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Claudette turned on the overhead lights and unlocked the front door of The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar in downtown Chicago. She had been a barista at the bar for five years. It was her first job after graduating from high school. She knew the business forwards and backward and particularly enjoyed working with the customers – the new ones and the regular customers.

This was her first day as the new owner. She had signed the transfer papers yesterday. The former owner, Victor Delgado, seemed overly anxious to get away and return to his native Spain. Claudette suspected the handsome Victor was a philanderer, given the number of angry women who came into the Bar looking for him. Purchasing the Bar was a golden opportunity for Claudette, which she could not pass up.

The Lake Street elevated train rumbled overhead – the day had begun. It was 10:30 am, and she had already thrown up twice. She tried to convince herself it wasn't morning sickness but was coming to the realization it was not the flu either. Being in denial was running out of options.

The early lunch crowd arrived, and, for the most part, had already departed. She was clearing used dishes from the marble bar when she saw something, which caught her breathe, peeking out from under a used napkin. It was a gold cross with emeralds. She recognized its value immediately. It looked like the one Ted McGuire had shown her many months earlier. She did not remember seeing him this morning, and could not remember who had been sitting at the counter where she found the cross. She carefully placed the cross in her pocket and decided she would ask Ted about it the next time he came in.

It was early afternoon when Ted entered the Bar. Claudette greeted him as usual. "Hi Ted, what would you like today?"

"Afternoon, Claudette,” Ted took a closer look at her. "Are you feeling alright? You look peaked.”

"No, I'm fine. I found this on the bar this morning. Is it yours?” She retrieved the cross from her pocket and handed it to Ted.

Ted did a double take and then looked at Claudette again, whispering. "No, it isn't. Claudette, are you in trouble? It's none of my business, but when this cross appears, trouble seems to follow."

Claudette said nothing. Ted saw she was keeping something from him. "I can't discuss it now, Ted.”

"Well, when can you discuss it? And I'm not kidding,” he stared at her, waiting for an answer.

She paused, "I'm off work at 5:30 …”

"… I’ll meet you here and we'll go somewhere and talk,” he ordered a turkey sandwich and pea soup. Claudette avoided eye contact when she delivered his order. "Enjoy your meal, Ted,” she moved away quickly before he was able to say anything.

He watched Claudette as he ate his meal. She kept herself busy with other customers, purposely avoiding him. He finished his meal, left a tip, and slipped out of the Bar without speaking to her. She was obviously upset and he did not wish to add to it. His first thought was to contact Father Daniel and let him know the cross was back and in Claudette's possession this time.

The day seemed to drag for Claudette. Finally, the big hand on the clock over the front door was closing in on 5:30. She did not know Ted that well, and she certainly did not want to discuss her personal problems with him, or anyone else. However, there was the cross, which had mysteriously appeared. Ted was the only one who could answer her questions about it. She wasn't sure what to do. She felt trapped in circumstances she didn't understand.

At 5:30 sharp, Ted came into the Bar. He had called Father Daniel earlier and told him about the reappearance of the cross. They decided the best place to meet, with Claudette, would be in the library at Daniel's rectory.

Reluctantly, Claudette left the bar with Ted. As they began walking toward the rectory of Holy Name Cathedral, Claudette confessed, "I'm not sure I should be doing this Ted – I hardly know you.”

"Not to worry, Claudette, by the end of the day you will know me and Daniel better than you thought possible,” he took her arm.

"Wait a minute,” Claudette stopped Ted in the middle of the sidewalk. "Who is Daniel?"

"Father Daniel is a good friend of mine, you can call him Daniel – forget the Father part,” Ted tightened his grip on Claudette's arm. "Come on, let's go. It's going to be okay, Claudette. Daniel was involved with the cross I showed you some time ago. He's understanding, you're gonna love him,” Ted wasn't dragging her, she just found it difficult to keep in stride with the large steps he was taking.

Emma opened the rectory door. "Hi Ted,” she smiled, “And you must be Claudette. Please come in,” Ted and Claudette entered the foyer of the rectory while Emma closed the door. "He's in the Library,” she whispered and disappeared down the hallway. Ted and Claudette climbed the stairway to the second floor. The door to the library was open.

"Ted, Claudette. Please, come on in,” Daniel walked to Claudette. "I'm Daniel,” he put his hand out. "Ted told me about the cross. I'm anxious to see it. I couldn't have been more surprised when he called me earlier,” Claudette shook Daniel's hand.

"Please," Daniel invited, "let's sit at the table. I asked Emma to prepare tea for us. She'll be here shortly.”

Claudette obediently sat down at the table, somewhat dazzled at the attention she was receiving. Ted and Daniel seated themselves across from Claudette. She took the cross from her purse and laid it in the middle of the table. Ted and Daniel declared it was the same cross they had encountered months earlier. They commented on the empty space at the center of the cross. "That's the way I found it this morning,” Claudette added.

Emma arrived with tea and set the tray down on the library table, "Thank you, Emma, we'll pour our own,” Emma nodded, and quietly left the room, closing the door behind her.

Daniel spoke first. "Ted and I are sure you are in some sort of trouble, what with the appearance of the cross. He and I are here to help,” he looked intently at Claudette. "Please, tell us everything. You are amongst friends.”

Claudette was silent, her reluctance was obvious. Cleo, Daniel's cat, jumped onto the table and walked over to her. "Oh, how beautiful,” Claudette was smitten by Cleo's friendliness. "What's her name?"

"Cleopatra,” Daniel smiled.

Cleo curled up on the table in front of Claudette – her reluctance began to disappear.

"Well …" Claudette fought back her tears, "… I'm . . . pregnant,” she began to sob.

Daniel retrieved a box of tissue from his desk, placing it near Claudette.

“And the father?" Ted asked.

"Darrick? Darrick MacGregor,” she continued stroking Cleo.

“And where is Darrick now?" Daniel asked.

"I'm not sure. When I told him I was pregnant, he was furious. He accused me of planning it, to get him to marry me. I haven't been able to talk with him since. He changed his phone number,” she wiped her eyes with a tissue. "It was an accident. I would never do anything like that intentionally,” she blew her nose and tried to regain her composure.

Ted moved the conversation forward, "You mentioned your father when you saw the cross I had. Are your parents aware of … your condition?" Ted had a feeling the answer to his question was not going to be encouraging.

Claudette shook her head. "No, they don't know,” she paused and then added. "They would disown me, and my dad would probably go looking for Darrick, and kill him. You have no idea how strict they have been with me about boys. My mother will be crushed when she finds out, and my Dad – God only knows what he will do. Until I found the cross this morning I felt so alone and helpless. Hopeless is a better word. I don't understand how this cross can help.”

"Well, for starters, my friend, it has brought us together,” Ted smile sympathetically.

"Yes, but this isn't your problem,” Claudette's response sounded more like a plea for help.

“Well, it is our problem now,” Daniel reached out and picked up the cross. "Do you know the whereabouts of Darrick? Where he lives and works?"

“The last time I spoke with him, he mentioned something about the race track outside of Arlington Heights. I'm not sure where he lives.”

"Well, that gives us something to go on,” Ted paused. "Claudette, have you seen a doctor yet?” She kept her sight on Cleo and shook her head. "Well, that's something you need to do immediately,” Ted paused and looked at Daniel. "What about abortion?"

Claudette almost rose right out of her chair, "Oh, my God, no – never. How could you even ask such a thing?"

"We wanted to clear the air on the subject. Daniel and I are against it as much as you obviously are. I hope you understand why we asked.”

"Yes, of course. I would never consider such a thing, let alone do something like that.”

"Good,” Daniel continued, "You mentioned your parents are Catholic, is there a parish church they frequent regularly?"

"St. Gertrude's on Granville.”

"That gives me an idea,” Daniel mused to himself. "It's a gamble, but I'm going to give it a try,” he looked at Claudette, "Do you have a photo of your parents? And what are their first names?"

"Yes, I do,” Claudette opened her purse and began searching. "Their names are …,” she opened a final compartment, "Julia … and Lance. Here it is,” she pulled out a small photograph and handed it to Daniel.

Daniel took the photograph, "Julia and Lance Clarkson – I'm happy to make your acquaintance,” a devilish smile came over his handsome face.

Ted could not contain himself, "What in the world are you up to, Daniel?"

“I'm going to contact the priest at Saint Gertrude's and see if I can't get a guest speaker invitation. If your parents are there, I'll have a chance to meet them after mass. You look a lot like your mother. It will be an easy way to bring you into the conversation. When they begin asking too many questions, I'll suggest they need to see you as soon as possible.”

"Brilliant,” Ted added. "If it works, you can give me a call. Claudette and I will arrange to visit them at their home – hopefully, the same day.”

Claudette was skeptical, "I appreciate what you're trying to do. I'm not sure this will work.”

“If this doesn't work, we'll try something else. There's more than one way to skin a cat,” Ted looked at Cleo, regretting having said it the moment it came out of his mouth.

Daniel's surprised look prompted Ted to apologize, "Sorry, Cleo – no offense intended,” Cleo continued purring and rubbing her head against Claudette's arm.

Sunday morning – two weeks later, Lance Clarkson sat down at his workbench, paused at what he saw on the surface of the bench and called to his wife. "Julia.”

"Yes, dear,” she replied from the laundry room.

"Come here please.”

Julia approached Lance, "What is it dear. It's almost time to leave for mass.”

"Take a look at this,” Lance pointed to a group of gems on his workbench.

"What about them?"

"Look closely,” he continued to point.

"Well, it looks like the word mercy is spelled out. That's very pretty. Are you planning a broach?"

"No, I am not, and I didn't place those gems in that order. You didn't …”

"No dear, I know better than to touch anything on this bench. Perhaps you arranged the stones this way, and have forgotten.”

"Perhaps, but this is not the first time something like this has happened.”

"What do you mean?"

"I thought it was my imagination at first. I found the word love spelled out with the rhinestones I keep in this drawer. And several weeks ago the word forgive was spelled out with one of these gold chains. Claudette used to do things like that.”

"It couldn't have been Claudette – she hasn't been here for at least a month or more.”

"Didn't I hear you talking with her on the phone the other day?"

"Yes, she calls quite often. Says she's too busy to drop by. I'm worried about her. It's not like her to stay away for such a long time. Well, come on, we'll be late for Mass if we don't get going.”

Father Daniel, the guest speaker on this Sunday at Saint Gertrude's, added a few words to his closing remarks, "Before we leave this morning, there are a few words I wish to pass on to you – for your consideration until we met again,” he paused. "Compassion … mercy … forgiveness … have been on my mind of late.” At the mention of those words, Julia placed her hand on Lance’s arm. "Sometimes we use words over and over without remembering their deeper meaning – without applying them where an application is often required. Compassion leads us to have mercy, which is like forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within our power to punish or harm. If you have mercy on someone, you let them off the hook so to speak or are kind to them somehow. It's probably good to remember how many times God has let us off the hook. Think about it. May the Grace of God be with you. Good morning everyone.”

Father Daniel took his place at the door, greeting the parishioners as they departed. The Clarkson's approached – Julia took Father Daniel's hand, "Thank you, Father. We enjoyed what you had to say this morning – very much.”

"You are most welcome … excuse me. You remind me of someone I know. Are you related to Claudette Clarkson by any chance?

"Why yes, Claudette is our daughter,” Julia wasn't sure what to say next. Lance moved in closer.

"The resemblance is so striking, I can see where she gets her good looks from.”

Lance put his arm through Julia's arm, "Well, you can't have her – she belongs to me,” Lance broke into one of his boyish grins. They laughed at his little joke.

"Oh, Lance – pay no attention to him, Father, … have you seen Claudette recently?”

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I have – just the other day,” Daniel was about to trump them.

"Is she well, Father?"

"Julia …” Lance tried to head off the conversation.

"No, Lance, I want to know. Father, we haven't seen her for a while and I'm worried.”

Daniel hesitated long enough. "Well, Mrs. Clarkson – it's not for me to say. Perhaps it would be well for you and Mr. Clarkson to go to her as soon as you can.”

“Oh, dear. Thank you, Father, we will. Come along Lance,” they hurried away.

Daniel needed to get in touch with Ted immediately and let him know their plan had gone into action.

Lance and Julia had not been home but a few moments when Lance cried out again, "Julia – come quick,” Julia rushed to his side. He was staring at the loose gems which had been spilled out onto the surface of his workbench. Within the scattered jewels the word FORGIVENESS had been perfectly spelled out. "What the hell is going on, Julia?"

"I don't know, Lance.” The phone rang. Julia went to answer it. The conversation was short. Julia sounded cheerful as she hung up. "Claudette is coming home this afternoon. Lance … did you hear me?"

"Yes, dear I heard you,” Lance continued to sit and stare at his workbench.

"Well, you don't sound very happy about it.”

"Yes, of course, I am.”

"Lance, what is it?” She stood next to him.

"This,” he was referring to the word FORGIVENESS glittering at him. "Something is not right.”

"Well, I can't image what it would be. It certainly is a mystery how these words keep appearing on the bench. I wonder, perhaps we left the back door open. It could have been one of the neighbor boys who wandered in while we were gone. Probably little Greg. He hasn't learned his boundaries yet – sweet child.”

"Yeah, well maybe,” Lance was not convinced. "I don't believe little Greg knows how to spell yet. What is he – two?

Julia laughed, "No dear, little Greg is a precocious six or seven; and, from what his mother tells me, he’s smart as a whip.”

"Mothers!" Lance grumbled. "Who can believe mothers?" He got up and followed Julia into the kitchen. "No, there's something else going on,” he mumbled to himself.

Ted and Claudette arrived at the Clarkson's home midafternoon. Julia recognized Claudette's condition immediately and embraced her. "Oh, my dear Claudette, come in,” Lance took one look at his daughter and flew into one of his rages. The front door was open when Father Daniel arrived. He opened the screen door and let himself into the foyer unannounced. He stepped through the doorway into the living room as Lance shouted. "I'll kill the son of a bitch.”

Daniel's timing was perfect, "Did someone call for me?"

"Come in Father,” Julia called from across the room. Daniel joined the group.

Lance confronted Father Daniel, "Did you know about this?"

"Of course I did and isn't it surprising you didn’t know?” he wasn't about to mince words with Lance. "And, it appears, from the tone of your voice, my words in this morning’s sermon meant very little to you.”

Claudette turned to Ted, "This was a mistake. Please take me home,” Claudette moved to the doorway.

"WAIT!" Julia arose and was about to unleash a power within herself which no one had ever seen before. "Claudette, please stay. I'll take care of this,” she turned away from Claudette and faced her husband as she prepared to cut him down to size.

"No daughter of mine is going to bring shame on this family,” Lance bellowed at his wife.

Very quietly Julia responded, "Claudette is not your daughter.”

Lance's tone mellowed, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Julia walked into the piano room and closed one of the French doors. "You and I are going to have a conversation – right now. Come in here, please. And I'm not going to ask you a second time,” Lance was left standing in the middle of the living room with few options. He turned and followed Julia.

Before closing the other French door, Julia looked out at Claudette, Ted, and Daniel. "There are refreshments in the Kitchen. Please, help yourself,” she closed the door and turned to her husband.

Ted, Daniel, and Claudette saw what was about to happen; they decided to leave the room. Ted took Claudette’s arm, "What the hell was that about?”

"I'll explain, come on,” they walked through the dining room into the kitchen – letting the swinging door close them off from the conversation Julia was having with her husband.

Earlier in the week, Father Frederick was engaged in an important conversation with Bobby, another Spirit, who had been helpful to him.

"Bobby, I have a small problem, and you may be able to help me.

"I'll do anything I can to help you, Father. What is the problem?"

"See the young lad exercising that beautiful horse.

"Yes, Father, I do see him.”

"His name is Darrick MacGregor and he is frightened.”

"About what, Father?"

"Well, there are adult responsibilities facing him, and he doesn't feel he is able to take care of them. He has fathered the two children to be born to Claudette. You remember her don't you?"

"Oh, yes, Father. Claudette is a beautiful soul. And I am sorry to hear Darrick is frightened. What is it you wish me to do?"

"I want you to befriend him.”

"And how do you suggest I do that?"

"Well, Bobby, I have a plan. We're going to send you to him in the form of a little lost dog. Darrick has a warm heart. He will take you in and care for you. In a few days, I'll stop by and have a heart to heart talk with him. Perhaps I can change his mind about caring for Claudette, and his children.”

"Oh, I'm sure you will be able to do that,” Bobby replied with confidence.

"Well, it may be more difficult than we think. You see, Darrick's parents were abusive to him in many ways. He doesn't know how to be a loving and caring parent or husband.”

"Oh, this is terrible.”

"It's a big challenge, Bobby. With your help? I believe we can bring forth the love he has for Claudette, and the willingness to face the challenges ahead of him.”

"Well, Father, I will do the best I can.”

"I know you will, Bobby.”

"When do you wish me to leave?"

"Well, how about right now, if you’re ready?"

"I am Father, and thank you.”

"No, thank you, Bobby. Now, off you go.”

The little scruffy dog ran to the edge of the exercise circle and barked at Darrick. "Hey, little guy, where did you come from?" Little Dog barked again at Darrick's recognition. Darrick finished exercising this champion racehorse and led him back to his stable. After brushing the big animal, he placed food and water within easy reach and closed the bottom half of the stable door. Little Dog barked again.

"Hey, little guy. Come here, boy,” Little Dog ran to Darrick and licked his hand. "And who do you belong to my little friend? It will be dark soon. You need to go home. Run along,” Darrick walked away to finish his chores. When he looked around, Little Dog was right behind him wagging his tail.

"Okay, you can stay the night. Tomorrow you need to go home. Come on, I'll get you something to eat and drink,” Little Dog barked and followed obediently behind Darrick, who was secretly pleased to have this little companion with him.

Two days later, Little Dog was still following Darrick as he went about his daily chores with the horses. Darrick was pleased Little Dog was still there. He was no trouble and having Little Dog around helped relieve the loneliness Darrick was experiencing.

Darrick double checked to make sure his charges had plenty of water and food before he called it a day. Little Dog barked. Darrick looked around and was surprised to find a stranger, a priest, standing next to Little Dog, who was wagging his tail furiously at the stranger. "Father, you startled me. How can I help?"

"Oh, I was in the neighborhood," Father Frederick replied, "and thought I would drop by the stables. Horses have always been favorites of mine. Unfortunately, I've never been in a position to own one. Are these your horses?"

"Oh, no, I'm the stable boy, caring for them until the racing season ends.”

"Is that so? And what are your plans when the season ends?" Father Frederick casually asked.

"Well, the owners have asked me to come along with them when they leave for Kentucky. They seem to be pleased with the way I handle these beautiful creatures,” Darrick became curious why this priest was asking so many questions.

"So, you haven't made a decision yet?"

"I'm thinking of accepting their offer. There's not much work around here once the racing season ends, and it does provide an opportunity for me. I probably will go with them.”

Little Dog barked at Darrick. "And who is this little fellow?" Father Frederick pretended he didn't know.

Darrick picked Little Dog up and explained, "This little scamp showed up a few days ago and refuses to go away. I was about to feed him. Would you like to come along? It's just around the corner.”

"Yes, I would. Thank you”

As they walked toward the end of the barn, Darrick suggested to Father Frederick, "You're free to walk around and look at the horses if you like. I don't think anyone would mind, you being a priest and all.”

"No, I'd rather stay and talk with you,” Father Frederick replied.

"With me? What about?" Darrick was on guard now. Who was this priest, and what did he want? He thought of Claudette. But no, she didn't know where he was.

"Oh, about a mutual friend of ours,” Father Frederick was moving slowly into the primary reason for his appearance with Darrick.

"I can't imagine who that would be,” Darrick filled a water bowl for Little Dog and filled another bowl with dog chow.

"Oh, I think you do. Shall we sit over there?" Father Frederick suggested. "That looks like a comfortable place,” Little Dog sniffed at his food bowl, drank a little water, then decided he would rather be with Darrick and Freddie.

"You mean Claudette, don't you? Did she send you?"

"Oh, no. She has no idea I'm here. In fact, she has no idea where you are. And, she has resigned herself to the fact you may never be coming back to her. Is that true?"

"It's no good Father. She needs to find someone who can take care of her and the baby.”

"Ah, so you know about the baby.”

"Yes, and I behaved badly when I left her. I accused her of getting pregnant intentionally. It's not true. I know she would never do anything like that. She's probably glad I'm gone.”

"Well, that may not be entirely true. And, for your information, it's babies, not a baby. She's about to give birth to twins.”

"Oh, my God, I didn't know.” Darrick was wide-eyed.

"And in case you're wondering, she is not happy you are gone. She feels being married to you …”

"Hey, wait a minute, we're not married.”

"Well, in her heart she is, and has been for a long time.”

"She never said anything like that to me.”

"Women don't, they keep those little secrets to themselves.”

"I can't marry her. Look at me, Father. I hardly make enough money to support myself.”

"And Little Dog,” Father Frederick smiled at them.

Little Dog jumped into Darrick's lap and curled up. "And little dog. I don't know what will become of him when I leave. I can't take him on my motorcycle.”

"Well, I wouldn't be too concerned just yet. You do know Claudette will probably lose the soup and sandwich bar if she doesn't get help."

"What do you mean lose?

"The owner is going back to Spain. He offered to sell it to Claudette at a reasonable price – she accepted. She bought it.”

"You mean she owns it now?"

"Yes, and she's in no condition to manage it for some time to come.”

"I didn't know that,” Darrick paused as he considered possibilities. "Why didn't she tell me?"

"Well, she doesn't know where you are. You evidently changed your cell phone number.”

"Gee, I could manage that place . . . No, it would never work.”

"Why not?"

"Her father doesn't think I'm good enough for Claudette. He doesn't like me,” his enthusiasm evaporated.

"Well, I don't see what Claudette's father has to do with anything – do you?"

"Her dad has made it clear he doesn't want me around. And he's probably right.”

Father Frederick moved the conversation forward, "Claudette is about to tell her parents about the pending birth.”

"She hasn't told them yet? They'll come down on her like a ton of bricks. I can see her old man, 'I told you so, that good for nothing bum will ruin your life.' I've seen him in a rage before. No thanks.”

"So, you don't think giving Claudette a little support would make any difference?"

Darrick was silent, "I don't know.”

"Well, you think about it,” Father Frederick got up.

"Where are you going, Father?"

"Oh, I thought I'd look around before it gets dark.”

"I'll join you if you don't mind. I can give you a little background on some of these horses. Come on Little Dog.”

The three moved to the stables as the shadows of the oncoming evening scurried across the landscape. Father Frederick was confident he had done everything possible outside of performing a miracle. Now it was Little Dog’s turn. He picked up Little Dog and carried him for a while. "Good Dog.”

Darrick tossed and turned the whole night – waking and dozing off again. Little Dog had moved into Darrick's bed and kept moving around during the night to accommodate Darrick's tossing.

It was barely dawn when Darrick came fully awake. He turned on the light next to his bed and found Little Dog standing over him, staring at him, with a crumpled piece of paper in his mouth. "What have you got there, Little Dog?" Darrick reached out as Little Dog dropped the paper. He straightened the piece of paper out and saw it was a letter he had written to Claudette and had thrown away. Little Dog growled and looked directly into Darrick's eyes. "What are you up to Little Dog?"

Little Dog jumped off the bed and stood by the door and barked.

Darrick got out of bed, stared at Little Dog and said, "Claudette?" Little Dog began to bark. Darrick wondered how he was able to understand what he was saying. He dismissed the idea. He got dressed and went about his morning chores. During the course of the morning, Darrick stopped occasionally, looked at Little Dog and said a name – no response came from Little Dog. Twice he used Claudette's name and Little Dog went into a barking frenzy.

By midafternoon Darrick had finished his chores and, after lengthy consideration decided to go to Claudette. Little Dog practically jumped into Darrick's backpack, before he had a chance to open it. "Ok already – we're going. I sure hope I'm doing the right thing.”

Forty-five minutes later Darrick stopped his motorcycle in front of Claudette's apartment building. There was no answer to his knock on her door. He was not sure what to do next. He decided Claudette had probably gone to her parent's home, an old Victorian, on the North Side of Chicago. He knew where the house was located, he wasn't sure he wanted to have a run-in with Claudette's father.

The effect of Father Frederick's influence on Darrick was becoming obvious – Darrick decided to go. He started his motorcycle and headed north. A half-hour later he pulled up in front of the Clarkson home. He opened his backpack, Little Dog leaped out and ran up onto the porch and began barking his head off.

Darrick noticed two cars parked in the driveway and decided not to go in. "Come on Little Dog,” he turned away and walked back to his bike. As he reached his bike, he heard his name called out from someone at the house. He stopped and turned around.

It was Julia, holding the screen door open, "Darrick, I'm so glad you're here, please come in. Claudette is here.”

Darrick reluctantly climbed the front steps. He stopped and looked at Julia. "Is your husband here?"

Julia took his arm, "Yes he is – don't worry, you’ll find him a changed man,” Darrick's momentary pause conveyed his skepticism about what she had said. "Miracles do happen, Darrick – trust me. I know he can be crusty sometimes, give him a chance – just this once. And call me Julia, we're family now,” she smiled, and gently pushed Darrick into the foyer.

Little Dog remained on the porch, watching. He wagged his tail, barked once, and then slowly disappeared. In his place lay a small green stone sparkling in the sunlight.

Darrick heard Little Dog bark and went back to the screen door to fetch him. Little Dog was nowhere in sight. Darrick’s heart tugged at the thought of losing his little friend. The sparkling stone on the porch floor in front of him caught his eye. He opened the screen door, picked up the green stone, and went inside.

The first face he saw when he entered the living room was Claudette's, she tried to get up. Darrick rushed to her and knelt down next to her. "No, don't get up. I'm so sorry, Claudette. I thought …”

"You don't need to say a thing, Darrick. I'm happy you're here,” she put her arms around his neck and drew him close. She saw Daniel and Ted, and mouthed the words, 'Thank you.' as grateful tears ran down her cheeks.

Julia looked at Lance with an expression reminiscent of their recent conversation. Lance responded, "Welcome Darrick. We're happy you're here.”

"Darrick turned his head toward Lance, "Thank you, Mr. Clarkson.”

"You're all staying for dinner,” Julia cheerfully announced. She paused, waiting for any objections, and then proceeded to the dining room. “Come along, Lance, we have a meal to prepare,” she kind of danced through the dining room and through the swinging door into the kitchen. Lance dutifully followed.

Ted and Daniel gathered around Claudette and Darrick. Darrick looked at Claudette, "Is he all right?"

"Dad? Oh, he's fine. He and Mother had a little talk, all is well again.”

Ted ventured forth with, "I think she ripped him a new one,” they laughed in agreement.

The three of them began throwing questions at Darrick and how he came to be there. He stopped them. "A priest came to see me yesterday. We had a lengthy conversation.”

"A priest?" Ted looked at Daniel, who shook his head. "Did he give his name?"

"No, as a matter of fact, he didn't. He seemed to know everything. Oh, and I found this outside the front door,” he handed the small green stone to Claudette.

"Oh, Ted, look. Where's my cross? It's in my purse,” Ted retrieved the cross and handed it to Claudette. She placed it on the table next to her, dropping the green stone into the empty space at the center. It fit perfectly.

Darrick exclaimed, "The priest who visited me yesterday was wearing a cross like that.”

Ted and Daniel looked at one another, "Freddie,” they announced together, with knowing grins.

"Freddie?" Darrick looked at them.

"Yes, Darrick," Daniel explained, "You had a conversation with the Reverend Frederick Matthew Monahan.

LOOK!" Daniel pointed to the cross. Everyone gazed at the cross, as it began to sparkle and disappear into thin air. Ted and Daniel smiled knowingly at one another. Claudette and Darrick were anxious for an explanation of what they had witnessed. Ted explained their crisis had come to an end, and Father Frederick wanted his cross back.

"The same thing happened with the cross Father Frederick gave to me. It vanished when the crisis was over.”

Julia peeked around the corner, "Soups on,” Everyone moved into the dining room, seating themselves around the table. Julia was ecstatic about the family gathering as she moved around the table making sure everything was in place. She stood between Claudette and Darrick, "And there is room for two more,” she smiled and kissed them on their cheeks, then walked around the table and seated herself next to Lance. She took his hand, kissed him on the cheek, followed by a loving smile.

The rest of the day brought the problems and questions in this crisis to a conclusion. Derrick asked Claudette to marry him. She accepted. Father Daniel offered to perform the ceremony. Ted was asked to be best man for Darrick.

Darrick was to take over the management of The Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar. Claudette asked Daniel and Ted to be godfathers to her soon to be born children. They accepted without hesitation.

Ted swore Claudette became more beautiful the closer she came to term. When the day arrived, she gave birth to two beautiful boys. The babies were named Matthew David MacGregor and Timothy James MacGregor. Father Daniel performed the christening. Claudette held Matthew, and Ted held Timothy. Julia and Lance were in attendance.

Claudette's father, Lance, became a working partner in the famous Lola Palooza Soup and Sandwich Bar, located in downtown Chicago on Lake Street. But, he never did get used to the sound of the Lake Street elevated rumbling overhead.


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8 Oct, 2017
Offbeat, Serious

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