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"I'll be careful." It was the only response Charlie could think to say.

Shirley gratefully smiled, and returned her attention to the fountain in the center of the courtyard. "It's a very nice house," she acknowledged. "You did a good job."

"Thank you," mumbled Charlie, feeling as though she were a child who had just been reprimanded for something she hadn't done. Or had she? Was she taking advantage of Adam's big heart? Or had Shirley meant it only as a warning, and not an accusation?

After Shirley returned to the living room, Charlie retreated to the master bedroom and locked the door. She had succeeded in holding back her tears in front of Shirley, but now that she was alone, they would not be stopped.

Opening the oven door and checking her dish one more time, Vera glanced at the clock. Mike and Sandra had finally arrived, and it had not been a moment too soon. Dinner was almost ready.

Mike and Kevin entered the kitchen and tried not to look as hungry as they were feeling.

"Just a few more minutes," Vera smiled.

Adam soon joined them, and started a minor feeding frenzy from the open container of nuts Vera had set out for cooking purposes. Seeing Adam that considered it to be acceptable behavior, it emboldened Mike and then Kevin to do the same. When Horace came from the living room to find the other guys already eating, he obtained his share of nuts.

"Okay, everyone has had enough walnuts!" exclaimed Shirley, when she discovered the kitchen full of men ruining their appetites. "Vera has gone to a lot of trouble fixing dinner, so we can put this away!" Before Shirley could put the lid back on the container, however, Adam managed to swipe another handful.

Millie stood in front of the stove and laughed, as she stirred the saucepan she was helping Vera keep an eye on. "A small snack before dinner never did any harm!"

"Mike," sighed Sandra, seeing her husband eyeing the can, "Mom said a 'small' snack! You've already had enough!"

"Careful, Boy," Horace laughingly nudged his son-in-law, "you'd better do as Sandra says, or I know someone who'll be sleeping on the living room couch, tonight!"

At this, Mike turned red with embarrassment. But Mike didn't have long to squirm, for Vera announced that dinner was ready.

"Chad, you and the girls go wash up," instructed Shirley, getting out the tossed salad Vera had placed in the refrigerator. "And don't leave puddles on the floor!" she called after the children.

"I hope it doesn't keep raining," sighed Jeff. "Just when I wash the squad car, we get a good downpour!"

"It never rains in California," joked Adam, "but when it does, it pours!"

Just then, Maggie waddled in and offered to help.

"Oh, no you don't, Baby!" Jeff quickly guided her back to the living room. "You're already worn out!"

For several minutes, Adam had the nagging feeling that something was wrong. "Vera, have you seen Charlie?" he wondered.

"No, I haven't," replied the elderly woman, too busy with her work to notice the concern in Adam's voice.

Then Horace piped up, "The last I saw of Charlie, she was talking with your sister in the courtyard."
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