12-07-2012, 09:11 PM
Brenda sat in the airport terminal, waiting for her flight back to Seattle. Her thoughts kept turning back to Criss Angel, and her conversation with him at home. Correction: Artie's home. It was no longer hers. Home was Seattle, Washington, where her family was.
She remembered how she felt when Criss was near her. He made her feel so alive within, stirring desires that had lain dormant since her marriage to Artie deteriorated. If she had married Criss instead of that jerk Artie, it would have been paradise.
Or would it? Criss was always in demand in Las Vegas. He had thousands of female fans who would have sold their souls to be where she was at that moment. He probably wouldn't have time for her. As much as she loved him, it still meant not living her own life. She never knew what it was like to be truly independent. She never earned her own income, or had her own home. She had dreamed of playing in a symphony orchestra, but that was dashed by her mistake with Artie. She needed to find out what she wanted in life, on her own.
"You really have to go back to Seattle?" Criss had asked her before she left.
"Yes," Brenda replied as confidently as she could. "I need to reclaim my life. I need to sort out my own priorities, and be my own person. I'm through sacrificing my dreams for someone else's. I need to practice solo before I play a duet."
Criss laughed a little at the metaphor. "Okay, I understand." He gave her a kiss on her neck. "I've always said if you have a dream, and your actions speak louder than words, your dreams will come true. My dad taught me that."
"Your dad sounds like a wonderful man," Brenda said. "I'd like to meet him sometime."
Criss sighed mournfully. "My dad died almost ten years ago."
"Oh, I am so sorry," Brenda said. "I didn't know."
"It's okay," Criss replied. "Good luck in realizing your dreams," he smiled back. They embraced each other for one final time. She wanted to make love to him, but realized it was not to be. He had his life, and she needed to find hers.
Dimitra spent the better part of the morning sifting through Mr.Webber's paperwork, trying to find information about Tanvi for the ISS worker. Mr. Webber was away at work. The number of files were staggering. It was like moving a mountain with her bare hands. Medical records, school records, his personal business records, tax forms, vouchers she had used to purchase necessities, all had to be sorted out. Didn't this man ever think of using a filing cabinet? she thought.
She located the social service records of all the children here and there in the piles of folders and papers; she assembled them in one stack to be read later. Vouchers went into another stack, the check stubs from the monthly stipends went into yet another. Little by little, order was emerging from chaos. Mr. Webber would be so pleased, or at least relieved. She still wondered how he ever got any work done with his desk buried in all that paper.
The children's records were sorted and filed, the vouchers were stored in file boxes; she left his personal records for him to handle, not wanting to pry into his business. Now she picked up the stipend check stubs to file away. As she tapped them on the top of the desk to settle them neatly, her eye caught the amount of one of the checks printed on the stub. She looked closer, her eyes widening in surprise.
She had been struggling with sixteen hundred dollars a month, but the check stub stated three times that amount, forty-eight hundred dollars in fact. What happened to the remaining thirty-two hundred? she wondered. This wasn't right. She pulled out the ledger Mr. Webber used to keep track of the children's expenses and scanned the columns. She had done enough bookeeping for her husband's cafe' to decipher credits and debits. She took up the voucher box and sifted through them, trying to match the figures. They had been recorded meticulously, of course, but only added up to sixteen hundred dollars. No mention of the remainder was given. Where was the rest of the money?
Dimitra sat back, her anger rising within her. It dawned on her that Mr. Webber was extorting that money, stealing it from the children. And they were suffering for it--Baby Mia was in serious condition in the hospital with some sort of infection, fighting for her tiny life, and this man, this monster, was robbing her of badly needed medical care. She recalled the filthy conditions she first found this house in. She remembered the shabby clothes the children had on. The image of Mia's big, dark eyes staring incomprehensivly at her floated before her. She had spent a near fortune of her own money, and that of her son, Christopher's, bless him, to save these poor children, while that greedy Mr. Webber robbed the state, the county and his charges for his own selfish ends.
Outraged, Dimitra picked up the phone, and called the Child Welfare department of Social Services to report her discovery. The ISS, thankfully, would soon be here to rescue Tanvi. At least one child would be saved from this hellhole.
As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Dimitra rushed to answer it. It was the worker from the Islamic Social Services, a middle-aged woman in a white hijab. And not a moment too soon, Dimitra thought. She welcomed the case worker, Mrs. Hassan, into the house, and excused herself to fetch Tanvi. Meanwhile, the other twelve foster children crouched behind the railing on the second floor, wondering who this new stranger was. Was she another nun?
Tanvi came down the stairs, pretty as a picture in a white dress (washed and ironed by Dimitra for the occasion), and her jet black hair tied up in two pink ribbons that had been saved from the wedding cake boxes Dimitra bought with her. It had amused her to see the girls more interested in the ribbons than the cake they had bound. She had carefully ironed them flat, and gave two to each girl, the boys openly disdaining the "girly" pink ribbons, preferring to devour the cake instead. Boys would be boys, she well knew, having raised three of them herself.
Tanvi looked up at Mrs. Hassan. "Mama?" she said.
It seemed to Dimitra that Tanvi associated any woman in Muslim dress with her mother. She probably remembered her mother's veil better than her face. Poor child, she thought. At least she had some memory of her mama.
"No, Tanvi, I'm Mrs. Hassan. Here is your Mama and Papa." She guided the little girl to a couple Dimitra did not see before. The couple, a younger looking woman in a dark blue hijab and chador, and a tall, dark man in a more stylish goatee with a Muslim cap on his head looked down at Tanvi. The woman squatted down to Tanvi's level.
"Mama?" Tanvi said again.
The young woman burst into tears. "Yes, darling. I am your Mama." She eagerly embraced her.
Dimitra could not help being moved. She wiped her eyes and turned to Mrs. Hassan. "Thank you so much for your help."
"Thank you for finding Tanvi," Mrs. Hassan replied. "The Abbas have two sons and wished for a third child, but God had willed they have no more births. We told them about Tanvi, and they chose to adopt her."
Mr. Abbas picked up Tanvi in his arms. He spoke a few words of Arabic, which she seemed to understand by wrapping her little arms around his neck.
Mrs. Abbas stepped forward to Dimitra. "Thank you for finding us a daughter," she said, choking back tears of joy. "Truly, this is the hand of God at work, for He has fulfilled our desires and Tanvi's. Inshallah!"
Dimitra did not know what that word meant, but she was happy that Tanvi had a family of her own now. Mrs. Abbas was right. This was the hand of God at work.
"Well, we must be leaving," Mrs. Hassan said. "Again, we thank you, Mrs. Sarantakos."
"Yes," Mr. Abbas said. "We thank you for everything."
"You are most welcome," Dimitra replied. She came over to Tanvi, still in Mr. Abbas' arms. "Good bye, darling. Be a good girl, now." She kissed Tanvi, and gave her a final hug.
" 'Bye!" Tanvi said, waving. She looked up at her foster brothers and sisters on the second floor, and waved good bye to them.
" 'Bye, Tanvi!" they shouted from above. "G' bye!"
Tanvi left with her new parents, smiles all around. Dimitra sighed heavily. There had been at least one happy ending to all this. But there was still the matter of the missing stipend money. She resolved to speak to Mr. Webber about it as soon as possible. And it was not going to be a very pleasant talk either.