"Well, then you have McKenna and Bridget, my two little sisters. There are just a lot of girls in the family. Mom is pregnant, if you hadn't noticed. That's not fat, that's another baby that's going to be born soon. That's all of us, except Mrs. Garcia, that's Juanita Garcia except I have to call her Mrs. Garcia cause that's polite, see. She is burnt too, and she lives with us all the time, and even drives a car and takes us places."
"I DON'T LIKE trying on clothes with Ryan looking, Mom," Fiona wailed. "This is EMBARRASSING ENOUGH without a running commentary by Ryan."
"Hello, Barbara," Carolina laughed. "Could I let Ryan show you around? He's good at splaining things."
"EX-plaining things," Ryan corrected.
Carolina continued, "I think most of the children are in the back yard. I will call Jack as well, and have him meet you there."
"That would be delightful, Carolina," Barbara acknowledged. "I can see you are rather busy at the moment."
"We have a playroom next door, but I shouldn't show you now, because I might see Fiona's body," Ryan said, "so we'd better go back upstairs without my looking."
"RYAN!" Fiona yelled.
When they reached the top of the stairs, Barbara took a good look at the greatly expanded great room in the back of the house. There seemed to be a lot of noise out the back door, and she and Ryan headed outside.
There was a deck outside with a playset sized for smaller children on it, and two little girls were playing on it. Two older girls were talking, and a woman was looking over the back yard. She turned, and Barbara could see she was, what did Ryan say, burnt.
"I'm Juanita, and you must be Barbara Stevenson," Juanita explained, without holding out a burned hand to shake. Juanita had learned that most people would have a hard time touching one of the burnt hands, and would rather not shake her hands.
"I am very glad to meet you, Juanita," Barbara said. Barbara tried to see if there were any ghosts or demons beyond the back of the property, but the area was as free of those unnatural beings as any place she had ever been. It just wasn't free from spirits, or spiritual things. It felt too much like a church, or holy place.
Meanwhile Arthur had run down to some sort of fortress/climbing thing and was hauling back two little boys. The one that was about his age was also 'burnt.' Ryan introduced him. "Ms. Stevenson, this is Arthur. He was burnt in the same fire that burnt his mother, and his little sister too. She died. Other people died too, but they didn't live with us when they died.
"Arthur has a bionic hand, because his one hand got burnt off. He has to have new parts printed because he keeps growing, and sometimes he breaks them, but we have a printer here to do that part.
"This is my little brother Connor. And these two little girls are McKenna and Bridget."
Jack Grayson appeared at the back door, saying, "Hello, Barbara. Welcome to your house. We've expanded it some, as you can see." Jack took Barbara back to the edge of the deck, and Barbara could see rooms over the greatly expanded garage.
Jack explained quietly, so only Barbara could hear, "We have a passageway connecting our house to the one next door. The house next door has my office, and a living room and kitchen we can use for meetings and other things if we need to. Upstairs are four bedrooms and two baths. We have convinced Juanita to take the master bedroom and bath, but she won't occupy any more space. We do pay her as a full time nanny and housekeeper.
"We have had that house blessed as well, in addition to the town being blessed.
"Juanita's son Arthur and Ryan insisted that since they are both home schooled together they should also sleep together, so the three little boys share a bedroom. The main house has eight bedrooms, but we are only using six of them. Before Owen moved out he and his family lived in the other two.
"You can have the old master bedroom, and even use the nursery or whatever you call the room connected to it. It is set up so it can be used as an office, although it has a bed in it."
"You certainly seem to have enough room," Barbara observed. "Do you have guests often?"
Jack told Barbara, "My family comes from Baltimore for some holidays, and that can be a lot of people. We have other guests on a regular basis. Carolina doesn't think it is a big deal, but I know that few woman would be as welcoming as she is. Carolina really doesn't see what a good, giving person she is."
"I will try staying here," Barbara said. "I didn't feel that there was any evil in the town when I drove into town, very different from when I first moved here."
"We go to church at ten-thirty, and then out to lunch with our family. Gary Allen should be there, so you and he can talk before you meet Monday morning," Jack proclaimed.
"That's not asking me if I want to go to church with your family," Barbara observed.
"It is more of an expectation than a command, but yes, unless you really don't want to you should go to church with us," Jack admitted.
"I have never been a church goer, despite being able to see the dead and demons," Barbara indicated. "Churches make me uncomfortable. There are spiritual things in churches too. Where do you attend?"
"We attend the local Catholic church. It is really because of Father Patrick, because he blessed Carolina and Owen early on, and didn't insist they join the Catholic church. At least some Catholics admit that the devil, demons, exist. We didn't feel comfortable in the local Pentecostal churches, and some of the more traditional Protestant churches do not believe in demons. I was raised Catholic. Both Carolina and I have issues with the church, but we have a good pastor."
"You have changed my protections around this house," Barbara observed. "You didn't use cement dust and tar water, or salt. It feels like High-Church protection. Maybe I should not complain. The clergy drove the demons out of Briarwood. I've just never liked being subject to other powers. I don't want anything from the spiritual world talking to me."
"You seem to know a lot about the spiritual world and spiritual power for someone who has not given your soul to either side," Jack replied.
"I try to be good," Barbara told Jack, "But mostly I try not to let any of the spiritual powers influence me."
"I am not sure we are allowed to be neutral in the battle between good and evil," Jack argued.
"Could I use the living room for a bit?" Barbara asked.
"Sure," Jack responded.
Jack went downstairs. "That's a pretty dress," he told Fiona.
"Thank you, dad," Fiona said in a voice that indicated that everything was not satisfactory.
Carolina's cell phone rang.
"Carolina, this is Dr. Paul Dalton, the psychiatrist who evaluated you fifteen years ago, and declared you sane. I am here with Mike Sarsi, one of the FBI agents who was with you when you confronted Marian Penteherst."
"Carolina, I'm Mike Sarsi. Leeks was the one who killed Marian, but I saw and heard enough. I brought a woman I felt was oppressed, not possessed but oppressed by demons, and her eight-year-old son, to be evaluated by Dr. Dalton, because I thought he was the only one I knew who might understand the situation."
"Carolina, I'm Dr. Zhi Chou. I was the woman with Fr. Samuel Winston. We would like to bring Brenda Faust and her son Boyd over to meet with you. She doesn't think there can be any happy endings once the ghosts and demons oppress you. We think she needs to tell the ghosts to go away, just like you told Amy, but she needs to hear about it from someone who has lived through it. Can we bring her over to see you tomorrow?"
Carolina sighed. Everything was going along smoothly, and then all sorts of things happened at once. The rewards for helping people were so much greater than the cost, though. "We are going to Mass at ten-thirty tomorrow, and then out to lunch. You are welcome to join us, and then come back to the house after. We have a houseguest, just to complicate the situation. I want to meet this Brenda before we commit to anything else. We will help if we can."
"We will meet at the church," Mike told Carolina.
Fiona took two dresses to her bedroom.
Carolina told Jack about the phone call. Then Jack and Carolina went upstairs and peeked in the living room. Barbara was obviously upset. "As soon as I walked into this house I felt I was not in control," she complained. "I tried to reserve a motel room, but every room within thirty miles is full for the next two days, except for a couple with awful reviews, with bedbugs and awful things."
"You are probably supposed to stay here, Barbara," Carolina retorted. "My life didn't get better until I accepted help. Be grateful, and if the Lord is trying to help you, accept it.
"Do you want us to pray about it?"
"NO!" Barbara exclaimed. "What should I pray? What if God wants something from me? I don't like this."
"What if God wants to give you something?" Jack asked. "Would you rather starve instead of accepting a meal? Would you rather be seeing ghosts and demons, if God could free you of them?"
"I… I have studied a lot about the spiritual world, trying to control what I can see. I don't let the demons, the ghosts control me. I just never wanted anyone or anything else to control me either," Barbara explained.
"Is that why you use tar oil and cement dust to seal your house, instead of asking priests or ministers to bless it?" Jack asked.
"You are not in control here," Barbara insinuated. "You have let other forces control you. That makes me very nervous."
"We have tried to be open to listening to the Lord," Jack confirmed. "Carolina and I pray every day, asking that God's will be done in our lives. He has blessed us by allowing us to help many people. We don't always succeed, but some of the success have given us great joy and satisfaction.
"I would guess you are here for a reason. Don't fight it, but don't accept just anything anybody says either. Do pray, and ask the good God to help you."
"It is all right to get mad at God," Carolina explained. "If you yell and scream at him you are at least talking to him. Just try to listen after you have unburdened yourself to Him."
"I don't think I am a Christian," Barbara argued. "How can I pray to a God I don't think I believe in?"
"The person, Amy, the ghost, was a religious bigot," Carolina told Barbara. "We are not. We do not care if you are Christian, but at least believe in a good God, and ask Him or Her for help. Argue with God, scream if you must, but don't ignore whatever it is that brought you here."
Barbara stamped out to her car, brought her luggage into the house and up to the old master bedroom, and slammed the door.
"I do not have the time or energy to figure that woman out," Carolina remarked. "That's one to leave in the Lord's hands." Turning her eyes up, she said, somewhat sarcastically, "Thanks, God. I wish these things came with an instruction manual."
"Do you realize what a fantastic person you are?" Jack asked Carolina.
"I've had more than one person call me an idiot," Caro scoffed, "but thank you for supporting me, and being this kind of an idiot along with me."
Barbara ate dinner with the family, but the normal chaos of a family of ten eating was almost more than she could bear. She sat next to Fiona, with Kiara next to her on one side, and Jack on her other side, because little children obviously made her nervous. Barbara stayed to help clean up, but as soon as she saw how organized Carolina had the cleanup, she retreated to her room again.
Barbara thought that it was hard to lie to yourself in this house. She guessed she had argued with God. Jack's comment about not being able to stay neutral in the battle between good and evil had cut her deeply. She was independent and self-sufficient. She had avoided close friendships, and she had to admit she was desperately lonely. Her great-grandmother and grandmother were dead, and it had been years since she had spoken to her mother.
She had never even had a boyfriend. That type of closeness, letting someone else into your life, had scared her. The physical side, letting someone into your body as well as your life, that was both appealing and terrifying, and the terror had always won out.
She did know her bible, as much as it scared her. There was a passage in Judges about setting a fleece before God, and she knew some of the Pentecostal churches put great faith in that sort of thing. 'God, if you want me to stay here, if you have a message for me, then let me see how Carolina lets people into her life. Send a mother and son, like you did with Juanita and Arthur.
'I'm not sure if I believe in you, but I will go to church with the Grayson family tomorrow, and I will try to listen.
'There! I've prayed. God damn it, God, if you are real, show me.'
Trapped! They were taking her to church in this small bus, and she was trapped riding with them. They filled up all but the back seat, and Carolina asked her, "Barbara, would you like to sit next to the babies in the front, or in the back seat? I'm sure one of the older girls would move if you wanted to sit there."
"We will move to the back seat," Fiona told her mother. "That way Mrs. Stevenson can have the whole third row. We are almost full when Owen's family rides with us. When mom has her baby the van will be full if Owen's family rides with us."
When they arrived at the church, Fiona told Barbara, "Come into church with us," referring to the three oldest girls. "That way Ryan won't grab you and 'splain' things. Ryan is really good with Connor, as long as he is not distracted with talking to other people, and it is good for both of them to have Ryan taking care of Conner."
Barbara could see that, for all of her exasperation with Ryan the day before, Fiona really did love him. Barbara was frighteningly overwhelmed by the love all the family had for each other.
Mike Sarsi and Dr. Zhi Chou were at the church a full half-hour before Mass began, and Brenda and Boyd Faust were with them. About ten minutes after they arrived a man, woman, and toddler arrived. Mike looked at the man, and asked, "Owen?"
"I'm Owen Sharpe, sir," Owen answered. "Do I know you?"
"I was one of the FBI agents fifteen years ago, when you were kidnapped. You were a very brave young boy. My name is Mike Sarsi. Zhi Chou was also there, with Fr. Samuel Winston."
"That was a long time ago," Owen replied. "I would like to introduce my wife, Erica, and our daughter Tammy."
Mike continued, "I want to introduce Brenda and Boyd Faust. We want to have your mother and father talk to them, and you too if you are willing. They both see ghosts."
"I haven't seen any ghosts since Mrs. Penteherst was killed, and Amy went away," Owen confirmed. "Mom seems to be especially in tune with spiritual things, but no ghosts, no demons."
Shortly after that, the Grayson family arrived. Fiona seemed to be leading the pack, surrounded by her sisters and a woman he did not recognize. Ryan held Connor's hand, and Arthur followed. Jack had McKenna, and Carolina was holding Bridget's hands as they straggled into church. Juanita followed the family, holding the door for Carolina and Bridget.
"Hello Mike, Zhi," Jack boomed from across the room. "It is good to see you again. You both look the same. Our family has grown some since you left, as you can see."
"I didn't think to ask how many children you had when we asked to see you," Mike joked. "It's quite a family."
"Ryan, I'll introduce the family," Mike told the eight-year-old. "You take care of Conner."
"I'm six. I don't need a babysitter," Conner complained as he let go of Ryan's hand. "Specially Ryan."
"You can hold my bionic hand as we go into church," Arthur told Conner as the three of them stood around waiting.
Jack smiled. "You know Carolina. She is holding our youngest, Bridget. Well, maybe the second youngest. Caitlian is due shortly.
"Our oldest three are Fiona, Evelyn, and Kiara. Arthur Garcia is the same age as Ryan, and he and his mother live with us. Connor is next, and then we have McKenna and Bridget. Arthur's mother is Juanita.
"The woman with the older girls is Barbara Stevenson. She owned our house before I bought it, and she protected it from the ghosts and demons. She is staying with us while she works with the wind turbines."
Mike looked at the small crowd standing there. "I want to introduce Brenda and Boyd Faust. They see ghosts, and want it to stop."
A frightened looking young woman and her son acknowledged the introductions, but did not say anything.
Caro spoke up. "Hello, Brenda, Boyd. Ryan, introduce Boyd to the other boys, please.
"Jack and I are glad to have you here."
"I don't have any money, although I should get some soon," Brenda replied. She looked at Mike, telling him, "How am I going to live? I cannot survive on what I make, if I even have a job when I get back. Who is going to take care of Ryer?"
"Stay with us for a few days," Carolina told Brenda. "I've talked to Jack about your situation, and he thinks we can help you."
Barbara Stevenson thought she would have a heart attack. She had put a fleece before God, very confident that her prayer would not be answered. You were NOT supposed to have prayers answered. Not like this. Not HER. Oh God. God. God.
Barbara never cried. Her emotions were always under control. You needed to be under control if you were going to resist the ghosts and demons, but she was not in control any more. She was terrified. She walked into church with this big crowd of people, sat down, and tried to listen, but all she could hear and see was this overwhelming love. She felt like she had been resisting love all her life, resisting allowing God or anyone else to love her. She was forty-seven, and alone, and she didn't need to be. Oh God.
She cried. Not out loud, not a lot, but for the first time in years her eyes were moist.
When Mass was finished Mike re-introduced himself to Fr. Patrick. "Come to lunch with us, at Ruth's," Mike told the priest.
"I'm almost always busy after Mass, but today I'm free," Fr. Patrick smiled. "I'd love to come. I may be a little late, but I will see you in the back room where this crowd holds forth."
Barbara was shaking. The priest was going to come too. Oh God. She didn't like what was happening. She wasn't in control.
"Would you like to ride with us?" Carolina asked Brenda. "We can put Boyd in the big back seat of our van with the other young boys. Ryan, Arthur, Conner, would you like that."
"We have a big van," Ryan explained. "It's almost like a bus, a little school bus, except it is not ugly yellow with big flashing lights. It's just a stupid blah color instead of red or anything, but it's nice inside with a BIG back seat all four of us can sit in."
"I'll show you my bionic hand," Arthur volunteered.
"OK," Boyd shyly answered.
Zhi saw Barbara panicking, and to her trained eyes, it looked like she was close to a nervous breakdown. "Would you like to ride with Mike and me?" she asked. "I can see the Grayson family is a little overwhelming."
Barbara nodded. The three entered a small sedan, and Barbara broke down in tears. This was all too much. Mike drove to the restaurant, but no one made any move to get out of the car. When Barbara had regained some measure of control Zhi told her, "I'm both a trained psychologist and someone who has worked with churches helping to distinguish between mental illness and spiritual illnesses or problems. I do not understand what your problem is, but if you protected the house the Grayson family is living in, you must have some experience with ghosts and/or demons."
"We are going to miss lunch," Barbara told Zhi and Mike, trying to stop the conversation.
"It doesn't matter," Mike said. "I am an FBI agent, not a psychologist, but I know that when the time is right you don't leave. Zhi is one of the reasons this town is no longer oppressed by demons. I am guessing you are here for a reason, not only here in this town but here in this car taking to us."
Barbara opened up. "I've always been able to see ghosts and demons. I was raised by a great-grandmother who was into spiritualism. She was always talking to ghosts and spirits. She was bargaining with the demons, but I don't think she was possessed.
"When I moved out of great-grandmother's house I decided that I did not want to deal with the demons or ghosts. The demons were evil. I could see that. I didn't trust the ghosts. I tried to get answers from churches, but most of them thought I was crazy, and the others made me uncomfortable. I didn't want any type of spirit or anything to control me. I really didn't want anyone or anything to control me, and it seems I've build walls around myself and ended up very isolated and lonely.
"I go into the Grayson house, and all the non-religious or sort of religious protections against ghosts and demons are gone, and in their place are all these High-Church blessings protecting you against evil, but not against God and good, and God all but yells at me.
"I put a fleece before the Lord, for the first time in my life. I argued with God, and told him that if he wanted me to listen he needed to bring another woman and boy to Carolina. I really argued with God.
"I guess he is arguing back. I thought I would have a heart attack when you introduced that woman and son. Oh God. Oh God. What is happening?"
Zhi responded, "In my experience, when God wants to tell you something, the best way to handle it is to listen. Let us go in, after we pray for you."
"NO!" yelled Barbara, "I don't want prayers. Oh God. I'm doing it again. God help me. God help me. OK, pray for me, damn it. Help."
Zhi bowed her head. "Lord, please shower your blessings on Barbara. She is opening herself to you, maybe for the first time. Help her accept your blessings."
Barbara did calm down, and the trio entered the restaurant.
Beverly Sharpe waved her over, and Barbara saw she had saved a seat for her. When Barbara arrived at the table, Beverly re-introduced herself. "Hello, Barbara. I remember you, especially as we were dealing with the tax implications of buying and selling houses. This is my husband Joe, and our granddaughter Melody sitting between us.
"I have you sitting next to me and to Gary Allen, our son-in-law, his wife and my daughter Stacey, and their older daughter Jessie."
Barbara relaxed a little, and spent most of the meal talking to Gary about wind turbines.
Mike and Zhi sat next to Jack and Caro. The little boys had glommed onto Boyd, and Brenda seemed to be content to talk to Juanita and the older girls.
"I thought we would be worried about Brenda, Zhi," Carolina said, "but is seems like the person who is having the hardest time is Barbara."
Zhi explained, "It sounds like she has rejected evil without ever really allowing herself to be good, and God is giving her a rather forceful push.
"She actually put a fleece before God, telling Him that she would listen, consider it a sign, if a woman and her son showed up, similar to what happened with Juanita and Arthur. Barbara and Boyd showing up terrified her."
"Sometimes God speaks to us in a small faint breeze," Jack commented, "but it seems like he is using the proverbial baseball bat with Barbara."
"Tell us what you know about Brenda and Boyd," Carolina said. "I expect we will learn what we need to know about Barbara soon enough."
Eventually Fr. Patrick arrived, and joined Jack, Carolina, Mike and Dr. Zhi Chou.
Barbara went back to the Grayson house in Mike's car, and the Faust family went in the Grayson family van. When they arrived, the children scattered in the house. The boys took Boyd up to their bedroom, and the older girls took care of the youngest. The adults sat in the family room, and Jack said, "Welcome to our house."
Brenda Faust looked around, and told the group, "I cannot feel demons or ghosts here."
Carolina told her, "We have blessed this house over and over. Demons and ghosts are not welcome here, and for as much as we can we do not allow them in the town either."
Brenda cried, the tears pouring freely, "Can I be free from the ghosts and demons here?"
"Of course," Carolina told her. "Before I could see demons, and a ghost. After I send the ghost away, and the town was blessed, I haven't seen a demon in years. I can still sort of sense evil, but I think many of us can."
Brenda whispered, "I should have an inheritance, but everything is tied up in court. I don't have any money, and I hate what has become of me and my son. Can I stay here while I get my life back together?"
Carolina took Brenda in her arms, not an easy thing to do with a big baby belly in the way, and told her, "Of course. We have rooms next door for you."
Barbara Stevenson sat next to Zhi in a corner, and found herself silently crying. Barbara would never let anyone in her life, and here Jack and Carolina were letting people into their home as well as their life. She had kept herself isolated, and it had not made her happy. She was sort of safe from the demons, but she was always scared of them, never fully free from the spiritual world.
Eventually Father Patrick offered to anoint Brenda and Boyd with holy oil, and lead prayers over them. The family assembled, and all present prayed that Brenda and Boyd would no longer see or be oppressed by demons or ghosts. When the prayers were over Fr. Patrick turned to Barbara and asked her, "Would you like us to pray over you?"
"NO!" she yelled, "Yes? Oh God, help me, I don't know. Yes, go ahead." Trembling she walked to the center of the room. Jack pointed to a dining room chair, and she sat down.
Fr. Patrick anointed Barbara, and everyone prayed for her.
It wasn't bad, but there were no good feelings either.
The next day Barbara went out to the windmill farm. She didn't see any demons or ghosts, but other than that nothing changed. Zhi left, but Mike Sarsi had taken the week off, to make sure that the Faust family was OK.
Monday night, after having dinner with the family, Mike asked Barbara if she would like to go out for a beer. "I'm lonely since my wife died in a car accident five years ago," Mike stated. "I thought you might like to get away from the busyness of the Grayson family."
Barbara immediately rejected the idea, and then almost as quickly changed her mind. The town was blessed, and she suggested a restaurant where they served liquor, that was smoke free and well lit.
"I have two children," Mike told Barbara as they sat in the restaurant. "One is married, and has two almost teen-age children. He lives in California. The other lives in Ohio, and she has never married, although she has lived with a couple of guys over the years. She is between boyfriends at the moment."
"I was terrified of being raped in High School and College," Barbara told Mike, somehow opening up to someone for the first time in her life. "My mother and grandmother encouraged me to be afraid, and the ghosts did too. I never dated, never went out with any male unless there were plenty of females around. Then I went into a male dominated field, but always was very careful not to get too close to any of my co-workers. For the last thirty years, I have been safe, and alone.
"It is not like I did not wish for a family, a husband and maybe even a child. I was always too careful, too scared, to get close to anyone. Besides, if I was ever in a meeting with a group of guys and no gals, or very few, the demons were always there, scaring me."
"Are there any demons here?" Mike asked.
"There always are in a bar, but I don't see any," Barbara answered. She looked around. It wasn't protected, like the Grayson house or Father Patrick's church, but she could not see any demons.
They left the bar a couple of hours later, each in their own car. Barbara thought that riding in a car with a man was too risky; even driving with only a man in the car was not safe.
Mike took Brenda out once more over the week, and Barbara and Mike took over the living room and talked. Mike had to leave Thursday morning, and Thursday evening Barbara and Juanita found themselves alone.
"What did you do before you came to live here?" Barbara asked, trying to be polite.
Juanita explained, "I sort of feel like my life is divided into three unequal parts. The first part is what happened before we were burned. I don't remember much, except it was terrible. The psychiatrists say I've blocked the memories. What I do remember I don't want to remember.
"Then I was burned in the fire, and what I remember most was the intense pain. I think I would have died, just given up, except for the children.
"Then we came here, and were surrounded by love. Jack and Carolina really are remarkable people. Jack looks like he is just a high school teacher, but the amount of quiet good he does for people is remarkable.
"Carolina says that since she stopped seeing demons and Amy, the ghost, there is nothing remarkable about her, except having a lot of children. That is not true. She helps a lot of people just by talking to them, and she doesn't see how much good she is doing. Carolina also has an uncanny sense of good and evil, and who is good and who may not be. If she says it is safe to do something I would trust my life on it."
"What does she say about Mike Sarsi?" Barbara asked.
"Ask her," Juanita said. Barbara didn't ask.
Over the next week the family became accustom to three new members. Barbara worked at the wind farm every day, eventually finding several minor issues that contributed to the premature failure of the bearings on the one turbine. She had many more suggestions to make the wind farm produce more energy, and to prolong the life of the turbines.
Barbara went home to Las Vegas for a week. There were no ghosts or demons, but otherwise nothing was different, except her house didn't feel much like a home. Her contract was extended another week, and she flew back to Briarwood, staying with the Grayson's, but this time paying a nominal rent.
Mike came up to visit her twice. Thursday Barbara's contract was extended another week, and Thursday night Mike asked Barbara, "Would you like to visit my home? You have the weekend free. You could stay at a motel, although I have extra bedrooms in my house.
"I'm close to Washington, DC, and we can visit some of the sites."
"I need to talk to Carolina," Barbara responded; she had no idea why, but she could not just say yes, and she did not want to say no.
"Call me back when you have decided," Mike replied, and then he prayed.
Barbara went to Carolina, and explained, "Mike asked me to visit him this weekend. I really want to, and I'm terrified. I've never had a date, not really. I don't know how to act!"
"What does he want you to do? Where would you stay?" asked Carolina.
"He wants to show me some of the sights in Washington, DC. He says I can stay with him in his house, or at a motel."
"Go for it!" Carolina exclaimed. "Let him pick you up, and just let him show you around. Washington is a great place to visit, and I'm sure you will have a good time. Stay in his house too. I cannot imagine him being anything but a gentleman."
"Juanita told me you could tell if people were good or bad," Barbara confided. "Are you sure Mike is good?"
"My father came to me, like he was on his way to heaven, when he coded a couple of weeks before we flew to Las Vegas. He told me to marry Jack. I wanted to, but I was terrified. I was the black widow. That is why I trusted Jack enough to fly to Las Vegas and marry him, and it was the best thing I ever did.
"I do not know your whole story, but I know enough to think that spending the night at Mike's house is frightening. Be honest with him, but do it. Take the risk. Don't let this chance pass you buy because you were too frightened to take a chance."
Sunday night Mike brought Barbara back, and they both came into the house. Only Jack and Carolina were up.
"Did you enjoy Washington, Barbara?" Caro asked.
"I did, and it was a lot more fun seeing it with someone," Barbara exclaimed. "I… I don't really want the weekend to end, but we both have to work tomorrow.
"In the movies a weekend like this would end in a romantic kiss, but I've never kissed anyone, and I just didn't want to shake hands or, I have no idea what to do."
"A kiss in front of the Grayson's, where you don't have to feel alone and threatened?" Mike asked.
"OK," Barbara squeaked. Mike took Barbara in his arms and gave her the lightest peck on the lips. "I will see you later," he said as he took his leave.
"What am I going to do?" Barbara asked Carolina after Mike was gone.
"Pray, and see what happens. Don't rush into anything, but don't hold back too much either," Carolina advised. "We are here to talk to you. If you have any close friends, talk to them."
"The problem is that you are maybe the closest friends I have, and I barely know you. I sort of know a few neighbors in Las Vegas, but none of them are really friends."
The end of the week the group that handled maintenance and engineering for a group of wind farms offered Barbara a job. If she took it she was going to have to relocate to Maryland, close to where Mike lived. She accepted the offer. She moved in with Mike while she looked for another house to buy.
In October she and Mike were invited to Caitlan's baptism. They went, and afterwards sat with Gary Allen and his family.
"Are Brenda and Boyd still living with the Grayson's?" Mike asked Gary.
"When Jack hired some lawyers to confront the people handling the estates, they were settled in a hurry," Gary told Mike and Barbara. "Her husband had a modest insurance policy, and she was able to have that money sent to her within the month. It didn't take much longer to get some of the money from her parents estate, although some of it is tied up in lawsuits and what were apparently not exactly legal activities.
"The other estate is large, and the lawyers were milking it, taking inventory after inventory of the assets, trying to keep from disbursing any money for as long as they could. They had to refund excess fees or face a huge and embarrassing lawsuit. It will take a couple of years to get all the money, but she will end up with several million dollars. She has paid Jack and Caro back for all the legal fees he fronted to settle the estate.
"She purchased a home in Briarwood, and is working part time. She really does not need the money, but she wants to keep busy. I think she may go back to school eventually.
"What is going on with you two?"
"We are trying to figure that out," Mike replied. "I like not living alone, and so far Barbara and I have gotten along well enough. Well, it is more than that, I think, but it is still real awkward."
"We've sat on his couch and watched sappy romantic movies together, our bodies touching, and I'm torn between wanting to hug him right there in the living room and running away because it scares me," Barbara confessed. "He is putting up with me, which helps a lot. We are beginning to be friends, and I've never let myself have a friend like Mike before."
Barbara was finished collecting data at the wind farm shortly after lunch, and instead of heading back to Mike's house, where she had appropriated half of his office for herself, she decided to call Carolina. "I'm finished at the wind farm, and instead of heading straight back, I wondered if I could visit," she asked. "The GPS tells me I should be there in half an hour or so."
Carolina responded, "I have another person who will also be here, but I don't think that should be a problem. Please come."
Half an hour later two cars pulled into the Grayson driveway. A young mother with a tiny baby was in one car, and Barbara in the other. They walked to the front door together, and Carolina was waiting for both of them.
Carolina introduced them to each other. "Barbara, this is Ursula and her son Ryer. Ursula, this is an old friend, Barbara. Come in, please."
They went into the front living room, and Carolina started out, "Are you getting WIC coupons, and food stamps?"
Ursula replied, "I'm kind of embarrassed to get them, or use them."
"I was too," Caro confessed. "Most of it was my own stupid pride, but Vicky Swans didn't help. The food at Walmart, especially the produce, is terrible compared to Swans, and it is dirty at Walmart. Vicky can make you feel bad about yourself if you have nothing, or if you fill three shopping baskets like we often do. She acts like I'm over-populating the world all by myself. Ignore the Vicky's of the world. You, your husband, and your baby need to eat. Don't be stupid and too full of pride like I was."
"Yes, Mam," Ursula whispered.
Carolina continued, "Ursula, I understand that nursing in private is going OK, but that you are very unsure about doing it in public, or even in front of family and friends."
"What if they see something?" Ursula squeaked.
"Every state in the US has laws protecting the right of mothers to nurse in public. That includes the right of mothers and babies to have embarrassing moments. I was walking up to communion with Ryan on my breast when he let go of my nipple and grabbed everything the wrong way, doing a rather good job of exposing me. I ended up sitting down and putting myself back together, and then went up the rest of the way to communion. I received a few nasty stares, but way more expressions of support.
"Yes, I was embarrassed. I've lost count of all the times Ryan has embarrassed me. Children embarrassing their parents is part of parenting, and you might as well get used to it."
"My family is kind of split," Ursula told Carolina. "Most of them support me nursing, but a number of them seem very embarrassed seeing me do it."
"They will get used to it. Just tell yourself that it is their problem, not yours."
Ursula looked embarrassed, and stammered, "Does Jack, do you, how do you handle what he sees?"
Carolina laughed. "Did your husband see them when you made Ryer? I know Jack is rather fond of my shape, even the stretch marks and baby belly, which I think is really amazing. I love having him touch me, and that doesn't change when I am nursing.
"Jack thinks seeing me nurse is the sexiest thing in the world. He says it is a whole different kind of sexy. It is not a 'I want to make love right now' kind of sexy, but a 'look at what our loving made' and 'look at my wife feeding our baby' kind of sexy. He says it is a paternal sexy, in the best way, rejoicing in being a father loving his wife and child.
"Don't be embarrassed to be naked in front of your husband, and enjoy having him enjoy looking at your breasts. Just nurse before you make love, because if you make love just before you are due to nurse again it can get real messy."
The baby started to fuss, and Ursula looked at Carolina with a little panic. "I think I left my nursing cover out in the car."
"You have two old women here," Carolina said. "Once Ryer is latched on you may want to put a blanket over him, in case one of the little children come running in. It really doesn't matter, though. All of them, even the boys, have seen my nipples, seen the babies latch on and nurse. It is part of life that they should get comfortable with."
Barbara had never seen a woman open a nursing bra, expose a breast, and let a baby root for a nipple and latch on. This was not mechanical engineering. Barbara thought she was more embarrassed than Ursula, especially considering the questions she was going to ask Carolina.
"What brings you here Barbara?" Carolina asked, once Ursula was resting , with Ryer greedily and rather noisily feeding.
"Mike and I have gone from chaste kisses to something a little more passionate," Barbara confessed. "I do not know what to let him touch."
"Do you think you are going to end up marrying him?" Carolina bluntly asked.
"I'm terrified to get naked in front of him. I hated gym classes where you had to expose your body. I don't even like swim suits, or bras that show cleavage. Only, we watch romantic movies together, and I want that kind of love and closeness, and I don't think we can live together without sex, eventually."
Ursula reflected, "We had embarrassing talks about the birds and the bees, independently of each other, before we were married. No one on either side of our families wanted to talk about how people do it. That is not a good way to start a marriage. Carolina and their church helped with some frank books that talked about human bodies and human sexuality. We are in a small group of young couples, and we have had some very frank discussions about sex, and loving, and the difference between loving sex and non-loving sex."
"Mike is very different than I am," Barbara explained, "but we both have to be analytical in our jobs. We are trying to analyze where we are going in our relationship. I want to go further, I think, but I don't know how to tell him."
Carolina took a good look at what Barbara was wearing. Her slacks could not hide a curvy pair of hips, but they tried. Her blouse could not hide her shape on top, but it tried. Carolina knew that all of the dresses Barbara sometimes wore around the house were about a frumpy and shapeless as you could buy.
"Do you have any sexy clothes?" Carolina asked.
"Should I?" Barbara asked. "Oh, I guess I should."
"Ursula should get comfortable showing off her sexy body when she is nursing Ryer. Most husbands like the larger breasts us gals get when we are pregnant or nursing, and you might as well enjoy it. I know I do.
"Barbara, you need to get comfortable being sexy for yourself. You are big enough on top that we need to take you to a good corsetiere. There is a good shop I know of in the Washington area. I've never needed it; I'm rather average on top, but you do. Let's work on an evening to meet there, and we will get you some sexy undergarments. Then we can find some clothes that you and Mike will enjoy. Even if it is only for Mike, show some cleavage, some skin, and enjoy it. Enjoy having him enjoy it."
"I'll even make you a couple of outfits."
Barbara changed into the underwire with the plunging neckline. It exposed a lot of skin. Then she put on a sweater with a neckline that exposed almost all the skin the bra was exposing. When she met Mike in the living room he looked at her chest, and then immediately at her face. Then for some reason he rearranged his trousers. "I'm sorry for staring at your chest," Mike proclaimed.
"Carolina told me you would enjoy looking at me, and that I should enjoy having you look at me, Mike. I've never worn anything like this. Do you like it?"
"I like talking to you, and being with you, Barbara. Your rather spectacular figure is an added bonus, but not why I like you. But yes, I do like looking at you."
They watched another old tearjerker of a romantic movie, and hugged and kissed before going to their separate bedrooms.
"It worked," Barbara told Carolina on the phone. "Mike and I were more passionate last night, and we even started talking about marriage. We are going to go to church and pray about it, which I find hopeful and frightening at the same time. He said that the dress, and the bra showing all that skin and cleavage, send quite a message to him.
"Did Jack ever send that kind of message to you when you were first dating?"
"When I was sure the relationship could not and should not go anywhere, Jack purchased a two hundred dollar car seat for Owen. That sent quite a message to me, and to his family, that he was making room for Owen as well as me in his life. When we did marry he told us that he was marrying both of us."
Barbara replied, "Mike talked about flying out to California so I can meet his son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren. That sends quite a message to me as well."
About a week later, Barbara stopped in to visit with Carolina late in the day. Juanita and Fiona seemed to have setting the table and finishing dinner under control.
"I cannot believe how naïve I was, Carolina," Barbara told her friend. "I had no idea why Mike had to rearrange his trousers when he saw me in something sexy. It really gets hard?"
Carolina giggled, "Have you learned any more since then."
"Oh, I'd be too embarrassed buying one of those books," Barbara confessed. "Or go to any sex web sites."
Carolina brought out a book she kept in her and Jack's bedroom, with very explicit photographs and diagrams.
Barbara paged through the photographs, and asked in horror, "You do all THAT?"
"We are usually not very adventuresome," Carolina confessed. "We are both quite content with the basic missionary position most of the time, until the end of my pregnancies. When I get too big in front we have to get a little creative.
"It is not a contest. It is what feels right to the two of you. Read the book, and then give it to Mike. If you are going to get married you could read it together."
Barbara was obviously very embarrassed, but she borrowed the book.
A couple of weeks later Barbara again stopped off at the Grayson house. "I've stopped looking for another house, and the house in Las Vegas is sold," she told Caro. "We are sort of engaged to be engaged.
"I'm still somewhat panicky about sex, but more and more I think I want it too. Is it really super good right away?"
"My first time was in the back seat of a car, and when two virgins do it in the back seat of a car it is awful," Carolina confessed. "Mike has been married, and if you talk about it before and take your time it should be OK. It will get better with practice.
"It really gets good with practice!"
The beginning of December Barbara called Carolina. "I'm engaged, and we are getting married the middle of February," she told Caro. "Mike is a Presbyterian, but I could not talk to the minister at the church he and his wife attended. He did not believe in ghosts or demons. I'm not sure he believes in anything. The minister at the other church does believe, and she even came and blessed our house.
"The middle of February is an awful time, but it was the first time we could have the church, and everybody could come."
"That is just great news," Carolina gushed. "Is there anything I can do to help? I can make you a wedding dress."
"I don't really need you to do that," Barbara said.
"I would like to do that, in January," Caro replied.
"At least let me buy the fabric," Barbara bargained.
"Gladly," Carolina agreed.
"There is one more thing, and it may be a big favor," Barbara explained. "My mother is in a nursing home about two hours north of where the wedding is going to be. Could you bring her to the wedding, and then bring her back? I don't know who else to ask."
"I will ask Jack, but it is just a long road trip for us. Who do you want to attend?"
"Mike's grandchildren will be there, and I think I am going to ask a couple of friends from work who have children. I'm making more friends than I ever did before. Bring the whole clan."
"When is the wedding?"
"Late morning, with a luncheon reception at the church. We are going to spend the first night at Mike's house, our house, and then fly to Las Vegas for a week."
"Do you want us to provide something for the children to do?" Carolina asked.
"Oh, that would be fantastic!" Barbara exclaimed. "Just let me pay for it."
"OK," Carolina gladly agreed.
Jack looked at the map, and mapped out a couple of options for picking up Barbara's mother. He finally called his grandmother, to see if the family could stay at her house. When he was done he told his wife, "Carolina, this is what I have worked out. Friday afternoon we drive to my grandmother's house. We bring sleeping bags so we can all bunk in three bedrooms. Saturday morning I drive to pick up Barbara's mother, and then pick you and the children up on the way to church.
"After the wedding we reverse the process."
"Your grandmother likes seeing her great-grandchildren, in small doses. That should be ideal," Carolina agreed. "I expect we will go to Mass with your family, and then have a big family lunch, going back after."
"That's the plan," Jack agreed. "Are you ready to be matron of honor?"
"I told Barbara that Caitlan may want to nurse right in the middle of the ceremony, but she didn't care. She threw back at me what I told one of my young mothers, Ursula, about nursing in public. Barbara cannot complain if I march down the aisle with Caitlan on my breast."
"I'd love to see those wedding photographs," Jack laughed.
Barbara's mother looked ancient, and on deaths door, when Jack picked her up. She was on oxygen, and was wheezing. "I have a DNR for her," the nurse helping her into the car told Jack, as he handed Jack a stack of papers. "She is in bad health, and considering her daughter is getting married, a worse than usual bad mood."
Jack tried to talk to her, but soon gave up. Barbara's mother sat sullenly in the big van, ignoring everyone, falling in and out of sleep, until they arrived at the church. Jack and Fiona helped her out, and put her in her wheelchair. Fiona took over and pushed her into the church.
Mother sat sullenly through the ceremony, wheezing and staring. Mike's son led Barbara down the aisle for the conventional ceremony. Barbara's wedding dress was white, full length, and reasonably modest, with three-quarter sleeves, and a conservative neckline that just showed a little cleavage. It showed off her curves, without being too tight. Caro had made the dress so, with a little alteration, it could serve as a cocktail dress.
Mike Sarsi wore a new suit. One of his FBI partners was his best man; they and their families had known each other for years. Carolina did not march down the aisle, but stood at the front of the church along with Mike and his best man.
The ceremony was a typical Protestant ceremony, with three scripture readings, and vows written by the couple. Afterwards the entire congregation removed to the church hall for a wedding reception and lunch.
As soon as they were in the hall, Barbara went over to greet her mother. Mother started hacking, then finally spat out, "He f…ing you? I hope it hurts. Shouldn't have let him f… you."
Barbara turned away, tears in her eyes, and avoided her mother for the rest of the afternoon.
Fiona turned to her mother in horror. "That's awful! I see how much you and dad love each other, and Owen and Erica, all the grandmothers and grandfathers. Sex must be, not that, what she said."
Carolina told her oldest daughter, "One way I knew your father loved me was that he waited until our wedding night for sexual intercourse. Neither of us was a virgin. Your father had lived with a girl for a year. It is your dad's story to tell, but it didn't end well. I only had one painful and very unsatisfactory experience, when Owen's father and I had sex in the back of his car. Please don't do that!
"Dad said he would never do that to me. Besides, he said that right after we put Owen's racing harness car seat in the back of his car, and dad said that having sex in the back of his car with Owen's car seat in it would be really weird."
"Like trying to have sex in one of the minivans with all the baby seats and booster seats in it," Fiona giggled. "I guess it is best to do it in a bed, after you are married."
"Barbara and Mike are waiting until tonight, and they are older," Carolina told Fiona.
"At least they are older, and are not virgins," Fiona reflected.
"Barbara is," Carolina corrected Fiona. "She is a little worried."
Evelyn and Kiara tended to games for the smaller children, and with the exception of Barbara's mother, the wedding was enjoyable for all who attended.
Chapter 3, After the Wedding
The Monday evening after Barbara and Mike returned from their honeymoon, Carolina received a call from Barbara.
"You were right, Carolina," Barbara sighed. "It takes practice. Sunday morning, as we boarded the airplane for Vegas, I was still embarrassed that we had done what we did. It was OK, but the more we practiced the better it became. I'm not embarrassed that I'm not a virgin, but that first day, after that first night, I was."
Six weeks later Barbara stopped in on one of her visits while coming back from a windmill farm location.
"How is married life treating you," Carolina asked.
"I'm liking sex more and more," Barbara said. "But I had to buy a couple of bigger bras, and I am more tired that I was. My stomach is a little funny too."
"When was your last period?" asked Carolina.
"A couple of weeks before the wedding," Barbara said. "The last couple of years I have occasionally been a little late."
"Have you taken a pregnancy test?" Carolina asked.
"I'm forty-eight," Barbara retorted. "Forty-eight year old brides do not become pregnant."
"Go down to Walgreens and get a pregnancy test, now," Carolina commanded. "We will talk more once you have taken the test."
This is stupid, Barbara thought, as she went into the bathroom and peed on the piece of paper. I owe Carolina, but this is just stupid.
The test paper turned positive.
God? God! Oh God. I pray and go to church, and now this. I didn't plan for this!
"How often do these tests give a false positive?" Barbara asked Carolina.
"False negatives are not uncommon," Carolina told her. "False positives at six weeks from conception are very rare."
"What do I do?" asked Barbara.
"You tell Mike. You do not get your hopes up, because many older mothers miscarry. If you are still pregnant well into your second trimester, you get ready to add a third person into your life."
"We've never talked about children! What if he hates the idea? What if he loves it and I miscarry? CAROLINA GRAYSON, what have I done," Barbara sobbed.
"It looks like you just conceived a child, you and Mike. See an OB-GYN and confirm this," Carolina told her friend. "Take Mike with you."
"They examine you down here?" Barbara questioned. "No one but Mike has ever seem me down there, not since I was a baby."
"How long has it been since you have seen a doctor?" Carolina asked.
"Grade school," Barbara confessed. "That's private! The doctors have to look at you down there?"
"There is not much privacy in the delivery room," Carolina joked. "Where Mike went in the baby comes out, and you might as well forget about modesty when you are pushing a baby out down there."
"Mike was ecstatic, but cautious," Barbara told Carolina. "He shared a lot more about his first marriage. It was not always a happy one. Mike was willing to have a bigger family, but his wife was a drinker, and it was not a good idea. She died drunk in a single car accident.
"I've an appointment with an OB-GYN."
"Fourteen weeks, Carolina, and things are still looking good. We haven't redecorated or purchased any baby things yet."
"Don't, Barbara. Not yet. I'm thinking Caitlan may be my last one. Mike and I have had eight together, and I'm finally ready to not be pregnant or nursing. Actually, they are all rather quiet and well behaved, except for Ryan. He is well behaved, more or less, but he sure isn't quiet.
"I can loan you most of what you are going to need."
"Twenty-four weeks. Sex is great, and I'm finally beginning to become excited about this whole motherhood thing. The doctor said I'm in fantastic shape. She asked how I kept in such good shape. I told her how many steps we have to climb to get into some of the generators in the wind towers. She could not believe I had to climb that high, often on ladders and not steps.
"I can keep doing it as long as I am safe, and feel good. She did warn me that my balance would be off more and more as I get bigger, and they don't have safety harnesses designed for pregnant women. I wonder why?"
"I'm grounded, Carolina. No more climbing into the towers, or riding up in a harness. I miss it, but most of what I do I can do from the ground."
"She is in labor, Carolina. Her water broke when she was about two hours away from here, but someone drove her back to the hospital. I didn't know she knew that many swear words. I've got to get back, but she wanted me to call you while they are examining her.
"She did say to thank you for warning her that there wasn't any modesty in the delivery room. They are trying, but you are correct."
"Thank you for the update, Mike."
"Patricia Sarsi, seven pounds even, and in perfect health," Mike announced to Caro. "She has a healthy set of lungs, and a healthy appetite. Barbara says it feels like Patty is trying to suck her insides out. She cannot wait to see you."
"I think seeing your wife nurse your child is one of the most beautiful sights in the world."
"Caitlan is weaning, and I'm jealous, but Jack and I have eight together, and that's enough," Carolina told Mike. "I'm anxious to see her."
Barbara would tell Caro later, "Life, marriage, having a child, is not perfect, not even close, but it is way better than being alone."
Carolina could agree with that. Life was not perfect, but it was very good. She was quite content to have Caitlan be her last baby. Nine children, eight with Jack, were quite enough.
Until Quinn came along three years later, and he was not planned.