That night, as Brea slept in her new bed she thought of her life before and closed her eyes. She thought of the stories her mother had told her. She pictured her mother’s smile and lips as she painted beautiful pictures with her words, stories of brave men who put the civil society before their own wants and desires. Stories filled with adventures and lore that were fantastical and intriguing. Brea recalled her mother knowing just when to say goodnight, leaving Brea daydreaming in school the next day in wonder of what twists and turns would be revealed as the story continued.
She thought of the fan at home that squeaked when it was put on high speed, and she thought of the glow in the dark stars her mom put on the ceiling while standing on her bed. The stars looked like comets with the fan blades sweeping over them. Then, aided by her exhaustion, she fell fast asleep.
The next day Brea walked to school dressed in her best first day of school outfit. She had on her favorite navy and white dress with turquoise trimmed shoes and a fake blue flower in her hair. I know you’re smiling somewhere Mom. Even though yellow was your favorite color.
Her grandmother had not given Brea her package the night before because she said it would excite her before bed time. She was dreading going home, but at least there was the package.
She raced to school but the day dragged. I could tell you of her first day, but it ran like any other kid thrown into a situation far too late. All the children already had friends and she wasn’t a part of that. The groups and cliques established at the start of the school year had no room for outsiders. Such was the consequence for joining the school late in the year. While the day meandered, she thought often of her current situation and became sad knowing that if she didn’t make friends at school, she would have no place to enjoy being now that Grandma Eve was her caretaker. Cleaning, school, tutoring, cleaning, school, tutoring; at least Cinderella eventually found a prince. I bet those glass shoes weren’t easy to shine though. She had thought her way completely across the school and to the class of her tutor. The door of the classroom was a deep brown wood color and smelled like spearmint, but that was because she accidentally put her nose were someone had purposely put there gum. Gross. Why am I smelling a door anyways? What a weirdo.
Hooked nosed, pock marked faced, withered old hands. Brea couldn’t help but imagine this as she stood a foot away from Professor Morris’ tall double doors. Grasping her key around her neck she raised her hand to knock, but before she could someone spoke from in the room.
“The door is open please come in.”
The door didn’t creak like it did in the movies; instead it opened smoothly to the sight of a midsized man, handsome and unshaven enough to look scruffy, even slightly unprofessional. His hair was brown with no hint of another color and was kept messy in an organized way which made him look like a graduate student. His ocean blue and sea green sports coat fit loosely and looked comfortable on his shoulders. She stole a glance or two and noticed the room looked more like a study than a classroom. There were desks yes, but they faced each other and shared table tops. The tables were littered with chess pieces, Stratego, Risk and other board games. The Professor’s desk had an old world globe and on its corner sat a classic American Revolutionary War themed chess set with the white pieces set towards the teacher to use.
Brea made her way towards the front of the class room where the Professor stood looking down at papers. She was caught off guard by his appearance. For some reason she had pictured Professor Morris as a woman, and because of her grandmother’s affiliation with the teacher, Brea thought the “she” would be much older.
He made a gesture with his hand without lifting his head, “Please sit anywhere in the first three rows. I’ll be done in a second.”
She sat down as he looked up at her. She started to take out her books and notepad when the Professor stopped her.
“That won’t be necessary. We’ll start today with introductions.” He moved closer towards her walking lucid. “I will start as you are probably puzzled by the fact that I look as I do. I think you were expecting someone else.”
He was right. Had her face given her up? He continued, “I thought it odd when I received a message from your grandmother,” Brea cautiously liked where he was headed with this as his demeanor seemed cool, “who referred to me as a ‘her’ and so blatantly displayed her arrogance with her words alone. She spoke as if we were friends. This is odd because if we were, she would know that I’m a dude.”
Brea looked nervously around.
“I’m sorry, let me get to the point,” Brea thought he looked serious and funny, if that were possible.
“Your grandmother had the unfortunate luck of having Ms. Morris for a teacher. She was my teacher some time ago and by an unfortunate coincidence we share the same last name. The other teachers here get a kick out of making fun of that fact. She must have thought Ms. Morris was still a teacher, not realizing she would be 119 years old this year. I can’t blame her though; Mrs. Morris looked 119 years old when she was forty. It would have seemed she could live forever. Which I’m sure if she did, she would still be chasing my friends and I.”
Brea wanted to laugh but didn’t know the teacher well enough to find out if this was disrespectful.
“I don’t know anything about your grandma, but for being such a proud alumni, I’ve never even seen her here. This confusion with Ms. Morris is more humorous than anything. Anyway, since she has passed, Ms. Morris does not teach here anymore. I however do, and will be tutoring you from now on if you like.” He paused.
“So you will be tutoring me?”
“If you’d like.” He headed towards his the desk. “Or I could call up one of your teachers now and…”
“No,” Brea interrupted, “No sir, I mean, I would like you to tutor me Professor if it’s no trouble to you,” even though she didn’t truly know him, she felt closer to him than any teacher, or friend for that matter, than she had ever known. Maybe it was because he gave her a choice, which no other teacher really ever had.
He headed back towards her. “No trouble at all. I hoped you would.” He now walked back to his desk and grabbed a ring of keys, then headed towards the door.
“Well I very well can’t teach you anything until I know what it is you need to know. I also believe it is too nice outside to be in this room.”
He slid open a window by his desk and took a breath. “So I’ll walk you to the library, you can tell me what you are studying so I can get an idea of what to teach you, and we’ll call it a day.”
Brea gathered up her book bag and followed Professor Morris out the door of the class room.
Brea wanted to ask him a million questions about himself but she knew she would have the chance in the days to come. I certainly wasn’t expecting that. In a week full of surprises this was by far the best! Between Mr. Morris and the package…oh how could I forget! She had just remembered the package her mother had sent her and she raced home the happiest she’d been since she got there.
If Brea would have thought about it, she would’ve wasted more time getting home or stopped by the school library to finish reading her book. In her excitement however she rushed home just in time for her grandmother to show her which rooms should be cleaned immediately.
“Why are you home so early?” she said as they climbed the stairs.
“Mr…eh…Professor Morris needed to finish talking to the rest of my teachers and get my current assignments.”
“Excellent. I expect you to take this tutoring seriously even when I’m gone. I will be taking a few trips this year.”
Can you take your trip now while we are at the top of the stairs?
“Within the next few weeks I will be traveling to Washington D.C. and meeting with some friends. Not that it’s your business but Ms. Ovlov will be here to keep you fed and clothed etc. She will also be informing me of your daily activities so don’t think you can slack off.”
Being left alone was no big deal for Brea. The last few months she spent with her mother she saw increasingly less of her anyway. That’s when she started spending more time at the beach reading. Plus being alone was better than being with her Grandma Eve.
Her grandmother stopped in front of a door, “Begin here and work your way down.” She started to leave.
“Oh, and the package your mother left is in your room. There’s nothing interesting in it, but you may have it after dinner when you’re ready for bed.”
The thought of her grandmother searching through the things her mother gave her made Brea clean furiously. That soon subsided and she found herself cleaning her grandmother’s room and speaking out loud connecting her thoughts together on accident as people often do. “Being blind on a raft with someone you don’t know would be bad enough,” she said of her favorite book the Cay as she finished up her grandmother’s room. “The sunburn, the hunger, the lack of water.” She crossed the hallway.
“The first time I had sunburn, I hurt for a week.” She began dusting. “That was the time my mom had raccoon eyes from wearing her sunglasses too long.” She stopped dusting and began walking.
“Boy was her face red…literally!” Brea headed towards another door. “She looked like a traffic signal with her yellow bathing suit and green flip-flops.” She turned the knob walked forward and began groping for the light switch with her free hand. “I got her those flip-flops for Christma…” she paused suddenly realizing where she was. She turned to leave but the door had closed behind her.
She pawed at the area she thought was the door in hopes of finding the handle. In her panic she groped all along the wall for the light switch. As she felt around, the stale air of the room hit her nose. There was light in the room so bright she had to shield her eyes. It was bursting through a small circular window some 15 feet in the air. It seemed to belong to no wall as the room was black in every area that the sunbeam didn’t light. Her eyes followed the beam which was speckled with unsettled dust that her nervous fingers had brushed up just seconds earlier.
The light ended across the room from itself but relatively close to her, where it settled on a stand which stood shoulder high to an adult. Since it was head high to Brea it looked more menacing then it should have. Atop the stand sat an unopened book. Brea reached for it and saw her hand become highlighted with by the sun as it split the beam and cast more shadows. She ran her fingers over the cover which reminded her of an old German Bible she had seen in her school library. The cover was rich leather stained a deep blue and was the size of a cubit of her arm, or so she thought, as she was thinking biblically now due to the books appearance. But the symbol on the cover was unlike she had ever seen. Etched on the leather was a tree with multicolored leaves all of which seemed to shimmer in different shades of light. She picked up the book to get a closer look at it, and at the same time she did this the sunlight was drained from the room. She stood there in the dark for only a moment though as she heard the air conditioner kick on and pull the door behind her which now became slightly a jar. Without contemplating the decision, she grabbed the book and her cleaning supplies and left the room.
Brea walked immediately to her room and shoved the book in her backpack, under her bed then rose to her feet and left. She wobbled a little bit realizing what she had just done.
Why had she taken the book?
Having cleaned up and changed into her pajamas, she headed to her room to open the package which she found on her bed. It was brown and no larger than a shoe box. Brea’s name was on top with her grandmother’s address underneath and the return address was from her old house. She knelt at the foot of her bed and said her bedtime prayers because she thought she might forget later. Then she opened it up.
The first thing she saw was a picture of herself and her mother in a beautiful white wood frame at some family event. They glowed in the picture which really captured their strong sense of family ties. Underneath the picture lay her mother’s golden scarf. She welled up as she suddenly thought of her mother and put on the scarf, but when she unrolled it, a small piece of paper fell out.
“What’s this?” she held it to the light. “Oh, it’s a bookmark.”
It was white with gold tassels and Brea quickly stuck it in her copy of The Cay she had laid on her nightstand to read. She turned her attention back to the box to search the rest of its contents. The only other thing inside was a rather large perfume bottle made of crystal filled with an amber liquid. It had a spray nozzle on the top of it and Brea immediately recognized the potent scent, when she pressed it to her nose, as the perfume her mother wore. The scent brought back a rush of memories and the heartbreaking loss of her mother. She knew how precious this would be to hold onto but she couldn’t resist. She sprayed her pillow case with the perfume and pressed her face to the linen. After a few minutes of memories and tears of sorrow for herself and her mother’s life that was cut too short, she kissed the picture.
She knelt back down and whispered. “Thanks mom. I love you, and I miss you. I know you’re in a better place, good night.” After reading a chapter or two of her book, Brea fell into a peaceful sleep.