Uncle Minsk was the first to show up after the news broke. In fact, he was there first thing in the morning - before we'd even had a chance to call anyone or wrap our heads around what happened.
At first, his face was full of hope - as if hoping the news had been wrong or misinformed. But one look at our red eyes and tear streaked faces and he knew. "So it's true then, what they're saying?"
The story have been breaking all through the wee hours of the morning - new details emerging constantly. It still amazed me how much the reporters knew before anyone had thought to actually alert the family - namely us.
I'd become numb and deaf to the noise of the reporter by now - hours after I'd first heard about the crash. Key phrases popped through the haze now and then though.
"Paparazzi following them..."
Cobalt ran toward our uncle, who greeted his sobbing form with open arms. I knew Uncle Minsk was my Mom's twin and I could just imagine how he must be feeling right now. I tried to imagine how I'd feel if something happened to Cobalt and broke down into silent tears once more.
Hours had passed and yet it seemed like only moments before the little ones were beginning to stir. I realized, with a start, that they had no idea what had happened. Surely the whole world knew now - except for my three younger siblings who were now orphans.
Chambray and Cerulean were too young to really understand the concept of death but they seemed to sense the sadness around them and were subdued and silent in return. Sapphy, who was almost four years older than the twins, seemed to grasp what death meant to some degree anyway. She curled up on a chair in the living room, hugging one of her dolls and trying not to cry.
Meanwhile more people showed up. All our uncles and aunts - of which there were many - seemed to show up that first day along with a few dozen reporters and a large crowd of fans. Uncle Windsor, irritated by the chaos, called in a private security team to try and shield the house from onslaught.
Everywhere around me people were talking about what happened next, what Mom would have wanted, what to do with the kids...
I laid down on the couch and pulled Chambray closer, snuggling with her to try and block out the noise.
In the end, everyone settled on having a small memorial services here in Caramel Canyon - as that was home for us now. Windsor and Rum both felt they should be moved back to Sugar Valley but Minsk argued how happy Mom had been here.
"This is our home," I said quietly. It was so quiet that the arguing on the subject had continued for a few minutes before anyone even acknowledged I spoke. When silence fell and everyone had turned toward me I repeated myself. "This is our home, this is where we stay and this is where they'll remain."
The words said, I walked away from the bickering relations and the argument was settled.
Monte, who had respectfully kept his distance during the media circus, came by early and I very nearly collapsed in his arms. Though it had only been a few days since I'd seen him and a couple hours since I'd spoken to him, having someone who's sole goal was to comfort ME was a great relief.
When I am gone, release me, let me go
I have so many things to see and do
You must not tie yourself to me with tears
Be happy that I have had so many years
I gave you my love, you can only guess
How much you gave me in happiness
I thank you for the love each have shown
But now it is time I travelled on alone
So grieve a while for me, if grieve you must
Then let your grief be comforted by trust
It is only for a while that we must part
So bless the memories in your heart
I will not be far away, for life goes on
So if you need me, call and I will come
Though you cannot see or touch me, I will be near
And if you listen with your heart, you will hear
All of my love around you soft and clear...*
The service was a blur of tears for me mostly. I know my uncle got up to speak along with a handful of others that had worked with Mom or Nepal over the years. Cerulean got irritable after the first fifteen minutes and Cobalt scooped him up to try and quiet him down.
People were beginning to move away from the photographs when I saw him first. Cobalt, who was still trying to silence our baby brother, hadn't noticed him among the crowd and no one else had reason to question his presence I suppose. I handed Chambray to my uncle and made a meaningless excuse before approaching him. In spite of the fact that he was much bigger than me and my "father", I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him away from the crowd of mourners. I would not add a scene to my parents' funeral!
"What the hell are you doing here?" I hissed, whirling on him once we were some distance away.
Whether he was a very good actor (doubtful!) or was genuinely surprised by my anger, he recoiled from me for a moment. "It's a funeral Lazuli, I'd rather thought it was obvious," he said after recovering.
"One you were particularly NOT invited to, I want you to leave."
"Now wait just one moment young lady..."
"Oh no you don't! You don't get to waltz in here and pretend to be dad all of sudden! I want you out of our house and out of our life! Or I WILL call the police! And if you recall, my dad - the real one who actually gave a damn about me - was an officer with the department. So I'm sure they'd be happy to take you away from trespassing!" Despite my attempts to get away from the others, a few people had heard us and came looking.
"I'm leaving..." Mirage said, noticing the same thing I had. Guess he didn't want a reputation as a funeral crasher.
Cobalt saw him as he left and ran up to me, "was that....?"
"Yeah," I said without looking at my brother. I watched until Mirage's car disappeared around the bend and then turned back to the funeral gathering. By now almost everyone was watching, most of them confused. I noticed Uncle Minsk, Aunt Amethyst and Surf didn't seem particularly surprised. I hooked my arm in Cobalt's and together we led everyone into the house where food had been laid out for everyone.
It was hours before the last person had left - save Uncle Minsk who was staying at the house with us. By then I'd realized Sapphy had ducked out and disappeared at some point. I couldn't really fault her though - I would have at her age too I imagine. I found her curled up with Lola in Mom and Nepal's bed.
I almost didn't have the heart to move the pair but Minsk had been sleeping in their room since his arrival. Carefully I scooped her into my arms, nudging Lola awake in the process. The cat looked at me and then stretched out her paws as she got up.
"Come on Lola - Sapphy's gonna need you." I whispered. Lola, who may or may not have understood me, hopped down from the bed and padded after me as I carried Sapphy to her room. Both Uncle Minsk and Cobalt offered to take her but I shook my head.
I tucked the covers around her, she barely even stirred in the entire trip, and kissed her gently on the forehead. "Sleep tight monkey," I whispered as Lola hopped up onto the bed and curled in behind Sapphy's knees.
The media circus didn't end when the memorial service did or even when the rest of the family began to return to their own lives. A week after the service and a steady flow of reporters were still outside on the lawn hoping to catch a glimpse of something - I couldn't actually guess what they were looking for though. "I think we should consider a press conference to try and dissipate them." Shamrock had been Mom's lawyer and adviser for as long as I could remember and his service - at least for the time being - had transferred to us on her death. "I know these types, they're looking for a chance for a quote and a handful of pictures. Then they'll move on."
"Pictures and quotes they can twist to their own desires," I said with an eye roll. I'd seen how Mom's words and pictures had been twisted over the years and had no desire to be part of that - especially now.
"Maybe it would be a good idea Zuli - it's madness just trying to take Sapphy to school," Cobalt pointed out. I shrugged, outvoted for now, and let them go about making their plans.
"Of course we'd like to ask for everyone to respect the wishes and privacy of the family during this tragic time..." Shamrock was the principle mouth piece for the press, while Cobalt and I stood back watching.
"Has your biological father come forward since the accident?"
"Have you ever met your biological father?"
The questions came hard and fast - and suddenly it made sense to me why they'd hung around as long as they had. Our father's identity had long been a mystery in Berrywood and now, as two teens, they hoped to wheedle it out of us and be the first with the exclusive news.
"My dad was Nepal Hai and he died along with my mother in the crash! Anything more than that is none of your damn business!" I shouted at them. The cameras went off, no doubt catching my outrage with glee.
"Let's try to stay on point here shall we?" Shamrock said as Cobalt dragged me back inside the house.
"I hate them! I hate them all!" I shouted as soon as the door closed and he released his hold on my arm.
"I know Zu, I know," Cobalt said. "No reason to give them more fuel though..."
Shamrock and Cobalt had been right though. After the press conference, all but one or two local paparazzi disappeared - no doubt going back to where they'd come from. Though my picture was splashed across the internet for about a day, a new scandal took their attention soon enough and life began to resembled some sort of normal.
"Bonjour belle," Monte's voice caused me to jump as I came out of the school. I found him sitting on one of the swings, looking quite perfect in the desert sun.
"Monte!" I grinned at him and claimed the swing next to him. "What are you doing here? You didn't get detention again did you?" I recalled the first time we'd really spoken, on this very playground.
"No, I was waiting for you," he said, his grin slipping by the moment.
"Why?" I asked before I could stop myself. "Not that I mind of course!" I stammered. "You look upset...what's wrong?"
"I..." he trailed off and looked away from me for a moment.
"Monte..." By now I was standing, unable to keep myself from fidgeting on the swing.
He stood as well and came over to me but still couldn't meet my eyes.
"You...you haven't..." Though my brain instantly jumped to cheating or some such, I couldn't bring myself to ask him that. "Monte, what it is?"
"I've had some peculiar news from home, from France that is," Monte said, still choosing his words carefully.
"Peculiar bad or peculiar odd?"
"I'm not certain - regardless I must leave Caramel Canyon soon I'm afraid."
"Leave? For France?" I staggered back a step. I shouldn't have been been so affected it under ordinary circumstances. I buried my head in my hand, trying to make the spinning and confusion stop.
"I am sorry Zuli..." Monte reached out for me. "I did not think it would happen or I would never have..."
I silenced him as I laid my head on his shoulders. Instead of floundering over apologies, he put his arms around me. I felt terribly weak - both physically and emotionally - in that moment. "Just hold me," I whispered.
"As you wish," he replied, stroking my hair. "I won't be leaving until graduation thankfully so I will be here for prom."
"Oh!" I snapped back, my eyes wide. In everything that had happened I'd almost forgotten about Prom. In fact it seemed really silly to go now...
Uncle Minsk seemed to think Prom would be good for both of us and encouraged it when I told him of my problem later. "Besides, you told him you'd go with him and you already have the dress Zuli. You ought to go to Cobalt...do you have a date?"
"Nah," Cobalt just shrugged. He'd long since accepted the fact that he was the only out teenager at our school.
"I might know someone," Minsk said with a wink. As if it had been timed, the doorbell rang. A few minutes later, Lotus, our childhood friend from Sugar Valley, was standing in the kitchen.
Cobalt and Lotus spent the evening catching up and by morning my brother had a prom date with his best friend from elementary school.
"So I guess we're going to Prom."
I'd like to say the evening was wonderful and magical but that would be a lie.
Don't get me wrong it was nice enough but half the people there seemed to be staring at us and gossiping, putting me off from the moment we walked into the gym. This wasn't helped by the fact that we were late arriving as the limo never showed up! We'd ended up just driving ourselves and left Uncle Minsk to deal with the limo driver - assuming he ever showed up!
I tried to excuse myself from Monte to say hello to Linny and Coral but he held me back and they turned away - intentionally moving away from me. I frowned and looked back at Monte for some sort of explanation. Instead of answering with words, he tugged me gently toward the dance floor.
"You look lovely this evening," Monte said as he pulled me into his arms for a particularly slow song.
"Thank you," I said, still glancing around for Coral. When I spotted her, she averted her eyes and turned toward her sister. "Do you know what's up with them?" I asked, motioning toward the pair.
Monte followed my eyes but merely shrugged and moved himself between me and them - blocking my line of sight. I tried to push the thoughts from my mind and laid my head on his shoulder for the remainder of the dance.
"Would you like to get out of here? Take a bit of a walk?" Monte suggested as the song ended.
"That would be perfect," I said relieved. The swell of the crowd had been pressing on me and it was getting harder to block out the stares and whispered. I spotted Cobalt and Lotus and waved at them as Monte led the way out of the gym.
"I wonder where they're going..."
Our fingers wove together as we walked along the school hallway in silence. I suppose there was a lot to be said - or that could have been said at that moment. Immediately following the news of his impending departure, I'd been devastated but in the intervening days I'd grown more distant.
I knew the feeling - I'd done something similar to Mom in the past. If I pushed him away now, it would be easier when he left. I was getting rather used to people leaving it seemed.
"Zuli..." Monte, who was usually very confident seemed nervous as he said my name, pulling me to a stop against the door of one of the classrooms.
When I turned toward him expectantly he pulled me into a kiss - gentle at first but the heat of his lips quickly melted the icy exterior I'd been attempting to build. I fumbled with door handle, hoping the room would be unlocked. When the door gave way to my insistence, we tumbled into the room together, still lip locked even then.
Without realizing I was doing it, I began tugging his jacket off and undoing the bow-tie at his neck. He may have been surprised but he didn't show it, he merely followed my lead. It wasn't until my dress was pooled on the floor that he paused long enough to ask, "Are you certain?"
"Yes..." My voice was more certain than my heart or my head but I was committed to it now.
The edge of the desk dug deeper into my legs with each moment, causing me to grimace. I was thankful then that the only light in the room was coming through the small window in the doorway so it was unlikely Monte could really see my face.
As I said, it wasn't magical.
When it was over, I turned away, pretending to retrieve my clothes. I was afraid to let him see my face. I was afraid to show him the tears in my eyes. What would he think of that?
Our eighteenth birthdays came and went with no fan fare at all. Lotus had been forced to return to Sugar Valley to finish his own senior year and I'd continued my self-destructive path of pushing Monte away so neither Cobalt nor I had anyone around to help us celebrate.
Although Uncle Minsk was still there, he'd been busy working with Shamrock on the legalities of Mom's will mostly so even he seemed to forget until Shamrock came by a few weeks before hand with some news.
"Do you know anything of your biological father?" He was hedging his words carefully - he knew I'm sure, Mom would have had to tell him I would imagine.
"Why?" I asked, uncertainly.
Cobalt gave us away though, spilling the entire encounter in Egypt with Mirage. Shamrock nodded, apparently expecting we knew something. "He - Mirage that is - has filed a request to establish you both as his biological children. He wants a paternity test done..."
"What?! No! I refuse!"
"It's not that simple Zuli - if a judge rules in his favor, you wouldn't have a choice, you're still minors after all."
"And if we weren't? We'll be eighteen in two weeks!" Cobalt's hand sought mine and held fast. "Can you stall it? Until after our birthday? Then it wouldn't matter right?"
"I'll do what I can," Shamrock said nodding. "Meanwhile - are you two still insistent on keeping your siblings here and becoming their guardians?"
"Yes," Cobalt said firmly. I nodded as well.
"We'll have a meeting with Child and Family services and one of the family court judges after your birthday then, to settle everything," he said.
"My clients have every desire to keep their family together your honor. They're both eighteen and will be graduating next month. Their mother left a sizable inheritance for the care of all her children and the house is completely paid off already so expenses wouldn't be a problem."
The judge nodded and took notes in a small notebook during all of Shamrock's speech. She said nothing to him, instead turning her attention to the woman in the meeting with us. "Ms. Birthday - you're the case manager yes?"
"Yes ma'am. The childrens' uncle has agreed to remain in the home until graduation and they have all agreed to have at least four visits from our office over the first year just to be sure everyone is thriving," Berry said with a smile in our direction.
"So Child and Family Services approves of this placement?"
"Wonderful. In that case, I grant guardianship of Chambray Dust, Cerulean Dust and Sapphire Dust to their siblings, Cobalt and Lazuli Dust." The judge scribbled her signature across the forms and smiled at us. "Good luck."
*To Those Whom I Love And Those Who Love Me by Mary Alice Ramish