This story is inspired by Loren’s writing prompt.

This story is copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved by the eighth commandment, THOU SHALT NOT STEAL.
Not to be reprinted, reposted, or used unless given permission from myself, Madison Lorfing. 

(WordPress wouldn’t let me format this into the way a book is supposed to be written with correct inendtion of paragraphs aligned left, so it will just have to look like this. Very sorry. 🙁 😛 )

Chapter 1 – Or So I Thought

Honestly, I hadn’t expected that day to turn out the way it did. A walk home from private school back to our penthouse; nothing more, nothing less. But as I stopped in my tracks, boots plunked heavily down in the snow-turned-slush on the sidewalk, my eyes miserably drank in the appalling sight.

Burnt, broken wood. Ash. Smoke billowing into the hazy sky. The tall, beautiful penthouse was nothing but a sorry, devastated mess. As the wintry gale changed directions it brought a whiff of the foul vapor from the pitiful ruins to my nose. It stung my eyes as I let out a cough. What happened here? Is Jacob all right?

I had been oblivious to the forbidding, yellow caution tape surrounding the scene until I tried to walk past it and was stopped abruptly.

“Excuse me, miss,” a police officer gently put his hand on my shoulder to stop me. “No one is allowed in.”

“Please,” I began, ashamed of how scared my quivering voice sounded. “Was my older brother in there? His name is…”

“Miss,” the police officer saved me my breath. “There were no survivors.”

My heart dropped to my stomach like a rock. That blow was too much. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me all at once. But I was too shocked to cry. When I finally had the words, I mumbled, “Oh. Thank you.”

I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go next. Where was mom when you needed her? Still in Los Angeles, I reminded myself. Probably in another business meeting, with another businessperson, doing another business assignment.

“Where are your parents?” The officer asked.

“My mom is in Los Angeles. My older brother was watching me for the next few weeks.”

“What’s her phone number? We should go ahead and give her a call.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I’m sorry, sir, but she’s pretty busy. She’ll never answer her phone.”

“Then we’ll leave a message. Now, what’s her number?”

I opened my mouth to explain that she received so many messages a day it would be probably a week before she got to his, but I clamped it shut. He was just doing his job.

Just as I expected, the phone rang on and on. It finally played my mom’s voicemail, and the police officer left a message.

“Okay, hop in the car. We’ll leave in a few minutes. We have a place where you can stay until your mother returns. Sadly, there will be plenty of other children there as well.” The officer informed me.

“That’s okay,” I objected. “I’m staying at a friend’s house tonight. I’m sure they’ll let me stay with them until my mom comes back.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“If you hold on for just a minute, I’ll walk you there.”

“No, that’s okay,” I opposed again. “I’d really rather go by myself.” I lowered my voice as I studied his eyes, hoping he’d understand. “Please. It’s not far, and I really need some time to just think.”

“Alright,” the police officer finally gave in. “If it doesn’t work out, please give the police station a call and we’ll come pick you up.”

“Thank you,” I murmured, turning to go.

“Oh, and miss,” the officer called. When I turned around, he continued, “My name is Officer Brady if you need anything. And – I’m sorry for your loss.” He finished.

“Thanks,” I muttered again, turning away from the officer for the last time.

Or so I thought.

As I walked down the road, I wondered where on earth I would go. Of course I wasn’t staying at a friend’s house – how could I? I didn’t have any friends. Who wanted to be friends with the brat daughter of a well-known businesswoman, anyways? It had been like that ever since mom got the raise nine months ago and we moved here to Colorado. She couldn’t help it; she’s the best at what she does.

I wished we had stayed back in Indiana, I mused mournfully to myself. We had so much family time. Dad was still alive, Mom wasn’t busy, and Jacob… we had such a good relationship. And now my brother is gone forever.

At first, I was too shocked and astounded to cry. But then the realization of what had just happened dawned at me at last, and I would’ve broke down in tears had it not been for the red glow in the slush below.

Thankful for something to distract me from further grief, I noticed its vague scarlet glimmer a few yards ahead. I wanted to put off the tears as long as I could. Sloshing down the sidewalk and further away from the penthouse, I bent down to investigate.

The slush was cold when my fingertips touched it to retrieve the interesting find. As I pulled the mystery object out of the slush I realized it was a beautiful, red ruby ring.

I stood up, still fingering it. It looked pretty expensive, and it was a super neat find. Pulling my ring finger through the gold band, I found it fit perfectly.

Quickly I pulled it off. This doesn’t belong to me, I told myself. I should turn it in to the police station. As quickly as I pulled it off, I refuted the thought. The police were busy with the fire at the penthouse and all those children they had to house – and some of which they sadly had to transfer to an orphanage. And should I encounter Officer Brady again, he’d ask me why my friend hadn’t come with me to return the ring.

No, I’ll just keep it for now. I’ll turn it in when things settle down at the police station, I resolved. But no later.

I was still staring at the beautiful ring until another whip of icy wind slapped my face. Hurriedly I buried the ring deep in my coat pocket as the blast chased me inside a nearby doughnut shop.

The warmth surrounded me cheerily, and I sank into a nearby chair.

“Welcome to Mamma’s Donuts!” A voice called behind the counter. I smiled at the employee and turned to face the menu. I wasn’t short on pocket money, and I was hungry, so I ordered two hot kolaches – plain, just like I used to get back in Indiana with the entire family.

“Thank you,” I told the woman behind the counter as I paid for the kolaches. I didn’t want to face the drab, wintry world out there, so I sat down again and opened the bag of fluffy goodness. I contemplated what on earth to do next as I ate.

What am I going to do? I asked myself again and again. I didn’t want to go back to the police and live there until mom came back. But what else could I do? I didn’t have anything – no place to sleep, no belongings, no older brother. It’s all been burned in that wretched fire.

Tears stung my eyes again but I fought to keep them back as I took another bite of my kolache. It didn’t work. I swiped at my wet cheeks, but the employee saw anyways.

“Are you okay?” she asked politely.

“Yeah,” was my quick response. I blinked quickly, embarrassed to have been seen crying. I forced myself to think straight. The logical thing to do was to go back to the police. So after I had eaten, I forced a polite smile and returned the “Merry Christmas!” wish to the sweet employee and walked out the door. I turned my back on the nice lady for the last time.

Or so I thought.

Greeted by the unwelcome, brisk winter wind, I hurried down the sidewalk and to the police station. I knew where it was because I passed by it every day on my way home from school.

“Hey!” I heard a familiar voice greet me as I stepped into the warmth of the station. Officer Brady had just finished another phone call.

“Staying with the friend didn’t work out,” I told him. “Can I stay at the place you mentioned with the other children?”

“Of course. Take a seat and wait for a sec.”

Obeying his orders, I plopped down in the nearest seat. I looked around the police station – white floors, white walls, and white ceilings. Different departments of officers were displayed with pictures on the walls. Department of Investigation, Department of Child Services, Department of Safety…

As I continued to look around the room I noticed two other children sitting across from me. One was a girl about my age who was talking in a hushed voice to what must’ve been her little brother. The little boy was silently crying, and the girl was trying to get him to stop. Seeing him crying over obviously a lost loved one made me want to shed some tears, too, but for the sake of both him and the girl I held them back.

I reached into my coat pocket and felt the ruby ring. When was a good time to turn it in? Certainly not then, but I still felt guilty about keeping it.

“Alright, you three. Follow me.” Officer Brady finished another call and waved us over to him. “Let’s hop in the squad car. Kate, are you tall enough to ride shotgun?”

The girl my age stood up with her brother. She nodded her head, but spoke, “May I please sit in the back with Eli?” Officer Brady nodded. When he turned to me, I nodded my head as well.

Once we were in the car and on the road, Officer Brady tried to strike up a friendly conversation.

“I never did get your name,” he mentioned to me.

“Phoebe Crandall.”

“Crandall? Isn’t that the name of the vice president of that famous realty business?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh, I remember. I heard that name Crandall from your mother’s voicemail.” I simply nodded at his words, staring ahead through the foggy windshield and to the street lined with snow-slush.

“Your mom works at Smart Solutions Realty?” a voice piped up from the back. I twisted around in my seatbelt to face Kate. “My dad works there, too!”

“Really? That’s cool,” I told her. I got a good look at her bright blue eyes and wavy auburn hair. Her face was sprinkled with freckles, and she had a bright smile.

“My dad is at a meeting in Los Angeles right now, but he’s coming back as soon as he hears about the fire,” Kate finished.

“Phoebe, sit right in your seat,” Officer Brady barked at me. Quickly I twisted around and sat correctly, looking at Kate through the rearview mirror.

“My mom’s in L.A., too. Probably at the same meeting,” I continued.

“That’s neat. Does your dad-“ she stopped in her tracks. “Never mind.”

“It’s okay. He didn’t die in the fire today.”

“Oh,” Kate sighed in relief, glad to not have reminded me of any loss. But she did – father might not have died that day, but he did die. And the hurt was still so very, very real.

“Almost there, guys,” Officer Brady announced as he turned a corner.

I strained my eyes to see a tall, brick building up ahead.

“Are there many children there?”

“A fairly reasonable amount. Some have already been transferred to orphanages, some to foster homes. Others, like you, are staying there until their parents or guardian come for them.” Officer Brady answered.

And when we arrived, I absolutely hated it from the instant I stepped in.

Or so I thought.