Savannah stared at her image in the mirror, her fingers sliding over the glossy, braided cords that hung down around her neck. Graduation day, she thought with a smile. The white “bib” announced that she was a National Honor Society member, the red, braided cord proclaimed that she had won an art award, the blue one was for her volunteer work through Christmas in April over the past six years. There were three other cords, one for each of the honor clubs she’d joined, but those cords weren’t as special as the others since she hadn’t had to work very hard to get those.
Tonight, she would walk down the football field and receive her high school diploma! Pride surged through her and she smiled, turning away from the mirror to pick up her car keys.
“Hey, Savannah, I don’t think…” he paused in the act of adjusting his tie as he stopped in her doorway. “What’s going on?”
Savannah’s eyes widened as he pulled his tie off. “Um…today is my high school graduation? Remember? I put the ticket for the ceremony up on the fridge three weeks ago.”
Mike Harmon rubbed a hand over his forehead. “Right. I saw that.” His hand dropped and he looked at her with mock apology in his eyes. “Sorry honey, but I have to meet with a client tonight. You’ll be okay on your own though, right?”
Savannah watched as he disappeared down the hallway, not even waiting for a reply. Her father wasn’t going to attend her high school graduation? For a long moment, she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. This was her night! This was the most significant milestones in her life so far! Why wouldn’t he want to see his only daughter graduate?
The hurt was almost numbing, but Savannah asked herself what she was expecting. Her father had rarely been home during the last four years, working longer hours after her mother passed away. As an accountant, he had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and…well, they were all excuses. And none of them helped ease her pain at the moment.
Still, turning with a lift of her chin, she walked out of the house. This was her graduation, she told herself. She was going to do this and she was going to be happy!
Gaelen walked behind his sister’s coffin, angry at the world and at his sister, then feeling guilty for being angry at a woman who was gone. It wasn’t right, he thought, then looked down, ensuring that Elsa and Ellora, his two five year old nieces, were able to handle this crazy situation. They shouldn’t be here, he thought. They should be back at the palace but…well, someone had said that even small children should attend their parents’ funerals. So here they were, walking like the regal princesses that they were. His heart ached for both of them, but he lifted his chin and continued walking along in the funeral procession.
Finally, the family moved off to the private burial grounds, away from the prying eyes of the public. The citizens of Izara had come out en masse to support their leaders, with his older brother, Amit as Sheik of Izara, at the head of the procession. As Crown Prince, Gaelen was next in line, but he prayed every day that nothing happened to his brother. Gaelen could handle the weight of running the country if he had to, but he’d prefer not to.
When the procession reached the burial site, Gaelen bent down and lifted both of his nieces into his arms. “Are you girls okay?” he asked. “We can leave at any point. Just give me the word.”
Both Elsa and Ellora were silent as they listened to the funeral service. He hugged both of them, wondering what they were thinking, if they understood what was going on. He doubted it, since he himself wasn’t really sure. This was so wrong, he thought. His sister should be here next to him and saying something outrageous that would irritate Amit.
Okay, so Orella’s actions usually irritated him too. But that was in the past. This was now and he’d give anything to see Orella’s teasing smile.
Finally, the funeral ended and Gaelen carried both girls towards the waiting limousines. Amit noticed the girls and walked over, taking Elsa in his own arms, then they all ducked into the vehicles and drove back to the palace. No one spoke, everyone lost in their own world as they contemplated the day.
Gaelen thought about all the things he needed to get done and…yet none of that seemed very important any longer. Everything seemed completely irrelevant and he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck.
Elsa and Ellora were sitting across from him and he opened his mouth to give them some sort of reassurance. But what could he say? Orella was gone and…well, he wanted to see his adorable nieces smiling again. He wanted to see their happy, vibrant faces laughing up at him the way they used to.
Elsa reached out and patted his knee. It was such an adorable gesture, one she’d obviously seen someone else do because her pudgy little hand was too awkward. But it still caused his heart to lighten a little.
Things would be okay, he thought and covered her hand with his much larger one, then looked out the window. Yes, somehow, things would be okay.