Since spending three hours there yesterday and two today, I had become extremely familiar with the layout of Cliffordstown's longest street, Parade Street. Due to the high number of tall buildings and shops, this was where most of the city's homeless population gathered. It was common to find at least two people huddled in each doorway, covering themselves with coats and sleeping bags to keep out the cold as best they could.
Every time I came down part of this street, I felt myself growing increasingly determined to do something for these people. It felt wrong to me that I was sleeping in a snug queen-sized bed in a mansion every night while these people were huddled on a freezing cold concrete floor with only a light sleeping bag and sometimes even just a coat to cover them.
So I took action. I had been saving all the money I got from my father for my birthday and other occasions in my bank account; altogether, I had saved about three million pounds. I had withdrawn as much as I could and was now travelling down Parade Street on my own, giving out several hundred pounds at a time to the people who needed it most.
"B-Bless you, child," whispered a young lady with a scruffy dog, her hands shaking as I placed a stack of fifty pound notes in her hands. "May the good Lord reward you for your generosity."
I was not religious but I did not mention this. "You're very welcome, Ma'am." I bent down and stroked the top of the weary dog's head. "I hope this helps you and your dog find a better life."
"It will, it will." The woman sniffled, managing a smile through her tears. "How old are you?"
"Fourteen," I responded.
"Stay in school," the woman chuckled weakly. "Don't end up like me and Lola, okay?"
I gave an encouraging smile back. "Thank you, Ma'am. Good luck."
As I was moving away, I couldn't stop my smile from growing. I loved the warm feeling in my stomach that came with knowing I had done something good. Maybe now that woman and her dog could get a better life than living on the street, begging for money. It made me a little sad that I might not ever get to find out what would happen to the nice lady, but at least I had tried my best to help.
I glanced up at the sun in the sky, then checked my watch. "Is it really noon already?" I murmured to myself. It definitely didn't feel like I had been out for two hours already. I made a mental note to keep checking the time so that I could get home in time for Father to get back. I wanted to spend as much time as possible down here, but Father definitely would not approve.
"Sammie!" called a familiar voice.
I turned automatically to see my little brother rushing down the street towards me. His black hair was all ruffled and messy, so I doubted he had been awake for very long. My theory was supported when he got closer and I noticed that he was yawning as he approached me.
"Benji, you shouldn't be out on the streets by yourself," I told him reproachfully.
"I'm not a child," complained Benji. "I can take care of myself."
"You're only thirteen and YOU're still allowed to be out here alone."
I rolled my eyes irritably. "Benji, I'm FOURteen. It was my birthday literally two days ago."
"Oh." Benji shrugged, clearly not terribly apologetic. "Daddy wants you home now."
"Dad's at home…?" I felt my heart freeze for a brief moment. "Why isn't he at work?"
"He said something about Mummy," Benji said thoughtfully. "And how today is a special day."
"Oh…" I felt my shoulders slump as I realised with a start what day it was. "It's the tenth anniversary of Mum's death. I should have remembered…"
"Oh, that's why he was crying when I left the house," realised my little brother.
That naturally made me feel worse. The only other time I had seen my father cry was at my mother's funeral, and I had only been four years old at the time, so I didn't really remember it much.
"We should go home," I said. "Come on."
Parade Street was only a ten minute walk away from the Platinum District, which was the estate of mansions lying at the very top of Cliffordstown, overlooking everything else and making sure everything else could see them. It was the ultimate display of the power and wealth that everyone in the Platinum District held.
But for me, it was a pedestal. A pedestal that I had been forcibly put on, something I hadn't asked for or wanted. It felt like everyone could see me, and they were judging me for sitting way up in my ivory tower with my future as financially secure as my present. But at only fourteen years old, there wasn't much I could do about it yet.
The tall metal gate opened immediately for us, as if it knew we were coming. We made the long walk up the driveway and up to the mansion. To my surprise, Father was waiting outside for us. I had almost never seen him just standing outside like that; he was always in a hurry, on his way to somewhere else. In fact, it was rare even to see him just standing still.
"Sammie, where have you been?" he demanded.
"I went for a walk on Parade Street," I replied, maybe a little too quickly. I had that as my prepared excuse, since it wasn't technically a lie. But now it sounded like I had just made it up. "I need the exercise," I added lamely.
"Why is there a hundred thousand pounds missing from your account?"
I blinked in genuine surprise. I had no idea that he had access to that information, but now that I know he does, it makes sense. I internally cursed myself for being so stupid. "I wanted to buy something."
"And what exactly would that be?" inquired Father.
I knew I had dug myself into a hole so I decided to let myself work on instinct instead of trying to think up a complicated answer. "A doughnut."
That was quite possibly the stupidest thing I had ever said, and of course, Father wasn't fooled for a moment. "An expensive doughnut indeed."
I had nothing to say to that.
"Sammie, we will be speaking about your ridiculous money-giving habits later." Father gave the two of us a stern look. "For now, we will head into the study. Come."
I miserably trailed after Father as he led the way. I hated having so much money to myself, more money than I would ever spend in a lifetime, I was sure. The way I wanted to spend it was to give it away to people who needed it more than me, but Father didn't see it that way. He saw it as a waste, whereas I thought it was a waste to let it gather dust in my bank account for the rest of my life. It was just another of the ways in which Father and I had never seen eye to eye.
"This isn't the way to your study, Father," Benji spoke up suddenly, bringing me out of my daydream.
"We're not going to my study," was Father's only reply.
Benji and I exchanged a confused look. There weren't any other studies in the house, were there?
But as we approached a door, I realised exactly where we were. This brown wood door had been locked our entire lives, and Father had never told us what was behind it. Now, we were going inside. Despite my anger, I felt a stab of excitement. I had been curious about this door for a long time, and now I was finally going to get to see what was in the room.
Father brought out a key from his suit pocket and unlocked the door. As he pushed it open, Benji and I fought to peer inside first. Inside, it looked exactly like Father's study, complete with matching desk, bookshelf, and even the same painting on the wall behind the desk.
"This was your mother's study," Father told us steadily, taking a step inside. "Before she died, she left a note with instructions for me, the first of which was to keep this door locked until the tenth anniversary of her death. On this day, she said, I am to give you both something."
He closed the door behind us and went over to the desk. I stayed at the door, my eyes hungrily taking everything in. I was four years old when my mother died, so I never knew much about her. Any hints as to what she was like were very welcome. And since this study used to belong to her, it was a hotspot for such hints.
But I didn't have time to gather too much information, because Father soon came back to us and handed both of us a box each. Benji's was bigger than mine, but I didn't really care; I was too excited to find out what was inside my present.
I hadn't even undone the ribbon yet when Benji tore into his box and pulled out a bulging notebook about the size of a placemat. It was a cyan colour, with golden glitter scattered lightly and neatly over the cover. There was a photograph of a young man and woman on the front, and when I stared at it for long enough, I recognised both of them.
"Is that you and Mummy?" Benji asked, staring at the photo with wide eyes.
"That photo was taken the day we got engaged," Father responded, a faraway look on his face. "She pasted it on the book that same day."
"What's inside the book, Daddy?"
"It's her journal," I said at almost the same time, remembering my father mentioning once that Mother used to keep a diary. "Isn't it?"
"It is," Father said. "She kept it from when she was a teenager to a few days before her death. She wanted you to have it, since you were only a few months old when she died and wouldn't remember anything about her."
I nodded approvingly. Benji had always said he wanted to learn more about our mother, and since I could remember a bit about her, it was the perfect gift for him.
"What's in yours, Sammie?" Benji asked me.
Remembering my own box, I opened the lid and pulled out a small necklace with a chunky golden charm attached. It took only a second for me to realise that it was a seahorse.
"That was her favourite necklace," Father told me. "She's wearing it in our engagement photo, see?"
I looked back down at the photo on the front of the journal and saw that he was right: the pearly chain was clearly visible around her neck in the photo.
"Where did she get it?" I asked.
"Her father gave it to her mother when THEY got engaged, and then her mother gave it to her just after our engagement. She told me that her mother asked her to give it to her firstborn daughter at her engagement." Father averted his eyes, staring directly at the painting on the wall to my right. "She didn't live to see that, unfortunately. But she could still pass the necklace on to you, so she did."
I hold the delicate piece of jewellery in my hands for a few more seconds, before undoing the clasp and fastening the necklace around my neck. The seahorse hung in the perfect place, just in the centre of my chest.
"Thank you, Father," I said happily.
"Yes, thank you, Daddy!" echoed Benji.
For a moment, I thought I saw a smile on Father's face. But then it was gone and his normal stern frown was back. "Sammie, you're grounded."
"W-Wait, what?" It was such a sudden change of topic that I felt like I'd just been shaken violently. "Why?!"
"I need to sort this mess out and make sure you don't give away any more of my hard-earned money to people who will waste it on drugs and alcohol."
"Those people are freezing to death on the streets while we sit all cosy in our big mansion that can easily house half those people!" I shouted. "I don't regret trying to help them!"
"Go to your room," Father commanded. "NOW!"
I pushed myself to my feet and pulled the door open so aggressively that it hit the wall and created a loud noise. I heard Father begin to tell me off for that but I ignored him and ran upstairs to my room, not even having the heart to slam the door. Instead, I collapse on my bed and curl up in a ball, beginning to cry quietly into my pillow.
I wish Mother was here.