Down Time

The long trip back to base and arrival was done without fanfare, the medical and tech dept. got to it after a breather and a decent night's sleep
on something that wasn't moving.

Breakfast and a short stroll with my girls of the two and four legged variety found me bidding my lady a farewell after escorting her to the dungeon
of all things computerised on the morning of the next day and went to hook up with the rest of the team to start pounding out the after action reports.
That accounted for the whole morning and getting them uploaded to the base server happened after lunch. Molly stuck around and got made a fuss of by
all the team which suited our resident wagtail down to the ground.

I didn't see Joanna for the rest of that afternoon so a rescue by way of the meals on legs service was organized around 5pm. The geek regiment was fed,
watered and a firm suggestion of knocking it the hell off for the day was tabled. As it turned out, this was the first time since breakfast they
had eaten which got a bit of a gentle but forthright sermon from me on the value of eating regular meals and the possible pissing off of yours truly
if they didn't which may result in guaranteed measures being taken if the scoff and rest details were not seen to.

The message was got across and they wrapped it up leaving their decryption and data mining programs...whatever the hell they were, to do their work.
A quick clear away, Carl and Niamh went their own way while Joanna got marched away to the accommodation block for some TLC from me,
which got no objection.

A record length hot shower and equally lengthy massage later found Joanna and I snuggled up in bed and the furry one in her basket, all three of
us out for the count.

The next day promised the same sort of deal but just after breakfast, Chris told the Black team that they were on stand down for a while since the
tech mob were close to wrapping it up with what we had so far and the medical mob would take a little longer. Once this was done then everything
had to be shunted up to the BSAA head shed for them to go over before the next move could be planned.

Not exactly what I had in mind but I was coming to the realisation that this would be par for the course. Also recalling the old military way of
thinking that when the brass gives you some time to yourself, you bloody well take it and run like the clappers without looking back before the
buggers change their minds.

This got me thinking so out with the lap top and some research in to travel and accommodation arrangements was done with the best speed
my brain and fingers could handle.

Lunch saw us all in the place of scoff and according to my lady and her crew, they were done and done with the lot they had ripped off and copied
being sent upstairs to the powers that be to look over. Most of the team were sticking around but Rain was thinking of heading home to Pasadena for
a few days. This was starting to gel nicely with what I had in mind so asked her to hold that thought in slightly cryptic fashion while me and
my girl had a little chat.

I think Rain and the others had realised the pointless task of asking me to expand on anything when that little devil was on my shoulder,
she just nodded, Joanna and I went for a stroll with the furry one having a good sniff about in the undergrowth along the sandy beach.
I relayed my thoughts about maybe this was the opportunity to do some bridge mending with her family as New Orleans wasn't that far away and
we could make it in about 10 hours via air taxi to Providence then on to our destination.

As it turns out, her thoughts were not far off the same track as mine and she dearly wanted to visit the orphanage and introduce me to the woman
she called 'Momma Wisdom' who ran the place and was responsible for raising this lovely lady I had the great fortune to be with.
I was getting that 'being taken home to meet mother' feeling and could only hope it would go ok, but I could well imagine the reaction
after Joanna turned up with a lump like me in tow.

And so it went that after a chat with Rain and some arrangements being made with Chris, I checked that those in the team who were staying could
look after Molly. They were agreeable, it appeared that the fuzzy one was fast becoming our officially unofficial mascot. I made a mental note
to look in to travel arrangements for her for but it was too late to get anything done at the moment considering we were on the clock so to speak.

We packed for the journey. He had said that we were all on 24hr call, which meant that we would be summoned with a twenty four hour window
to return. This was exceedingly generous in comparison with some situations in my personal past so wasn't going to knock it in the slightest!

On the short flight from Block Island airport to the one in Providence where our connections would be, Rain spoke some of her family.
Her sister and brother were living in Pasadena at the family home. Their mother left some years ago and the father was a beat cop killed
in the line of duty. Her sister Talichia and brother Jesus were some years younger than she. Her sister was doing well with school,
her brother was on the cusp of going to college and she made mention of trying her best to make it happen and keep him from the away
from the gang culture there.

More than once in years gone by, she had stopped him from getting involved with the local outfit that went by the name of The Latin Kings,
who 'owned the turf' around the local area where the home was.

So far she had been successful and it appeared that he was thinking about becoming a cop. No doubt with some sisterly prodding in the right
direction I surmised but made no mention of it. We said our goodbyes at Providence with an offer from Rain to come and visit next time the
chance arose, which both Joanna and I agreed to.

Just shy of eight hours later had us getting a cab from Louis Armstrong International Airport to the Royal Sonesta hotel in the heart of
the French Quarter. It was almost 10pm local time and decided to leave the cab at the corner of Canal and Bourbon St. and walk down.

We hadn't got that much luggage and yours truly played pack mule plus I wanted to see this world famous street for myself on foot and the air
was comfortably warm for a stroll. It was fairly crowded but all seemed to be in good spirits and I expect the local sprit had something to do
with it. Bars and bright lights a plenty with all manner of music drifting on the night air but it made for a party atmosphere which locals
and tourists alike reveled in. Smells of the people mixed with the multitude of foods both familiar and otherwise wafted around our nostrils
and one got to feeling a bit peckish, well more than a bit but nothing unusual for yours truly when fresh cooked grub was nearby.

The Hustler bars/strip joint like places made Joanna sort of speed up a bit and pull me along.
No idea why but there you go.

I mentioned the sound of Creole Jazz coming from one place named Le Bayou restaurant and Oyster Bar so we stopped and listened for a while.
Joanna seemed pleasantly surprised that I knew what it was. I just grinned and then adopted an obviously mock hurt expression.

"What? I'm not a full time idiot you know!" paused for a beat and added
"I just do a few hours a week these days since my current government had cornered the market in stupid."

This made her laugh and we slipped an arm around each other and felt the very pleasant closeness as we walked on.

We arrived at the hotel without further pause and were ushered in by the very smartly turned out fellows on the door. Two jovial looking
chaps decked out in French blue long tailed coats with somewhat military style gold piping, dark trousers with a subdued yellow stripe running
down the outsides of the legs and possibly the shiniest shoes I'd seen in a long while.

It made a nice change for someone to call me "Sir" without adding "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

The hotel was something else. Best way I can describe the lobby was a cross between a tastefully lit high end chandelier shop and a top
of the line florist with some of the biggest comfy chairs and sofas I'd ever seen in a hotel. The walls were plain and in a top arched style
with neutral to warm colours, the decor was very well picked for a warm and welcoming feeling.

The system and my keyboard pounding had both come up to scratch, booking in was a painless and rapid affair. Without fuss, the very nice fella
at the desk had us on the way to our room in no time. The 3rd floor patio guest suite was a several notches above bed & breakfast fare I was used to.
Comfy and fairly spacious rooms with a decent sized double bed, en suite bathroom and some nice homely touches that we both appreciated.
Comfort seemed to be the order of the day round these parts and I for one wasn't going to knock it in the slightest.

Joanna may not be a chocolate freak as such but I let her have at it with the mints left on the pillows while I studied the room
service pamphlet thing. Turns out that they did a late snack bar so after a quick conversation, some Creole shrimp with dip plus bread
rolls with butter got ordered. They said ten minutes so a nine minute and fifty five second cuddle session was in order.
The bed was very comfy indeed.

After scoff had been delivered, tip thrown in and food devoured, A goodly shower took place and we both made use of the excellent toweling robes
and opened the large doors on to the balcony facing the interior courtyard. Now this was a set up I could get used to and in a hurry.
A huge open area with a pool, loungers a plenty and a bar area. I think the grin on my girls face reflected mine quite nicely.
Also meant I'd probably get a gold star on my report card if I was lucky.

We did some in-depth discussion on this and other matters before having to take a second shower and then snuggling down to sleep.
Next morning found us late waking up which was no bad thing as it happens. Finally peeling ourselves off the bed, getting a cleanup and some
breakfast at the Desire Bistro & Oyster Bar. Well 'When In Rome' as they say so the order was made up for Bayou Benedict. Said grub turned
out to be poached eggs & crawfish hollandaise served on top of fried green tomatoes. It was different and in testament to how damn good it was,
I went a second round much to the insincere disapproval of my good lady.
Fed and watered, it was time for a stroll to the orphanage.

A few hundred yards later from Bourbon St. along Conti and in to Dauphine St. brought us to a small wrought iron gated alleyway. The gates had a
partially kempt squeak to the hinges as Joanna and I stepped through. Her hand squeezed mine and she seemed a bit nervous so I just returned the
squeeze and smiled in my best and hopefully reassuring manner.

The building was one that could be best described as a bit of a built from more than one structure affair. Not ramshackle or anything like that,
in fact the building itself and the surrounding area was as neat and clean as could be. The large stone end wall would not look out of place as part
of an old church, the rest seemed to be made up from a medium sized warehouse in the kind of early 20th century style.

The lower outer wall looked to be reclaimed bricks with no two being the same age going by the discolouration and pitting, though much of this was
covered in bright paintings plastered up by the kids going by the lack of finesse. Not that it was a problem in my eyes and certainly lifted the
overall impression. The brick walling went up to what I assumed was the base for the top floor The sidings above the brick looked somewhat like
timber slats in clinker-built fashion with old style sash windows but overall, as solid a construction as I'd ever seen and looked well cared for.

Joanna just stopped and took it all in, a faraway in time rather than place look in her eyes. She stood for a while then just smiled and seemed to
relax a bit, I just returned the smile and nodded towards the entrance.

The way in was an old but sturdy wooden double door type affair and Joanna opened it, leading the way. To my eyes, the interior used to be open
plan once but some timber paneled partitions and a 'U' shaped gallery like mezzanine floor had been installed with an eye to practicality rather than
interior style, the open part of the 'U' shape faced the stained glass window.

Steel beams came from the side walls and formed the frame for the top floor, someone had gone to some trouble and the uprights had been timber sheathed.
Much of the interior timber work was unpainted but showed signs of varying age and marks where little hands had been over the years.
The morning sunlight split in to rays of brilliant colour as it came through the stained glass windows lending the place a peaceful atmosphere.

Joanna just stood and drew in the atmosphere of the place. After a short while she took my hand and we walked in to the multi-coloured pools of light
in the centre of the ground floor. We stood quietly, she just closed her eyes and smiled. Apparently this was one of, if not her favorite place to be
by her manner which just radiated contentment.

After some time I became aware that eyes were on us. I turned my head for a glance around.

About 10 yards off to the left, a lady stood to one side dressed quite simply in a floral print shirt with plain brown slacks and flat soled shoes,
the well used candy striped kitchen apron boldly declaring the words 'Head Chef'.

She was no more than five feet high at a stretch, a slim frame topped with a face that had seen a fair march of years but the eyes looked much younger
with an almost mischievous twinkle to them. The wide, full lipped mouth had the look having smiled easily and often. The long jet black hair was showing
just very subtle flecks of grey, it was pulled back and tied to keep it out of the way than any purposes of style. She smiled and like Joanna,
she has that quality where the smile was not limited to her mouth.

"Well my little Joanna, You took your time coming back for a visit."

Her voice was quiet and soft but with a solid clarity that made it feel as though she was standing just a few feet away. Joanna broke away and went to her,
the smile remained on her face and with a barely whispered "Momma" from my lady, the two embraced warmly.

Joanna was given a long hug and a peck on each cheek from the one I know assumed was the 'Momma Wisdom' I had heard about. They spoke quietly
for a few moments and Joanna was urged to introduce yours truly.

I had that 'up for review and inspection' feeling as the pair came over.

I was presented, for want of a better phrase and greeted with a gentle handshake and a peck on the cheek which I had to bend quite a bit for.
I called her Momma but she told me to call her Josephine. I sensed a lot of strength of spirit in the small framed woman before me and her eyes were
looking me over in an appraising fashion.
Whether for good or not was something I'd eventually find out about.

She invited us in to the kitchen. A fair sized and well laid out affair though I think the newest kitchen appliance was of the 1970's era but only just.
The words spotless or immaculate in cleanliness doesn't even begin to say it. Timber work tops well used but with a sheen of age and no small amount
of polishing. Copper pipe work, shiny as anything with no trace of verdigris anywhere I could see, the large porcelain double sink well aged but gleaming
as were the brass tap sets above them.

The smell of freshly baked biscuits greeted us as we entered.

After an invitation to sit at the large table, we were presented with tea and a plate of still warm cookies. Let me tell you they were some of the best
I'd ever tasted but I refrained from my usual dunking duty an account of the situation. One thing that did catch my eye, a timber plate rail ran around
the whole room but held pictures of children, I stopped counting at about 40. We sat for a while, I remained silent as Josephine and Joanna talked,
the questions mostly concerning what Joanna had been doing since they last spoke. It was the most gentle but thorough grilling I'd ever seen done.

Some interrogators could learn much from this woman.

After a fair while the chat eventually got around to the subject of yours truly and I found myself just offering the odd nod as Joanna left out very
little so no need to embellish from my end. Josephine did ask me a few things but my girl had done a reasonable job so I had little to really say on
the subject but this lady seemed genuinely interested in everything and appeared to be absorbing it well. I could easily see Joanna had a great deal
of love and respect for this lady.

"Now then Joanna, Why don't you take a good look around the old place while me and Ben here have a nice chat."

Here we go.

It unfolded as I expected it would. I found this lady very easy to speak to which helped my personal reluctance to discuss myself and details thereof.
She mentioned about Joanna's life at the orphanage and filled in a few bits about the 'family' of Kandyse and Andy as well as the goings on with the band.
She made mention of my lady's apparent habit of burning bridges and made the suggestion that it was time to rebuild a few.

I told her that was the main purpose of the visit while we had some time to do so. This appeared to meet with her approval so I felt I was holding my own here.
She was certainly the mother type and sharp as a razor in mind, I felt that any beating about the bush would not go down well here so kept it honest and
to the point. Eventually it boiled down to some pleasant chat with the rounding off question, a differently phrased version of the
old 'What are your intentions toward my daughter' sort of thing.

Been there before so just spoke as I felt and hopefully without the clichéd type of nonsense some folks do, keep it simple was the order of the day.

"Joanna has done me the great honour of wanting to be with me, I will do whatever it takes to make her happy and keep her safe.
She deserves no less."

It took a few seconds for any form of reaction and I fully envisaged being chased out of the building at the end of a sharp pointed broom handle while
being called a bloody liar. As it happened, Josephine just smiled in a very warm way and appeared to accept it as gospel truth.
Much to my relief I can honestly tell you.

She said nothing more and placed some of those delicious cookies in a small brown paper bag. Handed it to me and gestured toward the kitchen door.

"Let's go see where our Joanna is then Ben."

We found her not far away, bathed in the multi-hued light coming through the stained glass window. I had never seen her so happy and at peace.

Josephine walked over first and embraced her. I think I heard Momma whisper something along the lines of "This one's a keeper."
or it could have been "This one's a creep."

Not sure which and didn't ask just to be on the safe side.

Josephine took Joanna gently by the arm and led her back in to the kitchen, closing the door. Well at least my girl didn't get away without a
solo grilling either so all's fair there. I sat and enjoyed a cookie for a fair while during their chat and it only dawned on me at that time,
we had spent more than a couple of hours there.

Well time flies when you're having fun and facing a parental inquisition so that was that and in no hurry were we. I sincerely doubt it would
have gone different if we had been. I looked at the stained glass window for a while and an idea formed in my noodle for later, the 'to do' list
got another one added.

It was getting on for midday when they finally emerged seeming both happy so that bode well. We were ushered out as Josephine had to make a start on
dinner for all the kids, my lady and I were give a gentle but stern suggestion to visit again as soon as we could. I for one would be happy to do so
and I reckoned that Joanna felt the same.

We walked back to the hotel in silence but I could tell the cog wheels were kicking up a gear in my girl's brain. Back in our room, Joanna and I talked.

She related that Momma had given her Kandyse and Andy's phone number with a suggestion to use it.
I felt that it was probably phrased as such but more an order.

I said that there was no time like the present so she had best do that and I'll see what taxi arrangements could be made after lunch.
I left her alone to make the phone call.

Lunch in the hotel restaurant was excellent as I expected so food tank full for both of us, cab boarded and away to an area called Kenner
in the east of New Orleans. Some 20 minutes of winding our way through sights and sounds of New Orleans to the almost suburbs later, Joanna stopped
the cab as we rode up Illinois Avenue as she wanted to walk the rest of the way. I felt she needed time to arrange her thoughts and walking up to the
place rather than just arriving was a better move though I made no mention of this and went along with the plan.
Cabbie paid off and we slowly strolled hand in hand, toward the address.

A pleasant afternoon in pleasant surroundings, nothing but cozy looking bungalows as far as the eye could see and no two exactly the same. Well kept
lawns and a decent sprinkling of trees made it quite welcoming to be honest and a nice change from the crowded built-up city I called home.

She pointed out the location of the house, even if most of the front was hidden behind a bloody great willow tree. I could see a pair of legs walking
out from the front door along the short path to the sidewalk, finally passing the branches and stood in full view. Her hands pushed deeply in her
jean pockets, body language indicated more than a little apprehension.

A slim young woman, about five feet tall. Her skin was a darker shade than Joanna. Dressed in ordinary grey trainers, well fitting blue jeans and a plain
white tee shirt that did show she had some curves, I reckoned she was about the same age or very close to it as my lady. Full lips and a square jaw line
with rather large light brown eyes all topped off with a thick mane of just past shoulder length shiny black hair made for a pleasant first impression.

I felt Joanna give my hand a squeeze and returned it, I assumed this must be Kandyse.

A slight if somewhat nervous smile from her was mirrored by Joanna, We stopped only a few feet away and there was a pause as if neither of knew what to do next,
but it didn't last long. Almost simultaneously, they both brought their arms up and embraced warmly and yes, there were some tears.
I just smiled and waited patiently.

I heard Kandyse whisper "Hey sis."

Joanna responded likewise and I think for a while as they just held each other, Joanna imparting the odd sisterly kiss on Kandyse who seemed as relived
and happy as my lady. Everything else around them went unnoticed. Which was how it should be and I for one was happy for the both of them.

After some time they seemed to be at ease and all appeared well. I was introduced in simple style with no fanfare and that suited me. Kandyse had a
slight huskiness to her voice I found appealing. The smile, hello and hug was genuine so I assumed Joanna had laid some groundwork for when she turned
up with a hulking great lump like me in tow. Always made it easier so done and done.

We were invited in to what was a simple but comfortable home. A single corridor ran the length front to back of the house, a few doors in the left wall
and an open plan living room/kitchen area to the right. Decorated without flash in light but warm colours, a few trinkets and photos adorned the walls
and slim shelving in the corridor.

Leading us through to the living area, Kandyse was joined by a little girl, probably no more than four or five years old who immediately took up position
slightly behind Kandyse legs, regarding Joanna and me with a with the sort of 'uncertain what to make of the newcomers' expression children normally have
for strangers in their home.

Pretty little thing with big eyes inherited from her mother. A dark and slightly curly mop of long hair kept in check by a pink ribbon over a round face
and a dark blue floral dress with red fluffy house slippers made an endearing picture.

Kandyse looked down with a loving smile at the little girl "This is my daughter, Sephie."

It was at this point my lady used a word that I considered most uncharacteristic of her. It was a barely audible whisper that I suspect only I heard.


I quickly suppressed the urge to do or say anything and kept a straight face. Joanna then spoke with a slight laugh in her voice to Kandyse.

"You know I wanted to call my first baby by that name!"

There was a pause of a second or so, so I jumped in.

"Be a bit odd to use that name if you had a boy first wouldn't it babe?"

The laugh from both of them was genuine even if little Sephie didn't get the joke by the quizzical way she looked at her mother. We were invited to sit
and Kandyse mentioned that she had called Andy and he would be home soon. He was working at a recording studio with someone named Sylvester.
We relaxed but Sephie stuck close to her mother with a wary eye on us, well more on me now it would seem but it wasn't unusual. Even the introduction
from her mother hadn't changed her manner but all in good time.

A cold drink was offered, gratefully accepted as Kandyse and Joanna played catch-up since the time she left. Old news to me but I just let them talk,
Sephie just sat next to Mom on the other couch, her eyes bored in to me trying to work out what to make of the individual that took up more space
than a normal person.

Time went on and I looked around the place while the chat continued. There were pictures of times past and I recognised my lady in a few of them.
I got brought in when Joanna got to more recent times and tales got spun about that with a few interjections from yours truly.
Andy finally arrived about 30 minutes after we had.

He was not much older than Kandyse. A smidgen over six foot tall with handsome Hispanic looks. A wide set face with jet black combed back hair and
dark brown eyes. A prominent clean shaven chin under a mouth that had the look of smiling easily. He had a friendly and easy going manner as he greeted
me and Joanna. He, like Kandyse was very happy to see her.

I could see from Joanna's reaction, his arrival had brought back a few very fond memories and recalled she had confessed to having strong feelings
for him back then. I could understand that and had no problem with it. That was the past, it was a done thing and now resided in the treasured memory
slot in my girls brain and it's always good to have those.

They chatted as friends do and everything was brought up to date, any trepidation my lady may have felt had long since disappeared which made me feel better.
They spoke of their life in the orphanage, growing up together, the scrapes that my girl and they had gotten into.

Apparently, for all her charm and caring heart, my girl was a bit of a tear away when younger. I suspected the full tales could fill a book on their own.
But then again, were I to list out the details of my misspent youth, I suspect it would be no better. Probably quite the opposite if I were to be honest.

It was with a tinge of sadness they talked about the band they had got together, a bit of a rock/pop/jazz kind of deal that went by the
name of 'New Orleans Jade'

After Joanna had left, it went in to a bit of a slump but they had continued cutting a few records here and there while having ordinary 9 to 5 gigs.
The bills still had to be paid of course. This had changed a bit when Kandyse fell pregnant with Sephie after they were married but Andy carried the
bread winner load well. From the looks of it, they were both good parents and Sephie didn't seem to go short on love which was how it should be.

As expected, there was the twenty questions section about me and that got passed over fairly rapidly with mostly joking references to my past as serious
talk was not the order of the day, at least in front of the little lass I thought.

Time wore on and we were invited to stay overnight which suited both me and Joanna. Sephie had taken to Joanna nicely and had slowly, over the course of
the afternoon become quite close and chatty though most of the time Sephie was still giving me the 'not sure about this one' look.
The odd attempt at semi formal introduction had fallen on deaf ears and my attempts at hello had elicited shyness, hiding behind her mother or father,
looking to same with nervous smiles. Late in the afternoon, Kandyse started to prepare the evening meal which I was looking forward to I will admit.
It had felt a long time since lunch.

It was then that Sephie sidled over to Joanna, clambered up in to her lap which my lady seems to like, then looking at me, she whispered something
to in my girl's ear.

Joanna smiled. "Why don't you ask your Uncle Ben yourself?"

This got a smile but an emphatic shake of the head while looking at me. Sephie held her clenched fists up to her mouth in that way nervous children sometimes do.
I find it rather sweet personally.

My lady laughed softly and whispered something back. Sephie hopped down and got a book from a chair in the living room. This activity had caught the
attention of her mother and father, they exchanged curious glances but said nothing. She held a small book with brightly coloured artwork on the cover
and handed it to Joanna while looking at me in a very uncertain fashion. Joanna turned to me.

"Sephie wants to know if y'all read her a story."

I laughed and said I would be happy to do so. The book was passed to me.

"OK then Sephie, you make yourself comfy with Auntie Joanna, let's see what we have here..."

The wee lass did and I looked at the book. It was one of the multitude of stories concerning an ogre named Shrek. I have to admit I enjoyed the hell out of
the first movie, the others not so much but there you have it.

Now I do have a bit of a talent, if you can call it that, for mimicry. In the Barnardos home, I was always one to read stories to the younger kids and that
didn't change when getting called upon to look after the officer kids in the Army when 'Mum and Dad' wanted a night out and have to admit I quite enjoyed
it putting on all the varied voices and accents I could.

This also got me in to a bit of trouble during my Parachute Regiment years with many an escapade involving vocally posing, usually down a phone
or over a radio, as certain officers and NCO's to wind someone up/trick them in to doing something.
In British Army parlance, it's called a 'Wha'

A lot of times I got away with it and many a laugh was had at someone else's expense.

A few times though, this ended with me being invited to get my heels together in the commanding officers in-tray for a meeting...without coffee and biscuits.

Looking at this book, I instantly switched in to the sort of semi-Scottish accent that Mr. Myers uses and uttered the last line from the
opening monologue of the first movie.

"Yeah, like that's ever gonna happen, what a load of..."

At this point, I can only assume either Kandyse or Andy had used an unseen remote control to shift Sephie in to turbo mode. Gone instantly was the shy little
girl and in her place was this wide eyed, broadly smiling and rather excited little thing almost jumping up and down in Joanna's lap.

She was pointing at me and yelling "SHREK!" in the sort of pitch that could shatter glass, then giggling with gusto.

This brought the house to a stop, I just looked a little sideways at Sephie and said "Aye?"

This brought a bout of squealing laughter from the little one which was amusing everyone no end so I just shrugged and started to read.

I gave it my all and then some, well you have to keep the audience entertained as much as possible. My apologies to Messer's Myers & Murphy and Miss Diaz
if I butchered the voices but the short one didn't seem to mind so all good.

This was the 'breaking the ice' moment that all little ones seem have with folks they don't know and it went down rather well. Joanna was smiling
warmly and seemed thoroughly entertained by this as did Kandyse and Andy. The giggling laughter continued every time I used a voice for one of the characters.

I love the sound of a kid laughing, one of the best sounds in the world because it's genuine and you can't beat that. And I got a big hug from the little one once
I finished and that was the best thank you I could ask for.

We enjoyed the meal and managed to squeeze in another couple of books before the short one got shuffled off to bed. Joanna seemed to get a real kick out of it
which was nice to see. This was mentioned that night in the spare bedroom as we snuggled up.

"Y'all do seem to have a way with children."

I had to admit this was true, I like the little ones because they are honest and love unconditionally before all that grown up rubbish of fakery and lying for their
own ends sneaks in. Joanna asked me if I had ever considered having children and had to tell her that it was yet another thing that I had never really
even thought about. But then I had also never considered or indeed even dared to dream I'd be lucky enough to have a serious relationship with a gorgeous,
loving woman possessing a beautiful heart and soul as I am now so anything's possible.

I'd also never considered fighting zombies, mutated monsters or helping to destroy a worldwide, all powerful evil corporation so what do I know.
I left those topics out of the conversation however.

I had to admit now I did think about it, being a dad didn't sound too bad an idea. I did mention that if anything, I'd like a daughter and hopefully she
would grow up to be just like her mother. This got a happy smile from my lady but I had to add that for my part, I could warn her off wayward ne're-do-wells...
like her dad.

True enough it was a pleasant idea but one that regrettably, got quickly shunted to the side of the mental table as other things more pressing were waiting to get done.
Never the less, we slept soundly and happily that night.

The morning dawned bright, I was woken by the sounds of movement in the house but not ones that caused me worry. The telltale clink of china mugs as
hot drinks were stirred as not to create too much racket and slippered feet shuffling along the corridor. My lady stirred beside me after a short while,
the morning smile and gentle kiss was administered and gratefully received back. We lay quiet for a bit until a gentle knock on the door got our attention.
Softly, I spoke for whoever our visitor was to enter.

The door handle turned with some effort and a small face appeared, Sephie had an uncertain look on her face as she asked if she could come in.

Her face brightened up when I spoke. "Of course you can my little sweetheart."

Both my lady and I greeted the little lass with a good morning and a smile. She approached the side of the bed but looked as if deep thoughts
were going on behind her eyes. She was holding another colourful covered book to her chest. I held out my arm straight with my hand above her head.

"Put your book on the bed and grab hold of my arm tightly then me darlin'."

She did as was asked with her tiny hands locked around my wrist, so with the accompanying whirring and clunk machinery sounds, I lifted her up and to
a kneeling position on to my chest. She was greatly amused by this as was Joanna.
Sephies' laugh was contagious as I held her little hand and my lady held the other.

"And how is our little Sephie this morning?"

This was responded to positively and followed by a glance at the book and the question she finally seemed to get the courage up to ask.

"Will you read me another story Uncle Ben?"


Place and circumstance irrelevant when story time beckoned and it made my smile even wider. I told her that Joanna and I would first get a shower,
some breakfast, see what we are going to do today and then I would be very happy to read her a story.
Though I strongly suspected that it would turn out to be more than just one.
I was correct.

An incredibly pleasant day was spent doing little of great importance, many a story read and enjoyment had by all after a little shopping trip around
the Esplinade Mall. Dillards got relieved of some clothing items for all and the cutest pair of red and white trainer boots for our little Sephie.
Cedar Grill and some other places provided picnic items for late afternoon munchies had in Lafrenier Park so all was well with the world.

At about 5pm, my satellite phone rang and I had that sinking feeling. The call back was in effect.

Some slightly tearful goodbyes were said, we left with only a few extra bits, an abundance of good memories and new friends made.
I would call that a solid win all round.

Saddest of all was saying goodbye to my little lass who couldn't understand why we had to go. We managed to take the edge of a bit with a good cuddle,
promises to return as soon as we could and the reading of many a story.

Apparently I was now her, and I quote "Uncle Shrek."

I minded that not one bit and it amused Joanna as much as it did me.