Chapter One brings us back to the present time where we meet three teenage siblings who will soon learn that an adventure of epic proportions lies before them. I love feedback, so please let me know what you think!
The dream came again. I had it often enough that it had become a comfort to me. Every time it was the same. I was running through the thick vegetation of a forest. The branches lashing out at my skin, but not slowing me. Instead they spurred me on. With each step I gained speed, the urgency I felt driving me on. The trees whipping past at a blinding rate. My speed so intense I felt I was no longer making contact with the ground. I risked a glance down and found that I was no longer running through the forest, but soaring above it. This revelation warmed me, filled me with purpose. I cast my eyes forward and blazed a trail through the sky in the direction of the horizon.
My eyes fluttered open to the menacing sight of a mountain of boxes. Ugh. Dream time was over and in its place was the day I had been dreading; moving day. Personally I was ready for the actual move, excited about it even. The downside and unbearable part would be my traveling companions. My muscle-bound jock older brother and my drama queen baby sister who were polar opposites and fought relentlessly. I rolled over and draped my arm over my eyes. A headache was already threatening at the mere idea of being trapped in a car with them.
Okay, I internally reasoned. Finish loading the truck and then it’s a twelve hour ride to Grams‘. I can do this. If they fight the whole time I’m just going to leave them at a rest stop and explain it to Mom later.
Satisfied with my plan I took a deep calming breath and heaved myself out of bed. I bee lined down the stairs in pursuit of a much needed caffeine fix. At the kitchen table, hunched over his bowl of cereal like he was protecting it from bothersome Applejack thieves, was my brother Gabe.
“What’s Laura think of the new haircut?” I questioned, racking my hand over his recently buzzed chestnut hair.
“Not really an issue any more, is it?” he grumbled.
“Wow, you broke up with your girlfriend and your hair in the same week…bummer.”
He glared in response.
Despite the early hour, the phone rang. “And so it begins.” I mused.
“That’s not the first one. It started even before sunrise.” Gabe replied. Neither of us made any effort to reach for the phone. There was no point. It wasn’t for us.
“I’m not surprised. Everybody loves Kendall…” I muttered, pouring myself a cup of life-giving coffee.
“…and Kendall loves everyone. “ Gabe finished.
The sound of shouting and stomping headed our way, warned us the show was about to begin. “I got it! I got it! It‘s for me!” Our baby sister yelled as she dashed into the room.
Instead of sipping my coffee I slammed it down in one gulp. It burnt my throat, but honestly I needed the jolt to brace me for what was to come.
“Hello? “ She chirped into the phone. “HI!! I’m so glad you called! I’m going to miss you too! No! No way! I’m going to miss you more! No, I’m going to miss you more!!”
“Yeah. That’s just way too much chipperness for this early in the morning.” I griped, flopping down in my chair.
Gabe grunted his agreement.
“How do her and her friends wake up that irritatingly peppy?”
“They don’t sleep.” My big brother corrected, milk dribbling down his chin from the insanely large bite he had just shoved in his mouth. “Their parents just blow into their ears to recharge them.”
I snorted with laughter.
“Hold on a sec.” Kendall said sweetly into the phone. Covering the receiver she hissed at us, “You two are just jealous because no one cares you’re leaving.” Her chastisement of us complete, she marched into the other room to finish her conversation.
“Guess she told us.”
“She’s right you know.” Gabe said, a mock look of concern on his face. “No one really seems to care that you’re leaving.”
“Nice. That’s nice. I don’t exactly see them lining up at the door to bid a fond farewell to you either.” I shot back.
“Well, there’s a good reason for that.”
“Oh? What’s that?” I asked, pouring myself a bowl of cereal.
He put his spoon down, folded his hands on the table and stared at me with a look of sorrowful resignation. “Because… I’m a jackass.”
I burst out laughing, thankful I hadn’t yet taken a bite. Shooting a crispy cereal O out my nose didn’t seem like a good way to start the day.
“No, seriously.” He continued, struggling to keep a straight face. “People do not care for me. It’s a personality flaw. So what’s your excuse?”
We both knew quite well why I wouldn’t be having any tearful goodbyes with friends today. But that conversation bordered on the deep and meaningful side and Gabe didn’t handle those well, so I kept my response light. “Well, I would have to say, it’s because my brother’s a jackass. Scared them all away.”
“Aw, that’s too bad.”
“Yeah.” I said, assuming a poor, pitiful me pout.
Finished with his breakfast, he rose to deposit his bowl in the sink. “Did you get everything packed up?”
“Everything but my desk.”
“I’m sorry, did you say ‘desk’ or ‘mess’.” He asked. I was not the most organized person.
“Ha, ha. It’s not that bad. I just have to empty out the drawers and I’m good to go.”
“Well finish eating, then get on it.” He said, reverting to his bossy older brother tone. “We need to get on the road.”
“Yes, sir.” I saluted.
“I’m going to go help Mom finish loading the truck.” He called over his shoulder. “I’ll let you tell Keni to hurry.”
“Chicken!” I shouted after him. A loud clucking echoed from the hallway.
I scarfed down my breakfast then headed back up to my bedroom. In its current boxed up state, my former sanctuary looked completely foreign to me. Everything I owned was packed way. There were two separate piles; those I was taking with me now and the rest that Mom would bring when she joined us in Tennessee. I hated the fact that she was staying behind by herself. I wasn’t sure she would do well with the solitude. But her concern for our well being had made up her mind and that was that. The topic was not up for debate.
The subdivision we lived in, in Sterling Heights,Michigan was a nice, family friendly one. There were no problems with crime…until recently. Three different homes on our street had been broken into within the last month. Nothing had been taken, but the homes had been ransacked. Mom was rightfully concerned, but wrote it off to rowdy kids. She was optimistic that we had seen the last of it. Then our next door neighbors house got broken into. That was the final straw, it was just way too close for comfort. My mom immediately listed our house with a real estate agent. She called our Grandma in Gainesboro, Tennessee and told her she was shipping all of us down. Mom would follow as soon as the house sold.
So we were off to the teeny, tiny town of Gainesboro. Population a whopping 849 people. Seriously. The scenery there was gorgeous, vast mountainous ranges as far as the eye could see. But if you actually wanted to do anything, you had to drive about thirty miles. Not that it really mattered to me. I was only going to be there for a couple of months. Just until the fall semester started at Rhodes College in the heart of Memphis. Then I would be able to get back to civilization. That was the part I was really looking forward to. Staying with my somewhat wacky Grams was just a nice little stop along the way.
Eager to get on the road, I got to work clearing out my cluttered desk. I shoved absolutely everything into those drawers. If I wasn’t in a rush I probably would have taken the time to sort it out and throw away the junk I didn’t really need. What was left over probably would have fit in a shoebox. As it was I just pulled the drawers out and shook them into an empty box. Sort it out later. I was dumping the very last drawer when a stray piece of paper fluttered to the ground.
Upon first glance I thought the faded piece of paper was just some random scrap I had held onto. But when I turned it over, my breath caught in my throat. Funny how something so small could stop me dead in my tracks. It was a section of newspaper that announced to the world, a year and a half ago, that a hero had died and my family had been ripped apart.
I rubbed by finger over the headline; Local EMT Killed While Saving Accident Victim. Beneath that was the picture my mother had given them to print. My father, Bruce, in his EMT uniform. Smiling his huge warm grin that put everyone who knew him at ease. With his olive complexion and dark hair my brother was the spitting image of him. But I was the only one of us three kids that had his eyes. I glanced up at my reflection in the mirror. Deep brown, with flecks of gold, just like his. They were the only thing about myself I considered a real attribute and I thanked him for them. Every time I looked in the mirror it made me feel close to him.
I lowered my eyes back to the paper. The memory was still fresh of the day I had been forced to pry this article from Kendall’s hands. She hadn’t slept or ate in days. She just clung to it like a life line. Reading it over and over like she expected the words to change and our father to be back.
Bruce Garrett, a local EMT, was called to the scene of an accident on I-75, Friday. Mr. Garrett pulled a driver from the wreckage and was administering CPR when he was struck by a passing vehicle. The man he revived is in stable condition at Genesys Regional Medical Center, however Mr. Garrett died at the scene. He leaves behind his wife of 21 years, Julia, along with their three children; Gabe, 19, Celeste, 18, and Kendall, 15.
Left behind. That’s what we were. Shattered and broken and left behind. I wasn’t even half way through my senior year when it happened. It was an added tragic coincidence that it was just one week after my 18th birthday. It was as if the universe had said; Happy Birthday Celeste! In honor of the day you were born we are going to rip a chunk of your heart out.
All of us were devastated, but none more so than my mother. He was the love of her life. She was absolutely destroyed, unable to function for the longest time. I took on as many of her burdens as I could, to give her time to heal. I maintained the house, paid the bills, ran my sister places, whatever needed to be done, I did.
Of course I still had to go to school. But outside of that, I put my entire life on hold. Friends, hobbies, normal teenager stuff, it all took a back seat. My priority became preventing what was left of my family from falling apart.
My mom was doing better now. Good enough to be left alone? That I was still really iffy about. But she was insisting on this, so my hands were tied. I was trying to focus my energies on being excited at the prospect of having an actual life again. Unfortunately there was no side stepping the fact that I worried about her.
I tossed around the idea of just throwing the article away. After all, my life was a constant reminder of what happened. What did I need the paper for? A nagging wave of emotion made me reconsidered. Instead I put it in the box and closed the lid. A soft knock on the door snapped me out of my painful trip down memory lane.
“Come in.” I called.
The knob turned, however the door only opened a few inches. A bright blue eye framed by golden blonde bangs peaked through the crack.
“Does that invitation still stand for me?” Kendall whispered, her voice full of regret.
“Yes.” I smiled.
Ever the performer, she threw the door open, leapt into the room, turned a perfect pirouette and then collapsed in the chair beside me.
“Show-off.” I grumbled. It seemed she had gotten all the grace and elegance genes. If I ever tried something like that I would end up tripping over my own feet and landing flat on my face. A fact I knew first hand because that’s what happened freshmen year, when I got the bright idea to try out for the cheerleading squad.
She grinned up at me. “I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry for what I said downstairs. I do think people are going to miss you.” I had to laugh at her chosen emphasis. Clearly she thought the other party that comment had been directed at had it coming. “Or, at least they would miss you. If you told any of them you were leaving. Are you sure you don’t want to call any of your friends from school?”
I heaved a deep sigh. “Are we really going to have this conversation again? They’ve all moved on with their lives. I’m not going to call them out of the blue just to say I’m leaving.”
“They might like the chance to say goodbye!”
“Leave it alone, Keni. What’s done is done.” Flustered and annoyed, I snatched my hairbrush out of my toiletries bag. I vented my frustration by raking it viciously through my hair. My hair never cooperated anyway, it deserved a bit of abuse.
“Okay, I won’t mention it again.” she relented, wincing at the way I was wielding my brush. “Geez, Cee, you’re going to rip your hair out. Give me that thing.” She stood and reached for the brush. I slapped it into her palm and sat in a huff.
Glancing in the mirror, I couldn’t help but curse genetics yet again. Kendall was a vision with her fair skin, waist length flaxen locks and ocean blue eyes. My self-esteem took a hit every time I stood next to her. My board straight, shoulder length brown hair seemed mousy compared to her golden locks. I was the girl next door, easily overlooked. She could pass for a super model. I could pass for…her personal assistant. If she wasn’t my sister, I would have to hate her.
The phone rang yet again. “Hmmm…” I said sarcastically. “I wonder who that could be? Perhaps another charter member of the Kendall Garrett fan club?”
She rolled her eyes, but didn’t deny it. “I’ll take it in my room this time.” She murmured meekly.
“Make it fast. We’ve got to help Mom and Gabe finish loading the truck!” I reminded her.
True to form, Kendall didn’t reappear until we were sliding the last box into the back of my white, extended cab, Chevy S-10.
“So sorry!“ She cried as she flitted out of the house. “The phone was ringing none stop! Every time I started for the door another one of my friends would call!”
“Oh, poor little popular girl!” Gabe taunted. “We should have a telethon for you.”
“Abby Henry called earlier, Gabe.” Kendall said. Her face was the picture of innocence. However the malicious undertone in her voice gave away that this story wasn’t going to end well. “She said she saw Laura at the movies last night with Brian Madison. Didn’t you play football with him? Weird that a buddy of yours would be out with your very recent ex.”
My brother was doing a slow burn, probably weighing the repercussions of throttling his baby sister in front of our Mother. Their eyes were locked, daring one another to be the first break the stare.
Oh, joy! We’re not even on the road yet and they’re already starting. I thought, closing my eyes and squeezing the bridge of my nose. Someone was definitely going to get left at a rest stop.
“That’s enough you two.” Mom intervened. “You have a long drive ahead of you. Please, try to get along.”
They both backed down, realizing that the moment had come to say our goodbyes and start our journey. I hate goodbyes and love my mom. This wasn’t going to be pretty. Suddenly it seemed very important to me that I concentrate all of my attention on tearing the console of my truck apart in search of my sunglasses.
Gabe was the first to swoop in and squeeze our mother. Big, tough guy that he is, he probably just wanted to get the emotional stuff over with quickly. “Love you.” He mumbled.
“I love you, too, honey. Please don’t give your Grandma a hard time.”
“Mom, I don’t harass little old ladies.”
“Good, because I’m pretty sure she could take you.” My mother joked.
“Wouldn‘t doubt that.” Gabe agreed with a grin. “No way would that lady fight fair.” He gave Mom a peck on the cheek, then climbed into the passenger seat.
Kendall was next and the water works started as if on cue. “Mommy, come with us! Throw some stuff in a bag and come! We’ll get the rest of our stuff later!” She balled.
“I can’t baby. I’m sorry.”
“But… I’m…I’m….gonna…miss…you!” Keni blubbered.
I glanced over at the spectacle to see my mother hugging her and rocking her side to side just like she had since Keni was born.
“Shhhhh…we’ll see each other soon enough.” My mother soothed. Seeing them together they looked more like sisters than Keni and I did. Their blonde hair was the same hue. The only difference being that my mother’s was cut into a stylish bob. They had the same blue eyes and the same ivory skin. My mother’s extensive use of sunblock had helped her retain a youthful look. She looked nowhere near her 42 years of age.
“All right. Wrap it up Keni. We need to get on the road sometime today.” I didn’t want to be rude, but my sister could make a moment like this last all day. Kendall pulled away from my mom and looked up at me. Her red rimmed eyes somehow managing to be an even brighter blue from her crying jag.
“Sorry.” she said, then climbed into the backseat.
My mother turned her affectionate gaze my way. “Celeste. My little Celeste.” That wasn’t a condescending remark. I’m only 5’1. Six inches shorter than her and my sister and a full foot shorter than my brother. I‘m a runt. “What am I going to do without you?” She asked, pulling me in for a tight squeeze.
“I don’t know and that’s what worries me.”
My mother pulled me back and looked me square in the eye. “I need you to make me a promise. That you will not spend all your time worrying about me. Okay? Just be a kid. Do silly, spontaneous, crazy things, okay?”
Well, that didn’t sound like me at all. “I can promise to try.”
“But you have to promise something too.” I bargained. “Promise you’ll go out for a girls night now and then. Be among the living.”
“I will if you will.” We pinkie swore to seal the deal. Then she grabbed me in another tight embrace and kissed the top of my head. “I love you sweetheart.”
“I love you, too.” I kissed her cheek then turned on my heel to climb in the truck. Tears sprang to my eyes that I quickly wiped away with the back of my hand. I turned the key in the ignition then rolled down my window.
“Drive safe kids. Call me when you get to Grandma’s.”
“We will.” We chorused. I put the car in gear and began to back out of the driveway.
My mother waved, then shouted out her parting thoughts, “Keep each other safe! And DO NOT let your brother drive!”
My brother huffed in the seat beside me.