Peter arrived home a few minutes later with the cargo area of Helen’s Explorer full of baby needs and bulk groceries. The group worked as a team to put all of the purchases away and afterwards they enjoyed a light lunch of leftovers.
Once all evidence of their meal was cleared away, Dan put Brenna down for a nap in the guest room, under Helen’s watchful eye.
“I’m going to run home and get my stuff,” Dan advised, tucking the blanket over Brenna’s chest before running a gentle hand across her head. “Then I’m going to come back and I may take a nap, too.”
“You run along,” Helen advised. “I’ll take care of her until you get back.” With the new baby monitor set up by her crib and the receiver in Helen’s hand, they returned downstairs to the kitchen.
“Brian dear, why don’t you and Jim run and get some ground beef and everything we need for a hamburger cookout. I’m sure once we meet with George, Phillip and Wen, it will be close to suppertime,” Helen said thoughtfully. “I’ll bake an apple cake for dessert.”
“Sure thing, Moms,” Brian said, placing a kiss on her cheek while Jim kissed the other. “That’s a great idea. We’ll be back soon,” he added, hurrying out of the house behind Dan with Jim following along.
At three-thirty sharp, the living room of Crabapple Farm was full of family and guests warmly greeting each other and cooing at Brenna who was being held awkwardly by Regan.
“A beautiful baby,” George Rainsford offered, gently running a finger along the back of her hand.
“Yes, she is a sweetheart,” Peter agreed. “Please have a seat and make yourselves comfortable,” he requested, motioning around the room.
Trixie, Honey and Diana took open seats around the room after Matt and Maddie Wheeler, Phillip Reynolds, George Rainsford, Regan, Helen and Peter were seated. The male Bob-Whites seated themselves on chairs they brought in from the kitchen.
Peter cleared his throat and stated, “If everyone is ready, I’ll begin with how this all started…”
A half-hour later, Wendell Molinson sat forward on his chair to set his tea glass on the coffee table. “It’s my turn now,” the Chief sighed, rubbing a hand around the back of his neck. “Beth Charles was declared dead at 11:30 a.m. this morning at Sleepyside General Hospital. She was brought to the hospital by ambulance after her boyfriend said her headache became worse and she became unresponsive.” Glancing around the room, he noticed the surprise on several faces. “I personally interviewed the boyfriend,” he continued, flipping through his notepad. “John Palmer said he and Beth had been together for the past twelve months. Not to be clichéd but he was the gardener’s son and Beth’s closest friend. He said he was in love with her.”
“I guess she must have turned to him when she discovered she was pregnant,” Trixie stated with a kind look with Dan.
Nodding his approval, Chief said, “That’s right, Trixie.” He also shot a compassionate look at Dan. “Palmer said they’d been together for a few weeks when they’d had a horrible argument. She stormed out and went on quite a tear. During that time was when she met you, Dan. You were night four in a week of drinking and random bar sex for her.” He frowned at Dan’s shocked face.
“Dan, you need to be tested for STDs,” Brian advised his friend. “The baby is being tested with the standard blood work and DNA test.”
“I’m good, Brian, but thanks for the advice,” Dan replied quietly. “I’ve been tested annually since I left the Cowhands. It was one of the things Uncle Bill and I agreed I’d do when he brought me to Sleepyside. I was tested last month and was clean.”
“Good,” Molinson said with a nod. “Anyway, according to Palmer, at about seven months into the pregnancy, Beth began having horrible headaches, nausea and memory issues. She didn’t have a family doctor, since all the funds were tied up, so she went to the free clinic and was diagnosed as having something called Glioblastoma which is a type of brain tumor.” Turning to the eldest Belden sibling, he asked, “What can you add about that, Brian?”
Brian’s brows met on his handsome face as he thought about the Chief’s question. “If she was going to the clinic, unless she had funds for a referral to a specialist, then she probably didn’t seek any treatment at all. Because of the pregnancy, treatment would have been tricky anyway. If I remember correctly, the prognosis without treatment is only a few months. Even with treatment, it only gets you a few years.”
“You mean that she could have died while she was carrying the baby?” Honey asked, placing her hand over her mouth.
Taking her hand, Brian answered, “Yes, she could have had a cerebral edema or a massive stroke. It’s a miracle that she lived long enough for Brenna to be born.”
“Oh my,” Di cried, as a tear made a path down her face. “That poor woman,” she added as Mart wrapped his arm around her and pulled her into his lap. The tears rolled faster.
“I agree,” said the Chief. “Palmer said she was acting fine until their argument. That’s when he started noticing her doing strange things. It wasn’t until the headaches and such that they realized the extent of her physical problems.” He paused to draw a deep breath as he flipped to the next page of the notepad. “Palmer knows that the baby isn’t his. He has a blood type of A. Beth had type B, so with Brenna having type B, he’s cleared.”
“Does Palmer know who the other men were?” Trixie asked, glancing at Dan with concern in her eyes. “Is it possible that one of them could be the father?”
Dan’s head popped up from where he had been staring at the rug, quietly listening to everything. “Damn! I never thought of that. Did he know who the others were?”
“Sorry, Dan,” Molinson replied. “Palmer didn’t know any more than that. He was pretty upset and in pain when he related that part to me. When the blood-type was determined at birth, he says he got drunk for two days, while Beth and Brenna were still in the hospital.”
“So he doesn’t want the baby?” Dan choked out, taking the baby from his uncle’s arms.
“No. He said Beth wanted the baby to be with her father, which is why she left her here.”
Helen wiped the tears off her face with a tissue as she handed the box to Maddie. “So what is the legal situation, since Mart’s name is on the birth certificate and we don’t know if Dan is the father or not?” she asked with a sniffle.
Honey sat forward and spoke before Rainsford or Reynolds could respond. “Dan and Mart have already taken the best first step by submitting DNA samples to WGen. Once the results are back in, we’ll know what steps need to be taken,” she paused to look at George and Phillip for reassurance before continuing. “Forgive me for saying it this way but it’s the lawyer in me,” she said with a twitch of her lips before taking a couple of breaths. “If either of the boys is Brenna’s father, then we’ll need to notify CPS and the court. If Dan is the father, we have to appeal to family court to remove Mart’s name and correct it to Dan’s. Once a court order is issued to make the change, we have to submit it to the state clerk’s office. They will adjust the records and the birth certificate, then provide a certified copy to Dan.”
George Rainsford was just about to interject, when Sherlock pushed into the living room and walked over to Jim and placed her paw on his knee. “Excuse me. It seems Sherlock would like to be let out.” Jim stood up. “Be right back.”
“I need to check on the baked beans in the oven anyway,” Helen said, rising from her place on the sofa. “Trixie, would you please freshen up everyone’s tea or lemonade while they stretch their legs.” Heading for the kitchen behind Jim, she shook a finger at George, but softened it with a smile. “Don’t say anything important until we all get back. Dan’s another of my sons, so Peter and I need to know every detail.”
Dan’s head snapped up, revealing a slight smile and wet eyes.
“Don’t you worry, Helen. I’ll make sure of it,” Maddie said as she reached out to lay a gentle hand on Dan’s arm before giving him a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, son,” she advised, cradling his strong jaw in her hand as she watched his eyes fill to almost overflowing. “You are just as much a Belden, Wheeler and Lynch as you are a Mangan or a Regan. We all love you and will be beside and behind you every step.” Answering tears glittered in her eyes like a diamonds. “That’s a promise.”
Ten minutes later, everyone returned to the living room and resumed their seats. Maddie Wheeler held Brenna carefully in her arms and stroked the dark, downy hair on her head as she cooed nonsense to her.
George Rainsford smiled at the Madonna-like scene she made before he flipped through his legal pad then looked over his glasses at Chief Molinson. “According to Honey’s phone call, Mart, Dan and the baby all had a buccal swab at the hospital. Did you request the hospital do one on Beth Charles?”
“Yes, I did,” the Chief answered gruffly. “As a matter of fact, each one of them, plus the boyfriend, had two swabs done.” He shot an apologetic look at the Wheelers. “Even with WGen’s reputation, I couldn’t take a chance that the evidence in this case could be called tainted in any way. I had the second swab sent to the state lab in Albany.” A faint blush stole across Molinson’s face. “I put a rush on it by telling them it was a case involving an active officer and a juvenile victim.” Looking around the room he saw several smirks on the faces of the Bob-Whites and their parents. “Well, dammit, it is,” he growled. “Dan’s an active officer and the baby is obviously a juvenile. I have a case number because of the police call made about Beth Charles leaving the baby here. I didn’t lie.”
A giggle escaped from Trixie before she could stop it. “No, Chief, you didn’t lie,” she agreed with a grin. “You presented 100% accurate facts to the state crime lab while protecting an officer on your staff and the baby,” she acknowledged. “I just think you’re super!” she added, leaning over to give him a kiss on the cheek.
“Us, too,” Honey chimed in as she and Di jumped up to buss his cheek as well. “That will not only guarantee indisputable evidence for the family court but also to anyone else who may question who is Brenna’s father.”
Phillip Reynolds, noticing Molinson’s discomfort at the attention he was receiving, quietly said, “It seems to me that Honey did the lion’s share of the research about the steps needed. You did an excellent job, my dear. When you take the bar exam next month, we’d be happy to discuss a position at our firm with you.”
Honey’s face blushed prettily as she looked from one partner to the other. “Thank you, sir,” she said quietly. “I’ll keep it in mind for possible experience but, for now, I’ll be working some for Dad and Jim. Trixie and I are still going to open our agency in the next few years.”
“Well, good luck taking the bar,” George replied. “I’m sure you’ll do great.”
Looking down at her folded hands, Honey’s reply was soft. “I just want to help Dan for now. And Brenna. I need to pass the bar and get living again.”
“You’ll do great, Honey,” Brian said encouragingly, squeezing her hands.
“Yes, you will,” Di added, a frown forming on her face. “There is one thing we haven’t talked about,” she continued, biting on her lower lip. “What happens if Brenna ISN’T Dan’s daughter?”
Quiet descended on the room as they considered Di’s question. Each face reflected worry over the situation and concern about the outcome of the DNA test.
Matt reached out and touched Brenna’s small hand with the small “pinky” finger of his right hand. “What would happen, George?”
Taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes for a moment, George nodded towards the baby, then replied, “If, after the DNA results come back, the baby isn’t Mart’s, Dan’s or the boyfriend’s, New York CPS would do everything in their power to find the baby’s father or relatives. If no one can be found, then the baby will become a ward of the state and go up for adoption.”
Dan stood and walked to Maddie, where he gently lifted Brenna from her arms and cradled the baby closely to his chest. “I don’t think that is going to be a problem,” he said gruffly. “This baby girl is mine. I just feel it.”
Our lovely editors of Joycey, Kelly and Mylee make our stories sooooooo much better with their edits and suggestions. If there are boo-boos left in this story, they belong to us, Jenny and Jo.
Background is from allfreebackgrounds.com
Header and dividers created using MS Clipart manipulated by Jo
Word count – 2215