Part 2. And Found

The Vigil

The atmosphere in much of town had grown very tense. Everything was being done to find the lost English girl. In addition to the police, students from the university were out as well as friends and neighbors of the Harringtons. Even groups of teenagers from the local churches went out hunting after they heard. There were announcements on the local radio and the evening news.

The fact that she was so recently orphaned added pathos to the story. Because the human interest aspect of the story was garnering media attention, the police kept a squad car at the house and insisted the reporters stay outside. By nine o'clock there was still no sign of her and everyone was getting very worried.

At this point Willa came wandering into the house.

"What the hell is going on?" she asked. "It's like a circus out there."

"Trelawney Rose is lost!" cried Jennie. "And nobody can find her."

"And the problem with that is . . . ?"

"Shut up, Willa," said her father tensely. "The poor child has been missing for almost nine hours now and it's dark out there. For once in your selfish life put someone else's feelings ahead of your own."

"Oh, I know very well whose feelings you are putting ahead of mine . . ." she started, but she never got to finish.

"If you have nothing constructive to contribute then go to your room," he interrupted. "Or go wherever else you want. But leave now!"

Willa narrowed her eyes, but didn't say another word. The police were looking at her with interest. It then occurred to her that if she continued to knock the kid then she might become a suspect. And she certainly didn't need them asking her questions or looking in her purse. Giving an exaggerated sigh, she went upstairs to her room.

At this point, Max noticed that Chester the family's Sheltie was missing and had not come in for dinner.

"Maybe he went out to look for Trelawney Rose," suggested Jennie.

"Well that might not be a bad thing," replied Officer Hanson who, as a friend of the family, had come to the house as the liaison. "If he knows her scent, then, well, he might have the best chance of finding her in the dark."

"Well, go call him anyway and see if he'll come," said the Dr. Harrington.

But no matter how long the children called, Chester did not appear.

"Man," said Max. "He never misses a meal."

"I think he's with Trelawney Rose," insisted Jennie.

"Then why doesn't he bring her home?" asked Max.

"He can't if she doesn't want to," answered Jay.

"This is ridiculous," interjected Dr. Harrington.

"Maybe not," said Officer Hanson thoughtfully. "That dog of yours is very protective of family members. If he found her, chances are very good that he would stay with her which means that he would keep her safe."

Miss Selena began to look hopeful, "Perhaps if you find Chester, you will find Trelawney Rose as well."

"I'm going to add Chester to the APB. Anything that we can do to get a lead would be helpful at this point," he said.

"Well at least Chester's nice and warm. It's getting cold outside," said Jennie. Justin wished that there was a way to keep the kids quiet. At Jennie's observation of the temperature, Miss Selena had covered her face with her hands and leaned forward.

It was getting late and the children belonged in bed. But since they wouldn't sleep anyway, he figured that it was better to just let them stay up. He did however insist on PJs. All this time Miss Selena had said very little. Anxiety was written on her face. Despite the casserole that Mrs. Jennings had thoughtfully brought over, she had been unable to eat.

Although he acknowledged her good intentions, Justin was wishing that food were all she had brought. She repeated Georgina's story of the playground bullying in sordid, if not embellished, detail. In her eagerness to demonstrate her daughter's strength of character, she forgot that it was painful for Miss Selena to hear of the injury to her sister.

Miss Selena had been clearly upset but still said, "Please thank Georgina for her kindness."

Deciding that Miss Selena had had enough, Justin had sent Mrs. Jennings on her way. Now he was pacing the floor. He was becoming deeply concerned about where the child might be. His only real bit of hope was that Chester had found her and would keep her safe.

She was such a pretty little thing and he didn't like to think of what might happen if she got mixed up with the wrong person or persons. Looking at Miss Selena he realized that she must have read his thoughts. Mad at himself for forgetting her intuition, he sat beside her, and held her close. She didn't protest, but leaned against him. Once again he found himself in the role of comforter.

It was a long night. Officer Hanson stayed on his radio the whole time but there was little to hear. The children fell asleep one by one on the couches and even Miss Selena dozed for a while. But she woke with such a start that Justin knew that she had had a nightmare. He himself kept the vigil with Officer Hanson. Sometime during the past month he had begun to view the girl as another daughter. He could not have been more concerned if it was Jennie out in the dark alone.

For Selena, the hours apart from her sister were pure torture. She could clearly remember holding the infant in her arms just minutes after she was born. In fact, she had held her before Mum even had. And then there was the sense of recognition when she had looked into her eyes. Now, frightened that something terrible might happen to her, she began to pray.

But she could not even find solace in prayer. Her mind was filled with the most recent images of the child as she accused her of abandoning her, again, whatever that meant. She recalled how beside herself she had been over a year ago, when Selena had told the family that she was going to America. Even then she had known. She had not seen Selena again in the village, as she had predicted. And she had seen for herself how the moon looked in California, as she had wondered how it looked.

Mum had warned her about her running away. But she had always come home before dark. Trelawney Rose was afraid of the dark. She always had been and rather than growing out of it, it had become worse in recent years. And now she was out alone in that cold dark night.

Had Chester found her? Or was she alone? She thought that she could hear her calling her and then jerked awake, realizing that she had fallen asleep. Dr. Harrington had been standing on the side with Officer Hanson. Once he realized that she had startled, he came over and put his arm around her again. She could feel the strength that he was trying to project to her and the love that he felt for her sister.

Resting her head on his shoulder, she no longer felt quite so alone in this strange country. She knew that he shared the burden of caring for the child, but it was not for her sake. His concern was for the little girl lost in the dark. Whatever he felt for her, it was secondary to the safe return of her sister. It gave her enormous comfort to know that someone else truly cared for her.

Cold and Dark

Trelawney Rose ran until she couldn't run any farther. Out of breath, she looked around and realized that she was near a park. But it wasn't the park near the house. It was another park. She had forgotten that in big cities they needed so many parks so that children would have safe places to play. Knowing this, she entered slowly and began to walk around.

But because all the children were still in school, there were mostly old people there. Then she noticed that there was a group of hippies sitting on the grass listening while one of them played the guitar while another kept a beat on a pair of bongo drums. The faint smell of cannabis drifted through the air. But then one of them looked over at her and pointed.

Frightened, she began to run again until she found a nice safe spot behind a clump of bushes. She figured that if she couldn't see anyone, then they couldn't see her. She didn't want to see anyone. Well, she did want to see someone. She wanted to see her Selena. There was no one else that she trusted to keep her safe.

In school, the teachers had not kept her safe. Georgina had tried to keep her safe but she was only a little girl and had to follow the rules that made her unsafe. She could recall the aides standing around and talking while the other girls threatened her. They hadn't noticed, but Georgina had. Georgina was brave.

She did not know how long she was there, but as the sun set, it grew darker and colder. Trelawney Rose did not like the dark. Bad things happened in the dark. Then she heard a familiar bark and Chester ran up to her and sat down beside her. Suddenly, she felt safe again. She knew from experience that you could often trust a dog much more than a human to take care of you.

Chester told her that everyone was looking for her and they were all very worried. He told her that there were other people in the park who were looking for her. He offered to take her to them. But Trelawney Rose was too afraid to go. She asked Chester if he knew the people, but he didn't. She thanked him, but said that she felt safer where she was.

Sighing, he lay down and she curled up against him. He was soft and warm. It was not completely dark because there were street lamps around. Then she could hear strange voices calling her name and she became very frightened again. She crawled as far as she could under the bushes until they passed by.

Chester was disappointed because he was hungry and wanted to go home, but he understood why she didn't want to go to strangers. He understood why she only wanted her Selena. Knowing that she had the dog for protection, she began to quietly cry. She felt very, very lonely.

She wanted her Mummy more than anything else. It was like she was back in the village and all she had wanted was her Selena. If she couldn't have her Selena, she wanted to go to her Mummy. Without realizing it, she fell asleep wishing with all her might that her Mummy were there.

In her sleep, she could see heaven. She could see Mummy and Papa and Willa's mother Helen. This time, it was Mummy who was weeping for her little one and Helen who was comforting her. Papa looked sadder than she had ever seen him before. He looked sadder than when his father, Grandfather Tressidor had died when she was a little girl.

She wished that she could hear what they were saying. But she had never been able to hear what people said in heaven. She had only ever seen their faces. Then suddenly, although she knew that it was against rules, she could hear them. She was there, but she was not there. She could actually hear Mummy softly weeping, as Helen said, "There, there." Then she saw three angels coming towards them. She knew that they were important angels by the glow of their auras.

She didn't know how she knew it, but she realized that she knew their names. They were Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. Gabriel was the angel of kindness, Raphael of healing, and Uriel led humans to destiny. She could not imagine why those three angels were coming to her parents, but they were.

"Meg, Owen," said Gabriel kindly. "We can see that you are most bereft for your little one. We cannot bear to see you in such sorrow in this place of peace and joy."

"My little one is lost," said Papa sadly. "She should never have left the village. It was Selena's place to come home and wait for Kenneth. I am very distressed that my brother David has broken his promise to me."

"What promise?" asked Gabriel although he already knew.

"He vowed to keep my child safe, no matter what," he replied. "It was for Selena to come home. I don't know why he listened to his wife and daughter."

"Annabel and Emmeline made their own pledges to me," said Mummy through her tears. "They promised to keep my girls together. Perhaps they were too softhearted where Selena was concerned."

"Better too softhearted than too hardhearted," said Helen quietly. "My child is lost as well. Your child is lost in the dark of night. My child is lost from all who might love her."

"And we take care of all of God's children," answered Gabriel. "We shall tend to both of these children. But I come here with these two strong angels to offer you, Meg and Owen, a choice."

"What is that?" asked Mummy.

"Raphael is here and ready to go and protect the child through the night," he said. "He will be sure that when daylight comes, the child is returned to her sister."

Trelawney Rose saw her parents nod.

"Uriel is here and is ready to go and lead the child home to us," he said. "Uriel would lift her up and bring her to you so that she will never live to fear the dark night again."

"But Trelawney Rose is a child of light," said Papa puzzled. "She has not yet begun to do her work."

"Child of light she may be," said Gabriel. "But the forces of darkness have found her and are already working to destroy her. She has already been harmed. If she continues to live out there, she will suffer much to do her work."

"Cannot she go back to the village?" asked Mummy. "Why can they both not go back now? Selena is ready to go."

Gabriel shook his head.

"Selena is not ready to go," he said. "More than that I cannot yell you. As for the child, I can only offer you the two choices. I can make no promises if you choose to send Raphael."

"Mummy! Papa!" cried Trelawney Rose. "If anything happens to me it will break my Selena's heart. I will stay! I will be brave!"

But they could not hear her. The three angels and Helen were all looking at her parents with deep empathy. For angels can feel the emotions of others with great intensity.

"If she stays, will she be guarded?" asked Mummy.

"She is already guarded," he said. "The child Georgina is there to watch over her in school. There are others waiting who do not know that they are waiting for her. If the right choices are made, then the present situation can be made right. But we cannot control that. Humans are flawed, but there are many who are good. In the end, all you can do is to trust that the good will be stronger than the evil."

"I fear for the pain and suffering of my child," said Papa. "I want her safe and feel no pain and suffering."

"Yes, but pain and suffering are a part of the human condition," he replied. "There is no way to avoid it. We can only work to mitigate it."

"Is my child guarded as well?" asked Helen.

Gabriel nodded.

"I cannot tell you anymore than that we are doing what we can to protect her," he said. "Things are being arranged to keep her safe. That is all that I can say. Anything more is not permitted."

"It is not my business, Meg and Owen," she said. "But send Raphael. Let him guard your child and allow her to return to her sister. I have been watching your Selena care for my family for over a year. If anything happens to the child it will break her heart. She would not know that it was your choice to bring her home. She would blame herself for her neglect. She will never be able to live with the guilt that she might have chosen to return home with her to the village. It will destroy her life."

"Yes! Yes! It will!" cried Trelawney Rose. "Thank you, Helen! Thank you! I will not forget this. You will see. I promise!"

"We must let the child stay with Selena," said Papa. "And pray that they make the right decisions regarding her life. But I fear that there will be more tears for us."

"There are always more tears where humans are concerned," replied Gabriel. "One day, you will turn your eyes from earth and discover the true peace and joy of heaven. But ultimately, that is your own choice."

"I only wish that my daughters be together," said Mummy simply. "Send Raphael."

"Raphael," said Gabriel. "Go to the child as she sleeps and hover over her. When the time comes, alert them to her presence and stay with her until she is safe."

"Yes, Gabriel," replied the angel.

Then he looked to where Trelawney Rose was standing. She felt his arms around her. He held her as they fell gently back to earth. She awoke for a moment from her dream and she was back behind the bushes. Chester was still sleeping beside her. She didn't feel quite as cold as before and the night did not seem quite so dark. She fell into another deep sleep. But she didn't know if she had really been to heaven or if it had all just been a dream.

Homecoming

Sunrise dawned on what promised to be a beautiful day. There was no thought of the children going to school. They had slept poorly and were very worried. Officer Hanson stubbornly refused relief, claiming that he would stay until the girl was found. Mark Hanson was a beat cop and personally knew everyone who lived in the neighborhood. As such, he could not let his people down. They had to know that they could count on him to be there, no matter what.

The children were in the kitchen getting their breakfast when the word came. A young girl dressed in navy blue jumper, and a Shetland Sheep dog had been found sleeping behind some bushes in a local park near the school by a gardener. However the dog was growling fiercely at anyone who tried to get near them. The child was too frightened to speak. Officer Hanson had been absolutely right about the Chester's protective instincts.

Not wanting to overwhelm the child with too many people, he offered to drive Miss Selena over to the park. Dr. Harrington wanted to come too, but the officer thought that it would be best if he stayed home with his own children. Miss Selena was a tense, silent passenger but at last she spoke,

"I knew that this could be a big mistake. This is all my fault."

"Now, Miss Selena, how could you have possibly known that she would end up in a class full of mean girls?" the officer asked gently.

"I allowed myself to be persuaded to stay because I didn't want to leave the Harringtons. I should have put my sister first," she replied.

"Miss Selena, now I know that you are not looking for advice," counseled the officer, "But you are always quick to help others. I only want to say one thing. Don't even think about making any more big decisions until you are rested and recovered from this shock.

"Your sister will be fine and if you think about it, last night you found out that there are a lot of really good people in this town who came out to support you both. A lot of them probably don't even know you. They heard that someone was in need and they just stepped up."

Selena pondered his words as they pulled up to some bushes in a park far from the house and really not so near the school. It was amazing that Chester had found her although Selena knew if he went to the school he would have picked up her scent and followed it. Getting out of the car, Selena followed Officer Hanson to a small clearing where she could see her sister and the dog. Chester barked a joyful greeting and Miss Selena heard her own name called.

"Selena! Oh, Selena!" cried Trelawney Rose. "However did you find me?"

"Little lamb," she answered softly. "Thank goodness that I have found my little lamb."

She knelt down and Trelawney Rose ran into her arms. She could feel her sister's pain and anxiety. It matched her own. But she was safe once more. The little lost sheep had been found.

Seeing her sister's tears she said, "I didn't mean to get lost, I only wanted to get away. But I ran so far that I didn't know where I was at all."

"Why didn't you ask someone?" asked Officer Hanson gently. He had also knelt beside them so that he would not frighten her any further by standing over her in his uniform.

"I was afraid. So I hid and then right before it got dark Chester came. I knew that if he would stay with me I would be safe. And he did."

Chester barked to indicate his agreement. Selena reached over to pet him. Trelawney Rose looked even more forlorn. "I'm sorry Selena, I didn't mean to cause all this bother. Can you ever forgive me?"

But as any parent who has ever found a lost child knows, usually forgiveness is a two way street. No child who is feeling happy and safe runs away. Selena's major concern was making sure that the child would stay safe and secure. If it meant picking up and moving back home, then that would happen. It might be the only way to preempt any action by Grandfather to demand custody. She wondered where her cousin Emmeline was.

The house was in a flurry of activity as the police car drove up. From the back seat emerged a rather rumpled looking Trelawney Rose with Selena and Chester. A small crowd of friends and neighbors who had gathered applauded. Bewildered and holding her sister's hand tightly, the child walked slowly towards the house where the Harringtons were waiting.

Suddenly overwhelmed, as Officer Hanson had predicted, she turned to her sister and was gathered into a tight embrace. Selena began to cry once more and the child herself was crying and saying that she was sorry over and over again.

The scene was deeply moving. The four Harringtons (Willa had quietly left for school once she heard the girl was found) stood back from the two sisters but then Selena looked up and nodded and they moved in. Even Max hugged Trelawney Rose. Justin, because he was so tall, knelt before her. He brushed her hair back from her tearful face and said gently,

"Trelawney Rose you have given all of us a terrible scare. You are now a part of this family and I want you to trust that if you have a problem you can come to us and we will help you. You are not alone. We all love you and want to keep you safe."

Too tired to speak the girl nodded, threw her arms around his neck, and rested her head on his shoulder. He gave her a tight hug and patted her on the back.

"You must be starving. I am sure that Miss Selena would like to get something to eat as well," he said and turning to Chester, "You too, boy, why you missed your dinner last night. Thanks for keeping our girl safe."

With a bark, Chester padded off to find his food bowl. Dr. Harrington turned to Officer Hanson and shook his hand. "Thanks for your dedication and support. I don't know what we would have done without you."

"Oh, you would have been alright," replied the officer. "There's a lot of love in this family."

"There certainly is," said Miss Selena looking warmly at the Dr. Harrington through still misty eyes. "Thank you, Officer. You made an unbearable situation bearable."

Noting the looks passing between her and Dr. Harrington, not to mention their closeness through the long night, he suspected that it was the other man and not himself who had made things bearable. Even now he could sense an undercurrent of strong feelings between the two that were greater than any relief that they might feel for the safe return of the child.

But he also recalled Miss Selena's words in the car about feeling guilty. Was it the whole Harrington family or just the father that made her want to stay? Conflict between her feelings for her sister and a man was certainly more likely to produce guilt than between the family and her sister. Walking out to his car he put it all out of his mind. He was looking forward to making his report and going home to sleep himself.

After they ate, Miss Selena took Trelawney Rose back to the garage apartment to go to bed. The other children were not going to school and had already crashed after a long night of poor sleep. When Justin later went over to check on them, he noticed that Trelawney Rose was sleeping on the other side of Selena's double bed.

The two were holding hands. As he back to his own house, he thought of their closeness and what seemed to be an impenetrable bond between them. His only hope was that the incident, traumatic as it was, wouldn't be viewed by Miss Selena as a reason to return to England.

Decisions

The three Harrington children awoke first and were not too surprised to find their father asleep. Max wanted to wake him up, but Jay stopped him in time. There was nothing worse for the Harrington children than dealing with a grouchy father. So the children went downstairs and flipped on the TV while they waited for him to wake up or Miss Selena to come over.

It was Justin who was the next the get out of bed. Finding the children in front of the television, he clicked it off and invited them into the kitchen for lunch. Without any better ideas, he pulled the peanut butter, jelly, and a loaf of bread.

Max wrinkled his nose, "I think I'll wait for Miss Selena to get up so I can have some real food."

"Me too," chimed in Jay.

"Now kids, I really think it's better if we don't try to demand too much from Miss Selena right now. Yesterday was a big shock for her. With everything else that's happened I think we need to lay off for a while," answered Justin.

"Dad are you afraid that she'll want to leave?" asked Jay nervously.

Jennie and Max looked fearful.

"Well, school wasn't exactly the best experience for Trelawney Rose yesterday. A lot is going to depend on whether or not we can fix things there. If we can't then chances are very good that they will go back to England." Justin didn't mince words. Jay had asked a pointed question and he deserved a direct answer. Right now the future was no longer in their hands.

The problem really came down to helplessness of the adults to deal with bullying. While they could prevent the other children from overtly treating the poor girl badly, no one could force them to feel some sympathy for her or be her friend. There were even some people who wouldn't see it as bullying. They would shrug it off as girls will be girls and Trelawney Rose needed to learn to deal with it.

But for a child recently traumatized by the sudden deaths of her parents and now still acclimating to life in a new country, she needed more than anything else to feel safe. Of course she must go to school, but unless she could become comfortable with her classmates, she would not be able to focus and learn.

It was hard enough just figuring out the new school order and structure. On top of that, Trelawney Rose was a very special and unique child even within her native culture. She needed kindness and understanding not only from her teachers, but from the other students as well.

Another problem with mean girls is that often they had mothers who had been mean girls as adolescents and for whatever reason, egged them, as the next generation so to speak, on. Conversely, the children of mothers and fathers who been social outcasts during their own school days often found themselves encouraged by their parents to strive the "alpha" social group. If they achieved it, their parents would then encourage them to adopt the behaviors of the powerful peer group.

More often than not, the root of bullying is a feeling of insecurity by the bully. Children who are selected as targets are either children who are different, not "with it," or children who accept that they don't conform to social norms and are very comfortable in their uniqueness.

Both things were true of Trelawney Rose. However, Justin reflected, another older and more mature group of students might find her an interesting friend rather than a threat. He thought of their neighbor Georgina, one year older, and not afraid to stand up to the mean girls.

He was also vaguely aware that Georgina had been over for tea parties with Trelawney Rose recently. Miss Selena had been pleased by the rapport that the two girls shared about Shakespeare of all things. He hoped that Mrs. Clark and Mrs. Tracy could figure out a way to give Trelawney Rose a second chance at school that would not put any more stress on the child.

From his perspective, Trelawney Rose already had more than enough emotional trauma to deal with than the average ten-year old girl. Unable to see a way out himself, he wouldn't blame Miss Selena if she took the girl home. It had been a valiant effort to keep the odd little girl in the "outside world," as they called it, but perhaps she did need more protection than they could give her.

Back in the village, at least she would be among the friends and family whom she had known since she was born. Oddly, he wished that Miss Selena's cousin Emmeline was there. For such a young person, she was surprisingly logical and clearheaded. She could, better than anyone, help Miss Selena to sort things out in her mind and make the right choice for all of them.

At any rate, the kids were convinced to eat their sandwiches without further complaint and then went out in the backyard. Justin retreated to his study, ostensibly to work, but really to contemplate recent events. Near five o'clock, he heard Miss Selena come in the back door and then begin moving around the kitchen.

He didn't have the nerve to face her, but she didn't leave him a choice when she came to the door to let him know that dinner was at six. She would be joining them because it would be easier than cooking two meals. That Miss Selena was worn out physically and emotionally from the long night was evident in the stress in her eyes and on her face.

"Will Trelawney Rose also be joining us?" he asked apprehensively. He knew that he was looking at her with longing but he couldn't help himself. He was too worn out, physically and emotionally, to disguise his feelings.

"Oh yes," she answered. "She is still self-conscious about all the trouble she thinks that she caused, but I convinced her that no one blames her. I wanted to get her up and about again."

"Have you . . ."

"No," she said reading his mind. "Officer Hanson suggested that I take some time before deciding anything. Let cooler heads prevail so to speak. He was very kind and I decided to take his advice."

"Then there's a chance . . ."

"I just don't know Dr. Harrington. I need to check on my pots," she said and disappeared.

Truth be told, she was frightened. Now that the very real possibility existed that she might actually have to leave, she had to admit that she really didn't want to. She wanted to stay to be with him and she knew that he wanted her to remain for the same reason, not just for sake of the children. She had hoped that it wouldn't be so. But now she had to face facts.

It would have been so much easier to bear if she could have told herself that her own feelings were not reciprocated. She had prayed that when she finally came over to house he would have accepted her need to leave, but the feelings of his heart were plainly written in his eyes. He wanted her to stay and he would do anything to keep her there. She finally stopped deluding herself. It was not about the children and she would have to face that reality.

The children had served as a sort of safety fence between them. As long as they and their needs were kept front and center they could hide behind them. Now there was no hiding. She knew her heart and it was very nearly breaking. There was so much that he didn't know about her. But if he did, would it change anything? She doubted it. Both their feelings ran deep. Once she had feared that she would drown in them. Now she knew he would never let that happen. She considered not just the last few days, but also the last few weeks.

When she had pulled away to deal with her grief on her own, he not tried to pull her back, to shelter her further. He let her find her own way. Because she knew his mind she was aware that despite his regrets at the lost intimacy, he was happy that she was becoming more herself. He did not fear her growing strength and independence. He let her heal even if it meant growing apart. She knew that this was love.

When she was at a very low point indeed, he had been at her side. He had tried neither to overwhelm nor smother her. He fought for her and her sister with pure motives, without any thoughts that his actions might manipulate her feelings. He was there for her to lean on. But he asked for no more. His support was unconditional. She knew that this was love also.

She wondered what she really knew of love, this love. Nothing. Whatever she had felt before, it did not even come close to this in depth and breadth. When she was most in need of human kindness and understanding it was he who had been at her side. Demanding nothing then or even now, he had left her completely free to chart her own destiny. But even that choice was not really his to make.

How many of us, she reflected, really and truly get to chart our own destinies? How much has been pre-ordained by the circumstances of our lives and the choices of others? And what right have any of us to question the choices of others, especially when we know that their decisions are made out of love? She was presently caught in a web of circumstances that she could not have imagined over a year ago when the spirit had moved her to seek employment with the Harrington family. It was just supposed to be another job.

But how often do things in real life change from what they were supposed to be in theory? Deep down she knew that even though she appeared to be a free spirit, wandering from place to place as the fancy struck her, none of her movements were ever accidental. She might not know why she was going somewhere. She only knew that it was where she was needed. This was the first stop on her journey where her own needs and desires had come into play.

She knew that fate had put her on the Harringtons doorstep. And faye in another form, her cousin's choice to bring the child to her rather than letting her travel home had kept her there. With all that had recently happened, she was slowly coming to grips with why. Was this merely a way stop on her life's path? She wondered. Was it a more permanent home? Gripping the counter where she was working, she closed her eyes. What was she thinking?

She finished preparing dinner as if on autopilot. On the one hand she was too tired to do otherwise, on the other her mind was too wrapped up in her own confusion. Trelawney Rose came in. Slowly entering the kitchen, she went to her sister for a hug. Neither sister could ever hide anything from the other. Trelawney Rose looked at her with wise eyes.

"I promised Emmeline that I would take care of you, and I will," she said solemnly.

Selena's heart was filled with love for the child. She knew that ultimately, the decision to stay or leave must be hers to make anyway. It was Trelawney Rose who must face down the terrors of school. Because of her desire to protect her she knew that whatever her decision, she would support it. This was love of another kind, but no less deep.

As Selena was holding the little girl in her arms and stroking her hair, Willa came in. She stopped herself short when she saw the two sisters. In an instant, Selena could feel her longing as she witnessed their very evident love for one another. In Willa's life, she had known only one person who had ever truly felt that kind of love for her, her mother.

Selena had come to understand that Willa's anger, far from being a product of resentment, was one of pain and envy. She rebuffed Trelawney Rose's kindness because she was jealous. The child had what she both wanted and needed. Despite the fact that little Trelawney Rose had lost both of her parents, she still had the exceptional love of her sister, not to mention everyone else in their family. In her grief she had not become bitter or cynical. Selena looked down at the little girl that everyone thought was a child of light. Her aura glowed with pure goodness and kindness.

No such extended family support network existed for any of the Harringtons. It was one of those sad byproducts of modern American society and its mobility. In many ways it was the source of Dr. Harrington's inability to cope with the needs of all the children. He himself had needed support, but there had been no one.

His feelings for Willa had always been complicated. His wife had doted upon her while he was busy completing his PhD. Often graduate students have very strained marriages, but Willa had given Helen an outlet for her loving care and attention. She had kept her company throughout those long nights when Dr. Harrington had been first researching and then writing his dissertation. All of the love that she would have showered upon her husband, had he been around, went to the girl.

Helen herself had been a Mama's girl and then was how she raised Willa for the first five years. Annoying as Helen may have found her own mother, like so many parents, she ended up parenting as she herself was parented. It was rather sad that her grandmother was then jealous, when her daughter moved north again, that this little person now occupied the first place in her heart after her husband. In the battle for Helen's affections, ultimately Willa, her most cherished child, was the loser.

But Dr. Harrington's family had no real excuse for their neglect of their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. In the time she had been with them, Selena had met each of Dr. Harrington's twin brothers, Bob and Ben, on separate occasions, and then more recently, his parents. The family showered the children with gifts and then departed.

Looking over Trelawney Rose's head at Willa, she tried to signal to her that she had seen her pain and wanted to help. As Trelawney Rose had sometimes seen, she was very close to responding. But Willa's momentary lapse into vulnerability was over. Her face hardened. Instead she asked,

"So when is dinner?"

Then, with her usual lack of grace, she stomped out.

While they were eating dinner the phone rang.

Selena quickly picked it up, "Harrington residence . . . Oh hello, Mrs. Clark. Yes, he's here."

Tension rose in the air and the children all looked at each other as she handed the phone to Dr. Harrington.

"Yes, Mrs. Clark," he said. "Yes, Mrs. Clark, I understand. Yes I'll tell them and we'll talk it over. I'll let you know tomorrow. Thank you Mrs. Clark and yes, you have a good night too."

Dr. Harrington sat back down amid the silence and Max guilelessly asked, "Was that Mrs. Clark?"

Everyone laughed. As usual, Max had broken the tension with one of his foolish questions, made all the more funny because he was so serious when asking it.

"Yes, Max that was Mrs. Clark," answered Dr. Harrington with a smile.

Turning to Trelawney Rose, he said, "Mrs. Clark says that if you will return to school tomorrow then they will give you placement tests in the basic subjects. They are thinking that perhaps you belong in sixth grade. If that should be the case they would put you in Georgina's class with Mrs. Griegan. She has Jay's old sixth grade teacher."

"Oh brother," groaned Jay, clearly thinking of the possible interactions with the love-struck girl if she became friends with Trelawney Rose.

But Trelawney Rose said softly, "Georgina and her friends were very kind to me. I would like to try to go back. May I please try, Selena?"

"Of course, darling," she replied. "I will leave the choice up to you.

All the Harringtons breathed a sigh if relief, no one's greater than Dr. Harrington's. Selena pretended not to notice, but it gave her a thrill. Trelawney Rose looked at her oddly, but didn't say anything.

"If it works out then maybe you can take me out to get some of those new school clothes," she said.

"I'll help pick them out," offered Jennie eagerly.

"Of course you will," said Trelawney Rose with a smile, "I couldn't do it without you."

Jennie's face lighted up with importance while Max muttered, "Girls."

"Oh, brother!" added Willa with a snort as she got up from the table.

Before she left the room, she turned back toward all of them and said in a sing-song voice,

"And they all lived happily ever after."

Things had begun to return to normal. The mood had visibly relaxed. There was new hope for the future. Miss Selena and Dr. Harrington shared a special glance. Noting it, Jay began to hope that maybe things would begin moving in the direction that he wanted them to.

He would even put up with spending a little more time with Georgina Jennings if it meant that Miss Selena would become a permanent member of the family. Catching Trelawney Rose's eye they both nodded. As wrapped up as they were in their own concerns, the adults missed the furtive communication.

Ditching School

The following day, Willa got off the school bus and went directly to the diner. She didn't even care if St. Selena didn't cover for her. Let them send the truant officer after her. Maybe if they thought that she was lost, they might notice her. Sitting at her usual corner booth, the waitress brought her a cup of black coffee and a clean ashtray. Willa grunted her thanks. She might not want to be friendly, but you couldn't beat the service.

She was staring into the cup when she heard a familiar voice overhead.

"Ditching school again?" asked Jerry Connelly (or whoever he was).

"What's it to you?" she asked defensively.

Undeterred he sat across from her and the waitress brought a coffee. Picking up the pack of Marlboros on the table, he looked in and then set it down. He took a pack of Salems from his jacket pocket.

"Prefer menthol?" she asked.

"In for a penny, in for a bound," he said cheerfully. "If I'm going to ruin my lungs, I might as well enjoy it. So what's up, or should I say down, with you?"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, once again, I find you here sitting alone when you're supposed to be in school looking as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders," he observed.

"Oh, yeah," she said.

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

"Why?" she asked. "Are you a shrink or something?"

"On occasion I tend bar," he said. "I suppose that you could say that qualifies."

She sighed.

"Why do you care about me?"

"Did I say that I care about you?" he asked.

"No," she said. "But I'm not as dumb as I look. What's in it for you?"

"Does there have to be something in it for me?" he asked curiously. "Don't you think that it's possible that I am trying to offer a little human kindness to someone in need?"

"So then you're a missionary," she guessed. "You're out to save my soul."

"Does it need saving?" he replied, answering her challenge.

"I wouldn't know," she said. "I don't believe in God."

"Do you believe in anything or anyone?" he asked.

"No," she said. "The only person that ever loved me, the only person that I ever believed in is dead. She left me all alone."

Jerry looked at her with a mixture of sympathy and sadness. Once again, she noted that his brown eyes were kind. There was also something about him that was real. She could really believe that he wasn't looking for some kind of pay off down the line. But it was easier to push him away than to trust him.

"Do you think that she wanted to leave you?" he asked.

"No, of course not," said Willa. "But well, the kid said . . ."

"The kid?"

"You know, the little weirdo," she said. "Miss Selena's sister. She said something that was totally crazy. Then when I told she was crazy, she agreed."

He smiled.

"This I have to hear," he said.

"Oh, why not?" she said with a little smile. "I haven't even told my crew about it. Even for her it was too far out."

"Well, why don't we pretend like I'm a shrink and I'm sworn to a code of silence or whatever it is that they swear to," he replied.

"I'd rather think of you as my bartender," she said.

He shook his head.

"You're incorrigible," he said.

"No kidding," she shot back. "Anyway, the night after I talked to you, I got grounded by my old man. Miss Selena (for my own good) told him about how she covered for me that day with the school when I cut out. But I really pissed him off when I told him that he had the hots for her and wanted to get her into his bed."

"Ouch," he said. "And the reaction?"

"He didn't deny it," she said grimly. "He just blew his stack. I think that that was the real reason that I was grounded. Of course she tried to smooth things over. The next day the three of us sat down to have a 'reasonable' discussion."

"Was it?"

"It was one of those classic parent-kid talks where the parent is trying to be all understanding and non-judgmental," she replied.

"But he didn't fool you," he added.

"No," she said. "He was only doing it because Miss Selena insisted. If he hadn't, she would have packed up and gone home."

"And you know this because . . ."

"Why else?" she asked. "The little weirdo told me."

"So then he was really there so that she would stay," he replied. "Not because he wanted to help you."

"That's about the size of it," she said. "Nothing too unexpected, except for the kid."

"Okay, I'll bite," he said. "What makes you think that the kid is crazy?"

"She told me that my Mom was 'sorrowing' for me in heaven and that her Mummy was comforting her," she said. "She said our two mothers were sad together."

"That's very interesting," he said slowly.

"That's the understatement of the century," she said carelessly. "But this is the best part. She said that my Mom was disappointed in my Dad, not me, because I felt so unwanted."

Now Jerry seemed to stare off into space. Willa waited for him to respond. She wasn't exactly sure of what he would say. Of course, what she had just told him was totally insane. It sounded like she had had some kind of a bad acid trip or something.

"Did she say that your Mum was an angel?" he finally asked.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "And her Mummy is an angel. But the weirdest thing was that she told me that my Mom is beautiful. Not was, but is, as if she's still alive or something."

"Well," he said. "Often when children lose people they love very much, other people tell them that they're in heaven and are angels. It's a way of comforting them."

"Well," she said. "She actually believes it. I guess she still believes in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus too."

"Father Christmas," he corrected. "That's what we call him back home. I guess it's the same idea. Poor lass, it sounds like she's got it rough. It sounds like she uses her little fantasies to escape reality."

"Hah!" said Willa bitterly. "She has a sister who thinks about nobody but her and my whole family cares more about her than they do about me."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Am I sure?" she asked sarcastically. "The kid went missing the other night and everyone in town was out looking for her. Do you think that anyone would look for me like that?"

"That was the little weirdo?" he questioned with interest. "The lost little English girl, they called her, the little orphan. Trelawney Rose Tressidor, such a sweet name I thought. I even went out to look for her myself."

"You did?" she asked in surprise. "Why would you bother?"

"I kind of thought of her as a lost little sheep, you know," he said. "An innocent lamb lost in the big, terrifying American wilderness full of wolves in the night."

"Well, you and everyone else," she replied. "The whole family stayed up all night, and we had a cop in the house. And they were all so happy when she was found."

"I will admit that I was glad myself," he said. "I suppose that I'm what you might call a sucker for a happy ending."

"Not me," she stated bitterly. "There will be no happy ending for me."

"I'm sorry for that, Willa," he said. "Truly I am. But remember to call me if you ever want to escape."

"You'll talk me out of it?"

"No," he said. "I have a feeling that when you make up your mind to do it, that you will do it. But I told you that I know people, in the bay area that is. I wouldn't want you to fall in with the wrong types, if you know what I mean. And I wouldn't like to see you all alone."

She looked at him sharply. Despite the fact that she didn't know him, she trusted him. He wasn't judging her. He didn't think that she was a terrible person. It struck her that the only other people who were like him were the two sisters. And they had funny accents too. She spent rest of the day at the diner and then went back to school to take the bus home. Miss Selena met her at the front door.

Willa knew immediately that the school had called but she had covered for her again. She didn't say anything, but gave her a faint smile and let her go upstairs. Willa could see that she was still very tired. Perhaps she was too tired to fight with her. Or perhaps she really did care. Perhaps, she was too tired to fight for her. Willa knew this much. She wouldn't tell Dad, because he certainly wouldn't care.

She thought about Jerry Connelly, the illegal alien who wanted to help her. It figures. The three people who want to help me are a crazy kid, an illegal alien missionary, and a saint. And they all have one thing in common. They don't blame me for being messed up. They blame my Dad. Maybe there is hope for me.

Epilogue

A few days later, after the children went off to school, Justin came upon Miss Selena sitting in the living room with her mending basket. No sooner did she empty it then it seemed to fill up again. Max alone generated more torn clothing every day. She prided herself that the children never looked like what she called "ragamuffins."

Looking at her from the study door he was struck by the homely scene. Her golden head was shining under the lamp as she bent over her sewing. She so perfectly fit into the domestic setting. Her presence made the picture complete. If she ever left, how could he ever imagine walking into this room this way again? Entering now, he moved the basket aside so that he could be closer to her as he sat down on the couch.

"So do you think that this time it will work?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, I do believe that now that all expectations have been lined up properly, the transition will be much more successful," she answered, not looking up.

Justin sensed that she didn't want to look at him directly but he wasn't going to miss this opportunity for a little time alone with her. Too often he let her evade his efforts to create these moments. Reaching carefully, he gently turned her face so that she had to look at him squarely. She didn't resist, but looked back, for once unveiling her gaze. If there had been fear or apprehension in it before, it was gone. Feeling that he had passed some test, he allowed all of his own emotions fill his own face.

"There was never any test," she said softly, reading his mind as always.

"Wasn't there?" he asked.

"If there was ever a test for either one of us, in my mind, it was for myself," she answered honestly. "My usual job in any household has always been to set things right and then move on to the next job."

"Haven't you set things right here?" he asked, feeling a little hurt.

"No," she said slowly. "If I had, I would have been on my way long ago. Something has been working against me."

"Would that be me?" he wondered hopefully.

"No, actually it's been me. Even in the midst of all my fear for Trelawney Rose, I had a greater fear: that I would have to leave here."

Selena had come to a decision. This was the moment for absolute honesty, no evasive maneuvers, no stalling tactics, or obscure answers. Aside from the fact that she didn't have the mental energy, she knew that if she was going to stay here that eventually they would both have to face whatever was between them, full on.

Justin sat back, pensive. This more open Selena was one that he hadn't met yet. Having lived with her for months and become accustomed to their light-hearted verbal sparring, he suddenly wasn't sure of what he wanted. He noticed that she was watching him intently. He wondered what it was that she wanted.

As soon as the thought came into his mind, she gently smiled.

"In matters of the heart, it is generally a sign of very strong feelings if one is more concerned with what the other wants than what oneself wants," she said meaningfully, with her usual wisdom.

His next question surprised neither of them, "Are you wondering what I want?"

"I don't have to wonder," she said playfully.

At his reproachful expression she said, "I can read it in your eyes."

"And what do my eyes say?" he responded lightly.

"I do believe that you want the same thing that I do,"

They faced each other and looked at one another with longing.

"I love you," they said simultaneously and then laughed softly. Justin thrilled at the joy in her eyes as he sought his mind for the right words.

"May I kiss you?" he asked simply.

Selena responded by lowering her eyes and blushing. But she didn't say no, so Justin gently reached forward and tipped her chin so that he could look in her eyes. Their answer was yes. Cautiously, he brought his lips to hers. He then enveloped her in an embrace and sought her mouth more deeply. It was a sweet kiss; that first kiss. It was one that he would remember for the rest of their lives.

When he released her, he realized that she had closed her eyes. Not exactly sure of what to say, he decided to try to be humorous.

"Well," he said. "I'm sorry if I just took liberties with the help,"

She blushed a deeper red. He could see that she really was as innocent as she appeared. He decided to err on the side of caution. She clearly had no experience with feelings of this nature and he had no desire to push her into anything for which she was not ready.

"I do love you, Selena," he added. "But we will take this very slowly. You are much younger than me and I would hope that you could love me for more than my fatherly qualities."

She smiled.

"Right now I am hardly thinking of you as a father," she replied shyly. "But I don't want anyone to think that I am taking advantage of the situation."

He laughed out loud.

"If anyone can be perceived as taking advantage," he responded. "It is me."

"You?"

"Well, let's see," he reckoned. "I am a middle-aged widower four spoiled children, the oldest of which is a royal pain. You are a sweet young woman who has recently lost her parents. "

"Yes, but . . ."

"Let me continue. I convinced you to live here with your little sister who was nearly traumatized all over again by her first experience with public school. Yet the two of you are still convinced to keep trying," he added.

"I hadn't looked at it that way," she admitted.

"Selena, there is no hurry," he finished. "You will take all the time that you need to grieve and we will support you any way that we can. We have our whole lives ahead of us."

"Yes," she replied. "I suppose that we do."

"I am afraid that I have to leave for work," he said regretfully as he stood up. "But we'll talk more later."

Not knowing what to say or do, Selena let him go. She had felt a thrill when he had kissed her that she had never felt when Kenneth kissed her. But now she was more confused than ever. What would happen when Kenneth did finally show up to claim her?

The End

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