by KD Miller
Catrina and Theodore find out one another's secrets. (Catrina's POV - 1904)
Catrina dipped the spoon into her bowl of oats and milk, scooped up a generous serving, and popped it into her mouth. Tilting back in her kitchen chair, she glanced out the kitchen windows. The early rays of the winter’s sun sparkled through the muslin curtains, telling her that the children should be down soon.
Glancing into her lap, she noticed the wadded up lace handkerchief. For the past two nights she had cried herself to sleep, and it wasn’t a case of the sniffles either. It was a full out chest heaving, gasping, eyes swollen shut, hands trembling cry. She tried to hide it by washing her face in ice-cold water, and dusting her nose with the powder she purchased from Felix's Department Store, but you could tell. The children hadn’t said a word, and with Theodore monitoring them, she doubted they ever would.
For the second day in a row, Catrina found herself alone with the boys. Frank would be home late that night, after everyone was a sleep. How she hoped he had found what he’d gone after. It was only a piece of paper, but it meant so much to her. This simple piece of paper could give her and Frank what the two of them craved since the boys came into their lives – legal guardianship. This piece of paper would show the children that the two of them cared for them. Frank loved them so much, that he left in the middle of the night, and traveled to an unfamiliar city where he didn’t know anyone, just so he could see if the old Boy’s Orphanage kept a piece of paper in their files. They needed this paper. Their relationship with the boys depended on it.
The soft patter of bare feet coming down the back kitchen steps pulled her from her daydream. She heard the boys open the door that connected the dining room to the breakfast room, and was greeted by the glorious sight of the twins bouncing up and down in excitement. A soft chuckle escaped her lips…they had found their early Christmas Present!
“Oh...” Catrina laughed, and leaped from her chair, her hands pressed to her lips in giddiness. “Don’t the four of you look lovely?”
The twins danced in front of her in small circles, while Francis and Theodore hung towards the back. She could sense how shy they were. All of the boys wore matching silk pajamas and soft, cotton bathrobes. Before leaving the department store yesterday afternoon, Catrina slipped two notes to be delivered to Benjamin Felix.
One was for Theodore’s tuxedo, and the other was to pick out the most luxurious matching robes and pajamas for the boys. Later that night, while the boys were taking their baths, Benjamin knocked on the door and delivered the clothing. Quick as a wink, she stashed Theodore’s clothing in the hall closet under the stairs without opening it. She kept the pajamas a secret until the boys were sound asleep. Quiet as a church mouse, Catrina snuck into their bedroom, and laid the wrapped clothing at the foot of their beds with a note to open first thing in the morning.
Swooping the twins up in a hug, she twirled them around and set them down. Both of them let of shrieks of laughter, as she gestured Theodore and Francis to come closer.
“You know what we’re going to do today?” She announced, as Millen crawled in her lap, and wrapped his own arms around her neck. Catrina noted Theodore’s lips pressing down in annoyance, but ignored it. “We’re going to decorate this house for Frank when he arrives home tonight, and eat nothing but sweets all day long in our pajamas. How does that sound?”
Millen’s eyes grew large in disbelief.
“We get to wear our pajamas all day long?”
Catrina let out a shrug. “Why not? When I was growing-up my brothers and I spent our holidays living in a cold, drafty, boarding school that was built before the American Revolution. Our father never sent for us, nor did he come to visit. So, I have many years to make-up.”
Dylan tugged on his hair, as he seemed to ponder the story. With a satisfied smile, he reached over to snatch a croissant off the table. Catrina had to smile at the dirty look Theodore cast his younger brother.
“What did ya do all alone on Christmas?” He asked, before popping the pastry in his mouth.
“Well,” she looked up at the boys and realized her years of loneliness couldn’t compare to the holidays the boys spent in poverty. Frank’s childhood Christmas morning consisted of waking-up before dawn, taking care of the animals, and a stocking containing an orange, a bar of Hershey’s chocolate, and perhaps a cloth full of walnuts.
Oh, but her and her brothers received gifts at boarding school! Father couldn’t take a day’s train ride to their school, but he bought out the entire department store catalog, and had everything shipped to them. When her brothers grew bored of the new clothes, books, and games, they passed them on to other students, or tossed them away.
“My brothers and I met one another in the parlor of our boarding school dormitory and opened our gifts,” Catrina explained. “A large feast was prepared in the dining hall for all the students who wouldn’t be spending holidays with their families. It was mostly for the foreign exchange students, and …”
“What is your maiden name?”
“Pardon me?” Catrina pulled Millen tighter, and looked up at Theodore in disbelief - a curious look rested upon his face. He figured it out! Oh, heavens... No!
“I thought I already told the four of you…” She fumbled for time, while handing Millen a croissant, who greedily accepted it.
Francis seemed to be glaring hard at his older brother, but Theodore stood tall. After everything she’d done for the boy yesterday at the department store, and he still hadn’t softened up to her.
“My maiden name is Goyle,” Catrina lied, using her own mother’s maiden name.
The woman she’d never known. It seems women didn’t last long in this family. Her mother passed away while giving birth to her brothers and her own Grandma Heather fell down the stairs the night after her son, Jasper Clinton, disappeared. Or, so it seems. Catrina believed it to be suicide over her son’s disappearance. Catrina would be the first and last surviving woman in the family, unless her wayward brothers decided to marry and have children.
She had no idea where her name came from. It wasn’t even an English name. Years ago, before being shipped off to boarding school, she had found a file of old documents in her father’s library that belonged to her Grandpa Alex. It seems the man had been in contact with a Spanish couple living in San Antonio; Hester and Catrina Suarez. She made a note to question her father, but knew the man would grow furious if he knew she’d been snooping around in his library. She was going to casually bring up the subject to her grandfather upon returning home from boarding school, but unfortunately a tornado hit Sherwood, and the man was found unconscious, and was taken to St. Paul’s Hospital, where he, a man with no memory, still lived. But, that was a topic she didn’t want to bring-up.
“Jewish?” Francis asked after a few seconds of silence, pulling Catrina from her daydream.
“Yes, love,” Catrina answered in surprise, and then it dawned on her. The boys were from Brooklyn, and naturally they had grown-up surrounded by different cultures. “My mother was raised Jewish, but converted when she married my father.”
She took a hold of the platter of croissants and handed them to the boy, who accepted them.
“I have a long line of rabbis in my family,” Catrina gave a small laugh, and stood up, hoisting Millen to his feet. “My parent’s marriage was arranged, and my mother knew she would be converting to the Methodist Church before marrying my father.”
She watched Theodore take a pastry, before placing the tray back on the table.
“Will your father be at the Christmas party tomorrow?”
What was with the questions! Catrina smiled at the boys. Of course, they should know her entire life story. She hoped, and prayed that Frank would return with the paper. The two of them wanted the children for their very own. Oh, how she wanted to hug them, and kiss them like a real mother did. But, she couldn’t, not yet anyway.
“Of course, he will,” she gestured the boys to the parlor door. “George has the fireplaces going, and several crates of unopened decorations waiting. Why don’t we finish trimming the trees and I will be happy to tell you some stories.”
The younger boys raced into the parlor. She studied Theodore’s petite hands holding a porcelain cup as he poured hot chocolate into it. For the past three weeks, all of the boys had gained a fair share of weight, and the clothes Benjamin originally brought over the first day, didn’t fit anymore! She had expected Theodore to grow several inches since he was the eldest, yet he stayed the same height. Catrina saw a large amount of weight had settled on his bottom, which was quite strange for a boy. He must have caught her staring, for he turned around.
“Sorry, for all the questions,” Theodore lowered his head, and blew daintily on the steam rising from the cup. “I’m only curious. We’re going back to live with Mr. Woodrow the day after tomorrow, yet the four of us will always be near you.”
Catrina had to swallow the large sob that threatened to escape her throat.
“Yes, Frank and I will see the four of you all the time, and of course we want you and your brothers to return when you turn eighteen.”
A small smile spread across the boy’s face, and for a split second Catrina noticed the soft features he had. At sixteen, most boys were beginning to shave, yet Theodore’s face was still baby-soft. Francis, who was two years younger, looked older than his brother. Something was wrong with Theodore’s body for the boy not to be growing properly. Despite the huge meals the boys have eaten three times a day, Theodore’s growth seemed to be stunted. Perhaps Dr. Alexander could figure the problem? She hoped it was nothing, and perhaps the boy would start growing soon.
A few short hours later, the boys settled down for their after-lunch nap and Catrina found herself wandering into the other spare bedroom. Coincidentally, the room was located directly beside the room the boys were currently napping in. Instead of two double beds, a large canopied bed sat across from a fireplace that had never been lit. A beautiful fainting couch nestled on top of a fur rug. A lovely pink silk wallpapered the room. This was to be her daughter’s room - if she could have one. After her and Frank married, Catrina found herself decorating this guest bedroom for the daughter she could never have. The hours she spent visioning the girl she daydreamed about, was one of the reasons she fell into her depression.
Closing her eyes, she tried to imagine this room occupied by an older boy. The pink hue would have to be replaced with a deep blue. The couch removed, and perhaps a bookshelf full of sports memorabilia and school awards? The flowered paper that lined the wardrobe drawers would be replaced with a tan, or light green.
Approaching the bed, Catrina perched atop of the quilt. Her own mysterious Grandmother Heather started the quilt when her own father was a little boy during the Civil War, but was abandoned shortly after Jasper disappeared. Her own mother found the quilt tucked away in an old trunk, and finished it. Catrina grew-up with this quilt spread over her bed, and took it with her to boarding school. She wanted her own daughter to have it, but after Dr. Alexander performed the operation, she knew it would never happen.
Her fingertips traced the elaborate embroidery. Grandma Heather was an educated, well-to-do blacksmith’s daughter. She could sew detailed quilts, and use her other talents to create keys and locks. Father only spoke of his mother once, and it was to tell his children the story of how she helped build the house they were currently living in.
While her Grandpa Alex drew-up the plans for the house, Grandma Heather patiently walked over to the blacksmith shop with a bundle of blueprints in her apron pocket, where she then presented them to the town blacksmith, Mr. Charles. Sherwood was quite small before the war, and Mr. Charles held three jobs: blacksmith, jailer, and jewelry shop owner.
For an entire week, the two of them donned leather aprons, and worked side-by-side creating the molds for the exquisite locks that would be installed throughout the grand home. Mr. Charles never told anyone that a woman knew more about blacksmith than him, for his reputation would be quite ruined. Catrina’s father even made a comment that the man was quite jealous of Heather’s skill, and supposedly kept the molds to use for his own projects.
To this very day, every door at her Grandpa Alex’s house, which was now her father’s house, held a doorknob, and lock that her grandma crafted herself. Every single door, except one – the attic. Grandma Heather had crafted the original doorknob, and complicated lock and key, but after Grandpa Alex sealed-up the room, he had the old lock removed and secured a new one. The only key to the attic had been tossed in the stream behind their house.
Growing-up in Virginia, during the years after the American Revolution, Grandma Heather, despite her mother’s disapproval, stood beside her father in his shop, and watched him craft jewelry, nails, horse shoes, door locks, and keys. For his own amusement, he taught his daughter, his only child, the trade.
Catrina wished she could have met the woman. She felt that she had inherited her grandma’s independent spirit. Despite living in a man’s world, they both craved working with their hands. It wasn’t fair that Uncle Jasper disappeared all those decades ago, and Grandma Heather became so depressed she threw herself down the stairs, and broke her neck. Father said it was an accident – she tripped over her large, trailing dress that was in style during the war, but Catrina knew better. She knew what depression was like, and if Frank hadn’t saved her, she would have eventually thrown herself down the stairs as well.
At the sound of her name, Catrina jerked her head and spotted Theodore standing in the door that connected both guestrooms. She must have forgotten to close it.
“Yes, love,” she patted the space beside her. “Come sit.”
The dark smudges under his eyes, and cow-lick in his hair told her he had tossed and turned in the bed, and couldn’t fall asleep.
“Whose room is this,” he sat down, his feet crossing at the ankles. A whistling sound rushed down the barren chimney, starling them both.
“A female guest room,” Catrina felt a tug at the corners of her lips. “I’ve never had any female guests in my home.”
To her amusement, and astonishment, Theodore tilted his head back, and let out a large laugh. A thrill raced down Catrina’s body. She had never seen the boy so excited about something. Perhaps this was a private joke? She didn’t understand.
“Sorry,” Theodore whispered, his eyelashes fluttering. His eyes seemed to roam around the room, and Catrina wondered what was going through his mind. Did he like the room?
“I can’t sleep,” he continued. His jerky movements told her he was nervous about something. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Of course,” she reached out to touch his hand, and marveled how they matched in size. How remarkable! That cold sensation punched her in the stomach again, pulling her back to reality. Perhaps the boy was sick? She needed Dr. Alexander to give him a full evaluation. She didn’t care that the boy didn’t like to be seen in nothing but his underclothing, he was a boy, and Dr. Alexander a professional male doctor. If something was wrong, they all needed to know.
A long, deep sigh escaped the boy’s tiny lips; he gave a toss of his hair, as he pondered what to say.
“Is Mr. Woodrow your father?”
There it was. Her secret revealed. Catrina closed her eyes, and wiled the tiny drops that hung in the corners of her eyes to stay, and not race down her face. She refused to cry in front of the boys.
“How did you find out?”
Opening her eyes, she found Theodore staring down at his bare feet, as he swung them.
“Remember that night we walked home from the nursery,” he whispered. Catrina nodded, knowing full well the boy couldn’t see her. He continued as if he could. “I watched Mr. Woodrow yelling at his sons in the window of his law office. One of the boys wore a long scarf that trailed down his back. Yesterday, when we talked to your brother, I remembered seeing the long scarf Jasper was wearing. After everyone was sound asleep, I lay in bed searching my memories for where I had seen it, then I put two and two together, and with all the clues you’ve given us since day one, it dawned on me.”
“Is that why you asked me my maiden name at breakfast,” Catrina replied.
Theodore looked-up, and gave a half-smile.
“I see,” this time it was Catrina who looked down at her feet. “Do the others know?”
“No, I haven’t told them.”
Catrina continued to swing her feet. Her family’s horrible past had finally come back to hurt her. How she wanted to halt it. Damn her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. She saw her wicked father following in the footsteps of his male ancestors when he “purchased” four boys to be servants, or a nicer word for, “slave.” She had to tell Theodore her family history. How she wanted it to be a secret, but it weaseled its way out.
“I need to tell you my family story,” she turned to the boy, who looked back at her with sympathy on his face. Sympathy that Mr. Woodrow as her father? Possibly. The boy gave a curt nod.
“The men in my family have a long habit of purchasing people for slave labor, and cheating others,” she paused, her eyes instantly closed. A tear began to leak, and Catrina’s fingers flew-up and wiped it away. With a toss of her auburn hair, she continued.
“My father only spoke of his ancestors a handful of times, and our history isn’t pretty. My Great Grandfather, Diez Woodrow settled in Texas immediately after the state won its Independence from Mexico. He was a lawyer from Boston, and took his practice to a growing, un-named community in North Texas. He had his house built along the Crystal Springs area by local men living in their wagons. He promised them a large payment, and to my father’s knowledge, they were never paid what they agreed on.
My Grandpa Alex, and his brother, William Woodrow, were not even twelve-years-old when their mother, my Great Grandmother Patience Sheridan Woodrow, died. She was buried at Crystal Springs Cemetery, and the following day, Diez Woodrow answered an ad.
There was a company in San Antonio that was shipping off Spanish workers to be hired for cheap labor. A few weeks later, a group of servants arrived via wagon, and came to Diez’s home to work. The youngest was a boy about twelve, he was the exact same age as Grandpa Alex, so naturally he became the boy’s personal servant.
My father doesn’t know exactly what happened, and Grandpa Alex never gave him a full story. When both boys were about eighteen, the servant went missing. Grandpa Alex’s brother, my Uncle William, found the boy a few days later, drowned in the spring. We don’t know if he purposely drowned himself, or was held under. Uncle William supposedly buried him in an unmarked grave at Crystal Springs Cemetery.”
Catrina paused to stare at Theodore, who looked back in disbelief. Had he figured it out? The boy seemed to have a sharp mind. She continued.
“A few days after the servant boy drowned, my Grandpa Alex was forced into an arranged marriage to my Grandma Heather. She came from a prestigious Virginia family. Her father had amassed a fortune after the American Revolution. Despite my grandma’s upbringing in high society, she knew the blacksmith trade. She could sew a gorgeous quilt, and hammer horseshoes. Her own father believed it to be amusing to teach her. When my own father spoke of his mother, his eyes would close, as he remembered her teaching him, and Uncle Jasper about how a lock and key worked, how the springs came together like an art form. I wanted him to teach me, but Grandma Heather never taught her two boys.
“The very day Uncle Jasper was born, a Spanish servant named Sybil gave birth in the slave’s quarters to a baby boy named Thomas. When he reached twelve-years-old, he became Jasper’s servant. My Grandpa Alex seemed to be following in the footsteps of his own father. My father told me the boys grew-up to become good friends, despite one was a servant. This seemed to displease Grandpa Alex.
“One night, father told me he was sitting in the parlor playing marbles. The front door slammed open, and closed. To his shock, his father stalked in the room, grasping a hold of Jasper by his arm. The boy sobbed uncontrollably. Grandpa Alex dragged the boy up to the attic bedroom. That was the last time my father saw his brother.
“The following morning, father followed Grandpa Alex up the stairs to the attic. There seemed to be a misunderstanding. Thomas was seen wearing Jasper’s jade ring, and Mr. Charles arrested him for stealing. Jasper went into a full-blown screaming meltdown. Grandpa Alex felt disgusted that his own son was defending a slave, and had the boy locked overnight in the attic as punishment.”
Catrina trailed off. Theodore closed his own eyes, as he digested the story.
“Your brother told us the rest.”
“Yes,” she answered. “Jasper, Thomas, and Sybil all mysteriously vanished. The door to the attic was still locked, and the jailhouse door hadn’t been disturbed, yet they were gone without a trace.”
“There has to be an explanation,” Theodore pressed on. “Perhaps your father helped them escape?”
Catrina shook her head. “He was only a sixteen-year-old boy,” she paused to stretch her fingers, flexing the muscles. “He knew nothing, and his brother’s disappearance haunts him to this day. When I saw him yelling at the four of you at the train station, I refused to allow this family tradition of mistreating servants to continue. I refused to allow him to treat four orphaned brothers so harshly. I demanded him to hand y’all over to me, and Frank. My brothers deserved to know what was going on. The four of you belong in school, not cleaning my brother’s house for free. The four of you deserve a loving family, not a horrible old man as a fake father.”
Theodore’s eyes seemed to enlarge in shock at the bold statement. A nervous chuckle escaped his lips.
“Mrs. Mueller,” he found his voice. “I haven’t been in school since papa died, and the twins have never been. Children from Brooklyn rarely attend, or graduate school.”
Catrina knew precisely what the boy was telling her. He had told her a thousand times over since he sat down at the breakfast table three weeks ago. The poor child and his brothers had been brainwashed by society to believe they were conceived only for the sole purpose of waiting on others. That was the devil’s lie that he was brainwashing the upper class to believe. True, the poor would always be with us, but they were not conceived without a purpose.
“It fills me with a great sadness that you haven’t been in years, and the twins have never attended school,” Catrina stood up, and smoothed the wrinkles from her velvet dress. She turned to him, a solemn look upon her heart-shaped face.
“Darling, can you please do me a favor?”
Theodore nodded his head, and Catrina had to smile. His hair had grown at least half an inch since that horrible barber chopped the curls off. Hopefully, by the end of February it would return to normal.
“Can you please not tell your brothers that Mr. Woodrow is my father?” She looked deep into the boy’s eyes. She didn’t wish to intimidate him; she desperately needed the boy to keep the secret.
“No problem” his words came out flat. “Will he be at the Christmas Party tomorrow?”
Another sigh escaped Catrina, and she felt exhausted. The fainting couch seemed to tempt her.
“My brothers will be over after lunch, but my father won’t arrive until…”
She trailed off, as she realized her horrible faux pas, and swiftly turned around to face Theodore. The boy stood up from the bed, a look of freight upon his face.
“Are we leaving tomorrow night?” His voice trembled in fear, while his face paled. It took everything in her will-power to stop herself from taking the boy in her arms to comfort him.
“No darling,” Catrina tried to steady her voice. She couldn’t let him know she was on the verge on sobbing. “My brothers only wish to introduce themselves. They mean no harm. Frank and I didn’t want you four to know until tomorrow, but I’m…”
She was saved by Millen crying out for Theodore in the opposite room. The boy cast a look at Catrina.
“Go to him,” she whispered.
Theodore nodded, and briskly walked out of the room, closing the connecting door behind him, enveloping the room in semi-darkness. She had forgotten to take an oil lamp with her. The fading sunlight hit the room through the silk curtains, telling her it was almost dinner time. Frank would be home in a few hours, and tomorrow their lives would drastically change. She heard muffled sounds of the boys communicating with one another in the room, and smiled. She trusted Theodore to keep her secret. A soft chime startled her, as it echoed throughout the house. Someone was at the front door! Frank! Was he home early!
Rushing from the spare room, she galloped down the carpeted stairs, and met George at the front door. Benjamin Felix stood in the entrance-way, a mountain of clothing boxes at his feet. The Christmas suits for the boys! How could she have forgotten?
“Hello, Mrs. Mueller!” The boy chirped, as George turned back towards the kitchen to help his wife prepare dinner.
“I have three tuxedos, socks, boots, and hats for the boys!”
Catrina dipped her hand in her pocket and felt some spare change.
“Thank-you, darling,” she held it out to the boy, who took it. Behind her, she heard footsteps on the stairs.
“Boys,” she called up. “Your clothing has arrived! Please come try them on!”
Benjamin’s eyes took in the group that swiftly assembled themselves at the foot of the stairs. It dawned on Catrina that Francis would be in his grade if the boys were in school.
“Are you going to be at the party tomorrow?” Millen asked, as he gleefully took the package Benjamin handed him. A wide smile spread across the boy’s elfin face.
“That I am with my parents!” he answered, as he handed Francis and Dylan their boxes. Catrina noticed Theodore standing in the back, and she remembered his clothing under the stairs. She felt horrible.
“Darling, I am so terribly sorry,” she walked over to the storage closet under the stairs. “Benjamin brought over your clothing last night with your brand-new robe and pajamas, and I tucked it away for safe keeping.”
Feeling incredibly stupid that the boy was left standing alone and forgotten, Catrina ducked into the storage closet, and retrieved the boxes.
“I hope you like it?” Benjamin gave a little bounce. “I picked it out just for you! We’re about the same measurements!”
A tiny smile appeared on Theodore’s face, as Catrina handed him the boxes.
“Thank-you,” he whispered. She noticed the gratitude on his face, as he caressed the soft box in his hands. Something told her it came from more than just new clothing.
“Well,” Catrina tried to clear the awkwardness. “Why don’t you four go into the parlor and try on your outfits so Benjamin and I can see if everything fits.”
Francis and the twins gave little shrieks, as they raced towards the parlor, leaving Theodore standing by himself. Catrina knew what he was about to say, and this time she didn’t try to fight him.
“If you wish to change upstairs, you may?”
The boy’s face flushed red, as he tucked the box under his arm, and descended the steps.
“What a queer fellow?” Benjamin said, as he leaned against the door. “He doesn’t like changing clothes in front of his brothers?”
“Apparently not,” Catrina answered, as Theodore disappeared from view. “I’m guessing he changes clothing in the privy every morning?”
“What are you wearing, Mrs. Mueller?” The boy pressed on, and Catrina knew his mother told him to ask. Not only was Benjamin’s mother the town gossip, but she was also, in her opinion, the best dressed. She wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress that another woman wore.
She cast the boy a sly smile. “You can tell your mother I picked-out a beautiful cranberry red velvet gown yesterday,” a teasing tone in her voice, “Should I go fetch it, so your mother will get all the details? I know she doesn’t like to be another woman’s twin.”
A chuckle escaped the boy’s lips. “Mother wants to know all about your gown so she can make corrections on hers. Tell me; are there feathers, or beads?”
Catrina pressed a hand to her bosom in fake shock. “Oh, heavens! No feathers, but lots of black beads!”
The boy fell into hysterics, as the most adorable giggles escaped his throat. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pocket watch, a tiny frown appeared on his face.
“I must go home for dinner,” he frowned. “Your house was my last delivery. But, I shall inform mother that your gown will not have any feathers, so she is safe!”
Benjamin grasped a hold of the heavy door-knob, pulled, and raced out into the snow, leaving behind a gush of bitter cold wind and melting flurries dancing in the air. Catrina locked the door behind him and decided to try on her dress. Perhaps, they could wait up for Frank in their party clothing? What a surprise that would be! For him to come home and see the five of them decked out in finery, and dessert laid out on the kitchen table.
As she reached the top of the staircase, Catrina noticed the female guest bedroom door slightly ajar. She thought she had closed it? Passing by, she reached out for the glass doorknob and spotted Theodore standing near the window. How queer that the boy went to change in the guest bedroom?
Feeling like a spy for spotting him, she turned away, and was about to head down the hall to her own bedroom when he slightly turned, exposing his backside to the hall light. A gasp escaped her throat, as she felt her eyelashes fluttering in disbelief at the sight before her. Feeling like a deer caught by a hunter, she stumbled away from the door, and backed away. It all made sense! The reason he refused to undress at the department store, the way he flinched in the barbershop, how his brothers fiercely protected him.
Closing her eyes, Catrina dug into her dress pocket, and pulled out her handkerchief, as the tears she’d been preventing all day streamed down her face. She couldn’t let the boys see her cry. She couldn’t. They would grow upset, and the day before Christmas was no time to be upset and scared. Standing up straight, she gave a toss of her curls, composed herself, sniffled, and shoved the handkerchief back in her pocket. The boys needed her now more than ever.
“Mrs. Mueller! Mrs. Mueller! Mrs. Mueller!” The twins giggled as she met them a few seconds later in the parlor. They looked like little dolls! How they laughed, and twirled in their custom-made clothing. Francis looked stunning in his deep green tuxedo that caused his red hair to sparkle. They were all gorgeous! The tailor had done a wonderful job! Dylan stopped dancing, and gasped. Francis’s eyes grew large in disbelief and little Millen called out, “Theodore…”
With butterflies in her stomach, Catrina slowly turned around, as Theodore walked slowly down the stairs, one gloved hand trailing the banister. The beautiful double-breasted suit, with quarter-sized brass buttons Benjamin picked out for him fit him like a glove. He looked remarkable. For the first time in three weeks, a genuine smile spread across the boy’s face. How could this be possible? Wouldn’t he be more comfortable wearing something else?
“You look perfect,” she walked over to him, and threw her arms in a hug, marveling at how the boy’s forehead grazed her throat. They were almost the same height, and she doubted he would grow any taller. A feeling of relief swept over her body. She wouldn’t have to call Dr. Alexander at all; there was nothing wrong with the boy. He was perfect.
Like Santa Clause, Frank appeared right when the boys were being put to bed. Catrina’s hands swept over the quilts, as she tucked them over the twins. Frank stood in the bedroom door as they called out to him:
“Did you go to Brooklyn?” Millen asked, as he stifled a yawn.
“Yes, I did!” he answered. “I can’t wait to tell you what I saw, but it will have to wait until tomorrow morning.”
Catrina glanced over at Francis, who was arranging himself on the bed he shared with Theodore. A deep unsettling washed over her. Perhaps she should ask Theodore if he wanted to sleep in the other bedroom. The boy perched on the edge of the bed, running a silverback comb through his hair. Even he must have noticed how fast it was growing out.
“Did you see our old flat?” Dylan piped-up from beside his twin brother. “Mr. Tuscano lives on the street, and I want to know if he received our Christmas card?”
Frank reached up to scratch his chin. “No, I didn’t have time to visit your friend, but I wish I had. He seems like a wonderful man.”
Catrina walked over to Francis, and kissed him on top of the head, her nightly ritual.
“I’m sure he received it,” she smiled, and helped the boy wrap the blankets around him. Beside him, Theodore placed his comb back on the night table, and extinguished the oil lamp.
“Maybe, he’ll come visit us in Sherwood,” he called out in the darkness.
“Ya think so,” Millen squealed from the opposite side of the room. “I wanna see him again!”
A soft light filled the room, as Frank took the fireplace iron, and began to stir the embers. Catrina knew what Theodore was hinting at. Their old friend would be furious when he read that the boys were adopted for slave labor. Hopefully, he would also read the secret letter Catrina wrote out, and added to the envelope.
“I’m quite positive you will see your friend again someday,” she answered, and went to join her husband by the door.
“Boys,” Frank called out, “Please, sleep in as long as you wish. You do not have to wake-up early tomorrow. But, Catrina and I will be waiting in the kitchen when you four decide to come down.”
Catrina had to fight back tears, as the boys sleepily called out. Closing the door behind her, she heard a slight sniffle. She couldn’t tell if it was from her own nose, or one of the boys? It was best to wait until tomorrow morning.
“How was the trip,” she asked her husband a few minutes later in the privacy of their bedroom., Catrina stood in her closet, un-buttoning her dress, and letting it fall in a heap at her feet.
“Success in every way,” he smiled, and kissed her on the cheek. Bending down, Frank picked it up, and draped the garment over her fainting couch. “I have something I must show you regarding…”
“I have to tell you something important about Theodore,” Catrina interrupted, placing her hands upon her hips. She knew she looked ridiculous wearing nothing but her undergarments, but what she saw today couldn’t wait. She had been patiently holding the secret in since accidentally spying on the boy.
A curious expression crept over Frank’s face. “That’s odd,” he gestured toward his burlap bag. “What I found in the orphanage has to deal with Theodore…”
“He’s a girl…” they both said at once.
“How did you find out,” Frank asked, as Catrina collapsed on the sofa in a daze. She quickly told him about seeing him remove his pajama top, exposing the three bandages he used to cover his front side, and how the hallway light shone directly upon the bruises embedded on the skin from tightening the cloth.
“That poor child,” Catrina whispered, as her husband sat beside her, handing over his handkerchief. “Those bruises must be so painful! Not to mention his brothers hid the secret as well.”
A loud hiccup, and buried her face in the cloth. Her husband’s hands in her hair gave her reassurance.
“She hid it at the orphanage too,” he said. “They had no clue, and neither did I until I found the paper.”
Catrina jerked her head up. “It was on the paper?” She asked in confusion.
Frank gave a nod and reached for his burlap bag. “Do you wish to see it? The headmaster found it in the attic.”
Catrina nodded, as she watched her husband pull from his bag what he had traveled to Brooklyn for. With trembling hands, she took it from him, as her eyes swept over it, she understood. The paper and colored pencils used in the drawing were of low quality. The unusual bubbly texture was caused by the dampness of the attic. When they presented the paper to the children tomorrow, they would finally understand how much the two of them loved and cared for them. Frank had successfully hunted down the impossible.
Her own brothers believed it to be a waste of a trip, when she commented on the drawing at the law office the night Frank left. But, he was determined to find it. He wanted them to know how much he loved them. He went on a solo trip to Brooklyn, knocked on the orphanage door, and demanded the bag that Theodore O’Connor left behind, and after an hour of hunting, one of the older boys informed Frank that the bag was in the attic. He had found it on the pavement while taking the coal to the bin, and hid it upstairs so the headmaster wouldn’t toss it away.
Catrina traced her fingertips over the family in the drawing: the man with short black hair, and a ruddy, exhausted complexion. The frail-looking woman with a long, thin face, her hair pulled back in a messy bun, or pony-tail, her stringy bangs falling in her eyes. The children: a boy with red hair, two identical boys with black hair, and a young girl in the background with Theodore’s facial features. He, no “she” was a truly talented artist.
“I wonder what her real name is,” Catrina snuggled close to Frank, as they studied the drawing.
“I’ve been thinking about that the entire train ride home,” he answered.
Catrina couldn’t wait to show her own brothers tomorrow afternoon, and prove to them that the children rightfully belonged to her and Frank.