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Ray was seriously beautiful and in the light of the sun her bright blue eyes looked like huge glaciers. If she’d gained weight, it was probably for the best, because she wasn’t overweight by any stretch of the imagination and I found myself envying her curves.

The main house was a three-story stilt home that at night looked dark and menacing, but in the light of day was anything but. It was old and in need of some repair, but it was beautiful, sitting proudly in the center of a large grassy piece of property like a manatee emerging from the surface of the river.

The smell of paint grew stronger as we passed THE fire pit that I avoided looking at entirely. “We’re having the house painted, what do you think? I’m having trouble choosing a color.” She pointed to where a ladder was leaning up against the side of the house. A pretty dove grey color had been painted into a large square against the faded siding with several other smaller squares around it, all in varying shades of greys. Some more blue, some with a lavender tint. “I did that this morning, but I keep going back and forth. I think these kids are rotting my brain.” The second she opened the back door the screams and squeals of kids assaulted us.

It sounded like home.

When I still had one.

“Mama! Mama tell Sammy to stop!” Squealed a cute little girl with blonde pigtails who jumped into Ray’s arms, nearly knocking her back into the wall.

“Sammy stop chasing your sister.” Ray warned the little curly haired boy who ran circles around her feet all the way to the kitchen.

Big windows lined the far wall next to the front door. The kitchen, living room, and dining area existing in all one big, light and open space. “Come in, come in, it’s a work in progress in here too, but we just finished putting in new wood floors. Sammy dropping his paints was the end of the old carpet, but it was for the best, it had already lasted ten years past its shaggy expiration,” Ray said, setting the little girl down on the floor. She took off again, her little feet running midair before her feet even hit the ground. Immediately Sammy started his chase all over again screaming, “Maaaaaaxxxxxxxy come here,” after her as they took off down the hall in a tornado of yips and yells and laughter.

“Don’t wake the baby!” Ray called after them in a whisper yell that was impossible for them to hear across the house.

Just when I was wondering if Ray had left the kids in the house by themselves when she had come to the apartment I heard a throat clear and spotted a little old woman with white hair sitting at the dinette set in the center of the kitchen. Next to her was a pitcher of some sort of green drink and an empty glass filled with ice which she was lazily tracing her index finger around the rim. A digital monitor was leaning against the wall, and on the screen was a tiny sleeping baby wrapped in a pink blanket.

That’s why Ray was being so critical of her weight.

She’d just had a baby.

“Grace, I swear to god if you let them eat all the popsicles again, I’m sending them home with you,” Ray said, opening the lid to the trash can.

“I admit to nothing,” Grace said, licking her thumb and turning the page of her newspaper. Ray reached into the garbage can and picked out a box of popsicles, rolling her eyes as she shook the empty box before tossing it back into the can.

“Are all these kids yours?” I asked and upon hearing my voice Grace finally looked up.

“Yep, the whole lot of them,” Ray said, plopping down onto the chair across from Grace and pointed to the seat next to her. “It’s a long story but, technically Max is King’s, and Sammy is mine, but we’re all a family now. Nicole Grace was born last month.” She might have been complaining about the kids but the way she looked down the hall where the little girl and boy had just disappeared down made me think that Ray was more than happy with her current family situation.

“Am I off duty now?” Grace asked, grabbing the handle of the green pitcher and looking to Ray like she was asking her permission.

“Go ahead,” Ray said with a roll of her eyes.

Grace smiled and poured herself a glass. She took a long sip making an exaggerated ‘aaaaaaahhhhh’ sound. “That’s better.” Shifting to her side with her legs crossed and an elbow propped up on the table she turned to me. “Mojito?” she asked, raising her glass and shaking it, clinking the ice from side to side.

“No thank you, ma’am,” I said.

“Oh hush now, you can call me Grace, and it’s fine with me that you don’t want one because more for me,” she said downing half of her drink. “So you’re the girl…”

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