Bree-Ann Atwood

Bree sat in front of the fireplace, enthralled by yet another story about her grandparents, and great grandparents, though Destiny was only relaying stories she was told about her own grandparents. Jake and Penny Hutchins had passed away before Destiny was born, but she told the stories her mother, Fran, told her about them. She remembered hearing about her grandfather, and how he died in a fire when her own mother was young. Desi wanted to make sure that her family was never forgotten. Flipping through Penny’s old photo albums, Desi pointed out photos of the people she spoke about.

“This is your great Papa, Jake. You know, the firefighter.” Destiny pointed at a man she only knew in pictures. “And this was your Nana, Penny.” She carefully turned the page as she pointed out Penny’s photo.

“What were your mom and dad like, Mama?” Bree was so interested in the family that Desi left behind to pursue her dreams.

“Oh Bree,” Destiny spoke. “Your Grammy and Grampa were…” her voice trailed in thought, and then continued, “Amazing. They made everything you have, everything you see around you, even you, possible. They sacrificed everything for me.” Desi’s bottom lip began to quiver, but she bit it instead. “I know they would have given anything in the world to have known you and your sister, Bree. They would have adored you.”

Bree smiled, her brunette hair shone in the firelight. “Someday, Mama, I want to be like great Papa. I want to save people from danger, just like he did.”

Desi looked at Arthur, who was rocking Bella in his chair. Arthur smiled at his older daughter and said, “Well, we’ll see about that, little love. But now, it’s time for bed. You have school in the morning!”

Desi collected Bree’s favorite book to read before going to sleep, with Arthur and Bella right behind them. Bree drifted to sleep that night, dreaming of the family she never met but loved immensely.

“Come on, honey, you’ll be late for school. Again!” Arthur yelled to Bree from the living room. Bree had her own bedroom since Bianca arrived, but Art was wondering if the girl would ever want to leave it.

“On my way, Daddy.” Bree countered from the top of the stairs. “I just need to fix my hair, and…” Just then, she heard the school bus outside, blowing the horn. Knowing Art’s annoyed voice was soon to follow, she grabbed her backpack and ran down the steps as fast as she could safely navigate them. Bella was already on her way out the door.

Arthur stepped in front of Bree and gave a stern warning. “We will not have a repeat of yesterday, am I clear?”

“Yes sir,” Bree answered, blushing. She had been having a terrible mood swing, and in her lack of judgment, she and a boy she liked pulled some pranks on the principal of the school. Needless to say, Mr. Scott was not pleased, and neither was Arthur when he received the phone call. “Bye Daddy,” she said, almost under her breath as she left the house.

“I don’t want another phone call today,” Arthur reaffirmed, yelling to Bree as she walked away. “You will not leave this house for a week if I do!” Bree waved and picked up the pace to run to the bus. Upstairs, the baby was crying for a bottle.

When she got to school her hopeful boyfriend and accomplice, Nigel Martin was waiting for her. She ran to him and hugged him. “Did you get busted last night?”

“Nah, my folks don’t care much,” Nigel responded, his rebellious attitude was making him all the more appealing to Bree. “Besides, what are they going to do, expel me? It was just a little fun.”

“Well, my father didn’t think it was so funny when Mr. Scott called him. If we do that again, I can’t afford to get caught, Nigel.”

“Are you afraid of your old man, Bree?” Nigel half teased and half picked on her. She wasn’t sure which it was, but she was indignant.

“No, Nigel, I’m not afraid of him. It’s my mother I’m afraid of, and if he tells her…” Nigel stopped her rant with a kiss, Bree’s first. “Why did you do that?” She asked, very surprised.

“Because you wanted me to,” Nigel answered. “So, you wanna go out sometime?  Homecoming is coming.”

Bree was ecstatic about the idea of homecoming, but she was also admittedly a little creeped out by the sudden kiss. That didn’t go as she had envisioned, and she was a little disappointed. Nevertheless, she had a date to the homecoming dance, and now she couldn’t wait. “Of course, I want to go to the dance with you! But, let’s pretend that kiss never happened, okay?”

“Was it a little weird?” Nigel kicked a small pebble that was on the ground and watched it bounce away, seemingly not interested in her answer.

“Just a bit, ya.” He took her hand and they walked to class together.

Bree’s eighteenth birthday came with little celebration, at her request. She was never one for the spotlight, or even much attention. The only one she wished to spend her birthday with was Nigel, but he was working that night. So with her family around the table, she blew out the candles and served up her birthday cake. Arthur gave her the keys to a new car, and Destiny gave her a keepsake from Appaloosa Plains. High school graduation was just two months away.

Arthur was cleaning up after the family birthday party, wiping the last of the dishes. “So, have you gone to the firehouse to see about a position yet, Bree?”

“I’m going tomorrow, Daddy.” Bree was finishing up her history homework. “The chief was very interested when I spoke to him at the job fair last month.”

“Are you sure about this, Bree? Firefighting is so… dangerous.” Art finished the last of the dishwasher and walked to where she sat, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Yes, Daddy, I’m positive.” Bree looked up at Art and smiled. “I’ll be okay.”

The next day, Bree drove her new car to the fire station. She was in awe over the size of the truck sitting in the engine bay, and the poles that led from the top floors to the ground. Oh, how she couldn’t wait to take a slide down a fire pole someday! The chief, who recognized her immediately, rose from his desk and shook her hand.

“Miss Atwood, welcome to Station 12. May I show you around?” Edwin Ernst took Bree by the arm and gave her a formal tour of the station. The kitchen, complete with a chef, the man who would be her immediate supervisor, Tom, and yes, the poles. “Go ahead, Miss Atwood. Give them a try!”

Bree didn’t waste any time, and she certainly didn’t need to be asked twice. She took a leap onto the pole and slid down effortlessly to the next floor. “That was AWESOME!” She yelled through the hole in the ceiling. After her slide, Mr. Ernst finished up the tour and then sat with her to discuss the terms and conditions of her employment with the company. She would start directly after her graduation, and be a probationary firefighter for the first year while she trained. She would report directly to Tom, who would oversee her training. She was expected to keep training with her personal trainer to build stamina and strength over the next two months, so she would be in top shape. Her contract signed, and her future secured, she left the station happy.

The alarm on her clock went off at the same time it did every morning, but she had nowhere to be until 10am. She sleepily turned off the chirping clock and considered going back to sleep for another hour, but instead, Bree pulled herself from her bed and put her running shoes on. On her way down the stairs, Bella called to her. “Are you going for a run, Bree?”

“Yeah, Bell,” Bree answered. “Care to join me?”

“I’m on my way!” Bella finished tying her shoes and met with Bree at the front door.

When the girls returned home, Destiny was cooking breakfast for Bianca. Arthur was reading the morning paper, and when he saw Bree’s face peeking through the door, he motioned her inside. “Time’s wasting, Bree. Go shower up.”

“I’m going, Dad. Just waiting for Bella to close the gate.” A Paparazzi was waiting for the girls at the driveway nearly every morning. They were not harmful, but their never-ending presence at the property was starting to get very annoying, especially since Bianca was still so young. The older girls seldom went outside without using the “buddy system,” which Arthur encouraged.

“Come on, Bree. I’ll help you get ready.” Destiny set a plate of steamy hot banana pancakes in front of Bianca, and Arthur helped her with the butter and syrup.

Destiny and Bree fussed with the graduation gown. Instead of wearing a dress under it, Bree had put a comfortable shirt and a pair of her favorite leggings. But the finishing touch was her ratty old sneakers, complete with holes. She combed her short, brown hair and plopped the cap on her head. “Does this look okay?”

“You look beautiful, Bree.” Destiny couldn’t believe her oldest daughter was set to graduate in just a few hours. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Bree replied. “All this time, all I ever wanted was to be grown. Now that school is over, I think I’ll miss it.”

“You will, sweet pea.” Destiny swallowed hard. Taking Bree’s hand in hers, they walked down the stairs together.

Bree was named top athlete in her class, and was given the award, “Most Likely To Join a Sports Team.” She graduated nearly first, due to her name being close to the beginning alphabetically. Her whole family, even her baby sister, sat in the auditorium at City Hall watching the ceremony, and they cheered as the graduating class disappeared into a flurry of caps and tassels at the end. Afterward, Arthur and Destiny took the family to the new restaurant in town to celebrate. The following Monday would be Bree’s first day on the job at the fire station.

When they returned home from the restaurant, Bree called Nigel. She knew his family wasn’t into celebration. In fact, they didn’t pay that much attention to their only son. So she was surprised when she heard Nigel’s voicemail on the other end of the line. “Daddy, I’m going out for a little while,” Bree yelled to Arthur, who was sitting by the pool watching Bianca swim.

“Don’t be too late, now!” He called back to her.

Bree drove the few miles distance between their and Nigel’s home. Funny, she thought. His car is in the driveway. She walked to the front door and rang the doorbell. Nigel’s mother, Corinne, answered the door.

“Oh, hello Bree.” She greeted. “Nigel is in his room.” Bree walked through the door and wound her way to his room on the second floor of their spacious home. She knocked on his door three times and turned the knob to open it.

“Go away!” He yelled. Bree’s head popped through the doorway, looking surprised. “Oh, it’s YOU.” The tone of his voice was almost venomous.

“Hi sweet—” Bree began to speak. Nigel’s demeanor did not soften, nor did he seem very happy to see her.

“I said, go away!” Nigel spat, interrupting Bree’s greeting. Ignoring his angry request, Bree entered his room anyway and sat on his bed next to him.

“What’s wrong, Nigel?” He looked at her as though he didn’t recognize her. Then she saw him do something she had never witnessed before: he raised his hand to her, as if he meant to strike her. Bree jumped up from the bed before he could swing and started to cry.

Suddenly, Nigel snapped back from wherever it was his mind had gone when he heard Bree weeping. “Bree?”

“What are you doing, Nigel?” Bree’s sadness suddenly turned to anger. “Were you going to hit me?” His hand still raised, he became more aware of where he was and who he was with.

“Um, no?  I would never hurt you.” Nigel seemed to be incredulous at the suggestion.

“I know what I saw, Nigel.” Bree sat back down on his bed, and he joined her. “Why would you do that?”

“I don’t remember,” he replied. This was the worst episode she had seen from him, and it worried her.

“Well, you’re better now.” She reached for him and kissed his cheek. “I guess it’s okay.”

They spent the next hour talking about the future, her new job, and their future together. Nigel had a job for a while at the festival, and he would continue working until he could figure out what it was he wanted to do. What they did know, was that they wanted a future with the two of them together. She noticed her watch at 11pm, and knew she had to make her way back home. She kissed Nigel goodnight and let herself out the front door.

The next morning, Destiny was gathering laundry when Bree came downstairs to run. “How was your visit with Nigel?”

Bree didn’t want to lie to her mother, but she didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions either. “It was fun, Mama. We had a lot to talk about.” She pulled the collar of her shirt up around her neck, to hide an enormous hickey he had given her. She wasn’t fast enough, though, because Desi caught a glimpse of it.

“What is that on your neck?” Desi had already seen it, and it wasn’t something she was accustomed to seeing. Destiny already knew from talking with Nigel something wasn’t quite right with him, and now this.

“Oh.” Bree knew she couldn’t lie about it. “Nigel got a little too romantic last night and gave me a hickey.” She hung her head, extremely uncomfortable with the conversation.

“I hope that’s all he gave you. You have your whole life ahead of you, Bree. Don’t waste it on that boy.” Destiny’s stark disapproval of Nigel irritated Bree.

“You don’t even know him, Mama.”

“I know enough.” Destiny tossed Bree a set of headphones. “Enjoy your run.”

On the morning of her first day of work, Bree got up early and went for a jog. She wasn’t afraid, but she was nervous about starting her new job. She would be the youngest woman to join the company, and the only one currently at the station. But she was more than confident in the skills she was bringing to the job and was eager to learn from her superiors. After her jog, she took a quick shower and fixed breakfast. Bacon and eggs, and some toast. She took what she wanted and left the rest for her sisters, who would be awake and coming downstairs soon for school.

The carpool picked her up right on time and brought her to the station. Her first thought was about Nigel, her longtime high school sweetheart. He would have loved to see her sweating it out as she learned the procedures and policies of the station. Her first task was to do some quick but simple maintenance on the fire alarm bell. When she was done with that, it was lunchtime.

“What would you like for lunch?” asked the station chef. He handed her a menu with about 20 different items on it, ranging in complexity from a PB&J sandwich to lobster thermidor. Feeling overwhelmed, she chose hummus and crudités and sat down at the kitchen table to eat.

Three bites into a cucumber with a glob of hummus, the alarm rang for a fire across town. Every man was on deck, and she quickly got into her safety gear and jumped onto the screaming engine as it raced to the fire. As the rookie, she only helped with the hoses and hydrant, but every little thing was brand new, and a learning experience. Luckily, the fire took mere moments to extinguish, and they returned to the station in time to fill out the report and clock out.

“Hey Nigel, it’s Bree. What are you doing tonight?” Bree held the phone to her ear to hear music blaring in the background.

“Hey, Bree Cheese.” She hated it when he called her that, but telling him only made him say it more. “What’s shakin?”

“I was wondering if you want to get a bite to eat. I spent all day at the station, and I’m hungry.” Bree was ravenous, and even though there were no emergencies that day, she still didn’t get a chance to eat the soup the chef had made that morning.

“Nah, not tonight. I’m…” Nigel paused on the other end of the phone, as if he was searching for an excuse. “I’m washing the dog.”

“But, you don’t have a dog, Nigel.” Bree was irritated, knowing he was lying. She heard Nigel’s roommate shouting at him, “If you don’t want to see her, tell her. Don’t lie to her, you idiot.”

“It’s my friend’s dog. And he’s the idiot, not me.” Nigel had a bad habit of being rude and acting a little crazy. Sometimes, it made Bree wonder why she still loved him. She was certainly tired of the excuses and abuses.

“Sure, it’s okay Nigel. Maybe next time?” Bree was choking back tears. She didn’t like being lied to, especially when it was so blatantly obvious.

“Yeah, whatever,” Nigel answered. “I gotta scoot. Laters.”

Bella, who had been listening to the whole exchange, hugged her sister. “You really need to dump that loser, Bree.” Handing her a tissue, she added, “You deserve so much better.”

“I didn’t think his illness was this bad, Bell. But he’s really been awful to me lately.” Bree cried openly but quietly, not wanting Desi or Art to hear her upset.

“I’m surprised you stayed with him when Mama told you he was insane. He’s not right in the head.” Bella sat with Bree’s hands in hers. “You really need to move on and cut your losses, before there are any children involved.”

Bree recoiled at the thought. “Eww, no! We aren’t… intimate, Bella. I’d never have a child with him, not now.” Bree remembered their harmless fun in high school, pranking the principal and just being with him. But since graduation 3 years ago, he was so much different. “I just want the old Nigel back.”

“I know, sis. Este and Nigel were cut from the same cloth. Losers, the both of them. And they don’t deserve the Atwood sisters!” Bella hugged Bree one last time. “Call him back and do it. I bet he won’t even care.”

As it turned out, Bella was right. When Bree called him to break up, it was as though Nigel didn’t even acknowledge she was on the phone with him, let alone care. He gave her his signature, “Whatever,” and that was that. Bree was single, but instead of sad, she felt a cloud lift from her, and for the first time in months, she smiled again.

Bree was trapped in a room alone and couldn’t escape. There were flames all around her, and there was no way out. The fire was hot and licking at her clothing. She screamed for help, but nobody came. And out of seemingly nowhere, a man in his late 40s showed up. The man was strangely familiar, but she had never met him. He came rushing in, fire extinguisher in hand, and doused the flames enough to get them both out. In one sweeping motion, he swept Bree off her feet and carried her to safety.

She sat up in bed, sweating, her heart pounding in her chest. Bree had been having recurring dreams about being in a fire, and a man saving her life. The man in her dreams was her great grandfather, Jake Hutchins, a man she never met but admired greatly her whole childhood. She knew the story of how he died in a fire rescuing a young boy, but in her dreams, he was very alive and very real. Somehow, he was always able to save her.

Bree got up and went to the bathroom, got back into bed and read the journals her grandmother, Fran, kept about her father. I really need to get back to sleep, she thought. This isn’t going to help. But she couldn’t tear herself away from the journal, the stories she had heard since she was a young girl. Somehow, she had to figure out a way to cope with the danger of her chosen profession. And a way to deal with the death of a baby girl she couldn’t rescue.

For months after the fire, Bree had lost all of her confidence, even though she was long past her training period. She turned to the wisdom of her grandmother and great grandmother, whose words were immortalized in journals passed down through three generations. Sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she could still hear the baby crying, and then not. Bree could still see the pain in the mother’s face as she realized her baby didn’t make it out. And she felt extremely guilty that she couldn’t save her.

Luckily, it was Saturday, and Bree could sleep in after such a rough night’s rest. Bianca’s chattering outside her bedroom door, though it usually annoyed her, was a welcome sound on this day. It reminded her she was still alive, though sometimes she wondered if she wanted to be at all.

Destiny looked at Bree and noticed how tired her oldest daughter looked. “Are you okay, Bree?”

“I had another nightmare,” Bree answered.

Destiny looked troubled. “Maybe you should stop reading those journals for a while.”

“They’re the only peace I have right now, Mama.” Bree shrugged. “I think I’m going as crazy as Nigel was.”

“Oh please!” Destiny chuckled. “You’ll never be as loony as that man, trust me.” Destiny walked to her daughter and hugged her. “I’m always here if you need me.”

“I know, Mama. Thanks.” Bree cleaned up her breakfast dishes and grabbed her car keys. “I’ll be home later.”

Tink…. Tink… .Tink….  Bree’s hammer was finishing up the last few hits on a new gadget she was making. “There!” She set the item down on the table and admired her handiwork.

“Thatsh a nishe plumbob you have there, Bree,” her boss said to her as she set her hammer down on the bench. Though he wasn’t drinking, Tom sounded like he was perpetually drunk due to a speech impediment.

“Thanks, Tom!” Bree’s therapist suggested that she take up a hobby, creating things with her hands. “I think it will look really nice on your desk, what do you think?”

“Well, I’d be honored to have sussha thing!” Tom beamed. He took the trinket from Bree and plopped it on his desk.  “What ish it, exshactly?”

Before Bree could answer, the alarm sounded for an emergency. Quickly, the whole company piled into the truck and headed for a fire. The house was very familiar, and not that far from her own home. Hers and two other stations were called in to control the blaze. Without hesitation, she grabbed the hose from the truck and began extinguishing the flames poking from the windows, so that the others could begin breaking down doors. Within minutes, the smaller fire was out, and she and two other men broke down the front door to the house. She called out to people who might be trapped, going from door to door and checking for victims, hoping the roar from the fire was not too overpowering.

“In here, in here!” Bree heard coming from a bedroom. The door was easy to open, but inside the room stood a woman paralyzed with terror.

“Come with me, quickly!” Bree encouraged her. She removed her breathing equipment and placed the mask over the woman’s face. With her arm around the homeowner, she quickly exited the building. As paramedics were checking her out, Bree retrieved her mask and reentered the building, searching for other victims. As she ascended the stairs, she heard another voice, this time a man, yelling for help. The door to that room was somehow jammed, and she needed to use her ax to open it. Inside, the man was nearly unconscious from smoke, but she once again removed her own mask and placed it over the man’s face. “I can’t carry you,” she told him. “Can you walk with me?” He nodded, and together they hurried down the front steps and outside the house.

By this time, nearly the entire house was engulfed in fire, and another rescue attempt seemed almost unlikely. But the man she rescued said his daughter was still inside. Thinking quickly, Bree ran for the back door and chopped through the kitchen door, the only room that seemingly didn’t have many flames. She found a young girl of about 10 laying on the floor of the kitchen. Shoot! Bree thought. I forgot my mask! She quickly picked up the girl and started for the back door. Bree had just cleared the kitchen door and made it to safety, with the girl over her shoulder, before the gas stove in the kitchen exploded. The blast knocked Bree backward but did not injure her. She continued to make her way toward the street, where paramedics and the news station were waiting. Her face, blackened with soot and smoke, hurt from the heat of the fire, as though she’d had a bad sunburn.

Hours later, the fire was finally extinguished. Bree had saved three souls that day, without a single thought of her own safety. Tom was extremely proud of her, especially considering that just a week prior she had refused to enter a building with just a tiny fire. She sat out the majority of the work, but at the insistence of her boss, who thought her achievements that day were more than sufficient. The family that occupied the house knew Bree as Destiny’s daughter but respected her as the hero who saved them.

Back at the station, she started making dinner for the company when Tom stopped her. “Leave the cooking to the ssshef tonight, Bree. You go home to your family.”

“Are you sure? My shift isn’t over yet.” Bree objected.

“It ish now.” Tom turned her around and sent for a ride to take her home. “We’ll sheee you in the morning!”

Reluctantly, Bree accepted the ride home. It would feel good to sleep in her own bed tonight.

“Mama, I’m home!” Bree yelled from the front door upon her arrival.

“I was so worried!” Desi yelled back. “I’ve been watching the news all day!”

Observing her reflection in the hallway mirror, Bree wrinkled her nose. “I’m going to take a shower, I’ll be right out,” she yelled.

Bree was just wiping down the counter after her shower when she heard Arthur call for Destiny, but there was a frightening urgency in his voice. Bree called to Bianca, who dropped her artwork and ran for the stairs. The two girls nearly collided, but Bree easily overtook her on the ascent. Bree made it to the top just in time to see the Reaper swing his scythe with a swooping noise that she would never forget, and in front of him knelt Destiny, pleading with the Reaper to leave Arthur. Bree’s footsteps quickened as she ran to Destiny’s side. Bianca, who missed the entire event, walked to the roof, winded, where Destiny and Bree knelt, crying.

“Your sister,” choked Destiny. “Call Bella.”

Bella was working downtown, but Bree knew she always had her cell phone with her. Shaking, she dialed Bella’s number and waited for her to answer.

“What is it, Bree?” Bella snapped, sounded annoyed.

“It’s Daddy,” Bree spat back. “Come home. NOW!”

Bree fell back on her heels and buried her head in her hands, her heart shattered into millions of pieces. She was always her daddy’s girl, and now he was gone.

In the same familiar building, with the same familiar fire, Bree stood in the middle of the house that was burning around her, waiting for the man in her dreams to come save her. The heat was intense, yet she didn’t get burned. She waited and waited for him, but to no avail. Finally, the flames caught up around her and started to burn her alive. She tried to scream, but the roar of the fire was too loud. In one last whisper of breath, she collapsed into a heap on the floor. But this time, it was not her great grandfather who would save her. It was Arthur who appeared in the dream. “Go back, baby girl.” He told her, the light around him shining like a halo. “You have more to do here.”

A scream followed by sobs woke her from a restless sleep. “Daddy,” she repeated over and over. Destiny heard the scream and hurried towards Bree’s bedroom, where she sat on her bed, holding her knees and rocking back and forth. “Daddy… Daddy…”

Destiny rushed to the girl’s side, and gently shook her. “Bree, it’s okay honey. I’m here. You’re okay.” Once Bree realized Destiny was there, she burst into tears and hugged her mother tightly. Desi just held her until the sobbing subsided. Finally, she pulled away from Bree and brushed wet hair away from her sweaty, puffy face. “This must have been a bad one.”

Bree nodded. “I kept waiting for Papa Jake to come rescue me, but he never did. Then the fire got to me, and I fell.” She took a breath before continuing. “Then Daddy was there. He told me to come back, that I have more to do here.” Destiny just held onto Bree, comforting her.

“It’s okay now, honey,” Destiny told her. Bella popped her head into Bree’s room, and Destiny made a hand signal that meant ‘phone.’ Bella understood and called Bree’s therapist.

Dr. Ramirez was there in under an hour. Bella greeted her at the door. “Wow, that was fast!”

“I don’t usually make house calls, but in Bree’s case, I will be here anytime she needs me.” The doctor made her way to the second floor. Destiny was still with Bree. “I have this now, Mrs. Atwood” the doctor told Desi. She nodded and gave Bree one last hug.

After the visit, the doctor asked to speak with Destiny privately. “I don’t think it is in Bree’s best interest for her to continue at the station, Mrs. Atwood.” She set her briefcase down on the table and opened it. “But, she needs to make that decision for herself. In the meantime, here is some medicine for her. Twice a day for 4 days. Then I want to see her at my office.” Destiny took the bottle of pills from the doctor.

“Thank you again, for coming so quickly.” Destiny shook the doctor’s hand. “I’ll make sure she is cared for.”

A few hours later, Bree emerged from her room, showered and dressed, her hair brushed and makeup on, as though she had a date. “Mama, can I talk to you?”

“Sure, sweet pea.” Destiny sat on the sofa and patted the seat next to hers.

“Mama, I… I’m going to move back to Appaloosa Plains. Bianca is going to be graduating in two months, and we’re going to go back together.” Bree hung her head, the announcement hung like a thick cloud in the room, the admission of defeat.

“I see,” Destiny answered. “Well, I think it is a great idea, Bree. I know you’ve been wanting to move, and I know you’re not getting any younger.”

“Neither are you, Mama.” Bree sighed deeply. “But there are just too many memories here. I need a fresh start.”

Destiny hugged her oldest daughter. “I understand, sweetheart.” She knew that once Bree and Bianca left, she wouldn’t see either of them again, and she doubted that Bella would as well.

Bree’s car was packed with all she could stuff into it, and Bianca’s bags of art supplies and a laptop computer. The moving van had already been at the house collecting furniture and keepsakes that Bree didn’t want to leave behind. All that was left to do was say goodbye and drive to their new home. Bella and Destiny stood outside the house, watching Bianca trying to stuff one last bag of paints and pastels into the car. Bree had already tied up every loose end she had, and Bianca was more than ready to start her career, one she could pursue from any city or town, for she was going to be an artist.

All four women stood in front of the house, Destiny propped up against Bree’s car, talking but not about anything, trying to avoid the inevitable goodbyes. Finally, Bree looked at her watch and looked at Bianca. “Well, kiddo. I think it’s time.”

Destiny’s eyes immediately welled up with tears. “Call me when you get into town, okay?” She held her arms open to each of them, waiting for the last hug.

“I will, Mama.” Bree was struggling against tears, her voice cracking with emotion. “We’ll take it easy, but it will be a few days before we’re home.”

“I know, my loves. Your daddy would be so proud of you both.” She kissed Bianca and Bree on the forehead, just like Arthur used to. “I love you to the moon and back.”

In unison, the girls replied, “I love you too Mama.” Then both sisters hugged Bella, and Bree spoke. “I’m so thankful you’re going to be caring for Mama, Bell. Please take good care of her, and call me when… you know.” Bree swallowed the growing lump in her throat.

“You have my word,” Bella promised. “I’m going to miss you both so much! I’m just a phone call away.”

With one last round of hugs and tears, Bree and Bianca piled into the car, rolled the windows down and waved as they drove away, Starlight Shores, their family and all of their childhood memories faded into the distance as Bree merged onto the highway.

Up Next: Bianca Atwood

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