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Bette watched as Tina ladled small pieces of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes onto each plate, the three children sitting glumly at the table. Rowan age four, Peter almost three and little Gracie, not yet two, all staring blankly at the food.
It was supposed to be their favorite meal, but nothing could penetrate the sadness around the room, the pall of grief that permeated the air, sitting at the back of Bette’s throat like a puff of smoke. Rowan picked up his fork to move the chicken around on his plate, Peter watching Tina intently, and Gracie simply burst into tears.
Bette approached the table as Tina rushed to soothe the little child, “no no, it’s ok, it’s ok. Oh, sweet Gracie….”
She nudged the oldest boy, “just have a bite or two. Try, Rowan please…” Tina begged, hugging the little girl to her. “Gracie, Honey, you love potatoes…”
It was hard to watch, hard to see the despair from the children, from Tina. Taking the heavy pot from Tina’s hand, Bette pulled out a chair for the blonde to sit in, but Tina ignored the offering, wanting to reassure the children, make everything better, make the pain go away. She hovered over Gracie, running her fingers through the soft hair.
“Rowan…” Bette said softly and the little boy looked up at her, his eyes red rimmed from crying, his nose running slightly. His chin quivered, but he did not look away. Her voice was deep, firm, and garnered his attention. “You are the man of the house now, and you have responsibilities.”
“Bette…” Tina chastised, not sure what the Captain was trying to do right now, on this day, of all days.
Leaning on the table with both hands, Bette looked back and forth between the two brothers seriously, talking slowly, like she would to a startled horse or panicky oarsman.
“Tomorrow I need both of you to watch a litter of new puppies in the barn. And you need to eat to have energy to do that so that means you have to try some of your dinner. You too, Peter. It’s a very important task. What do you think? Can you help me?”
The boys studied her, thinking.