“Would you please stand for the singing of O Canada,” cackled Vice Principal Jenkins’ voice.
Easton Jacobs lamented. Pushing back from his chair, he and the thirty-some students in his class sighed nearly in unison, falling into formation. “Daily routines are not my thing,” Easton muttered silently. Mrs. Ocre snapped him a glance from the perch of her bifocals. Behind him, Emileigh Nuart – the new girl – chuckled audibly enough for him to hear it.
The anthem played on; each boy and girl murmuring the tune, some humming, some mouthing the words. Save for Charles, of course. Good ol’ Charles, thought Easton. Singing like no one is listening. Easton smiled inwardly.
O Canada’s climax drew closer. Mr. Jenkins, with a penchant for the theatrics, and precisely on cue, increased the volume until “O Canada! We stand on guard for thee!” practically shouted through the loudspeaker. Slowly, it drew to a dramatic close, barely a whisper as it faded away.
“Let’s make Trudeau Junior High even greater today!” the Vice Principal concluded.
Class was about to start.
Desks and chairs shuffled and squeaked as they took their seats. Easton flumped down, and reached for his computer. Mrs. Ocre waited patiently as each student switched on their tablets. “We’ll resume Chapter 14 this morning,” she smiled.
Behind him, Easton could hear Emileigh struggling with her tablet. She is so, so weird, he thought, looking back at her. Here’s my chance. Then heaving a deep sigh, he rose to help her.
“You okay?” Easton asked quietly.
“I’ve never used one of these before,” Emileigh returned.
Mrs. Ocre pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and gave them a knowing look. Easton returned her gaze with a wave, and she returned to her lecture.
Emileigh pushed the on button again. Easton stared at her. “It’s a tablet, not a rocket,” he remarked. “Just turn it on and wait for the password screen.”
He jotted down a combination of letters and numbers for her, instructing her to use them when the screen prompted her. “Thank you,” Emileigh whispered. “We don’t even have a television at home.”
Startled, Easton nodded and retreated to his desk. Mrs. Ocre was challenging them on the next phase of algebra equations. No time to think about how strange the new girl was, despite how fascinating he found it.
At the end of the day, Easton found her waiting outside at his bus stop. Emileigh was looking particularly cute, he decided, with her very short brunette cut and long swooping bangs. She could even make the Trudeau uniform look good; a task undeniably difficult, he mused. “Emileigh!” he called out.
She smiled, “I think we take the same route home.”
He pretended he didn’t already know. “Down Sixth to Main?” She nodded. “Great – the next bus should be here soon.”
Easton stared at his shoes. A few of his pals in class had already bragged about kissing girls. A few had even gotten closer than that. And while he found himself not a bad-looking guy, Easton hadn’t much “luck with the ladies” as his Dad referred to it. He kicked a pebble and looked over at her. “What are you doing after school?”
She looked the other way. “Oh, nothing, I don’t think,” she said, adding, “I’m sure our landlady will have something for us to do …”
“You have a landlady?”
“Yeah, me and the other girls. She’s like an aunt to us,” Emileigh explained. “There’s a bunch of us, so we pitch in to help after school.”
“Do you have to?” Easton asked. “My Mom only makes me really help out on weekends.”
“I guess so,” Emileigh returned. “What were you thinking?”
The bus sputtered to a stop in front of them. Easton grabbed her hand. “Why don’t you come back to my place after school? I can show you some cool stuff on our tablets so you’ll know how to use it. Maybe watch some TV? I’m sure my Mom won’t care. Where’s your cell? You can call your aunt.”
After the driver scanned their shuttle passes, they found seats together near the back of the bus. “That could be fun,” Emileigh said thoughtfully. “But I don’t have a phone.”
Easton fished around in his pack and pulled out his own. “Use mine,” he said, unlocking the home screen.
Emileigh dialed, pushing the index finger of her other hand to her ear so she could hear over the noise. Easton reached for a half-eaten granola bar from his bag while he waited. She’s coming to my house, he thought excitedly.
She handed him the phone and smiled. “Is staying for dinner okay?”
Easton squeezed her hand, his heart pounding. She’s coming to my house.
The bus sped along Sixth, passing businesses and shoppers in downtown Findley. At just after three on a Friday afternoon, the core was unsurprisingly busy. Spring had arrived weeks earlier, and a fresh sense of wonder had accompanied it after an uncomfortable, cold and gloomy winter. Now it seemed like every person who travelled up and down Findley’s historical cobblestone roads and side streets had an extra lightness in their step; their grins and happy eyes greeting one another as if for the first time. Easton gazed happily out the bus window, his fingers now interlocked with Emileigh’s.
As they rode up to Main Street, Easton depressed the stop signal to the driver. They were less than thirty paces from his door, and Emileigh couldn’t help but gasp at the row of neat little homes that lined his road.
“What is it?” Easton asked her.
“Oh, I live in apartment, is all,” she laughed. “I’ve never been into a real home before.”
They walked together up the pathway to his house. His father’s spring tulips greeted them from the tidy gardens; the interlocking stones strewn in strategy towards the front door. A glazed knocker with the word “welcome” caught the afternoon sun. Emileigh breathed, “Your home is beautiful.”
Easton smiled broadly, and opened the door.
If the front of his home could cause a reaction, Easton was confident that his mother’s smart design of its interior was sure to impress Emileigh. As they stepped inside, she was immediately taken aback by the overwhelming sense of family the house provided. Along the muted green walls hung photos of Easton as a child, framed memories of their holidays, and rows of pictures showcasing Jacobs ancestors with their kind eyes and warm expressions.
But more to that, Emileigh could smell the aroma of a home that was cloaked in love and inclusiveness. Here was a family who took pride in long impressive line of lineage. She was struck by the antiques displayed in the front room; the carefully emblazoned “Jacobs” carved into the gold of a grandfather clock standing handsomely in the foyer. “My Grandpa says that thing has been in our family for centuries,” Easton said to her, noticing her stare. “One day, I hope it’s mine.”
“Easton? Is that you?”
Easton and Emileigh left their shoes and coats in the closet by the door and headed the direction of his mother’s voice. Lillian Patterson-Jacobs was in her study, finalizing the details for a new building ready for construction downtown. The room was less a study and more an elaborate library. Hundreds of books were stacked neatly upon dozens of shelves adorning each wall. In the centre was a rich mahogany desk, crafted with fine designs and imprints. A bronze lamp shone over endless paperwork, exposing detailed plans and blueprints. Lillian was sitting comfortably in her auburn leather chair, eyes trained on the specifics of her latest design.
“Mom? This Emileigh Nuart.”
Lillian sat back in her chair to see a short, skinny, little thing with mousey brown hair and long bangs. Her plaid kilt needed to be hemmed, and her socks were not pulled up to the same height. Someone should iron her shirt, too, she thought, studying the girl’s face. Easton would be fourteen in a month, and it was no surprise that he’d finally brought home the person who’d infiltrated his concentration the last few weeks. She knew he’d been distracted. And that distraction is standing in my study, she bemused.
Regaining her composure, Lillian greeted Emileigh with a firm handshake. “It’s nice to meet you. Easton’s father should be home in an hour or so. Should the three of us figure out dinner plans for the night?”
Easton didn’t flinch. He knew that his mother was taken aback by him bringing home a girl unannounced. “Should we barbeque?”
Lillian pulled her eyes away from Emileigh. There was something about this child she had seen before. Something that reminded her of a memory, she decided. A memory that was filed away, long ago. “Why don’t we go out to eat?” she surprised Easton. “Somewhere fancy.”
Emileigh had felt the tension in the room. “Oh, Mrs. Jacobs, that sounds really great. But I told my, my Aunt that I wouldn’t be long.”
“Ah, please come,” Easton returned. “Here, I’ll go get my phone and you can tell your aunt you’re staying longer.”
Emileigh nodded, and Easton left to get his pack.
“Emileigh,” Lillian began.
“Mrs. Jacobs,” Emileigh stopped her. “I know. We both know. And when it’s right, Easton will know, too.”
“Then you’ve been sent here,” Lillian put her hands to her face. “I knew it would be Easton. I just knew it.” Lillian turned. “Let me see your elbow.”
“It’s not necess-“ Emileigh began, as Lillian grabbed her left arm and pulled back her sleeve.
There, beneath the cotton cloth of Emileigh’s uniform, was a distinct ‘O’. Made to look like a birth mark and written in cursive, the tattoo was discreetly placed in the location Lillian had only ever read in her Mother’s journals. It was the mark of Oledanick.
“We’ve waited a long time for him,” Emileigh said, pushing down her sleeve. “Too long.”
“I know!” Exasperated, Lillian sat in her chair. “I know. When will you tell him?”
“Tell me what?” Easton asked returning to the study.
Emileigh and Lillian exchanged a glance.
“That we’d both like Italian for dinner tonight,” Lillian replied. “I’ll just have your Father meet us at the restaurant.”