Part 2 of The Guest
By Joanne Grier
What joy I felt to discover your letter waiting for me! Seeing your return address brightened my work-weary heart.
The drive back to the city went smoothly. There was still a lot of snow on the roads but one can’t expect the miracle of snow-free interstates after a blizzard of those proportions.
After the stressful week I’ve had, it doesn’t feel like I ever had a vacation. Working at the burn center is physically exhausting as well as emotionally draining. It’s a job that demands 120% on a daily basis, leaving little time or energy for pleasure.
On the drive back I was able to stop in a small book shop and spent two glorious hours poring over various titles. I thought of you so much while there, I honestly expected to look up and find you at my side.
I hope you and Dev are well. He is minding and following Dr. Edmonds’ instructions? I hope he isn’t too much trouble.
How’s the food supply? Enclosed you will find the recipe for the soup. I’m happy you liked it. It was my mother’s recipe.
Sweet dreams, dear Charles.
Dear Angel Bree,
Me and Dev are gonna make your soup on the weekend. Ed is gonna bring more food then so we will have all the stuff to fix it.
What books did you get?
Cleaning the bathroom after givin’ Dev his bath isn’t easy. He is messy, gets water all over the room. Mopping is hard work. Dev says he is gonna put a big bag on his leg so he can shower himself! I don’t think Dr. Edmonds is gonna like that. I told him I was gonna tell you.
Maybe you will call, tell Dev not to put a bag on his leg. He will listen to you. You have to listen to angels, ya know.
Vincent always says “be well” when we leave home. So I will tell you Be Well.
Your friend Charles
The moon is glistening off the snow pack and the hour is late. It’s just me and a wolf howling for its mate off in the distance.
Thanks for the tea. The package arrived yesterday. It does seem to soothe. Talked Charles into having a cup close to bedtime and he was so relaxed he fell asleep before I had finished the first chapter in our book. Not that I ever object to our reading sessions. I grew up with bedtime stories. Pops was a great reader, making even the dull books sing with glory and excitement. If you can make a Napoleonic ball exciting to a ten-year-old, you’re a magician. Pops even made that exciting!
Heard that Charles ratted me out. A guy’s gotta keep from drowning whenever possible. And, too, I don’t know how much longer I’d have skin over these bones as he believes in scrubbing me clean!
We made your soup but I got told in no uncertain terms it wasn’t as good as yours. Charles wants you to come make him some more. So consider yourself asked.
He misses you. There is not a day that passes that he doesn’t talk of your time with us. Aside from Pops and Vincent, I’ve never known anyone who accepted him as completely or as quickly as you. It was many months before he could even tolerate being seen by Dr. Edmonds and Ed.
Your job sounds so stressful. I hope you have friends to help you shake off the trauma and stress in your daily life.
As always, thank you for your letter.
This is the first day I have noticed the complete absence of snow piles anywhere along my route to work. It’s been a hard winter so I hope the predictions of an early spring are true. I’m sick of wearing boots day in and day out.
As soon as I have time, yes, I will get you more tea. I’m so very pleased you like it. It’s what I drink, particularly at bedtime after I’ve had a difficult day at the center. It just helps to take the stress away and allows me to have sweet dreams.
with a group of friends I attended a performance by a small theater
group of the music from two older Broadway musicals – No Strings and
of the best things about the city is the abundance of great
entertainment that is readily available.
During the summer months I never miss the performances in
Tell me what kinds of music you like. Perhaps I can send you some if you don’t already own copies.
Dear Angel Bree,
Dev’s leg is all good. No more bandages and no more bags. The scabby places are ugly but Dev says they fall off. He don’t, doesn’t limp too much now. He said he was stronger.
We – me and Dev – are drawing plans for the new porch. Dev said we would build it sometime after the middle of May when we can pour cement. Make it strong so no one falls through it again. Dev is gonna make it wider and might put screen stuff on it so we can sit out ‘nd not be eaten by the bugs. I like the lightning bugs, do you?
When will you come to see me again?
Dev says we might go home to Father and Vincent before long. We haven’t been home in almost a year. I won’t go if you are coming to see me, told Dev and he said we had to talk about that. I don’t understand what he was telling me. Said you had a busy life and we couldn’t expect you to spend what free time you had with me. What does that mean? I tell him it was good to spend time with Angels.
I’m sorry your conversation with Dev about my coming to visit was confusing for you. Perhaps I can explain things more clearly.
What Dev was trying to say is that my work schedule is very busy -- I work six continuous days then I have two days off. My days off aren’t always on Saturday and Sunday like a lot of people’s jobs. And oftentimes my schedule is different. Sometimes I work an early morning shift (6 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and at other times I work the afternoon shift (1 p.m. to 8 p.m.).
You remember how busy your days and nights were during the time Dev was injured? How you didn’t have time for your model-building or as much reading as you normally did? How caring for Dev took up most of the hours of your day and left you exhausted, needing lots of sleep just to keep up with Dev?
The people at the center are very ill and require around-the-clock nursing and physical therapy (like what you did for Dev when he needed your strength to learn to walk again). Those people at the center need my help. The work makes me very tired and I need my days off to sleep and restore my energy.
hope what I have said helps you understand.
Perhaps when I get an extra day I can make arrangements to fly up
Take care and keep well.
Thanks for savin’ my butt. No matter what I said, I couldn’t seem to make Charles comprehend what I was telling him about your work and what a high-stress occupation you have. Somehow he decided that I didn’t want you to visit.
Your letter was a light for him. He read it probably ten times in an hour after it came then finally he showed it to me, telling me all about your work schedule. Your letters mean much to Charles.
He gets excited when the mail comes and he has letters from Pops, Vin or Mary but that is mild compared to his reaction when he sees your letters. He loves seeing his name on letters and getting mail. Pops and Vin write him regularly. It took a while to understand about his feelings on mail.
At first he gave them to me unopened and we would go through the whole process again – that it was his mail and only he could open it. After some months of this, over one long agonizing weekend I discovered the whole story. Eddie, his brother, wouldn’t allow him to open the mail because one of those letters was his monthly disability check which Eddie confiscated for his own personal use. Eddie viciously beat him several times when Charles opened the mail because it had his name on it. The beatings were accompanied by a lot of name calling, “freak” being the mildest while being the most damning to Charles.
Since you began writing him, every day at 11 a.m. he goes onto the porch and looks through the telescope down the lane towards where our mailbox is located. Our mail person turns the flag up when we have mail -- saving me a long run down the lane on the days when we don’t get mail. I now must be ready to literally run to get the mail once he tells me it’s here or be prepared for an hour of gentle but determined pestering!
Favor? Don’t tell Charles when/if you are coming. Just tell me in a separate letter or call. My life would be easier if I don’t have to keep explaining how many more days, hours and minutes it is until you arrive. Thanks!
We’re making our list of items we need for the porch. We will start the tear-out the end of next month, so hopefully we won’t be more than a couple of weeks without the porch. Ed volunteered to help but I refused. Charles is good with his hands and he is looking forward to building – or helping to build – the porch himself.
The rattling announced the truck’s arrival prior to it actually reaching the drive’s end. Devin stepped out onto the cinderblock steps he and Charles created after destroying the old porch. They weren’t his best work, but since Charles never used the front door he felt comfortable with their impermanent status.
Between the two guys on the truck and Devin they got the lumber stacked and under tarps long before the light faded. After the truck again rattled down the drive Devin went inside to turn on the electric motion detector he had recently purchased. Charles was eager to help build the porch and the installation of a motion detector in the drive would allow enough time for Charles to return safely to the interior of the house before he could be seen. Their long drive was a blessing in that few people ever used it. The gates seemed to dissuade most unwanted visitors.
“We’ll need to hit the hay early tonight so we can get an early start tomorrow. Building the foundation will be back-breaking work and I prefer we split it between two days and not try to do all the concrete work in one day. How about we warm up the mac and cheese from yesterday and I’ll grill us some burgers?”
Seeing Charles’ happy grin, Devin knew he had selected a winner. “Would you make a selection of our fruit? And could you check to see if we still have iced tea left?” Together they set about preparing their evening meal as their chatter turned to serious talk of the building project.
Later that evening he walked into Charles’ bedroom, prepared, as always, for an hour of reading. Tonight they were deep into the adventures of King Arthur and he came prepared with a pot of Bree’s special tea. He settled into the huge recliner that belonged to Charles. “What’s that over in the corner?”
“It’s just some wood from our old porch I wanted to keep.”
“Is there a special reason you are keeping it?”
“No. Yes. Well, maybe. It’s the piece where your leg went through.”
“Why would you want to keep that??” Seeing the tinge of pink that suddenly colored Charles’ face, Devin instantly realized his mistake; he had unintentionally wounded. Back-peddling as fast as he could, he spoke softly. “Well, yeah. I guess it does make a nice souvenir of the ‘Great Porch Caper.’ Maybe we could take it along to show Pops so he can see what made all the scars on my leg. He’d like that, I’ll bet, especially when I pull up my pants leg for him to see all the stitch marks. Good save on your part. You’ll help me remember to pack it, won’t you, when we head home?” (Darn fool! When will you realize not to just blurt things out, you know how sensitive his feelings are! Damn!)
Instantly happy that Dev wasn’t upset with him, Charles happily nodded in agreement.
They were up early, ate a hearty breakfast, and just before heading out Devin remembered to bring an old carpet square and placed it just inside the front door. Their boots would be filthy and he didn’t relish the idea of sweeping the whole living room free of mud after a day of pouring cement and lifting cinder blocks.
What an exciting adventure you are having! I envy you and Devin’s skill at building. I can’t begin to imagine how one constructs a porch, let alone being able to pour cement and a foundation of cinder blocks. I’m surely a city girl!
Does Devin have a camera? Perhaps he would take some pictures of the construction. I would like to see the porch progress.
Sorry this is so short, but I got called to come in to work an hour early.
It’s late, I’m bushed and I don’t have a bone or joint that isn’t protesting. Maybe I’m getting too old for this construction stuff. I used to think I was in good shape until I started hefting those cinder blocks around.
We got off center, so today we had to remove two courses of blocks! I had to force my mouth shut as I wanted to use every swear word I knew. It was my fault, but if I gave in to the urge to swear, Charles would think he had done something wrong. A lesson I learned the hard way. Remind me to tell you about it sometime, that is, if you’re interested.
How’s the job going? I admire your bravery in facing all your patients day in and day out. It must demand a lot not to react in any way to their scars. You have my respect, girl, all of it!
Charles had two cups of “Bree’s tea” before bedtime tonight. He was worn out, but still so excited about our building. I’m gonna let him sleep an extra hour in the morning, he deserves it. For all his height and strength, in many ways he is delicate.
I need to get to bed. That hot shower helped and I’m almost done with my tea. Maybe its magic will also work on me.
Dear Angel Bree,
We messed up on the porch ‘n’ yesterday had to re-do all the stuff from the day before. Dev was upset, I could see. I hope I didn’t do nothin’ wrong.
The trees are budding and leafing. They make pretty patterns on the drive as the sun moves about. Soon we will have a full cover of green.
Soon I will start collecting the leaves for Father. The wee children use them to study about trees. We got different trees than they do. Father likes my collection. We dry them and press them with wax paper so they stay good for studying.
When the fall comes, I collect the pretty color ones, too. I like all the colors best, ‘pecially the red and gold ones. They look like Vin’s hair.
Come see us soon. I miss you. Be well.
How lucky are Father and the children to have you collecting leaves for them. They are blessed in having such a dear friend who thinks about them with such a joyful gift. I’m certain they treasure your gifts, particularly the fall collection.
I spent the holiday at the beach, got some sun and enjoyed a nice fireworks display. The water is still too cold – for my taste – so I didn’t brave the ocean. But it was warm enough for sunbathing. We cooked out, burgers, franks, and had some great cole slaw. Plenty of iced tea, too.
The day at the beach was good for me. I needed it. One of my young patients succumbed from her injuries. She was so very young and didn’t have the strength and stamina to overcome her injuries.
With my job, you are taught not to get personally involved with your patients, not to allow yourself to become emotionally attached. I failed miserably with Lilly. My heart aches for her, the cheerful smile she greeted me with each day.
Some things, dear Charles, are dreadfully difficult to understand and accept. One needs to trust completely that God knows best. Lilly’s passing is one I’m having a hard time accepting.
Do take care of yourself and Devin.
Dear Angel Bree,
I don’t understand why God took Lilly away from you. It’s not fair when you cared for her, not fair at all!
Dev said we would talk about it, but I don’t think he can make me understand.
Sometimes very late at night me and Dev go out in the woods, walk for a couple of miles to a small pond and we swim. It’s not like the ocean, but we have fun together.
will watch the fireworks on TV in July from
“You go along and work on your model. I’ll run into town to get us groceries. I’ll phone if I am gonna be longer than a couple of hours. I’ll lock the front door and the porch door, too. You know what to do if anyone should come along.” Assured that Charles knew and remembered the safety procedures, Devin confidently left the cabin.
The drive was smooth. He made his usual fast tour of the market, quickly gathering all the items on his list, picked up the scripts at the drug store and was headed back well within his allotted two-hour timeframe. Rounding the last curve, he pulled into the newly widened driveway and was confronted with a vehicle he remembered well. Slamming the truck into park, he covered the distance and was greeted by a warm smile. “Hi’ya. How was the trip? You made good time.”
He yanked open the door, bent and hauled his visitor out of the car and then enveloped her in a warm, full-body hug. “Lordy, but you smell good.” He nuzzled against her neck, mumbling, “It’s been far too long since I smelled a woman.” Automatically he kissed her neck and deeply inhaled the fresh spicy bouquet of her perfume. He drew away suddenly, aware of his own body. (Damn, it has been too long! She feels good. I’ve missed the feel of soft hips pressing against mine!)
The same calm chestnut eyes stared back at him that he vividly remembered. Impulsively he leaned down and covered her startled lips with his. Sweet warmth filled his senses as he allowed the kiss to lengthen then slowly lifted his mouth. His smile was impish, and he was laughing. “Welcome. I surely have missed you, Bree.”
“Does Charles know I’m coming?”
“Naw, I didn’t tell him. He’d have driven me nuts counting the hours until you got here. It’s best, like I told you on the phone, that you just arrive. Let me pull around you and I’ll get the gate, then you follow behind me. He’d be upset if he saw a car coming up the lane. I don’t know if he remembers your car or not.” Climbing into the truck, he jockeyed around Bree’s car and then moved up the lane.
Near the cabin he sped ahead, flipped on his headlights and began flashing them. This was their silent signal to Charles that he was home, that it was him and not some stranger who was driving up the lane. It would, he knew, bring Charles to the front door, ready and willing to help carry in their groceries. He pulled in and quickly jumped from the truck, intent on being able to fully witness the look on Charles’ face when he saw Bree. He returned Charles’ wave and just stood there calmly waiting as Bree pulled in beside his truck.
He didn’t know where to look – at the incredible look of joy that started small and then built until it was a face-splitting grin as Charles saw Bree, or at Bree’s warm smile, her face awash with happy tears. Charles rushed down the steps, swept Bree into his arms and whirled her round and round. Her arms circled his massive shoulders and happily she cried as she whispered his name repeatedly. First she kissed his cheeks, hugged him tighter, and then placed a gentle kiss against his startled lips.
His eyes were like saucers as her lips touched his. “Angel Bree, you’re home, my dear friend, you’re home.” His voice trembled with emotions and tears freely coursed down his face. He stared, smiling for several long minutes, and then slowly lowered her to her feet. Her arms slide down his back but she continued to hug him as she pressed her cheek against his massive chest.
Tears wet Devin’s lashes as he finally turned away. Walking to the passenger side he began pulling out grocery bags, aware that this formerly shared chore was now his sole duty. He glanced back as he mounted the stairs and he saw the couple just as they were minutes before, wrapped in a warm embrace. He made two more trips to the truck and still they stood hugging each other, totally oblivious to his passing. He waited ten minutes after hauling in Bree’s tote before he stepped onto the porch and called to them. Hand in hand they mounted the steps.
Charles paced, waiting for Bree to exit Devin’s bedroom. Opening the door she walked to him, took his hand and together they sat on the sofa. The sound of happy voices filled the cabin and Devin could hear their laughter clearly from the kitchen. He entered with a tray of iced tea and, after serving Bree and Charles, he seated himself in his old, comfy recliner beside the fireplace.
“How was the drive up?”
it was amazingly easy.
You’ve heard about the special ‘train and drive’ that the railroad is
offering for the summer/fall tourist season?
Well, I decided to give it a try.
I took the car down to Penn Station last night, they loaded it
onboard, and at 7 p.m. last night we left.
I splurged and got a drawing room and decadently slept for most
of the trip. Sure beat that
long drive, I’ll tell you.
They off-loaded the car in
Bree jumped up, ran across the room, yanked open the door and tore down the steps. She dashed toward her car, talking loudly to herself as she rushed forward. Reaching into the passenger seat, she pulled out a rectangular package, putting her ear to its side, and then rushed back for the cabin. She ran past Charles and Devin, hurling herself into the bedroom and slamming the door.
Devin and Charles were both on their feet, looking at each other in complete bewilderment. “Don’t ask me, I have no idea,” Devin uttered as Charles stood with his mouth agape. Five minutes passed and the door slowly opened.
“I do apologize. I left something in the car, a gift for Charles, and I was fearful it wouldn’t be all right. Would you please both sit down and give me another minute or two and I’ll bring in the gift.” She ducked back into the bedroom, quietly closing the door.
They exchanged looks of incomprehension, both of their heads shaking in unison while Devin shrugged his shoulders. They finally returned to their respective seats, but both of them were obviously uncomfortable in their confused state.
Minutes passed and finally the door opened. “Charles, would you close your eyes and hold your hands cupped together in front of your chest?”
Devin nodded and Charles’ eyes slowly closed as his cupped hands rose to his chest. The sound of Bree’s footsteps brushing lightly across the carpet were barely audible in the still room. Devin’s face registered his surprise, a look of awe, and then he smiled in childish delight.
Bree settled the gift into the large hands, brushed a kiss across his cheek and whispered, “Open your eyes and meet your new friend.” Quickly seating herself, she anticipated Charles’ reaction and hoped her selection had been wise.
Nestled in his cupped hands was an adorable ten-week-old kitten who stared expectantly into Charles’ dark eyes. His mouth formed a silent “Oh” as he continued to stare in amazement. Finally a lone finger moved to tentatively stroke the soft fur.
“He’s a Wild Bengal cat and he comes complete with papers. He was part of a litter of six and he was the runt of the litter so he’s a little small but he’ll grow. The Wild Bengal is a mixture of the domestic short hair and an Asian Lion cat. Their markings are like a combination of a cheetah and leopards spots.
“You mentioned that you never had a pet and I thought perhaps a kitten might be a nice place to start. They are more independent than a dog and don’t require as much training in the manners department.”
Charles’ eyes immediately swept toward Dev. “I can keep him, can’t I? Can’t I?”
“Of course, you can keep him. He’s a cute little fellow. What are you gonna name him?”
“ ‘Angel,’ after Bree, that’s what I’m gonna name him.”
“Angel isn’t normally a boy name, but if that’s what you want, then Angel he shall be.”
“I have food, a litter box, litter, dishes and toys all in the trunk so you won’t have to go out to buy anything for him. He’s used to sleeping in a box with his brothers and sisters, so I got him a small, high-sided basket. It has a small pillow in it, but I think we might need to line it with a hand towel. He’s use to the shared body warmth at night. He’s almost litter box-trained, too.”
They talked through the afternoon and into the evening. When they sat down for dinner, Angel came to the table tucked inside Charles’ shirt, sound asleep. When Devin went to check on Charles one last time before he bedded down on the sofa, he wasn’t surprised to see Angel’s basket no longer on the floor, but on the bed alongside Charles.
Thank you again for spending the holiday with us. I wish you could see Charles and Angel together. The first time Angel ran across the floor, stiffened on all four legs, jumped in the air and hissed, well, Charles’ face was priceless. I’m going to get him a camera so he can take pictures. He told me you had requested some.
He wrote a long letter to Vin telling him all about Angel and told him he would give Vin one of Angel’s kittens as soon as he got them. I see I still have a little work to do as far as the he/she thing goes! If I’m not careful, he will be asking for a girl cat after our discussion so he can have kittens.
Hey, you left a pair of jeans in the closet. Do you want me to mail them or do you want to just leave them for future use?
It was great sitting out on the porch last night and not having to fight off every mosquito in the northeast! I’ve been thinking that I might move the exterior porch door out another six feet, then I can create a dead air space at the interior front door which would surely help keep the cabin warm in the winter months. Don’t know why I wasn’t smart enough to have thought of that during construction!
Charles is already talking about your coming up for the Labor Day weekend. Think you could get the time off? I’d like it, too, if you could spend another long weekend with us before winter closes in. You’re invited – if you are brave enough – to spend Thanksgiving with us, too.
Dr. Edmonds saw Angel and boy is he ever taken with him. His cat died a couple of months ago and I think if he knew where to get a Wild Bengal, he’d be out getting one for himself.
Thank you for the new pictures of Angel. He’s grown so much and is still the cutest kitten I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad you like him. I laughed and laughed at the pictures, seeing all his expressions.
He seems to like playing with his toys. Is he still sleeping in his basket on your bed? Don’t be surprised if one day he decides to sleep elsewhere. Cats are very independent and unpredictable.
Our time together flew by, didn’t it? I was lucky to have gotten those two extra days that I was able to tack on to the holiday time in order to have had those five days.
I put a box in the mail for you, so you should be expecting it in another couple of days. There are a few things for you – a new book – and a new toy for Angel and a CD for Devin. I hope all of you like your gifts; they are my way of thanking you for a marvelous holiday.
One of my long-time patients is back for what we hope is his final round of surgeries. I’m hoping the surgery goes well and that when he leaves, he will be ready to live full-time with his family once again.
Tell Devin I saw his favorite, Richard Kiley, in concert. He was great, as always. I so remember how marvelous he was on Broadway in The Man from La Mancha and in The Thorn Birds mini-series on television.
Sweet dreams…give Angel a pet from me, won’t you?
Dear Angel Bree,
Angel slept away from me last night. He sleeped on the stone floor in the kitchen. Dev said he did it to be cool as the weather has been hot and sticky.
He liked his new toy, played with it for hours. He chases the light on the pin-light flashlight Dev got for him all over. Dev shined it on the table and away Angel went flying, leaping to catch it.
Do you think you can come for Labor Day holiday? I’d like to see you again soon. Angel has grown so much, you gotta see how big he has gotten.
Me and Dev are reworking the porch doors. He says we are gonna have a dead air space but I’m honestly not sure just what that means. Dev explained it a couple of times but I still don’t get it.
Dear Charles and Devin,
I’m so very sorry but I won’t be able to spend the holiday with you. One of my co-workers had a death in her family and another had unexpected surgery, so my request for extra days was denied. It would have left the center too short-staffed. I know you understand, but I am just as heart-sick as you are. I was so looking forward to spending time with you both. I hope you aren’t too disappointed and know that if it were at all possible, I would be there.
Tell Dr. Edmonds if he is serious about wanting a Wild Bengal cat, I can probably put him in touch with a breeder. If I were home more, I’d probably have one myself. I don’t think it would be fair to have a pet – even a cat, as independent as they are – with the wild schedule I keep.
Think of me when you are eating your burgers and corn on the cob on the holiday. The pictures of your garden made my mouth water, everything looked so fresh.
Again, I’m so sorry I can’t be with you. Please understand.
walked up to the point and were able to see the fireworks from the local
drive-in. Later we watched
the fireworks that were on the news from
He was devastated when your letter came. He went into his room, sat on his bed with Angel in his lap, pouring out his heart to that silly cat. Angel just looked like he understood every word, purring and rubbing against Charles’ hand, offering his own form of healing love. Frankly, I wanted to join them, I felt so miserable.
I want to try to come into the city before the weather makes things impossible. I never travel with Charles during the winter as there is an added risk. If we can arrange things, could I see you while we are there? I’ll try to work out something with Vin’s girl so that Charles could visit with you. Is it too much to ask? I can’t explain, I just have to ask that you trust me about needing to arrange a meeting place that isn’t too public for Charles.
Bree, I need to see you. I miss you more than I was aware.
I slept so soundly after your phone call last night. Just hearing your voice, all the news of you, Charles and Angel, washed away all the stress. I love helping the patients at the center but it can be such an emotionally draining job. Often at the end of the day I feel like someone has pulled the plug and drained every last ounce of reserve energy from my body. I have been giving serious thought toward switching to becoming a part-time employee for several months.
Lots of the center employees do that at various times when they are worn down, battered by the dedication they have. I’ve been a full-time employee for six years and it now takes longer than two days for me to re-charge my batteries. Ideally I would like to work a three-day week, then have four consecutive days to re-charge. It would mean a drastic cut in my budget but I know I can live comfortably. My condo is paid off so I’m not facing that big drain on the budget anymore.
Of course, I trust you to make whatever arrangements that are necessary for there to be a place where I can visit with Charles. I assume Angel will be coming with you as I can’t see him agreeing to leaving Angel with Ed or Dr. Edmonds. If it would help, you could leave Angel with me if your family wouldn’t be comfortable in having him around.
I do understand your need to protect Charles. He is such a gentle, sweet soul, yet I know how the majority of people would react to seeing him. I am in complete agreement with you; Charles’ feelings, his sense of well-being, and his protection are paramount. From all you have said, I feel your family understands, and while that may mean you can’t visit them as often as you would like, they know how important protecting Charles and his security are to you.
I’m late - I should have left ten minutes ago. Hopefully traffic won’t be too bad.
Great news that you are shifting to part-time work. I expect NOT to see those dark circles beneath your eyes when we see you next. Four days of rest should be helpful for you to regain your energy and emotional outlook.
Charles is nearly recovered from his cold so I know he will be writing to you shortly. Colds are serious with him as he tends to slip into pneumonia easily, so I have to be constantly alert.
As we anticipated, Angel is no longer sleeping in his basket and his full-time sleeping nest is, as you predicted, alongside Charles in his bed. He starts out at the foot of the bed but by morning he can be found atop the extra pillow near Charles’ face. Several mornings when I have gone in to awaken Charles, I have discovered them deep in conversation and I’d swear that silly cat understand his every word!
I’ll call you when our travel plans are complete. I like the idea of your work days being Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Somehow having Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday all together sounds psychologically better to me. Weird, I know!
interstate sign indicated they had traveled one hundred miles.
The night sounds coupled with the steady engine roar had lulled
Angel asleep many miles ago and Charles was snoozing beside him.
Devin planned to travel all night and then spend the daylight
hours in a former Helper’s home in northern
pulled into the
Two hours after a hearty breakfast, Mrs. Franklin shooed Devin and Charles off to bed with a promise that she would care for Angel while they rested. Devin stripped down to his skivvies, slipped under the blanket and was asleep almost immediately. Sleep continued to elude Charles until Angel wandered in, climbed onto his bed and curled up on the pillow. The contented purring lulled Charles to sleep; his hand lay against the warm furry body.
The winter darkness allowed them to leave shortly after an early dinner and they were back to the interstate heading south by 5:30 p.m. They steadily moved southward and the traffic was thankfully light. Still some thirty miles from the city, they pulled off at a rest stop while Devin phoned a Helper who would store the truck and meet them at the nearest entrance to the tunnels with a luggage carrier. Traveling with all of Angel’s gear had increased their hand luggage exponentially.
After welcoming hugs and receiving kisses from Mary, Devin and Charles settled to bringing their extended family up to date on all their activities. Father was slightly dismayed when he saw Angel, but understanding the special relationship between Charles and his first pet, he smiled tolerantly. The hour was already late, so after two pots of Bree’s special tea, Devin suggested that they all get some sleep.
While Charles and Angel were entertaining and being entertained by the tunnel children, Devin went Above to telephone Catherine, asking if they could meet some place quiet for lunch.
“Still beautiful as ever, I see. You look great. I’m happy to see you again.”
was the drive? Vincent said
you were stopping with the
slipped into a booth
“Three of you? Oh, yes, now I know, you must mean that you brought Angel along. How did Father react? I don’t think he would dare say anything about Angel, knowing that Charles is very sensitive.”
“When I left, Charles had just finished another conversation with Vin about when Angel has kittens,” his eyebrows raised and he chuckled, “and how he was going to give Vin one of them.”
“I’m sure Vincent will handle this expertly. Angel is a boy, isn’t he?” Catherine’s laughter was gentle, as she knew of the previous conversations concerning the issue of kittens.
They settled to talking and Devin told Catherine all about Bree, her extraordinary relationship with Charles, their friendship and the continual stream of correspondence they maintained. “I wanted to ask if you would object to allowing Charles to visit with Bree in your apartment? I don’t know the layout of Bree’s building so I can’t be certain I can get him in and out without him being seen. You know how sensitive he is about other than family seeing him. Vin is positive we can get him in and out of your building without notice.
“He talked of little else on the trip except getting to see his Angel Bree. He very much wants the opportunity of seeing her again. She spent the Labor Day holiday with us and they had a great time together. You know how he is around Vin, well, to see him interact with Bree is just twice as magical.”
Smiling, Catherine nodded. “I’d be happy to call Bree, issue an invitation and then arrange a time that suits her schedule. I’ve heard that she works at the burn center and from what I’ve read, it is surely an awesome facility with exceptional standards of care.”
A happy grin filled Devin’s features and he visibly relaxed. “I appreciate your doing this, more than you know. Like Charles, I am eager to see Bree again. She has begun to mean a lot to me, more than I realized.”
Catherine silently stared for several moments then smiled. “I’m pleased you have found someone special. You deserve that and much more. I know it hasn’t been easy caring for Charles and dealing with his fears.”
Returning to her desk several minutes early, Catherine took out the note with Bree’s phone number and quickly dialed. After introducing herself, they chatted for several minutes and finally arrived at a date.
Catherine answered the door and after hugging her, Devin moved across the room, swept Bree from the sofa and enveloped her into a warm, lingering embrace. “I’ve missed you.” His voice was a bare whisper. Her smiled lingered, touching his eyes in an unspoken reply, and her arms circled tighter as her head rested against his chest.
(This must be how Father feels when Vincent and I stand there trying to make polite conversation when all we really want is to escape and be alone together.) “Excuse me; I’ll just get the coffee. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Quickly crossing to the kitchen, Catherine took a chair, prepared to give them a good five minutes alone. Not wishing to interrupt, she raised her voice, asking Devin to clear a spot on the coffee table before she re-entered the room. Just as she started to pour the coffee, there was a gentle knock at her door. “That must be Charles.”
The open door was quickly filled by Charles as Catherine stepped into his arms in greeting. As she stepped aside to allow him to enter, she glanced toward the stairwell and through the open door she caught a quick glimpse of Vincent at the stairwell as he turned to climb up toward the roof entrance.
Bree ran across the room and was swept into Charles’ waiting arms. “My Bree, my Angel Bree,” he whispered repeatedly. Happy tears splashed down each joyful face as they smiled in unison. Hand in hand, they walked to a small sofa.
“OK, where is he?” Devin’s voice filled with laughter. “I know you didn’t leave him with Father.”
Charles opened three buttons on his shirt, reached inside and gently withdrew a limp, sleeping cat. Angel stretched, looked around and then proudly stepped forward, curling into Bree’s lap, and began to purr. The whole room erupted into laughter.
The hours flew by in a blur of animated voices, arms flailing as they were used to bring each new story to life. Catherine’s smile never left her face and she savored each moment, witnessing the beautiful love that flowed openly between Charles and his Angel Bree. Bree was the first true friend Charles ever had aside from Devin and Vincent, whom she knew he considered to be his brothers. Bree’s complete acceptance of Charles was evident; each move, gesture, spoke of the love and respect in which he was held. Bree never lost sight of his uniqueness while never allowing it to become the focus of her attention. He was simply Charles, beloved and made new in the glory of love.
Thank you so much for opening your home to allow me time to be with Charles. Your kindness was and is deeply appreciated.
When I stumbled into that cabin in the midst of a blizzard I never thought my life would be completely changed. The privilege of knowing Charles has changed my life. He has brought a light to my life that had been missing since my family died.
I so appreciated having the time with Charles, knowing he was safe from prying eyes, people who wouldn’t ridicule him or call him ugly names. I shudder when I think of the horror he experienced at the hands of his brother, Eddie. Being with Devin must surely be like heaven to Charles.
Thank you again.
We are all safely back home in the cabin. Would you believe we hadn’t been home an hour when Charles started asking me how many more days it would be until his Angel Bree would come to eat turkey with us? I gotta make a calendar so he can begin to mark off the days. I may have to make one for myself, too, cuz I’m surely missing you. There just wasn’t enough time for us to be alone as much as I’d have liked.
Yes, perhaps in the future there could be a time when you can meet Vincent and Father. My brother is very reticent at meeting strangers. He, like Charles, has not had the best of experiences with new people. His uniqueness makes it difficult for people to accept him. The question is not your ability to accept him, but his reluctance to expose himself to questions for which there are no answers.
Like you, I was surprised and delighted that Angel traveled so well and with no problems. He seems to think it is quite normal to be placed inside Charles’ shirt, to sleep cradled against his warm skin. Angel has even taken to crawling inside his pajama tops, sleeping atop his belly!
request for time off has been approved and this morning I made my plane
reservations for flying into
I hope you and Devin don’t think my stay will be too long. When my supervisor asked if I wanted any more time other than the three days I had originally asked for, well, I just blurted out that it would be perfect if I didn’t have to report for more than a week.
You would have laughed if you could have seen my face when she told me that I didn’t need to report for two full weeks. She just smiled, said I’d never asked for much time off during all my six years of working full-time and she felt she owed me a good long holiday since I had worked so many other holidays, allowing the staff with families to spent it with them. I jumped at the chance to spend all that time with you, Devin and Angel.
Tell Devin he needn’t vacate his bedroom and that I’ll sleep on the sofa. Two weeks is too long for him to spend on the sofa or in his recliner. I can be very comfortable on the sofa.
Terrific! It’s fantastic that you can spend all that time with us.
Of course, you’re sleeping in my bedroom. I wouldn’t think of your sleeping on the sofa.
Charles even said he would give you his bed rather than have you on the sofa. He started yelling when he read about how long you were going to be with us. He even picked me up and whirled me around, he was so excited!
Tuesday can’t come soon enough! See you soon.
Even with the crowds travel was surprisingly easy, and soon Bree was settled into the rental car, pulling onto the highway which would take her directly to the forest preserve. Her heart was light and her voice echoed as she sang along with the radio. Soon, she knew, they would begin playing Christmas carols. Ten miles from the cabin she pulled off to phone Devin to alert him how close she was.
Devin and Charles were waiting on the porch when she pulled into the driveway. Charles was quickly on his feet, rushing forward before Bree even killed the engine. And just as rapidly, he was opening the door, reaching in to hug her. Devin smiled watching them, wondering just who was hugging whom. Their bodies were tightly meshed together and he could hear their happy chatter.
Finally they broke apart, smiling broadly and hand in hand they walked toward Devin. The luggage he knew, from previous visits, was his responsibility, and he ambled down the steps smiling as he passed the happy couple. His hug and greeting of Bree would have to wait as this time was exclusively Charles’.
Carrying her luggage into the bedroom, he again found himself smiling as he passed the sofa, Bree in one corner, Angel in her lap, and Charles seated as close as possible with his arm around Bree’s shoulder. The perfection of the moment surrounded him, tugging at his heart as he absorbed the happiness that radiated from Charles. Their conversation was already animated and both of them were talking to Angel, assured the cat totally understood all that was said.
During the brief pauses in their conversation, the sound of loud satisfied purring could be heard. Whenever Charles was near, Angel was contented and his vocally loud purring could clearly be heard across the expanse, carrying easily into the kitchen. Devin finished putting the pot of soup on simmer and then carried the three mugs of coffee into the living room.
After lunch they bundled into their coats and walked toward the lake where they swam during the warm summer months. Bree wanted to see it after Charles had described the simple beauty of the pond. While dinner was heating, they watched one of the movies Bree had brought along. They laughed when Angel decided he wasn’t getting enough attention. Angel sat atop the TV, his long tail swishing back and forth across the screen like windshield wipers on a car, blocking out the pictures. Jumping up, Bree gathered him in her arms, petting and cooing to him as if he was a poor, lost child in need of loving. Contented to once again be the center of attention, Angel settled in Bree’s lap, purring loudly.
It was well after 11:30 before Charles settled to sleep. Bree, who agreed to read the bedtime tales, witnessed the ritual of Angel crawling under Charles’ pajama top to stretch out full length along his belly with his eyes and nose peeking out at the vee at the top of the pajamas. Closing the door, she smiled toward Devin. “I’m not sure who’s the most contented – Charles, who is lightly snoring, or Angel, who is purring at warp speed! I smiled and was hard pressed not to laugh when Angel crawled under his shirt, then poked his head out just below Charles’ chin.”
“OK, we got the kids to bed. Come on, we got some serious necking to do!” His grin filled his face, erasing the care-worn end-of-the-day fatigue. His arm circled her waist, drawing her toward the sofa, and together they sank down. “Bree, I’ve missed you. I’ve wanted to hold you since you stepped out of the car.”
“I know. I wanted to hug you, but Charles’ need is slightly overwhelming during the first hours I’m here. Oh, not that I object, but he is so filled with joy, it’s difficult to not fall under his happy spell.”
“Hush. Come here and let me kiss you.” Lowering his head, his lips covered hers as his tongue brushed against her lower lip. Her lips parted and he deepened the kiss while his arms held her tighter against his pounding heart. They both were gasping for breath when they drew apart. They snuggled together, kissing and talking in soft whispered voices as they shared the joy of their reunion.
“She called me and we had dinner together about a week after you left to return. I was surprised and delighted. Our dinner was lovely but the conversation was the best. She wanted to know all about the burn center, how we operated, where we got our funding, and how charity cases were handled.”
“She knows a lot of influential people – her dad was a big-shot lawyer – so maybe she can steer some corporate funding your way.”
“That’d be nice, as we surely can use it. About three out of ten of our patients are gratis cases.”
They continued to talk and the silence was filled with long kisses. They fell asleep on the sofa wrapped in each other’s arms and it was after nine when Charles discovered them sleeping. Smiling down at his dear friends, he draped an afghan over them and headed to the kitchen. He plugged in the coffee pot and then got down a box of cereal and a bowl. After rinsing his dishes, he returned to his bedroom, dressed, took a book from his shelf, and seated himself in his big recliner. He loved the recliner as it was large enough to fit his body and long enough to support the length of his legs.
Angel came to sit in his lap and out of habit he began to read aloud to the cat. He was positive Angel understood the stories as he seemed to purr especially loudly at the happy parts, and when the story was sad, he would mew softly or flex his claws against the surface of Charles’ jeans. Nothing Devin said could dissuade Charles from his thinking.
“Good morning.” Holding a mug of coffee, Devin moved into the room on bare feet. “How long have you been awake? And thanks for starting the coffee.” Absently he paused to scratch Angel’s ears before settling on Charles’ bed. Silently he stretched, working out the kinks of his body and emitted a loud “Pouf” as Angel landed gently on his belly. With only two strokes against the soft fur, the loud purring commenced filling the room with its pleasant sound. “We can never be lonely, not as long as we have this contented machine playing so loudly.” The pleasure in Devin’s voice was filled with warm laughter.
Shortly after two o’clock Dr.
Laughing, Devin shook his head.
“More? This is more
than enough. We have all
the other vegetables, relish trays, snacks and everything necessary for
a full day of feasting. I
plan to serve dinner at three, so come over as early or late as you
like. It’s a shame your
daughter is stuck in
“No, I won’t be able to speak with Marisa until later today. When we spoke yesterday the children were still miserable. I appreciate the dinner invitation and your willingness to take the food I had ordered. Listen, I need to run so I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.”
They played checkers and poker until late afternoon and then they gathered in the kitchen to begin preparation for Thanksgiving. They made quick work of setting the dining room table, arranging candles, and dealing out the silverware. The fresh vegetables were all washed, soaked in brine, and then patted dry and returned to the refrigerator. Devin set up the living room bar, bringing in extra glasses, and checked the freezer to be certain they had sufficient ice. Charles and Bree worked together to prepare ambrosia, each of them sneaking bites of Mandarin oranges and pineapple when Devin’s back was turned.
“I’ll set my clock so I can get the turkey in the oven by 8:30. Long about , we can put the rolls in the toaster oven and get the water going for the veggies. We can make the stuffing later tonight just before we go to bed. Everything else is ready.” Devin smiled at his crew and together they headed back to the living room.
Thanksgiving Day dawned with light snow falling, creating the perfect setting for the holiday. They ate a very light breakfast of only toast and coffee as they all wanted to be hungry for their feast.
Dr. Edmonds arrived and the party atmosphere was in high gear. Bree brought a new toy for Angel to help him celebrate his first Thanksgiving. The toy, a mouse attached to a long wire on a rod, was an instant hit. Music filled the room and soon Dr. Edmonds was waltzing Bree around the living room. Both Devin and Charles stood in the doorway watching as they glided across the length of the long room. “I’m pleased to know young ladies still know how to waltz. My wife and I used to go dancing two or three times a month and while we did all the modern stuff, waltzing was always our favorite.”
They sat down to enjoy their feast. Afterwards, as they sat around the table enjoying their wine, Devin withdrew an envelope from this pocket. “Every year since Charles and I have been here, Pops writes us a letter to be read after we’ve had our meal. I’d like to share it with you.
My dear Devin and Charles,
Being apart on this day of thanksgiving does make the day less than truly joyful for Mary, Vincent and me. We would, of course, prefer that you were here with your family, surrounded by those who love and honor you. May your feasting be joyful as you give thanks for all your blessings. Your table this year is blessed in having your beloved Angel there to brighten your day. And from your latest message, I’m aware that you are honored by having Angel Bree with you, which I know makes Charles particularly joyful.
We give thanks for our continued good health and that you, Devin, are completely healed from your accident. The years slip by quickly now, and with each passing year I realize how enriched and blessed I am by my beautiful sons. My heart overflows with memories of your youth, the many adventures that brought joyful laughter to our world.
Dear Charles, I am particularly thankful this year for all your excellent care of Devin following his accident. I am secure in my confidence that without your support and strength, Devin’s injuries could have been longer in healing.
May the coming year bring you every joy and happiness.
Blessings and love,
When Devin looked up from refolding the letter, he saw Bree wiping tears and Charles blinking furiously. “That was so beautiful. What a truly remarkable father you have. His words are reminiscent of my own father. He, too, was gifted with the written word, almost poetic.”
“Pops is a scholar, gifted with speech, and with the written word. His library rivals that of several small colleges in scope and depth. For him a day is wasted if part of it isn’t spent in reading.”
The conversation continued to flow as they began the process of clearing the table. Bree packed up several days’ worth of meals for Dr. Edmonds to take home, plus slices of turkey for sandwiches, plus both leg bones for his soup pot. The dishes were washed and order was quickly restored to the kitchen. “You guys go on into the living room and we’ll bring some ice for drinks. Charles, could you get a couple of cans of soda for you and Dr. Edmonds?”
As soon as Charles and Dr. Edmonds left the room, Devin extended his arms and drew Bree within them. Her head rested on his shoulder and she sighed. “Thank you for a beautiful day,” he murmured against her hair. “Every other holiday will pale when compared to this. Thank you, Bree, for coming and sharing this time with us. It means more than you can possibly know.
“It isn’t always possible for us to go home and this is the first time in years when I’ve felt I was truly surrounded by family here in the cabin. I’ve never regretted bringing Charles here, not even when it meant I was separated from my birth family. He is the saving grace of my life and I thank God daily for Charles as he truly was the resurrection of my soul.” His arms tightened and he bent to capture her mouth.
The kitchen door silently opened and just as silently closed. Smiling broadly, Charles returned to his seat. “Bree and Dev will be along in a minute, they are playing huggy bear, kissy face. Devin likes her cuz he is always playing kissy face with Angel Bree.”
Dr. Edmonds reddened slightly and then grinned, seeing the happy smile of Charles. He was aware of the magnetism between Devin and Bree and he had consciously worried that their attraction might cause a problem for Charles.
As Devin helped Dr. Edmonds into his coat, Dr. Edmonds took a moment to inform Devin of Charles’ revelation concerning “huggy bear, kissy face,” feeling that Devin should be aware that Charles had seen them. “Thanks, Doc. I was sure he knew but I’ll have a talk with him just to be certain of his feelings.”
Bree and Charles came from the kitchen bearing the packages of food and after another round of hugs, they said goodnight. They watched until the headlights disappeared then closed the outer door. “He had such a good time; I’m so glad we were able to bring joy to his world. He was so disappointed when Marisa had to cancel their plans to be home when her children developed measles. Did he say anything to you about getting a kitten?”
“No, he just talked in general terms of how much he enjoyed Angel. I did give him the phone number of the breeder from whom I got Angel.”
They settled comfortably in the living room enjoying the fire that burned brightly. Not one to be left out, Angel wandered in and begin playing with the tassels of Bree’s loafers. Charles, ever mindful of what Dev had told him about teaching Angel manners, quickly retrieved his feathered toy and soon the race was on. Between the pen flashlight and the feathered toy, Angel was racing around the sofa chasing the elusive light. They laughed as Angel raced, cheering him on when he pounced on the feathered toy, shaking and growling with all his might. After forty-some minutes of this play, Angel was worn out and meekly he came to Charles, mewing softly, walking in a circle on his lap and finally curling up to sleep.
“Your boy is past exhausted and ready for bed.”
“Yes, Dev, Angel is sleepy and so am I. Would it be OK if I say goodnight now?”
“Of course, you go along and get ready. I’ll be in in a few minutes.”
Gathering Angel into his arms, Charles turned to Bree, touched his cheek
to hers and whispered, “Goodnight, Angel Bree.
“Dev, we had a good day. I’m happy Dr. Edmonds came to eat with us. He had fun dancing with Angel Bree, didn’t he?” Charles looked up from his bed, his smile warm and his eyes reflecting his happiness.
“I think the dancing made him think of his wife and all the happy memories of their dancing together.”
“Do you like Angel Bree a lot, Dev? I saw you playing “huggy bear, kissy face” with her. That’s what boys and girls do when they like each other, huh? Like the older children at home, the time when Vincent and me found Mouse and Jamie doing that kissy stuff.
“I liked it when she kissed my mouth when she got here. It was strange but nice. My face and mouth are ugly and yet Bree kissed me, why is that?”
adults are good friends, they often exchange friendly kisses when they
have been apart for some length of time.
Between close friends, it is a more personal way of saying hello
than just shaking hands.
Remember when we go home how Mary greets us both with kisses?
Or when we see Olivia and she touches her cheek to ours?
Or the times we see
“But Angel Bree didn’t kiss you like she kissed me. She just, well, she just sort of pecked me on the mouth. When she kissed you, it looked like she was trying to get inside your mouth. She kissed you a long time. How did she breathe cuz your mouth was covering up hers?”
(Oh, Lord, don’t let me mess this up! Please help me to make him understand the difference. Guide me, please, so I don’t wound his gentle heart.) Devin swallowed and took a long calming breath before he spoke. “Bree feels you are a good friend, a substitute for the brother she lost. She sees into your soul, what makes you special and unique. Others might just see your exterior shell – your body – but Bree sees beyond the physical to what is within your heart, mind and soul.
“You know how you call her Angel Bree? That she is like the angels in the books you have read? Well, Bree feels that way about you, that you are her special angel. Think about Catherine and what you feel for her. How accepting Catherine was when you first met, the way she didn’t react to your outward appearance and how she made you immediately comfortable. Aren’t those the same feelings you have for Bree?
“When you went to Catherine’s apartment, didn’t she greet you with a hug and a kiss just the same way Bree greets you?”
Charles stared intently, nodding in affirmation of Devin’s words. “I’m a brother to you and Vincent, right? Well, you are now doubly blessed as you are also a brother to Catherine and to Bree. Neither one of them has a brother, so isn’t it wonderful for them to be your sisters of the heart, like Vin and I are your heart brothers?”
“You mean they will always be a part of our lives even when they aren’t here with us?”
“Charles, I want to explain to you that what I feel for Bree is very different than what you feel. You understand how Vin feels about Catherine, don’t you?”
“Sure, I know. Vincent loves Catherine, she is his lady. He told me she lives within his heart and he feels her there even when they aren’t together. I see them lots of times, without them seeing me, when they look all lovey face at each other. He always holds her hand when they walk together.”
“I think you described what they feel very well. It’s what I feel for Bree. I love her and wish her to be my lady. Would that be all right with you? Eventually, I would like her to be my wife and to live here with us full time. That would mean she would sleep in my bedroom with me and that you couldn’t just walk into my bedroom anytime you wanted. You would have to knock on the door and wait until we told you to come in. Married people need a lot of privacy, time alone together.”
“Would me and Angel have to go away from here? W-w-would we have to go back to Edd…Eddie?” Horror was clearly registered within his eyes and his mouth trembled.
“No, oh, no, of course not. This is your home. Wherever I live, you will live with me. We may not always live here because we have to think about Bree now and her job, but I promise you will always be with us wherever we live.”
“We would naturally take Angel with us. We wouldn’t survive without him. Who would entertain us and give us so much laughter if we didn’t have Angel?”
They talked on into the night. Questions were asked and then re-asked again later, but always Devin provided the same calm, reassuring answers that Charles and Angel would always live with him and Bree. Sleep was a long time coming to Charles and in his own way he asked several times about how much Devin loved his Angel Bree and how good he would be to her.
When Bree walked into the kitchen, Charles rose, walked around the table and leaned down to hug Bree. When he looked up Dev was smiling and nodding his approval. Regaining his seat, Charles looked directly at Dev. “Aren’t you gonna give Angel Bree a morning kiss?” The stare continued and a grin began to fill his face.
Bree smiled first at Charles and then at Devin as he advanced toward her. Bending down he covered her mouth and continued kissing her for several moments. “Good morning. How would you like your eggs?” Charles continued to grin at Devin, then at Bree, and suddenly a soft giggle escaped his mouth and his grin grew.
Bree’s smile was radiant and Devin witnessed the slight change in her posture, the softening of her shoulders, and a glow that previously had not been visible. (She understands what he is silently telling her. She sees his approval.)
“I’m gonna put on Angel’s harness and take him outside for his morning walk. He needs to exercise and run. We’ll stay close to the back door. Angels likes the bushes and he jumps on the rocks. At first, Bree, he didn’t like grass but now he loves walking on it.” Charles took the harness from the hook and headed for the bedroom to retrieve Angel.
“Seems I missed an interesting conversation last night, humm?”
“Let’s just say we had a long talk about huggy bear, kissy face and the variety of kisses that are shared among the three of us. He was already aware of our feelings and then he saw us kissing in the kitchen and he sort of put two and two together. He was concerned that he might have to go back to Eddie but we talked that one out until the wee hours and he knows that will never happen.”
After his long romp in the grass and jumping on rocks, Angel’s energy level was lower and his gait more sedate when Charles brought him indoors. Seeing Bree sitting on the sofa, Angel moved toward her and began rubbing against her pant leg, purring loudly. Picking him up and putting him down on his back, she began to stroke his belly. The more she stroked, the louder the purring became. “He’s in cat heaven now,” Charles offered as he watched from his model ship across the room. “He loves having his tummy rubbed.”
“My dog loved to lie on his back and have his tummy rubbed, too. His whole body would quiver, he was so delighted. He’d stay on his back for hours if you continued to rub his tummy.” Bree continued to talk, telling stories of her childhood and about the various pets she had.
Their days together passed, each bringing new joy and cementing their relationships. Charles became less frantic to be close to Bree and he relaxed in the knowledge she was close at hand, always willing to talk with him. He looked forward to the time when he and Bree alone walked together, taking Angel on one of his twice daily excursions into the yard. And he became accustomed to seeing Bree and Devin together, watching them kiss or hug each other.
They took the folding chairs into the backyard late one night and slumped in them, their faces turned skyward as they watched the stars. They took turns identifying them and the warmth between them grew, surrounding and encompassing each of them in a glow of deepening friendship and love. It was their last night together and even though they were sleepy, no one wanted this special night to end.
Devin was content that Charles had fully accepted the fact that in the future he and Bree would marry. And he knew part of Bree’s heart would always belong to Charles.
Finally, sleep could no longer be postponed and the exhausted trio trooped into the cabin. Angel was fast asleep on the extra pillow in Charles’ bed. After whispered goodnights and hugging each other, everyone quietly went to their respective beds.
Reluctantly Bree packed for her return journey and slowly moved to the living room where Charles and Devin waited. The last few hours were the hardest and their easy conversation faltered, each of them lost within their own sorrow of impending separation.
The clock marched forward while three hearts willed it to stop, to prolong these last two hours together. Each of them individually was aware that this would be their last time together for many months. Having had this extended holiday, Bree knew she would not be given extra time during Christmas. And this year the holiday fell during her normal three-day work schedule.
Angel seemed to sense their sadness as he wandered between the trio, seeking first one then another in his frantic search for attention. Finally he settled into Bree lap, licking her hand and softly mewing. To all their ears it sounded as if Angel was crying.
“Could you, that is, would you call the center and tell them you can’t come back? That you have to stay with us?” Charles’ voice was gruff, rising and falling a full octave, as he fought for control. “We don’t want you to leave. Just stay with us. We live good together and me and Angel want you to stay forever.”
Bree turned to face him, her eyes moist with unshed tears. “Dear Charles, no one has ever said anything as sweet and endearing to me. As much as I wish to stay, I have an obligation to my patients at the center. Their recovery and return to the families who love them is based on the work I do with them. It wouldn’t be fair to them to simply call and say I wasn’t coming back.
“You make my heart burst with joy that you want me here full time. Never have I had anyone since my brother died who loved me the way you do. I thought my heart was closed off after Jimmy was killed. I didn’t think I’d ever know again the love he and I shared. He was the center of my world. Then I found you and it was as if Jimmy’s love had been reborn, housed in your body.” Her lips trembled and a lone tear slid down her face. “I don’t want to leave but I must. Please try to understand.” Bree reached out, her arms circling Charles neck, her head pressed firmly against his solid chest. Time seemed to stop as they sat huddled together, each of them trying to console the other and hide the tears streaming down their faces.
Your Christmas tree sounds lovely and I shall look forward to seeing the pictures in your next letter.
Today I dropped your Christmas box in the mail, so please be on the look-out for it. You can go ahead and open it as the goodies inside are wrapped. There are gifts for Angel, too. You know I couldn’t forget my favorite cat. How’s he doing with the snow?
Remember several months ago I mentioned one of my long-time patients was returning for his final round of surgeries? Well, I’m so pleased to tell you that he is being released on 12-15. His facial surgery was remarkable and as the redness fades, he will look close to his former features. These are the events that make all of this worthwhile and why I am so dedicated to my job.
I received a Christmas card from Catherine, which surprised and delighted me.
I miss you.
I wish you were here so I could hold you. My arms ache for you. As soon as you can get an extra day, come to us. I need you so badly.
Together we are trying to find some holiday spirit but it has been a struggle. I haven’t felt this alone since I left home and spent my first Christmas away from Pops and Vin.
Even watching it snow makes me think of the night we found you. Until you I didn’t truly comprehend all that Vin and Catherine share, the depth with which they reside in each other’s hearts. The emptiness in being away from you, it seems to swallow my heart whole; how hollow life seems without your gentle presence within these walls.
Thank you for the box filled with gifts. Charles has shown each of the gifts to Angel. You should hear them when Charles is describing each of the boxes to Angel and how he keeps reminding Angel that the boxes are not toys, that he is not supposed to play with them. After a couple of the bows got removed, Charles put a couple of our bows on a string so Angel has his own bows for play.
Our box for you got mailed this morning. I sent it over-night, so you should have it tomorrow or the next day at the latest.
We’ll call you Christmas morning and night. Spend the day with friends. I don’t want to think of you alone. If all goes well and the gods smile on us, we’ll all be together next Christmas.
I love you,
There were wreaths decorating various doors, small trees in several rooms, and a plethora of Santa hats as the staff moved about their shift. Most of them were veterans of hospital life and knew from years of experience working a major holiday could be just about as happy or miserable as they made it. The majority opted for making the day happy not only for their patients but also for themselves. It was hard to travel the length of the floor without being offered fudge or holiday cookies.
holiday didn’t stop the physical therapy and while it was not the
intense daily therapy, damaged and injured muscles needed constant
reminding of their purpose and function.
Bree was dressed all in red, with white- and red-striped
stockings, a white rose pinned to her red uniform, and a Santa hat atop
her head. Her shift was
almost over and she was happily thinking of home and the next phone call
years she had worked Christmas and being there never bothered her.
This year she resented being at the center as her heart’s wish
was to be in
Her last rounds were made; she completed her paper-work with five minutes to spare. She briefed her replacement on all her patients then collected her gifts and headed for her locker to change into boots.
The drive home wasn’t long or filled with countless delays. After parking her car and collecting her things, she caught the elevator up to the ninth floor. Outside her door was a small distinctive boutique shopping bag. She looked at her name and couldn’t recognize the handwriting.
She moved through the apartment, lighting her tree as she went, and turning on the stereo. Before she changed clothing she stopped in the kitchen, put on a large pan of water, sprinkled cinnamon into the water and left it to steep. Later she knew the apartment would have a heavenly warm spicy smell she always associated with Christmas.
After a leisurely shower she changed into a soft cranberry velour jump suit and added a gold link belt. She put on comfy ballet slippers and was all ready for any guests from the building who dropped in. Being the youngest resident on her floor, she was for many neighbors a substitute granddaughter and they made sure she wasn’t alone on the holidays.
Carrying her pot of tea to the living room she settled on the sofa and then looked inside the boutique bag. Withdrawing a beautifully wrapped package, she quickly looked at the card. “Oh, wow!” She laughed when she realized she had spoken aloud. Inside the box was an elegant silk scarf in shades of pinks, fuchsia, plum, violets, and deep wine. It perfectly matched the suit she was wearing and she quickly draped it around her neck, tying it into a stylish soft bow.
Picking up the phone, she quickly dialed. “Catherine, I’m glad I caught you. Thank you so much for the beautiful scarf. I just got home and found it. It was so sweet of you to think of me.” They chatted for several minutes longer and agreed they would meet for dinner later in the week.
Her gifts from Charles and Devin were still under the tree. She had purposely saved them for opening after she got home. Pouring her tea, she settled to unwrapping her gifts from her co-workers plus a few gifts from the families of several long-term patients.
Several neighbors came to call, staying for tea and cookies, so it was closer to evening when she settled on the floor beside her tree to open her gifts from Charles and Devin. The first gift she opened was a delightful photograph of Angel caught in mid-air as he leaped to capture his favorite toy, the dangling feather. On the gift tag was a perfect paw print, followed by multiple xoxox.
In the next box was a perfect replica model of the USS Constitution sealed within a large bottle. Reading the card, she found herself wiping away happy tears. The next box produced a lush silk sweater in her favorite plum pink color. Another box produced a pair of rich garnet earrings and a beautiful card from Devin.
Gathering up the wrapping, she stopped when she discovered a long, flat envelope peeking out from the box that had contained the model ship. She slipped the message from the envelope and settled to read.
Dearest Angel Bree,
Dev says once the two of you marry, you will be with us forever. I like that. We will be a family of hearts; they are the best kind. I talked to Catherine and she helped me with the next part. She knows all about the law stuff.
Moving to the next sheet of paper Bree continued to read.
To All Be it Known that I, Charles Wells, do formally before God, Dev and everyone adopt Briana (Bree) Wellington as my sister of the heart.
I will love and protect her for always. I promise to be her friend, watch over her and keep her safe.
I promise to share all I possess, including Angel, for as long as I live. I freely give her my heart as she has freely given me hers.
Beneath his signature was a ribbon and a gold seal and below that was Devin’s signature as witness.
Wiping away her tears she reached for the phone and quickly dialed. “Hello?”
“Hi, this is Bree, I’d like to speak with my brother, please.”
“Hey, Charles, your sister wants to speak to you.”