These are not my characters and I make no profit from their use.

Reading the story "The Stargazers" will give background for understanding how Hal got the idea for his science fair project.

The Science Fair

Prologue

Hal had spent the last six months working hard on his project for the Science Fair. It was the biggest event for all the Eighth Grade science students in the school district. There were four different middle schools, but Hal's was the only one with an advanced math and science program. It was also a new and experimental program. Only the best students had been invited to participate and expectations were high. Mr. Oliver had been very nervous for the past month that their projects would be the best in the show. He felt that he had to prove that his students were the best in the district.

There were going to be a lot of teachers and principals from all over the state there to see what the products were of the special program that he was in. They were thinking of copying it for their own schools, but it was very expensive. Hal's program was on a three-year grant, so his school didn't have to worry about money. They had already taken the state tests a month ago and their school had had the highest scores in the state. It was a really big deal. Hal's class had earned the top scores in the school.

But tests weren't enough to prove that the science program was working. The purpose of the program was to encourage students to take lots of math and science classes and become the scientists of the future. That was what Hal wanted to do anyway. Beyond test scores and classes however, the program was intended to inspire students to engage in their own research and experiments outside the curriculum. After all, that was what real scientists did.

All of the kids in his class were real excited about their projects. They all had picked their own topics and Mr. Oliver had encouraged them to choose things that they were not studying in school. He even talked to them about the subjects that they could study in high school. He wanted them to choose areas that they would never get to study until they got to college. That left a lot of topics to study. Hal had chosen string theory.

He had first heard of string theory when Trelawney had been talking about what she called the "music of the spheres" over a year ago. He thought that it was ridiculous that you could hear music out in the solar system, but Dad had said that it wasn't impossible. He told him about string theory and the fact that it was a brand new area of physics. In fact it was so new that it hadn't even been proven yet. That was why it wasn't in any of the textbooks in school.

Then he told him that if he truly wanted to be a scientist then he would have to challenge what he already knew in order to learn what he either didn't know or wanted to know. That was where the aspects of probability and possibility were important. It was kind of like the way that his Mom and Trelawney thought. They believed that nothing was impossible, even if you couldn't prove that it was possible.

That made sense. After all, if scientists didn't challenge present assumptions then they would never learn anything new. That was where probability fit in. The more Hal read, the more he realized that probabilities were shifting all the time. This topic had certainly sounded crazy enough to Hal to fit the bill for his project. But the more he learned, the less crazy it seemed. Everyone knew that it was going to change just about every way that they understood the universe. The exciting thing was that no one had any idea of how.

Of course he had to find out for himself what this string theory stuff was all about. Over the summer at his advanced science program, he had discussed it with his new friend Topher and some of the other guys. Topher was surprised that he even knew about it. He knew about it because he had been allowed to take courses at the university last year. Some of the other high school kids had never heard of it.

That was the first time that he told Topher about Trelawney and her wild imagination. He thought that she sounded cool and he wanted to meet her. Hal tried to warn him that she was weird, but Topher didn't believe him. After he met her, it was even worse. He thought that she was this amazing musician and that she was so talented because she was able to play just about every song ever written on the piano.

But then, when he rescued from a television reporter, she started to call him her gallant knight. That was Trelawney. She never knew when to stop. One minute she seemed like a really neat kid. The next one she was all weird. But even then, Topher still thought that she was a really neat kid. He said that he had never met anyone who was so kind to other people, in addition to being talented. He said that they needed to protect her or she could get really hurt by someone who didn't understand her. When he put it that way, Hal decided that she wasn't so bad after all.

Mr. Oliver had been surprised when he told him about his project idea. He said that he thought that it was too advanced. But Hal had already done a lot of reading in addition to talking to Topher. Because his Dad was a professor, it wasn't hard for him to get permission to use the university library. That was really important because a lot of the stuff that he wanted to know hadn't even been written in books yet. But the library had all the latest research journals.

He already knew so much that Mr. Oliver told him that he thought that he was up to the challenge. He was also impressed by his resourcefulness in gathering the materials he needed to do his research. Despite the fact that he had chosen the hardest topic, he was already the furthest ahead in some ways. So he had spent the last six months learning all that he could about string theory and it's relationship to quantum physics.

Because he had been reading for pleasure the first time around, he had to go back and read everything again. Mr. Oliver taught them how to use index cards to keep track of everything they read. They had note cards for their bibliography, note cards for quotations they might want to use, and note cards just for information.

They had to be very careful to keep track of all the information they gathered so that they could give credit to all their sources. Mr. Oliver wanted to make sure that none of them plagiarized anything, even accidentally. Part of being a good scientist was that you had to give credit to all your sources. That way if you had a new idea, people would know that it was really yours.

Some of the guys had argued that none of them were going to have new ideas, but Mr. Oliver didn't care. He said that they were going to learn the correct method for citation and use it. If they didn't, then they could go back to the regular science classes. It was that important. Since nobody wanted to do that, everyone began making note cards. After a couple of weeks they were all proud of their big piles. It became a weird sort competition that only future scientists would care about.

Because he was using research articles instead of books, Hal had a lot of sources to keep track of. One night when Trelawney came into his room to get help with her own science homework, she saw the mess of cards on his desk. She was curious because normally Hal's desk was very neat.

"What are you doing?" she asked politely. She was always very polite when she wanted something.

"None of your business!" he snapped. "I'm working on my project for the science fair and it's a secret."

"Well it's likely to stay that way if you keep on like that," she commented. "That's quite a muddle."

"If you want help with your homework, you better shut up," he warned.

"I'm not a scientist or anything," she replied. "But I have a suggestion for organizing your cards."

At that moment half the cards fell on the floor and Hal swore in frustration. Trelawney raised her eyebrows, but didn't say anything. After he finished picking them up, she spoke.

"It looks like you have quite a lot of books or something that you are using," she said, not intimidated by his glowering look. "Why don't you borrow Prudence's crayons and put different colored dots on them for each book."

Hal growled at her and she quietly turned and left. After he cooled off, he realized that she was right. If he color-coded his notes with his sources, it would make his note taking more efficient and eventually it would be easier to match up his sources with the ideas that he used in his paper. And Prudence did have a box of crayons with 90 different colors in it. Swallowing his pride, he went over to the girls' room.

"Prudence," he asked nicely. "May I please borrow your crayons for my science project?"

Trelawney looked over at him but didn't say anything. Once Hal could see that she wasn't going to gloat, he offered to help her with her homework. She smiled and said thank you and showed him what she didn't understand. Then Hal used the crayons to help organize his cards and Trelawney never said a word about it, even when Dad saw his system and was impressed.

"Hey!" he said. "I was never that organized when I was your age."

"You're still not," tossed out Trelawney.

But she never told anyone that his system had really been her idea. That was one of the first times that he realized that she was nice because she was a nice person, not because she wanted to show off. Of course, that was just another thing that made her weird. He thought that some day maybe someone should do a science project about her. But there probably wouldn't be enough note cards in the world if you tried to explain her.

Phoebe's Fancies

Once the morning sickness was over, Phoebe found herself fancying the oddest foods. Well, perhaps they weren't so odd, but they were foods that she normally didn't eat. She had begun to have a craving for fish and chips. However, real English fish and chips were nearly impossible to find in America. There was a local fast food restaurant called "Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips," but what they served was terrible. They didn't even offer vinegar as a condiment.

Trelawney was amused and told her that she had learned how to make fish and chips at home from Aunt Becky. Phoebe didn't know her very well, because she had married their Mum's younger brother Stewart after she had left the village to go to university. But her father had owned a pub nearby and she had learned to make them there. Trelawney loved them, so she had taught her how to make them for herself. It was one of the first things that she had learned to cook without Mum's help.

The first night that she made them for the family, Hal and the kids were interested. However, they insisted on slathering them in ketchup. Phoebe shuddered, but they were less than thrilled when she had vinegar on hers. Once she began making them regularly, Hal laughed and asked if it was one of her pregnancy cravings.

"Yes," she said a bit testily.

"Well," he replied. "That makes sense. One of the reasons why pregnant women crave pickles is because they are salty. I would say that your fish and chips neatly fall into that category."

"Is that another prophecy from your 'what to expect' book?" she asked, feeling annoyed again.

The guilty look on his face told her that she had surmised correctly. She threw the sponge in her hand at him, but he caught it laughing. Tossing it back into the sink, he swept her up into his arms to kiss her. As she felt herself helplessly melting into him, she could feel his own response. But there wasn't much that they could do about it at the moment since it was early evening and the kids were still up. Regretfully he released his lips and whispered in her ear, "Later."

He returned to his study and she went upstairs to make sure that the kids were on track for homework and baths. Once they were settled, she prepared herself for bed and started to read. But she quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, she awoke to realize that her husband was in bed beside her. He had not thought to wake her up when he came to bed. Of course who knew when it was that he had finally come to bed. Right now, he was sleeping soundly and peacefully. Unsympathetically she gave him a hard shake. He groaned.

"Where were you last night?" she asked. "I was waiting for you."

"I was working and got to bed after midnight," he mumbled. "I didn't want to disturb you."

However, she decided that she would disturb him. He was lying on his back, so she was able to pull herself on top of him and sought his mouth deeply with her own. His involuntary response told her that she was going to get what she wanted. She could feel his arms reaching around to grasp her and pull her closer. As he slowly returned to consciousness, his kisses deepened and his arousal was stronger.

It did not take him much longer to discard his nightclothes (she had slept without hers) and then they were fully engaged. It was not long before he entered her. As always the feeling of him inside her caused her to easily climax. He seemed to be trying to hold back as he established their rhythm, but he lost control quickly. When they were done, they lay entwined in each other's arms.

"Don't you have to get the kids off to school?" he asked as he tried to catch his breath.

"You really have been working too hard," she said smiling. "It's Saturday."

Before he could answer, she began to kiss him again. He responded enthusiastically. It must have occurred to him that maybe he owed her for his neglect last night. After all, she was a hot-blooded, passionate woman and it was his responsibility as her husband to fulfill those needs. This time he positioned her on top. They were about to climax once more, when there was a loud knock at the door.

"Dad!" hollered Butch. "You have to drive me to baseball practice."

Phoebe heard the handle turn on the door and froze. She realized that Hal had forgotten to lock it last night. And she hadn't bothered to check. Fortunately, Hal had the presence of mind to quickly pull the sheet further over them. He had just succeeded when she heard a gasp.

"Go away, Butch!" he yelled loudly.

Phoebe buried her face in his shoulder. She didn't know what Butch could see, if anything, and didn't want to know. However, things were happening so quickly that in no time the door was opened for several seconds and then slammed very hard. Hal tightened his grip on her and once the door was closed relaxed again. He gently laid her down beside him. Phoebe could feel him gently stroking her hair and kiss her head as he tried to sooth her. She realized that she was trembling hard.

"I guess my son and I are going to have to have a man-to-man talk on the way to baseball this morning," he said with a sigh.

Phoebe could feel herself flushing a dark red. She didn't know whether to be angry with her husband for failing to lock the door or embarrassed that her younger son had just had a first hand glimpse of the lesson of the "birds and the bees." It was actually a little bit of both. Although truth be told, a little of the former and a whole lot more of the latter.

"Why didn't you lock the door last night?" she asked wearily.

"I thought that I had," he replied. "But I must have been more tired than I realized. I was aware that you were 'ready for me' so to speak, when I came to bed, but I was too tired to do anything about it. And you were sleeping so peacefully that I didn't want to wake you. But you're right, I should have been more careful."

"What will you tell him?" she asked, looking away.

"Pretty much the truth," he said. "He actually does know the basic mechanics, although he also thinks that they're gross. I am sure that right now he is much more embarrassed than we are. But he is almost ten and that's old enough to know that you didn't get pregnant by 'immaculate conception,' to misuse a phrase."

"But what will you tell him about what he saw?" she asked again.

Hal tenderly angled her head so that he could look into her eyes.

"I will tell him that what he saw was part of a sacred act that should only occur between a man and his wife," he replied softly. "I will tell him that I love you with all my heart and what we share, we share with each other and no one else in the world. Someday, he will experience the same feelings but he should only act on them when he has found the woman that he is committed to spend the rest of his life with."

Phoebe thought about those words. She knew that he would no doubt have already had that discussion with Hal. She also knew that Butch was old enough to need to have the same conversation. It was odd that she had always been aware that Trelawney knew exactly what they were doing when the bedroom door was locked, but it had never bothered her. Trelawney might tease, but they quite definitely shared the same values and understanding of these things.

The boys were different. It was the first time that she was really aware of the fact that they were her stepsons. She was uncomfortable with the thought that she was suddenly about to become the focal point of Hal's discussion with Butch about where babies come from. She felt was though some boundary of her privacy had been breached. His attitude was more sanguine. It was obvious that he did not feel that way.

Hal must have taken her silence for what it was. He cuddled her closer and gently kissed her. He told her he loved her over and over and then got up. She followed and after she was dressed went downstairs to prepare breakfast. She and Butch didn't look at each other. Prudence was so busy chattering about her dance class that she didn't notice, but her son Hal gave her one of his sympathetic looks. No doubt Butch had reported to him what he had seen.

Once the rest of the family had left she sat down heavily at the table. She could feel little Maisie begin to stir around inside her. In her mind, she thought of it as her little "baby dance." As the little fluttering motion continued, she began to get the strangest feeling that Maisie was aware of what had happened and in her own little way was trying to comfort her.

Perhaps even as recently as a month ago, she would have viewed this as a fancy worthy of Trelawney's imagination. But it had only been recently that she had begun to feel the movement within. She had become more aware of herself as a vessel carrying a human soul close to her heart. It was a great blessing and a huge responsibility. And Hal was correct. It was the result of a sacred act and the expression of a lifelong commitment, not only to each other, but to their little girl as well.

Understanding this act as an expression of one's own deepest humanity was indeed one of life's great lessons. It was humbling to think that God had blessed her with this precious gift. For a long moment she sat staring at nothing. Then she shook herself out of her reverie and prepared to start her day. There was still some housework to be done even though the kids were doing all the heavy chores now. But she wanted to go and see her sister. It might help her to forget about this little episode for a while.

Man-to-Man

Hal made a point of dropping off Hal and Prudence at their Saturday activities first. Once he and Butch were alone in the car, he realized that his son was looking silently out the window. He recalled that he hadn't looked at Phoebe either at breakfast. He decided that it wouldn't hurt if he were a little late to practice, so he stopped the car at another local park.

"Do you want to talk about it, son?" he asked.

Butch looked at him for the first time and shook his head. But Hal knew that even if he didn't want to talk about it, he probably should. He pretended that Butch hadn't shaken his head.

"Why don't you tell me what you saw?" he asked more gently.

Butch looked down and his cheeks turned pink.

"You and Mom were lying real close together in bed," he mumbled. "And you weren't wearing any clothes."

"Do you know what that means?" he asked quietly.

Butch thought for a minute.

"It means that you were, you know, doing what you do to make a baby," he said.

"And do you know what that is?"

At first Butch shook his head again, but then he said, "Sort of."

Hal knew that the answer was really more than sort of, although whenever they had talked together about the subject he had always been vague about the details. He realized that it was time for him to fill in some of the blanks for him. It was probably the mystery of the act that was confusing him the most. It was most fortunate that he had not witnessed that.

He also supposed that having a vague idea of what your parents did in the privacy of their bedroom was different from actually seeing them. He tried to remember how he would have felt at that age if he had walked into his parents' bedroom. Of course his two older brothers had made sure that he knew all about it by the time he was about ten years old. There was no way that he would have risked interrupting that. He suspected that Hal had not done Butch the same favor.

"You know that in order for Mom to have a baby, she and I would have to become very, um, close," he started. "God made it so that the mother provides the egg and the father provides the seed and when they come together, a miracle happens and in nine months a baby is born.

"Now the only place where the seed and the egg can come together is inside the mother. If the mother's body is ready for the egg and the seed to make a new life, then they join to create a baby. Then the baby grows until she is ready to come into the world. That's why Mom's stomach keeps getting bigger. What you think that you saw is how the father brings the seed to the mother."

Butch looked thoughtful. Hal wondered what his first question would be.

"Dad," he asked. "Mom is already having a baby. Why do you, um, need to try to, um, put a seed inside her again?"

It was a fair question. It was also very typical of Butch. He realized that he was going to have to explain the act in terms of more than baby making.

"Well, Butch," he replied. "Let's just say that God wanted to make sure that there were always more children being born. So the act that we are talking about is, well, very enjoyable. Also, it isn't really as easy as anyone thinks for this kind of miracle to occur. It can take a lot of trying. I guess that God made sure that men and women would want to do it often enough to keep the world populated."

"Is that why you promised Prudence to try very hard?" he asked. "It seems like it happened very fast. You know, Mom having a baby and all."

Hal smiled. "Yes, we did try hard, but we were also lucky. God decided to bless us pretty quickly."

"Are you planning to have more kids after this one?" asked Butch.

"I hope so," he answered. "But the only one who knows is God."

"It seems like God has an awful lot to do with this," commented Butch.

"Yes, He does," said Hal with a smile. "Every child is a gift from God and not something to be taken lightly. That's why this is something that you should only do it with your wife."

"Oh, I don't think that I'd want to do it with anyone else," replied Butch emphatically. "I know that you say that it feels good and all, but it still seems pretty gross to me."

I could only live to hope that you always feel that way, son, thought Hal. Unfortunately, in several years a few hormones are going to kick in that will tell you otherwise and then we'll be having another conversation, about self-control. He started up the car and dropped Butch off at his practice. Then he drove off to the university. He was meeting with a group of graduate students who were working on a probability model to predict population growth.

Mama Kate

Since she had begun keeping Trelawney home from school, Catherine found her days very full. Phoebe arrived each morning to spend the day with her sister and Catherine found herself enjoying her own free time with them. On rare occasions Rob joined them, but mostly it was the three of them. And of course Maisie was present. All was going along peacefully, when she received a note from Aunt Henrietta requesting that she and Rob come to her home. Apparently, Phoebe's parents wanted to have a word with them.

"What a lot of nonsense!" exclaimed Rob. "Does she really think that we are at her beck and call every time she gets one of her messages from the great beyond?"

"I guess she does," answered Catherine. "But she also has us over a barrel. I am afraid that if we don't go then she will call on us or demand that Phoebe come to see her. She knows that our primary concern is protecting the girls."

"But David did tell me to throw her out of the house," Rob reminded her.

"And what might she say before you got her out the door? If she contacted Phoebe directly, she might go to visit her on her own," asked Catherine. "No, it's probably better if we just go to see her and get it over with."

Rob grumbled, but finally agreed. He didn't have much choice. Catherine had decided that if he wouldn't go then she would go without him. Strong as his wife was, he knew that she was very sensitive where Phoebe and Trelawney were concerned. He didn't want her to have to face the old witch alone.

As usual, they could not hide anything from Trelawney. The night before the appointment, she stood before them very straight with her hands folded neatly in front of her. She looked deeply disturbed.

"Don't go!" she said emphatically.

There was no need to ask how she knew that they were going to see Aunt Henrietta or that they were going tomorrow. Catherine wondered if Phoebe knew as well.

"Phoebe does not know," replied the girl. "Nor does she not know that she knows. She does not know. Do not go! Do not let her speak."

"Trelawney, isn't it better that we go to her rather than she coming here?" asked Catherine. "What if she asks Phoebe to go?"

Trelawney bowed her head to ponder this. But in a moment she looked up. Her eyes were frightened.

"The evil witch is about to move against Trelawney. The lovely lady and the fair maiden are in danger," she replied. "We must all listen to the counsel of the wise gentleman. I am sorry, but in this case the good queen does not know."

"Trelawney, how do you know that I don't want to see Aunt Henrietta and I am only going because Catherine insisted?" asked Rob softly. "Were you eavesdropping?"

"Trelawney never eavesdrops," she replied shaking her head. "Only the wee fairy eavesdrops. Trelawney knows. She must stay close to the good queen. Pastor Jason has said so. Uncle David has said so. If the good queen goes to the evil witch, then Trelawney must go too."

"No," cried Catherine. "You will stay here with Phoebe while Rob and I are gone."

"The lovely lady cannot protect Trelawney," she replied. "It is not allowed. I cannot break my lovely lady's heart. Please, Mama Kate, do not go to the evil witch. Do not let her speak."

Catherine and Rob looked at each other. None of this made any sense at all. But that was nothing new. And it wasn't even worth asking how she had come upon her knowledge. She would just start talking in circles again about knowing.

"Go to bed, Trelawney," Rob said gently. "You must listen to the wise gentleman and I am telling you to go to bed."

"Yes, sir," she said meekly. But there were tears in her eyes. Catherine knew that her foreboding was very real. After she had left, she looked at her husband.

"No," he said firmly. "Trelawney will not go anywhere near Aunt Henrietta. But neither will you. Since you insist that we learn what she has to say, then I will go alone. You must stay here with the girls. But while I am gone, allow no one to come into the house."

"Are you sure that is necessary?" asked Catherine fearfully.

"Yes," he replied. "I am beginning to sense that getting us both to go to her home is a decoy to leave the sisters vulnerable. Something is up and I do not think that any good will come of it. We must make sure that nothing bad comes of it either."

Catherine nodded in agreement. Rob was probably right. Uncle David had warned them that one of the Trelawneys would no doubt come to visit. If a visit was imminent, then certainly Aunt Henrietta would aware of it.

Ramblings of an Evil Witch

The next morning when Rob left the house alone, Trelawney shook her head sadly. Phoebe obviously sensed her mood because she drew her into her arms protectively, even though she didn't know what was going on or where he was going. Deciding that it would be better for them to be upstairs if someone came to the door, Catherine told them to stay in Trelawney's room.

Obediently, Trelawney sat before the dollhouse and said, "Come Phoebe, let us see what Mimsy and Tansy are up to today."

Catherine looked at Elspeth and said, "Do not leave them. Call if you need me."

The dog gave a short bark in reply and took up a guard position before the door. Phoebe looked at her as if she were puzzled. For an instant, Catherine considered telling her what was going on, but then decided against it. All of these precautions might be silly. But she didn't want Phoebe to worry.

The hours passed slowly as Catherine worked silently in the kitchen. Because she couldn't think of anything else to do, she decided to polish the silver. It was a big job and would keep her busy for quite some time. The doors and windows were locked, but she still felt on edge. She was polishing intently when the doorbell rang. She jumped.

Looking out from the door, she saw a young man wearing a dark suit and carrying a walking stick. She opened the inner door so that she could talk through the screen door, which was locked. The young man bowed and with a cheerful grin said,

"John Trelawney at your service, ma'am. I'm here to pop in on my cousins Phoebe and Trelawney. Stopped by at Phoebe's house first, but no one was home. So I figured that she were here with the little one."

Catherine was put a bit at ease by his polite and easy manner. He also referred to Trelawney as "the little one," just as David had. But she had also promised Rob not to let anyone in. Suddenly Elspeth came bounding down the stairs. The minute she saw John she started to bark furiously.

"Now Elspeth," he said charmingly. "What is all this ruckus about? You know old cousin John then, don't you?"

But the dog continued to bark until Trelawney came downstairs. She looked warily at her cousin. Elspeth immediately stood between them.

"Why Trelawney love," said the young man. "Aren't you going to call off your little pooch so that we can say a proper hello?"

But Trelawney still eyed him suspiciously and refused to speak. She was clearly on guard. Phoebe had followed her down the stairs, but was more cordial.

"Why Cousin John," she said. "What a lovely surprise! Uncle David said that one of you might drop in. I'm glad it was you."

"Well, you shouldn't be," said Trelawney under her breath.

Elspeth shifted herself in front of Phoebe and looked threateningly at Cousin John. A low growl came from her throat.

"Elspeth!" Phoebe reproved. "Behave yourself in front of company!"

Catherine was then amazed to see the dog and Trelawney exchange glances. It was almost as if they were both human and shared some kind of knowledge. Neither Phoebe nor her cousin seemed to be in any way surprised by this. She was more confused than ever, but she still had absolutely no intention of letting the man into the house.

"Catherine," asked Phoebe politely. "Why don't you invite Cousin John in?"

"Rob has requested that I not allow anyone into the house," stated Catherine.

Phoebe looked puzzled once more, but also knew that Rob's word must be obeyed. Cousin John clearly understood as well, because he bowed and removed his hat.

"Good day, dear lady," he addressed Catherine. "May I have your permission to return when your husband is at home?"

"Yes, of course," she replied.

"Pleased to meet you, then," he replied and bowing again. "Phoebe, Trelawney, good day."

After he had walked away and she closed the door, Phoebe walked into the living room and sat down. Trelawney sat beside her on the couch and curled up under her arm. Elspeth remained on guard at the front door. Catherine sat in a chair across from them and heaved a great sigh.

"What was that all about?" asked Phoebe. "Why wouldn't you let John in? Why did Rob give those orders?"

"Mr. Everett has gone to see Aunt Henrietta," explained Trelawney. "She wanted to see Mama Kate too. I told them not to go. Mr. Everett went alone because he knew that Mama Kate had to stay home with us. This is not good. The evil witch wishes to move against Trelawney."

"Catherine, what is she talking about?" asked Phoebe.

"All I know is that I got a note from Aunt Henrietta requesting my presence and Rob's at her house," she said. "Trelawney didn't want us to go, but Rob thought otherwise."

"But John has always been our friend," Phoebe said, looking at Trelawney. "What makes you think that he would do anything to hurt us now?"

"John is a Trelawney," she said. "All Trelawneys must listen to grandfather. John's mother is a Featherstonehaugh. Remember? She is Cholmondeley's aunt. It is quite muddled. Grandfather has filed a legal claim for my custody. He says that because he is older than Uncle David that the will is wrong. I should have been left to him after you. Cousin John must obey him. But he also wants to."

"How do you know about any legal actions?" asked Phoebe. "Uncle David didn't say anything about that."

Catherine watched as the sisters looked into each other's eyes. Once again she had the feeling that they were communicating without words. Trelawney's face had that wide opened look of honesty that she got when she was plainly telling the truth. Phoebe's expression was one of growing confusion. She held the girl closer as if in fear.

"There, there, Phoebe dear," said the little girl. "I am quite safe. We have Elspeth and my Mama Kate. When you are not with us, then the gallant knight shall watch over the lovely lady and the fair maiden. I have the good queen and my loyal dog. The wise gentleman watches over all of us. He has gone to face the evil witch, but he will shortly return unharmed."

"Trelawney, sweetheart," said Phoebe seriously. "Who was just at the front door?"

Trelawney looked at her guilelessly. "Twas the cousin of the unicorn, come to avenge his death."

"What?"

Now Phoebe was trembling. Trelawney looked at her with great sympathy.

"Trelawney knows him for who he is. His aura was murky. He was dissembling, but he could not fool me. He seeks to be what he is not," she replied. "He shall not trick us again. But the wise gentleman returns."

They all sat in silence as the key turned in the lock and Rob entered. He looked at Trelawney sternly and said, "Go upstairs. And take the dog with you."

"Yes, sir," she replied meekly.

After she left, Catherine asked. "Are you angry with her?"

"No," he replied. "But I need to talk to you two and I don't want her to know what I am about to tell you. I also don't want the dog to hear."

Phoebe nodded slowly and Catherine was now completely perplexed. Since when did Rob start believing that Trelawney and the dog could speak with one another? But Rob didn't seem to be in the mood for answering questions.

"Your aunt is certifiable," he said to Phoebe. "And I have a mind to call in the authorities myself."

Phoebe looked concerned.

"But don't worry," he continued. "I know that it would only make things worse. Has he been here yet?"

"Has who been here?" asked Catherine.

"Grandfather Trelawney's surrogate," replied Rob. "He has sent someone to lay claim to Trelawney. He has filed for custody back in England. Our lawyer here has been contacted. We may be ordered to appear in court in Tintagel and bring the child with us."

"No!" cried Phoebe.

Seeing her distress, Catherine sat beside her and put her arm around her. Rob looked at her and felt regretful that he had to bring her such bad news.

"Would you like to rest before I continue?" he asked gently. "Or would you rather wait until Hal gets home. I called him at work and told him to come home right away."

Phoebe closed her eyes. She could feel her daughter moving. But she wanted to know everything now. It would be easier than wondering until Hal came home, whenever that might be. He was so caught up in a research project right now that they hardly ever saw him.

"Tell me now," she replied calmly.

"It was Aunt Henrietta who told me about the legal challenge, along with a few other crazy things," he explained. "Once I extricated myself from her nuthouse, I went to see our lawyer at the university. He had received the documents this morning. Your grandfather is actually fighting the terms of the will.

"He does not recognize our custody and he really doesn't have to. In addition to the claim by the Trelawneys, the lawyer has also heard from David. David's lawyer is preparing paperwork ceding his custody rights to us. His lawyer, who is one of his sons, will be bringing the paperwork himself in a few days."

"That would my cousin Lewis," she said.

"Yes, well, apparently all the Figalillys are behind you. They view Trelawney as theirs by the rights of their custom of paterfamilias. It seems like some kind of a family feud is brewing over there. And that you and Trelawney, but mostly Trelawney, are stuck in the middle," continued Rob. "Lewis is hoping to making a preemptive strike in the American courts.

"The British courts cannot compel us to produce Trelawney without the support of the American courts. The only other persons who can lay claim to Trelawney through the will are David and Annabel. As you recall, you had no right under the will to sign over her custody to us.

"Technically, they are the ones who now have custody, even if the niceties of law were not completely observed over here. However, if they give us custody then that should be the end of it. The ruling by the American court will stand as long as she is on American soil."

"Can we act quickly enough, Rob?" asked Catherine.

"Bob has promised to make sure that we can," he replied. "He has a friend in the state attorney general's office whom he is contacting as we speak. As soon as Lewis arrives we will get him up to Sacramento right away. Until then, Trelawney stays here, in the house. You do too, Catherine."

"Of course, Rob," she said. "But you are sure that she won't have to appear in court in Sacramento?"

"Our lawyer is coming over with a local family court official to take her deposition regarding her own custody," replied Rob. "She is not really old enough to have an opinion, but the court will want to make sure that there is no coercion."

"What if she starts talking about the good queen and the wise gentleman?" asked Catherine nervously. "She has started doing that again."

"I will impress upon her the need to speak plainly," said Phoebe. "If she understands the importance of this, she will do it."

"Good," said Rob. "And Pastor Jason is coming over later. We will need his help with a matter involving Hal."

"What is that?" asked Phoebe.

"David has specifically requested that for your safety, you remain here with Catherine and Trelawney," he replied.

"Why did he ask that?" said Phoebe.

"I don't know," said Rob honestly. "But it sounded more like a command than a request. I think that we need to treat it as such."

"I'm sure that you're right," she said with a sigh. "I would like to be with my sister now. You have no idea of how upsetting all of this is for me. She does and I do not doubt that she will be upset too when she knows. I think that we really need each other now."

"Yes, of course," he answered.

After she left Catherine turned to him.

"Okay, what else did she say?"

He knew from her tone of voice that she was talking about Aunt Henrietta. Catherine was determined that she was going to learn everything.

"Well," he replied. "Needless to say she said that she was disappointed that you weren't there. But she went into one of her trances right away and began to 'commune' with her contact Rosalie. Apparently Meg and Owen told her that Meg's father was taking legal action because they wanted Trelawney to be safe with him in the village. The girl is a danger to her sister and David is a fool."

"That sounds par for the course," commented Catherine. "But where did the new crazy come in?"

"It came in when she started to ramble incoherently," he said. "In fact she was more incoherent than usual. She said that she saw three lives hanging in the balance. The child was a threat to them all. The guardian was no guardian, but a bigger fool than his father. Two sisters were a source of danger to the entire family. A cousin posed great danger to the others. Only the elder generation could protect the younger. A blinding light could split them all apart. The innocent would suffer. However, no one was named. It was all vague allusions."

"Did you try to say anything or ask her any questions?" asked Catherine.

"I only managed to get out one question, before she began to really rant and rave," he replied. "I asked about the angel."

"And what did she say?" she asked.

"She began to shriek, and yes I do mean shriek, that there are no angels of life," he said. "She said that the journey never ends but that one must constantly travel between the darkness and the light. She began repeating over and over that the darkness was coming for some. Three lives hang in the balance. There are no angels of life, only angels of death. Talk about crazy! She really did sound like the old sibyl at the oracle of Delphi, 'full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.' I couldn't get out of there fast enough."

Catherine could see that it must have been a very upsetting experience. She was glad that he had insisted that she stay home with the girls. The visit by John Trelawney had been unnerving, but it was nothing compared with this.

"Rob," she said. "I think that you need to tell all of this to Pastor Jason."

"Well," he retorted. "Good luck to him making any sense of it. I'll just be happy if he can convince Hal to let Phoebe stay here without a fuss. David wants her to even sleep in the same room as Trelawney."

"Did you speak to him directly?" she asked.

"Yes," he replied. "It was evening over there, but he was waiting for our call. He has been very worried about the girls since John Trelawney left Cornwall yesterday. He is afraid that he will try to kidnap her."

"She wouldn't go willingly," replied Catherine. "She looked terrified of him. And the dog was beside herself."

"Well, that dog is one more piece in this puzzle," said Rob. "I really do think sometimes that she can talk to Trelawney. For some reason, David seems to think so too."

"Well," said Catherine. "I just hope that this can all be resolved in a week. Hal, Phoebe, and Trelawney will all be devastated if they can't go to the opening of the science fair next Monday night. Hal told me that it's going to be the biggest night of his life and he especially wants Trelawney there."

"That's the least of our worries."

"Maybe for you," she replied. "But if we are going to maintain a semblance of normalcy around here and make things less stressful for Phoebe, it's a good distraction. It's a lot less disturbing to focus on the fair than the custody issue."

"That makes sense. And they should be able to go," admitted Rob. "If all things work according to plan, the legal piece should be settled in a couple of days. Hopefully John Trelawney will leave and maybe even Aunt Henrietta will pack her bags."

Catherine sighed. As much as she wanted to go upstairs she decided to leave the girls alone. It had been a long time since this kind of upset had occurred. But not long enough, really. They were both emotionally stronger, but Phoebe needed to be insulated from this kind of worry. And of course, Trelawney felt responsible for every little thing that went wrong. She could only hope and pray that her son would not make things worse.

Change in the Air

By the time that Hal was finally able to leave the university, it was three hours since his father had called. When he got to their house, he saw that Pastor Jason's car was parked outside and that his father's was not in the driveway. Looking at his watch he realized that Dad must be helping to drive the kids to their various activities. He was surprised to find the door locked when he went to go in, but he rang the bell and Mother let him in.

Once inside, he found Phoebe and Trelawney in the living room with Pastor Jason. The dog was sitting in front of Trelawney. Her ears pricked up when she heard him come in, but she relaxed once she saw whom it was. Hal sat down beside Phoebe and gave her a little peck on the cheek. But Phoebe looked back at him with worried eyes. Pastor Jason looked at him sternly. He didn't even bother to exchange greetings before he started in on him.

"Hal, how long ago did Rob ask you to come home?" he asked.

"I don't know," he replied. "I had a lot of work to get done today. As it is I had to cancel a couple of meetings and a seminar to get home early."

"It was over three hours ago," he said. "Things have been happening around here that we need to discuss. However, if you are not present to discuss them, then we have to make decisions and move ahead without you."

"What have you been discussing?" he asked, feeling his annoyance building.

It was bad enough that his father was interfering with his family, now he had Pastor Jason to deal with as well. He could feel Phoebe tense up beside him. His annoyance was now turning into irritation. Why did they have to upset his wife like this?

Mother answered in a more soothing tone. "Trelawney's grandfather has made a legal claim on her custody in England. He has sent his grandson, the girls' cousin John, to bring her home. Your father has been working all day with David to put a stop to it. Needless to say, it has caused us all a great deal of anxiety."

"It sounds like you have everything under control," he said tensely. "Why did I have to come home early? You all seem to be perfectly comfortable making decisions without me anyway."

"David wants Phoebe to come live with us until the matter is settled," she continued, ignoring the edge in his tone. "He wants Phoebe and Trelawney to stay together until John Trelawney leaves the States. He feels that this is the safest place for her right now."

Hal processed this latest bit of information in silence. He wished that his wife were not sitting next to him. He knew that she would not be happy with his answer.

"I don't see why I should have to listen to what David Figalilly wants," he stated. "He himself told us that he no longer has any control over Phoebe now that she is an Everett."

Pastor Jason must have decided that it was time for him to put in his two cents because he spoke up.

"Hal, I think that you should calmly and seriously consider the matter," he said calmly. "You don't know as much about this situation as you think that you do. The Figalillys are backing Rob and Catherine's custody of Trelawney completely. In fact in a couple of days, a lawyer will be bringing out paperwork to that effect. Until the legalities are fully resolved, Phoebe should be here with her sister. Among other things, it will create the appearance that Trelawney is still in her care. That makes the point of the legal action between the two families moot."

Hal was now getting more frustrated. Once again, Trelawney's issues were being allowed to disrupt his household. And they had Phoebe all upset. Trelawney, as always, read his emotions. She stood in front of him with Elspeth by her side.

"I am terribly sorry that I am causing you so many problems," she said sadly. "This was not my idea, I promise. Nobody asked me, they only told me. I may not leave the house and neither can my Mama Kate. I do not know why my Uncle David wants Phoebe here with me other than what Pastor Jason has told. But I must obey Uncle David. I did not ask for her. Please don't be angry with me."

The child's sincere apology was grating. It would have been easier if she were defiant or selfish rather than compliant and self-sacrificing. He knew that she was caught in the middle of some family power struggle. But still, if she weren't present in their lives then there would not be all this anxiety and worry. She looked back at him, stood up a little straighter and neatly folded her hands in front of her. She spoke as if in a dream.

"The evil witch has spoken. 'Tis a pity, for her words have power she knows not of. She speaks of fate for those she knows not of. There is danger for some we know not of. It is not allowed. The evil witch has moved against Trelawney. But she is safe. The lovely lady and the fair maiden are now in the care of the good queen. They are safe."

And then she turned to him and looked directly into his eyes.

"Oh gallant knight, this is a world you know not of," she continued. "It has a rhyme and reason that do not exist in this time and place. Leave the lovely lady to the care of the good queen. Trelawney is for naught. She is but a single glimmer of light in the darkened sky. Only the good queen knows."

Trelawney turned to Phoebe, took her hands and kissed her cheek.

"I would not wish to break my lovely lady's heart," she said simply. "I merely obey the decisions of the wise gentleman. My uncle has placed me in his care. I no longer have any choices. I will do as I am told."

Hal watched as she dropped her hands and went over to the stairs with the dog at her heels. He was more confused than ever. About all he could make out from her words was that she didn't want him to blame her for the fact that Phoebe must stay with her for the time being. He noticed that Phoebe's eyes had followed her up the stairs.

"I must go to my sister," she said quietly. She looked at Hal with pleading in her eyes, but left anyway. She wanted him to love her enough to let the others take control of their lives. He no longer knew what to think. It was as if even his wife had turned against him.

"Hal," said Mother. "You really should have come home when Rob asked you to. She needs your support more than you seem to realize. But she mostly needs your presence. I know that just now you think that she has chosen her sister rather than you, but a few hours ago, when you had the chance to put her first, the job came first."

"Phoebe understands that I have a lot of responsibilities," he said defensively.

"Phoebe also understands where your priorities lie," said Pastor Jason. "Actions speak louder than words. She knows why you didn't come home right away. And right now, she actually did choose her sister over you. She is very fearful for the future and she is choosing her sister for the absolute devotion and gentle comfort that she offers. It is obvious that you are not willing to offer her the same degree of comfort and single-minded devotion at this time."

Hal was about to protest, but Pastor Jason continued.

"Let her stay here, Hal," he said calmly. "Then you can go off and fulfill your responsibilities at work and know that she is safe. Trelawney's words may seem like a jumbled mass of confusion, but one thing is crystal clear. She and Phoebe are safe together as long as they are in Catherine's care. No one knows why or how. This is not the time to debate it. There is too much at stake. Give your wife and yourself peace of mind by allowing it to happen without complaint."

Feeling defeated, Hal agreed. He then went upstairs and sought out his wife. She and her sister were in her bedroom. Phoebe was sitting in the rocking chair and Trelawney was reading to her. The instant she saw him, Phoebe was up on her feet and in his arms. She led him to a nearby bedroom where she closed and locked the door. He knew what she wanted.

He picked her up and gently laid her on the bed and proceeded to tenderly undress her and make love to her. She clung to him out of need rather than hunger. Her responses to his attentions were more sensitive than ever. After, as he cradled her in his arms she whispered, "I love you more than anyone in the world. You are always first in my heart."

"And you are more precious to me than anyone or anything else in my life," he answered softly. He looked down at her and smiled.

"I believe that you are growing larger every day," he said gently.

She glowed with pleasure and then snuggled more closely in his arms. He wondered if his mother and Pastor Jason were aware of what they were doing behind the closed bedroom door. He didn't really care. It should be proof to them of how much he really loved his wife.

The Plot Thickens

From the living room, Catherine and Pastor Jason heard the bedroom door close. She looked at him and sighed.

"I suppose that that is the only way that she is able to get his attention these days?" he asked bluntly.

Catherine sighed again. "I don't know for sure, but I suspect so. I know that in addition to his teaching he is presently involved in a project for NASA. He is spending long hours at work, even on the weekends."

"Well," said Pastor Jason. "In this case I will have to agree with David. If he is not going to be home, then she needs to be here. She needs to be sheltered from the anxiety of wondering whether or not her sister is safe at any given moment. She needs the loving support of family members who are physically present. She is too distracted to give the other children the attention that they need anyway. In the long run, this is better for all concerned."

"I suppose that as long as he has his 'conjugal rights' so to speak that he won't object too much," she said cynically. "He's hardly ever home. But you have raised an important point. What about the children?"

Pastor Jason was thoughtful. "If we want to get him to come home more often, then he is going to have to take responsibility for their care over the next few days and nights. Of course you and Rob will help him, but don't let him entirely turn them over to you. If he spends more time with them for a few days then maybe he will want more. It will hopefully make him more aware of what he is missing by his absence."

"Maybe," she said. "But Rob will be bringing them home soon. What should we tell them?"

"The truth," he said. "They have nothing to be afraid of. No one is interested in them and we are going to make sure that Phoebe is safe. Trelawney is safe too for now."

Catherine didn't like the way he said "for now," but she went off to make dinner. She heard Rob come in with the kids. A few minutes later Pastor Jason left. Rob entered the kitchen.

"Where are the children?" she asked.

"They're all doing their homework on the dining room table," he said. "I told them what was up and that their father would be taking them home tonight without Phoebe. Pastor Jason told me that he is being uncooperative."

"To put it mildly," she replied. "As usual it's all Trelawney's fault. It was over three hours, by the way, before he finally got home after you called him. It's a good thing that it wasn't a real emergency."

"That's why Phoebe has to be here," sighed Rob. "I got the full story from Pastor Jason. Are they still upstairs?"

"What do you think?"

"Okay, dumb question," answered Rob. "But Pastor Jason did seem concerned about Aunt Henrietta's 'premonition.' It was the first time that he has ever asked me to write her mumbo-jumbo down. I guess that even he had trouble keeping it straight."

"Are you sure that you remembered it correctly?" she asked with concern.

"Honey, those words are etched in my mind. But there isn't even any way to know what it means," he replied. "She does seem to get more things wrong than right. But nobody ever knows what is wrong and what is right. It's more frightening than if she was always accurate."

"All right," she replied. "It's better if the girls don't know about it. They seem satisfied to think that all she told you was about the legal action."

He nodded and hoped that it would give them peace of mind.

"Well, Rob," said Catherine. "On a more practical note why don't you let the house know that dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes?"

"I suppose that that will give Phoebe and Hal enough time to pull themselves together?" he asked with amusement.

"More than enough time," she said, shaking her head.

Dinner was a little bit on the rowdy side that night. The three children were upset that Phoebe wasn't coming home with them. Hal was in a better mood and assured them that he was perfectly capable of taking care of them on his own.

"Didn't I manage by myself before Mom came?" he asked.

"Barely," muttered Hal who was upset that this meant that his mother and Trelawney might not be able to go to the science fair on opening night.

Hal gave him a look that warned him and the others that they better not start up. But Butch and Prudence ignored him and began to recount the many ways that they tried to get rid of their housekeepers before Phoebe had come. They clearly thought it was a big joke that Hal had never figured it out while it was going on. Trelawney looked somewhat bored. Catherine thought that she was also trying to make a show of support for Hal.

"Must you tell all those old stories again?" she asked. "They're all growing a bit tired."

"They're not boring," said Prudence. "Maybe we should tell the story about how you got rid of Mr. Feathers."

Trelawney politely excused herself and went upstairs. In a minute Phoebe followed her. Catherine was annoyed.

"That was uncalled for," she said. "Especially from you Prudence. You know better."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I forgot."

"No you didn't," said Butch. "You're just jealous because Mom is living with Trelawney now instead of us."

"Hold it, all of you!" said Rob loudly. "There will be no arguing at my dinner table. You will treat one another with courtesy and respect. In a couple of days, Trelawney's custody will be settled and your mother will return home."

"That makes sense," said her grandson Hal.

"Why is that?" asked Butch.

"Well, Uncle David was going to take Trelawney away because she wasn't living with Mom. I guess that gives her grandfather the same excuse. But if Mom lives with Trelawney until everything is settled with Uncle David then it will be okay," he explained. "Right Grampie?"

"Right, Hal," said Rob, glad that his grandson was so smart. "Now you all need to pack up your school things and go home. And be good kids for your Dad."

"Yes, sir," they all said respectfully.

Rob was glad when they were gone. So was Catherine and she suspected that Phoebe and Trelawney were relieved as well. But Phoebe did miss Hal.

"Do you realize that this is the first time since we were married that we have been apart for the night?" she asked Catherine.

"Don't worry," she soothed her. "You and Maisie will be fine. You know that they do say that absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Phoebe looked thoughtful as she returned upstairs. Yes, my dear daughter-in-law, thought Catherine, it will do my son good to sleep alone for a couple of nights. Then maybe he'll spend more time with you.

Hal was incorrigible. It was always one step forward, two steps back. When was he going to learn once and for all that he needed to face up to his family responsibilities and spend more time at home? His intentions were pure each time he promised to do better, but he too easily kept falling into his old patterns of behavior. He was lucky to have married a woman who loved him with such utter devotion.

These days more and more women refused to accept this kind of neglect by their career-obsessed husbands. Hal had better hope that none of the "women's libbers" out there got their hands on his young wife. And what about the children, especially the boys? She knew how much he loved them, but it seemed that no sooner did he reconnect with them than some other professional distraction came along.

The saddest part was that he still seemed to be oblivious that it was happening again. Her joy in her greater involvement in her grandchildren's lives was now tempered by her understanding of her son's priorities. She knew that she needed to do something to help him see this but she didn't know what. But now she was tired. It had been a long and stressful day. She was looking forward to her evening reading and praying for guidance. It was time to let go and let God for a while.

Legal Turmoil

The next couple of days seemed to pass very slowly for Phoebe. On the first day, the lawyer from the university and a prosecutor from family court came to take their depositions concerning Trelawney's custody.

"It's just a precaution," said the lawyer. "Your grandfather is claiming that you were both coerced into the present arrangement by Professor Everett and his father. He is also claiming that David allowed it to continue because Annabel does not want the responsibility for raising Trelawney. This has nothing to do with your testimony. Just answer the questions honestly and you won't have any problems."

Phoebe noticed that Trelawney was very calm and self-assured. But she could see why the lawyer didn't want her to appear in court. She looked much younger than her age. However, she knew exactly what she wanted.

She herself tried to be calm, but she was also very nervous. She had not really wanted release her sister from her custody. Fortunately, she was able to answer all their questions honestly. Hal and Rob had had nothing to do with her decision. She had acted solely on Pastor Jason's advice. And he was never mentioned.

When they left, Rob heaved a sigh of relief, but before he could say anything, the phone rang. It was for him. From his end of the conversation, Phoebe realized that it was Uncle David. But he didn't even ask to speak with her. When the call was over, Rob sat down.

"Your cousin Lewis just left Heathrow," he said, clearly more relaxed than before. "All of the paperwork is in order and filed on that side of the Atlantic. I need to call Bob. He is going to have his corporate jet on standby at LAX. Lewis arrives tomorrow morning and then he, the lawyer, and I will fly directly to Sacramento. We'll be at the state courthouse when it opens."

"And then you'll file the paperwork?" asked Catherine who had been holding her breath.

"Yes," he replied. "Bob's friend is working on expediting the hearing to officially turn her custody over to us, with David's approval. It's a risky move for him to take. He and Annabel have both given depositions that they completely surrender any claim to Trelawney's custody of their own free will. They feel that this action is in the best interest of the child as this time.

"That leaves us completely free to gain full custody here and should preclude any more challenges by any other family members. In fact, the British court in Tintagel has already granted us provisional custody pending the outcome of the US court decision. David must have someone pulling strings for him in the British legal system as well."

Phoebe smiled a little. If only they knew! The Figalillys were more than capable of getting their way in these matters. The Trelawneys were also, but it appeared that they had been caught off guard. She was hopeful that the matter would be put to rest in two days so that she could return home.

"Will Lewis be returning with you for a visit?" she asked.

"He plans to," replied Rob. "But he will be returning shortly after that to Geneva. Apparently he has important business there."

"His specialty is really international law, not family law," she said. "That does mean, however, that he is well-qualified to handle an international custody dispute. I know that he will make sure that whatever the court decides is airtight."

"However, that is not entirely true. The battle is taking place here so that you and Trelawney don't have to travel back to Cornwall. Even your grandfather recognizes that such a long trip taken under great stress could be harmful for you and the baby," said Rob. "The dispute is not international. It is between the Figalillys and the Trelawneys.

"If you recall, it was the Figalillys who first challenged Phoebe's custody in British court and lost. There was never a legal dispute between the Figalillys and us. We handled it informally. That was a pretty savvy move on David's part, since it left him with the legal authority under the terms of the will, to intercede in our fight the Trelawneys. Technically speaking, they have held custody since last year when you signed your rights away to us."

"I am sure that Uncle David knew exactly what he was doing when he was here," said Phoebe. "He is a very canny businessman. One of the reasons that he negotiates so well in his business dealings is that he never reveals his full hand, so to speak. And Lewis is well-known in Europe for his legal acumen."

The phone rang. Catherine picked it up and when she discovered who was at the other end of the line her face was immediately cautious. She looked at her husband.

"Rob, John Trelawney would like to come over to visit the girls," she said nervously. "Will you be here?"

Rob looked at Phoebe who nodded. She really did want to see someone from her mother's family other than Aunt Henrietta. And she had always liked her cousin John. Trelawney was upstairs working on her schoolwork, so she was not there to protest. If she did not wish to see him, that was fine with her. Elspeth would never leave her side and no doubt she would start to act aggressively again if she saw him.

It was arranged that John would come over in an hour. However, he could only stay as long as Rob was home. After she hung up the phone, Catherine looked at Rob questioningly.

"What am I supposed to do while you are away?" she inquired. "Do we need to barricade ourselves inside the house?"

"Don't be silly," he said. "Ben is coming tonight. He will stay with you until I return. I told you that the Everett family would stand behind you, Phoebe. And we will."

Phoebe was grateful, even if she was beginning to feel as if all the preparations were getting out of hand. Despite all the support that she and Trelawney were getting however, the one person that she really wanted was her husband. The children would be coming here after school and then he would join them all for dinner before they went home.

She had missed him dreadfully last night. In fact, she and Trelawney were awake and talking long into the night. After the many times that she had comforted her sister, it was now Trelawney's turn. She reassured her over and over that Hal truly loved her, but was just very caught up in his work at the moment. Eventually they had fallen asleep holding hands, as they had done since Trelawney was a little girl.

Trelawney had always been afraid of the dark, but Phoebe had never been able to sleep with a light, even a nightlight, on. Before she left home and whenever she visited, because they had shared a bed, Phoebe had held her hand so that she could fall asleep without fear. But now it was Phoebe who also drew comfort from her. Trelawney was still afraid of the dark, but Phoebe was also comforted by her touch. She knew that she was safe and so did Maisie.

When John arrived she greeted him fondly. He asked after Trelawney, but was told that she was upstairs doing her schoolwork.

"Oh, yes," he commented. "We had heard that the little one couldna' go to school for fear of the other children. 'Tis a pity, Phoebe. She must miss being with children her own age."

"It's not quite so bad as all that," replied Phoebe. "My children keep her company and her best friend lives just down the street. In the afternoons she has ballet classes and gymnastics and then on Saturday an acting class. She has been cast as one of the leads in a local production of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."

"Ah," he said. "A budding thespian. 'Tis no surprise. The girl has always had a vivid imagination. It's good that she has a constructive outlet. What about her music?"

"She plays for pleasure, as you well know," she replied a little tensely. "She certainly does not need lessons."

"No, 'a course not," he replied cheerfully. "But enough about your sister. How are you and your baby? You look quite well. In fact it looks like you're to be a fine, healthy Figalilly mum. No doubt you'll have a bonny baby and more after this one. You've always had the look of a mother. 'Tis about time that you had a little one of your own to love. No more borrowing for our Phoebe!"

Phoebe found John's words very soothing. He was not much of a roamer himself and only rarely left the village. Thus his Cornish accent and speech patterns were stronger than many of the others who had visited over the last couple of years, even Uncle David's. Listening to his quaint syntax and lilting voice, made her long for home. It occurred to her that perhaps she would like to visit home when the baby was old enough. It wouldn't really be possible for all the family to come to her. And maybe by then, it would be safe to bring Trelawney back for a visit as well.

Unfortunately, Catherine continued to look worried and Rob watched him like a hawk the whole time. Despite their pleasant conversation and John's obvious mild manner and cheerful demeanor, they clearly did not trust him. But he did give her all the news of her mother's family. Apparently, Grandfather Trelawney had taken Mum's death very hard. John shook his head.

"Aye," he said sadly. "Grandfar was deeply grieving. He said that it tweren't right for the father to bury his child. He was glad that our Grandmum hadna' lived to see it. 'Twould've broken her heart no doubt. 'A course he never did get over her death neither. Said then as now that the old age was a curse to him. Lost his dear Rose and dear Meg too soon, the both of 'em."

"Your maternal grandmother's name was Rose?" asked Catherine. "You never mentioned it."

"I guess that I didn't," said Phoebe. "But yes, Trelawney Rose was named for Rose Trelawney to avoid confusion. Mum also chose the name because she was born in May, the month of roses."

"Yes," said John with a smile. "And a proper little Gemini she is as well. One minute the laughing little butterfly, the next the serious little oracle. A little fey she is too. That's why we want to protect her. One such as her does not belong out here."

Phoebe felt herself tense again and was happy that Catherine was there to answer for her.

"Trelawney is a very special child," she said. "We love her as our own. I've always wanted a daughter. And now I am blessed with two. But we are also very lucky that she has found good friends through church who love her for who she is. We will find her the right school for September. We believe that a church school would be best, and one that is all-girls."

"Well," said John slowly. "I would have a hard time arguing with that. But a state school is definitely not for the likes of Trelawney. Grandfar still wants to bring her home. You know that her Auntie Alma would be quite pleased to have her live there again. The little one took a fancy to her years ago. And then there twouldn't be all this silliness about schools among those who know and love her."

There was silence in the room. Phoebe could feel Maisie move and a wave of sadness swept over her. It was not just her own sadness, but Maisie's. She could feel the tears forming in her eyes and hoped that Rob and Catherine would help her to avoid an emotional scene. Catherine must have sensed her feelings.

"John," she said politely. "I am sure that Phoebe is grateful that you have come all this way to visit her. But I believe that she is quite tired. This is the time of day that she usually rests. Phoebe, why don't you say your goodbyes and go upstairs?"

Phoebe nodded gratefully, allowed herself to be kissed on the cheek by John, and then made her way upstairs. She had no desire to see him again. As soon as she entered the room, she realized that her sister had been waiting for her. She came into her arms for a hug and, while patting her soothingly on the back, whispered, "There, there."

Then she lay her hand on her stomach and whispered, "It's okay, little Maisie. Your Auntie Trelawney will not be leaving you."

Phoebe felt a peace come over her as quickly as the sadness had downstairs. Once again, she could feel her child's emotions. She shared them. Trelawney looked up at her.

"Yes, Phoebe," she said very quietly. "You are presently one with our little angel. She lives within you as fully human as I who stand before you. She is a complete mind and heart and soul. She is you and you are she. I know that every day you grow to know her better. But she knows all. Such as she is, she has all the knowledge of heaven and earth."

Phoebe looked down into the sky blue eyes that held the wisdom of an old soul. Yet in a moment, the eyes returned to their wide-eyed childish state, open, honest, and glowing with goodness. She smiled.

"I am tired too, Phoebe," she said. "We were up late into the night and it would do us both good to have a nap."

In the afternoon sunlight, Phoebe found herself dozing peacefully. As she held her sister's hand, she could feel her strength flowing through her fingertips and to the child within. Maisie was at peace again. It was time for them all to rest.

Anxiety

When Hal returned home from school on Wednesday, he wondered if there was any news from Grampie. He had gone to Sacramento that morning with Mom's cousin Lewis to settle Trelawney's custody. Once the custody was settled, then Mom could come home and both Mom and Trelawney could leave Grammy's house again. The whole thing was very confusing. He knew that he should care more about it, but his big worry was the science fair.

He knew that his project was very good. Mr. Oliver had praised his presentation to the class today. His real worry was that Mom and Trelawney might not be able to come to the opening night of the science fair. He had decided to dedicate his project to Trelawney. After all, she was the one who got him thinking about string theory in the first place.

He knew that she would be embarrassed because she didn't like it when people made a fuss about her but he didn't care. She really had been his inspiration. And he knew that the dedication was going to make Mom real happy. In fact it would probably make her happier than if he dedicated the project to her. But that wasn't why he was doing it. Trelawney deserved it.

He also knew that everyone would be a lot happier once they didn't have to worry about someone in England trying to take Trelawney away. They were so worried that Uncle Ben had come last night to stay with Mom, Grammy, and Trelawney until Grampie got back. His Dad had been mad when he heard.

"Why did you ask Ben to come?" he demanded. "I'm here."

"Are you going to stay at home with us all day until your father returns?" asked Grammy right back. "You won't be able to go to work, you know."

Dad had looked like he wanted to argue but he could see that Mom was getting upset. He also knew that he couldn't, or wouldn't, stay home. Hal didn't want to see her upset. After she had woken up from her nap yesterday afternoon, she and Trelawney came downstairs and they had played Monopoly in teams. It had been pretty funny watching Butch try to tell Uncle Ben how to buy and sell property. They started to argue as if they were brothers or something.

When Dad had come in they were all laughing and having fun. But Dad had to be a spoilsport. He didn't like having to come home early, in time to take care of them. But then he didn't like that they were all having fun without him. He even seemed mad that Mom was smiling, but Hal thought that she should smile. It looked like everything was going to work out.

After they got back home that night, Hal tried to tell his Dad about his project and how well his class presentation had gone, but Dad said that he had a lot of work to do. He wanted Hal to go upstairs and make sure that Butch and Prudence were done with their homework and in bed on time. Hal sighed. He was starting to feel like the Dad in the house. But he also knew that Dad was real busy with a project of his own for NASA.

Hal was very proud of his Dad. After all, he was doing very important work for the whole country. But he also thought that Dad had important work to do at home too. He didn't understand it at all. After Mom died, he had spent a lot of time at work because he missed her so much. He kind of understood that. But now he didn't have that excuse. They were the ones who missed him, especially Mom.

He tried to remember if he had been around a lot when his first Mom was alive. But it was too hard. He had been too young most of the time. He knew that Mom had been real proud of him. She even said when he was late that they all had to support him. It made him happy to teach and all that. But now Hal was confused. He really didn't want a famous scientist Dad. He wanted a Dad who was home. So did Butch and Prudence, and so did Mom. He thought that secretly Dad wanted to be home more too. He just didn't know how to do it.

Now when Hal got to Grammy's house, everyone was nervous because Grampie hadn't called yet. Mom and Trelawney were sitting on the couch together and Uncle Ben was pacing. When Butch and Prudence came in, Butch started to complain about wanting to go to baseball practice, but Grammy gave him a look that said, "one more word out of your mouth and you're in big trouble."

They all knew that look very well. It was one of Dad's looks. He thought that maybe he had inherited it from her or something. Uncle Ben decided that they should start another game of Monopoly to help pass the time. None of them wanted to do their homework. Hal thought that it was also because he really liked playing Monopoly. Even though he and Butch had been arguing yesterday, they were partners again. And they both really wanted to win. Nobody else really cared about winning. They just wanted to have fun.

Finally the phone rang and Uncle Ben answered it. It must have been Grampie because Uncle Ben listened real hard. He hardly said anything. Trelawney moved over so that Mom could put her arm around her. Everyone was watching Uncle Ben to see if the news was good or bad, but he didn't even give a hint.

"We won't know until tomorrow," he said when he had hung up the phone.

Mom hugged Trelawney a little tighter.

"What did he say, Ben?" asked Grammy.

"Everything was going smoothly," he said. "All according to plan. Then, right before the judge went into chambers to deliberate, John Trelawney showed up with a lawyer to countersue for custody."

"How did he know?" asked Grammy, who was very confused.

Mom and Trelawney looked at each other. Mom's cousin had come to visit yesterday. He must have figured out somehow. Uncle Ben shrugged.

"It doesn't matter now," he replied. "The judge heard the arguments on both sides and took the depositions and other paperwork. He is going to consider the matter overnight. If he can't come to a decision then, he said that he would want to talk to Phoebe and Trelawney in camera."

"What does that mean?" asked Grammy.

"It's a legal term that means in private, in chambers," he said. "He would speak with each of them alone, but Trelawney is too young. She would need to have a guardian with her. Unfortunately, at this time there is no clear picture of who actually is guardian. It is possible that the judge will appoint a guardian ad litem."

"I want Pastor Jason," said Trelawney. It the first time that she had spoken since Hal came home. Uncle Ben looked thoughtful.

"That might be a good suggestion," he said. "As a man of the cloth it would be hard for the Trelawneys to argue that he doesn't have the girl's best interests at heart or that he would try to coerce her."

"I don't want Trelawney in court," said Mom. "Isn't that why she gave a deposition?"

"Your relations are playing hardball," said Uncle Ben. "They know that the stakes are high and they want things resolved in their favor. But Bob's sending the plane back down in case you need to go north tomorrow. Mother, you will stay here with Hal and the children and I'll escort the girls up. Can you call Pastor Jason and see if he's available?"

"He'll be available," replied Trelawney confidently. "He is always available for me."

"Yes, well, it would still be nice to give him some warning, dear," said Grammy.

Then Dad came in. Everyone got real quiet. Hal knew that when he heard that Mom might have to go upstate tomorrow he would probably blow his stack.

"What's the news?" he asked looking around.

"We won't know until tomorrow or Friday," said Uncle Ben.

"Mommy might have to fly up north tomorrow," announced Prudence, her tattling tone of voice.

Hal was impressed by the way that Dad held his temper. He just sat down and said, "Oh?"

"The Trelawneys have put up a challenge," explained Uncle Ben. "It's not certain, but Phoebe and Trelawney may have to go up and talk with the judge, but it would not be in public. I would go with them and Mother would go down to your place to take care of the kids. But none of this is definite. We just want to make sure that we are ready to move quickly if we need to."

"Hal, I really don't want to go, but I may not have a choice," said Mom. "It's looks like Cousin John is going to make this as difficult as possible, even if he loses."

"Lewis will argue that Phoebe should not have to travel when she pregnant," added Uncle Ben. "But that argument may not work. Pregnant women fly all the time. And most of those who do, don't fly on private jets."

Everyone watched Dad's face as he considered what he had just been told, except Trelawney. She looked down at her hands in her lap. Hal knew that she was afraid that Dad was going to start blaming her again. But it wasn't her fault at all. It was her grandfather's fault.

Dad must have realized that Mom was upset enough without him make things worse.

"Well," he said. "You have to do what you have to do. But if you do have to go north tomorrow, I want you to make sure that you stay rested and don't worry anymore than necessary."

Grammy looked very relieved and said that she was going to start dinner. They went back to their game of Monopoly. Last night Grampie and Prudence had won and Ben and Butch wanted a rematch. Prudence was now playing with him and Mom. Grammy and Trelawney had been partners again. It was kind of a joke. They were both terrible players. Dad sat down and told them to continue with the game.

"But Grammy was Trelawney's partner," protested Prudence. "Now she doesn't have one."

"I can be Trelawney's partner," said Dad. "I used to be pretty good at this game."

"No you weren't," laughed Uncle Ben. "Kids, your Dad never did learn to manage money very well. That was how he ended in university teaching. Business was a little beyond his abilities."

"As I recall, big brother," replied Dad. "Math was a little beyond your ability. You wouldn't have gotten through high school calculus if it wasn't for me."

"Okay, boys," said Mom with a smile. "Cool it! You're not setting a very good example for the kids here."

"Oh, man!" complained Butch. "Watching them fight is more fun than playing the game."

Everyone laughed. Hal was happy that Dad had stepped up and made everything go more smoothly. He could tell that Mom had been real worried about what he would say. But now he was talking with Trelawney about how she and Grammy had been playing and was trying to explain strategy to her. She looked real happy because he was treating her nicely. Mom was watching them and smiling. Even though things were crazy, it looked like they were going to get to be happy for a little while.

When Hal came home from school the next day, Grammy was at their house. She said that Mom, Trelawney, Pastor Jason, and Uncle Ben had all flown up to Sacramento. Dad knew because he had stayed home that morning until Grampie called with the judge's decision. Hal hoped that the judge would make his final ruling soon.

"Grammy, do you think that this could go on over the weekend?" he asked.

"I hope not," she said looking worried. "I know that they want to get your Mom and Trelawney back here quickly. And your Mom should not have to spend the whole weekend worrying. It would not be good for the baby."

"Grammy," he said. "I know that this is going to sound selfish, but it's really not. I really want Mom and Trelawney to be home for the opening of the science fair on Monday. But it's not just because it's my big night."

"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked in her comforting voice. "Your project has been a big secret since school started and we all knew that you especially wanted your Mom and Trelawney there."

"Well, I know that I can tell you," he answered. "Because you're real good with secrets. It's actually Trelawney who gave me the idea for my project. It's the neatest idea in the fair and I want to dedicate my project to her."

"That's very sweet of you, Hal," she replied. "What is the topic? Trelawney is not very good at science, or even very interested in it. I'm surprised that she could have inspired you."

"Well," said Hal. "It's kind of like this. Last year we were having an argument because she said that the planets make musical tones when the rotate around the earth. And of course that's all wrong. But then Dad explained that her idea wasn't totally crazy and he told me about this thing called string theory. So I started reading about it. It's really cool."

"That does sound exciting," she commented. "I've never heard of it before."

"That's okay," he said. "Most people don't know about it. In fact there aren't even any books about it yet. I had to do most of my research using scientific journals that had the latest research articles. When I made my class presentation everyone thought it was really groovy."

"Then we'll all be looking forward to it," she answered smiling. "And I won't tell a soul. I know that you're going to make your Mom and Dad very proud."

"Well," said Hal. "I know that Mom will be proud. I'm sure that Trelawney will be too, but I hope that she isn't too proud. You know, I hope that she doesn't hug me or say anything too weird."

Grammy smiled at that, but then looked worried.

"Hal," she asked. "Why don't you think that your Dad will be proud?"

"Well," he said. "Of course I know he'll be proud, but he's real busy right now. He might not pay much attention. But that's okay. He's doing real important work for the government. It's much more important than an old science fair. I mean it's just kid's stuff and all."

"Well," she said. "I'm sure that it will all work out . . ."

But she didn't say anymore because Butch and Prudence came in from their bus. Even though he had wanted to keep the project a secret, he was glad that he told her. Sometimes when you have an exciting secret like that, you feel like you just have to tell someone. And Grammy was a good person to tell. He would really have liked to tell his father, but he was too busy. Hal hoped that he wouldn't be too busy to go to the fair.

To be continued . . .

Will the Everetts keep custody of Trelawney? Will Phoebe and Trelawney return home in time for the science fair? Will the Professor spend more time at home? What caused his sudden change of heart with regards to Trelawney? Will Pastor Jason be able figure out Aunt Henrietta's premonitions? Who is John Trelawney and why is he really here?