The second adoptee of the Piccadilly family is of a different kind to Shia. A year and a half ago:
Meanwhile up in Grange Village, in the house called Grange Villa where the Piccadilly family had lived for over twenty-five years, Penelope Piccadilly received a letter.
It was a normal sort of letter, in a normal envelope and addressed by hand. But Mrs Piccadilly puzzled over it as she turned it over and over in her hand, running her fingertips over the smooth paper and absently wondering what it was. Likely it was a letter from an old friend. And yet Penelope could not keep from wondering about it.
She was a woman of nearly fifty years old, with mid-brown hair, straight and coming to just below her shoulders, and it was as bouncy and healthy-looking as a woman of fifty could hope her hair to be, though not without a few strands of grey. She had sapphire-blue eyes, and few lines about her face, which in all its youthfulness, for her age, betrayed much of the wisdom she had learnt over the years. She was also slight and had as good a shape as a woman of her age who had given birth four times could hope for. In all, Penelope Piccadilly was a most attractive and understanding mother for her five children, and they loved her very well, although they did not often show it, as is the case with most children.
Wise as she was, Penelope Piccadilly, seemed to have some inkling that this particular letter could have a drastic effect on her family, as she looked at it, willing her blue eyes the ability to know what that drastic effect could be. She sighed at it, and took herself into the lounge, where she laid the letter gently on the coffee table, and turned away. It would have to wait. The family was up and about and there was work to be done.
Once again the family have grown up a lot since we last met them. It was by now a full month since Millie had been married. And at this time of the year, the Piccadilly family were preparing for Shia’s birthday, which this year was her fourteenth, believe it or not. Jamie was ten, and Peter was sixteen, and finally Vi was eight months pregnant with twins, although she was only twenty-six.
Penelope Piccadilly exited the lounge and went into the kitchen, where she proceeded to continue with making the children’s lunches. Peter was sitting at the table eating his breakfast, and Shia had had hers long ago and was now outside grooming her horse.
When the cuckoo clock chimed eight Peter stood up abruptly, scraping his chair, and tipped the rest of his toast into the bin.
“What’s up with you?” said Penelope, hearing the clang of the bin lid as it met the wall, without turning round.
“It’s Monday; I’m taking Mel to school,” said Peter with his mouth full.
Melika Cooper was Peter’s girlfriend, and although she was nearly eighteen anyone who saw her in her wheelchair talking so earnestly with Peter could see that theirs was a special relationship and not likely to be a short one.
“Any particular reason?” said Penelope, who perceived a reason other to the fact that is was indeed Monday.
Peter blushed a bit, pausing in the doorway before going out in the hall. “My book’s been accepted,” he said shyly.
Mrs Piccadilly could feel a great smile curving her lips, and she turned from the worktop and flung her arms around her elder son, who she was truly coming to be very proud of.
“Oh, Peter!” cried Penelope, feeling tears spring to her eyes. She held her son tightly for some seconds before Peter gently freed himself from her tender clasp, smiling down into her small face. Mrs Piccadilly thought that he was so handsome, tall and manly, with the most beautiful eyes you could hope to find in a teenage boy. He was so much changed from the untamed ruffian he had once been, and much of it was thanks to Mel Cooper, his trusting confidant of before they started going out, and after, of course.
So Penelope stood there even after the front door had closed with its decided click, the bread knife still in her hand smothered in jam, and her apron reaching her knees, thinking with pride of her son and his book. The book he had laboured so hard over for the past month. It was not public knowledge, but every in Grange Villa knew that when Peter disappeared into his room for hours on end, days in a row, locking the door to his tiny room, he was writing industriously. A short fairy story sketch had been published in a book at Christmas, and that book now saw in the middle of the mantelpiece in the living room, and every visitor was told of its history. But a real book of Peter’s own would surpass even that level of pride.
While wondering what the book was about, Penelope didn’t hear Shia enter through the back door until she heard the scraping of Peter’s chair being pushed in.
“Would you find Jamie, please, Shia? He hasn’t been down for breakfast yet,” said Mrs Piccadilly, forcing herself out of her reverie.
Shia hummed some reply, as was her way. She had a quiet and unassuming voice like a whisper, and often she was not heard, so now she had taken to humming to get attention or acknowledge her existence. Either that or the teenage grunting habit had set in with a new twist.
Shia, like Peter had done, hesitated when she reached the threshold of the door from the kitchen to the hall. Penelope turned around, and, still full of the pride she felt in Peter, suddenly felt very proud also at her adopted daughter, now the only daughter left in the house. Shia was not tall, but she was a certainly no younger than her age. She had a serious little face, with glowing dark skin and mellow dark eyes. Her dark hair was today in a bun at the back of her head, and had stuck a few buttercups into the bun. She had a solemn expression on her face now, and Penelope thought how different Millie and Vi had been at the same age. Millie had been reckless and vivid with life, and Vi had been rather sophisticated, although she too had been lively. But Shia was a completely different personage, Mrs Piccadilly thought as she was confronted by the sombre face. Shia was more like an adult in a girl’s body, and no wonder, Mrs Piccadilly thought, as she remembered the girl’s past, most of which was unknown, but some remnants of the unknown part still haunted the girl, and always would.
“Was there anything?” said Mrs Piccadilly, watching the girl’s hand as she caressed the door post, her cheek touching it absently and her body supported on that and one of her legs.
The girl returned to earth from wherever she had been. “No; nothing,” she said, and gave her adopted mother such a radiant smile that banished any traces of seriousness from her countenance.
Mrs Piccadilly relaxed, and when Jamie came down she was ready to greet him with a beaming smile. However, on turning, she was greeted with a by who was still clad in his pyjamas and yet did not seem to have a metaphorical tail between his legs.
“James John Piccadilly!” said his mother sharply. “I woke you up half an hour ago and yet you are not half dressed. Shia is waiting for you, and you have exactly ten minutes to get to school. Get dressed immediately, and you can have your breakfast on the way to school.”
“I went back to sleep,” moaned Jamie. “And I’m hungry.”
If you remember your days as a ten-year-old with any clarity, you will know that even a person with merely ten years and a small degree of intelligence would be wise enough to run upstairs, get changed and eat their breakfast in as quick a time as possible. But Jamie was not a possessor of any large degree of intelligence. He still had rather a babyish voice, and a babyish mind, and was perhaps the only one of the Piccadillys to be average, or below average, in everything he did. Where Vi, Millie and Peter could beat every other member in their class at quadratic equations, spelling or writing an essay on the kings and queens of England, Jamie could not. Even Shia had a quick brain and a conscientious attitude. But Jamie was slow, and caused his clever parents much pain on his account; much as they loved him as their son, it was disappointing to find him less able.
Thankfully Jamie’s interests lay in car racing, and he resolved to be a racer when he was older, so therefore Penelope and Ralph thanked their lucky stars that not much academic ability was necessary in this chosen career. They knew he would outgrow his babyish voice, but they sometimes worried that he would never outgrow his shallow mind. I think they hoped he would marry a wise woman who could be a perfect mother to his children; and so he did, but that is in the far future, and Jamie was merely ten years old at the time I am writing of.
Now Penelope tried to keep from snapping back at him. She allowed herself a hard look over her shoulder, but kept her lips firmly sealed. As she heard his feet going back up the stairs she congratulated herself on her holding back a retort that would certainly make things worse. Penelope Piccadilly was so very proud of Peter and Shia, but of Jamie she was little that, and was ashamed of it. Never mind. Someday she would be proud of him. She could feel it.
When the children were gone and she was left alone in the house, Penelope Piccadilly betook herself to the sitting room where she sat down on the sofa, leaned back and closed her eyes for several minutes. She was thinking of her children, and thinking too of that letter on the coffee table, motionless, and yet boding.
Eventually she picked up the envelope, braced herself, and ripped open the flap. Getting it over with seemed to be the first thing on her mind now.
So she read several pieces of paper covered in a writing in black fountain pen. And she read it, her eyebrows were first raising, then frowning, and then raising again right up into the middle of her forehead. As predicted, the letter had the potential to change the lives of every inhabitant of Grange Villa, and none as much as the life of Penelope Mary Piccadilly.
When she had read it through in its entirety no less than three times, Mrs Piccadilly took the liberty of immediately calling her husband from work. She herself worked at the same office, but it was her day off on Monday, and so she was not there. She needed to talk to her husband. He answered, and agreed to meet her for lunch in town near the office. And so Mrs Piccadilly hung around the house all day. She was too wise to let anything unsettled disturb her work, and yet she was anxious the all the hours of the morning, until she saw Ralph Piccadilly at the café waiting for her, and she knew that the decision was no longer on her head only.
Perhaps you would like to know what it was in that letter, which made Mrs Piccadilly feel the need to talk to her husband so urgently. Well I am afraid I must keep you on tenterhooks a little longer, until that evening, when the family sat down for dinner together.
The evening meal was a lot less turbulent than it had been seven or eight years ago. There were only five of them at the table for one thing, and four of the five were usually lost in thought. Only Jamie did not seem to have the capacity to think so that it kept his mouth shut, but as he was often ignored by most people, generally subsided into a moody silence.
This evening Peter was abeam with smiles, and Penelope had him tell the family of his triumph.
“What’s your book about?” asked Shia in her small clear voice.
Peter blushed and looked down at his food. He had become so shy and gentle over the past year that his family scarcely recognised him. “It’s a take on a twelfth century legend. It’s called ‘Two Silver Cups’,” he said, his blue eyes becoming dreamy. “A man rows over to Grange Island, murders a monk on the old monastery, but a local girl steals his boat, and he is caught. The man resists arrest, and is murdered in turn by a legal official from around here. The legal official disappears. Eighteen years later the girl who stole the boat is married, but her young sister is set on solving a mystery everyone thinks she is imagining. But she sees it, because her sister is uncomfortable talking about the incident. And mingled with all that is the legend of the revolt of the detention town and Darcey Muppet.”
“It sounds splendid,” said Penelope Piccadilly, although, as is often the case with parental dialogue, her choice of adjective nearly killed every asset to the plot he had outlined.
“When will it be printed?” asked Shia.
“Next Easter,” Peter responded.
The elder members of the family nodded, but Jamie opened his mouth. “But that’s ages away! I think you should refuse until you find someone who’ll do it quicker. Or why don’t you do it, Peter? It only takes a minute to print out a piece of paper.”
Peter looked as though he were about to endeavour to explain to his younger brother the science of publishing and printing companies, but Ralph interrupted quickly.
“It doesn’t work like that, Jamie,” he said. “To turn the page over, metaphorically speaking, Mum received a letter this morning with a proposal in it which we think we ought to consult you about.”
Three pairs of eyes turned suspiciously on him, but Mr Piccadilly held his ground.
“What is it, Dad? Has anything gone wrong?” inquired Peter swiftly.
“No; nothing has gone wrong. At least, nothing that really concerns us.”
“What is it?” asked Shia, curious.
Mrs Piccadilly took up the tale, and she turned to Peter first. “Do you remember Marilla McLeod?”
He frowned quickly. Marilla McLeod had been the wife of Ralph’s cousin, and she had died about eight years previously. “Yes, of course,” he said. “Vaguely,” he added honestly.
“Was she Faith and Myra’s mum?” queried Shia. Faith was eighteen at this point, a great friend of Mel Cooper’s, and Myra was fifteen, and they still lived with one of their aunts, as Mrs Piccadilly will soon explain.
“Yes,” said Penelope, She halted. “You know that they live with their aunt, Mrs Taylor. I have had a letter from Mrs Taylor, informing me that her sister Marilla spent several years in the Netherlands with friends of theirs in her teenage years. She made a good friend of her age in the family she stayed with, and the friend had a little girl about five or six years ago. The child lost her parents a few weeks back, and having no other family, her parents left her to the Norton family, which was Marilla’s maiden name.”
Peter nodded at this point. He had guessed what was coming. Penelope turned to consult the letter, which was on the table next to her plate.
“The eldest Norton sister and her husband were killed in a car crash some years ago, and their little girl was crippled for life. The girl, Thomasina, is no more than twelve, and lives with her grandmother and cousin Billy on her dad’s side, whose parents split up, leaving him to his grandmother. So there is no help to be found there for this child.”
“So are we to have her?” guessed Peter shrewdly.
Shia gasped loudly.
Penelope smiled her acknowledgement at him, and continued her story. “The second sister was Marilla McLeod, and as you know Faith and Myra live with their other aunt since dad’s cousin was killed fighting out East. Chiara Norton, the aunt, is the third Norton sister, and she is married with her one-year-old boy, and is pregnant again, besides having the girls Faith and Myra to care for. She can’t possibly take another child of four or five, and she is out of her wits as to know what to do with her.”
Peter was watching his mum’s face intently.
“So she has appealed to your mother, as having been a good friend of her sister’s, and has asked if we might take the child for a time. We thought we ought to ask you first,” concluded Ralph Piccadilly.
“Oh, yes,” breathed Shia. “It’s been two years since we had another girl in the house, and I have been lonely without Millie. Please let her come, Mum, oh, please!”
Mr Piccadilly laughed heartily as Peter made his reply.
“Why not?” he shrugged. “I’ll welcome her as much as any of you. I quite like kids – now.”
Mrs Piccadilly smiled at him, but not before Jamie had interrupted, the truth suddenly dawning on his little mind.
“So won’t I be young anymore?” he cried.
“You’ll still be younger than Shia and I,” said Peter. “That’s perfectly young.”
“No, but won’t I be the youngest anymore?” Jamie persisted with bad English.
“You wouldn’t,” said Mrs Piccadilly. “She’s five years old in August, Chiara says. Well, shall we take her?”
And the family showed their assent in their faces.
The small Dutch girl had nothing to keep her in the Netherlands, and she reached the Piccadillys just a week later. Chiara Taylor sorted out the business side of it. All that was left for the Piccadillys was to meet the girl at the Taylor household and take her home with them. But we will skip this episode, and fast forward to the time when Shia first met her third adopted sister.
Shia was curled up in the curtain at the sitting room window when she saw the car draw up, and her heart jumped. But she stayed at her window, and saw Mrs Piccadilly get out of the car with a small girl. At least, Shia noted immediately that the girl wasn’t exactly small, and wondered how a five-year-old could be so tall and skinny.
She made her way to the hall and was confronted with the tall girl. The new member to the Piccadilly household had brown hair and deep blue eyes. She wore a pink and yellow striped top, and jeans, and looked remarkably serious for her age. As the girl reached out her hand and ran it along the shoe-shelf, Shia noted her long slender fingers.
“Hello,” said Shia. “So you are Katrina, then.”
“Ma called me Kat,” said Katrina.
“Do you want us to call you Kat?” said Shia gently.
“No; my ma called me Kat,” she replied in response. “I am Katrina Stefanie Roosevelt.”
“Then Katrina it will be,” said Shia. “I’m Shia, your big sister.”
“You’re not really my sister,” pointed out Katrina. “I might only be staying here a while. But I like you, and I like Penelope. I think it’ll be okay here.”
“I hope so. I’m really glad you came, because now I’m not the only girl in the house.”
“Have you got a piano?” said the girl, kicking her shoes off and wandering into the sitting room.
“There’s a keyboard in Vi’s old room,” said Shia. “It’s not very good. Do you play piano?”
The girl nodded absently. “Where’s Vi’s old room?”
Shia led the way through the sitting room and behind the sofa, where there was a locked door. She pushed it open with a speaking of hinges and let Katrina into the dark room. It was full of boxes, but Shia knew where to find the said keyboard, which was covered in one of them. Vi’s old room was used as Peter’s trombone practice room, and he sometimes liked to use the keyboard, though none of the Piccadillys could play it. Now she retrieved the long plastic board, and laid it on a wooden trunk, plugging it into the wall nearby. Katrina immediately squatted down and laid her long slender fingers on the keys. Then she began to play.
She was not a genius, but she was certainly very good at piano, and obviously quite content to play for hours. After a few minutes she looked up, her thin white face gazing up at her new big sister.
“It has a horrible tone,” she said simply. “Speakers can’t make the same lovely sound as a real piano.” And, “I wish I had my music, but it’s all at the bottom of my case.”
“You’re very good,” commented Shia, who could glean this, though she knew little about music. Vi played the saxophone, Millie the trumpet and Peter the trombone, but Shia and Jamie were not musically inclined.
“I play violin too,” said the girl. “But it wasn’t mine. I borrowed it off a neighbour, and I had to give it back last week.”
Her tone was so melancholy that Shia longed to hug her, but the girl was so serious and grown-up, and so tall, that Shia somehow could not. Instead she stood with a little awkwardness, and said, “I’m sure we could find you a violin. My friend Savannah used to play, but she gave up because she isn’t very musical. She might still have hers.”
The girl smiled at her, laid her fingers back on the keys, and suddenly reached her arm out and switched the keyboard off.
“I suppose I’m being a bit rude,” she said.
“Not at all,” replied Shia. The girl was only four! “Carry on if you like.”
“Show me round,” instructed Katrina, so Shia did.
And so Katrina Stefanie Roosevelt came to be a member of the Piccadilly family.
A year and a half onwards, Katrina is now six years old, and still living with the Piccadilly family. She is still tall and serious, and heart-breakingly matter-of-fact in speaking of her ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’, but her thin face is a little more rounded than it was when we first met her, and she has developed a dry sense of humour. Mentally she is almost older than Jamie, and though not shy, she does not open her inner self up very often. Shia and Penelope took great trouble to know her, however, and perhaps they are her greatest friends.
She still plays piano very well, a real piano having been purchased from the elderly neighbours next door, Mr and Mrs Wether, who had neglected their piano shamefully for over thirty years, all that time complaining about their low pension and monetary issues, and only given in grudgingly to a generous offer from Ralph Piccadilly. She also plays Savannah Falla’s old violin to a very high standard, and has since begun teaching herself the piccolo using a beginner’s flute book. Though solemn-faced, and seldom-laughing, Katrina is a talented and loveable girl, if you take the trouble to get to know her, and I hope someday you will agree with me.