” Okay you win at least partially. Just for the record I know you staged her in front of an open door on purpose. You did forget one item of pathos to complete the picture, the beloved tattered teddy bear.”
The lawyer had the grace to look sheepish. “The beloved tattered teddy is currently drying out in the coffee room after a run-in with an ice cream cone.”
“I’m not changing my mind, but I’m not Lady Cruella either;” I said as I paced back and forth in front of his desk. “I have a spare room and a couple of weeks vacation. This gives you the two weeks needed to find a suitable foster home placement. Again I’m not hard hearted, but I work and know zip about kids.” I stopped pacing and looked at the lawyer. ” Well don’t just sit there and watch me flounder around. Aren’t there some papers I need to sign?”
“Since you’ve already been designated as her guardian, only the release paper requires a signature.” The lawyer laid the document in front of me and noted the signature line with an x.
I picked up the pen and hesitated. Damn I wished I still smoked. I needed a cigarette. After inhaling deeply and sighing on the exhale I signed. What had I just committed myself to? Too late now, woman. I handed the paper to the lawyer. He didn’t look up, but I saw a whisper of a smile on his lips.
“Follow me,” he said briskly. ” I’ll introduce you.”
Before I knew it, I was riding down the elevator carrying Melanie’s scuffed, brown leather suitcase. So far she hadn’t said a single word. With her still damp teddy bear tucked under her arm, she was lugging a medium size, worn wicker basket with a lid.
“Here let me carry that basket for you,” I said reaching for the handle.
“No, said Melanie jerking the basket out of my reach. ” I don’t mind. Really, miss.” She looked at me pleadingly.
‘No big deal. If you can handle it, go for it. Hey, since we’re going to be living together for a couple of weeks, please call me Eleanor.”
Because of the bags I took a cab. I buckled Melanie and her teddy in and placed the wicker basket on her lap. She had looked at me with sheer desperation, when the cabbie reached to put it in the trunk. I might as well stick a name tag on with Pushover written in black marker.
On the way home I thought about Margo. Drug overdose? I would have never imagined that. She was one of the beautiful people. Dying in a car accident in a Ferrari in the Swiss Alps with an international playboy seemed more in line with the Margo I had known. Her father, my uncle, was in the diplomatic corp. The family lived abroad most of the time. But annually both families would gather at my grandparents’ summer home on Cape Cod for two weeks. Margo and I were both only children. Although I was two years older, I was totally intimidated by her sophisticated patina, which I swear she possessed even as a baby.
While unlocking the door of my town house apartment, panic washed over me with the power of a rogue wave at the beach. Bloody hell what was I doing? Dragging home some woebegone child like a stray dog. Easy easy, what could be so hard taking care of six year old for a couple of weeks?
“Well here we are,” I said stating the obvious in an artificially bright voice. “Take your coat off and just lay it on the chair. Are you hungry?”
Melanie nodded her head.
” All right then, I can fix that. Bathroom’s down the hall if you need it.” I headed for the kitchen. Glancing over the kitchen divider I saw Melanie had removed her coat and was walking toward the bathroom still lugging her basket.
“You know you can put the basket down. I’m not going to steal it.”
The tiny girl looked startled. “Please no, miss.” Her mouth quivered.
“Look, it’s okay. You do what you like. Remember you can call me Eleanor,” I said. What a strange kid or maybe they all are. What do I know, I mumbled to myself.
“It’s time to eat, I said. ” I hope you like chicken salad sandwiches.” Obediently Melanie sat down at the table, setting her basket beside her chair.
“It’s going to be mighty awkward carrying that basket around with you for two weeks. I know it’s none of my business, but what’s in it anyway?” The conversation was abruptly interrupted, as the basket half-hopped on it’s own power. Visualizing slithering pet boas and over-sized pet Caribbean rats, I sucked in my breath and flipped open the woven lid. In a fluid motion a burnt orange cat jumped out of the basket and immediately began appraising his new surroundings.
Totally speechless I fumed to myself. I have been with this child for less than two hours and already I had a crises to deal with. Melanie slipped out of her chair, knelt down and put her arm protectively around the cat. She looked up at me with fear dilating her pupils. The sound of purring filled the silent void.
To be continued
This wonderful delicious tempting sandwich is made by Addie at Culicurious. Thank you Addie!