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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 4

The funeral was held the day after Celeste returned to the lawyer’s office. It took place at Prince of Peace Christian Church. It was well attended, despite the fact that it was held early in the morning. Celeste had insisted that it be early. After all, the club meeting had been rescheduled for that afternoon. And while she was at school, she planned to take care of another matter as well.

Mr. Davis had found documentation that pointed to the existence of a wall safe in her parents’ house. The documentation also listed the combination for that safe. The money was put there, so that her parents’ assets wouldn’t be tied up in litigation. Celeste was ecstatic there was more than enough money to pay for the rest of her yearly school tuition. In addition, there would be enough left for her and Lark to live off of for a while. In the meantime, Mr. Davis would be working on liquefying other assets and checking into any life insurance policies. Though, he advised, it may take awhile because of his busy schedule. Celeste was a bit dismayed to hear that her struggles weren’t a priority for her father’s supposed friend. Perhaps, she should take Lark with her next time; Lark was sure to evoke some sympathy. Yet, at the end of the day, Celeste concluded that it was more important for Mr. Davis to do a thorough job. She, therefore, couldn’t afford to call him out on his lack of enthusiasm. Instead, she decided to focus on the fact there would be plenty of money once everything was settled. After all, if her parents had that much in a safe imagine the size of both estates! And there was more good news; it seemed there was no stipulation about age or trust funds in the will. That meant that Celeste could control the entirety of both estates! At last, control seemed to be returning to Celeste. So much for Mrs. Baker’s proclamation of doom!

“Celeste … Celeste.”

Celeste turned towards Mrs. Baker.

“Would you like to say a few words?” Mrs. Baker offered in a solemn tone.

Celeste’s eyes flashed as the people around her turned and stared. Celeste’s face flushed.

“No.” Celeste snapped.

Celeste could tell by the reaction of the people around her that they thought less of her. Celeste turned to her left and looked at Lark. Lark was silent. Her head was bowed down; tears streamed continuously down her face.

Celeste remarked to herself that no one asked Lark to speak. No one ever expected anything from her. Why was that? Why didn’t anyone cut Celeste slack? Her parents died, too. Celeste turned from her cousin and stared straight ahead. Suddenly, tears began to form in Celeste’s eyes as well. Lark looked up at Celeste then placed her hand on Celeste’s. Celeste looked down at the hand for a moment. The weight and heat of it became almost unbearable somehow. But Celeste couldn’t exactly move her hand away. What would everyone else think?

After the funeral, there was a delay. Mrs. Baker was going to drive Celeste and Lark to the cemetery, but she was taking her time leaving the church. In order to avoid having to talk to too many people, Celeste placed herself away from the door and next to a bulletin board. One after another, the other mourners filed outside slowly. Celeste began watching them leave out of the corner of her eye; that is until she realized that one of them was coming towards her. To avoid having to deal with the person — whoever it was — Celeste turned completely away and stared at the bulletin board. As it turned out, this incident was fortunate, for one notice quickly caught her eye. Without hesitation, Celeste grabbed an information pamphlet from the board. Celeste then turned to Lark, who had come up silently to stand next to her.

“Look.” Celeste directed. “This may work for you. There’s an after-school church program for kids. Since this church isn’t far from your school, you could walk here. I wonder how much it costs. Remind me to call and ask later.”


There was a lot of food at the luncheon after the funeral. The good news was Celeste wouldn’t need to cook for a while; though, she did wonder whether there was enough freezer space for all of it. Still, the problem with having all these people come over to the house was how to get them to leave promptly. They seemed almost dazed and unsure of what to do with themselves. Celeste tried dropping hints about how she had somewhere else to be soon, but the guests just looked at her as though she wasn’t speaking their language.

Fortunately, they eventually started to say their good-byes and excuse themselves. Then, it was just she and Lark left.

“All right. It’s time to get ready for school.”

Lark was perplexed.


“Yes. I have to go, so you have to go.”

Lark looked off to the side for a moment and considered. Then, she headed for her room to change. Celeste got ready in record time. It wasn’t that hard, for her hair and makeup were already perfect. Then again, that wouldn’t do. Celeste swiftly grabbed a handkerchief from her father’s desk drawer and began taking off some of the makeup — that way no one could accuse her of not grieving enough. Too bad she hadn’t thought of that during the funeral. Perhaps, she might have been treated better if she had looked less pretty — like Lark. Suddenly, Celeste sighed. All that was left for her to do was wait for Lark to show up. Once Lark finally did appear, Celeste promptly ushered her out the front door. Lark’s school was a little out of Celeste’s way, but it couldn’t be helped. It would be just like Mrs. Baker to show up to check on them later and find Lark home alone. That could potentially ruin Celeste’s chances of becoming Lark’s guardian. Fortunately, it didn’t matter. If Celeste hurried, she could still make it to her own school early enough to complete a half-day. And that would make her eligible to attend the after-school meeting. Thankfully, Celeste now had access to her mother’s car. Celeste knew she couldn’t make it on time if she had to walk.

“Remember to go to the church after school.” Celeste mentioned when they arrived in front of Lark’s school. “I talked to them. They’ll be expecting you. It turns out it’s free.”

Lark nodded; then, she stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk. Seconds later, Lark could hear the car retreat behind her.

Of course, people looked at Celeste funny when she arrived at school. Something about death seemed to bring on this reaction, Celeste thought. Oh well. There was one thing she could do to cheer herself up. Celeste headed directly to the main office of the school. There, she proudly took out most of the money from the safe and presented it to the bursar.

“I’d like to pay my tuition for the rest of the year.” Celeste announced.

The bursar didn’t seem to react. Of course, they were used to this kind of thing, and Celeste’s account had always been kept current. Why should anything change now? Feeling confident in having secured part of her future, Celeste now just needed to secure the presidency and the scholarship. Since it was almost time for the lunchtime passing period, Celeste decided to wait around in the hall for Deidre. Celeste had become friends with Deidre over the course of the last few months. She was a perfect friend to have at the club. Deidre’s parents were rich, so Deidre certainly didn’t need the scholarship. Deidre was also very busy in the show horse circuit and had no desire to take on more responsibilities. If Deidre had wanted the presidency, she would have had it with ease. She was very influential and well liked. Fortunately, instead of being a rival she became Celeste’s asset.

Of course, there was one problem: Deidre’s best friend, Melissa. Deidre had thrown her support behind Melissa up until about a month ago. But now, Deidre’s support was firmly behind Celeste. Well, as firm as these things could be. The bell rang.

By the time Celeste caught sight of Deidre in the milling crowd, Deidre already seemed to have caught sight of Celeste. Celeste was a bit surprised that Deidre appeared to be dragging her heels heading over to her. What was even stranger was the fact that Celeste was standing in front of Deidre’s locker. Could Deidre be avoiding Celeste because of her personal tragedy?

“Celeste. I didn’t think you’d be here.” Deidre stated when she eventually found herself standing in front of Celeste.

“What do you mean? Certainly, you’re not saying you purposefully scheduled the meeting for a time when you thought I couldn’t be here?”

“No, of course not.” Deidre replied. “But once I heard about the funeral, I just assumed. I mean, as it turns out, you really don’t have to be here.”

“What? Of course I do.” Celeste was incredulous.

Deidre raised an eyebrow then looked off to the side.

“What?” Celeste demanded.

“I talked it over with the other girls. Seeing that you now have a little cousin to take care of — how can you expect to fulfill the club responsibilities?”

“She’s old enough to stay at home by herself a little while. Plus, I’m getting her into an after-school program.”

“Then, there’s the little matter of the scholarship.”

“What about it?”

“You can’t use it.”

“How so?”

Deidre rolled her eyes.

“They’re not going to let you take your little cousin to Highland. You won’t be able to attend there until she’s grown. So really, why waste this opportunity for the rest of us? It doesn’t make any sense. Plus, it was close anyway. The fact is any one of us … well, any one of the rest of us could do just as good of a job as you could.”

Celeste glared at Deidre with intensity.

“Listen, the thing with Lark hasn’t even been settled yet …” Celeste pointed out.

Deidre sighed.

“Before you go on, you should know that I know.”

“Know what?”

“Well, it seems you were mistaken about Melissa.” Deidre added. “She never went out with my ex-boyfriend. It’s a good thing we got to talking. Now I can vote for her instead without reservation. It’ll be enough to change the outcome.”

Deidre turned — a satisfied grin on her face. Celeste just stared; hers was a look of shock mixed with impotent rage.

“Please, Deidre, can’t the vote wait?!” Celeste suddenly cried out. “I just buried my parents today!”

Deidre turned and looked at Celeste with disbelief and disgust etched on her face.

“I really don’t see how that would be fair to Melissa, do you?” she countered.

Deidre turned around again; this time she kept walking.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 3

It was going to be a busy day, but Celeste felt ready for it. First thing was first — get Lark ready and out the door. It wasn’t part of the plan for Lark to stay home again; Celeste couldn’t deal with that. The possibility of having to call Mrs. Baker was not something Celeste even wanted to consider. Fortunately, Lark seemed more cooperative than she did the day before, and Celeste managed to get her onto the bus on time.

Next, was school. After what happened yesterday, Celeste had to make it clear to the other members of the club that she was up for the responsibility of being the club president. Celeste had to admit there was a risk to her showing up at school at all the day after the news of her parents’ deaths broke; people might think she was cold. But let them even suggest she wasn’t grieving enough, and they’d regret it. Celeste would just burst into tears in front of everyone. Not to mention, if Celeste didn’t show up at school who would excuse her absence? The last thing Celeste needed was people thinking she couldn’t handle herself.

As it turned out, the day was uneventful — if not a bit awkward. Most people didn’t even talk to Celeste; they just looked at her blankly. The ones who did talk to her gushed sympathy; this got to be annoying quickly. Yet, because most of these were the ones who supported Celeste’s bid for the club presidency she had to play along. But what made the situation truly intolerable was the fact there was no news about the club presidency or when the meeting was to be rescheduled. In fact, when Celeste tried to press the members for details there was a distinct feeling that the topic should not be breached. Celeste decided there was always tomorrow. Celeste would figure out what was going on and fix it. In the meantime, there were other matters to attend to.

Celeste was grateful that her father’s lawyer fit her into his schedule that day. Celeste figured that if anyone could help her return her life to normal it would be he. Just the idea of that was a relief. People like Mrs. Baker just wanted to change everything, to ruin the good things in Celeste’s life. Celeste was determined that Mrs. Baker’s vision of the future would not come to pass.

Right after school, Celeste headed to the lawyer’s office. Regrettably, there wasn’t even time to go home and change out of her school uniform. As Celeste approached the large, marble steps of the lawyer’s building, she reflected on the fact that Lark was getting out of school right then. Celeste had given Lark instructions on how to get off the bus, let herself into the house, then lock up behind her. Celeste hoped that Lark could handle this one thing. Celeste didn’t need any more complications.

After tracking down the lawyer’s office number from a registry on the wall, Celeste headed for his office. The waiting room was large. It had well-groomed plants and a waterfall sliding down the opposing wall. Right in front of Celeste was a huge cherry-wood desk with a well-dressed woman sitting behind it. Celeste went straight toward her.

“Hello. My name is Celeste Tampy. I have an appointment with Mr. Robert Davis.”

The receptionist lifted her eyes slowly. Then, she began to rifle through a day planner.

“Ah, yes.” she started. “I see he’s going to squeeze you in.” The receptionist made a directive gesture with her hand. “Please, have a seat.”

Celeste turned around. This was unexpected. Celeste needed to get this done and return home before anyone realized Lark was home alone. Maybe if Celeste mentioned her cousin … Celeste turned back toward the receptionist. Only this time, Nancy Springfield was turned away from Celeste and had her phone to her ear.

Celeste looked back toward the chairs; she grudgingly headed toward them. She remarked to herself that the chairs’ cushions were made with expensive-looking blue velvet. Celeste daintily sat on a chair with a direct view of the receptionist. Several times, Celeste lifted her eyes in irritation toward the woman, but the woman didn’t return her gaze. As time passed, Celeste began knocking her Mary Janes against the wooden legs of her chair. If the receptionist noticed Celeste’s actions, she never showed it. Then, all of a sudden, the entrance door to the office swung open powerfully.

A tall, well-dressed blonde teenage boy walked briskly into the room. He went directly toward the receptionist. Nancy Springfield turned, a surprised look in her eyes. She said good-bye slowly then hung up the phone. The teen looked about the room briefly, his eyes scanning above Celeste’s head. He then turned his attention back to Ms. Springfield.

“Where’s my father?”

“In with Mr. Davis.”

“Why was I summoned here if my father doesn’t have the decency to wait for me?”

Ms. Springfield just stared at him. Finally, after a few moments of the two of them staring at each other, the teen turned on his heels and headed over to a chair. He sat next to Celeste without actually looking at her. Eventually, he did look over and at Celeste directly. He noted how pretty she was with her long blonde hair and delicate features. He thought she looked a lot like a female version of him.

“So, have you been waiting long?” the boy then asked Celeste.

Celeste turned her head fully toward him and looked him in the eye.

“Do I know you?” she returned.

The boy laughed.

“Ha! Most girls want to be nice to me.” the boy responded.

“I’m sure.” Celeste replied. “But you see, most boys want to be nice to me as well. There are so many who talk to me; I lose track.”

“Wow, really?”

Celeste smiled.

“Yes and no.” she said. “I don’t remember you.”

“Frederick Applegate.”

Frederick offered his hand. Celeste waited a moment then decided to shake his hand.

“Celeste Tampy.”

“That’s a pretty name.” Frederick admitted.

“And yours is impressive.”

Frederick’s face fell.

“What?” Celeste wondered.

“You recognize my name?”

Celeste looked at him doubtfully.

“No, should I?”

Frederick analyzed her for a moment. Suddenly, the door from the inner office opened. Two men emerged, both meticulously dressed. They shook hands. At that moment, Frederick stood, his attention directed solely at the men.

“Frederick.” the older of the two men stated. “It’s good of you to show up.”

“I got here when I could.” Frederick mumbled.

“I’m sure. I’ll fill you in on what was discussed when we get home.”

Frederick looked on his father with irritation.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Davis.” Mr. Applegate concluded.

“Sure. Thank you for your patronage.”

Mr. Applegate came up to his son and placed his hands on Frederick’s shoulders. As Frederick turned back around, he looked at Celeste. He maintained eye contact with her as he left. She returned a look of sympathy. After all, she now knew how it felt when adults tried to run your life. Celeste then turned her attention back to the receptionist. Mr. Davis and Ms. Springfield were discussing something.

Ms. Springfield looked up.

“Miss Tampy, Mr. Davis is ready for you now.”

Celeste stood up then followed Mr. Davis into his inner office. Mr. Davis pointed to a chair in front of his desk. Celeste sat down.

“So, what can I do for you?” Mr. Davis asked as he walked behind his desk.

Celeste’s forehead crinkled.

“Well, don’t you know that my parents are dead?”

Mr. Davis was briefly taken aback by Celeste’s affect.

“Yes, I was informed.”

“Well, I don’t know what to do.” Celeste admitted. “I’ve never buried anyone. I’ve never paid bills in my life. I was hoping you could help me.”

Mr. Davis sat down.

“Your father wasn’t just my client; I considered him a friend. I would be glad to help you in any way I can. I can make Ms. Springfield available to help you with the funeral arrangements.”

“And the estate? What about that?”

“From what I understood from talking with your father, there should be enough money in your father’s and your uncle’s estates to take care of both you and your cousin until the two of you reach your majority.”

Celeste beamed.

“As long as the two of you can adhere to a budget …” Mr. Davis quickly added.

“Budget?” Celeste repeated.

“Yes, there should be plenty of money for all of your living expenses. As I’ve said, you can live quite comfortably until Lark reaches her majority.”

Celeste bowed her head in thought.

“Of course, there’s the matter of guardianship. I’ll have to review your aunt and uncle’s will to see whether they recommended anyone for Lark.”

“I’m almost eighteen.” Celeste said.

“Yes, that is something to consider. But I realize you must be busy …”

“Part of the estate would go to Lark or at least to her guardian, right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What if I became her guardian?”

Mr. Davis looked perplexed.

“You’d have to prove you were mature enough for that.” Mr. Davis informed her.


“For one thing, you should find some employment.”

“Employment? Why should I have to do that? You said we’d have enough money.”

“It doesn’t need to be a full-time job, but it would help to show you can be responsible with money.”

“I see.” Celeste uttered.

“When is your birthday?”

“Next month.”

“Assuming that is what you both really want, we could delay filing for guardianship until then. But in the meantime …”

“What if I hired a nanny until then?”

“That could be a possibility.”

“Well, how long before the estate is dealt with?”

“I can’t give you that information just now. I will have to see whether there’s an executor named.”

“And if there is, he or she will be in control of the money?” Celeste continued.

“As you know, I’ll have to review your parents’ paperwork. There may be stipulations about age, trust funds, and other such things. I’ll try to free up some liquid assets for you and your cousin right away. In the meantime, talk to my assistant about arranging for the funeral. Once again, I considered your father a friend, so I will pay for the funeral expenses.”

“Thank you!” Celeste was quick to say.

The thought occurred to Mr. Davis that he couldn’t tell whether Celeste was happy for her relatives’ sakes or because she wouldn’t have to pay the expenses. Perhaps it was both.

“Why don’t you make an appointment for tomorrow afternoon? That should give me the time to look over at least some of your parents’ documentation. Will you and your cousin be all right overnight?”

“Yes. We have enough food.”

“Good. Then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mr. Davis picked up his phone.

“Ms. Springfield, I’m going to send Miss Tampy out to you. I want you to make her an appointment for tomorrow afternoon. I also need you to please help Miss Tampy make arrangements for a funeral for four individuals.”

“All right, sir. By the way, your 4:30 appointment is here.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Mr. Davis hung up the phone. “Thank you for coming in, Celeste.” Mr. Davis stood and offered his hand to Celeste. “Ms. Springfield will take care of you outside.”

“Thank … you.”

Celeste headed out the door. As she stepped into the waiting room, a man rushed past her and into the room. The door was shut soon after.

“Miss Tampy. If you’d take a seat in the chair by my desk, we’ll get started.” Ms. Springfield offered.

Celeste sat down. Things were happening quickly now.

“That’s good,” Celeste thought.

The only problem was it felt as though she had just lost control of her life.

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 2

“It was always a nice house,” Celeste thought as she came upon it. It was large, and it looked so nice from the outside. Then again, the inside was just as nice. Still, it was amazing how many people let the outside go. One of the things Celeste’s mother had done really well was take care of the garden. Now, either Celeste or Lark would have to take care of it or hire a professional. Celeste opened the small gate to the white fence that surrounded the house. She noted how silently it glided open. Celeste’s father had maintained everything so nicely. That’s another job that would have to be done now. Oh well, Celeste thought, I have enough to do today.

Just before the school day was over — that was the moment a cloud began to descend on Celeste. People had been busy crafting a new reality for Celeste while she had been busy trying to maintain the old one. Of particular concern to Celeste was her cousin, Lark. She’d always been a sensitive sort; chances were she’d blown it out of proportion. Things wouldn’t have to change completely. In fact, Celeste decided, most things should have the capacity to remain the same. The trick was to imagine that her parents were simply in the next room. Celeste had always been rather independent, so it wouldn’t be that hard for her.

Celeste used her key on the front door. She was surprised to find the house so dimly lit. Wasn’t Lark home? It would seem odd that Mrs. Baker wouldn’t have mentioned if Lark were with her. After all, wasn’t that the real reason Mrs. Baker pulled Celeste from school, so that Celeste could once again take charge of her cousin?

“Celeste?” a weak, scratchy voice uttered from the shadows.

“Lark? Is that you?” Celeste called out.

The small girl entered from the adjoining room, which was barely lit by the light of the waning day. Her long brown hair was a mess of tangles; her face was stained with tears.

“What are you doing?” Celeste asked, while placing her keys on the key ring.

Lark looked off to the side, her lip quivering.

“You’ve just been sitting around here all day? I can’t see how that’s very helpful.”

Lark looked at Celeste questioningly.

“Are you mad at me, Celeste?”

Celeste considered briefly.

“Kind of. I mean, if it weren’t for your staying home today Mrs. Baker wouldn’t have come to my school to retrieve me. Honestly though, what could that woman have needed to do that was so important? I guess it was really her fault after all.”

Suddenly, Lark ran toward her cousin and hugged her. Celeste was taken aback by the sobbing girl. Perhaps she had been a bit too generous letting Lark off the hook, she thought. But there was no point in watching Lark sulk all day. Eventually, Celeste placed her hands on Lark’s shoulders.

“There. There. It’ll be all right. Circumstances have changed, but they don’t have to change that much.”

Lark looked up at Celeste in disbelief.

“How?” Lark stammered.

“By being strong. You don’t have to allow your emotions to rule you.” Celeste advised.

Celeste next placed her hand on Lark’s chin.

“I suppose you haven’t eaten yet either.” Celeste remarked.

Lark shook her head.

“All right. Well, let’s see whether there are any leftovers in the fridge. Huh, that reminds me that people usually bring over food after a funeral. Then again, someone has to plan the funeral, I suppose. I don’t know.”

Lark and Celeste entered the kitchen.

“You know, everyone assumes that I’m just going to become an adult all of a sudden.” Celeste remarked. “You, I guess, get a free pass since you’re younger. The fact is it’s not going to work out that way.”

Celeste turned and looked at Lark intently.

“I figure you’re old enough to carry your own weight. You can’t be treated like a baby forever. You’re almost out of elementary school. It’s about time you started taking care of yourself.”

Celeste went to the refrigerator and opened it.

“Good. There’s still some stuff to warm up. Here.” Celeste handed Lark a container. “You can handle this. I’m going to call Dad’s attorney. I’m sure he can handle things for us.”

Celeste left the room. Lark sat down at the kitchen table; she placed the container down in front of her softly. Then, she just stared at it — unable to muster any hunger. Celeste returned soon after.

“What are you doing, Lark? You can’t just let the food rot.” Celeste barked. “That’s wasteful. Here, I’ll take care of it just this once.”

Lark watched as Celeste carefully grabbed the container and took it to the microwave.

“What are we going to do, Celeste?” Lark finally managed.

“It’s not that complicated.” Celeste responded. “I know how to reheat food.”

“I mean …” Lark interrupted. Celeste turned and stared. “… without them.” Lark added softly.

“Well, I have an appointment tomorrow with the estate lawyer. He’s willing to help me with the details.”

“Yeah, but …” Lark broke down into tears. “I miss them.”

Celeste turned her back and stared straight ahead watching the dish of food turning slowly in the microwave.

“It doesn’t help me to have you say things like that.” Celeste added coolly. “I can’t handle your problems as well as my own. Listen, you’ll be going to school tomorrow. I will be at school, so I can’t stay home and watch you. I’m sure that they have a counselor there, even if it is only a public school. Why don’t you go talk with him or her? That person should know what to say better than I would.”

The microwave beeped. Celeste removed the food with two pot holders and took it over to Lark.

“There now.” Celeste stated. “You’re welcome.” she added.

“Thank you.” Lark stammered.

“You know …” Celeste started. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a housekeeper, especially if he or she could cook well? Tammy’s family has one that went to culinary school. She knows how to make practically anything. Too bad she’s already taken. Tammy would never forgive me if I took her away. Still, if we had the money …”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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“The Life Before”

Nocturne’s Reaping® : Prelude

Chapter 1

It’s hard to know the instant when the beginning starts; it can start so simply, so unremarkably. Pieces to a puzzle can lie there forever — seemingly meaningless — then come together and change everything. The pieces themselves started long before my time. However, their being pieced together — that occurred a mere handful of years ago.

It began before I became involved in it all — back when the sky was clear and my dreams carefree. Yet, after everything that has happened since I had to know how it began. I had to seek out the truth. I found out it all started on the colony planet known simply as 9. On that planet lived two cousins. The younger one was known as Lark. The elder cousin was named Celeste. Celeste was known for her beauty and elegance; Lark was known to be both cute and friendly.

“Did you hear me, Celeste?” Mrs. Baker asked.

Mrs. Baker, a tall, hulky woman with a wholesome face, grabbed Celeste’s arm.


“I heard you. The truth is I overheard you talking with the police officer before. It’s not exactly surprising given that my parents didn’t come home last night. Frankly, I was more surprised that you let yourself into my house with a key.” Celeste lifted her blue eyes toward the woman defiantly. “But you see I have a club meeting today that I can’t miss. My parents didn’t pay all of this money for a private school, so that I could sit at home crying.”

Mrs. Baker stared back at her in disbelief.

“And what about Lark, Celeste? She’s at your home now.”

Celeste looked at Mrs. Baker blankly.

“Well, you’re the grownup.” Celeste countered. “You deal with her.”

The shock of Celeste’s tone was enough to cause Mrs. Baker to loosen her grip on Celeste’s arm. The wily girl then used the opportunity to wiggle free. Afterward, she continued on down the dreary street toward her destination. Perhaps it should have been a sign of what was to come that despite her parents’ deaths Celeste could be heard telling others that this was the last normal day she could remember having.

Then again, since no one seemed to know about her tragedy Celeste found it wasn’t hard to pretend it didn’t happen at all. Still, every time someone came to the classroom Celeste’s eyes would dart up. Maybe it would be in that moment that her world would come crashing in. Maybe it was then that everyone else would know the truth.

“Celeste. Hey, what’s with you?” Tammy, Celeste’s best friend, asked her. Tammy had turned around in her desk and was facing Celeste.

Celeste braced herself. This was an important moment. If Celeste acted too normally, what would Tammy think of her once she did learn the truth about Celeste’s parents? Perhaps if Celeste showed just a hint of sadness, Tammy would later think that Celeste was just putting on a brave face. So, carefully Celeste moistened her eyes with sad thoughts then lifted them to meet Tammy’s. She waited until a look of concern crossed Tammy’s face. Next, with a flutter of her lashes Celeste was back to normal, back to facing the day and her club meeting. After all, things were bound to work out, and Celeste’s parents wanted this life for her. She was going to give them their last wish. Tammy looked down briefly and considered.

“Oh, wait! I know what will cheer you up. The club meeting is today. Now, this is just between us …” Tammy began to whisper. “I’ve heard you’re a lock to be nominated for club president.”

Celeste’s eyes widened

“Really?!” Celeste exclaimed with enthusiasm.

“Not so loud!” Tammy advised gleefully.

Celeste looked around the room then back at Tammy. This wouldn’t do, Celeste thought. She couldn’t afford to be happy about this. And yet, if she didn’t seem happy then she’d be asked why she wasn’t.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to see what happens.” Celeste decided to say.

“Now, don’t pretend to be modest.” Tammy pointed out. “You have to think it’s a sure thing.”

Celeste smiled wryly.

“Maybe.” Celeste replied. “But maybe I’ve changed, too.”

Tammy lifted an eyebrow.

“Really? How so?”

Celeste froze. The answer was right there on the tip of her tongue. My parents are dead, she thought.

“All right, class.” the teacher began. “Let’s all turn around. It’s time to begin the day.”

Tammy made a face then grudgingly turned around.

It was surreal the way the day proceeded on as usual. Then when last period began without a summons to the principal’s office, Celeste considered herself lucky. To think it was actually fortunate that Celeste had had that encounter with Mrs. Baker. After all, if Mrs. Baker hadn’t caught up to Celeste before school she probably would have called the school. Then, Celeste wouldn’t have had this day — this day of normalcy that she hoped she could make last somehow. And then, there was the presidency of the girl’s booster club. That position came with a scholarship. And everyone knew that the girl who received it got into the prestigious Highland University if she wanted. Celeste had been working for that for two years — finding out which students had the power to give her the position and making sure that they knew she was the best person for the job.

“Celeste.” It wasn’t Tammy’s voice that Celeste heard, even though Tammy’s lips were mouthing her name. Celeste turned to face the door. A horrified look crossed her face as an ashen Mrs. Baker entered the room. Principal Tanner was by her side. That expected look of pity was chiseled on his face. And then, just like that, the last normal day of Celeste’s life was over.

Mrs. Baker and Celeste left the school together. Celeste lifted her eyes toward Mrs. Baker angrily.

“Why?” Celeste demanded.

“Why what? Why did your parents have to die?”

“Why did you have to come to my school?” Celeste lashed out. “You already told me about my parents. Why’d you have to bother me there? They were just about to announce the nomination for club president. Now, who knows when they’ll reschedule the meeting. The competition is fierce; the situation could change by then. It would have been official today. This is my future we’re talking about.”

Mrs. Baker’s eyes narrowed.

“You know, Lark lost her parents in that accident, too.”

“Of course. I was babysitting her at the time. That is why she was at my house last night. And I also know they would all be alive now if my uncle hadn’t suggested they go out to celebrate that business deal.”

Mrs. Baker was stunned silent for a moment.

“Is there anything else you need to say?” Celeste persisted.

“I have responsibilities to my family,” Mrs. Baker started. “I can help you and your cousin as much as I can. You know we don’t have a lot, but your mother was my best friend since kindergarten. And I’d do anything for her, but you need to do your part.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary.” Celeste returned.

“Not necessary?”

“I’m sure my parents provided quite nicely for me.” Celeste paused. “By the way, just out of curiosity, what did you mean by my part?”

“I meant you’re old enough to help with your cousin.”

“Help with my cousin — are you kidding me? I have too many responsibilities at school.”

“About that …” Mrs. Baker began. “First, I want you to know things will be all right. As I’ve said, I will help you.” Mrs. Baker paused. “You know, Celeste, I’m not aware of all of your parents’ finances, but I’ve talked with your mother …”

“What? What’s your point?” Celeste demanded.

Mrs. Baker hesitated. She placed her hands on Celeste’s shoulders.

“I think you need to be prepared. Your parents were having trouble paying for your school when they were alive. I doubt their estate has the money to send you to that school of yours. Whatever your parents have left you, it will most likely have to go to pay for your living expenses.”

“Oh, I see. My living expenses — which will be paid to you, I suppose?” Celeste countered in an enraged tone.

“Things have changed, Celeste.”

“Why? I’m almost of age. I don’t need your help. You just worry about your own family.”

“Well then, I guess I’ll just extend my offer of help to Lark in case she needs anything.”

“Do whatever you want. That’s not my problem.”

Copyright © Jennifer Alice Chandler 2015

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