"Oh honey, you're going to do great!" her mom encouraged. It was her first real dance recital and her whole body shook with nerves. "You know this routine inside and out. There's nothing to worry about. Just go out there and have fun." Her mom smiled sweet and sincere. She managed to stop shuffling her feet anxiously, relaxed her shoulders, and breathed a heavy sigh. "That's it. Don't stress yourself out so much about the little things. Now, darling, I'm going to go sit down and wait for the performance to start. I'm sure everything will be perfect." Her mom gave her an enveloping, motherly hug, then pulled away and looked her in the eyes, "I love you, Caely."
"I love you too, Mommy. I couldn't do anything without you." She hugged her mommy again to emphasize.
"All right ladies! You have fifteen minutes before this business all begins! You better have your slippers on and your little tushies in your tutus! Got it?" Their teacher screamed at the top of his lungs.
"Got it!" Everyone yelled in unison.
She still needed to put on her slippers. She began looking through her bag, but couldn't find them in there. She looked under the bench to see if she had taken them out or if they had fallen, but they weren't there either. She glanced around the room to see if her ballet slippers were there, but it would have been impossible to find them amongst everyone else's. At a sweeping glance, she wouldn't have been able to distinguish any differences.
All of that de-stressing that her mommy had her do was quickly dissipating. She was going into a panic. She couldn't fathom how she could have lost her slippers in such a short period of time. She had seen them just that morning. She couldn't perform without shoes. The show would always go on, but without those precious slippers it was up for debate whether or not she would go on with the show.
She started flying around the room looking into every shoe that wasn't on a foot to see if her name was written in it. Once that search had proved fruitless, she expanded.
She found a little practice room that she had never noticed before. There was another little girl in the room practicing. After a few seconds of watching her dance, Caely wondered why the girl wasn't in the recital. She was definitely skilled enough and Caely was sure that she would be a better prima ballerina than her.
Caely stood there, mesmerized, for a few moments before the other girl noticed her. When she did, she looked down at Caely's feet and asked, "Where are your slippers? You're in the show, are you not? Shouldn't you be going on soon?"
"Yes, I should be going on soon, but I can't. I lost my shoes," she replied.
"Well then, you look about my size. Take mine and go perform!" She handed Caely her worn, scuffed, and dirty slippers that were not as pretty as her lost performance shoes that had matched her outfit. However, when Caely put them on her feet, they fit her with perfection as if they had been molded to match her own feet. Also, at that point Caely was not going to complain about their beauty, because she was so thankful to have something to wear. She would perform and make her parents proud. Her night was perfect again.
She thanked the little girl profusely. Then Caely stopped in a moment of thought, "How come you're not performing tonight? You're an amazing dancer."
The girl's smile was sad, "Thank you, but I don't like people watching me dance. It's a private thing for me. My older sister used to be a prodigy, but gave it up because of bad memories. I dance in her place. I dance to make up for those memories. I don't need people watching me. The knowledge that I do it is more than enough for me. So you go on, dance tonight, dance your hardest, put your whole heart into it. Let the people in the audience forget their lives for a few moments. That is all I ask in return for giving you my slippers."
Caely smiled, thanked her again, and promised she would give it her everything. She left the room and never saw that girl again. That night she danced with her heart and soul. At the end, she received a standing ovation. As far as she was concerned it was the best performance of her life.
And the last.
Jennifer rushed to her seat in the audience. "Oh, she's so nervous. I know it's her first recital, but I've never seen her this way. I hope nothing goes wrong. She is such an old soul. She's much more mature than the other children her age," she chattered to the man next to her.
"She gets that from you. You're the one who's always worrying about everything, even when there's absolutely no reason. Which by the way, you remembered to take her shoes off the counter and put them in her bag, right?" her husband reminded Jennifer.
She thought for a second silently, and then she hit him on the arm, "No! How can you remember that now and sit there so calmly? The recital is about to start and now we have to get those damn slippers! Come on!"
"No way, Jennifer. I'm sure they have spares for her. We're not going to rush back home and miss the recital just because you forgot to put them in the bag."
"We live five minutes away, Matthew. We're going. Now come on." She dragged her husband from his seat and down the aisle towards the exit.
As they were walking towards the car, Matthew said, "You know what, if I'm being forced to pick up her shoes, then I'm going to drive, because you drive like an old lady."
"Fine, but please don't break any laws. As in, please don't run any red lights and no rolling on the stop signs. Okay?"
"I think I can handle that," Matt replied dryly.
Once they were both in the car, Jennifer began talking, "Hey Matt, I need to tell you something."
"Oh man, what else did you forget?"
"No, no, it's not like that. I need to tell you about something." Jennifer was nervous. Her palms were sweating. She didn't know how to tell him what she wanted to talk about.
Jennifer decided to just go with it and blurt out her sentence, "I'm pregnant."
"Haha. Good one, Jennifer. It's damn near impossible for us to have any more children. I think we both remember how hard it was to have Caely." He never took his eyes from the road. He stayed calm, as if what she had to say really was just a joke.
"Yeah, I know that, Matthew, that's why I've waited to tell you this. I'm actually over three months pregnant and have gone to an OBGYN already. It's a girl." She tried to stay calm, but she was still anxious about how he would take the idea of another child. She had also been containing her excitement for over three months and she was having trouble restraining herself anymore.
"What!" He looked at her then.
"Yes, Matty! I'm pregnant!" Her smile was enormous.
"Oh sweetie, you're pregnant. We're going to have another girl. This is amazing." He looked ecstatic.
Just then Jennifer noticed from the driver's window coming straight for them was a car, "Matthew!" She screamed.
The driver's side of their car was hit head on and they were propelled into a tree. Jennifer's last thoughts were of how she couldn't leave her little Caely.
Caely bowed with all of the other girls in the finale and went back stage. There she took off the borrowed ballet slippers and went in search of the girl. She found the practice room, but the girl was not there. She searched for fifteen minutes, a lifetime in a seven year olds conscience, and then gave up. She went back to the room where all of her things were and she changed out of her beautiful leotard and tutu. Then, she went to the front of the auditorium where she expected to see her parents, but she didn't see them. She sat on a bench and waited.
After about a half hour of watching her peers being congratulated by their parents, she was starting to feel very poorly about herself. She was also really worried about what had happened to her parents and why they weren't there to greet her.
She was staring at the floor when she heard from her right side a strange man ask, "Are you Caelyn Montegomery?"
She looked up to see an aged man in a police officer's uniform. He was accompanied by a young woman. Nervously, she responded in a weak and timid voice, "Yes."
This time it was the woman who replied, "Caelyn, we need you to come with us."
She looked at the two with suspicious eyes. "My mommy told me never to talk with strangers. And she forbids me from ever going places them."
The woman sat down next to Caelyn. "That's very good advice that your mommy gave you, Caelyn, but I'm sure she also said that the police are good people too. Who are here to protect you."
Her eyes still narrowed, Caelyn replied slowly, "Yes, but, I'm going to need to see your badge first, mister." She glanced at the woman sitting next to her. "And I really don't know who you are. You're not a police officer."
The woman laughed. "No, no, I'm not. But Officer Kent can vouch for me. I'm a good person."
Officer Kent pulled out his badge and handed it to Caelyn. "Here you go, Ms. Montegomery." She looked at it as if she could tell the difference between a fake and a real badge. However, in reality it looked exactly like one of the toy ones she had played with at her school growing up. She handed it back.
"Where are my parents?"
"We'll talk about that when we get where we're going. In the meantime, how about you talk to Ms. Lapin about your ballet recital?" Officer Kent was strictly about formalities.
The woman's face brightened with superficial curiosity, "Yes, I hear you were the prima ballerina and it was your first dance recital too. You must be an amazing dancer."
"Yes! They tell me that I have natural talent…" They let her ramble on about ballet all the way to the police department until they got her into cramped room full of musty papers and Ms. Lapin dropped the ball.
"Caelyn, there's something that we need to discuss." Ms. Lapin intercepted Caelyn's ramblings with a serious tone.
She looked up at the two adults with wide eyes. Somehow she knew that something bad was coming. "Where are my parents? When are they coming to pick me up?"
"That's exactly what we need to discuss, Caelyn. Your parents aren't coming. They were in a car accident and got hit by a drunk driver who ran a red light, both of your parents died instantly." Officer Kent told Caelyn the truth as if it were a band-aid that needed to be ripped off and wouldn't hurt as bad.
Unfortunately, that doesn't always work for every situation. "What do you mean they are dead? I want to be with my parents! You're kidnapping me, aren't you? You said you were a good person. You're both bad people! Bad people who are mommy and daddy killers. I want my mommy!" She ran towards the only door in the little room in an attempt to escape. It was locked. She banged on the door and cried. Caelyn did this continuously until she lost all energy. She saw through door's window people watching her grieve over the loss over her parents. They did not help her escape the room no matter how much she pleaded with them, because they saw children come through that room every day pleading to get out for various different reasons. As far as they were concerned, she could have been a juvenile delinquent facing time for doing something horrible. Eventually, she collapsed on the floor from exhaustion and passed out.
She woke up a few hours later on a couch of a slightly homier room. She was groggy at first and couldn't figure out why she was in a room that wasn't her bedroom. Then she remembered the events from earlier and everything fell into place. Her logic was finally getting the better part of her and she was no longer as emotional as she was in her first instinctual response.
She sat up and looked around. Ms. Lapin was at her desk working on something. "They're really gone, aren't they?"
Ms. Lapin jumped a little in surprise, and then turned around to face her. "Yes, Caelyn. They, unfortunately, are really gone. Are you willing to talk now about your future?"
"I have a future without parents? I never thought that could be possible." Caelyn sniffled self-pityingly.
Ms. Lapin looked on sympathetically and handed Caelyn a tissue box in case she ended up crying. "Yes it is possible to keep moving on without parents. People do it every day. It's unfortunate that you have to do it so young, but that's the path you've been handed. It actually happens to more children than you would actually think."
"How do kids live without parents? Who will watch them at their recitals? Who will tuck them in at night? Who will take them to school? Who will love them?" Caelyn questioned.
Ms. Lapin looked taken aback for a moment. "That last question I cannot answer very easily. However, usually when a child loses both parents and becomes orphaned and they don't have any other relatives; they get put into foster care."
Caelyn looked at Ms. Lapin with serious eyes. "Then that is where I will end up, because I do not have any family other than my mommy and daddy. Both of them were only children and their parents died a long time ago."
Ms. Lapin seemed confused. "Is that what they told you?"
"That is what they've always told me. It's always just been the three of us against the world. Now it's just me, I guess." She sniffled again.
"Well actually, you have an uncle. He is your mother's brother. He lives in England, in a very nice house. Supposedly he's very wealthy from old money. Supposedly your whole family is very wealthy from old money. At least that's what all my research seems to say. I've already contacted him, or at least his secretary, and informed them that you are now in his custody. His secretary boarded a plane immediately to come and pick you up. Until then, however, you are to stay here, under the custody of the state."
In less than a day Caelyn found out in black and white terms that she had a rich uncle and no longer had parents, both things she could have done without hearing for her entire life. She took it like a trooper though. She only cried until her eyes couldn't produce tears anymore and then she slept to forget.
The next afternoon Caelyn was doing a puzzle to pass the time. She had done many puzzles and games since she had been in the custody of the state. None of them had been very exciting, but they helped keep her mind off the fact that she was now essentially an orphan.
"Did you know that the name Caelyn in the Irish culture means 'loved forever'?" It was the voice of an elderly woman who had apparently sat down next to Caelyn when she wasn't looking. The woman had a very thick Irish accent. "Your mother loved that name. She loved the concept of someone being loved forever, unconditionally. Even as a child she vowed that she would name her first born Caelyn, whether or not they were a boy or a girl."
"You knew my mommy?" Caelyn asked inquisitively.
"Oh my dear, yes. I raised your mother from a wee babe. I raised her like one of my own." Tears started to trickle down the woman's wrinkled cheeks. "I loved your mother like she was one of my own."
"My mommy and daddy are gone now. There's nothing I can do." Caelyn started to cry softly.
"Yes, unfortunately there is nothing you can do except keep on living your life like they wanted you to and know that they loved you. They gave you that name because they loved you and they wanted you to know that they would love you forever and no matter what happened."
"But I'm supposed to go to some uncle that I don't know and he might be mean." Her eyes were big and genuine.
"He's not mean, my dear. He's just apathetic and a little greedy. And you don't have to worry about going to live with him anyway. That's why I'm here."
Caelyn cut the woman off, "I'm going to live with you?"
"Not exactly, I'm much too old to have a young child live with me all the time. Your uncle is sending you to boarding school. You will live there for most of the year. You will visit me for Christmas and summer vacations, but for the other holidays your uncle will pay extra for you to stay in the school," the woman explained.
"What is your name?"
"My name is Mrs. Evelyn O'Brien, my dear. I will be your caretaker until you turn eighteen. There are things that will be spoken of when you are seventeen about when you turn eighteen, because right now you are too young to understand everything. All right?"
"Okay, ma'am," Caelyn replied.
"All right. So let's get out of this office building and into somewhere a little bit cozier. Then after that we will get you to your new school. How does that sound?"
"It sounds like my whole life has just been taken from me and no one bothered to ask." Caelyn said point blank.
Mrs. O'Brien stopped getting up from her seat. She was astonished at how mature that response was. She knew that she shouldn't have been, because Caelyn's mother had been the same way. Mrs. O'Brien knew now that she wouldn't have to act like she was talking to a child anymore. She knew that although Caelyn looked like a child, she really was an adult in heart and mind. "Sometimes life changes and we never get a choice. It's unfortunate, but there's nothing we can do about it. You just have to take what you've been given and keep trying to make the best of it. I hear you're quite the dancer."
"No. I don't know where you got that from. I don't dance." Caelyn replied huffily.
Mrs. O'Brien looked taken aback, but she decided to say nothing more on the subject and proceeded to escort Caelyn out of the building.