Gabriella fell asleep almost instantly but woke up an hour later with her heart racing. For a few seconds she just watched the door expecting for someone to enter, but no one came in. She was safe. She was so glad to be back with her daddy and now he can protect her from all the bad people out there.
Gabriella just turned seven when her mom woke her up very early one morning. She told Gabriella that they were going on a trip. Gabriella kept on asking when her daddy was coming and her mom kept on telling her that he would come later. But he never came.
Gabriella can remember that they got into a blue car. One of her mommy's best friends were driving. She sat in the backseat and mommy told her to sleep as they were going far away. They slept at a motel that night and mommy left her in the room.
Mommy forgot to feed her that night and she fell asleep hungry. She was waiting for daddy to come, because she knew that daddy would not let her go to bed hungry, but he never came. They were driving around a lot, and when they arrived the big city, mommy was very happy.
She and mommy moved in with some of her friends but mommy left her alone most of the time. It felt like weeks before she saw mommy again, and then mommy said that they were moving again. Gabriella can't even remember where they went but they kept on moving and mommy was never happy, so they had to move again and again.
Gabriella lost count and had no idea where they were. She had lost all hope that her father might ever find them. Then, one night mommy never came home. She waited for days but mommy never came back. There was nearly no food left, and when all the food was gone, Gabriella went outside to start searching for her mother, but her search was in vain.
Her mother had left her. She couldn't find the flat again and she stayed out in the streets for a few days until a very nice lady picked her up. At first she was scared but the lady promised her that she will not let anything happen to her, and she finally caved in.
The lady took her to her office and opened a file for her. She was placed in temporary foster care. The nice lady started to search for mommy, but couldn't find her and then, when they tried to find daddy, the place where he worked said that he was no longer working there.
Gabriella was placed in a home with many other kids and it was fine there. At least she had some friends there, but the boys did not want to leave her alone. It was a horrible time, and she hardly slept. When she complained to the lady in charge she was put on bathroom duty and she had to clean the toilets the whole day. She stayed there for a few months and found her own way of punishing the boys.
When the lady found out she was taken away from there, and was placed in a home with a married couple that couldn't have children. She had the best time there and started to feel loved and appreciated again, but it didn't work out. Turned out the husband did not like children and it caused problems between him and his wife.
Gabriella was moved again and again and again. She stopped counting by the fifth time but it always turned out the same. It went great for a few days and then the boys started to wake her up at night. She thought she was being moved again but this nice lady said that they were taking her to her daddy and she couldn't believe how happy she felt.
She just couldn't believe that they had found him and that they would be reunited. Maria gave her a hug when she picked her up that afternoon and she could feel the motherly love. Maria was the nicest person she has had contact with in the last four years, and she felt like a princess when Maria let her take a bubble-bath and dressed her up.
Her own mommy never did that and even though she missed her mother, she felt very safe with Maria. She even liked Mindy a lot and imagined having her as a little sister. Jonah was not like other boys, and when Jonah told her that he lived with daddy outside in the alley, she liked him even more.
In a few hours it would be Christmas morning and for the first time in her life, Gabriella was looking forward to waking up in a loving home, with everyone she loved around her. She had only known Maria for a few hours, but she has learned how to read people and she knew that Maria was the most trustworthy person that she ever met.
Mr Settler stood in the doorway watching Jack. He has known Jack for quite some time, but he has never seen him so frail and helpless as today. When Jack smiled at him he saw something different in Jack than he did before. His own wife died in a car accident a few years ago, after having a heart attack while driving.
It was one of the saddest days of his life. His own children lived abroad and he did not see them very often, but he developed such a soft spot for Maria and her kids that it made up for the loss. He would give anything to see Maria happy again, and he knew after her husband died that it was a very difficult time for her. He was even glad when she met Jack, and hoped that he could fill the void in Maria's life, but he was wrong.
Mr Settler pulled up a chair to sit next to Jack. Jack turned towards him and smiled again and said:
"Thank you for coming. I really appreciate it."
Mr Settler nodded and waited for Jack to speak again. He could see that Jack was a totally different person but he still did not want to trust him.
"What can I do for you Jack?"
Jack turned his face away but started talking. He told Mr Settler the whole story of how he grew up and about his parents. He told him about the money and the trust fund and the house, and all the other luxuries that belonged to him. Mr Settler listened attentively and shook his head in amazement quite a few times before whistling through his teeth when Jack finished.
"You mean to tell me that you are a millionaire, or should I say nearly a billionaire, and you lived in Maria's house all this time? Do you know that money doesn't mean anything to Maria, and that money can't make you happy?"
Jack had a painful expression on his face but looked Mr Settler straight in the eye and said:
"Money doesn't mean anything, but I have lost the only thing that was dear to me. I messed up so badly and by sharing what I have, will make life so much easier for her and the kids. I feel so ashamed of myself but I have learned a very hard lesson. My life will never be normal again. I will live in a facility for the rest of my life and be dependent on everyone around me. Maria doesn't have to be dependent on anyone or anything. I want her to have the money, and the house and the rest of everything. She can do with it whatever she wants, but I'm sure she will put it to great use."
Mr Settler told Jack that it was a noble thing to do and that he was impressed by the way that Jack handled things.
"I'm sorry that this happened to you Jack, and I wish that I could change things, but you are right. Maria would know exactly what to do with everything, and she deserves it."
Jack told him that he already arranged for a transfer to one of the best caring facilities in the country and that he would take permanent residence there. He would never be able to work again, and he would put enough money aside for him to live comfortable in the facility. The rest should go to Maria. Maria had to know that there were some good in him, and that he was not all bad.
Jack gave him all the details and Mr Settler promised that he would get everything done before the new year. He would contact Jack's lawyer and set up a meeting as soon as possible and arrange for everything to be transferred to Maria's name. Jack felt very relieved when Mr Settler left the room, and for the first time in weeks, he fell asleep peacefully. All the anger and anxiousness left him and he felt free for the first time in his life.
Maria woke up very early on Christmas morning. She heard someone downstairs in the kitchen and quickly went downstairs to see what was going on. She walked into the kitchen and saw that Gabriella was busy cleaning the dishes from the previous night. It was such an emotional evening that Maria left the kitchen to clean in the morning.
"Oh sweety you don't have to do this. Come let me help you."
Maria and Gabriella cleaned the kitchen in silence and then made breakfast for everyone. They worked together in perfect harmony and they looked like mother and daughter. Mindy woke up a few minutes later, and joined them. The three of them had such fun and when Terrence and Jonah eventually came downstairs, they found them making pancakes in the kitchen. It looked like they were having a ball and there were flour all over the place. Terrence and Jonah joined in the fun, and everyone ended up full of flour. The puppies ran around and you could see the little footprints all over the kitchen. They all sat around the kitchen table and ate as many pancakes as they could. It was a lovely morning and a great way to start the day.
After breakfast, Terrence and Jonah took the puppies outside and let them run outside in the backyard. Mindy and Gabriella went outside to play with the puppies and Terrence went back inside to help her clean up the mess.
"I'm so grateful for you Maria, you gave me back my life." Terrence said.
Maria laughed and said: "That's exactly how I feel Terrence. If it wasn't for you I would never have found Jonah."
Maria made coffee and they sat drinking their coffee while the kids played outside. They sat chatting and was busy planning their day, but was interrupted by a knock on the door.
Mr Settler bought some presents the previous day for all the kids. He wanted to see how Gabriella was doing and when he left the hospital, he asked the driver stop at the house. Maria was delighted to see him and offered him some coffee. Mr Settler had been like a father to her in the past few years and he was always the person she could go to when she was in trouble.
Mr Settler kissed her on the cheek and sat down at the kitchen table. They chatted for a while and Maria invited him for dinner. He declined, but asked if he could speak to Maria privately for a few minutes. He had something important to talk to her about. Terrence was not offended and took his coffee outside and sat on the porch drinking his coffee while the kids played with the puppies.
Maria looked quite nervous, but Mr Settler assured her that it was nothing bad, and had nothing to do with Gabriella. He sat there talking and explaining to her about his visit to Jack. Maria was flabbergasted. Mr Settler went outside to talk to the kids, and called them inside to give them their presents. They were delighted but Maria did not join in. She sat in the kitchen, and couldn't wrap her head around what Mr Settler just said.
Terrence found her there, looking absolutely shocked and puzzled. He made her more coffee, and added a little more sugar to calm her nerves. When she looked a little better he went to see Mr Settler out and asked the kids to go upstairs to make their beds. He went back to the kitchen and found Maria laughing hysterically. Something was terribly wrong, and he had to find out what it was.