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Chapter 20

Kristin looped her arms between Ron and Jackson, Berit’s dad and daddy, as they followed Anders and Berit trick or treating in the neighborhood. It was still light outside, but in between the houses and cottages that made Pass-A-Grille so charming, they could catch a glimpse of the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico.

“What a perfect evening,” she said, pushing them forward to catch up to the children.

Anders was Captain Hook. Berit was Tinkerbelle.

“Give them some space. They have more fun together pretending we’re not with them,” Jackson said.

“But Kristin is younger than we are,” Ron countered. “She fancies herself a trick or treater. Also, she has this gigantic need to see them together, listen to their play talk, to be involved in their games. I guess we can understand that.”

“But I think she’s a fraud,” Jackson laughed.

Kristin stopped short.

“A fraud,” Jackson continued. “Because what kind of Norwegian wears a sweater on a Florida night when the temperature, thankfully, has just dropped to 72 degrees?”

Kristin laughed, pulled her sweater tighter and turned to give each of them a peck on the cheek.

“Guys, you analyze me better than any shrink could. It’s true, I can’t get enough of Anders and Berit but I can’t get enough of you two as well, despite the jokes about my heritage.”

She stopped and tugged their arms so that they faced her.

“Seriously, I know you’ve visited my courtroom a couple of times, but you really have no idea how many broken homes, broken families, broken kids I see in a day. Kids who would give anything to be outside tonight in these silly costumes begging for candy. They can’t. Why? The group home doesn’t permit it; or Mom is passed out on the sofa and they have to watch the younger babies; or Dad spent the money saved for a cheap costume on drugs, and they are too embarrassed to go outside because he smacked them in the face for whining about it.”

She inhaled deeply, and let the air out with a shuddering exhale. “You two know me, probably better than anyone else on the planet. I’m far from perfect. I’ve made really bad mistakes. I have a past that I’m somewhat ashamed of, especially my time with Chad. Yet, I get to enjoy these beautiful children with my two best friends, while others languish in jail, prison, on the street or in real danger. Who am I to judge, I ask myself. Yet that’s what I do every day, sitting on a pedestal judging people who know nothing about my background. I feel so guilty. Sometimes, it seems unfair.”

Ron put his hand on her arm and stopped her.

“What’s unfair, Kristin, is that except for Anders you have no life of your own. You’ve given it all to the court; to the kids. You never talk to us about fun things you do, dates that you have, men you are interested in. We don’t mean to pry. We’ve been best friends forever. Jackson and I just want you to be happy, maybe as happy as we are.”

Kristin choked up, wiping away a tear as it slid down her cheek. She looked at Jackson.

“Ron’s right, Kristin. You need to get out more. We remember how hurt you were by Chad. Not all men are like him and he’s still in prison, thank God, where he belongs. But you’re a wonderful person. You need someone equal to you, a real match.”

Kristin sniffled, then took a hand from each of them in her palms.

“Would it make you guys happier if I went to a wild rock concert, undercover, on a Harley with an Italian cop from New York City?”

Ron sighed.

“Always a smart ass answer,” Jackson said to her.

Anders interrupted, running up to them and pointing to Berit at the next house.

“Ahoy, Captain Hook, who goes there and where is the lovely Tinkerbelle?” Ron said, taking hold of Anders’ plastic sword.

Anders pulled the sword back, laughing. “Mom, Ron, Jackson, you’ve got to come fast. Berit is talking to the lady at that house up there and she has puppies that she’s giving away. There’s one for each of us, at least.”

Kristin looked at Ron and Jackson. They had been through this before, in fact for the last two years. None of them had the time or patience to housebreak and train a puppy, but Anders and Berit always insisted that they would take charge.

“It can’t hurt to take a look,” Jackson said.

“Oh, can’t it?” Ron and Kristin replied together.

Anders tugged her arm, and Kristin could see Tinkerbelle waving them on at the next front porch. Jackson gave Anders a nudge and the two of them walked towards the house.

“We lost an ally,” Ron said.

“You betcha,” Kristin agreed.

“It’s now three to two. We’re on the losing side.” Ron looked glum.

“Since when do kids get a vote?”

She saw Jackson coming toward them looking guilty and holding an orange plastic pumpkin overflowing with candy. He had consolidated the candy from both pumpkins into one. Berit and Anders held the other pumpkin by its handle between them, hurrying to show off their treasure.

Two fuzzy-headed black puppies tried to jump out of the pumpkin while licking the children’s hands and yapping for their mother, who was standing close to an older woman inside a picket fence next to the sign, “Puppies ready to be adopted. Free. Owner moving.”

“Dad, oh please, Dad,” Berit gushed, pulling Ron’s hand toward the puppies’ faces. “Daddy said it was okay with him if it was okay with you. Please, Dad, please….”

Jackson approached slowly as Ron and Kristin shook their heads.

“Traitor,” Ron said.

“Turncoat,” Kristin added, then broke into a wide smile. “It’s time to admit defeat, Ron. That fancy house of yours will just have to absorb a few puppy puddles. Mine is much smaller. I can cope. I think the kids are old enough. Besides, you’ve now lost, four to one.”

“Yipee,” Anders yelled.

“Yipee, Skippy,” Berit shouted. “I’ll never eat a bit of that crummy Halloween candy if we can each have a puppy.”

Jackson looked relieved. “Hey, kids, let’s go talk to the lady and find out all about them. We don’t even know if they are boys or girls.”

Half an hour later they had information about the puppies’ shots, their mixed breed heritage—part black lab and standard poodle—and their sex, one male and one female.

Anders and Berit were ecstatic. After a little discussion they agreed that Anders should keep the female and Berit the male.

“What shall we name them?” asked Ron, kneeling over the pumpkin filled with black fur. Kristin couldn’t tell if he was trying to seem happy, or maybe he too had fallen in love with two squirming puppies.

Anders and Berit looked at each other and nodded. Kristin gave the two men a familiar smile. The children had an intuitive connection that amazed them all.

“My puppy is Captain Hook,” announced Berit, holding him to her face.

“And, ladies and gentlemen, meet Tinkerbelle,” shouted Anders, kissing the squirming bundle of black fur.

Then the two of them fell to the ground, dissolving into laughter as the puppies climbed all over them.

Kristin looked away, rubbing her forehead. It would take more than puppy love to wipe Chad out of her mind. His release from prison was coming soon. Who knows what that will bring?

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