Here, but Forgotten

Here, but Forgotten –

Josiah stared at the home in awe and stunned fascination. His eight year old mind only saw a place to be explored. Not what had been once inside. The front doorway was just a bumpy and lumpy charcoal guardian looking more like a tooth pick than its once formidable barrier to the outside world. Even when opened, there had once been a door frame in this spot with walls surrounding it. He observed that anything that might have said it functioned as a door that controlled access in and out of those walls was now gone except for this dangling bit of scorched brass that latched the door shut securely when it was whole. As Josiah moved closer to the former front door’s flagstone landing, he caught a glint of the rising sun dancing coming off of the brass. In the fresh morning air, he couldn’t comprehend that the empty space around the brass allowed sunlight to shine brightly there for the first time in more than forty years. A long time for an eight year old. Almost an eternity for many adults too.

In its last moments, Josiah didn’t even understand that this once noble home had in reality turned on its one and only owners double crossing them in bitter rebellion. Nor could this fresh young virgin mind, never having endured life’s great calamities, have the maturity to lament the dreams, memories, and future moments that went billowing out shattered windows as searing hot gasses which fiercely climbed into the night air acting like some sort of smoke offering carrying up the memories of what had been and the hopes of what could be to the heavens where the supposed house’s gods dwelt.

Nor could this inexperienced child comprehend the frustrated efforts of anxious silhouetted figures in hard shell hats as they held canvas waterways that prosecuted a cessation to the hostile sedition that engulfed the raging home’s hellish anger. Nor could he appreciate how the hard hats pulverizing its determined rebellion with their cold contrasting streams of water, it squelched the fiery cancer’s hot invitation to other nearby homes to join its hostile rebellion against those they also were called to protect and serve.

Now, a week later, Josiah, a boy too young to understand what the remains he looked at meant to a family, wandered around the remains of the defeated rebel. He didn’t even think of it as just a cold hollow hulk waiting for the dustbin of neighborhood gossip to mark the memory of its passing. No, to him, it was nothing more than just a shallow fascination that he would look back on someday as an adult with greater understanding and would regret that he should have treated its remains with greater reverence and compassion instead of disturbing its peace for self glory among his peers. For Josiah, the child, it was just a playground.

As he crossed its threshold, he relived the night of the inferno. Josiah watched its demise from what was the best and safest vantage point in the neighborhood. His bedroom’s dormer was pointed right down the street at it with no trees or other obstructions to interfere with watching everything. Using his binoculars, he could see the horrid flames licking high into the night sky as the shadow of a fire ladder came between him and the flames. Figures came into view silhouetted against the bright flames who began to eject from an articulated pointed stick a water stream over the home which would in time bring it under control and put it out. According to his parents, who joined him along with his sister watching the spectacle in progress, there was no one at home.

The home’s owners, Steve and Mildred Jackson, were an elderly couple in their seventies whose seven children had long since grown up and gone away. Maybe, he thought in his youthful imagination, the home was mad that they were on a cruise in Mediterranean. After all, all the neighbors had heard about their trip for months and talked about it. He couldn’t help but know the details of their adventure from hearing his parents prattle on about how lovely it would be to have a second honeymoon on Cyprus without the kids. Or, what must it be like to stand in the Pantheon and know you stand in the mythical presence of Zeus. So, for Josiah, the exciting show they watched was free of the anxiety of worried parents chattering about who might have been hurt other than seeing the destruction of a lovely and well kept home. Instead, his parents watched too with morbid fascination as the life of the home was dramatically ended. The only one who even cried was Miriam for reasons she didn’t want to discuss with Josiah. Or even her parents it seemed.

Before coming over to investigate, at the dinner table the night before, Josiah learned that the Jacksons had come back and salvaged what they could. His parents discussed during dinner how the Jacksons were talking about taking the insurance money and selling the lot. A new house would one day certainly replace the old one they believed. Most of this speculation was based on copious amounts of neighborhood gossip. They causally discussed how the tragic owners were ready to move anyway and reportedly had given to their children already anything of value to them years ago. But, Josiah’s reason for coming was he heard them say it had to be cleared out by Monday according to the city or they would be fined $2,000 a day. So, he had to act quickly if he was to see anything at all.

So, uncharacteristically for a Saturday, Josiah had gotten up at the crack of dawn determined to visit the ruble of the house ignoring the yellow tape that said don’t enter. He simply had to walk through the door he had visited every Halloween. The out of bounds area was irresistible for a eight year old’s speculative imagination. Especially on a Saturday. So much destruction to inspect. So little time. The ruble, which had been cleared of any valuables days ago by the owners, might still hold some treasure he hoped. And by the time he would get home from school on Monday, given what he had been told, it would be all carted away leaving just an empty lot anyway. So, he dared to cross the threshold.

After about fifteen minutes of carefully inching his way around the house, he began lifting up a plank or two to see what he could find. Eventually, Josiah saw a piece of pretty fabric. He tossed a few boards away to reveal what was hiding underneath. Before him was the most beautiful doll he had ever seen. She had black hair and pretty blue eyes. Her dress was soiled by soot, but she was surprisingly clean considering the raging inferno she had endured. She alone had escaped, but had been forgotten by those that once loved her and filled their hours joyfully playing with her. Josiah picked her up and looked around to see if anyone saw him with her. He didn’t want to be called out by the neighborhood enforcers that bullied him on his walks home from school. Quickly, he scanned around the charred acrid smelling ruble and couldn’t see anything that might help him hide her from view. He wanted her more than anything.

Then, he had an idea. He saw one of the neighbors homes next to the burnt out shell had big hefty bags filled with something. A quick check of them revealed that the fire had scorched the neighbor’s sycamores and their leaves too, which had fallen quickly afterwards, and they had been collected in those bags waiting to be picked up on Monday along with the rest of the debris. He walked back over to the bags with the doll looking for a bag with the least amount of leaves in it. Placing the doll on the ground, he then jumped up and down on the other bags one at a time compressing the leaves down as much as possible for each given his meager weight. Finally, after transferring leaves from the smallest bags to the others, he had an empty hefty bag. He took the doll and carefully wrapped her in the now empty black bag. Carrying her at his side like a pair of books, he walked home past a couple of the enforcers homes praying not to be noticed by the kids he went to school with. He hoped none of them would see him and call out to him. Even though nothing like that had happened in the past. He didn’t understand the reality that none of them would be up on a Saturday morning in late April until at least eight. And it was six o’clock as he walked by their houses.

The walk home for Josiah, though just a little over a quarter of a mile, seemed like three miles for the fearful lad. He imagined being called out for being a even more of a sissy and it going around the school. Being caught with a doll would certainly finish him for good. Especially with Tommy. But, thinking about why he was doing it, if he could have a doll all his own, it was worth the risk. As he walked up to his home at long last, he sniffed his clothes. They reeked of smoke and fire. As he crossed the threshold of his home, his fears began to evaporate. Upstairs, he took off his clothes and placed them into his dirty clothes hamper. After that, he placed the doll deep in his closet for safekeeping. Finally, he grabbed his towel and some clothes from his dresser and went down the hallway to take a shower.

“Josiah, are you going to be done soon? You know I need to use the bathroom.” Miriam, his sister, shouted through the bathroom door.

“About five more minutes I think.” Josiah called back to her from the shower.

“Okay, remember I have a date with Jeremy at ten. He is taking me to his baseball game.” she said sweetly.

Josiah turned off the water and began to dry himself off. He had washed his hair to get the stink out. “I am almost done. Be out in a minute Sis.”

When Josiah opened up the bathroom door, Miriam asked him in almost a whisper, “Did you really go down and see the burned out house?”

He whispered back, “Yeah. It was creepy. It was strange to see how little of it actually remained. I got some of the smell on me. I had to get it off of me or mom and dad would be ticked.”

“Good point. By the way, their very youngest kid, Sharon, used to babysit me before you were born. She was real nice. I was sad to see her home burn down.”

Josiah gave her a side hug. “The bathroom is all yours. Thanks for not telling mom and dad what I was up to. I just had to see it before they cleaned it all up.”

“No problem Josey. I wish I could have gone with you.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked a disappointed Josiah.

With a wink, she answered, “Jeremy, of course.”

Josiah shook his head trying to understand his sister’s recent fascination with boys. “You used to be a lot more fun before you, as mom says, discovered boys.”

Miriam scrunched her nose and stuck out her tongue at him. She then gave him a playful swat on his butt. He giggled as he scurried to his room.

Josiah’s older sister could a party pooper at times, but he loved her so very much. Miriam was fourteen and would often babysit him when his folks wanted to go out for the night. He pretended not to like the DVDs she watched that she rented from Netflix, but he would agree to watch them with her anyway. Somehow, she knew he would give into her choices. She was sweet to him and as long as he didn’t make fun of her dates or be bratty to her friends, she let him do what he wanted. And, what he wanted most, was to be around her and her friends. And, Miriam liked that he wasn’t a brat. He was a quiet and sensitive boy who enjoyed giggling with her friends when they came over to visit. He was tender hearted, sweet, and kind.

Josiah went into his room, folded his towel and put it to the side of his dresser top, got dressed, and began to clean his room. He made his bed and then cleaned up his desk. He was looking forward to school ending in a few weeks. As usual, he stopped getting haircuts early in March because his mom and dad allowed him to have long hair during the summer months. He sat down at his desk and began to brush out his hair and put it in a pony tail.

His mom knocked on his door. “Hey Josey, we have to go out and see a family friend in the hospice. Miriam will be watching you.”

“But, I think she is going with Jeremy to his game. She can’t watch me.” he replied.

As his mother hurriedly put her purse together as she came in, she turned to him and said, “Well, you will just have to go with her then.” Josiah gave her a pleading look. She continued hoping he would understand with the kind of parental explanation that defies a small boy’s attention span. “You know that our good friend Alex is in hospice dying of cancer. This is going to be your dad’s and my only chance to say goodbye to him before he passes. Sorry. We can’t change things. I wish we could.”

Josiah lost her at the thought about all the good times he had playing with their friend Alex when he came over to visit his folks. He didn’t mind him being a kid. In fact, he encouraged him to be one. “I am sorry to hear he is dying. I really like him.” Josiah said ruefully. He never really knew anyone close to him who had died before. “Is he scared?”

“Thanks Honey. I knew you would understand. I think he knows it is his time. He is a brave man.” She patted him on the head and leaned down to give him a kiss. “If we think it would do him good, we will have you visit him too.”

After his mom walked away and Miriam came to his door. “Thanks for trying Josey. I’ll call Jeremy and tell him I can’t come to the game. He didn’t want you to come only because his car can’t fit you. If I have to make a choice, it will be to stay with you until mom comes to pick you up.”

Josiah didn’t want that. The doll was calling him. Thinking quickly, he grabbed his sister’s hand and pulled her into his room. Closing the door for privacy, he said, “Look Sis. I can walk to the game from here. I know Jeremy has a two seat car. I will walk up and when mom comes to pick me up later, it will look like you were taking care of me all along.”

“You would do that for me? You are so sweet to me. I love you.” She hugged Josiah and kissed him on the head.

He smiled. He loved her hugs. “Sure. I tease you about being boy crazy. But, I think it is nice and mushy. And I have a special feeling about Jeremy. Just give me thirty minutes to get there after Jeremy picks you up.” His plan was working.

After his parents left and as soon as Jeremy picked her up, Josiah raced up to his room. He pulled out the doll. Lovingly, he took off her pretty dress and washed it in the bathroom sink with Woolite getting all of the soot off. He then toweled it off and attached it to a hanger with clothes pins followed by hanging it up in his closet to dry. Carefully, he washed the doll, toweled her off, and put it away in the closet too.

Josiah then headed out the door. Carefully, he skirted the alley way to avoid running into Tommy Randall. He was bigger and faster than Josiah. And what was worse is that he loved to pick on Josiah until he began to cry. It didn’t take much to make him cry either. As he almost exited the alleyway, he could hear Tommy in the distance yelling to a friend. Josiah could hear the squeaks of someone bouncing up and down on a trampoline. Hiding against a fence, he spied down the alleyway and spotted Tommy’s head rising and falling above his fence. Josiah carefully walked closer to Tommy’s fence so he couldn’t be seen by the jumping boy. Of course, the problem was that he might be seen through the spaces in the backyard fence. But, that was a risk that Josiah must take now. He had made a promise to his sister and couldn’t get her in trouble.

Slowly, he crept along the backyard fences of the alleyway until he was where Tommy’s yard started. Crouching down, he moved carefully until about two thirds across. He thought he might have been spotted, so he quickened his pace. As soon as he cleared out of Tommy’s fence line, Josiah flat footed it as fast as he could towards the high school. He ran with all of his might until he turned into the school’s gate along its chain link fence line. Looking back, he could see that Tommy was was indeed following him. Running up the ramp into the school and turning around the corner of the auditorium, he raced to the baseball field. He spied that Tommy had made up considerable distance in chasing after him. Quickly, Josiah ran down the third base line of the baseball field, slipped behind the bleachers, finally turning down a tunnel to come out on the other side of the bleachers. He then raced up the steps and placing himself about three rows back from Jeremy’s dugout and a row or two back from his sister who was with her friends. Just in time, he thought.

Miriam looked up at Josiah and waved. Tommy came running up the tunnel and turned to see the crowd. Seeing Miriam and the sizable crowd, he dropped his pursuit. Instead, he made a unmistakable sign to Josiah that he would see him later. Miriam caught the sign and looked back up to Josiah who just shrugged.

A couple of hours later as the game was winding down, Josiah’s dad came up into the stands and called Josiah to follow him. Josiah was surprised to see him instead of his mother.

“Come on Josey.” he said sadly.

“Why are you so sad Dad?” asked a concerned Josiah who got up to follow his dad. “And where is Mom?”

He choked a bit, but said, “Alex died while we were visiting him. It wasn’t what we expected. We thought he had a few more days. We were hoping to have you and Miriam say goodbye too. His brother and sister were there.”

“He didn’t have a wife and kids, did he Dad?” Josiah continued to carefully follow his dad down.

“No, he liked living alone. Although he did have his nieces and nephews for family. They are going to miss him terribly too. It is a shame that he never married. He was so good around kids.”

Miriam turned around to see her dad coming down with Josiah. “Dad, why are you picking him up instead of mom?”

Her dad told her what happened. “Can I come home with Jeremy still or do you want me to come home with you now?”

“Yeah, I guess you can come home with Jeremy after the game and your lunch date. I have to leave to go over to Alex’s house around four to pick up your mom and help out. His passing has caught his family off guard and we are going to help his family write his eulogy. We promised we would help in any way we could. Will you be okay with watching Josiah then?”

“Sure Dad.” She gave Josiah a quick hug before he left with their dad.

Later that afternoon, Miriam firmly told her nervous mom and dad,“We will be fine.” She waved goodbye to them as they drove off. Josiah just stayed on the couch thinking about how he could have time alone with the doll.

“Well, Josey, you saved my bacon today, so you get to chose what you want to watch on Netflix?” Miriam announced as she came back to the couch and sat down. She handed him the DVDs she had rented and he began to check them out. He saw a movie called ‘Sabrina.’ He put it in the DVD player thinking for sure his sister would love the story so much she would give him time to himself.

“Josey, that is the kind of movie you know I like to watch. You don’t have to watch it.”

“I know. I just don’t feel like a movie right now. I think I will go upstairs and let you watch it.” As he went upstairs, Miriam felt something was up because he didn’t stick around and watch with her as was his normal fashion.

In his room, Josiah took out the doll from his closet. The doll’s nakedness wasn’t anything to excite a boy, he thought. Maybe the bumps used to give the illusion of breasts or the bumps to give the illusion of a butt might have another boy, but not him. It was just plain plastic legs, arms, and torso. He carefully took the outfit of the hanger he put it on and slowly dressed her. He put on her pearl and ribbon choker. After putting on her petticoat and pantalettes with with stockings and white velvet shoes, he put on her cream colored dress with its light blue and pink floral print and pretty ruffles. He grabbed his comb and a tried to brush out her hair. He did okay. So, then he put on her lacy white straw hat with its pink ribbon.

The doll looked gorgeous to him. He wondered who it could be, so he took a digital photo and uploaded it to Google. It returned with a doll series called the Pride of the South. She was named Dallas and her dress was a typical southern belle’s dress from the 1800s. She had been released in the early 80s.

Josiah crossed his legs as he sat on his bed. Josiah began to cradle Dallas like she was his baby. He leaned down and softly kissed her. He lightly caressed her hair. In that moment, a wave of warmness and contentment flooded his body and soul. It was as if a light switch had been turned on again flooding him with purpose. He loved this doll and what she represented. Tears began to flow down his cheek. He didn’t know why he felt the way he did. Just now, somehow, this doll was connecting him with a part of himself he avoided. Transfixed on her and how she made him feel, he failed to notice his door being slowly and quietly opened.

A soft and pleasant voice interrupted his solitude calling his name. He looked up. His sister was watching him hold the doll as he sat in bed. He froze. She came in and sat down next to him. He couldn’t speak. He was petrified by what she might say or do. Miriam gently stroked his his knee. She understood her brother was very sensitive and shy. But, she was also realizing there was more to it than that. “It’s okay. I gather you like the doll you must have found at the Jackson’s.” His look of astonishment more than answered her question. “I recognize her. Sharon used to let me play with that doll. She promised to give her to me one day because I loved her so much. When she moved out to go to graduate school, she said that her parents had put it away someplace and she couldn’t find it to give it to me. I thought she had burned up in the fire.”

Miriam though about asking him for the doll so she could hold her again, but the look in his eye said that it could wait. Miriam continued, “Sharon called her Lilly. She didn’t like the name the doll originally came with. Do you like the name? Lilly is such a pretty name, don’t you think?” Josiah still couldn’t speak. Josiah just nodded yes. “I loved Lilly. I see that her hair needs a good brushing. I can bring you a brush if you would like.” Josiah smiled warmly and nodded yes feeling more and more that his sister understood why he was holding Lilly like he was. Miriam got up, went to her room, and brought back a doll’s hair brush she had in her drawer and handed it to Josiah. “Please, why don’t you brush her hair.” Josiah slowly took off her hat and began to brush her hair. The feeling of brushing it only added to the feelings he was having earlier. They were intense, intoxicating, and very enjoyable feelings he couldn’t hide from himself any longer. There was something almost magical about it, he thought.

“I won’t tell mom and dad. Would you like to bring her downstairs and watch the movie with me. I think you will like it. I can start it from the beginning.” Josiah smiled and nodded yes. Miriam took his hand and led him and Lilly downstairs. As she sat on the couch, they watched the movie, Josiah snuggled up against his sister and cradled the doll between the two of them.

“Wake up you two. Or should I say you three.” their mother giggled. Josiah woke up and was in a panic for a brief second until Miriam said, “Oh, I am sorry Mom. We fell asleep watching a movie.”

“Gosh, I haven’t seen Lilly for ages. I thought Sharon forgot to give her to you.”

Miriam gave a hug to Josiah and winked at him. “No, someone found her and brought her to me.” Her mom gave Josiah a strange look possibly putting two and two together about what he had done to find her.

With tired resignation in her voice, she said, “Well you two go on up to bed. We had a hard night and want to get to sleep ourselves.”

Miriam took Josey by the hand and led Josey upstairs with Lilly in her arm. He climbed into bed. And then Miriam tucked Josey and Lilly into bed together. Miriam could see how much Josey loved Lilly. The two looked like angels.

“I am not going to be able to keep her, am I?” Josiah looked resigned to the reality. A tear ran down his cheek.

“I have to be honest. No, I don’t think mom or dad would understand.” The two looked at each other for a bit. Tears fell silently out of Miriam’s eyes down her cheeks too.

“Then, I guess I need to give her to someone who can keep her.”

Miriam shoulders slumped. Her smiling face turned into a frown and she lamented, “I guess you are right. I’m too old for dolls now.”

Josiah had an idea. “I know. How about someone at the hospice where Mr. Alex died?”

Miriam smiled at her brother’s suggestion. “That would be sweet of you.” She got up to leave her brother. She turned to him and said, “At least you will have her tonight. When mom wakes you up and sees you with her, tell her that we are going to give her to a dying girl and you wanted to know what it would feel like for her. That way she won’t question why you slept with her.”

The next morning, when Josiah’s mother woke him up, he told her what Miriam told him to say. His mother smiled, complemented him on his generous spirit, and said to come on down for a special breakfast. Josiah enjoyed her for a few more moments and then cleaned up and got dressed. He slunked downstairs to find Miriam and his mother making breakfast. He reluctantly put Lilly in a chair and went to watch them.

After they said grace, Miriam winked at Josiah and announced, “Mom, I signed up for Drama next year. And, I don’t want to be one of the actresses. I am hoping to be one of the costumers and make up artists. But, in order to do that, I am going to need lots of practice between now and then.”

“Well, I guess you are going to be doing a lot of work on yourself in the mirror.” her Mom giggled.

“No, that won’t work. I need to work on someone and practice every day.”

“I guess one of your girlfriends will want to help out for sure.” her Dad offered.

“No, they are going to be busy this summer. But, I have a solution.” she turned and winked to Josiah.

“I would like to use Josey as a live model so I can practice doing make up for Drama.”

Dad grimaced and asked, “Does that mean you would be dressing him up as a girl?”

“Sometimes. Sometimes as a character, say, like an old man too. I have to learn to do the whole gambit if I expect to get the gig.”

“Where will all the makeup come from?” asked her mom. “I know it has to be expensive.”

“I found someone on Craigslist wanting to dump a bunch of Melinda Karen makeup their mother left them when she unexpectedly passed away. She did both Melinda Karen and Avondale at one time. They can’t be resold because of health regulations. But, I am buying the carrying cases with the makeup that just happens to be in it. Plus, she has a ton of makeup brushes and sponges for applying makeup too.”

Josiah watched as Miriam worked out the details. By the end of the day, she had half of the make up she would need and more on order.

“What is this?” Josiah asked excitedly. Miriam handed him a box marked ‘Miriam fourth grade Dress Clothes.’

“Mom held on to these in case any of our uncles or aunts had girls. She was about to throw out the clothes a month or so ago and I convinced her to let me donate them to a school drive next year so I would get community service hours credit.” Josiah looked into the box. Miriam continued, “I suspect my old clothes will fit you now.” Josiah looked surprised. “Hey, if I am going to make you into a princess, you had better be dressed like one. My old dress clothes have a few nice princess outfits.”

As they were preparing to get dressed up for the first time, the doorbell rang. Josiah went to answer the door. “Son, you must be Josiah, could you please tell your parents that Mr. Archibald Leach is here to talk to them.” Josiah dutifully went into the laundry room to tell his mother. She called his dad and they all congregated in the living room to talk. After a while, Josiah heard his mother calling to Miriam and Josiah to come into the living room.

Mr. Leach began talking to them, not at them, “Hey guys. I am the lawyer representing the estate of Alex. He has left most of his money to his family. But, a part of it was reserved for your two children also. Not much, but enough. He really enjoyed playing with you guys when he would come over to visit. Particularly you Josiah. It is my job to make sure that it will be well used by your parents. I will need to go over it with them.”

“Really?” both of them said in unison with a restrained excitement in their voices.

“In the meantime, we would like you to attend his memorial service that your folks helped with and tell people what you thought of him too. He touched many lives and we want to celebrate his life.”

Josiah’s mother piped up having just come into the room, “Oh, yes. We will get him a haircut and all cleaned up too.” Josiah’s heart sank hearing that he would lose his hair. But, he noticed that Mr. Leach winked at him. It was odd.

“We would rather you didn’t Mrs. Colton. Alex mentioned in his funeral notes that he wanted them to dress in their everyday clothes and be as normal as possible. He abhorred funerals where everyone dressed in what he called monkey suits. He felt a funeral ought to be relaxed and genuine. Almost, like he was still there.”

“Okay. Well, maybe just the haircut.”

Mr. Leach was surprisingly persistent. “No. Not even that. You knew Alex. He loved long hair. You might remember his favorite expression too?”

“Oh yeah, ‘I like long haired freaky people.’” she giggled. “Okay, he is spared from the barber.”

Mr. Leach leaned back and casually asked Josiah, “And, now that is settled my good man, what are you up to this summer?”

Feeling less shy because of his support of his having long hair, Josiah stated proudly, “My sister is going to use me as a model to learn makeup for drama class.”

“That sounds wonderful. Do you like spending time with your sister?” Josiah answered in the affirmative. Mr. Leach talked for a few more minutes and then picked up his brief case and prepared to head out the door. “You are a good sport for helping her out. Most brothers would opt out saying they might be called a sissy. It takes a brave boy to do that for a sister.”

Josiah blushed. He stammered, “I am already called a sissy. Especially by Tommy.” Miriam gave him a worried glance that dissolved into an angry look out the window towards Tommy’s home.

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that. It still takes a lot of courage to help your sister like you are. I don’t think you are a sissy at all.” Josiah smiled ear to ear at hearing that.

Mrs. Colton spoke up and changed the subject. “You know, Miriam and Josiah are going to donate a pretty doll that Miriam once played with to Pippi’s Children’s Hospice. Go show him Miriam.” At that moment, a buzzer rang in the laundry room. “I’ll be back in a moment. I have to hang some clothes or they will become wrinkled.”

Miriam signaled to Josiah to go get Lilly. Josiah quickly went to go get her. As he brought her into the living room, Mr. Leach looked over Josiah carefully and smiled. He noted a tear forming in Josiah’s eye. “You like the doll?” he asked.

“Oh no, sir. I am just thinking about the girl who is going to get her.” Josiah lied. Mr. Leach nodded, but he didn’t believe Josiah. He took the doll from Josiah and carefully inspected her. He could tell she had been recently cleaned up.

Giving the doll back to Josiah, he said, “You have done a good job of taking care of her. Well done.” Josiah smiled.

Mrs. Colton came back into the living room and gave Josiah a curious look. Mr. Leach continued, “You know, before he died, Mr. Alex told me a lot about you Josiah. He said you were very special. In a week, we are going to have a reading of the will. Normally, it is just for family.” He looked over at Mrs. Colton, “But, in this case, as I have mentioned, it includes your children. Alex left the majority of his estate to his family. But, he made special provision for Josiah here as well as Miriam. After I read the will officially, I have been instructed to meet with Miriam, Josiah and his family to discuss the details.”

A week later, Mr. and Mrs. Colton arrived to talk to the lawyer with Josiah in tow. Miriam was on a date with Jeremy.

Mr. Leach shook Josiah’s hand, laid it open, and put tickets in his palm. “What are these for?” Josiah asked.

“They are tickets for an Opera called ‘The Tales of Hoffman.’ It is about a doll. I figured that since you said goodbye to such a beautiful doll named Lilly, you would enjoy seeing an opera about a man who falls in love with a doll.” Josiah gave him a baffled look.

“Well, the man in the opera isn’t called a sissy or strange for finding a doll beautiful.” he winked at Josiah. Josiah giggled. He was beginning to really like Mr. Leach. “There is this beautiful aria where the doll sings a song called ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille.’ It is charming and sweet. I love that scene. And the way each diva plays the doll make me want to go see it again and again because I laugh so hard every time.” Mr. Leach guided him over to a table where a lady was sitting.

“So tell me. Did Lilly find a good home, Josiah?”

Josiah tearfully said, “Yes. With a girl by the name of Leah. She is dying of cancer and just gushed over her. I have promised to go visit her.” He caught himself and added, “The girl that is. Leah.”

“Oh. Well, that way you get to see the doll too as well as help a little girl out.” Mr. Leach ventured with a wry smile. “You are a very kind child Josiah. I wish there were more like you. I can see why Mr. Alex thought you were so special.”

“Ummm … thank you, Mr. Leach.”

“Well then, Ms. Albertson here has some things to do with you while I have a special discussion with your parents.” Josiah sat down and shook her hand. “Will you be okay?” Mr. Leach asked.

“Yes, sir. I will be fine. Thank you again for looking out for me. It is very kind of you.” Mr. Leach couldn’t believe how polite Josiah was.

The Coltons were directed into a conference room with a television and a DVD player. As he prepared the DVD player, he stated, “First, Alex has left Miriam a $25,000 gift for her college.” The Coltons smiled at hearing that. Mr. Leach picked up the DVD remote and then said, “And about Josiah, well, I want you both to hear it from Alex what he has in mind. What he has to say to you was very important to him. Please, listen.”

The video began. “George and Claudine. I cannot tell you how much your friendship has meant to me over the years. I chose not to get married and enjoy my rather large family instead. I made lots of money too as you know. Most thought I was gay. You didn’t. I appreciate that. What you didn’t know was that I was … I am what is called transgender. Not all who are transgender transition into the sex they feel they are. I remained a man and lived life as a man all the while knowing inside I was a woman.” George and Claudine looked at each other astonished.

The video continued. “I know that one of the discussion we had many years ago was about this subject and the transition of Charity Bono to being Chaz Bono. I was glad to hear at the time that you were open to his reasons why he needed to change and transition.” George and Claudine nodded.

“Now, I haven’t talked to you about Josiah yet. He is not to hear this and this is just between you and Mr. Leach or whatever lawyer represents my estate. But, here it goes. I believe that Josiah is transgender. I want that to sink in for a moment. I see a lot of myself in Josiah. He has many of the traits I did when I was his age. I know that he is called a sissy. Now, I could be wrong. That is why this is for you only. I know from my personal experience why I never transitioned. I won’t go into those reasons for one reason alone. Each transgender’s story is different. But, regardless, this is important, I have set up a special trust for at least one transgender at a time to transition under certain guidelines. Mr. Leach, or my representative, is to use that trust to help either a transgender transition and get surgery to help them adjust to their condition or for them to receive therapy. Because I have noticed the characteristics in Josiah I believe to be transgender, I have made him my first named beneficiary. Now, before you get worried, I believe that parents need to be honored first. You will not be excluded and your input will be honored. I just wanted you to hear it from my own lips so you would understand why I am doing this for not only for Josiah, but for you two also. God bless you both. And thank you for all you have done for me as a friend. I love you both so very much. I am sorry I am gone out of your lives. I will miss you too. But, please forgive me, I want you to take your time before you see me again. You have a great life. My love to you both always.” The Coltons giggled.

Claudine shed a tear or two and George looked at Mr. Leach who spoke first. “Now, I want you both to understand. This trust is to help you first and then Josiah. Do you have any questions?”

“What kind of help?” asked George.

“Well, first, I will help you find a counselor for Josiah who can help him with his gender issues if he has any. If he is diagnosed with gender dysphoria, they will see if he can cope with it and live a normal life as a boy and eventually as a man first. If not, the trust could help her transition.”

“That’s good that it honors us. I don’t like what is happening today.” Claudine interjected. “I think it is just politics.”

“Yes. Sadly some of it is. However, the vast amount of transgender individuals just want to fit in as the gender they identify with. They aren’t looking for special treatment or privileges. They do want to have their rights honored though. Anyway, I said I would leave out politics. Alex felt you two should have total say in what happens to Josiah.”

“So, we could say go jump into the lake?” George inquired.

“Yes. And I would seek out another possible transgender child to help and just give Josiah $25,000 like his sister for his education.”

Mr. Leach knew enough to stay quiet and let them decide for themselves what was best for Josiah.

George thought for a moment. “And, he would just get good help at this point. Nothing that would push him into being a her unless it was in her best interests.”

“Correct. Alex wasn’t thrilled to stay a man. He longed to be the woman he was inside on the outside. However, because of his belief in family first, he decided he wouldn’t transition. Although, he did get castrated so life would be easier for him to deal without his hormones upsetting his life. So many trans folk make similar choices and never talk about it.”

Claudine relaxed back in her chair and added, “Sounds like you two talked it over quite a bit in his last days.”

“Yes. We did. When Alex first heard that he had liver cancer, he came to me to settle his affairs. I was grateful that he shared his true heart with me. Lawyers, as you know, don’t have one.” he said jokingly. “I need to have a client like him every so often. Just so I can feel human again.” Claudine giggled at his candid remark.

George, who seemed lost in thought, sighed deeply and then got to the point. Looking at Mr. Leach directly, he firmly said, “Alright Archie, where do we go from here?”

* * *

About ten years later, in a family summer cabin up in the Ozarks, Jacqueline opened the door to the familiar cabin. A man followed her in with her luggage. “This is everything ma’am. I am surprised you came up here without a car.”

“Oh, that is okay. I am recovering from surgery. I am not supposed to drive or lift anything for another couple of weeks. My sister is planning on coming up to bring me my car when I am ready.”

“Oh, was it serious?”

“Not much different than hernia surgery would be for a man, I suppose. And, I do have a visiting nurse coming to help me put all this away and help take care of me. Plus, I have friends in the area who have stocked the frig and other stuff for me.” Jacqueline handed him some money. “I will need to go to several appointments in town over the next two weeks. Can I set up transportation with you?”

Over the next few minutes, she shared with him the details of when she needed to see a doctor and when she needed to be picked up.

After he headed out, she dialed out on the land line since there wasn’t reliable cell service. The phone at the other side rang and then went over to voice mail, “Miriam. Jacqueline here. Just letting you all know, I made it just fine. Tell mom and dad the place looks just like we left it. I love you all and miss you terribly. I can’t wait to come back in September. See you soon.” She hung up. The doorbell rang a few minutes later.

A stout woman in her late forties looked at her and said,“Flowers for you, Miss.” She reached out to hand them to Jacqueline.

“Oh, I am so sorry. I can’t lift anything heavy at the moment. Female surgery, you know.” She winked. “Can you put them over there please.” She pointed to where she wanted them. The lady nodded and walked in with yellow roses to the a table in the foyer and then exited the cabin after Jacqueline reached into her purse and gave her a tip.

She read the card. “It has been my great pleasure to help you and your parents through your transition. Now, our professional relationship is coming to an end. I will cherish all these years. These flowers are from my heart to yours. Alex would be so proud of you Jacqueline and whom you have become. Have an amazing life. If there is anything you ever need my help on, give me a call and I will see what I can do. Yours sincerely, Uncle Archie Leach.”

Jacqueline leaned over and took the base of a rose and lifted it to her nose. Taking a deep breath, she smiled as the aroma of the fragrant flower transported her back to the summer after Alex passed away. Her sister had her all dolled up in a dress and was doing make up for drama class …

“How do I look?” Josiah asked Miriam excitedly.

“Hold your horses. You look beautiful. Trust me. But, I need to finish you right and get a good photo for my drama teacher, okay?” Josiah looked up at his sister with a big smile. He loved that she found a way for him to get over losing Lily.

The two of them turned towards the kitchen door when some pans fell in the kitchen. Their mom yelled out. “I-It’s okay guys.” And then they heard her talking to her friend who was visiting. Looking at each other, they shrugged. “I need to put that mascara on you and we will be done.” Josiah sat still as she put on the mascara and then crimped her eyelashes. “There. You are done. Wanna see?”

Miriam guided Josiah in front of a mirror in the dinning room and had him stand on a chair. Once he studied himself and stood straight, he looked at a beautiful young girl in the mirror. “Wow, Sis!” Not wanting to let out how he was really feeling, he stated rather simply, “You are really good at it.”

Miriam smirked, “You mean you don’t mind looking like a girl?” She had him but, before he could answer, Mom’s friend came into the dinning room and looked at Josiah dressed like a girl.

“Hi Josiah. My name is Dr. Lansing. I was a friend of Alex. It looks like your sister is very talented. You look beautiful.”

Miriam spoke up, “You think so. I put a lot of work into her … er … I mean him.”

“And it shows. What do you think Josiah? Do you think your sister made you look like a real girl too?”

“Yes, Ma’am, I think she has done a wonderful job.” Josiah responded shyly.

Miriam shook her head no. “The only problem is that I have to work on his hair now.” observed Miriam who grabbed a hair brush and started to comb out his pig tail.

“Yes, good point.” Dr. Lansing added. “But, what color ribbon do you think would go with what your sister’s work, Josiah? I am sure you have something to add too.”

“I suppose the green one.” he said meekly, not wanting to sound like he was enjoying this.

“Good choice.” She looked at him in the mirror and studied him. Finally, she said, “But, you know, if you look like this, you really ought to have a girl’s name. Calling you Josiah ruins it, don’t you think?” Josiah nodded in agreement. She continued, “I think your mom told me that if you had been born a girl, they would have named you Jacqueline. Do you like that name?”

Hiding his excitement as much as possible, Josiah said, “Yes. I like that name. It is very pretty. Just like how my sister has made me look.” He winked at her.

Miriam asked, “Just out of curiosity, what kind of doctor are you Dr. Lansing?”

Dr. Lansing leaned over and whispered in Josiah’s ear, “One that helps little boys who are really little girls become who they were meant to be.”

Thinking about what she said, Josiah looked up her and smiled big. “I thought as much.” Dr. Lansing quipped and winked at him. Then she turned to Miriam and said, “I am a child psychiatrist.”

At that moment, Mrs. Colton came in from the kitchen and looked at Josiah. She brushed away a tear and sighed. She smiled at Josiah and said, “Would you girls like some lunch? I guess Josiah is out playing someplace and I think we can have some girl time, if you would like?” Putting her arm around Josiah, she went on to say, “Isn’t your name Jacqueline, young lady?”

The four of them settled down for lunch and had a life changing meal …

Back in the present, Jacqueline appreciated how much Alex noticed her needs while her parents were oblivious. But, his, or rather her, generous spirit allowed Jacqueline to escape the trauma of being here, but feeling alone, forgotten and ignored. In many respects, the beautiful flowers uncle Archie sent were from him too. That made the fragrance all the more pleasant and enjoyable.

The doorbell rang. A kindly grey haired woman looked down and smiled at her. “Hello. Are you Jacqueline?”

“Yes, ma’am. I am. Are you Matilda?”

“Sure am. Let’s get you settled.” With that, she came in and started to unpack Jacqueline’s suitcases and helping her get settled in.

After settling in, Jacqueline found herself spending the next three weeks relaxing and healing. The house was well stocked with provisions. No need to go out. The cabin was used by not only her immediate family, but her uncle John’s family too in August. So, she chuckled to see the crib set up in a bedroom and all the supplies there still. She would have to ask if someone was expecting again when she saw them again. Her new cousin had recently begun to walk according to her dad. They would certainly be changing this room soon. Sitting down in the old rocker that her aunt used to hold her sleeping baby, Bobby, Jacqueline took inventory of how a young life was cared for by a doting mother. A part of her mourned that she would never have that joy.

Breaking her out of her melancholy, she chuckled at the fact that the stack of clothe diapers her aunt insisted that wouldn’t harm the environment caused such a stink with the high cost of redoing the cabin’s septic system and cesspools to handle a larger volume of water use. The septic tank also had to be relocated to in order not to contaminate the well. Her dad wasn’t happy with that emergency expense, but it was his sister-in-law, his brother’s wife, after all. Although Jacqueline envied those who used disposable diapers, she appreciated that thanks to Bobby, she could diaper any baby quickly.

The diapers were contrasted with cans of unopened baby formula on a cheap shelf along with baby bottles. Aunt Trudy couldn’t breast feed like she wanted to because of some sort of respiratory illness she had prior to the delivery. It lingered on for a couple of months after she gave birth and she didn’t want the baby to be receiving her toxic antibiotics. She used the cabin to recuperate too, which is why her dad thought this would be a good way for Jacqueline to recover from her GRS procedure.

Daily, under Matlida’s guidance and excellent care, Jacqueline built up a walking routine that grew longer and longer. The fresh mountain air helped her grow stronger too. It also helped that she didn’t have to be on display for the world to see either. She loved getting dressed and made up, but here, in this cabin, she could throw on old clothes and be frumpy while her body recovered. There would be plenty of time for being elegant later.

As it happens, the cabin was situated not far from an old abandoned Sinclair gas station. Her curiosity, which mirrored that of her youth, began to work on her. The place hadn’t been touched for years. She would stop there to rest under the shade of the awning before finishing her final walk home. She liked to look through the dusty windows of the garage and could see what kind of old boxes and debris there was.

An older man, in his early sixties, riding an old single speed bike one day stopped to talk to her as she was looking into the windows. He too took a brief break from having climbed the hill to the station. Looking over the station, he remarked, “Hi, isn’t she beautiful. I hope they restore her one day.”

Jacqueline cautiously responded, “Why did it go out of business?”

Studying the old building looking for clues, he sighed heavily. “Hard to say. There was the oil and gas embargo during the 70s when the Arabs cut off our oil for political reasons. Then there was the interstates being built. Interstate 49 took a lot of business away from this area because the gas is cheaper there. And finally, the EPA went after hydrocarbons leaking into the soil from underground petroleum storage tanks. The cost of environmental cleanup was so high that owners often walked away from their lifetime business and let the state pick them up in property tax sales or the banks take them back in foreclosure.”

Jacqueline looked back through the old wooden door that once was the pristine entrance into the gas station’s office. “Sad to see it so abandoned and neglected.”

“Yes, I agree.” Looking at his watch, he remarked, “Oh, have to get going. I have a personal record to beat. You have a nice day, Ms.” He scooted off on his old rickety single speed Schwinn leaving her to contemplate the fate of the station.

About a week before her sister came up in her car, Jacqueline had really improved. The limitations of weight were lifted and she didn’t have to be monitored by the visiting nurse anymore. Going out for a brisk walk was no longer painful. Feeling bold, she took the longer routes and walked back home by way of the gas station not needing to rest like she had to before.

One day, as she walked by, she noticed that the front door was ajar as if someone were inside. Coming closer to the door, she cupped her eyes and peered in to see if there was any movement. Light was scattered around the unkempt interior as the roof had partially given way from years of neglect. Nothing seem to have changed. All she saw were the same old cardboard boxes strewn around, dirty air filters, empty oil cans, and other things one would find in a dilapidated gas station.

Fearing that someone was inside, she turned to go when she thought she heard the unmistakable sound of a baby crying. It was muffled and barely audible, but it was there. And it was coming from the building. Her instinct to flee from danger was quickly being overwhelmed by other instincts. But still, the unknown inside the building was frightening. Who might be in the shadows if she went in?

She leaned on the door to listen. Inside she could hear the faint mewing of a baby’s cries and little else. She was cautious at first lest it be a trap. Walking to the back of the station, she waited for about ten minutes. Listening at the back of the door of the station. She could tell no one was moving about inside. Now she became worried about the baby she was hearing. Working her way back to the front of the station, she boldly pushed the door and found that it moved easily. Looking down, she could see the traces of how the door had been moved before. Inside, in the dim light, she could see a path had been carved out towards a corner of the garage. Following the trail, the cries grew louder and louder. She found a heap of bloody towels laid out as if someone had an accident. The blood on the old towels was fresh. It wasn’t just blood. There was other junk in the blood. Slowly, her attention was drawn by trails of blood to some wooden crates in the corner that had been piled up as if to make a bonfire. Moving them was easy. Beneath it all, she found an old piece of carry on luggage.

The cries were now loud and coming from the luggage. Opening it, she found a towel moving. Lifting up the corner of the towel, she jumped back when she found a squawking baby. Drawing her hand to her mouth, she couldn’t handle what she knew she had just found for a moment. The baby that had been kept warm by the blanket and the luggage was now beginning to turn a little blue she thought. Quickly, she took the towel and wrapped it around the little baby girl to keep it warm. She then lifted it up. Cradling it, she looked around. What to do? Someone had just given birth to this child and had already abandoned it. While furious at the act, she concentrated on ministering to the child.

Tearfully, and instinctively, she put the baby down and swaddled it this time making sure to keep a flap for covering its eyes. The baby girl was tiny. Barely over five pounds possibly. Jacqueline didn’t have a cell phone with her because in the mountains they didn’t work. Instead, she found another towel nearby that was reasonable clean and made a quick sling like she had seen her aunt do when she helped her take care of her cousin. She carefully made her way out the front door and looked around. Not being observed, she felt comfortable as she walked home with the baby securely attached to her.

Unlike the experience with the doll when she was eight, it took her a mile and a half to get home. No one looked at her strangely like she was anything other than a mother carrying a baby. The baby cried the whole way it seemed. She would hear the baby cry and then fall asleep, cry and then fall asleep. Just when she got worried about the baby, she would cry again. Reaching home at last, she went into the house and found the supplies for her little cousin Bobby while holding the baby still. True, they were for a boy, but that didn’t matter now. She turned on the heater in the baby room to get the room warm. Grabbing some formula and bottles, she went to the kitchen and made up some food for the baby in her arms.

“Oh my, what should I call you?” she said through free flowing tears. It was mostly to keep herself from panicking from the fear of what to do griping her and paralyzing her from taking action. “Lilly. I will call you Lilly.”

“There, there Lilly, Mommy is going to make you some food now.” Just like she had down with her cousin, she warmed up a bottle of formula and began to feed the child. Her little baby eyes looked happy as she took her first gulps of milk. “Now, now, not too fast.” she giggled. The baby was grateful and sucked away at the bottle. She found herself bonding to the little angel. And, the little angel was clearly bonding to her too. When Lilly downed about a quarter of the bottle, Jacqueline took her into the baby room and laid her on the changing table after burping her. Taking some wipes, she clean the child off of blood. Whoever gave birth at least had clipped off the umbilical cord with some string before cutting it with a knife. Jacqueline knew enough not to touch that part yet since she watched her baby cousin lose his cord not long ago. Reaching over, she put a clothe diaper on Lilly and pinned it. Then, she found a onesie that her cousin had worn and put it on Lily. It cover her whole body. By this time, she had awoken again and was wanting more food. For the first time in the last hour, she could relax. She sat in the rocker and gently rocked Lily as she ate from the bottle. “There, there, Mommy loves you.” She thought about what she was saying. It seemed the appropriate response to say she was her mommy. But why was she doing it? Did she really want to be a mother? Could she be a mother?

As she rocked the baby, she looked at the phone next to her and more important questions came to her mind. Whom should she call? The sheriff? The fire department? That might be a good idea. But who would leave a baby like that in a gas station. And why? Would they be looking for the baby now wanting it back? While considering the next course of action, she heard sirens off in the distance. Had someone called the police on her. Did they see her taking the baby? Holding Lily carefully, she got up and went to the front door. As she watched the street through the screen door, she saw a fire engine go by and head up the road towards where the gas station was. Off in the distance, she could see a cloud of smoke above the tree line. Knowing that it had been dry for a while, she got concerned.

Going back to the phone, she called 911. “Hello, 911, please state your emergency.”

“Yes, I live at 358 Pecan Shallows Road. I see smoke off in the distance. Should I evacuate? I have a baby.”

“No Ma’am. There is a gas station on Elders Highway on fire. If there is an evacuation we will be sure to call you.” Jacqueline hung up the phone. Now another thought hit her. If she reports the baby, then they will think she started the fire. Calm down, she said to herself. She heard the baby pass something.

Changing the diaper, she found that Lilly pass a little yellowish green poo. That was normal. She remembered her aunt being scared when she had her baby and if first pooed. Well, pooed in the way a new born would. She was just getting her bowels to work. Which, in her mind, meant that the baby was in good health. After changing her, she realized that she needed more than just the normal advice. Knowing uncle Archie’s number by heart, she called him.

“Hey Sweetie, it is good to hear from you. How are you doing?”

“Fine uncle Archie. My recovery is coming along nicely. But, what I really need is your help. Rather, I need your advice about what to do.” For the next ten minutes, she told him what had happened and about the fire.

“Okay. I think for the moment, you are okay legally. You have reported it to an officer of the court, me. So, as far as hiding things, you are in the clear. Let me make a few phone calls and I will call you back. Are you sure you can handle Lilly for the next few hours?”

“Yes uncle. I know I can. I helped with my cousin right after he was born. Plus, before that, my nervous aunt made me take the classes for care of a new born with her as well.”

“Good. When is your sister due to come up there with your car?”

“In about five days.”

Normally, it would be an eternity to wait, but taking care of Lilly was so engrossing that she startled when the phone rang. “Hey Sweetie, I played the nervous uncle and called a friend in the sheriff’s office there in the county. He told me the fire was contained and that you need not be concerned. He related to me that there is a BOLO out for a ‘78 Camaro with what looked like Tennessee plates. A driver and a young woman were seen tossing a Molotov cocktail into the gas station. She seemed upset. I suspect they are long gone from where you are. And frankly, it sounds like they wanted to abort the child and move on with their lives. Which is sick. All they needed to do was to drop the baby off at a fire station and that would have answered the problem. Instead, they tried to murder it.”

Taking the comment as a hint, Jacqueline volunteered, “Do you think I should drop off Lilly at a fire station?” Archie could hear the disappointment in her voice as she asked.

“Well ...” his mind racing, a thought hit him. “Would you be willing to adopt her?”

Surprising herself, she stated with conviction, “Oh yes! She is simply precious.”

“But, you are eighteen and no means of support. You aren’t married. What kind of life could you give her?” Archie could hear her slump in the rocking chair over the phone. It is what he wanted to hear. She was hungry for a family of her own. He continued, “However, you could say you gave birth to her at home. Your birth certificate now says you are female. The state doesn’t check for female organs. I can arrange for her to be listed as you giving birth to the child with the birth father unknown. And we have a date of birth.”

Jacqueline’s mature maternal side kicked in. “There must be someone better than myself, don’t you think?”

“Not really. I don’t believe in coincidences, Sweetie. I believe that child was meant to be under your motherly care. And, under the terms of the trust that Alex set up, I have the option to continue your stipend until you graduate from University if, as a result of your transition, a special circumstance arises unforeseen by the Trustee which merits his or her intervention. I believe that this qualifies.”

Tears flowed down Jacqueline’s face as she heard those words. He went on, “Jacqueline, I know that this child will help you become a better more fulfilled woman. I was just getting around to looking for my next beneficiary when you called. So, before I do, you have to tell me now, do you want this child?”

Once again, surprising herself, she responded whole heartedly, “Yes, oh, yes! God, yes! Please uncle!”

“All right then. I will be up tomorrow. In the meantime, tell me what you need. I will go on Amazon and order it for you. Then I will have a grocery delivery made with the extra items you may need.”

“But, what about my parents? My sister?”

“You leave them to me. Right now, I just want you to take care of that baby. Your baby. I will call your parents and let them know that I am handling a special project for you right now. Also, I will send a Physician’s Assistant over to you in the next hour or so. She will certify the birth and check on the baby’s health. In the meantime, you just relax. I am not letting you lose this doll like I did with the last one.”

With Lilly sleeping her arms, crying tears of joy, she nuzzled her daughter and whispered, “It looks like I am going to be your Mommy after all.” She wanted to pinch herself to see if it was all real.

The PA found the baby to be in good health. She administered shots for the new born, checked her eyes, throat, and ears. Listened to her heart and lungs. And by the time she was done, a temporary certificate of birth was issued for the baby in the name of Lilly Alexandrea Colton, daughter of Jacqueline Claudine Colton, father unknown. Born, June 25th, 2014, near Jasper, Arkansas.

The days flew by. Phone calls from her parents brightened her day. And a visit from uncle Archie who came with baby clothes and supplies gave her new daughter awesome clothes. He was a proud uncle if ever there was one. Then Miriam pulled up to the cabin in Jacqueline’s car complete with a baby seat and a pram. Jeremy pulled in behind her. The two quietly opened the door and found a smiling Jacqueline feeding Lilly. She kissed Jackie on the cheek and looked at her new niece. “Oh Jackie, she is so precious! I am so happy for you.”

* * *

The bustle of being a senior college student who was a single mother also didn’t seem to slow Jacqueline down. Texas Women’s University was a good choice for her. Almost nine out of every ten students was a woman. Very few men. It was almost as though she got energy ever day from her daughter. The more love she put into her, the more energy she had. The minutes passing by seemed liked years during her last class of the day. When the bell rang, she rushed pass a few of her fellow students and headed down the hallway. She didn’t catch their glances either. Nor, did she hear them gossip about how a twenty-one year old woman could have a four year old daughter. And without a father. They weren’t dumb. They did the math and realized she must have been with child during her senior year of high school. No mention of a father or how she became pregnant escalated the mystery to mythical fact. The clear lack of prom photos and the casual mention that Lilly was born in the mountains removed any doubt in the minds of her fellow students that she was a single mom who disgraced herself to her family. But, where did her money come from? There must be a sugar daddy somewhere, they speculated. She didn’t seem to lack for funds.

Jacqueline’s car, while not the newest, was still a pretty nice 2014 Honda Civic. She had a decent cell phone as well as good looking wardrobe of dresses. Then there was the day care she was able to afford to watch Lilly while she was in class. Inevitably, the conversation always turned in Jacqueline’s reluctance to name who this rich father or rich father’s son might be.

Jacqueline wasn’t immune to knowing that she was a source of much conjecture either. Even without the probing questions, the looks she got were enough to tell her what they were thinking. It hardened her resolve to get the best grades she could get, to study hard, and to become a success story if every there was one. She carried a 4.0 with honors much to the delight of her uncle Archie who was sometimes seen on campus talking to her and Lilly. More over, the four hour drive home to her home in Arkansas during weekends and holiday breaks wasn’t seen as family visits. It was perceived as clandestine meetings with the secret father whom they all wanted to meet, would never sleep with in a million years because of the ruin it would bring, but in secret all longed for and secretly wished would happen to them.

In all the years of being Lilly’s mother, the only thing that Jacqueline didn’t share with her loving daughter was her dilation times. Other than that, her loves, her likes, and all of her was unconditionally available to Lilly twenty-four seven. And, her parents loved having a grandchild.

Rushing to Jack and Jill Pre-K and Kinder Care, Jacqueline called to Lily, “Time to come home Lily.” Lily looked up from her toys and waved to her mother. Mrs. Crenshaw walked Lily over to Jacqueline. She looked down to her little girl and said, “What do you say to Mrs. Crenshaw, Lily?”

As Lily dutifully said, “Thank you, Mrs. Crenshaw,” Jacqueline missed the quick glance on Mrs. Crenshaw’s face. It was a judgmental one. She was a mature lady who felt that children needed father’s too. Looking up, the glance was erased already and Jacqueline nodded her approval too of being thanked. After that, they headed down to the library where Malcolm Duncan was waiting for them. For the last six months, Malcolm had been teaching her daughter how to draw. It wasn’t his usual student. Mostly, he taught older people in rest homes how to draw. It was a great way for them to communicate their feelings, but, due to either strokes or old age, they had lost the ability to communicate how they felt with words and facial expressions. It was much easier with pictures.

As Jacqueline did her studying, Malcom taught her how to draw a house and a family. Bringing the picture over to her mom, Lily proudly showed her their apartment, the two of them, and much more.

“Can we meet at the Chick-fil-a on 380 next time?” Jacqueline asked.

“Sure.” he said.

“C’mon Lily, let’s go home.”

Getting home, the two spent their usual time together. Lily helped mom prepare dinner. Then the two of them sat down. “What do you want me to read today, Lily?”

“If you give a mouse a cookie, Mommy.” For the next fifteen minutes, the two of them giggled.

“Time for bed Sweetums.” Jacqueline began to draw a bath. She put in some nice bubble bath. Lily gave her a smile at seeing that. “Would you like me to join you?” Lily nodded yes. Soon, the two were playing in the bath tub. Jacqueline rinsed off a giggling Lily and then reached over and grabbed a hair brush and began brushing out Lily’s hair. The two of them were clearly having a good time.

Soon, they were both dried off. “Mommy, can I sleep with you tonight?”

“Sure.” She kissed and hugged Lily. “But, we have to brush our teeth first.” Jacqueline took her into the bathroom and they brushed their teeth together. Then they climbed into bed. Snuggling in bed, Jacqueline began to read her another story. When Jacqueline feel asleep while reading it, Lily kissed her mom on the cheek and then reached over her to turn off her bedroom light. Climbing under the sheets, she snuggled against her mother and began to fall asleep herself. And just before she feel asleep herself, Lily yawned and said, “I love you Mommy.”

The next day, the two got up to do their daily routine. They washed their hair and dried it off together giggling the whole time. And then, after getting their hair taken care of, they got dressed and ready for another day of school.

On the way into class that morning, like every morning, Jacqueline walked Lily into her pre-k school too. That day, like most, she walked by some of her fellow students who cast a glance at each other that said they disapproved of Jacqueline for having had a child so young.

But, Jacqueline did have some good times. The college, had a special dinner honoring mother’s and their commitment to their children at the end of the semester and just before Mother’s Day. It included staff, professors, and students. Some were singled out for special recognition. And that day, a select ten mothers were brought on stage. Their young daughters would then bring up to their mother a flower. In the back of the room, Malcolm volunteered for watching his special student while Jacqueline went on stage when her name was called. She was honored for having a 4.0 average and carrying a heavy study load.

When Lily came on stage to give her mother her flower, no one in the room knew the special sacrifice Jacqueline made to be her mother. She gave up her freedom for another. She could have given Lily away and followed her own way. But when she picked her up out of that gas station, she never looked back with regret. Instead, she put this precious rejected child above all. So, when everyone saw tears flowing from Jacqueline’s eyes, no one knew how beautiful they were.

Coming home, she got a unique Mother’s Day present. Well, not so much a present, but something she knew she would never have to worry about. A note in the mail from uncle Archie informed her that the two people in a Camaro who matched the description of the car that destroyed her Lily’s birth place had been killed in a shoot out in Louisiana after they had robbed a seven-eleven about three years earlier. Lily’s likely parents fancied themselves as Bonnie and Clyde. A sad ending to their lives. But not a sad ending for Lily’s life, thankfully.

The next day, at Chick-fil-a, Malcolm and Jacqueline watched as Lily played with other children and ran about free from worry, want, or rejection. Malcolm, who by now had grown close to Jacqueline, asked Jacqueline, “Why don’t you tell everyone the truth?”

“What truth?”

“You know what they say behind your back?”

“Let them talk.”

Concerned for her, he asked, “Why?”

“Because they are talking about me, not Lily.” she observed.

Malcolm nodded and looked at Lily running and playing with the other children racing through the tubes. He wondered if she knew how lucky she was and what a special mother she had. Without thinking or being too forward, he put his arm around Jacqueline and hugged her as they watched her play. When Jacqueline looked up at him, she smiled at the couple of tears she saw flowing from his eyes down his cheeks.

Malcolm was a kind man and she had grown to love him almost as much as she loved Lily. Somehow, knowing that Lily was adopted made it easier to let him into their lives. She thought about what uncle Archie said when she adopted Lily. ‘There are no coincidences in life.’ She was meant to have Lily. Maybe Malcolm was meant to have them too. She responded by leaning on him and noticed he didn’t mind.

Graduation approached and even though she was clearly on of the best students in the school, there was one with a few more credits and a high GPA that won the right to be at the top of the class. Still, she won enough honors on her own that it didn’t matter. She had proven herself to whole world. And, as uncle Leach saw in the beginning, to herself too.

After the graduation, she went to celebrate with family at a TGIF near where they all lived. Malcolm was invited too. She was impressed that he made the long drive to be there to celebrate her granduation with her family. He and her father were becoming good friends at the luncheon table it seemed to her.

After the toasts, Miriam came up to her and Lily. A woman in her late forties followed her.

“Jackie, I would like you to meet someone one special.” She suspected something was up when everyone grew quiet and watched Jacqueline shake the stranger’s hand. “This is Sharon Jackson Murphy.”

“Hi, your name seems oddly familiar.”

“It should. I used to babysit your sister. The doll you found at our home was mine. I meant to give it Miriam but it got lost. When I heard the story of how it was found and then heard the story of what happened to it, I knew I just had to meet you.” Sharon smiled broadly at her. “In fact, I have heard the whole story from your uncle Archie too.”

“Does that mean ...”

“Yes, Jackie, she knows the whole story.” Miriam said.

“I am so honored to meet you Jacqueline. You are a remarkable young lady.”

“But, why ...”

“Why am I here? I want to take you someplace right now. Your family knows about it. So, would you mind? Your family will watch Lily. Don’t worry.” Miriam took her sister’s arm and reassured her. She then led her following Sharon outside to a waiting limousine. Perplexed, as a chauffeur opened the door for her, Jacqueline stepped in the limo. Sharon and Miriam followed with big grins on their faces.

About twenty minutes later, they pulled up in front of Sharon’s old home. Or, rather what she thought was still an empty lot. The chauffeur opened the door for her and they stepped out to see a newly built home. It was gorgeous with a front porch and elegant landscaping.

“Wow, you rebuilt your home.”

“Yes, and I would like you to see it. I think it will explain a lot of things to you.”

As they walked up to the house, Sharon began to relate its story to Jacqueline. “You see Jackie. Years ago you watched the old home burn down. The home that once protected me turned against my parents. They decided to hold on to the lot until they build a home for one of their seven children or their many grandchildren. That never happened. Sadly, they have left this world.”

Opening the door, she continued, “The seven of us got together and talked about what to do with this home. We all have done well, so we don’t need the money. And, we have homes of our own now. It was decided to rebuild their home as a project for all of us. That way we could restore what was taken from us before we said goodbye to it. It was a way of dealing with the grief of losing our parents last year. And passing along something that they enjoyed.”

Jacqueline walked into an elegant home filled with beautiful furniture and décor. The kitchen, which she could see off to the side, was modern and well appointed. The dining room was warm and inviting. The living room was serene.

“Can you show me the rest of the house, please?” Jacqueline couldn’t figure out why, but she was becoming more and more excited by seeing the home and what they turned it into.

During the tour of the home, Sharon pointed out how one of her siblings decorated the room. Sharon said, “Well, I have one more room I would like to show you Jackie. It was done by all of us.”

Jacqueline followed her down an upstairs hallway with Miriam following. They walked into the master bedroom. It was simply gorgeous. There was a reading chair. And the en suite that was attached was also detailed and beautiful. But, then, something caught her eye. Lily, rather the doll Dallas, was sitting on the bed. Without thinking, she went over to it. She was about to pick it up when she looked at Sharon.

Sharon said, with a tear going down her cheek, “Go ahead, pick her up. Her name is Phoenix. We could hardly call her Lily, could we?”

Miriam came up and put her arm around Jacqueline, “You see Sis, they all heard your story. They know who and what you are. And they know what you sacrificed for others.”

“But why show me all this ...”

Sharon held out her hand with a set of keys in it to give to Jacqueline, “Because my family and your family decided to give it to you. Our family built it with love. Your family paid for the lot and the materials because they love you too. We worked together for one purpose.”

Jacqueline began to tremble. “You mean ...”

“That all this is all for you Jackie. Yes. The whole house. For you and for Lily. So you can have memories with your family like I have with mine. We took a vote and you won.”

Jacqueline started to lose it as did Sharon and Miriam. About five minutes later, a shout from downstairs informed Miriam that everyone had assembled in the foyer downstairs. Her dad and uncle Archie were downstairs smiling ear to ear. Her mother was giggling and holding Lily in her arms.

Jacqueline choked out, “This-is me-means I-I will be down the st-street from you two. I-I will have my whole fa-family nearby-by.”

As the family and gathering tapered off, Jacqueline and Lily found themselves saying goodbye to their last guest, Malcolm.

Jacqueline shook as she sadly said, “So, I guess you are headed back to Denton?”

“Only to pack up and finish my final two weeks at the rest home. It seems I have a new job. And I will be moving to a new town.”

Jacqueline smiled hopefully at the news and shyly asked. “May I ask where you are moving to?”

“Yes, you may. I have found a job here, doing the same thing I was in Denton. And I have already gotten an apartment about two miles from here with a month to month lease. That is why I was talking to your dad. I asked him if it was okay to date you.”

At that, she blushed. She looked at him and saw the love in his eyes for her. She knew what he had talked to her dad about during lunch and why they allowed him to be the last one leaving her new home. Joy flooded her heart and she threw her arms around him hugging him as hard as she could. And then Lily threw her arms around both of them. Malcolm hugged them back.

As the girls cried quietly, Malcolm remarked with a silly grin and teasing tone in his voice, “Gee whiz, you both act like we are are going to be a family soon.”

Jacqueline looked up and stuck her tongue out at him. She then protested, “Aren’t we?!”

Malcolm just grinned. Then he asked, “See me out to my car then?”

“Sure.” Malcolm opened her front door and then surprised her by swooping his arm around her shoulder and then his hand down around her knee. He picked her gently up in his arms. She gazed into his eyes and grinned.

Carrying her across the threshold to the outside world, she asked him, “Hey, what do you think you are doing?”

With a mischievous smile, he chortled with pride, “Practicing for our big day, of course.”

Lily just stood there with a big grin on her face looking at the two of them. She then placed her hands on her hips and said forcefully, “Well, aren’t you going to kiss Mommy!”

The End.

Copyright © 2018 by AuP reviner

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