A New Chapter [IC]
The air was refreshingly cool for an early July morning in Southern California, although it's not like James would know, seeing as this was his first time in the area. He couldn't help but to gaze around at the blue sky, holding white clouds that looked too soft to be real, and birds chirping overhead. Green trees flourished around them, but as his eyes came back towards the ground, the beauty soon disappeared.
Tons of people sat in the chairs around him, some crying, others silently dabbing at their eyes and some doing the same thing that James had done for most of the funeral - daydreaming. There were so many people there, and James didn't believe that Anna's father and stepmother had really been that close to all of these people. Most had probably only come for the image, or to appear as if they were so close to the couple that the world was now mourning over the loss of.
It was all surreal: sitting around celebrities and people he could never imagine seeing in real life, none the less at such a vulnerable state, but even more so that he was at the funeral of what could have been his father-in-law (or so he hoped). That was Anna's father in one of the caskets located rows in front of them next to a priest of some sort. A few feet away from them were the burial plots, and it was only moments until they would be placed in the Earth forever. The thought of it made him squeeze Anna's hand reassuringly as he glanced over at her. "You okay?" he asked with a light smile, just as people began to rise around them. Had he been paying attention, he would have realized that the ceremony had finally ended. Normally, he would expect everyone to crowd around Anna and wish her well, but James knew that none of these people knew who she was. She had never really been in contact with her father from what he knew which was why it had been so shocking when they received the news that she was the beneficiary to his wealth, and his daughter. Thinking about the kid made him feel sick. Neither him or Anna knew the little girl and he doubted that either of them would be able to care for a kid, especially one that had just lost her parents, but he knew that if anyone would be able to do it, it would be Anna. She would be able to handle it, and he promised that he would stick by her side through it. They would make it work somehow.
Slowly, he pulled himself up and tugged at Annabelle's hand. "Do you know what the kid looks like? We're supposed to bring her home now, right? I mean, at least that's something to look forward to, love. We'll get to live in a dream house." He smiled, leaning in to kiss her softly before pulling back and running his fingers through her hair. "This is a new chapter in our lives. We can do this."
Anna sat quietly besides James, watching the large crowd at her father and step-mother's funeral. She closed her eyes for a moment, secretly wishing that this was a dream. I can't believe it, she thought. She slowly opened her eyes again, beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed as her sight landed on the two caskets in front of her and James. Just then, she felt James give her hand a reassuring squeeze, assuring her that everything would be okay, at least for that small moment.
"You okay" she heard James ask. Anna turned her head towards James and nodded, hoping that she appeared much more convincing than how she actually felt. "Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks." she whispered softly. She squeezed his hand tighter and looked around at all the different types of strangers at the funeral. She frowned, wondering if any of these people actually knew her father and step-mother, or if they were in a situation similar to hers: solely knowing of her father, not who he really was.
Anna stared at the ground, trying to sort out everything that had just happened these past few days. It was just the other day that she had graduated from college and was living the life that she had desired with James. Then suddenly, she received a call informing her of her father's death, along with her step-mother's, and how she was his beneficiary of everything he had, including his youngest daughter. How I am supposed to take care of a child? This wasn't part of the plan, Anna thought. She and James were supposed to graduate from college, both get successful careers, get married, and then get their dream house with the perfect kids.
Anna sighed, realizing just how far fetched she sounded. Nothing ever went according to plan, especially with her life. At least no one knows who I am, Anna thought. She was not the sociable type, especially with the type of people that her father and step-mother associated with. Suddenly, Anna felt a tug on her hand. She saw James and smiled, awkwardly standing up, unaware that the service had finally ended. She heard him ask about her sister. Anna shook her head and scanned the crowd, hoping that she would see a small young girl amongst the groups of people. "I honestly don't even know what we're supposed to do from here, babe." She smiled as James planted a kiss on her lips, and laid her head on his shoulder as he ran his fingers through her hair. She knew she could always count on James, which is why she loved him so much. She heard James' reassuring words and said softly "I sure hope so babe. I sure hope so."
Jane sat in the front row of chairs on the bright green lawn. At a normal funeral, you would be surrounded by family and the closest of friends, but this was different. She had no family anymore. Her father was an only child, his mother dying when he was a child and his father permanently in a nursing home with sever Alzheimer's. Her mother was born and raised in France, and left her home as a teenager to move to the states, causing a huge fight between her and her parents and younger brother. Needless to say, Jane had never met her mother's side of the family and her ill grandfather was all she had on her father's side, so with the sudden loss of her parents, she was left with really no blood relatives. Or so she had believed.
Her brown eyes, glossed over with a thin layer of tears pressed themselves shut as the funeral mass continued on. She wished that this had all been a dream, that the events of the previous week had never happened, but she couldn't help replaying it over and over in her mind.
It was the last day of school for Jane, and she spent it happily at the private academy she was enrolled in. Everything was normal, and she was escorted home by the chauffeur that picked her up everyday from school as normal. It was only when she arrived home that things were different. Her parents were very rarely home when she finished the school day, so the lack of their cars in the driveway wasn't a surprise to her, but it was crowded with other cars; ones that were unfamiliar to her.
She entered the home, dropping her backpack in the entrance way as she normally would, knowing that one of the maids would pick it up, but they were not waiting for her in the foyer as usual. It was strange, but Jane thought nothing of it really, because well, who would expect their parents to be dead?
Voices could be heard from the kitchen; low murmurs, soft cries and sobs. "Maria?" Jane called out shakily as she neared the kitchen. Maria had been her nanny for over eight years and had become like her second mother. Only a second later, the woman rushed out of the room and embraced young Jane in a tight squeeze, holding her as she sobbed. "They- they're gone, Jane, d-darling. Mommy and daddy aren't okay, love, the- they aren't coming home. They went to Heaven. Ev- everything will be okay," she said, almost as if to reassure herself. Jane allowed the woman to grasp her in the tight squeeze, but she could do nothing but stand there in shock.
The next few days were filled with tears, resentfulness and change. Maria and the rest of the house staff were laid off. Jane's father's assistant stayed with her for most of the day, although he had always been too involved in his making money to actually care about the little girl, and now that her father was dead and no longer able to make the man any money, he clearly was ready to move on. He had explained that she had an older sister who would move in after the funeral to take care of her, and if it didn't work out that she'd be sent to France to live with her mother's parents, whom she had never met.
It was all too fast, too much at once. She barely spoke, barely ate and barely slept. Everything was changing and for a ten-year-old, it was more than overwhelming, but Jane had no other choice than to go along with the motions.
So there she sat, watching as her parent's caskets were lowered into the Earth. Her father's assistant had wrapped an arm around her, probably trying to be comforting or something, but it was no help for her. She allowed the tears to silently fall down her cheeks as the mass ended and people began to leave.
She followed her father's assistant, passing through crowds of strangers that all wanted to hug her or kiss her, tell her that they were sorry for her loss and that she was a brave girl, but Jane didn't want to talk to any of them. The only people that would be able to comfort her would be her parents, and they obviously were not able to.
Jane clutched the arm of the man as they swerved through crowds of people, until they came to a sudden stop.
"Here we are, Jane," he said softly, patting the girl on the back as she continued to clutch onto him.
In front of them stood a male and female, both looking a little bit unsure.
"You must be Annabelle Graham. I'm Michael, Michael Regan. I spoke to you on the phone, you know, about everything," he said, flashing them a bright, almost plastered smile. "We really have everything settled in. Here are the keys to the house, and you'll find a car waiting for you just over there in the parking lot," he said, using his free hand to point towards a black SUV parked a few feet away," that will take you out the back entrance so you aren't killed by the paparazzi. I'm sure this is all new for you, but I know Jane here will help you get used to it," he continued with a smile, giving the girl a slight push forwards. "I'm sorry that this is so rushed but I have to be at a meeting at noon so I'm going to have to go. Call me if there are any problems," he said, but he was already headed in the opposite direction before disappearing into the crowd.
Jane stood in front of the pair, staring blankly at the people around them. She didn't want to look at this girl or the boy. She wasn't her sister and she wasn't going to come into her life now and pretend that she was.
James smiled at Anna, then turning to search their surroundings for a child. He had seen the little girl's photos in magazines occasionally because both of her parents were very prominent figures in the media, but he couldn't spot her in the crowd.
"Have you ever met her; Jane, you know, in real life?" He asked quietly. James had always been weary about asking too much about Anna's family background because he knew that when family situations were not stable, things were touchy for some people. He knew how difficult his life had been with his parents who hadn't wanted a child, and couldn't imagine what had gone on for Anna as a child after her father left and became famous.
Only a moment later, a man approached with a small girl clinging to his side, who clearly represented Anna's sister, Jane. He spoke quickly about how everything was ready for them at the home, and they just needed to take a car and they'd be set. James found it to be a bit rude how the man quickly left the girl with them, not bothering to help ease the transition, but there was nothing that he could do about it.
There was an awkward moment of silence as James glanced from Anna back to the little girl, who appeared to be avoiding their glances. He had no experience with kids and really had no idea on how he was expected to interact with her, but Anna was a girl and she'd probably have maternal instincts or something, right? He hoped so.
"Well, I'm James," he said, giving the child an awkward smile as he again squeezed Anna's hand. "I'm your sister's boyfriend." His eyes moved away from her as he located the car that they were supposed to leave in. "Should we head out now?"
Anna shook her head and replied "No. I've never met any of them in real life before." She frowned slightly, hearing her own disappointment show through her response. She wished she didn't care at all about her father and his family, seeing as how they didn't care about her at any time. A sudden wave of guilt hit Anna as she saw the man approaching with the small girl. Anna silently scolded herself for even accusing her father's family of not caring about her; how could they care about someone they didn't even know existed? Anna looked down at the small girl; she had such a tough exterior, but who could blame her? This is going to be harder than I imagined, Anna thought. She watched as the man left abruptly mumbling something about a meeting and instantly felt the tension between the three of them arise. She stared at the young girl, wondering what she could possibly say. Anna opened her mouth to speak but she couldn't form the right words to console the young girl, or any words at all for that matter. She felt James squeeze her hand and smiled at him awkwardly as he spoke to the young girl. "That sounds like a good idea." she replied, nodding her head in agreement. She looked over at Jane and smiled awkwardly, extending out one of her hands, "What do you say Jane? Ready to go home?"
It wasn't long before the two standing in front of her began to speak, and Jane kept her eyes wandering until the boyfriend called the girl her sister. "I'm your sister's boyfriend," is what he had said. This girl was no sister to her. What kind of sister doesn't exist forever and then just comes in right after her mom and dad die? If she were really her sister, her parents would have told her about her. At the same time though, Jane knew that some random stranger wouldn't just have been picked off of the street and said to be in her father's will. She refused to let herself believe it though. These people weren't her family. Her family died during the car crash. She was alone now.
"Yeah," was all that she mumbled in response to them leaving, as she ran her fingers through her brunette locks and headed towards the car, ignoring Anna's hand. She didn't need her help or comfort.
The black SUV waited a short distance away and was hidden so that they would be able to escape out of a secret parking lot exit to avoid the paparazzi that waited desperately beyond the funeral home's property. She slipped into the car, resting her head against the cool window as a quiet sigh escaped from her thin pink lips.
James watched as Anna extended a friendly hand towards Jane, asking if she was ready to go, only to be answered with a mumbled yes before the girl turned and hurried towards the car. James waited a few seconds, watching the girl as she left before turning towards Anna as smiling. He stared into her eyes for a moment before brushing a few stray locks of her hair behind her ear and gently kissing her forehead.
"This is going to be fine. She seems like a nice kid, eh? I'm sure this is hard on her but you're good with kids, right? She'll warm up to you, I bet. Now let's get going so we can check out our new house. Hell, I'm sure it's big enough that she'll never have to see us if she doesn't want to," he said with a grin as he tugged at her arm and led her towards the car that Jane had gotten into.
James took a seat next to the driver, leaving the seat next to Jane open for Anna and glanced back at her, giving her a reassuring smile once she had gotten in and the driver had began their journey home.
Anna forced a small smile onto her face, hoping to hide the rejection that she felt from Jane, as she watched the small girl walk towards the SUV. She turned and looked at James as he spoke to her, her eyes closing for a second as she felt his warm lips against her forehead. She placed a hand on his arm, smiling and nodding, hoping that what he said was true. She let out a small laugh when he mentioned the house's size and reluctantly walked with him as he tugged her towards the black SUV. "That would be something, wouldn't it?" Anna made her way to the SUV, frowning slightly, noticing where she would be sitting on their trip to their new home. Wow, our new home, she thought, still in disbelief that any of this was happening. She climbed into the SUV and sat next to Jane, making sure not to brush against her in any way, fearing that the small child would explode verbally. But who could blame the small girl? She just lost her parents and then just as unexpectedly as that tragedy, she discovers she has a sister. Poor kid, Anna thought. She glanced at the small girl, with her head rested on the window and felt an urge to hug her, but resisted. Instead, Anna looked forward and slowly smiled, catching James' reassuring smile, that was all she needed right now.