Once More, With Feeling

by Levi Charon

Copyright© 2012 by Levi Charon

Romantic Story: A work-at-home takes in a young woman and her baby who are down on their luck. They grow closer as her past is revealed.

Caution: This Romantic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa   Consensual   Heterosexual   .

I doubt there many activities in our lives that haven't gone through some changes since the flowering of the computer age and in particular, the Internet. That is, for those of us who reached adulthood before it really took off in the early 90s. Those who grew up with computers can hardly conceive of life without them. I suppose I sort of resent being tied to that technology on some level but I certainly reap some nice benefits along with the frustrations.

I now live in a remote area of West Virginia where frequent power outages are an accepted fact of life. I moved here from Missouri and bought a modest but well cared for house way up a 'holler' two years ago and was soon introduced to the vagaries of the public utility infrastructure. Since I require Internet access for my work, an early purchase after moving to the back woods was a gasoline-powered generator. That was incomplete thinking on my part because, while the generator provided electrical power, it didn't restore the DSL service lost with the power outage so I wound up adding satellite Internet to the mix. Well, there you are. Life goes on.

I mention this because the Internet allows me to work at home and that, indirectly, brought about some very big changes in my life. I'm a writer. I don't make my living writing novels, although I hope to some day. No, to pay my bills I do technical writing; you know, manuals, instruction booklets, that kind of thing. Clients send me specifications and pictures of their products and I whip up something they can include in the package. It doesn't make me stinkin' rich but I live comfortably. On the artistic side, I've written a lot of short stories and poems and I've even published a few but I can't count on it to put food on the table. I'm actually half way through a novel I think has a good chance of being published. We'll see.

Personal data? I'm forty-one, divorced and childless; not an uncommon condition in the present day and age. I'm not a hermit but I do like solitude and I'm very jealous of my privacy. I get along well with my neighbors but I really don't socialize much. It doesn't seem to bother them. I don't appreciate people infringing on my time without good cause. I never answer the phone if I don't recognize the name on the little screen, so keep calling, telemarketers, it's your nickel but you'll never speak to me in person.

Every once in a while, the idea of remarrying crosses my mind but then the memory of my first and only venture into that arena gives me the cold sweats and I quickly dismiss the notion. Normal bodily needs drive me to occasional dating and casual sex but I bolt for the door as soon as I feel the matrimonial noose tightening. I find Internet porn to be of extremely poor quality and Internet chat rooms to be amazingly boring so those resources don't really provided any avenue of relief for either biological or social imperatives.

A few months ago things changed at my house and that's what I'll tell you about.

It was mid-June and I was sitting at my computer, fingers blazing across the keyboard when Gao, my dog raised her head from her paws and gave a little "woof". That's about as far as she goes by way of communicating there might be somebody approaching the house. She says the same thing when she needs to go out to take care of her business so I'm never absolutely sure of the message. This time when I looked out the window I saw a bedraggled looking female timidly walking down the drive. There's a lot of poverty in my area and she looked like she was from the bottom end of that subset.

I hoped she wasn't begging because I really have a hard time with people who do that. I got up to go to the front door, ready to open it with a stern look on my puss to discourage any pleas for alms. It's not that I'm against charity. I have a list of charities I donate to annually. I'm just against giving direct cash gifts to individuals who, in my opinion, have the ability to earn it.

My black chow-chow was standing beside me with her tail stirring up a breeze. She's far more inclined to lick you than bite you but, if you know what that breed looks like, you know they can appear to be very menacing.

As soon as the doorbell rang, I jerked the door open. I felt bad immediately because I frightened the poor girl so that I thought she was going to faint. I thought I'd better soften my approach.

'Yes, may I help you?" I asked in softer, kinder voice than I'd originally intended.

She seemed to spend a few seconds trying to gather some pluck before she got anything to come out of her mouth. "Ah'm sorry ta be a bother but Ah's wonderin' if y'all needed someone ta do some cleanin' n' stuff? Ah work real hard n' Ah don't charge too much."

At least she wasn't begging. The girl looked like she'd had a hard life and her face looked so tired and gaunt I couldn't guess her age. She might have been anywhere between eighteen and thirty. She was at least five-eight or five-nine but I'll bet she didn't weigh a hundred pounds. I thought her face would probably be kind of pretty if her cheeks weren't so sunken in. My first impression was that she was malnourished, maybe even ill. Unlike most of the people in this part of the country, obesity was not her problem. My second impression was that, having been warned by my neighbors that letting strangers into your house wasn't wise since they might be scoping it out to see if you had something worth stealing, she might be in cahoots with her boyfriend or husband or brothers.

"Well Miss, in this house it's just me and my dog and keeping it clean isn't any problem at all. I doubt I'd have enough work to make it worth your while."

"Oh, it wouldn't have to be ever' day. Ah could come once 'r twice a week."

It was a pretty sure bet she didn't have references. "Do you clean for other people around here?"

"Well, not yet but Ah'm hopin' to."

My curiosity was getting the best of me. This girl looked and sounded pretty desperate. When I took a closer look, I saw she had some bruises on her upper arms like someone had grabbed her way too hard.

"Miss, are you married?"

"No, sir. Ah ain't got a husband, jest a baby boy."

"Where's your baby now?"

She turned and pointed up to the road. At first I didn't understand but when I stepped out onto the porch and looked up the drive, I saw a baby carrier and a diaper bag sitting beside my trash bin just off the road. That torqued my jaw a few pounds.

"Young lady, you shouldn't leave your baby alone like that! What were you thinking?"

Her eyes started getting wet. "Well, Ah jest didn't want you ta thank ... oh, Ah don't know..." She sank into the plastic chair beside her and broke into sobs.

Of course I felt like an ass. "Look, why don't you go up there and get him and bring him down here. I've got some iced tea. We can sit and talk some more and maybe work something out."

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and trudged up the drive like a broken spirit. When she came back with the carrier and bag of baby supplies, I showed her into the kitchen and had her sit at the table. She picked up the baby who didn't look more than three or four months old and laid him over her shoulder, patting his little butt. I set a tall glass of iced tea in front of her along with the sugar bowl and a tall spoon.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I figured. "Have you had lunch, Miss?"

"No, sir. Ah ain't got no money." Her expression was a mixture of pain, desperation, shame; you name it.

"How about the baby? Do you have milk for him?"

"Ah still got a little bit of powdered formula in a can. Ah been tryin' to breastfeed him but Ah can't seem to make enough milk. Probly 'caus Ah ain't had much ta eat myself."

That seemed like the first order of business. "I've got some baked chicken and some potato salad in the fridge. That'll get you started and I'll make up some formula for the baby. Give me that can of formula and his bottle."

"Ah surely do thank ya, mister. Ah'll do whatever you want to pay ya back."

I had no doubt she would and more's the pity. "Not necessary. What's your name, Miss?"

"It's, uh, Charlene Gibbons. Mah boy's name is Eli." The little pause left me in doubt.

"Pleased to meet you, Charlene. My name's Evan Duncan. Do you live around here?"

"No, Ah ain't got a place yet."

I did a double take on that one. "Are you saying you don't have any place to live?"

"Not yet. Ah jest got here this mornin'."

"From where?"

"Over in Kentucky. We hitched a ride n' he let us out down at the highway. Ah been tryin' ta find work all day."

"Don't you have family in Kentucky?"

"No, sir. Ah had a boyfriend but he kept stealin' mah money to buy beer 'n dope. I told him to leave but he wouldn't and the only thang Ah could think ta do was ta jest git out myself so Ah took off while he was passed out on the floor." I wouldn't call her a liar but there was something about the story that didn't quite ring true.

"Did he put those bruises on your arms?"

She looked down at the purple marks and said, "Ah guess."

I thought about everything she's told me while I was preparing the baby's formula and his mama was wolfing down the chicken and potato salad like she was afraid it would vanish before she could scoop it up. In the end I decided to break one of my own rules.

"Charlene, I can let you have a few bucks to tide you over 'till you find work. There must be some sort of social service around here that can find a place for you and your baby to stay."

"Ah thank ya fer the offer, Mr. Duncan, but Ah don't want no charity. Ah can earn mah keep. Ah wasn't brought up ta beg n' Ah ain't startin' now. Ah see yer house is purdy clean but it could use some dustin' and vacuumin'. I figure that ought ta pay fer the lunch."

Her jaw was set and I could see her mind was too.

"Tell you what, Charlene, what I think you need more than anything else right now is some rest. Come with me."

I led her down the hall to a spare bedroom that was only used for the rare guest. Sheets were thrown over the furniture to keep the dust off. As I peeled them off, I said, "Why don't you and the baby stay here until you can find a place? The bathroom is right across the hall and there are clean towels in the linen closet if you want to take a shower. We'll talk later about your plans. You get settled and I'll go get his bottle so you can feed him. If you feel like you have to dust and vacuum, well, that'll keep until tomorrow, won't it?"

"Thank ya, Mr. Duncan. An' don't worry, Ah won't steal anythang."

"You're welcome, Charlene. And I wasn't worried about you stealing anything." Maybe that was a little white lie but I didn't think an expression of trust was going to hurt anything. "This door locks from the inside if it'll make you feel more comfortable. If you need anything, I'll be working in my office. Like I said, get some rest and we'll talk later."

Charlene sat in a wingback chair to feed the baby. Gao lay down beside her and rested her muzzle on her paws. I took that to be a positive character reference.

I hadn't heard more than a couple of minor squawks from Eli all afternoon and I was beginning to wonder if he was ill. I remembered hearing somewhere that a crying baby was a healthy baby. He went right to sleep after he was fed. Charlene said she'd like to take a shower so I gave her an old terry bathrobe and told her she was welcome to keep it.

She lay down after her shower to take a nap and slept until six in the evening.

I was cooking some brown basmati for a stir-fry when she came into the kitchen carrying the baby who was finally expressing himself in no uncertain terms. "Is there any more of that formula left?" she asked, yawning.

"In the refrigerator. It just needs to be warmed up."

She put water in a pan and set it on the stove to heat but came to a stop, looking at the cooktop in puzzlement. "How does this thang work?" It was a magnetic induction cooktop and looked pretty alien to anyone who'd never seen one before. I showed her how to turn it on and how to set the heat.

"Well, ain't that somethin'?" she said in wonder.

"Charlene, I don't have any milk because I don't use it and you're out of formula. We need to go to the store after dinner. I'll bet we need some diapers for Eli and some clothes for you as well. I didn't see anything in the bag that looked like women's things. Did you even pack a toothbrush when you left?"

"Ah left in kind of a hurry."

"I guess you did. We may as well pick up some personal items for you while we're at it."

She started to protest but I cut her off. "This isn't charity. I guess I can find work for you for a few days and we can take this out your salary. There's no need to deny Eli and yourself the basics while you're getting on your feet. Everybody goes through hard times and you need to learn to accept help when it's offered."

She sighed, seeming to resign herself to the facts. "Well, Ah'll thank ya fer the work and Ah'm b'holdin' fer yer kindness, Mr. Duncan. Ah'll see yer not sorry fer helpin' me n' Eli."

"How much do you normally charge for cleaning?"

"Ah ask ten dollars a hour. That ain't too much is it?"

"No, that's not too much. Fifteen an hour it is, then. You can start in the morning."

"Ah'll do a good job fer ya, Mr. Duncan."

"Please call me Evan. Dinner will be ready in about forty-five minutes. I don't subscribe to any TV services but there's a DVD player hooked up to the TV if you want to watch something. You may not be interested in my collection of operas, plays and ballets but there are quite a few old movies in the cabinet under the TV set I keep for when family comes to visit. You're welcome to pick out anything you want."

"Ah ain't never seen a opera or a ballet before so Ah don't know if Ah'd like it 'r not."

"OK. How about I put on a short ballet for you. If you don't like it we'll find something else." I selected Stravinsky's 'Firebird' because it has lots of color and interesting costumes along with the exciting music. I popped it into the player, then handed her the accompanying leaflet that explained the story. She was captivated from the moment the Firebird leapt onto the stage in her bright red tutu.

At the Wal-Mart I had to practically force everything on her but we finally left with some jeans, summer shorts and tops as well as personal items and underwear for her along with the baby food and diapers. I added a few items like fruit juice, milk, cereal and a large container of mixed nuts that I'd never use but figured she wouldn't know that and it'd be there for her to snack on. The girl definitely needed to put on a few pounds.

I heard her get up twice during the night to feed the baby. I remember wondering who the father was.

At breakfast the next morning, I gave her the rundown on my daily routine. "After breakfast, I'll be working at my computer for a couple of hours. Around ten I work out down in the basement for an hour and then take my shower. I always write between one and five in the afternoon. You can work around that schedule any way you want to. The vacuum is in the hall closet and the cleaning supplies are under the kitchen sink. You're not on the clock Charlene, so don't bust your butt trying to get everything done all at once. Your first priority is taking care of Eli."

"What do ya write, Mr. – er - Evan?"

"Mostly technical stuff but I write stories and poems as well."

"Ah like readin' stories. Maybe Ah could read some o' yours?"

"We'll see. I guess you can get started here in the kitchen. I'll be in my office if you need anything."

Charlene was no stranger to hard work. She moved through the house like a whirlwind, dusting, washing, and vacuuming. She even moved furniture so she could vacuum under and behind it. I tried to stay out of her way but I was worried she might be overdoing it. I insisted that she take breaks often and not move anything heavy without my help but I could still hear things being moved across the floor while I was on my elliptical runner down in the basement.

When I went back upstairs to take my shower, I found her on her hands and knees scrubbing the bathtub. "Ah'll be done in a minute, Evan. What do ya want fer yer lunch?"

"You don't need to cook for me, Charlene. Look, when you're done in here, why don't you call it a day and save something for tomorrow. I think you've already burnt off more calories than you've taken in today."

"Ah like ta cook. Ah could make us some soup and sandwiches if ya like."

I gave up. "That'll be fine, Charlene. You said you like to read, didn't you? After lunch, we'll find you a good book and you can relax for the rest of the day, OK? Or you could watch an old movie or another ballet."

She actually smiled for the first time. "Ah really liked that Firebird dance yesterday. Ah seen ya got one about Sleepin' Beauty. Ah liked that story when Ah was a little girl. Could Ah see that one?"

"You can watch anything you want."

Knowing my bent for solitude, I thought I'd begin to resent the presence of other people in my house within a couple of days. I knew we'd have to find her and Eli something more permanent as soon as she had a few bucks save up. But, surprising to me, I not only got used to them filling up space around me but began to appreciate how much Charlene found to occupy her time. Every day she waded into a project that wouldn't even have occurred to me. One day she'd clean the insides of the kitchen cabinets, the next she'd be washing windows. If her intent was to make herself indispensible, she seemed to be succeeding. When she wasn't working, she was playing with Eli or throwing a ball for Gao to chase. The dog was firmly in Charlene's camp now.

On top of that, I enjoyed feeding and playing with Eli. He was at an age when he would smile and kick his legs like crazy when he was amused and I found all sorts of ways to amuse him. When he needed changing, I called his mama. There were some things that just didn't appeal.

Before I knew it, two weeks had passed and the three of us seemed to be comfortably settled in together. It was easy to get used to my house always being clean and having my lunch made for me. Their presence hadn't really disturbed my routine or productivity at all. I didn't mention anything about them moving out and neither did Charlene but we both knew the subject had to be broached at some point.

She had noticeably gained weight within a few days. Her face and figure took on rounder, more esthetically pleasing proportions. As her cheeks filled out and she began to look younger and less worn down, I felt a little twinge of concern that I might be harboring a miner; certainly a girl young enough to be my daughter. Not that I had any evil designs on her body but I knew that even the appearance of impropriety carried a lot of weight with most people.

So, one morning at breakfast, I asked, "Charlene, how old are you?"

"Ah'll be nineteen in September."

That eased my mind some. "The guy that gave you those bruises, is he Eli's father?"

"No." The tone of her voice and her body language told me she had no interest in continuing with that discussion. I guess it was none of my business, anyway.

"OK; just curious. You know, I was thinking we ought to get you and Eli into the clinic sometime for a wellness check. How do you feel about that?" My concern was that the bruises were only the exterior signs of physical abuse. There might be something more serious inside.

"Doctors 'r expensive, Evan. Maybe after Ah git my own place n' git a regular income but Ah cain't afford it now."

"I think it's my responsibility as your employer to provide you with health care. It's important to make sure Eli's doing as well as he's supposed to. Let me call and make an appointment to get you both checked."

"Well, if ya think we need to."

"I do."

She got tears in her eyes and came around the table to kiss me on the cheek. "You are about the nicest man Ah ever run into, Evan. Ah wish you was Eli's daddy." She began picking up the breakfast dishes and carrying them to the sink. I sat there silently fighting back my own tears. I tickled Eli under his chins and headed to my office to get some work done.

Six weeks into their stay, we put a playpen in Charlene's bedroom for Eli to sleep in and to keep him confined while his mama was doing her duties. Isn't it amazing how quickly things like squeaky toys, mobiles, teddy bears and other odds and ends accumulate? It seemed like no time before Eli was being almost crowded out of his personal space. He was already adept at scooting on his belly and would be crawling all over the place in no time.

Without a word being spoken, Charlene and I seemed to take the playpen and toys as indicators of some permanence in our arrangement. I, for one, wasn't at all anxious for them to leave and she never brought it up. I'll admit it was selfishness on my part to some degree because, in exchange for an occasional annoying fit by Eli, my daily maintenance tasks were eased and that allowed me to put more energy into my work. That and they were just good company.

There was, however, a growing issue I knew I'd have to find some way to deal with. As Charlene grew healthier and blossomed into an attractive and desirable woman, the mating instinct in my brain was being stimulated to the point that I feared my lust for her might be clearly discernable on my face. True, I was more than twice her age but that didn't put me into the declining libido category. I took great care to insure I never touched her in any way that could be construed as suggestive. I had a feeling her sexual experiences with men had been less that satisfying and I sure as hell didn't want to reinforce anything painful in her past.

The situation wasn't helped by the way she dressed at night for bed. For an hour or so before bedtime, she would be parading around the house in one of my old T-shirts and her panties. Even underweight, she had reasonably nice breasts when she first showed up at my door looking like a skinny waif, but now that she had put on probably ten or fifteen pounds and rounded her body out, there was a prominent shelf below her neck that commanded attention. And since she was still breastfeeding Eli, she sometimes leaked milk, leaving wet spots on the front of the shirt that made her nipples stand out like bulls eyes on a target.

Since I couldn't think of any delicate way of suggesting it, I just bluntly requested that she get a couple of nursing bras and wear pads to stay dry. She readily agreed and fixed the problem on our next shopping trip. Of course, that didn't address the issue of her very shapely butt drawing my eyes to it like a nail to a magnet. It was for sure I didn't have any problem coming up with fantasies to aid in relieving my increasingly frequent erections.

So why didn't I just come right out and tell her I wanted to fuck her socks off? Because I was afraid she and Eli would be gone the very next minute. So I suffered in silence. As long as I was focused on my work I was OK. At all other times I was in a state of sexual agitation and I couldn't come up with a solution.

Well, there was a solution and it was Charlene who provided it in the simplest way possible; she came to my bed. I had just closed the book I was reading and turned off the bedside lamp when she knocked softly on my bedroom door.


"Can Ah come in, Evan?"

I turned the lamp back on and sat up in bed, "Sure, Charlene. Come on in." I made sure I was covered because I sleep nude.

The door cracked open and she stepped timidly to my bedside and sat down next to me. "Evan, do you like the way Ah look?"

"You know I do, Charlene. I think you're beautiful."

"Well, Ah's wonderin' why you never asked me ta have sex with ya."

I was dumbstruck. I absolutely didn't see it coming. Was I blind, stupid or just unbelievably naïve? "It's not that I don't want to, Charlene. I just had the impression that you'd had some bad experiences in the past and you'd think I was just like the guys who hurt you. The last thing I'd want to do is cause any more pain for you and Eli. Uh, do you want to have sex with me?"

"Since the first day Ah came here."

I always thought I was very good at picking up subtle signals like that. I guess I wasn't so hot after all. "I'd really like that, Charlene, but we'd have to be careful. You don't want to get pregnant again and I don't have any condoms."

She grinned and opened her hand showing me a foil packet. "Ah got some when we was at the store. Mah periods ain't regular yet since Ah had Eli so Ah didn't know if Ah'd git pregnant 'r not."

My dick was already standing at rigid attention. I lifted the blanket in invitation as she pulled the t-shirt over her head and pushed her panties down her legs. In the soft lamplight her body was a sight to behold; firm, full breasts, slim waist, beautifully rounded hips and a dense bush of dark brown hair between her legs. Her lower belly was still just a bit full from the pregnancy. She crawled into bed next to me laying her head on my chest and sliding her leg over mine. I hugged her to me and kissed her forehead.

"You don't know how much I've wanted to feel your body against mine, Charlene. I could hardly stand it when you walked around the house in just that T-shirt and your panties."

"Ah's hopin' you'd git the message."

"Oh, I got a message, all right. I just wasn't sure what it was or what to do about it."

She giggled, "Ya know now, don't ya?" Her fingers combed through the hair on my chest and belly, slowly drifting down to encircle my fully charged cock. A soft hand moved up and down the shaft and then lifted my balls and massaged them gently. She rose up onto her knees and leaned over to kiss my mouth and tease my lips with the tip of her tongue, then began kissing down my body along the same path her fingers had traveled. Her lips and tongue brushed each nipple stimulating a tingle in the groin, then moved around my chest and down my belly as my hand hefted the weight of her breasts and teased her nipples gently. I knew they'd probably be sensitive since she was still nursing.

When she reached her target, she slid my foreskin back and began licking the engorged head and sucking it into her mouth. She couldn't take in much of it but that didn't diminish the exquisite feelings spreading through my body. My hand slid over the silky skin of her hip and found the crack of her ass, following it down to her already lubed and erect labia surrounded by damp fur. I stroked them gently. She must have liked it because she spread her legs to give me easier access and began groaning her approval of what my fingers were doing.

She lifted her head from my cock and said, "Ah want ta feel this thang inside o' me, Evan. Would ya do me from behind 'cause Ah really like that?"

"I like that too!" She rested her head on her arms and presented her beautiful ass to me. Her labia were actually gaping open, ready for my cock. Kneeling behind her, I rolled the condom on and then pressed the head of my dick against the offered opening and pushed forward slowly, savoring the feeling of her warm, wet vagina encasing me. I guess I wondered a little at how snug she was considering Eli had passed through there less than five months earlier. Within five or six slow thrusts, I was buried in her to the max. I just held that position for a while, rubbing my pubes against her ass while my cock throbbed inside her. She began to slide back and forth on me, stimulating herself. As I met her movements with my own, I reached forward and under to massage her full breasts and was rewarded with a few drops of her warm milk wetting my palms and fingers. For some reason, that really turned me on. It took all my concentration not to blow my load right then and there.

A few minutes of this and she wanted to switch to the good old-fashioned missionary position. She rolled over onto her back and spreading her legs. I gave my cock a chance to recover by attacking her sex with my tongue, sliding up and down her lips and sucking on her erect clit. A few minutes of that sent her into an orgasm. Taking two handfuls of my hair, she ground her pussy into my face as her whole body shuddered. When she finally came down, I moved over her and penetrated all the way into her now sopping wet vagina until I felt my cock push against the far end and kissed her face and mouth with a passion I hadn't felt in a very long time. I could feel her clamping down on my dick like she was trying to milk my semen into her. As I moved slowly in and out it crossed my mind that my feeling for Charlene wasn't just lust, it was much more. I wanted to hold her and protect her and Eli. I wanted to make love to her night and day and in a thousand ways.

"Ah love what yer doin' to me Evan. Ah never felt like Ah did when you was lickin' me n' now Ah'm startin' ta feel it again. Do me real hard!" She began pushing her hips up against me and locked her ankles behind my back. I felt my climax rapidly coming on and began pounding into her with a need to empty my balls. She threw her arms around my neck and held on as my cock pistoned in and out making wet sucking sounds as I withdrew and slapping sounds as I met her groin with mine. First, her body stiffened and shuddered with me quickly following suit, pushing as far into her as I could go, feeling my juices erupting into the end of the condom. We held tightly to each other while we caught our breath. I rolled over, pulling her on top of me and kissing her face and her mouth. "Charlene baby, I sure hope you enjoyed that as much as I did."

"Ah surely did, Evan. Ah heard about orgasms but I never had one before and now and Ah've had two. Ah cain't wait ta have more, it feels so good."

"You've never had an orgasm before?"

"Not 'til jest now. You must be somethin' special."

"I'm so sorry to hear that, Charlene. If you're willing, I'll sure do my best to make you have as many as you can handle and make up for what you've missed."

She rolled onto her side and spooned her butt up against me. "Wake me up when you're ready ta go agin. Ah wouldn't mind a couple more of those tonight." When she came back to bed about five AM after feeding Eli, I gave her what she wanted.

Eli had his own room now. Since Charlene shared my bed, I took the double bed apart and stored it in the basement. I hooked my utility trailer behind my car and we drove to Princeton to shop for a crib and bureau. It was a big event for all of us. I'd never expected to have a family of my own. Now, one had just walked in out of the blue.

Charlene seemed genuinely happy and I certainly was. It was like she and Eli brought all the missing parts of my life with them when they moved in. The improvement in my outlook boosted the quality of my technical writing and my fiction and poetry didn't seem nearly so cynical and dark as it usually was.

But as well as everything seemed to be going, there was still a lot about her past she wasn't willing to share. I didn't nag her about it but I could see there was something there that weighed her down and wouldn't give her any rest. You know how it is when something haunts you like that. Every time you think about it, it gets reinforced and just seems to consume more and more of your time and energy.

And there were other things as well. When she had a few hundred bucks saved up, I suggested we go to the bank and open a savings and checking account for her. She dodged that by saying she didn't really trust banks. When I suggested she get a driver's license, she said the thought of driving scared her. I'm certainly no Sherlock Holmes but I quickly figured out she avoided anything that would require an ID. That's why she wanted nothing to do with Social Services and that reminded me of the little hesitation when she told me her name. She was definitely hiding something or hiding from something.

In an effort to try to find some avenue for her to unburden herself, I caught her hand as she was walking by my easy chair one evening and pulled her onto my lap, hugging her and kissing her cheek.

"Charlene, do you know how I feel about you?"

"Well, ya say ya love me. Ah hope that's the truth," she giggled like a little girl.

"You know it's the truth. Do you trust me?"

"Of course Ah trust you, Evan. Why wouldn't Ah? You been nothin' but nice ta me n' Eli."

"You know I'd never do anything that would hurt you or Eli and that I'd never let anyone else hurt you either, don't you?"

She saw that I was being serious. "Yeah, Ah know that. What're you gittin' at, Evan."

"What I'm getting at is this; I know there's something eating you up inside, Charlene, and I believe it's a burden too big for you to carry by yourself. I wish you'd tell me what happened before you came here so we could just deal with it. Nothing is so bad that it can't be made better."

She got that 'End of discussion' look on her face and started to slide off my lap but I held on to her. "Listen to me, Baby! I've lived long enough to know that when you try to run away and leave the past behind, no matter where you go, there it is, right there with you. Trust me! Whatever it is, we'll work through it. Please, Charlene. Let me help you carry whatever it is that's weighing you down."

She looked intently into my eyes for a few seconds and then the tears came. She put her arms around my neck and squeezed like she'd never let go as she wept and wept. I held her and rubbed her back, letting her cry out as much pain as she could. After a few minutes, she calmed down enough to ask for a glass of wine. I got up and poured her a hefty tumbler of Zinfandel. We sat on the couch, she with her legs pulled up under her and facing me. She sipped at the wine as she tried to decide where to start.

"To begin with, Ah didn't have no boyfriend. That was jest a story. Ah guess Ah better start with the hardest part first." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Ah killed my daddy." She waited for a reaction.

I put my hand on her knee and kept my voice soft and quiet. "Tell me how that happened, Charlene."

"My name ain't Charlene. It's Sharon Ann McCoy. Charlene Gibbons was my mama's name before she married my daddy. Ah killed my daddy because he was tryin' to take Eli and sell him. Ah didn't mean ta kill him but when he busted in my bedroom door ta take Eli, Ah swung a chair at him as hard as Ah could an' Ah guess it broke somethin' in his throat because he couldn't breath and kept grabbin' at it 'til he finally fell on the floor and died. Like Ah said, Ah didn't mean ta kill him but Ah was glad he was dead. When Ah seen he was gone, Ah got scared n' just threw a few thangs in the diaper bag fer Eli and put him in his carrier and took off down to the highway to try n' hitch a ride. Ah didn't care where we was goin'. Ah jest wanted to git away."

"Where's your mama, Char ... Sharon?"

"She died from drinkin' when Ah was twelve."

"Why was your daddy trying to sell Eli?"

"Why do ya thank? 'Cause he could git enough money ta keep him in beer n' dope fer a few months. The way his brain worked, he figured he had a right 'cause he was Eli's daddy."

That one blindsided me. "Your daddy was Eli's daddy?"

"That's right. A few months after Mama died, he started in makin' me have sex with him when he got drunk, which was a lot. Ah tried ta fight him off but he'd jest beat me n' make me do it anyway. It was jest plain luck that Ah never got pregnant 'til last year. He got real mad when Ah told him and beat me up purdy bad."

"Why didn't you go to the law?"

"'Cause he said if Ah ever did, he'd kill me when he could. Ah believed him."

I took her glass of wine and set it on the coffee table. "Come here, Baby." She crawled back into my lap and we hugged each other for a while in silence.

"Sharon, we need to get this mess cleared up. You know that, don't you? As long as it's unresolved, you're a fugitive from the law and you don't want to live like that."

"But what if they send me to prison, Evan? Ah couldn't stand that!"

I took her shoulders in my hands and looked into her pretty face. "Sharon Ann McCoy, there's no way in hell you'd ever be convicted of any wrongdoing because you were protecting your baby from a man who was about to commit a felony. When the DA hears how you had to live, I seriously doubt he'd even bring charges against you. Besides, we're not going to just walk into the DAs office and say, "Here I am!" I happen to have a friend who happens to be a very good attorney and we're not going to do anything until we talk to her, OK?"

I could see she was scared. "Do ya really thank this is the only way, Evan?"

"I know it's the only way, Baby. We've got to bring this to an end so you don't have to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life."

I went to my office and looked up the office number of Samantha Easton. We attended school together at the University of Missouri and became close friends, even lovers for a short while until she left the state to attend law school. Sam had quite a reputation as a formidable defender of women's rights and I knew she'd jump on this case with gusto. Her secretary said she was in court so I left a message for her to call back at her earliest convenience.

I had a Mac Book I used when I was traveling. I brought it to the living room and handed it to Sharon. "I'd like you to write down what happened to you from the time your mama died. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation or syntax or anything like that. We just need something in your own words that Sam can use to prepare your case. Oh, do you want me to call you Sharon or Sharon Ann or what?"

"Everbody called me Sharon Ann so that's what Ah'm use to. Ah like it when ya call me Baby."

"OK. It's Sharon Ann Baby." That at least got a little grin out of her.

Sam called me back that evening. We spent a few minutes catching each other up on our lives since we last met about three years past then got down to business. I explained the whole story from the time Sharon Ann rang my doorbell to her disclosure of events that put her on the run. She never interrupted but I knew she was jotting down questions and notes on her legal pad while I talked.

"Evan, I haven't taken the Kentucky bar but I think I can get a special temporary permit to practice there. I really need to talk to Sharon Ann personally and I don't mean on the telephone. I have to sit across the table from her and look her in the face as she tells me her story. I plan to be in Charleston next week to take a deposition and I'm asking you to bring her up there to meet with me."

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