Chapter 1: Easton Meets Emileigh

“Would you please stand for the singing of our National Anthem,” crackled 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. He was nearly a head taller than the other boys in class, making his disdain for standing to attention all the more obvious. “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.”

Confused, Easton raised an eyebrow and headed 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 sweeping bangs. Her assigned cardigan tied around her waist. 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 with his blonde hair, and blue eyes, semi-jock frame, 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 row. Tossing aside their bookbags, the pair sat silently for a moment. “That could be fun,” Emileigh finally said thoughtfully. “But I don’t have a way of contacting my aunt.”

Easton fished around in his pack. “Use my phone,” 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 wiped the crumbs from his lips, and squeezed her hand, his heart pounding. She’s coming to my house, he thought, excitedly.

The shuttle sped and zig-zagged 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 soft, tiny hands.

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 an apartment, that’s 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 modern 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 a long impressive 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?”

Easton and Emileigh left their shoes and coats in the closet by the door and headed in 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. Her fading blonde hair tucked neatly into a smart bun at the nape of her neck, still dressed in her office oxfords. 

“Mom? This Emileigh Nuart.”

Lillian pulled off her readers, and sat back in her chair to see a short, skinny, little thing with mousy 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 stood and 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, catching her breath. 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, suddenly. “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” she stammered.

“Ah, please come,” Easton returned. “Here, I’ll go get my phone and you can tell your aunt you’re staying longer.”

Emileigh merely nodded, and Easton left to get his pack.

“Emileigh,” Lillian began.

“Mrs. Jacobs,” Emileigh, regaining composure, and relying on her training, 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 birthmark 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, Lillian,” Emileigh remarked, pushing down her sleeve. “Too long.”

“I know!” Exasperated, Lillian sat back 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, quickly. “I’ll just have your Father meet us at the restaurant.”