"Baby, it's time." My husband looked at me with sad eyes as he put his kit in the back of the van. We loaded up the kids and headed for the base, this is the day I had been dreading. As I drove I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw the tear stained faces of our seven kids. I felt a hand over mine and smiled at my husband as we approached the gate. I handed over my ID to the man on duty, he nodded to me and handed me back my ID as he opened the gate. It seemed like time was moving too fast and before I knew it I was unbuckling the kids and getting them unloaded as Harley grabbed his kit from the back. He came back to the kids and I and hugged each of us in turn, giving the kids the usual "be good for your mother" speech he always did when he went away. They gripped me tightly as he came over to me, tears splashing down my cheek.
"You take care and keep things running while I'm gone. I promise to be home soon." I hugged him tightly and kissed him fiercely as he held my face in his hands.
I broke the kiss and nodded my head. "You better come home to me soldier, we got a lot to do when you come home and I am sure the "honey do" list will have grown."
He nodded, kissed me one more time before he hugged each of the kids again and then headed for the bus that would take my world away from me. The eight of us stood huddled together as the buses left.
My dream changed then, to the worst day in my life. I stood by his grave as the guns sounded, breaking the silence of the air. The flag folded and my husband was taken from me forever. The kids huddled around me and my oldest fell to her knees. Each detail of the day was written into my memory and haunted me each night. I felt a pain in my side and woke up to find the kids in bed with me. I sighed and got up first going to the bathroom to wash my face before I went downstairs for coffee. The cold water washed away the last visions of the dream even though the warm tears splashed down my face.
I walked quietly down the stairs as to not wake the dog pile of children that had made their way into my bed. As I stepped into the kitchen I was shocked to see the light over the stove on and my oldest daughter at the table with a cup of coffee and her head in her hands. I placed my hand on her shoulder, and looked at her tear stained face. I moved to the cupboard and grabbed my cup out and prepared my coffee before I sat down opposite of her. She looked ready to bolt so I put my hand on hers and looked into her eyes.
"I know you are hiding something hun, you might as well tell me before I find out the hard way. I can tell by your lack of sleep I'm not going to like it, but you know you can always talk to me Laura."
Fresh tears started down her face as she looked at me. "Momma do you think we all do dumb things sometimes? I mean to the point that it can ruin your life?"
I nodded. "Sometimes, but it all depends on how long you are going to hold out on me Laura. I can't help you unless you tell me, even though I bet I can hazard a guess at what is going on. How far along are you?"
She looked at me shocked. "I, uh, well about two months. Oh momma I didn't mean for this to happen. I wish that I could go back and change it. I found out the day they put daddy in the ground and I didn't know how to tell you. It looks like sometimes you are just barely hanging together and the wrong thing will make you break. I promise, I am not quitting school and I am going to get a job, but I want to wait until we move. I don't see the point of getting a job when we are leaving in a week."
I nodded. "I am sorry if you thought you couldn't tell me, but Laura, no matter how fragile I am you have to tell me things. I'm not happy about this, but what's done is done and we will just have to get on with it and figure it out as we go." I hugged her to me. "Thank you for helping with the younger ones, sometimes I think I am not strong enough for them, but then you come out of nowhere and you have kept me strong even when you yourself are falling apart. I am putting too much on you and hopefully when we move things will quiet down a bit. You will have to share a room with your sisters until we can save up enough money, but this job and me going back to school are good things."
She moved around the table and hugged me tightly. "Mom, I'll always help out. We all lost him and now with the government being a pain and not helping, it has left the eight of us to fend for ourselves and do the best we can. Since our other parents don't want anything to do with us and we are all yours now, well we can only do the best we can."
I nodded and remembered how the other mothers decided that they didn't want the strain of having the kids back and I sighed. "Strain," that is how they saw the kids. Reese, Christian, and Charles had one mother while Aleria had a different one, Laura was my ex's oldest daughter while Celeste and Scott were mine (and Laura's younger sibblings). I smiled to myself as I thought of my mismatched family and how much they meant to me. I don't think I would have given them back even if their other parents wanted them, they were my world. I looked at Laura as she eyed me puzzled.
"I was thinking of how odd our family is, of how many different moms and dads you guys have. I guess we are the Brady Bunch minus one huh?"
Laura laughed. "Yea, I guess we are. I didn't think of it like that. As soon as my mom said she didn't want me and dad couldn't handle me you didn't even hesitate to take me in. I get to spend time with my little sister and brother and in the mix I got four more. How you always have time for us is just amazing, you always make sure none of us feel left out."
I smiled. "I don't want any of you to feel left out, now how about we go wake up the circus that made it's way to my bed and get all of you out the door and on your way to school so I can get some packing and school work done."
She nodded and raced me up the stairs. I laughed as she jumped on the only empty spot on the bed and woke the kids up. They started to laugh as they joined us jumping on the bed. I watched the Chaos ensue with rapture at how for just a moment my children were just that, children again.
"Alright heathens of mine. It is time to go downstairs and eat so we can all get ready for school. Celeste, Charles and Scott, we have to get you ready for daycare while the others get ready for school." I watched as they all filed out of the room and down the stairs. Laura looked at me for a moment and nodded.
"You get their things together and I will get them fed. Just like we usually do, I know it is hard sometimes, but that smile was genuine momma and I am glad to see it back."
I smiled and hugged her tight. "We will all get stronger from this so don't worry. We may have bad days, weeks or months, but do it we will. Now go feed the zoo and yourself since that baby is going to need to eat as much as it can. I am going to go get their clothes set out and then take a quick shower. Do you think you can handle the motley crew down there by yourself?"
She nodded and smiled. "I have been for a long time, even when daddy was deployed. We are just picking up the routine like he is gone but coming home. Same routine, same times everyday momma. Go wash up and I will have them ready to get out the door in about fourty five minutes."
I nodded and moved into the rooms getting each child's outfit picked out and on their bed while Laura fed them. I could hear the noise level start to rise and I smiled to myself. "HEY IF I HEAR THAT MUCH NOISE IT MEANS THERE ISN'T FOOD IN YOUR MOUTHS, OR YOUR BEING VERY RUDE. KEEP IT DOWN AND EAT UP KIDDOS!"
I moved to my bedroom and began to stip out of my pyjamas. I turned on the shower then moved over to my vanity and started to take my hair out of the bun it stayed in while I slept. My long blonde hair fell over my shoulder and all the way down my back. I shook it out and then got into the shower and relished the feel of the hot water as it ran over my skin. I slowly thought to myself as I washed up, memories started to come to me of the times that Harley and I would shower together, how we laughed at things and loved more than a lifetimes worth. I rinsed off all the soap and then got out, braided my hair back loosely and then put on a pair of capris with my favorite black tank top.
I moved down stairs to see the kids all putting on their shoes with book bags and lunches in hand. I looked over at Laura and nodded approvingly. "Thank you" I mouthed to her silently. I grabbed my keys from the bowl by the door and got them all in the van. I took Laura, Aleria, Reese and Christian to the bus stop and stayed until the buses came for them. Then it was off to the daycare to drop off Celeste, Charles and Scott.
The daycare owner looked at me surprised as she ushered my three into their classes. I smiled at her and nodded in my kids' direction. "I will be a little late today, I have to pick up some more boxes and then get things ready in between work and school. Do you mind staying just a bit more?"
She shook her head. "I don't mind, you have never done me wrong and I know it has to be stressful now that he's gone."
I raised my eyebrow at her. "Yes, things are tough, but the kids and I aren't letting it get to us. This new job I am up for will really help and the company is helping us with the move and with rent until I can get back up on my feet. I understand that you have known my husband and I for years, but even though the memories still hurt, he wouldn't want me to dwell upon it."
She nodded. "We are going to miss you and the kids. Where is it you guys are going again?"
I looked at her. "Vegas. I am working for an advertising agency there and hopefully finishing up my degree. I have to do what I have to do Deb."
She nodded again. "I know, but you guys were like family and we have seen these kids grow up. What day are you guys leaving."
I thought for a second. "Friday night, that way we can get settled in before school and work on monday. We are going to miss you guys too, but there are too many memories here as it is. We will still visit, when time and money allow. We won't forget you guys."
She hugged me tight and then let me go. I waved bye, got back in my van and started to do my errands before I had to be at work. I picked up the boxes that the store put on hold for me, picked up the packing tape and put them in the back of my van. I went into work and smiled at my boss before I got to my desk and logged on to the virtual customer service server. I also opened up my school site and started to print out my assignments for the next month. I looked up to see my boss staring at me.
"You know I should turn you in for that, but being as you only have two days left here I think I will let it slide." She smiled at me and I smiled back.
"If I was sure when my new place would have internet I wouldn't have printed out so much. It drives me insane that I have to go, but without the military help and the fact that they decided that due to budget cuts we were going to lose the death benefits, I just can't afford it here and you can't afford to pay me as much as I need."
She nodded. "I know and I hate to lose such a good agent. I mean, you are great at resolution and no one has come close to your stats. Maybe you can work part time for me from Vegas. I will give you the disk for the program and maybe that will help boost the money you get."
I stood up and hugged her. "I knew we were friends for a reason. Thank you, I am going to need it. I found out this morning that Laura is pregnant."
She looked at me stunned. "Are you serious. My goodness what was that girl thinking? I mean she's only fifteen and now going to a new school pregnant."
I nodded. "I think I am going to get her on the virtual school so that she can do it from home and help me out more. She is bright and learns fast so maybe if she is able to get through it quicker, it will give her a leg up into college."
She nodded. "Well you get to work and take care of the Brady Bunch there." I smiled at the reference and looked at my screen to see a customer waiting. I started to type and clear my mind from the pain, disappointment and fear. It was going to be another long day."