Of Dazzled Dreams
By Simply Shelby

It was a simple picture. Childish, for it was drawn by a young girl with a dream of a family. The color crayons depicted a serene picture of a couple, a woman with brown hair and green eyes and a man with dark hair and blue eyes, holding hands with a small girl. All three stick figures were smiling brightly and were obviously very happy. It was the very epitome of a family. A family that, really, none of the figures had when they'd first come together.

x x x

Looking back on the situation, Kendall Brooks had been a desperate man. He had been almost out the door on his way to work when a Social worker had knocked on his door, a suitcase and five-year-old girl in tow. The girl's name was Janet Brooks. Her parents had died in a tragic car accident and since he was now eighteen that made Kendall her only living relative suitable to take care of her.

At first, Kendall had protested, fervently. But when he realized he was about an hour late to work, he acquiesced, signing the papers quickly and taking the girl inside his apartment. He remembered it vividly. Janet was small for a five-year-old with glossy black hair and pale skin. She had looked up at him with bright, expectant blue eyes- signature Brook eyes- and he'd looked right back down at her and he'd found that he was actually scared of the little girl. And that's when his mind registered exactly what it was he'd just done and he realized something quite important.

He was so screwed.

To put it mildly.

It could have been luck that Kendall had left the front door open while standing there, but it was divine intervention that brought Delia Bridges past it at that precise moment. The petite brunette lived in the apartment across the hall from his and to Kendall's knowledge took night classes at the local college and worked the nightshift at a diner down the street. It didn't occur to him that he'd never spoken more than a "hello" or a "goodnight" to the woman. She was just what he needed. It couldn't have been a more perfect beginning.

"Delia!"

x x x

"Delia!"

Delia Bridges froze at the sound of her name and turned to face her neighbor. To her surprise, Kendall Brooks was standing in his doorway, a little girl beside him. And to her even greater surprise, she found that he was actually talking to her; the man that never said more than a half a sentence to anyone in his life. To her amusement, the young man looked completely lost and… was it desperation she saw in his face? Yes, definitely desperation. "Yes?"

"I know this'll seem rather odd, but…" Kendall proceeded to explain his story to her. "So, I was wondering if you could watch her. Just for today," he added quickly.

Trying to recover from the fact that the man had actually uttered several sentences to her, she tried valiantly to hide her laughter, but failed. She couldn't not help him. And, besides, she had some free time to spare. "I'd love to," she responded.

His shoulders sagged with relief as he let out a breath. "Thank you so much. Can we work out your pay later?"

She nodded and enveloped Janet's small hand in her own and the girl smiled widely up at her. "Go to work." She told the raven-haired boy, "We'll be fine."

He was gone in an instant.

Delia looked down at the girl with a smile on her face. "You must be pretty special to have gotten him in a frenzy." And, it was true. In the entire seven months that they'd lived opposite each other, she'd never seen him so much as give anyone more than a nod; except for the last few minutes, that was.

Janet nodded silently and smiled back.

The two girls walked inside together.

x x x

Unlocking the door to his apartment, Kendall was assaulted with a myriad of delicious smells. He dropped his cell phone and keys on to the hall table with a small thump and flopped down on the couch in the living room. "Kenny!" Janet's voice reached his ears. "Kenny's home!"

"Quiet, Janet." It was Delia's voice this time, "Kendall's really tired." Oh, how true that was. "Honey, clean up the crayons and wash up for dinner.

"Okie dokie!"

Then, there was quiet. The only sound was Delia puttering around in the kitchen. He heard the jostling noise of the fridge opening and closing and footsteps walking back into the living room. "Rough day?" he heard the young woman ask him.

He moaned in response.

She pushed a cold soda into his hand. "Want this?"

He fumbled to open the soda and resorted to opening an eye to help him. He took a refreshing sip. "Thanks," he told Delia, closing his eyes and laying back down.

"Dinner's in the oven. You can take it out in about five or ten minutes…"

Kendall groaned. "Don't go."

Delia was glad her spur-of-the-moment employer couldn't see her blush. "In other words, 'don't leave me to clean the kitchen.'"

The man cracked an eye open and peered up at her, "Something like that, yeah."

"I'll stay until I have to put Janet to bed."

"Thank you," he said softly, never so thankful for anyone else in his entire life.

The buzzer went off in the kitchen, signaling that it was time for dinner. "Do you want me to bring your food here?"

Kendall stood up, "Nah, he said sloppily, "Wouldn't want the little'un learning bad manners. Besides, we've got company." He winked at her.

Delia held off a blush, knowing the poor guy was extremely tired. She wouldn't hold it against him. She started dishing up Shepherd's Pie onto three separate plates. "Could you pour Janet a cup of juice? I think you had some apple juice in there?" The raven-haired boy nodded and followed her instructions. "Janet?" she called, "Dinner's ready!"

The little girl walked sedately into the room and sat at her place at the table. Delia set the plate in front of her and Kendall followed suit with the juice. The overall feeling at the table was tired with a hint of tension and forced politeness. Nobody felt like talking. Nobody wanted to discuss how odd it was that this moment seemed so right… so perfect. It was as though they were a perfectly normal family.

Delia winced at the thought. She had never known her mother; for the woman had been long gone the second after Delia had been born. But she had recently lost her father to cancer after a long tiring battle and was now all alone. She'd missed being loved by someone and having someone to love.

Unlike Delia or Janet, Kendall had lost both his parents long ago and he had been alone in the world for as long as he could remember. And what a harsh world it was with no loved ones in his life. Yet, somehow he'd survived, pulled through, gotten an education, a full-time job, a roof over his head… and now, a little girl to take care of, it seemed. His mind expressed the familiar sentiment of being screwed, but his heart seemed to swell at the fact that he had someone to love. And, hopefully someone to love him in return.

x x x

Despite what he'd said earlier, Kendall ended up having to put the dishes away after Delia had washed them and Janet had dried them. He didn't mind though. Such a menial task served only to let his thoughts wander. He studied the little girl, scrutinized her even. She seemed happy enough, with only a suppressed sadness hinting at the fact that she missed her parents. He prayed he would be good enough to raise her.

After stacking the last plate on the shelf, Kendall turned to Delia and Janet. "Well," he said to the girl, "It's time for you to go to bed." He paused for a moment. His guest bedroom was still an office. He didn't have anywhere for Janet to sleep. "How about you sleep in my bed for tonight and we'll get you a bed tomorrow..." he realized something new, "… after school. Where do you go to school?"

Her voice was quiet when she spoke, "Marilyn's Preschool Academy from 8 o'clock to 12 o'clock." Kendall frowned.

"I can pick her up." His eyes flew over to Delia. "If you'd like and watch her until you get home." Her voice was tentative, probing.

"Does nine dollars an hour sound good?"

Delia blinked, "What do you mean?"

"You have to make a living somehow. You have classes from nine to twelve on Mondays and Thursdays and you work the nightshift at the diner on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from ten to two. I you watch Janet… you'll have to quit your job. You probably make only about seven or eight dollars; maybe a bit more in tips, so nine dollars sounds reasonable."

"You- you want to hire me?" Those were the only words Delia could force out of her mouth. Despite the fact that she really wanted to know how he knew her schedule.

Kendall paused to think, "Yeah. I want to hire you."

"Oh. Okay then. I accept."

"Okay. You start tomorrow at twelve. Do you know where her school is?"

"Marilyn's Preschool Academy, right?"

"Yeah."

"Yeah."

"Okay."

"Okay… um… goodnight, then."

"Yeah. Goodnight."

Kendall turned back to the little girl after locking the front door. She sat on the couch, her crayons working across a small sketchpad. He sat down beside her. "Is it okay if Delia takes care of you while I'm gone?"

The girl nodded. She set down her crayons, abandoning her coloring, and crawled into his lap. She blinked tiredly up at him. "How about," he whispered, "You go change into your pajamas and I'll make us some hot cocoa to celebrate your first night in your new home?"

Janet nodded slowly and yawned. Kendall accompanied the girl to the bedroom and helped her into her pajamas. She snatched up a stuffed, chenille rabbit and held it up to him.

"Who's this?" he asked.

"Mildred," Janet answered softly.

"She's very soft. Would she like some hot chocolate, too?"

Janet giggled and shook her head, causing her inky hair to whip around her face. "No, silly Kenny, Mildred can't drink anything."

Kendall faked an enlightened face, "I see," he responded; hoisting the girl into his arms, "Well, would she like to sit with us while we drink hot chocolate?"

The girl nodded and kissed his cheek. This time Kendall didn't have to act awed. It was the first time anyone had kissed him. He brushed his lips across her forehead. "Thanks, kiddo."

Loneliness wasn't any different if you were old or young. You were still lonely. And to be lonely and unloved was to defy life.

x x x

"Good afternoon, Janet. How was school?" The girl looked up as she heard Delia's voice. Her eyes lit up and she hopped to her feet and threw her arms around the young woman.

"You picked me up!"

"Of course I picked you up. Are you ready to go home?"

Janet nodded firmly, but before they were able to leave, the girl's teacher stopped them. "Miss Bridges, may I speak to you for a moment?"

Delia waited, grasping Janet's hand and holding her small backpack. "What is it?"

The teacher sighed and introduced herself, "I'm Miss Lane, Janet's teacher. Mr. Brooks called me and told me you'd be picking her up."

"What's the trouble?" Delia had never like talking with teachers.

"She didn't have a snack today. We were happy to give her something for today, but, please, make sure she has something tomorrow."

"Of course. Have a good day."

"You, too." The two girls exited Marilyn's Preschool Academy and climbed into Delia's car. Once situated, the older girl turned to Janet, "I'm sorry you didn't have a lunch today, Janet. I'll make sure to have Kendall pack you one tomorrow."

"Thank you." There was a pregnant pause before the girl spoke, "Will you help me draw again, today? Please?"

"Of course, if you'd like."

"Yes, please. I want to draw a picture for Kenny."

"Why?"

Janet looked up at Delia with strange eyes, "He's very sad. I want to make him happy."

"That's very nice of you."

x x x

"I drew you a picture."

A picture that had, in fact, taken her several weeks to finish. And during those few weeks, Delia, Kendall, and Janet had all gotten to know each other quite well.

Confusion lay unmasked in Kendall's eyes as they sat at the dinner table once again. "You did? Oh, that's good. I guess."

Delia giggled at the young man's ineptness. "Janet, would you like to show Kendall your picture?" The girl nodded impatiently. "You may be excused." Janet hopped up from her seat and dashed down the hallway to retrieve her picture. "You look tired. Difficult day?" she asked her employer.

Kendall nodded wearily, "It could have been worse."

"I'll put her to bed in fifteen minutes. Will that be alright?"

"Yes, thank you, Delia." He watched her as she nodded and continued to eat. The past few weeks, the couple had learned bits and pieces about each other. He'd learned that Delia was in fact a vegetarian, that she was allergic to peanut butter, she was an aspiring artist, and that her father had died recently of cancer. She, in turn, had learned that he worked as a fairly high-up business man in some multi-million business, had graduated three years early, he hated shellfish, and had been an orphan for the better part of his life. The one thing they hadn't admitted out loud was that they both loved this thrown-together family.

"Look!" Janet had reentered the dining room and was proudly waving a crayon drawing. It was a picture of three figures holding hands; a family… their family. "Do you like it?"

Kendall was deadly silent and Delia stared in horror at the picture. Janet glanced between the two adults in confusion. When Kendall spoke, his voice was cold, but not indifferent. "Goodnight, Miss Bridges."

Delia stood up, shortly and walked toward the door, her thoughts whirling and her heart dropping. Another family lost.

x x x

Kendall tucked a confused and crying Janet into her bed with no explanation. Not that he could giver her one. He couldn't figure out why he had overreacted. The only reason he could logically find was that he was… scared? After a life of having no family, he supposed the fact that he had one was a bit overwhelming.

He stared down at the girl. "I'm sorry, Janet," he whispered, "I really liked your picture. I just…" He leant down to whisper in her ear, "Having a family is really scary for me."

Her voice was innocent and naïve, "Why?"

Brushing her bangs off her forehead, Kendall admitted quietly, "I've never had one before. I don't know what to do."

"You hafta be happy." She told him decisively. "And you hafta give lots of hugs and kisses. And you hafta say 'I love you.'" She looked up at her guardian, "And you hafta say 'I'm sorry.'"

He brushed a kiss across her forehead. "Thanks, kiddo. I guess I should go do that, hmm?"

"Yep."

Kendall left the apartment and knocked on Delia's door. She answered, wiping tears away from red-rimmed eyes. She frowned at him, "What's up?" to her favor, her voice only wavered slightly.

"I'm sorry." Kendall blurted.

"Oh…" she tilted her head and looked at him with puzzled eyes, "What did you say?"

"I'm sorry. I was stupid. I shouldn't have kicked you out over a picture. She only drew what she saw. She only drew the truth." Words continued to tumble out of his mouth, "We are a family. Families love each other. I love Janet. Janet loves you. I love you."

Delia blinked and smiled.

Yeah. They were a family. And families loved each other.

x x x

It was a snapshot- a quick picture to catch a moment in time- not a color-crayon drawing. It was real. The photo centered around a couple, a young woman with chocolate hair and emerald eyes and a young man with raven hair and azure eyes, holding hands with a small girl with the same features as the man. They were all smiling brightly toward the camera. And, if you were to look closely at the woman's left hand, you would find she was wearing an engagement ring. They were no longer lonely.

They were finally a family.

FIN


AN: To Stone, for making me complete this. Thank you.