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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Dark · #2237679
The Mueller and O'Connor family continue to celebrate New Year's 1905. (Catrina - 1905)
Chapter Seventeen
Catrina's POV
Manhattan, New York
The Dakota Apartments
New Year's Eve 1904 & Day 1905




Catrina stepped over the porcelain bathtub, slipping one slender foot into the warm, bubbly water. She lifted the other foot, turned around, and slipped backward, resting the back of her head against the rim. Closing her eyes, she allowed the heat to envelop her, washing away the grime of Brooklyn.

Across the hallway, Frank was helping the twins take a bath, while Anna and Francis dressed for the opera in separate bedrooms. In the suite across the hallway, Mr. Tuscano was preparing for the big night as well. He had graciously accepted their offer of opera and spending a couple of nights at the apartment.

The six of them helped clean and lock up his store before they boarded the train to Manhattan. Catrina felt a sense of relief rush over her petite body as the fancy stores, and luxury townhouses came into view from the train window. As much as she loved her children, she loathed the slums of Brooklyn with a passion.

Closing her eyes, she could still see that ugly man, Mr. Schweighofer prance around in his worn clothes, while waves of the stench of garbage wafted off his un-cleaned body. Frank calmly placed his hand on his gun, while he talked to the man as if he were his equal. She couldn’t help but smile at the memory of the children smirking at the man. Catrina could tell Anna wished to taunt him, but out of respect for Frank, she didn’t.

Grasping a bar of rose-scented soap, she worked-up a sudsy lather on a wash cloth. Anna would be seventeen at the end of the year. Unfortunately, some of the crass habits the young girl had learned from her parents would be difficult to erase. Francis and especially the twins would be easy. Frank had been born on a farm in Tom Bean, and he was still learning how to adapt to a luxurious lifestyle. Thankfully, the man wasn’t as stubborn and uneducated as some of his brothers.

From the moment the children entered their life, Catrina knew they would someday be hers. She placed them to bed, fed them, gave them medicine, and allowed them to sleep. After a lengthy conversation with Frank, the man sent off a telegram to her brothers up north before heading back to work at the nursery. He returned home that night with their angry reply and at that moment Catrina knew she would start preparing the children to be her own. Her brothers were extremely upset with their father, and Catrina knew, she just knew, the children were hers.

Her thoughts began to drift toward Millen. After the heartbreaking conversation she’d had with Anna and Francis, she knew why the child had a slightly darker complexion than the other children. Had the boy not noticed before? It was impossible to not notice. She had overheard some of the guests gossiping about it during the Christmas Party. The twins would be turning eleven in February, and would start to question their differences. Hopefully, Frank and she would know the proper way to handle the situation.

During the Christmas Party, her own brothers took her aside and asked her if she knew what she was getting into. Adopting four orphaned, uneducated, children from the slums of Brooklyn was not like adopting four wild kittens off the street. Each of the children would be carrying a burden of their former life and would use it. Catrina wasn’t nervous as to how the twins would adapt to their new life, but how Francis and Anna would.

On her nineteenth birthday, a party would be given for Anna to introduce her into society. Catrina did it, as well as her mother. It would take some time to erase everything and start a new life, but she was confident Anna could do it. The girl wasn’t as crass and uneducated as the women she had seen wandering the streets of Brooklyn. Anna was a fighter, and she would make an exquisite leader someday. She needed Catrina’s guidance to gently steer her in the right direction.

As for Francis, and the twins, they would also grow-up to be powerful men in her community. She and Frank had only known them for a month, but they could sense how smart the three of them were.

Francis expressed an interest in becoming a doctor and Frank believed the boy could become one. Dr. Alexander even saw the potential in the boy and how he acted around others. Francis could pass his exams and graduate in his early twenties.

A short time later, Catrina pulled the glass plug from the bathtub and drained the water. She turned on the shower, pulled back the curtain, and washed her hair with the goat’s milk soap. After she finished, she turned off the water, dried herself, and stepped back into her bedroom suite she shared with Anna wearing nothing but her robe. She found her gown, undergarments, and stockings laid out on her bed where she’d left them. A frown passed her face as she noticed the cranberry colored opera gown she’d purchased for Anna still laying on the girl’s bed.

Removing her robe, she began the tedious practice of slipping her layers of undergarments on. She then took a hold of her own crème-colored opera gown and slipped it over her head. She would need Frank’s help in buttoning the back.

“Darling,” she opened the bedroom door a crack, “Do help me.”

Catrina sat on the vanity stool and grasped a hairbrush.

“My fingers are too fat for this,” Frank laughed, as he opened the bedroom door and walked behind her.

Tossing her hair playfully, Catrina took a hold of the long mane and held it above her head as Frank slowly buttoned the miniature silver hooks.

“Where’s Anna,” she asked. “We leave for the opera in less than an hour, and she hasn’t dressed.”

Glancing in the mirror she noticed the way her husband’s eyes blinked, as he bit down on his lower lip.

“About that…” he sighed. “She’s in the parlor with her brothers.”

“Did she decide on a new dress,” Catrina cast a look toward the girl’s bed. “I don’t believe she is going to wear the dress I purchased for her.”

“She’s not,” Frank whispered, as Catrina felt his fingers reach the back of her neck. “She found another outfit to wear, and I think—she looks sublime in it.”

Letting out a laugh, Catrina began to brush her hair as her husband stepped back from his task of helping her. “Did she pick out a dress from my closet back home?”

Frank placed his hands on his hips. In the vanity mirror, she noticed the way her husband’s eyes reached toward the ceiling, as he contemplated on what to say.

“She’s wearing the tuxedo she picked-out for the Christmas Party,” Frank said, his tone calm, clear and controlled. “She came to me while you were bathing, and I listened to her story. She really wishes to wear it before passing it down to Francis. She wants to pretend to be a boy one last time, and honestly, I don’t see the harm. We’re in Manhattan and no one knows who we are. Let’s face it, by summer the girl will no longer have a boy’s figure. She’s growing fast, and she knows it. Let her have this moment with her brothers for a last time. Years from now, when she’s married, she’ll have this memory to tell her own children.”

Catrina sat her hairbrush firmly down on the vanity table and twisted around to face her husband.

“She’s dressing as a boy?” Catrina raised her eyebrows in astonishment. “I thought she couldn’t wait to resume her life as a girl? She seemed so happy that I would be taking her shopping before we departed back to Texas.”

Catrina tried to remember the conversation she had with Anna before leaving Sherwood. She took her daughter through her own closet and they spent an hour, or so, trying on dresses, undergarments, and coats while sipping jasmine tea and eating mini cucumber sandwiches the maid brought up. They enjoyed their first girl’s day, while Frank bundled-up the boys and took them sledding in the park.

“She seemed so delighted with the dresses and nightgowns,” Catrina frowned. “Trying on the many layers of undergarments did disgust her, especially when I informed her I would have one of Dr. Alexander’s nurses call upon us, and give Anna a discussion on properly using a female apron since I haven’t worn one in many, many years. I will say that dealing with that nonsense…”

A bit of color blossomed on Frank’s face, and he lowered his eyes.

“Dear,” he whispered. “You do realize she will be the only female in the house who will be experiencing this. You had a hysterectomy and Mrs. Coffey is of an age where she no longer goes through it. Anna will be navigating a foreign, normal bodily function by herself. Of course, I will help the boys when they come of age, and I believe Francis has already started. Soon he will join me at the barbershop.”

Catrina responded to her husband’s speech by pressing her hands to her mouth. How could she have been so blind! Anna would be the only woman in the house having her period. It never dawned on her.

“Oh, my…” she responded.

Frank nodded his head.

“Anna has realized this.” He reached out to pat Catrina’s head, prompting a strange growl from the woman. “Let her have one final moment with her brothers. Mr. Tuscano is in the parlor as well, and he finds it highly amusing.”

“I see.” Catrina tossed her auburn curls and turned back around so Frank could help style her hair into the Gibson Girl bun. She had personally met Mr. Charles Gibson at one of her father’s parties and found the man extremely boring. Everyone knew his sophisticated wife was the inspiration behind his Gibson Girl drawings.

Letting out a sigh, she opened a tiny drawer and removed a jewelry box. Inside two diamond-encrusted butterfly clips nestled on top of a silk pillow. The clips belonged to her maternal grandmother in Virginia. The woman passed away a week before she’d married Frank. Not that she would have attended the wedding anyway.

Catrina remembered gazing deeply into her husband’s blue eyes at the altar and saying, “I do.” At that magic moment, the former sharecropper’s son instantly became the husband of Texas royalty, and the second wealthiest man in Grayson County (the first being her own father).

Two days later, before departing for their honeymoon, a letter arrived for Catrina from her late grandmother, it seems she had written and mailed it before passing away. The letter demanded Catrina call off the wedding to a common, poor, uneducated man. She was embarrassing her Yankee family. Catrina ripped the letter in half and tossed it in the fireplace. A short time later, a package arrived filled with her grandmother’s impressive jewelry collection.

“I love you, you do know that,” Catrina said, as she watched Frank pin the clips in her massive bun.

“Of course, dear,” he responded with a shrug of his shoulders. “You tell me a million times a day.”

Raising her head, Catrina glanced down her nose with a teasing smile.

“Good,” she chirped and reached for a perfume bottle. “The Lord wanted us to cross paths and for us to meet because he knew you would be the perfect father for our future children.”

Frank let out a chuckle and stepped back so the spray wouldn’t come in contact with his clothing.

“That I am,” he nodded. “That I am. We come from the same background, our only difference is that they were born in Brooklyn, and I was born in a two-bedroom sharecropper’s house occupied by five people.”

Letting out a sigh, Catrina stood from her chair.

“Where would you be now if our destiny wasn’t to meet and marry?” She asked, reaching for her fur wrap that was draped over the foot of her bed.

“Well,” Frank said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I suppose I’d still be at the Denison Nursery being yelled at by the same wealthy customers who now treat me with respect because of your father’s money. I suppose they’ll do the same to our children.”

Slipping the wrap over her shoulders, Catrina cast a smile at her husband. The four children they had adopted had no clue that they had been adopted into one of the ten richest families in the entire State of Texas. It was best not to inform them until the time was right.

***

“I don’t understand,” Millen complained as Frank opened the hotel suite door a few hours later. “Why was that man so awful?”

“He’s a big bully,” Catrina answered, as they entered the room. “He learned in the end, didn’t he?” She helped the boy remove his coat, while the others hung theirs over the racks.

“Ni-“ Mr. Tuscano started and paused. “I mean, Millen,” he continued. “The Opera was sung in Italian. I understood it perfectly and I hope someday you will learn the language in school.”

Catrina watched Anna, or “Theodore” as she was amusingly known at the Opera House, remove her man’s hat, and smirk.

“I would think that the four of us should learn, don’t you agree?” She smiled at their friend. The man blushed.

“I apologize,” he nodded. “Italian is a beautiful language, and you four should all learn it.”

“Yay,” Millen let out a little squeal, as he and Dylan raced off to their bedroom to change into their nightgowns.

Catrina removed her own cape, coat, scarf, and hat and began hanging them on the rack. The maid would take them down to be cleaned in the morning.

“When the twins return, why don’t the four of you help Mr. Tuscano bake a cake while we wait for fireworks to begin in a couple of hours?” She asked. “I believe it’s called an Italian fruit cake?”

Mr. Tuscano nodded. He had loaded up an old apple crate with the ingredients before leaving the shop. “I only bake this cake during special occasions.” He nodded toward the small kitchenette that came with the suite. “It is an expensive cake to bake and today is the greatest day of my life. I have been reunited with the children and I know they will grow-up in a safe, loving family.”

Catrina reached out to give the man a hug, who graciously accepted. “Thank you,” she whispered. She felt the man’s arms around her shoulders and a smile stretched across her face. She couldn’t wait to return home and begin her life as the mother to the children.

“I also have a surprise announcement while we’re baking the cake,” Frank said, as Catrina broke away from the embrace. “Mr. Tuscano needs to hear this as well.”

“Hear what? Hear what?” The twins bounded in the room wearing the pajamas they received for Christmas.

Frank picked Millen up, who loved being twirled around. Obviously, Theodore O’Connor never showed his children any affection.

“Exciting news, my dear,” he called out, planting a kiss on the child’s forehead. “It may be a bit odd, and frightening, but I can assure you, you will love it!”

“Is it scary,” Millen gasped, his eyes enlarged in fear.

“Not in the least bit,” Frank answered. “Everyone to the kitchen,” he pointed toward the double doors. “We will make this cake together as one big family.”

A short time later, the mixing bowls were set out on the counter, as well as the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, milk and a jar of homemade preserves.

“Millen, help me mix the wet ingredients,” Mr. Tuscano asked, as he reached around to secure an apron around the boy’s pajamas. “I don’t want stains all over your beautiful new clothes.”

Millen giggled, while Dylan reached for the basket of eggs and bottle of milk. “I help, too?” He asked.

“Of course,” Mr. Tuscano replied.

Catrina stood beside Anna, while they greased two cake pans, and watched the twins prepare the batter with their friend. Frank and Francis were on the opposite side of the island counter mixing a bowl of dry ingredients.

She couldn’t wait to hear her husband’s secret, and neither could the children. What on Earth could it be? Throughout the opera, she pondered and pondered. It had something to do with Father O’Malley. Perhaps her husband donated a large amount of money to save the cemetery from destruction in the future? It was a shame that pauper cemeteries weren’t taken care of. It was as if these people didn’t exist.

Grasping a spoon, she scoped a large amount of butter from the jar and plopped it down on the cake pan, where she began to spread the grease. Throughout her years at boarding school, she had been taught that poor people were a burden to society, and were only placed on Earth to labor for the wealthy. It never dawned on her that their final resting places would be destroyed so a businessman like her father would come along, and build a fire hazard, slum apartment on top with no respect for the bodies buried underneath.

It was as if they were trying to stop these people from being resurrected when the Lord and Savior came back! Her blood boiled at the thought. Speaking of her father, the man was at home contemplating his actions. Her brothers were letting him have it. The man wished to be a part of the children’s lives, but he knew it would take time. You can’t adopt four orphaned children from one of the worst orphanages in Brooklyn for the sole purpose of slave labor and expect them to instantly warm up to you after allowing them to be adopted by your daughter.

The children were wonderful! A small sigh of happiness escaped her lips. Glancing-up, she noticed the twins playfully mixing the milk and eggs, without a care to their silk pajamas. Francis and Frank were measuring the spices while chatting about the opera. Beside her, Anna kept her head down, a look of concentration on her face as she took a cloth and wiped off the grease from her fingers. Closing her eyes, Catrina let out another prayer of thanks.

“Are you ready for my secret?” Frank asked.

The question was met by the twins squealing. Catrina opened her eyes and noticed her husband removing a piece of paper from the pocket of his trousers.

“I chatted with Mr. O’Malley while the five of you walked around the cemetery,” he continued, as all eyes rested on him. “I agreed that a possible destruction of this beautiful cemetery would be heartbreaking to not just the four of you, but to everyone with family buried in it.”

A clatter interrupted Frank’s speech as Millen dropped a spoon on the floor.

“I don’t want papa and mama’s graves destroyed,” he cried. “Or anyone else.”

“I agree,” Frank responded, as Millen pouted. Catrina stifled a giggle as Anna rolled her eyes at her brother.

“That is why I decided to donate a large amount of money to the church to help restore and protect the cemetery,” Frank said.

Catrina nodded. She knew it, and how wonderful it would be. The money would go directly into restoring the damaged headstones, the crumbling bricks in the old caretaker’s cottage and trimming the grass and tree limbs. The church would have money in the bank to protect the cemetery if developers wished to purchase the land.

“And—“Frank continued, as he raised his eyebrows. “As I was chatting with Father O’Malley I remembered an incident in Tom Bean when I was growing-up. We were sharecroppers and one fall as we were digging in the fields we accidentally unearthed a small, forgotten Indian burial plot.”

A surprise gasp arose from the room. Catrina felt herself reeling backward. She’d never heard this story.

“What did you do,” Francis asked, as he handed his bowl to Mr. Tuscano.

“Well,” Frank blinked. “We had no choice but to move the cemetery.”

“Move the cemetery,” Millen’s mouth opened in disbelief. “How? That’s scary.”

Frank shook his head. “No, it wasn’t scary. I was about seventeen, and I helped. We carefully dug-up the graves, loaded the hand-woven caskets into a wagon and moved them to a cemetery down the road, where we re-buried them near the back.”

“Did you have bad dreams?” Dylan asked. Catrina couldn’t help but chuckle as Mr. Tuscano reached for the greased pans. A look of disgust flashed over his face. Frank had no problem chatting about cemeteries at the table. Perhaps, she should steer her husband to more pleasing topics?

“Dear, I think—“she started to say, but her husband interrupted her.

“I decided that your real parents needed to be better-taken care of,” he continued. “I paid Father O’Malley to remove them from the cemetery, and we will take them to Sherwood and place them in the Woodrow Family Mausoleum.”

**

Catrina pulled back the silk blankets and slipped into bed. She settled against the mound of feather pillows and watched her husband remove his clothes. A task she loved. She couldn’t help but laugh at the bold announcement he’d given everyone. After the shock wore off, Mr. Tuscano was the first to speak.

“Can you do that?” He’d whispered.

“Yes,” Frank responded. “They must be cremated though.”

The twins looked at Frank in fear as they asked what cremation was. Catrina responded by shaking her head at her husband.

“Father O’Malley will gently remove the coffins and place them in the oven, where they will be turned into ashes.”

Millen looked as if he would cry, but Mr. Tuscano saved the day.

“Baby, your parents are in Heaven. Remember the Bible? Their souls are in Heaven, and they left behind their body. They will not feel a thing, I promise. Frank is actually doing a good thing by taking them to Sherwood. You can visit them anytime you wish.”

A long, irritated sigh escaped Anna’s mouth.

“Poor people get cremated all the time,” she said. “Our parents were lucky that Father O’Malley rescued them, or they would have been sent off to The Island of Lost Souls where they would have eventually been cremated, and their ashes tossed into a mass grave with hundreds of others.”

At his sister’s remark, Millen burst out crying.

“Honey,” Mr. Tuscano picked the child up and cradled him in his arms. “I promise your parents are in Heaven and they won’t feel a thing.”

Frank reached over to kiss Millen on the top of the head.

“I apologize if I upset you,” he smiled. “The four of you deserve to see your parents when you wish. I will have them buried in the same vault where Catrina’s mother is buried.”

“The beautiful mausoleum with the angel statue outside,” Francis gasped.

Catrina smiled as the children began talking excitedly. Their first week in Sherwood, her and Frank took them to the cemetery to place flowers on her mother’s tomb. It was a weekly after church ritual. She loved how their eyes grew large as they took in the huge mausoleum with the stained glass windows and life-size, weeping angel statue outside.

“Will our grandfather allow that,” Anna asked. Catrina had to smile at the sarcasm in her daughter’s tone.

“I have a feeling he won’t object,” she responded.

Catrina tossed her hair, as her husband pulled her from the memory. A deep urge to purchase a journal at Crane’s Stationery Shop and write all of this down burned through her body.

“Are you thinking about the announcement?” He asked as he pulled back the blankets, slipping in beside her.

“I’m being reminded of why I married you?” Catrina smiled. “Moments like these are the reason I fell in love with you. A boring young man from an Ivy League college, or a good home in Sherwood would never do something so bold.”

“Are you not glad I came along?”

Catrina reached up as her husband kissed her.

“I needed an adventurous man like you, not some stuffy bank clerk, and the good Lord provided, and sent us four wonderful children.” She smiled.

A grimace flashed over her husband’s face. “Bank clerk,” he spat. “I would go crazy if I sat in an office all day long writing figures.”

Reaching up, Catrina stretched her arms out behind her head. “You do know that my father has a similar boring career. I still fume in anger at him sending Mr. Chow to prison.”

Frank turned to his side and rested his chin in his hand. “Was he the young servant that worked for that prestige household in Dallas? The head of the house accused him of attacking the wife with no evidence, and your father convinced a jury to send him to prison for life.”

“That’s the case,” Catrina spat. “This was a few years before I married you. It was such an uproar,” she sighed. “Something was telling me that Mr. Chow was innocent, and my father knew it. But, what could I do,” she sighed. “I was only a young girl. Father would send my brothers and I off to boarding school a week after the trial.”

“Have you talked to your father about the case?” Frank asked. “Perhaps now that you’re older, he will tell you more.”

Catrina made a grumbling noise in the back of her throat and turned to her side to switch off the electric lamp, enveloping the room in darkness.

“Father won’t even talk about his brother, or unlock the door that leads to the staircase to the attic,” she sighed “Grandma Heather fell down those same stairs so many years ago. It’s like,” Catrina paused, as her mind tried to conjure up memories of her father’s secret life. “It’s like Jasper and Grandma Heather never existed. If he won’t talk about his own family, why will he talk about some case that means nothing to him? He won. He convinced a jury to send that poor servant to jail.”

“I see,” Frank said the crinkling of the silk sheets told Catrina he was turning over. “I hope our mid-day lunch at Coney Island tomorrow will help the children ease their fears. I still remember Anna laughing as she informed me that Coney Island is closed for the winter, and then Mr. Tuscano gently saying that the boardwalk restaurants are still open year-long for tourists.”

Catrina turned to lay her head on her husband’s shoulder.

“That girl is such a wonder,” she sighed. “I cannot wait to see the kind of woman she grows up to become.”

Catrina felt her husband’s lips on her forehead. “Me neither,” he whispered.

**

“Coney Island looks different,” Millen cried as they stepped off the train onto the deserted pier. “All the people are gone for the winter.”

Catrina opened her parasol and stepped out into the winter’s sun. “Mr. Tuscano says there is a wonderful restaurant that is open year long. I can’t wait to try it.”

“I hope you enjoy fish because that’s all they serve,” Mr. Tuscano laughed, as he joined the family on the pier and began their descent to the boardwalk. “I took my wife one time for her birthday. The owner is a fisherman. He and his six sons rise before dawn and head out to sea. The wife and her daughters run the place. In the summer, they hire several people to help with the restaurant.”

“Sounds like a fun life,” Anna called out. Catrina couldn’t help but notice how the girl tossed her short hair.

A fun life! She thought to herself. Rising before dawn, loading up a boat, and hauling the smelly fish back to the market. How horrid! Catrina wrinkled her nose as Mr. Tuscano led them to the restaurant. She noticed a few tourists lingering around. She was about to ask her daughter why fishermen interested her when Millen came to an abrupt stop and pointed to a photography studio.

“That’s where we had our portrait taken with papa and mama,” he squealed, and then his gaze lowered to the ground. “Before papa realized his money was gone.”

“Money was gone,” Frank asked as they gathered in front of the shop. “What do you mean?”

“He means,” Anna sighed. “Papa took us all to Coney Island to have a portrait taken. When it came time to pay, papa realized he had been robbed on the pier. Thankfully, mama had our return train tickets in her pocket. If she hadn’t, it would be a long walk back to Brooklyn.”

“I remember you telling me that story,” Catrina said, as her memory went back to the day they baked cookies at the kitchen table. “That was the day we learned what an incredibly talented artist you are, and Frank had the idea to rescue your drawing from the orphanage.”

“I see,” Frank’s gaze traveled over the studio. A sign outside announced it was open. “Why don’t we have our official family photo made today?” He asked, and turned around to face the candy store owner. “Mr. Tuscano, you’re welcome to join us.”

Catrina noticed the man’s face turning pink. “Mr. Mueller, I couldn’t,” he said. “I’m not even a part of this family.”

“Nonsense, Joseph,” Frank smiled, as he reached for the doorknob and turned. “We would be honored.”

“Yes, yes!” Millen jumped up and down, his black hair swirling in the slight wind. Beside him, Dylan cheerfully imitated his brother.

Frank gestured the twins and Francis into the store. Anna turned to Mr. Tuscano.

“You were always a part of our family,” she whispered. Catrina noticed the way the man’s face seemed to grow pinker. Following her daughter into the store, she wondered what the girl meant by the mysterious remark.

“Welcome,” a loud voice with a slight accent boomed from the studio. “I will be right there.”

Catrina sat down on a velvet waiting couch beside Anna, as she tried to detect the strange accent. Russian? Middle Eastern? Turkish? A short time later, a middle-aged, bald-headed man wearing a crisp suit entered the room. His brown skin and hazel eyes told her he was from the Middle East.

“My name is Mr. Oskar. Welcome to my studio.” He reached his hand out to Frank and gently shook it. He did the same for Mr. Tuscano and turned his attention to her, where he gave an elegant bow. The man knew his manners. His eyes traveled over the children, and a strange look passed over his features.

“Have we met before?” He asked. “Is this your first time to my studio?”

Anna let out a small laugh, causing Catrina to frown at the rudeness. This was obviously the man who took their family photo several years ago.

“My children have been here before, but me, my wife and our friend here have not,” Frank answered.

“I see,” Mr. Oskar swept his gaze over the children. “Perhaps I took your summer photos?”

“Something like that,” Francis answered with a careless shrug.

Mr. Oskar cocked his head and frowned. “I always keep my glass plates, perhaps…”

The man was interrupted by a shrill from the twins. Catrina jumped from the couch with an alarm. Everyone in the room turned their attention to Millen and Dylan who were gathered around a display case.

“It’s us, it’s us!” He shouted, pointing to the case. “It’s our photo!”

“What is, darling,” she asked, making her way beside the twins. The glass case held several rows of cabinet card photos, fanned out. Mr. Oskar came to her side, followed by the others.

“Those are my abandoned photos,” he said. “Sometimes people forget to come back for their photos, or they realize they don’t have enough money to pay.”

Catrina’s gaze traveled to the photo Millen was pointing at and gasped – it was the children with their real parents! The cabinet card photo they didn’t have money to pay for. Her eyes studied the shabbily dressed family and her heart ached for them. Mr. O’Connor wore an old, frayed suit and a tie. To Catrina’s astonishment, it was one of the ties Anna wore over her upper body the first couple of weeks the children lived with her and Frank!

Mr. Oskar walked behind the case, produced a set of keys and unlocked it. He picked up, and removed the photo, holding it up to the electric lights.

“I remember this,” his eyes creased in a frown “The family came in, and I took the photo. The father didn’t have any money to pay, so I had no choice but to keep it. I place my lost photos up for sale, but this one hasn’t been purchased yet. Usually, the tourists want the ones featuring couples wearing their swimming attire as souvenirs. Nobody seemed interested in this family.”

Beside Catrina, Anna placed her hands on her hips. “That’s because our papa was robbed on the boardwalk, and we didn’t even know it. It’s not like we purposely wasted your time.”

“Anna!” Catrina snapped. The twins burst out in nervous laughter, and Francis stepped behind Frank as he tried to hide.

Mr. Oskar frowned at the photo. “I don’t understand.”

Thankfully, Frank saved the day. Catrina didn’t know who she was madder at? Anna for being rude, or for the photographer for misjudging the O’Connor Family?

“The children in the photo are the same,” Frank gestured to the twins, Anna, and behind him at Francis. “Their real parents are the couple in the photo, but unfortunately they passed away over a year ago. My wife and I adopted them off the Orphan Train for our own. I decided to take them back to New York for the New Year.”

An awkward silence filled the room. Anna kept glaring hard at the elderly photographer, Mr. Tuscano had gathered the twins beside him, and Francis continued to hide behind Frank, his hands pressed against his face to stifle his laughter.

“I see,” the man trailed off, an obvious loss for words. Frank reached into his pocket and produced his wallet.

“How much are you selling the cabinet cards for? I would like to purchase this one for the children to remember their real parents.” Frank pulled out several dollar bills, but Mr. Oskar waved him away.

“It’s my pleasure,” he handed the photo over to Frank. “I made a mistake a few years ago. I took the photo and told the family to return in an hour after development. They returned and the father realized he didn’t have any money. He was correct in saying he must have been secretly robbed on the beach.”

Frank accepted the photo and handed it over to Anna, who cast Mr. Oskar one final look of disapproval. “Why don’t you hold on to this?” He said, as Anna eagerly snatched it away. “We can use it in our new family photo.”

A tiny frown, as well as a look of pure relief passed over Mr. Oskar’s face. “You still wish to have your portrait taken?”

“But, of course,” Frank smiled. “We’re returning home to Texas in a few days, and this portrait will be a wonderful souvenir.”

A short time later, the children, as well as Mr. Tuscano stood in front of a hand-painted backdrop of Coney Island. Mr. Oskar had pulled two wicker chairs for Catrina and Frank to sit down on. Catrina had Anna stand beside her, holding the old family photograph. She noticed the girl’s grip tightening over the photo. Proper etiquette would be a high priority on Catrina’s list when they returned to Sherwood. A young woman could be firm, without making a scene and embarrassing the other party, like Anna had done to Mr. Oskar.

After Frank gathered the boys beside him, Mr. Tuscano stood silently behind Millen, still protesting his involvement.

“I’m still…” Mr. Tuscano trailed off, as Frank reached over to take Millen’s hand.

“Joseph,” her husband’s tone came out friendly, but firm. “Remember our conversation while we prepared egg cream sodas. You’re a part of this family, and I want you to always visit. Do you understand?”

Mr. Tuscano’s eyes lowered as he whispered. “Yes, Mr. Mueller.”

“Yay!” Millen cried.

“Hold your pose for a few minutes while the machine warms up,” Mr. Oskar called, as he draped the velvet curtain over himself and the camera.

Catrina caught Mr. Tuscano absentmindedly laying his hand on Millen’s shoulder. Dylan kept rocking back and forth on his feet, as he patiently waited for the flash. On the opposite side of Frank, Francis stood ramrod straight, his head tilted, and a warm smile on his face. Reaching out, Catrina took a hold of Anna’s free hand, as the girl held the original family portrait. It’s only fitting that Theodore and Molly O’Connor’s memory be in the photo.

A clicking noise came from behind the curtain, followed by a bright light. Catrina squeezed Anna’s hand and gave thanks to God. This was perfect. She finally had what she’d been praying about since her operation at age sixteen—children. She couldn’t wait how the upcoming years would play out, and especially how her father would adapt to his new grandchildren.

© Copyright 2020 KD Miller (kittykat20 at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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