By Chris Bedell
What happened next was quite a story. Whether we wanted to admit it or not, we were in over our heads and needed help. I suggested calling Steven’s mom since it was the easiest solution to our problem. It wasn’t without its challenges, though. We had to fess up to everything else that had been left to the imagination. Including how Chace stole his mom’s credit card to get the bus tickets. Although it was nice Mrs. Daniels didn’t frown when we told her that.
It turned out Mrs. Daniels also called her boss. I couldn’t say I blamed her for it, though. If we were going to do this, we would have to do it right. And after a number of exhausting interviews, we were cleared of any wrongdoing because she was able to convince her boss Horatio lied to the police and framed me for the social worker’s murder.
Worrying about where I would live was irrelevant, as everything would work out in the long run. Being an eternal optimist was my only option after living a nightmare for so long.
I descended the staircase several weeks later, making my way into the kitchen.
She cracked a smile. “I guess Steven is still asleep?”
“Yeah. I guess so.” I shuffled over to the breakfast table.
“Can I make you something?” asked Mrs. Daniels.
The matter simmered in my mind for a few moments before I came to a conclusion. “Sure. I think I’ll have a bowl of Cheerios if that’s okay.”
“That’s fine.” She placed her mug down on the counter and handed me the bowl of cereal a minute later. “Here you go.”
I took it from her. “Thank you.”
She reached for her cup before chugging the rest of the coffee.
I looked up at her when I was halfway done with my cereal. Steven still wasn’t downstairs yet. It was kind of laughable he took more time than me in the bathroom in the mornings. Last time I checked, guys didn’t take so long to get ready. And it was bizarre to say the least.
“It was nice of the court to grant your petition for guardianship. Although I guess it wasn’t that much of a stretch since you used to be best friends with my mom.”
Oops. A detail I should have mentioned sooner. Because I almost screamed with joy from the rooftop after finding out I could live with Steven’s mom.
She placed the mug in the dishwasher before spinning around to face me. “Yeah, it was. There was something else I wanted to talk to you about.”
I bit my lip. “Did I do something wrong?”
She snickered. “Nope! And I wish you would stop thinking that every time I want to talk to you. You’ll come to learn that adults actually want to help kids. Most of the time that is…”
I couldn’t help it. Worrying was a natural reaction of living in such a demented environment. My past didn’t have to define my present or future, but it would always be a part of me. Although I’d move forward because that was my only chance at having a normal life.
“I wanted to let you know you can still be interested in Steven if you like him. I’m not an idiot. I’ve seen the way the two of you look at each other. You aren’t actually siblings. No laws are being broken. I should know. I’m a detective after all.”
Weird. Almost as if she wanted Steven and I to reunite. Then again, there was a difference between being encouraging and overstepping. I of all people should have known that point because showing some support of Mom’s marriage to Horatio before he killed her was necessary. Being a complete brat would have only alienated her, which was the last thing I needed at the time.
I gulped down the last bit of milk from the cereal before opening my mouth. “That’s so sweet of you to say! Are you giving me your blessing?”
“Yeah. I am,” she said.
I pushed a chunk of my hair out of the way. “Thank you. But in all honesty, that might not be necessary. No offense or anything, but things have kind of cooled down between the two of us.”
She grabbed the car keys, shoving them into her jacket pocket. Being a cop must have meant she liked to plan everything from the biggest to the smallest moment. “That’s the thing. Sometimes you think something is done, but often times it isn’t. A door might close, but that doesn’t mean you can’t open a window. You’ll see. I’m not trying to get preachy or anything. But things always have a way of working out. Just wait. Now if you’ll excuse, I’m going to have to bring some pots and pans upstairs and bang them up to get Steven out of bed.”
“He’s probably still in the bathroom.” I rubbed the side of my nose. “I think I heard the sound of running water earlier.”
Mrs. Daniels couldn’t hold back her laughter. It fell from her mouth like any other reflex. “I’m not so sure about that.”
“Nobody else will ever know right what happened, right?”
She moved her head in my direction. “Absolutely. You’re a minor. They have to keep things private, and you can have your fresh start now.”
“I don’t know about that,” I whispered under my breath.
Steven tapped my back when I was at my locker one morning at school after a few more days of barely exchanging any words with Steven besides “hi” or “I’m doing fine.”
I turned around. “What’s up, Steven?”
Steven tugged at his backpack straps. “We need to talk.”
I forced a gulp of air into my body. “What’s up?”
Red stained his cheeks. “I’m not trying to force you into anything you don’t want, but I was thinking we were possibly a little too hasty with breaking up. Is there any chance you can reconsider?”
Hasty? No offense to Steven, but I didn’t think that word was in his vocabulary.
I squeezed his hand. “Yeah. I think we can work something out.”
Chace dashed over to the two of us a moment later. “You guys seem happy.”
Steven squeezed my hand extra hard. “Yeah. We’re going to work things out.”
He smiled. “That’s great. I couldn’t be happier for you.”
I glanced at Chace, and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”
There were times even I wanted to kick myself for getting into certain situations. One would have thought I’d have learned my lesson by now. But no. It was okay, though. Because that was what I had Mr. Tanner for. He always found a way to work life lessons into his lectures even if the entire class would be giving him dirty looks.
Steven shot Chace a glance. “Do you want to walk with us?”
He shook his head in a vigorous fashion. “No. I’m kind of not feeling well. I should have listened to my Mom and stayed home from school today. I’m going to go to the nurse’s office and call her. Anyway, I’ll talk to you guys later.”
Wow. Chace couldn’t scurry away from us fast enough.
“Feel better!” I called out to him.
Steven tilted his head, making sure all of his focus was on me. “What’s his problem?”
Caring about covering for Chace was unnecessary even if he hadn’t asked me too. Someone had to look out for him because Steven sure wasn’t going to do it. At least not yet.
I let go of his hand. “You could give him a break since he isn’t feeling well.”
I ran through the hallway, ignoring school rules later in the day. The growling from my stomach was getting louder with each passing moment, and nothing would keep me from the cafeteria.
A guy turned the corner before glancing me over. “Nice to see you, Esme.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I decided to stick around. A nice lady adopted me. Her name is Mrs. Daniels. I believe you know her. She’s actually picking me up early today to get to know me some more before I officially move in tonight.”
I choked on my own gulp of air. “You’re coming to live with us?”
Figures. The universe had to make something unexpected happened.
He put his hand by his mouth. “Oops! I must have forgotten to mention that.”
I frowned. “How did you even get the adoption?”
Julian winked at me. “With a little help from some magic.”
“I guess you and I will be seeing a lot more of each other.”
Julian extended his hand, cupping my chin. “You can count on it.”
A burning sensation rolled through my stomach. It wouldn’t be so bad if Steven and I stayed friends. I always had Julian to keep me company. Besides, Julian was growing on me. Even if I wasn’t ready to admit that point to him or anyone else. But I couldn’t lie to myself, though. Julian was helpful during the Horatio saga, and I couldn’t forget that no matter how illogical he acted.
The rest of the day went by in what felt like a matter of seconds. But I had never been happier to have the school bell screech at the end of Eighth Period.
I pressed my head against the glass window of the school bus minutes later. Each house melted into the next while I smiled at the sight of flowers popping up from the ground since there was no more snow.
Winter was gone for good.
The bus came to a halt at a stop sign. How I hated stop signs! They just seemed frivolous. Or maybe I was just impatient. Either conclusion was possible.
The driver approaching the intersection seemed familiar even if I could only steal a quick glance before the car darted down the road in the opposite direction.
I couldn’t deny that I would look over my shoulder for the foreseeable future. My past would always tug at me no matter how much I wanted Horatio to be dead, begging the question if he survived the fall into the river and was out there somewhere in the world plotting his revenge.
Because I wasn’t clueless despite my young age. Villains somehow always clung to life before being killed off. And that meant Horatio could have been the drive in the car that just passed the school bus.
Nope. Thinking Horatio was alive couldn’t happen. He died in the river even if his body was never found. That just had to be the case. I wasn’t prepared for the alternative. Horatio still being alive meant my nightmare was far from over, and had just begun.