“Hi there, big guy!” Harper gushed as the toddler’s eyes widened. “Are you coming to play with us today?” she asked as the mother shifted the little boy on her hip while she signed her son in for the next hour. Harper’s church offered day care services so that the parents could attend the church service without the distractions of their wiggling children. And Harper absolutely loved watching these little human beings, seeing their excitement over the smallest toy or sound.
In this case, the little boy wasn’t as excited. In fact, his chubby face was crinkling as his mind anticipated his imminent abandonment by his mother. In another moment, Harper knew that the toddler would start screaming, protesting his abandonment in this horrible place that wasn’t familiar to him.
“Oh, don’t you worry about it!” Harper said to the boy, glancing down as the mother wrote his name. “Alex, we’re going to have a wonderful time! You’ve been here before so you know how much fun we’re going to have!”
The mother chuckled, having gone through this process several times over the two year since she’d given birth to her son. “He’ll stop crying as soon as…”
Harper laughed as she lifted Alex into her arms. “Oh, I know Alex,” she said, snuggling the small body against her. “We’re old friends, right Alex?” she soothed, then walked over to the big window. “We’re going to have fun, aren’t we?”
Alex was not convinced! He looked over Harper’s shoulder, seeing his mother wave goodbye and his face crinkled even more.
“Hey!” Harper soothed, bouncing slightly. “Look at that rainbow!” she gushed. Immediately, Alex turned his head and looked where Harper was pointing. Sure enough, a “rainbow” was there, just outside. It wasn’t an actual rainbow, but someone had painted a rainbow on the fence that surrounded the church’s playground. “What do you think, Alex?” she asked, bouncing and pointing. “Is it a pretty rainbow?”
Alex looked, his face relaxing as he stared outside. He didn’t speak, but that was okay. Harper knew that the two year olds in this nursery weren’t very verbal. Not at this age. She knew it was up to her to speak for him. “Oh!” she announced and Alex pulled his gaze away from the rainbow outside. “Why don’t we find the cars that you love!”
Harper carried Alex over to the big cabinet that housed the toys. Instantly, she found the cars that “wound up” when they were pulled backwards, only to shoot forwards when released. “Let’s see if these work, okay Alex?”
Harper got down onto the floor with Alex on her lap and pulled the orange car way back, then waited, glancing at Alex who watched, transfixed with interest. When she knew that Alex was waiting, Harper released the car and it sprang forward, bumbling across the carpeting only to crash into a box of blocks. “Wow! Look at that go! Should we do it again?” she asked.
Alex pushed off of her lap, toddling after the car. His chubby hands picked it up and brought it back to Harper, silently demanding that she do it again.
Harper laughed, delighted with the little boy. Distraction didn’t always work, but with most kids, it was pretty easy to help them through the separation from their parents. She waved to the mother who had stood just outside the door to the church’s nursery, letting the mom know that Alex was good to go! The mother could sit in the church sanctuary and listen to the service with peace of mind.
“You’re so good with these little guys,” the other nursery attendant said after Harper pulled the car back and let it go once again.
Harper smiled, enjoying the pure innocence of the toddler’s interest. There were four other toddlers in the room and she was easily able to play with each of them. “I love kids,” she said. “I love the way they think and seeing how they react to their worlds. It’s just fascinating.”
Amit lowered the phone to the cradle, his body feeling…numb. Standing, he moved away from his desk and turned to look through the windows. The sun was shining. Why was the sun shining? The leaves from the trees shimmered in the sunshine, dancing. Why were the leaves dancing?
Logically, Amit understood that the leaves weren’t dancing, that the movement of the leaves out in the courtyard was caused by the sprinkler system watering the plants. But his mind wasn’t working logically at the moment. Not after that news.
Orella, his oldest sister…she…!
He couldn’t even repeat the words in his mind. It was too harsh, too…forbidding.
Amit heard the door to his office open and knew that his assistant, Rashid, had stepped into the room.
“Your Highness,” he started off, his voice soft and careful. Completely different from the briskly efficient tone he normally used.
Obviously, Rashid had heard the news as well. And just as Amit felt at the moment, Rashad stopped speaking, not sure what to say. It was as if the world had just…stopped. But it hadn’t stopped. The sun was still shining, which indicated that the world was moving along just as it normally did every day.
Amit had looked up to his older sister, Orella, ever since he could remember walking. He remembered Orella taking his hand and walking him down the hallway. He’d remembered Orella’s fury when she’d learned that Amit, her younger brother by two years, would rule Izara instead of her, the oldest of the children.
Amit had watched Orella rail against the unfairness of the world. He hadn’t always approved of her anger or the way she’d rebelled. In fact, Orella had been banished from the palace after some of her antics, only to be ordered back home when she’d done something outrageous in Europe or Canada or the United States. An action which would embarrass their father or mother…or the country.
But after hearing the painful news, Amit didn’t move, thinking that Orella wouldn’t embarrass anyone anymore. She was…! Again, he couldn’t even think the word. He’d heard it, but couldn’t really process it. Not yet.
Someone else walked in. “Is it true?” Gaelen, who was eighteen months younger than Amit, stepped into Amit’s office, his voice harsh as disbelief hit him hard. “Tell me it isn’t true.”
Amit stood at the window, not moving. His fingers curling into fists, but they were hidden inside of the pockets of his slacks.
Rashid, his ever faithful aide, answered for him. “It’s true, Your Highness.”
By that time, he could feel Tarin, the next in line, as well as their younger sister, Talia, enter his office. All of them stood there, silently taking in the news that their older sister had died.
Turning, he braced himself for their grief-stricken expressions. “Yes. It’s true.” He cleared his throat and pulled himself together. He had a country to run and any sign of emotion would cause the financial markets to panic and the people of Izara to worry. People did stupid things when they panicked, so his family had to appear strong.
Looking at Rashid, he said, “Tell the press that I’ll speak to them in five minutes.” Waiting for Rashid to leave, he turned to face his siblings. “Yes. Orella has…” he paused, but this time, the moment was shorter. “She’s gone,” he finally said. “But we have to be strong,” he told them and felt a measure of pride when each of them slowly schooled their features, shifting from stunned to overtly calm. “We need to take care of Orella’s daughters, Elsa and Ellora, who are being flown back from Italy now. I don’t know if they’ve been told, or if their guards simply took them out of the home where Orella and her husband had been staying and got them on a plane back here to Izara.” His mind was fully functioning now. “We need to get ahead of this. I’ll talk to the press. We’ll relay only the briefest amount of information but we need to get the funeral details nailed down.”
Gaelen stepped forward. “I’ll take care of that.”
“Good,” he said, nodding his appreciation. “We need to do a press conference, talk to the people, let them know that her…passing…won’t affect the financial systems.”
“Why would they?” Talia interjected, her voice sounding harsh. “The financials…!”
“Because everything seems to affect the financial markets. We need to reassure everyone that we’re fine, that we’re still in charge and that our…” Amit hesitated on the next word, “…sadness…won’t impact their daily lives.” He looked at each of them. “Everyone is counting on us. We need to do this.”
For the next five hours, Amit spoke to the press, handled telephone calls from world leaders, both offering their condolences as well as asking if anything will change. In other words, they were asking if their world was safe. He assured everyone, including corporate leaders who called as well, checking in to make sure he wasn’t so overcome with grief that he would abandon international treaties.
It was after midnight when he finally was able to step into his private quarters. But he didn’t sleep. Instead, he picked up a sketchpad and a pencil. For the next four hours, he drew whatever came to mind. Most of the pictures were of Orella, some were of his nieces and others were…just things. Nothing in particular. But Amit focused only on the lines, the shading, the curve of a finger or capturing his sister’s defiant chin just so.
By the time the sun started to peek over the horizon, he was back in control. His heart was still heavy, but he could now face the numerous questions and issues that consumed his day.