I do not own these characters and make no profit from their use.

Aunt Henrietta's Circus

Prologue

It was late-May as Phoebe found herself in her third trimester of her pregnancy. Little Maisie was a very active girl. She was already showing a proclivity towards the Figalilly intuitions. It was one of those times when Phoebe desperately missed her mother. She knew that Mum could have told her whether she or Trelawney had also shown these tendencies while still in the womb. Short of going back to the village to ask her own female relatives, there was not much that she could do other than wonder.

Of course, Maisie was not of pure lineage. Phoebe suspected that this might be offset by the fact that she was a fated child. If Trelawney had sensed her coming as far back as October, before she was even conceived, then she must have a very strong presence.

There were many deep connections that Phoebe felt with her child, but it was impossible to know what was normal and what was normal for a woman of her race. Such things were never written down, only passed along as part of their own oral tradition. This tradition, and the code of silence that surrounded it, insured that their secrets were kept safe from outsiders.

As she was wondering this, she received a letter from Emmeline's older sister Sylvia. Sylvia was coming for a visit. The intention was that this would be a completely social call, with no upsetting interrogations or snooping. Uncle David simply wanted to know how things were going for them, especially her and the baby.

Trelawney's twelfth birthday was also approaching. Last year, her birthday was so close to their parents' passing that the girl had just wanted to forget it. She understood, having insisted that the family forget her own birthday back in April. This year, she had humored them and allowed them to have a cake, but she really hadn't wanted a fuss. She also had not wanted gifts, but was touched when she received a crib for the baby, constructed by Rob and the boys and made up with bedding created by Catherine and the girls.

When Maisie would finally be old enough to move into the nursery, things would be ready for her. Hal had purchased new wallpaper, filled with Beatrix Potter characters, that he promised to put up once the semester was over. Like Phoebe, Trelawney really didn't like being fussed over either, but Catherine wanted to do something special for her with her friends. Just as the crib had been a lovely surprise, she wanted to do something similar for the younger sister. Now Sylvia could be included in the plans.

Of course Lewis had only been there a month ago, but that had hardly been a social call. Lewis had made sure that Trelawney's custody was secure with Catherine and Rob until Phoebe could take it over again. But Lewis was also a very busy man. He had flown out after a long weekend to Geneva for an important trial. Knowing Lewis, there was little doubt that he had told Uncle David the things that he really wanted to know. Uncle David had also written to her.

He had been very pleased when Catherine had pulled Trelawney from school. His letter rang with praise and approval of that decision and the decision to actively search for a private school where her "uniqueness" would be appreciated. They had discovered several good possibilities in the area. Luckily, she was accepted into her first choice. He was also happy that they had more time together. Since all the written reports were good, he thought that Sylvia would be a good choice as visitor.

His son William wanted to visit as well, but he was torn between his desire to see his cousins and his determination to stick to Cholmondeley like glue. They had left Africa and were traipsing about the outback of Australia now. If Cholmondeley was suspicious of his sudden friendship, he said nothing. Of course Cousin Liam was a most jovial traveling companion. Knowing her ex-fiancé, he was probably flattered that the other man found his own company so engaging.

She was still unsure as to why there had been no visitor from the village from her Mum's family other than poor Cousin John who had failed to gain custody of Trelawney on behalf of their grandfather. Uncle David had seemed very sure that someone else would be out, but for the time being, there was only Aunt Henrietta. Oddly, she had been recently keeping her distance. It was a rather peculiar situation, but she decided not to think about it too much. She was grateful that she was left in peace.

Pastor Jason was always present in their lives, but he never hovered. She appreciated that. Once the trip to Sacramento was over, he disappeared back into his own life. Of course, he had his own very active ministry in his church to tend to, as well as his wife and children. Still, it was good to know that he was always available to help them at a moment's notice. But the fact that they had been able to go a full month without any further crisis was in and of itself wonderful.

Trelawney was excited about the impending visit because Sylvia would be present for her performance as Laura in "The Glass Menagerie." The play was her good friend Mike Lenihan's directorial debut. Phoebe had been amazed by the cleverness his casting choices, but he quietly explained that with kids who were the age of Trelawney and Francine, who was cast as Amanda, a certain amount of type-casting was always involved to insure believable performances.

Friends and family might see the girls playing themselves to a large extent, but those who didn't know them would be impressed by their grasp of the characters. Mike was a smart young man. Although he didn't achieve his dream of Juilliard, he had been accepted into the very fine drama programs at Yale and NYU. He was hoping for a scholarship from one of them. This project would hopefully impress one of the schools. In fact an alumnus of the Tisch School at NYU planned to attend a performance.

The Circus

Mike's mother Lois had not seen much of Phoebe Everett in the past few weeks, but she ran into her one Saturday morning when she was dropping Francine and Trelawney off at the community theatre. She was quite obviously blossoming with child. She looked happy and content. Mike had told her that Trelawney's custody had been officially decided. All three of the other children were thriving. She decided to invite her out for tea while the girls were at play practice. The younger woman happily accepted.

"I can't tell you how grateful we are that you managed to get Trelawney into Our Lady of Mercy," she said. "She would have been very disappointed if she had not been accepted."

"I could tell that just from talking with her," replied Lois. "I didn't think that it was really fair of them to count her public school issues against her. One of the reasons why you were looking at other schools was because it didn't work out. Fr. Bob was very effective at explaining that to them."

"But Fr. Bob told me that you were also a very big help," answered Phoebe.

Lois smiled. "It was actually fun throwing my weight around. After all, I have no daughters myself and I have been a generous donor over the years. The very least that they could do was accept a girl that I was sponsoring."

"And they took Francine as well," commented Phoebe. "Mrs. Fowler seems to be very eager to get her away from the boys."

"Francine is a good girl," said Lois. "She doesn't want their attention any more than her mother does. I also believe that she was strongly motivated by Trelawney. Mike has the impression that she still wants to stay close to her to protect her. But now Sarah Tucker feels left out."

"Yes, I know," replied Phoebe. "Janet told me that she is very upset that her two best friends are leaving her behind in public school. But with six kids and Topher only one year out of college they just can't swing the finances."

"Oh, I suspect that Topher will get a scholarship to MIT or some place of that caliber," she said. "Unlike Mike, he not only has brains and talent, there is real financial need. Especially since the twins are right behind him."

"I thought that Mike had someone from NYU coming to see the play," said Phoebe. "And he's hoping for a scholarship that way."

"Well," said Lois. "If Mike senior weren't such a skinflint where his kids are concerned, Mike junior wouldn't need a scholarship. Mike thinks that the boy should just go to UCLA so that he can get instate tuition and go practically for free."

"But if he wants to be in or near New York City for the acting possibilities," said Phoebe. "I would think that there are just as many acting opportunities, if not more, in LA."

"The New York stage has always been his dream," she replied. "But his dream is my ex-husband's nightmare. He is horrified that his son wants to be an actor. And his latest little cutie is egging him on."

"Oh dear!" said Phoebe. "I would think that he would be proud to have such a talented son."

"No, he's not," said Lois grimly. "And the worst of it is that we have no recourse. He is still smarting over the community property division that gives me half the assets plus child support. He has no legal obligation to put the boys through college. In fact once they're eighteen, to quote him they are 'off the gravy train.' And I can't swing either of those east coast schools on my own."

"That's terrible!" exclaimed Phoebe. "Doesn't he at least feel some kind of moral obligation to help them out?"

"Honey, you are too good to be true," replied Lois bitterly. "If that man had any kind of moral conscience then he wouldn't have divorced me so that he could indulge in the flavor of the month whenever he wants. It's not as if he is hurting for cash either. The way he drives around in his new red convertible you would think that he was trying to relive his teenage years. At his age he looks ridiculous. It would be funny if it weren't so self-centered."

"And self-destructive," added Phoebe. "Doesn't he realize that he is alienating his sons? Not to mention the kind of example he is setting."

"The example is not the problem," she answered. "They've both lost all respect for him. And he knows about the alienation. He blames me for that. If I were more 'hip' then I might realize that I need to go out and have a little more fun. He doesn't seem to realize that someone needs to be the adult in the room."

"I'm really sorry," said Phoebe. "I wish that there was something that I could do to help."

"Well, just lending me your shoulder to cry on is a pretty big help right now," she said. "You look so happy that I hate to ruin your day, but Princess Lotus Blossom, or whatever her name is, is up to her old tricks again. I wanted to give you a heads up."

"Oh dear," said Phoebe. "I knew that her silence was too good to be true."

"Yes, well, she's not exactly been silent. In fact, she's been spreading her nonsense all over town," Lois replied. "Nobody wanted to tell you because we all know how happy you and Trelawney are, but someone needs to. This time she really seems to have gone off the deep end."

"Well now that Trelawney's custody is settled, I can't think of what she could be predicting," said Phoebe. "However Rob has said the same thing about her mental competence. The word he used was 'certifiable.'"

"Sounds about right. Just because Trelawney's custody has been officially granted to Rob and Catherine, does not mean that she is going to give up her premonitions of gloom and doom," said Lois. "Remember that she is not above trying to frighten Trelawney into returning to England of her own free will."

"My sister would never do that," said Phoebe. "She knows that our parents wanted her to be close to me. She will always want to follow through with their desires."

"Do you want to know what she is saying or will it be too upsetting?" said Lois. "Sooner or later you will probably hear it anyway."

Phoebe sighed. "You might as well get it over with. Then I can tell Rob and Catherine and we can consider what to do, if anything, about it. My cousin Sylvia is coming to visit in a few days. At least we'll have reinforcements."

"Cousin Sylvia?" asked Lois.

"Yes, she's Emmeline's older sister. Uncle David wants to see how things are going since my Cousin Lewis was here last month," she replied.

Lois looked surprised. "You certainly have a lot of family."

"Oh yes," said Phoebe nonchalantly. "On both my parents' sides. You probably don't know, but Uncle David alone has six children. And then there are a slew of family friends that we call aunts and uncles, like Uncle Alfred. We've stayed in close contact over the years, in fact over the generations."

"Interesting," she said. "But none of you seem to live near each other."

"Other than those who are settled back in the village," Phoebe replied. "No, we're not. We're always on the go between one place and another. Of course, I'm very happily settled here, as is Trelawney for the time being. It's difficult to think of what will happen in five years when she's ready for college."

"Then, don't," said Lois. "I'm afraid that the premonitions are wackier than ever. There's the old one about the two sisters and the injury to the third party. But now three lives hang in the balance. There's a child who is a threat. And then there's something about a guardian and his fool father. And there's a cousin thrown in for good measure I guess."

"No names?" asked Phoebe.

"Of course not, or timelines. I guess that she doesn't want to get it too wrong," Lois continued. "Finally there's a kind of creepy one about the angel of death and more journeys back and forth between the darkness and the light. But even weirder, she has ranted about a blinding light and the innocent suffering. The elder generation will save the younger. I haven't heard that one myself, but I understand that it is quite 'apocalyptic,' so to speak. Most people think that it's nonsense, but she still has her cohort of true believers."

"Hmm," said Phoebe. "She isn't saying anything more specific than that? That's quite a broad spectrum of nonspecific negative karma. However it is a bit more melodramatic than usual. She doesn't normally predict the end of the world."

"No, is that better or worse than it sounds on the face of it?" asked Lois, now feeling a little more concern.

"It's hard to say," she answered. "Why is everyone so sure that she is talking about my family?"

Lois shifted uncomfortably.

"Most of the time she just spouts this stuff out when she is communing with the other side about someone else," she explained. "It really is bizarre because once she gets started conversing with Rosalie she really does seem to be in a trance. That's when she has these digressions. She also identifies it with the Figalillys. She apparently has been known to rant on about a cosmic conflict with the Trelawneys, plural."

"Rob went to see her once at her request," said Phoebe. "At that point she was 'predicting' the legal challenge, which actually had already been made by my grandfather, her father. She is my mother's sister you know. Trelawney is their maiden name, as well as being my sister's first name. Generally, she is referred to within the family as Trelawney Rose, after my maternal Grandmother Rose."

"Okay, that solves that little mystery. We couldn't figure out if she were trying to tell us that there were multiple girls out there in the time-space continuum," said Lois. "One of her more lucid statements is that dear Meg will never rest in peace until her darling Trelawney Rose is safe at home in the care of Aunt Alma. Both of your parents in fact want her to be back home."

Now it was Phoebe's turn to be silent. Lois watched as the emotions crossed her face. It must be hard to hear that someone was using the memory of your mother to achieve her own ends in such a crazy way.

"A statement that specific is most certainly a ploy," said Phoebe slowly. " I am sure that Grandfather wants her to frighten or emotionally manipulate Trelawney into returning home of her own free will."

"It seems that she is also manipulating your emotions as well," commented Lois.

Phoebe nodded. Lois noticed that her glow had somewhat faded as she contemplated what she had just told her.

"Well, she is famous for speaking without fully thinking through the consequences," replied Phoebe. "Her premonitions are known to go wrong for that very reason. And she doesn't seem realize how transparent her motives are when she is being manipulative."

She looked even more troubled. Lois was sorry that she had told her.

"Phoebe if you want to go home now, I can drive the girls back later," she offered.

"No, thank you," said Phoebe. "Mrs. Fowler is picking them up. But I would like to go home. Butch has a game this afternoon and I need to rest. He would be very disappointed if I wasn't there."

Lois smiled. "I think that it's wonderful that you have such a great relationship with those three kids. Not all stepmothers manage to achieve it. In fact, not all mothers in general."

"I may have an advantage in that I had developed these relationships before there was any thought that I would be their stepmother," she replied. "When Hal and I were finally married, it was after they had been on his back for months just to get me an engagement ring."

"I remember that," said Lois. "And it was certainly fortunate that they were begging him to marry you."

Phoebe now began to smile again and excused herself. Lois felt bad about having to be the one to tell her about all the wackiness, but it could have been worse. In one of her recent séances, Princess Lotus Blossom had given the task to Mrs. Fowler. She couldn't even imagine how tactless that would have been. At least now she was prepared and could shut her down before she got going.

But the whole thing was totally illogical. The "Princess" always referred to Phoebe as "dear Phoebe." Yet she seemed to have no qualms about sending off one of the most merciless busybodies in town to pass along some very upsetting "messages." Phoebe was a young and healthy girl, but she had also had a lot of stress recently. No doubt the doctor wanted her to remain calm for the rest of her pregnancy. It didn't seem fair that now that things were settled with her sister and going well, her aunt was trying to stir up so much trouble.

But at least everyone had seen lot more of her husband around recently. The project that everyone knew that he was working on for NASA seemed to be on the back burner for the time being, and the semester was almost over. Hopefully, he would be able to spend lots of time at home before the baby came. The due date was mid-August, so he would even have a little time at home before the fall semester started up again.

Lois sighed. She hoped that the play would go well and that a scholarship would come through from Tisch. It didn't even have to be a full scholarship, but a few thousand dollars would make Mike's dream possible. She could then swing the rest. She knew that her son would be sorely disappointed if he had to go to UCLA.

But her ex-husband was being impossible. He just couldn't accept that fact that his son was a talented actor and singer with a dream. No, it wasn't an entirely realistic dream, but how many eighteen year olds had realistic dreams? There was plenty of time for him to come back down to earth and face reality. He should be allowed to enjoy his youthful delusions while he could. And who knew? Maybe he would find success on the stage. She could only wonder at how cynical she herself had become.

But just being with young Phoebe was an invigorating tonic. It really did help her to remember the joy of life that she had felt early in her marriage when she was pregnant with her own sons. She suspected that her son Mike got the same feeling from spending time with Trelawney. The very real sweetness and innocence of the two girls, as well as their kind and generous hearts, gave one hope that the world was really not such a bad place after all.

Victory on the Field

Phoebe was relieved when she could finally get home and rest. Hal was in his study working on grading his finals. She decided not to interrupt him. The sooner that he was done, the sooner that she would have his undivided attention. She smiled to herself at the thought and Maisie gave her a little kick of agreement. She went upstairs to lie down, but before she could even get comfortable, Prudence was in the room looking woebegone. Tired as she was, she knew that the little girl needed to talk.

"Mommy, can I talk to you about something?" she asked sadly.

"Of course, darling," she said kindly. "What is it that you want to talk about?"

"Mommy," she said. "I really want Nana and Papa to come to my dance recital next week. But Nana says that she can't come."

Phoebe could not help but feel sympathetic, however she also felt a little guilty. She knew that Bernice did not want to attend because she couldn't bear to see her pregnant. But this wasn't something that anyone could explain to Prudence. She wouldn't understand that she was uncomfortable being in the presence of the young woman carrying her former son-in-law's child. And then of course, she would have to look at Hal and his behavior.

Since custody hearing, Hal had made both her and the family a much bigger priority. Whenever they were out together in public, he had his arm protectively around her and would occasionally lay his hand on her stomach. Maisie never failed to reward him with a kick. She knew that his solicitous manner told the world how much he loved her and how happy he was that she was carrying his child. No doubt he had acted the same way with Helen.

Prudence had seen the family come out in force for Hal and Butch's big weekend. She had been disappointed when Ben and Bob were unable to make the show. Sylvia would be there and of course Tom wouldn't miss it, but Bernice was different. Prudence liked it when Bernice told her how much she looked like her "Angel Mommy" as she called Helen. And Helen had gone to dancing school when she was a little girl just like Prudence.

Phoebe thought that it might be because she was pregnant, but she had the impression that Prudence was finally developing a very natural curiosity in the woman, of whom she had no memory, who had given birth to her. Phoebe was pleased, because she knew that as the girl grew older, it was a connection that was important to her emotionally.

Trelawney had always been very sensitive to Prudence's lack of connection with her mother and tried to encourage her to find out more so that she could fill in the gaps. And as always, Trelawney added a touch of whimsy to her encouragement. She would tell Prudence that up in heaven their mothers were friends and were very happy that they were friends. The older girl's patience with her little bout of jealousy earlier in the year had been rewarded when Prudence finally had realized that Trelawney was not and had never been a threat to her own relationship with Phoebe.

"Why can't your Nana come to the recital?" asked Phoebe carefully, wondering what the excuse was that she had given.

"Papa said that she had a previous engagement," explained Prudence. "But I don't understand. She's already married, so why does she need to get engaged?"

Phoebe smiled in spite of herself.

"When someone has an engagement like this," she said. "It means that they already have another commitment. Papa was telling you that Nana was already busy."

"Oh," said Prudence. After thinking for a minute she added, "I'll let you rest now Mommy, I can see that you are very tired."

"Yes, I am honey," she said. Prudence left quietly and Phoebe was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.

When she woke up, she felt refreshed. She thought of Aunt Henrietta's premonitions, but decided that she wouldn't worry about them. She couldn't possibly take the "instructions" that she had supposedly been given to her by her Mum seriously. They were much too specific to be true. As for the other, it was all just too vague.

Without more information, it was impossible to know to whom she was referring. It did make Phoebe feel a little uneasy to realize that Aunt Henrietta didn't know either. It was also disconcerting that some of her rambling had occurred when she seemed to be in a trance. That meant that there were actually things that might need to be taken seriously. Of course it was all so scatter shot that nothing made any sense at all.

She got up from her bed and went downstairs to make lunch. At that point, she realized how late it was. Hal had returned from his Junior Scientists meeting, and he had made lunch for himself, Prudence and his father. She would just about have enough time to fix a sandwich for herself before they left. Rob, Catherine, and Trelawney were meeting them at the park. It was a big game for Butch's team,

Until this point they had come through the season undefeated. The team that they were playing was also undefeated. It promised to be a very exciting game because both teams were very strong on offense. As a relief pitcher, all that Butch could do was sit on the bench and hope that his skills as a "closer" would be needed in the last innings. He had an excellent record of strikeouts and his ERA was almost non-existent. To top it off, he only rarely walked batter.

The whole family was proud of him, except for maybe Prudence. Of course she probably would have been more proud of him if she didn't have to sit through all of his games. She knew very little about baseball and had no desire to learn more. Trelawney had learned all about the game. Phoebe was still not sure if this was good or bad. When things got tight, her sister would occasionally glance over at her with a mischievous look on her face.

Then the ball would take a funny hop or a star fielder would commit an error. Phoebe tried talking to her about it, but she was incorrigible. However, when a batter on Butch's team had been hit by a pitch, to walk home the winning run, Phoebe took her to task. Trelawney would admit to nothing, but said that it was "unlikely" to happen again. The family appeared to be none the wiser, but her husband had begun to look at her oddly when these occurrences happened.

When they arrived, they discovered that Rob, Catherine, and Trelawney had staked a claim on a lower corner of the bleachers. Phoebe was no longer able to make herself comfortable sitting there, so Hal now packed a folding chair for her. The sun was bright so he also set up an umbrella. One of the advantages to his recent change in attitude was that he was much more thoughtful. Or his mother had pointed it out to him. Catherine was keeping him on a short leash these days, but it didn't seem to bother him. She suspected that he was grateful for her reminders.

The family settled in for a pleasant afternoon in the sun. Phoebe really only had any interest in the game when Butch was playing. However when he was in pitching, she was very nervous. His role was critical in preserving the winning streak. In this game however there were many exciting hits and plays in the field. Both of the starting pitchers were good, but the batters were better. Both teams were playing their best. Each had a lot at stake in terms of bragging rights if they could defeat the other, not to mention that their playoff berths were at stake.

The score was close the whole way through, but after the seventh inning the starting pitcher for Butch's team was tired. The coach pinch hit for him in the eighth, to no avail, and then brought in a mid-game replacement reliever for the bottom of the inning. The team was ahead by two runs, but the coach didn't want to use his closer (Butch) yet. Since they were playing as the "away team," it meant that the other team could always come back in the bottom of the ninth inning to even or better the score. And at that point Butch's team would have no recourse.

However, that pitcher only pitched to three batters. The first two batters each hit a single to put themselves on base at the corners, and then the third hit a home run. During the "at bat" for the third hitter, Trelawney kept looking over at Phoebe. Phoebe knew as well as her sister that the pitcher was "choking." Phoebe looked back at her sternly.

If the coach could read auras the way that they could, he would never have put him in, in the first place. But the coach was not entirely dim. He had had Butch warming up the whole time and by the time the third run had scored and the other team had finished going nuts cheering, Butch was on the mound tossing in the catcher.

One of Butch's strengths, according to Rob and Hal who knew such things, was his high kick in his wind up. All those paper wads he had been pitching into a trash basket for the past year had really improved his technique. He was also not a fastball pitcher, which made his pitches harder to hit deep. Phoebe looked over at Trelawney to see if she was up to her old tricks, but Trelawney just gestured towards the mound and nodded. Butch was calm, cool, collected, and very relaxed. He retired the side with three strikeouts each on a total of nine pitches.

Butch's performance settled his teammates while the other team's big inning had jazzed them up. They were celebrating before they even took the field. Phoebe looked over and could see Trelawney looking very seriously at her hands in her lap. She noticed that they were folded in a gesture of prayer. She then took a deep breath and looked up.

It is times like these when a player shows his true mettle. Batting averages and RBIs are meaningless statistics when the hitter is in a clutch position. Phoebe heard the coach call out to the first batter, "Set the table!"

"What does he mean by that?" Phoebe asked her husband.

"It means that he shouldn't try to win the game all by himself," replied Hal. "They need two runs to win. His most important job now is to get on base. He's a power hitter and a free swinger. If he tries to swing for the fence, he'll probably strike out."

Phoebe understood only about half of that. However, she did get the idea that the coach was trying to take the pressure off. Fortunately, the strategy worked, because the boy hit a double.

"He's in scoring position now!" yelled Rob. "Good job, son!"

The kid paid no attention. He was focused on the batter. The opposing pitcher was rattled and walked him. The winning run was now on base and the pitcher was replaced with a closer.

"Guess the other coach was so excited when they scored that he forgot they still had the ninth inning to come back," commented Rob. "He should have put that kid in to begin with. He's facing the top of the order."

Maybe, but the next batter went down swinging, sending the clean up man to the plate with one out and two on base. It was hard to tell whether it was nerves or overconfidence, but the pitcher threw a wild pitch and the two men on base advanced. Phoebe looked over at Trelawney who shrugged. Now with two men in scoring position and one ball in the count, Butch's coach yelled, "Don't swing for the fence, just hit 'em home!"

Phoebe had no idea of what he was talking about, but cheered with everyone else. The batter took a mighty swing and the ball went sailing into the outfield. She saw the third base coach holding the runners who were hopping up and down as they watched the center fielder chase it down. The ball was about to fall into his glove when he tripped and tumbled forward, head over heels. The batter, who was now practically standing on top of the second base runner, leapt in the air. All the three runners came home, the last one stomping on home plate with both feet.

Amidst the cheering, Phoebe saw Trelawney sweetly smiling and clapping. Butch was up and pitching on the side. The team might be ahead, but he would still have to face three batters in the bottom of the inning to win the game. When the bedlam calmed down, another relief pitcher was called in, but he walked two batters and then struck out the next one. The side had now sent seven men to the plate. One more batter and then Butch was due up.

Knowing that the coach would not want his star reliever batting, the other coach signaled that his pitcher intentionally walk the man at the plate. But Butch's coach decided that he would not send in a pinch hitter and then have to pull Butch out. Even though Butch had almost never batted in games all season, he found himself at the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.

Phoebe held her breath as Butch took a ball and a strike. He then hit the next pitch up the third base line in a sharp line drive. As the ball neatly crossed the bag, the runners were in motion and cleared the bases to score three more runs. The coach held Butch at first. He didn't want him to get too worn out or excited. There were now five "insurance" runs. The next batter flied out and Butch barely had time to catch his breath before running out to the mound.

The family was now watching intensely, including Prudence who at least knew that scoring runs was good so Butch's team was winning. She also knew that Butch would have to pitch to three batters to actually win the game. But in the end he didn't really have to pitch much.

Down by five runs, the other team seemed to have given up. Butch sent them down in order on three pitches. One pop up and two easy grounders were all they could manage. But Phoebe was glad that the excitement was over. She could feel Maisie jumping around with excitement and wanted to walk around to settle her. When the hero of the game was finally able to make his way back to the family, he was greeted with hugs and cheers. Then from behind them, they heard a familiar voice.

"Way to go Butch, old man!" called out Tom Williams. "You just made your Nana and Papa very proud!"

Walking towards them were both Tom and Bernice, she in a large, floppy sunhat. They had apparently been watching the game sight unseen from another corner of the field.

"That's quite a pitching arm you've developed," commented Tom. "And you're a great batter to boot. I bet your Little League team makes the playoffs this year."

"Yeah, I bet they do too, Papa," said Butch. "Why did you come today? How did you know it was a big game?"

"A little birdie told me," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "So I convinced Nana that it was a lovely day for a drive and here we are."

"Congratulations, Butch!" said Bernice. "I'm not a big fan of baseball, but that was very exciting."

"Smart move by the other coach," said Tom. "Walk the stronger hitter to get to the one that he thought was the weakest. He also made Butch bat right before he had to go back out and pitch. I guess that he forgot that Little League isn't like the big leagues. Pitchers down here actually can hit."

But Prudence began to sulk. "It's not fair. You came to Butch's baseball game, but you can't come to my dance recital."

Bernice looked at her with a bit of surprise.

"Do you really want me to come so badly?" she asked.

"Of course," replied Prudence nodding. "You're my Nana and you can tell me if I look like my Angel Mommy or not. I'm going to be one of the little dollies in "Coppelia."

"You are?" she said. "Why that's a beautiful ballet! Your Angel Mommy was in that same show when she was sixteen!"

"She was?" asked Prudence, her eyes wide. "Who did she play?"

"She played 'Coppelia,'" answered Bernice proudly. "I have pictures of her at home that I can show you."

"Can you show me when you come to my show?" asked Prudence hopefully.

They all looked at Bernice. The adults knew that she had said that she was busy because she didn't want to see Phoebe. But she was standing here with Phoebe now. If it was difficult for her to look at her, no one noticed. Although admittedly she had been attempting not to look at her. Still and all, Prudence was making it very clear that she wanted Bernice there. This was a complete turn around from six months ago when she had said that she never wanted to see her again.

"Yes," she finally said. "I believe that I can switch a few dates around only calendar."

Prudence rewarded her with a brilliant smile and a big hug. Phoebe noticed the tears in Bernice's eyes and the look that she gave Tom over the little girl's head. She seemed to be mouthing the words, "Thank you."

"Why it's little Trelawney!" said Tom with his usual greeting as he noticed the girl standing by as unobtrusively as possible.

"Yes, it is," replied the girl, her eyes full of mischief.

Although Phoebe couldn't be sure, she was almost positive that a conspiratorial glance passed between the two of them. She had no doubt that Tom's "little birdie" was none other than her sister. It occurred to her that, after Prudence had shared her disappointment with her, she had told the older girl.

Trelawney was perfectly capable of making the call and suggesting the little ploy. Tom would get to see the game and there would be the possibility that Bernice would discover that seeing Phoebe wasn't as difficult as she had thought. And if she did, well, they could have easily left without being noticed. But something told Phoebe that Trelawney knew better.

Now Tom and Trelawney were talking. Before she knew it, he was promising that in addition to coming up for Prudence's dance recital, they would be there for the play a week later.

"Three weeks in a row!" she said cheerfully. "Fancy that!"

"Yes, fancy that!" repeated Bernice.

Then she turned to Phoebe. "Congratulations! You're looking quite well!"

"Yes, if you don't mind that I've put up at least thirty pounds so far," she grimaced.

"So tell me," asked Bernice with a bit of mischief in her own voice. "Has Hal been plaguing you with words of wisdom and advice from the 'what to expect' book?"

"As a matter of fact he has," she replied as Hal looked away sheepishly.

"Oh, you would think that he would have learned his lesson," replied Bernice. "He drove Helen crazy with all that nonsense when she was pregnant with Hal."

"Really?" said Phoebe with emphasis.

"Well, son," said Catherine, echoing his own words from the science fair last month. "Now it looks like you have one more of us to deal with."

Despite the reproachful look he gave his mother, Phoebe knew that Hal was happy that Bernice had made a further step in her journey towards fully accepting her. Trelawney was looking very pleased with herself. Prudence was oblivious to the undercurrents of adult tensions. She was a very happy little girl.

Next week, her Nana would see her dancing in the same ballet that her own Mommy had danced in as a girl. And, as an added bonus, she would get to see the pictures of Helen dressed up as Coppelia. Everyone would make a fuss about how much she looked like her Angel Mommy and she would have her own moment to garner all of the attention.

However, as usual Phoebe had to be the party pooper. She was tired and wanted to go home and put her feet up. Then Catherime and Trelawney announced that they were preparing a victory dinner at their house and that everyone was invited, including the Williams.

"Are you sure there will be enough?" asked Bernice.

"Of course there will be," answered Catherine. "Trelawney insisted that we make enough for an army."

"How did you know that it was going to be a victory dinner?" asked Butch suspiciously.

"Because I knew that you were such an excellent pitcher that you would save the day," she replied impishly. "And I thought that we might have a couple of extras as well."

Walking back to the cars, Phoebe pulled Trelawney aside.

"Are you sure that you weren't the one who saved the day?" she asked.

"Well, I may have made a wee little phone call to Mr. Williams," she admitted.

"That's not what I mean," replied Phoebe sternly.

"Now Phoebe," she said. "The victory wouldn't have meant anything at all if Butch hadn't done it by himself. He always has been a very good pull hitter, you know. You don't think that I can go to every one of his bloody games then, do you?"

"Well I don't know," she said.

Trelawney giggled. "Do you know that you sound just like the Professor did last year?"

Phoebe looked into her sparkling blue eyes and realized that she was right. And of course none of them were capable of manipulating events to that degree. However she had only admitted to not helping Butch. As usual, she wouldn't lie. Phoebe decided not to spoil her fun by asking about the tumble by the outfielder and the wild pitch.

And she had to be proud of her little sister for the small kindnesses and generosity that she gave to her adopted family. Inviting Tom Williams to bring Bernice to the game was a stroke of genius. By doing so, she had made both Butch and Prudence very happy, and truth be told, Hal and her. But then it became clear. The girl shared not only her Mum's beautiful face, but also her kind and loving heart.

As the girl skipped off to catch up with Catherine, she felt Maisie move. Maisie seemed to be telling her to love Trelawney as she was. Hal had returned back and put his arm around her so that he could walk her to the car. Out of habit, he put his hand on her stomach and was rewarded with a very solid kick. She smiled and gratefully leaned on him. The afternoon had been thrilling in more ways than one. It had almost made her forget Lois's words of warning about Aunt Henrietta, almost, but not quite.

Cousin Sylvia

Sylvia Figalilly was David's middle daughter. Like all Figalilly women she had blonde, blue eyes, and a delicate build. She also shared their strength of will and character. And she was a world traveler, never staying very long in one place. Ask her where she was going next or where she had just come from and she would very adroitly change the subject. Sylvia was just as mysterious as Emmeline when it came to her comings and goings. She arrived a couple of days before Trelawney's birthday, which happened to coincide with Prudence's dance recital.

Because it was Prudence's big afternoon, Trelawney wanted no fuss or muss for herself. Reluctantly, Catherine agreed to put off her own little celebration until Sunday. But Trelawney didn't really care about the date and Prudence certainly did. Following the show everyone, including the Williams would return to their house for a celebration of Prudence's first "real ballet."

In earlier years, recitals had been a hodgepodge of dance numbers by different classes. This new school was also the one that Francine and Trelawney went to. However since they were both in the play, they had begged off the recital. Therefore, it would truly be Prudence's turn in the spotlight.

Rob made his usual roundtrip to LAX to get Sylvia on Wednesday. When she arrived at the house, she had one large crate in tow. She asked Rob to get it quickly out of sight before Trelawney saw it and to put it out of their minds.

"Is it a birthday gift?" asked Catherine, after she was introduced.

"No," replied Sylvia. "It's something for Phoebe, a bequest from her Mum that Dad knew that she would want to have. There are many things in the house that she and Trelawney will want, but this is something that she shouldn't have to wait for."

"Well it certainly is heavy enough," grumbled Rob.

"Yes indeed," answered the young woman. "But it is also something that I would not have trusted to the post."

"When will you give it to her?" asked Catherine, now curious.

"At Trelawney's little birthday celebration," she said. "Trelawney will get as much joy out of seeing Phoebe's pleasure at receiving it as she would if it were a gift to herself. Those such as Trelawney are like that, you know. But I also have a bequest for the little one as well. She doesn't take much to store-bought things."

"Yes," said Rob. "We have found that out. The only thing that she really enjoys that we buy her, are books."

"That makes sense," nodded Sylvia. "She is a little bookworm."

"Cousin Sylvia!" called a voice from the top of stairs. "You're here! You're here! You're finally here!"

Trelawney came racing down with the little Corgi Elspeth at her side. She literally threw herself into Sylvia's waiting arms.

"There, there, little love," said Sylvia softly. "We've missed you then. Last time we saw you, you were a sad little mite."

But Trelawney didn't answer; she just snuggled closer in her arms. Sylvia seemed to have Emmeline's cool reserve, but was much more affectionate towards the child. Catherine could see that once again, the Figalillys were very protective of the girl. It was no wonder that it had been such a big deal when David had turned over custody to them.

"So, love," asked Sylvia. "When will we be seeing your Phoebe?"

"Soon, I think," replied Trelawney. "She had one of her doctor's checkups this morning and the Professor drove her. She is quite large now."

"Well, it's less than three months until the babe comes along," said Sylvia." I suppose that you're helping her to get ready."

"Oh, yes, Sylvia," said Trelawney. "Poor Phoebe has been nesting for the past few days. The Professor and I have helped her clean the house from top to bottom. And the nursery is ready too."

"Well, that's lovely," said her cousin. "Your Mum always said that she could never get along without you in the house."

Trelawney bowed her head a little. Then she picked up Sylvia's hand and said that she would take her to her room. Sylvia gave Rob and Catherine a smile and followed the girl up the stairs, bag in hand.

"Well she's a lovely girl," commented Catherine. "She looks more like Trelawney than she does Emmeline."

"Yes, she does," agreed Rob. "She's a bit warmer than Emmeline too. She wanted to know all about the girls, especially Phoebe. But whereas Emmeline is always very businesslike, Sylvia is gentler. She's worried about the effects of Aunt Henrietta's premonitions on her."

"Well, I am too," said Catherine. "I really wish that Lois hadn't told her. She really should have told us first."

"I believe that the alternative was that Mrs. Fowler would have told her," said Rob. "Apparently a lot of people in town know."

"Yes," said Catherine. "We probably should have told Phoebe a while ago, but it's just so difficult to find the right moment."

"Then it is good that Lois told her," said Rob practically. "But Sylvia knows about all them too. Aunt Henrietta has been telling all to Grandfather Trelawney and he has been chastising David for not heeding the warnings. David told Sylvia everything before she left."

"Do they have any insight into what they're about?" asked Catherine.

"Not really," replied Rob. "Just as Phoebe said, they're much too nonspecific. However when David was here, she warned him about William and Emmeline. He told Sylvia that Aunt Henrietta had said that William's temper would get him into trouble and Emmeline would come to a bad end. It's no wonder that he was so upset when he returned from their little 'chat.'"

"It wouldn't be the first time that someone's temper got them in trouble," commented Catherine. "But I suppose that the part about Emmeline could be disturbing."

"Undoubtedly," answered Rob. "Even though she's a bona fide nutcase, I'd be bothered if she talked about one of our boys that way."

Catherine nodded. "At least we don't have to get into that right away. When Phoebe and Hal get back from the doctor, I'm sure that that will be the focus of our conversation."

"I'm sure it will," smiled Rob. "I'm sure that everything is fine. Phoebe looks wonderful and the baby is certainly active enough."

Catherine agreed and went off to prepare things for lunch. Phoebe and Hal would there soon, no doubt with lots of good news. She knew that Sylvia was probably tired from her long trip, but that she and Trelawney were upstairs exchanging family gossip. Once again she had a full house, and she enjoyed it.

When Phoebe and Hal came in, there were more hugs and kisses to be passed around. Sylvia had a hearty greeting for her new cousin, but of course everyone was most interested in what the doctor had to say.

"He said that I'm doing splendidly," said Phoebe. "However he does recommend that I not eat quite so much. I've still got a ways to go and I've already put on enough weight."

"Not much that you can do about it now, dear," said Hal, teasingly. "It just means that there's more of you to love."

"Yes, well," said Phoebe. "The doctor and I did have a bit of a disagreement."

"About what?" asked Trelawney, her eyes twinkling.

"Well, I know that in America it is customary for mothers to give birth in hospital," she replied. "But I had not realized that a home birth with a midwife would be such a problem. Trelawney was born at home you know."

There was silence among the Everetts.

"What exactly did the doctor say to that?" asked Rob slowly.

"He said that he would not be responsible for a home birth," said Phoebe. "I don't know what all the fuss is all about."

"Well, love," said Sylvia. "I believe that these Yanks don't quite understand that one only goes to hospital when one is sick. Giving birth is not a sickness. I suppose that he would also want to give you something for the pain."

"That's right," said Phoebe. "It's something that a midwife couldn't do. But old Mrs. Pengally always said that the birthing would take longer with drugs. A mother would push harder if she could really feel the contractions."

"Oh, you do!" affirmed Catherine. "When I gave birth to the boys, I didn't have anything for the pain. Once things got started, I couldn't wait to be done."

"But you did go to the maternity hospital," commented Rob.

"Yes, I did," answered Catherine. "But it was mostly because I didn't want the mess at home."

"Well," said Phoebe. "I would be willing to compromise on that one. Provided of course that Hal will be there. Apparently he wasn't present for the births of any of the other three children."

Hal looked uncomfortable at the suggestion.

Rob laughed. "Well, he was probably out in the waiting room pacing like any other good American father."

"Including yourself," added Catherine.

"Can I be there?" asked Trelawney. "If we were back home I would be old enough."

"I can ask," said Phoebe doubtfully. "But I don't think that the doctor will agree."

Trelawney disappointed.

"Why don't we call it quits on this conversation?" suggested Rob. "Catherine has lunch ready and this is not exactly mealtime conversation."

"In the village it is," giggled Trelawney. "You Yanks sure are squeamish."

"Yes, we are," said Rob. "And unless you want to eat lunch in your room all by yourself, you'll respect our squeamishness."

But Trelawney just laughed and led the way into the kitchen. The lunchtime conversation was much more conducive to good appetite. Catherine had to admit, that she was amused by both her husband and her son. She could only guess that Hal's "what to expect" book had not told him to expect this.

She could understand Phoebe's desire to have her husband present and that she was unbothered by the idea that Trelawney might be there too. In fact if her grandson Hal wanted to be present (and she sincerely doubted that he would), he would also be welcome, as would she and Rob.

However it wasn't really that easy to know how the hospital might react. Of course if Phoebe refused anesthesia, she had no doubt that they wouldn't care. Since she had been present for home births already, she certainly knew what to expect. She herself had read about the "natural childbirth" craze. It was based on the premise that drugs slowed down the birth process and that was potentially more harmful to the baby than the mother feeling the pain.

As for home birth idea, well, she had to agree with the doctor, but for different reasons. Back in Phoebe's village where home births were the norm, it was certainly not that dangerous. But here in America where doctors, nurses, and midwives had no experience with the practice.

There were more things that could go wrong, because they weren't experienced and prepared. But she could talk to Phoebe about that. However, she would talk to her son about being present. It seemed to her that he had only been too eager to do his part on the other end of the process.

It would do him good to hold his wife's hand and coach her through the labor and birth. They now had childbirth classes where new parents could learn all about their roles. She knew that it would mean the world to Phoebe to have him at her side, just as her Papa had been at her Mum's side when Trelawney was born. She also had a feeling that, once he got over the initial shock, he would probably begin to look forward to it.

The Little Dancer

Hal had to admit that he was pretty pleased with the way that life was going. Trelawney had been accepted into Our Lady of Mercy Academy, so she was set with a school for the fall. And Francine would be going with her. Once again she would be spending her summer at the community theatre program. Prudence had her big dance recital coming up on Saturday and was overjoyed that Bernice was coming. She was going to be spending her summer days at Brownie Day Camp.

Butch's life revolved around baseball. This was really useful because it gave him leverage with regard to his grades and school behavior. His summer would once again revolve around Little League. Hal was very happy in his science program, and his opportunity to spend eight weeks at Cal Tech. And he had his own good news.

Just yesterday, his department chair had given him the official word that his sabbatical had been approved for the fall semester. For the next seven and a half months, he would be free to focus on his wife and new baby. He still had the NASA project to worry about, but with nothing else to distract him, they would be able to make good progress while he spent more time at home.

He was now wondering when he would make his own big announcement. Fortunately, his son Hal solved that for him. On the night that Sylvia arrived, he and Phoebe were in bed reading when Hal came in.

"Mom, Dad," he said. "Can I talk to you about something?"

"Sure, son," he answered. "Grab a seat."

Hal sat down on the foot of the bed and said, "I'm worried about something."

"What is that?" he asked.

"Well," he said. "I was just looking at the calendar and I noticed that I'm going to be away at Cal Tech when Mom has the baby."

"That's alright, Hal," said Phoebe. "We can call you once she's born."

"Yeah, I know," he said. "It's just that I do a lot of the work around here now. Butch and Prudence can do some of it, but some of it is too hard for them."

"I know," said Hal. "I was planning on taking up the slack."

"But won't you have a lot to do, Dad?" asked Hal. "You know, between the project and getting ready for the school year?"

"Hal, you are a wonderful son to care so much about your family," said Phoebe. "But this is a very important opportunity for you. We don't want you to miss out on anything or worry about us. We can manage here without you."

"Yeah, Mom," he said. "I kind of know that, but it's hard not to worry."

"Well, Hal," he said. "I think that I can set your mind at rest. Now this is something that I haven't even told you yet, Phoebe. In fact I didn't know for sure about it until yesterday, but I applied for and got a sabbatical for the fall semester."

"Oh, Hal, that's wonderful!" said Phoebe, her eyes shining.

"What does that mean, Dad?" asked Hal.

"It means, son," he replied. "That I won't have any teaching or math department stuff to worry about until January. I will be working on the project, but I can set my own hours for that. That means that I'll have a lot of time to spend at home with Mom and the new baby. You can focus on your time at Cal Tech and on starting your first year in high school come September."

"Oh, wow, Dad!" said Hal. "That's really cool! When were you going to tell us?"

"Well, I wasn't sure," he answered. "I didn't want to steal any of Prudence's thunder. But now that you two know, we might as well let the others know without any big announcements."

"Oh, yeah," said Hal. "About Prudence's thunder. Are Butch and I really going to have to sit through that dance recital?"

Phoebe smiled. "Did Prudence attend your big Science Fair? Has she been sitting through all of Butch's baseball games this spring?"

"Yeah," said Hal reluctantly. "But, man, this is different."

"In what way?" she asked drily.

"You know," he said. "It's so . . . girly."

"Girly or not," replied Hal. "You are going to the recital to support your sister and there will be no negotiating. As a family we support each other's endeavors and we're proud of each other. Now all four of your grandparents are coming, and of course, Trelawney and Sylvia. Then we'll celebrate at Grampie's house. Any questions?"

"No sir," replied Hal. "But could you guys be the ones to tell Butch about it? He's going to blow his cork when he finds out."

"No problem," he said. "Send him in."

Butch came in with his head down. Obviously, Hal had told him why his presence was requested in his parents' bedroom. Because he knew that Phoebe was tired, Hal wasted no words.

"So, Butch," he said. "I understand that you do not wish to attend your sister's dance recital on Saturday."

Butch rolled his eyes. "Man, Dad. Why do I have to go to a dumb old dance recital?"

"Do you know how many of your 'dumb old' baseball games that Prudence has been to this spring?" he inquired.

"No, sir," said Butch uncomfortably.

Turning to Phoebe, Hal asked, "How many?"

"All of them," she said.

"Guy, Dad, that's only 'cause you made her," replied Butch.

"I rest my case," said Hal. "You will go to the recital because I am making you. Any questions?"

"No, sir," he said.

"Good, now that we've settled that, go to bed," he answered.

"Yes, sir," he said and left.

The next one to come bouncing in was Prudence.

"Prudence!" said Phoebe. "Why are you still up?"

"Thank you for making Hal and Butch go to my dance recital, Daddy," she said.

"It doesn't bother you that they don't want to go?" asked Hal with a smile.

"Of course not," she said sweetly. "If I have to go to their things, then they have to go to mine. Goodnight, Mommy."

"Goodnight, sweetie," replied Phoebe.

As soon as she was out of earshot, they looked at each other and laughed.

"Oh well," remarked Hal. "At least we're all on the same page. I'm tired. Why don't we turn out the light?"

"Do you want to lock the door first?" asked Phoebe playfully. "Or are you too tired?"

"I'm never too tired to lock the door," he said picking up her tone.

She smiled seductively at him as he locked the door and turned off the light. Purely by his sense of touch he found her waiting arms and fell easily into her embrace. Before she began to kiss him she said what was on her mind.

"I really hate falling asleep alone."

"Me too," he replied, and proceeded to tenderly make love to her before falling asleep with her in his arms.

Me too, he thought when they were done and she was cradled in his arms, remembering those few nights a month ago when she had stayed at his parents' house. Sleeping alone was definitely not conducive to a good night's rest.

To be continued . . .