CHAPTER 117


The sun's shining warm and bright, Charlotte and Cooper watch Charley pitch a foul ball to the batter in his little league game. "Atta boy! Strike him out!" Cooper calls out from the bleachers. "One more strike and he's out!"

Charlotte nudges Cooper's leg. "Pipe, down."

"What?" Cooper groans, playfully. "I'm giving my grandson encouragement." Cooper stands up, clapping hard after Charley strikes the batter out.

"And that's someone else's kid who just struck out that you're clapping about." Charlotte points out.

"It's a game, chief. Someone has to lose." Cooper protests.

"Try to control yourself, Coop. They're second graders." Charlotte watches Andie walk back up the bleachers carrying baby Jack. "Where's Hope and Brayden?" Charlotte asks Andie.

"Huh?" Andie asks dumbfounded. "I thought you were watching them. I was in the bathroom changing Jack's diaper."

Cooper chimes in. "Hope said she wanted to go with you, they followed you."

Andie turns her head to survey the baseball field area. "I don't see them."

Charlotte rises up from her bleacher bench. "They probably went to the playground. I'll go look."

Cooper stands up too. "I'll come. Charley's done pitching." He tells Andie. "He struck two kids out."

"That's my boy!" Andie boasts. "Nicky taught him to throw. The boy is a natural."

"He's a star." Cooper calls back as he follows Charlotte to the playground area.

"Hope! Brayden!" Cooper calls out while Charlotte searches in the slide tube.

"They're not here, Coop!" Charlotte blurts with a just a tad bit of worry in her voice.

Cooper scans the playground before asking an older woman. "Did you see a little boy and a little girl about four-years-old playing here?"

Charlotte adds. "The little girl is wearing a pink romper and the boy had on a blue striped shirt."

"No, sorry, but I just got here." The woman tells them.

"Good Lord." Charlotte lets out a sigh. "We lost the kids. How are we supposed to call Tess and say we lost Brayden."

"They're not lost." Cooper scans the area again with his eyes.

"Well, where are they." Charlotte asks.

"They couldn't have got too far." Cooper responds.

A little girl about nine years-old tells them. "I saw them."

"You did?" Charlotte asks.

"Yeah, they went with a lady to buy ice cream from the ice cream truck over there." The girl points to the ice cream truck in the parking lot about fifty feet away.

"Thank you." Cooper says as he escorts Charlotte to the parking lot, walking briskly.

"They know better than to walk off with a stranger." Charlotte tells Cooper.

"Ice cream can be tempting." Cooper suggests.

"Hope knows not to go with a stranger. I've told her, Andie's told her, Nicky's told her..."

They walk briskly to the parking lot until they spot Brayden and Hope sitting in the grass at the edge of the parking lot eating their character ice pops.

"Where did you get those?" Cooper asks the kids.

"A nice lady bought it for us." Brayden licks his ice pop.

"You don't accept food from strangers." Charlotte starts to lecture before Hope interrupts. "It's not a stranger, it's Clove's grandma."

"Where is she?" Charlotte asks.

Hope points. "She went back to the ice cream truck cuz Clove dropped her ice pop and was crying."

Charlotte and Cooper look towards the ice cream truck. Cooper squints his eyes and calls out "Vi!"

Violet walks towards them, holding Clove's hand. "I hope Charlotte doesn't mind. Clove wanted ice cream so I got some for your grandchildren too."

"No, that's fine." Cooper hugs Violet. "Thank you." Cooper and Violet walk back towards Charlotte and the kids.

"I see you met Brayden." Cooper takes a lick of Violet's vanilla cone.

"Get your own, Coop." Charlotte grimaces as she watches her husband lick Violet's ice cream cone.

Violet smiles. "It's fine. I didn't want to finish it anyway. Here, you might as well take it." Violet hands over her ice cream cone.

Charlotte turns to the children. "Did y'all say thank you to Dr. Turner for the ice pops?"

"They did." Violet nods. "They were both polite."

Charlotte looks at Cooper. "And did you say thank you to Dr. Turner for the ice cream too?"

Cooper makes a little snarl with his nose before pressing the ice cream cone up to Charlotte's mouth. Charlotte licks it off of her lips.

"Can we go back to the playground now?" Brayden asks.

"After your done with your ice pops we can go." Charlotte instructs.

"He's a handsome boy, congratulations." Violet tells them both.

"We're very blessed." Charlotte looks at her grandchildren.

"How are you doing?" Cooper asks Violet.

Violet wiggles her foot. "I'm keeping busy. I've been baby-sitting for Rosie and Clove when I can and I'm planning on spending some time up in New Hampshire at the second house. You're welcome to visit."

Charlotte nods. "I think we'll take you up on that. I hear the leaves are pretty there in the fall."

"My favorite time of the year up there." Violet agrees. "So, you'll come?"

Cooper stretches his arms out wide. "Yep, we're retired folk now, we're free."

"What about all of your grandchildren?"

"They've got parents." Charlotte answers abruptly. "I love 'em all but Coop and I can use a get-away."

"How's Drew doing…" Violet hesitates. "With the new baby coming?"

Charlotte answers, "Ruby's gone back to Australia with her mom to have the baby. She's gonna live there for the time bein'."

"Will Drew get to see the baby then?" Violet asks.

"He'll visit and she'll visit, we'll take it one step ar a time." Charlotte wipes Hope's hands and face with a napkin.

"There's still a chance Ruby may give the baby up, she's undecided." Cooper tells.

Charlotte adds. "I'm bettin' she'll keep it. That girl is attached already."

Cooper shrugs. "The best thing would be to give the baby up to a couple who are ready for a family and will love it like their own, like my parents did for me."

Charlotte looks over at him. "It's not your decision, Coop."

"Obviously." Cooper grunts.

Violet changes the subject. "I hear that Chase and Tess back together?"

Charlotte wipes up Brayden's face now. "They are. Chase asked Tess to marry him again."

"That's great." Violet nods. "Another Freedman wedding coming up."

"Yeah," Cooper says. "They want to get married before the Holidays."

"Why so fast?" Violet wipes Clove's mouth.

"They've waited years for this, they just want to get on with their lives." Charlotte tells her.

"I'm happy for them." Violet watches Clove run for the swings with Brayden and Hope.

"I won't be surprised if we have another grandchild from them in the new year." Cooper stretches his arm.

"I'll be more surprised if we don't" Charlotte agrees.

"What about Noah and Marley?" Violet asks. "When will they give you a grandchild?"

"I think they're waiting until they're finished with their residencies to start a family." Charlotte sits down on the bench to watch the kids play.

Violet sits next to her. "How many grandchildren do you have now?"

"Seven." Charlotte answers, quickly "And eight if Ruby keeps the baby."

"Wow," Violet shakes her head. "Who'da thought Charlotte King would have four children and eight grandchildren one day?"

Charlotte chuckles. "Who'da thought I'd marry Cooper Freedman?"

"Hey!" Cooper protests, playfully.

"I used to call you Cruella." Violet tells Charlotte.

"I know." Charlotte nods.

Violet looks at Cooper. "You told her?"

Cooper answers, animatedly. "She heard you. You weren't exactly quiet about it."

"Why did you call me Cruella?" Charlotte asks, seriously.

Violet searches Charlotte's face before answering, she realizes Charlotte's serious. "Well, you had a way." Violet explains. "You gave off this viper…" Violet stutters, trying to explain gently. "You ... you... weren't nice...You were mean."

"I wasn't mean...I was nice." Charlotte defends. "I was the Chief of Staff. I had to play sheriff when you people put me in that position which you did a lot and I didn't like it either."

Cooper shakes his head. "But you were like that all the time, Chief, not just at St. Ambrose. You could be…" Cooper grits his teeth. "Cruella."

Charlotte shoots Cooper a playful glare.

Violet nods. "But you softened. It took a while but you became human."

"After she met me." Cooper boasts.

"After I had the kids." Charlotte corrects.

"No." Violet shakes her head. "I mean you did become softer after you had kids but you softened before that."

Cooper nods. "Yeah, after the…-"

"Don't say it." Charlotte interrupts. "We're at a playground. This isn't the time."

Cooper continues. "I'm just saying you started to loosen up and let people in after."

Violet shakes her head. "I noticed it even before that."

"Thank you." Charlotte looks at Violet.

Violet talks. "I noticed a big change after you and Cooper broke up awhen you told him you were married before."

Cooper screws up his face. "You noticed it then?"

"Yep." Violet nods. "That's when I first noticed the vulnerable, human side to Cruella, excuse me…I meant the vulnerable side to you, Charlotte. That's why I offered to let you move in with me." Violet looks at Charlotte. "You were sad and lonely just like I was. I realized we weren't so different. We were exactly the same."

"I remember that." Cooper nods. "I wasn't too happy Charlotte moving in with my best friend."

Violet responds. "Charlotte needed a friend. She needed me more than you at the time."

Charlotte looks at Cooper now. "If I recall, the name Cruella suited you better at the time."

"I'm sorry." Cooper looks at the ground. "I'm not proud of the way I treated you but in my defense I didn't know why you didn't want to talk about your past...because you didn't tell me."

Violet offers. "That's the past. You two have four amazing children and all these grandchildren." Violet watches the kids play.

Charlotte and Cooper look at each other and instinctively hug. "I love you," Charlotte whispers in Cooper's ear.

"I love you more." He gives her a soft kiss on the lips.

"Not possible."." Charlotte tells him.

"Let's go to Hawaii." Cooper raises his eyebrows up and down. "Let's book our second honeymoon before Chase and Tess get married and before anyone asks us to babysit or gets sick or...-"

"I'll call the travel agent as soon as we get home." Charlotte smirks.

"I love you." Charlotte tells him again as she grabs his hand and squeezes it tight. "I wouldn't change a thing."

"Me too." Cooper holds her hand.

They spend the rest of the afternoon playing with their grandchildren.


The End! (Almost! There will be an epilogue which takes place a few years into the future)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

to my American readers, and I hope ALL my readers have a great day =)