by KD Miller
The children spend Christmas with their new family. (Catrina's POV - 1904)
Placing her hands upon her slender hips, Catrina stared down at the top of Anna’s head as she tried to figure out how to style that horrid man’s haircut into a more feminine hairstyle. Her daughter. Her daughter sat ramrod straight on the vanity table stool, a playful smile on her lips.
“It’s really not that bad,” Anna stifled a laugh. “I’ve actually grown to it!” She turned her head to the side repeatedly, a delightful smile stretched across her face.
With a roll of her eyes, Catrina removed an old hat box from underneath the vanity and opened it. She pulled out a wig that had never been worn but kept for special occasions. She noted how Anna’s eyes grew large.
“Are you going to make me wear that?” Catrina heard the tremble in her daughter’s tone and dropped the lump of fake hair back into the box.
“Not if you don’t want to.”
The two of them had been sitting up in Catrina’s dressing closet while the boys slumbered in Frank’s office. She knew Anna was melancholy over losing her brothers, but it was time. Before settling into the vanity, she had helped her daughter move her belongings into her new room. While rummaging around in the bathroom, she stumbled across the women’s apron and realized Dr. Alexander must have given it to Anna the day they saw him at the drugstore.
“I wish you would have told me,” she whispered, pulling the frightened girl to her. “It is not normal for two opposite-sex siblings who’ve both come of age to share the same bed.”
As Anna confessed that her first time was the day she became sick and stayed in bed Catrina made a mental note to have Mrs. Coffey purchase these items from the drugstore on her monthly shopping trip. Catrina hadn’t needed one since her hysterectomy when she was sixteen.
“Well now,” she applied powder to Anna’s hair and tried to tousle the slight curls. “Darling, I do believe you’re going to have a man’s hairstyle until about February.” This seemed to satisfy the child for she burst out laughing.
“It will match the tuxedo Benjamin brought over! I can’t wait to wear it tonight.”
Catrina felt her stomach sink. Anna actually believed she was going to wear the tuxedo! Tonight Anna would be introduced to the town, and Theodore would cease to exist. Did the girl know that it was illegal for a grown woman to dress like a man in public? After the party, Anna would, unfortunately, be thrown into the world of Sherwood’s elite women. Up until now, it was legal for her to dress and communicate as a boy because she had been in hiding. After tonight, she could be in deep trouble if she was seen out in public in her old boy’s clothing. Well, not in deep trouble. But, the rumors would fly. Glancing at the smirking girl in the mirror, she doubted she cared one bit.
“I was wondering,” Catrina started, as her eyes flew to her own cranberry-colored dress hanging in the closet, “If you wouldn’t mind wearing my dress tonight? I know it will be a huge change from dressing in men’s clothing, but I just spent a small fortune on it, and I would love for you to wear it instead.”
The girl grew frigid with fear. Her eyes enlarged and looked wild.
“Do I have to?” Her voice broke as if she were on the verge of sobbing. Catrina felt a moment of sadness, but she knew Anna couldn’t attend the party dressed as a man. Those days were over.
“You will look gorgeous,” Catrina lay her silver-backed hairbrush on the vanity table and walked into the closet. She pulled the gown from the hanger. A blush crept over her own face, as she smiled with satisfaction over how beautiful and well-tailored the gown was. Her seamstress spent hours pinning the dress to Catrina and sewing on the delicate, glass beads. Anna had the body type for it, but not for long. She draped the gown over the sofa and gestured towards her daughter to stand in the closet. She pulled open her undergarment drawer.
“Here, let’s start with some bloomers and a camisole”. Catrina had to stifle a giggle as her daughter bit down hard on her bottom lip in annoyance. She helped Anna remove her robe, and unbutton her pajama top. With a jerk, the girl turned her back on her, and Catrina saw the bruises and scars. They started at the bottom, and trailed up her spine, stopping at a huge cluster where the scraps of fabric would tie together. It would take a month, or two for them to heal.
“Oh, Anna,” Catrina reached her fingers out to touch one of them and recoiled as the girl flinched. “Stay here while I search for some gauze and bandages.”
The girl pulled the camisole to her breast, as Catrina slipped from the closet, and into her own washroom. She found a roll of cloth bandages and a jar of ointment tucked away under the medicine cabinet. Her hands visibly shook as she remembered how the cloth had cut into her daughter’s skin causing slight bleeding. She found the girl where she had left her, the lace-trimmed garment still clutched in her hands. Her eyes traveled over to the bandages in Catrina’s hand and a slight smile crossed her lips.
“Here,” Catrina stood behind Anna. “Lay the camisole down, and lift your arms.”
Anna did as she was told, and Catrina applied the sticky ointment to her daughter’s skin and unraveled the linen bandage cloth. She wrapped it around twice, over the front of her chest, and expertly secured it with two pins in the back. The tightness of the cloth was all that was needed for Catrina’s dress to fit properly. With a look of bewilderment, she knew her daughter wouldn’t stop growing for a long time.
After helping her into a pair of lace trim bloomers, and the matching camisole, she had Anna sit on the couch while she slipped silk stockings over the girl’s slender legs. The dress came on last, and Catrina raised an eyebrow as the top became stuck, and had to be tugged down. The girl really would have a large chest someday. Catrina had never had this problem because her ancestors were petite and British. The O’Connor children were a mixture of Scottish and Irish, yet she still had her doubts about Millen. There had to be Italian in there somewhere.
“You’re so beautiful,” Catrina finished the outfit by attaching a rose gold flower pin to the top of her dress. “No one is going to recognize you tonight.”
Stepping back with a feeling of pride at her daughter, she watched the girl’s eyes travel over the stranger staring back. I don’t think she recognizes herself!
“I have a pair of silk slippers for you to wear. If you have to go outside for any reason, let me know, and I’ll fetch a pair of boots for you to change into.”
Catrina noticed the peculiar expression the girl threw in her direction, as she found the slippers wrapped in a shoe box on the top shelf of her closet.
A short time later, the two of them left Catrina and Frank’s bedroom. She had changed into a Kelly green, velvet dress that had been worn before, but she didn’t care. Tonight belonged to the children and not her. They met with Frank and the boys in the parlor. Catrina could sense Anna slowing down behind her. The boys were washed and dressed in their tuxedos.
“Anna looks like a princess,” Millen gave a squeal that sounded shrill. Catrina watched as the boy flew across the room and wrapped his arms around his stunned sister.
“Goodness is that really Anna,” Frank asked, as they watched the boys rush over to inspect their sister. “I can’t believe she was a girl the entire time!”
“Hard to image - but she’s beautiful and all ours,” Catrina laughed, and reached up to kiss her husband. “I think she is still having trouble adjusting to her new life. From what I understand, she’s been living as a boy for almost two years.”
Frank shook his head at the thought. The sounds of the doorbell chiming startled everyone. Anna flew behind her brothers, her long skirt swishing. Who on Earth? Catrina thought and then smiled. She had forgotten.
Frank unlocked and pulled open the heavy, oak door to reveal Jasper and Clinton Woodrow dressed in matching cashmere coats, thick scarves, and bowler hats. Clinton stepped forward, and with a teasing smile on his face, he reached up, grasped his hat, and removed it in one giant swoop.
“Mueller residence, I presume?” His hair cascaded over the tops of his ears. “We’ve come bearing gifts and to meet our new nephews.”
Frank gave a chuckle and gestured them in. Catrina watched her brothers remove their winter outer garments, and hang them in the coat room under the stairs.
“It seems we’ve all been mistaken,” she walked over to greet the twins. “Santa has delivered us three beautiful boys and one crafty daughter!”
“Daughter?” They both asked in surprise.
“Did our idiot father adopt another child without telling us,” Jasper spat. “I swear, I’m going to lug him when I get home! He’s already caused my blood to boil over this ridiculous Woodrow Family tradition of using orphans as house servants! I told him that day at the law office that this damn tradition was officially over! You can’t…”
Catrina gently reached out and took a hold of her brother’s hand.
“Come meet our daughter, Anna. Up until about three hours ago, she went by the name, Theodore O’Connor Jr. Her new name is Annabelle Lee O’Connor-Mueller, but according to Millen, she prefers to be called “Anna.”
“Theodore!” The twins laughed.
Anna must have heard them shout her former name, for she ran and hid behind Francis. The boy was giggling and tugging on his sister’s hand.
“Jasper and Clinton are here!”
Catrina couldn’t help but notice the look of fear passing over her daughter’s face. The twins raced over to meet their new uncles. Jasper picked up Millen and hoisted him on his hip. Clinton did the same for Dylan.
“Ya’ll two have gotten so big,” Jasper laughed. “It’s only been what? Three days since I first met you in the empty lot behind the department store.”
The twins squealed, as they swung around. Francis gave his new uncles a giant bear hug. They all looked so happy and natural. This was meant to be. Catrina caught her husband throwing her a look of amazement. To think, my father adopted them to be my brother’s servants! His stupid plan blew up in his face!
“They get plenty of food and exercise,” Catrina answered, as she noticed Anna cowering in the corner by the sofa.
“Darling, come meet my brothers. They’re quite harmless and hilarious. They were always in trouble during our boarding school days.”
Anna seemed to reluctantly creep from the shadows and into the well-lit parlor. Her fingers kept scrunching the hem of her dress.
Clinton stepped forward, bouncing Dylan as he walked, “We’re quite harmless, as for being hilarious, well, we try. Once, Jasper and I drew up a plan to get kicked out of every boarding school in the east. We tried so terribly hard, but father sent a few thousand dollars to the school as bribe money to keep us.”
He let go of Dylan, who slid to the floor giggling over the story. Catrina noticed the haughty way her daughter raised her head and took a hold of her brother’s hand. It was only natural for the girl to still harbor ill feelings. Servitude indeed!
“Well, aren't you beautiful?” Jasper whispered in awe.
A look of fury passed over Anna’s face. Catrina couldn’t understand why. The girl was beautiful. Then it dawned on her, her daughter wasn’t used to the attention. The girl was used to dressing like a young man and standing in the shadows observing everyone. She wasn’t used to grown men fawning over her.
Catrina understood. Before marrying Frank, the young men in town would try to court her and call on her at her father’s home. They wanted to talk about her shiny, auburn hair, bright blue eyes, and pale skin. How many babies did she want to raise? When she mentioned a book she’d read for fun, a strange look would cross over their face as if they were trying to say that girls don’t read. She hated it.
They finally stopped showing up when she openly discussed her hysterectomy. Her father grew furious at his daughter’s bold statement. How dare she talk about her own body! How dare she scare away these fine young men! Catrina laughed, and laughed and agreed to work at her father’s nursery for a week as punishment. This time God intervened in the form of a young, sharecropper’s son from Tom Bean.
Frank wasn’t like the arrogant young men from Sherwood’s elite families. He called her intelligent, before saying she was beautiful. He didn’t talk to her like she was dimwitted. He talked to her about chickens, seeds, and the proper time to plant a summer garden. That’s why she fell in love with him.
Before her father sent Jasper and Clinton up to the nursery to visit the young man, Catrina’s face lit up, and her eyes grew dreamy in sincere happiness as they asked her questions about him. The same look was on her face a few nights ago when she and Frank opened the door to her father’s law office, and her brothers announced that their father would be signing all adoption rights over to them.
Her brothers were now fawning over Anna, and Catrina knew it was her own time to intervene before the girl hit them. Not that she would mind one bit.
“Anna is quite the talented artist, and she’s extremely smart. I’ve been teaching all of the children, trying to get them ready for school this coming August.”
“We’re going to school,” Dylan clapped his hands and giggled. “We've never been."
“You haven’t?” Jasper placed his hands on his hips, a Woodrow trait. “You’re going to love going back!”
Anna seemed to be relieved that the attention was once again being focused on the boys. To Catrina’s delight, the girl mouthed, “Thank you!” Returning the warm gesture, she motioned for everyone to have lunch in the dining room. Mrs. Coffey had laid out a few chicken salad sandwiches, macaroni salad, and thick slabs of potato bread before rushing upstairs to help her husband tidy up Anna’s new room.
They gathered together and settled at the table. Frank gave the prayer and thankfulness of their new family and began to eat. A few moments passed in silence as Catrina observed everyone. Francis looked well-rested, minding his manners as he ate his lunch. The twin’s table etiquette had also improved since arriving a few weeks ago. They laid their napkins on their laps and cut into their sandwiches with perfection. Theodore seemed to be looking better but was still openly nervous over events to happen.
“We have a gift from father,” Jasper said as he seated his cup into the saucer with a clink, interrupting the silence.
Catrina patted her mouth and dropped her napkin in her lap. That horrid man! I’ll be happy if I never see him again!
“What on Earth can that man possibly want on this joyous day,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
The twins started to giggle at her tone, and then Francis, Frank, and even Anna joined in. Jasper and Clinton looked amused.
“It’s not what you think,” he opened his jacket and pulled a thick envelope out of the inside pocket. “Father will be here tonight, but don’t expect him to be in a social mood. The day you and Frank adopted these beautiful children, just so happened to be the fortieth anniversary of our dear Uncle Jasper Woodrow’s disappearance. Our father believes that if his brother were still around, he would want the children to have this. Father also believes that there is some sort of ghost or haunting that won’t leave the house. He’s been quite scared and restless since you took the children in. He keeps babbling about unnatural lights and shadows coming from that old stump in the front yard that used to be Grandpa Alex’s oak tree. The tree he had chopped down the day after Uncle Jasper disappeared.”
Catrina responded by crossing her arms in annoyance.
“Is he ever in a social mood” she spat. “Father has been hiring private detectives for years to find out what happened to Uncle Jasper, and there have been no clues that he is deceased. For all we know, he could still be very much alive today! If anyone is haunting our father’s house, it is the ghost of Grandma Heather. She probably pushed Grandpa Alex down the basement stairs.”
The children gasped at their mother’s bold announcement, while her brothers shared a giggle. They were used to her sarcasm, the children weren’t. Jasper handed the envelope over to Frank.
“For his new grandchildren, may you forgive him,” Jasper announced. “His words not mine.”
Frank snorted and picked up his bread knife. Grasping a hold of the envelope in one hand, he slipped the knife under the flap and sliced a perfect arc. He pressed the envelope and removed a stack of bills. A wonderful expression passed over his face.
“The money I…”
He stared at the children and shook his head. Catrina pressed her lips together, biting down hard. Father has given the thousand dollars back to Frank!
“Father wants the children to have it,” Clinton said with a nod. “He wants you to divide it equally and to give it to them on their eighteenth birthday. It is rightfully theirs.”
Francis and Theodore gasped as it dawned on them how much money they were to receive on their future birthdays. The twins looked confused, as they stuffed spoonfuls of macaroni salad in their mouths.
Her father, Cleo Diez Woodrow II, had a Charles Dickens change of heart. Catrina couldn’t believe it, and neither could her brothers or her husband for that matter. Perhaps, their Uncle Jasper truly was deceased and was tormenting her father from the afterlife, convincing him to return the money. As for forgiveness, Catrina knew it would take a while for her to speak to her father about the horrible thing he had done, even though it had brought her and Frank children of their own.
“Can we really use the money for anything we wish,” Millen placed his spoon on his empty plate, his eyes wide with excitement.
“Darling, I want you to use the money on anything you wish,” Catrina answered, as she reached over the table, to squeeze his hand. “Use it for college, a new car, a solo trip, a down payment on a house of your own, something for yourself. Anything you wish. My father is correct; the money belongs to the four of you, not me and Frank.”
“A car,” Millen squealed, as he clapped his hands together. “We can go see Mr. Tuscano in New York when we want!”
Beside Catrina, a visible shudder ran through Anna’s body. Her gaze dropped, and she began to fiddle with her napkin. Hmm. There was something about that man! Perhaps, he’s not as innocent as he seems.
“We’re going to Brooklyn to see him in a few days, remember?” Frank smiled, and the twins cheered and started to gibber about their mysterious friend.
Placing her silverware on her empty plate, Catrina folded her napkin and laid it beside the plate. She would have to wash the dishes and arrange the food for the party because the servants were off for the night. She looked around to survey the room. Frank was teaching Francis how to tie his bow tie the proper way. The twins were giggling with her brothers, while Anna sat silently beside her, polishing off her sandwich and salad. The girl was still hiding something, and it had nothing to do with her gender. She hoped Anna would warm up to her in the coming days, and reveal her secrets. They were officially a family, and they didn’t need to hang onto the past. That also meant Catrina needed to inform the children more about her own family’s terrible past.