A law professor gets a family and a bookstore owner offers advice.
Previously in "Par Angusta Ad Augusta":
After his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a car accident overseas, NYU law professor Jefferson Thomas brings his young nieces and nephew to live with him in Manhattan. Meanwhile, local bookstore owner Monique Vasquez runs her business while recovering from a recent robbery.
Around eleven that Saturday morning, the sun was out and a light spring breeze blew through the cemetery. All in all, it wasn't the worst day to be outside.
With the funeral at the nearby Trinity Lutheran Church over, the mourners gathered at the gravesite for the final farewells. Along with Department of State employees working stateside, the ceremony was being streamed online to every U.S. Embassy and consulate. College friends of Stanley and Margaret also attended, as did a few of Jefferson's colleagues.
Not knowing many people, Abigail, Taylor, and Matthew stayed close to their uncle and grandparents, who were in the front of the crowd.
The minister prompted the relatives of Stanley and Margret, including their three children, to say one last good-bye before leading the group in a prayer. Cemetery workers then lowered the caskets into the ground.
"Pick up some dirt," Jefferson encouraged.
The kids all stared at him. Dressed in their best clothes, they long knew better than to get messy now. Taylor eyed the brown dirt beneath their feet.
"Watch me," Jefferson said, scooping up a handful of dirt and, with William's guidance, sprinkling it over the caskets.
They mimicked his action, followed by Beth, William, and a few other relatives. The workers then began burying the caskets.
"Are mom and dad gonna be okay down there?" Matthew asked.
"I thought Mom and Dad were in heaven," Abigail said.
"They are," Jefferson said. "Their souls went to heaven and their bodies stay here so you can always come visit them."
"Will they see us?" Matthew queried.
Matthew stared at the hole, which was quickly filling with dirt.
"How about we head to lunch now?" Beth suggested, bending down to wipe Taylor's tear-streaked face with a tissue before proceeding to do the same with Abigail.
* * *
Lunch took place at a local up-scale but family-friendly American-style restaurant. Unfortunately, the ride over there was not short enough to prevent Abigail from reciting the list of foods she would not eat. She seemed unconvinced by everyone's promises to make sure these items didn't dare to come near her.
The group, which consisted of Jefferson, his parents, the three kids, and Margret's two sisters, got the staff to push two tables together to accommodate them. Knowing Jefferson the best, both Taylor and Matthew chose to sit with him while Abigail decided to be more adventurous and sat with her aunt Rachael, despite the fact they hadn't seen each other in the past one and a half years.
The meal went pretty well, with the adults mostly swapping fond memories of Stanley and Margret or asking the kids about how they were adjusting to their new lives in New York. Taylor mentioned Monique Vasquez and her bookstore, but the conversation didn't stay there long.
After lunch and dessert, the group drove back into Manhattan, where Rachael had to say "good-bye". she had to fly back to Chicago and prepare to leave for China the following day. She promised to come visit soon. Olivia left soon after that, saying she had a long drive back to Columbus.
"What time is your flight tomorrow?" Jefferson asked when just he and his parents were in his den.
"1:29," William replied.
"Then let's do brunch tomorrow before you go. I think the kids will like that."
His parents agreed, smiling.
* * *
Monique moved down the aisles, dodging around customers examining the books. Saturday was probably the store's busiest day of the week, and she was thankful for that. She could always use the money.
She came back to the front of the store, where Kathy was working behind the register. Despite the store being busy, no one was actually making a purchase at the moment, so the two women spoke with one another.
"Did you try and track down that guy with those kids who were in here the other day?" Kathy asked.
Monique gave her a somewhat stern look before speaking.
"Okay," she said. "First off, that's called stalking. Second, no. And third, how is that any of your business?"
"I was just curious," Kathy said innocently. "You seemed interested in him, so I thought you might give it a shot."
Monique shook her head as a man approached the counter.
"Excuse me," he said. "I'm looking for the new book by that Sparks guy. My daughter is dying to get her hands on it. Do you carry it?"
"Sure," Monique said. "I'm sure we still have some copies. Hang on and I'll show you where ..."
"That's all right. I'll find it. Thanks anyway,"
The man quickly moved away from the counter. Monique sat in her chair, fuming. That guy had seen her for what he believed she was and he had declined her help. It was definitely not because he wanted to make her life easier. He wanted to make his life easier by not dealing with her. That made her mad.
"Let it go," Kathy advised in a whisper.
Easier said than done, Monique thought. But she knew Kathy was right. Idiots like this would always be around, and she'd just have to deal with them, whether she liked it or not. Plus, if he found and bought the book, it was still a win for her.
* * *
William and Beth had gone to bed earlier after packing their luggage. With the kids also asleep, Jefferson sat by himself in his den, reliving the day's events and considering what came next.
There was one step left in this grim process before the kids would be set. Stanley's and Margret's will was still migrating through the legal channels. It was highly doubtful anyone would object to its contents and stipulations, but that didn't mean there wasn't a waiting period.
Jefferson already knew what it said, Stanley and Margaret having gone over the terms with him when he'd agreed to be named the kids' guardian in the event anything happened to them. Stanley's holdings in IronDog Security, plus his and Margret's savings, was to be placed in a trust fund for the twins and Matthew, helping with things like college expenses. Jefferson, as their guardian, would be named as the trustee to oversee the fund until each of the kids turned twenty-five, at which point they'd receive equal thirds of the remaining money.
Jefferson planned to just put the money in the bank, not touch it, and let the interest rates take care of the rest. If his calculations were correct, each child would receive two to three million after they'd all finished college and, he hoped, graduate school.
He himself would not be getting any money and he was fine with that. He didn't need it. True, Stanley and Margret would probably leave him some random items of personal value, but their kids were the priority, even after their deaths. He was fine with that. He just wanted to get the will settled and move on.
True, there was also the matter of Jefferson needing to officially be granted full custody of the kids, instead of the probationary guardianship status he was on now. But he wasn't worried about that. Eric had assured him that he had seen a lot of kids go to homes worse than his and the judges considered those suitable. And, seeing he worked in family court all the time and now taught the subject matter on the side, Eric would know what he was talking about. So there was no need to worry.
* * *
Monique met Joan in her apartment as usual and had some pasta with alfredo sauce and cucumber salad for dinner. Joan then got her ready for bed and made a joke out of tucking her in.
"Very funny," Monique commented.
"You'll miss that when I'm gone," Joan reminded her.
Monique nodded slightly. Joan would be going away to visit family members and she was leaving late on the following Wednesday evening, shortly after their regular session. Another nurse would be filling in for her during the five days she was gone.
"Maybe we can find out if I'll actually miss you while you're gone," Monique commented.
"Very funny," Joan shot back, smirking.
* * *
Around 9:30 that night, Jefferson allowed himself to collapse onto his bed, Presley already curled up on her dog bed nearby and sleeping deeply. This weekend had taken a toll on them both.
* * *
The next day was Sunday, the last day before the girls would be going to their new school. Though all three kids' beds were now assembled and being used, some of their other furniture wasn't. So Jefferson's morning consisted of finally getting that done with William's help.
The brunch turned out to be a more subdued affair than Jefferson had anticipated. He figured the kids were still affected by the funeral and were probably bummed that their grandparents were leaving in a few hours. True, New York and Virginia were a lot closer than Germany and the United States, but Matthew and the twins were too young to put that difference into perspective.
* * *
Thankfully, because they moved around a lot, Stanley and Margret had never acquired a lot of personal property. Everything fit in Jefferson's one-car garage with a few extra boxes currently in the main house. Even with the progress he'd made with the help from Eric, Amy, and his parents, there was still plenty to sort through.
Jefferson set to work and almost immediately found some papers and envelopes in a desk. These documents had apparently been missed when Cassandra Kingman and other Embassy staff went through everything in search of the will and other necessary legal materials, someone later taping the drawers shut for transport. Jefferson made a pile on top of the desk, intending to take everything up to his office later. He had a scanner up there which was equipped with software that could read him the documents, provided they were typewritten. Handwriting was still an issue with the technology. He figured most of the papers would end up in the garbage or his shredder, but he knew he needed to check first.
"Knock-knock," someone said.
Startled, Jefferson jumped back, knocking a pile of boxes against the wall. He hoped there wasn't anything fragile in those. Hearing the woman stifle a laugh, he realized who his visitor probably was.
"Sorry," she said. "It's Amy. The door was open."
Having noticed how hot the garage seemed to get as he'd worked, Jefferson had opened the door to get some ventilation. True, it was March, but the cool air was really helping. Hearing Amy remark about it now, his heart skipped a beat, as it often did whenever she arrived.
"What brings you here?" he queried, straightening the pile of boxes again.
"We didn't get a chance to talk at the funeral," Amy said. "How are you doing?"
The funeral had been a whirlwind for Jefferson. Being co-organizer with his mother left little time to take in the gravity of the event.
"Par angusta ad augusta," Amy said.
"Huh?" Jefferson asked. Amy had minored in Latin at Columbia and liked to use it in conversation at random moments.
"Through trial to triumph," Amy explained. "It'll get better."
"I just hope you're taking time for yourself as well," Amy added. "You need to."
She stepped forward and then wrinkled her nose.
"Seems like you've been working in here for a while," she commented.
"Lots to sort through," Jefferson said. "I gotta figure out what to keep, what to get rid of, what to put in storage for a later time ... maybe there's stuff the kids can use someday."
"Are the girls ready for school tomorrow?" she asked.
"Almost," Jefferson replied. "I'm going to get the remaining supplies with them later this afternoon."
"Not smelling like that you aren't."
Amy surveyed the garage.
"You've got a lot to do here," she said. "Give me some money, at arm's length, and I'll take them. You keep working and then take a long shower."
* * *
With money and a printed list, Amy and the twins were gone within half an hour. Occasionally pausing to check on Matthew, Jefferson kept going through boxes, sometimes pulling up the AIRA app on his phone for sighted assistance to identify items.
While most of the boxes' contents would require special pickups for donation or disposal, he was able to fill half a dozen garbage bags. Deciding to quit for the day, he took the pile of papers he'd collected on the desk and carried them up to his office. Then, he hopped in the shower.
"Uncle Jeff!" a voice called.
He was drying himself off when he heard it. Abigail could actually be heard from the ground floor, two stories down, having seemingly just returned with Taylor and Amy. Jefferson briefly wondered if he'd get a noise complaint from his neighbors. The brownstones here were pretty close together. He got dressed and went downstairs to find the twins laying their new school supplies out on the kitchen table.
"They want to show you what they got," Amy reported. "Nice to smell you've showered, by the way."
* * *
The tour through the two piles of school supplies took half an hour. With Amy's help, Abigail and Taylor described each item for Jefferson's benefit before putting it in their backpacks. Abigail had gotten a variety of designs and pictures on her notebooks, folders, etc., while Taylor's were more muted, occasionally containing stripes or large dots.
"Very nice," Jefferson said. "Thank Mrs. Nelson for her help and then put those in your room. I'll get started on dinner."
"I should get going," Amy said, rising from her seat after the girls were gone.
"Thanks for all your help," Jefferson told her. "Have a good evening."
"It'll be a quiet one. Eric's watching a baseball game at a sports bar with some friends of his and Sam and Keith are both at friends' houses for the evening."
"On a school night?" Jefferson asked with a raised eyebrow.
"What, are you SuperDad already?" Amy asked with a chuckle. "They've got a curfew and Eric's picking Keith up on his way home."
"So you're by yourself for dinner?"
"You wanna eat with us? Consider it a sign of gratitude from me."
"Depends. What are you having?"
"Not a clue."
* * *
With Amy's help, Jefferson prepared a meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy, and carrots.
"Who knew I could put this together with all the random things I've got around here?" Jefferson remarked, semi-amazed.
"Go figure," Amy agreed.
Upon hearing what they were having for dinner, Abigail began listing everything she wouldn't eat, assuming Amy needed to hear this. Amy was patient and assured the girl everything would be safe, which Abigail seemed to believe. Nevertheless, when she was given her portion, she poked her meatloaf slice with her fork as though this would reveal some hidden ingredient. Amy couldn't help being amused by this.
"I've got two sons at home," she commented. "I tell you, if either of them were picky eaters, I'd probably have to take them to the doctor. They'll eat anything."
"How old are your sons?" Abigail asked, momentarily ignoring her food.
"Sam is 14. Keith is ten, but he'll be 11 in July."
"Where do you live?" Taylor asked, taking an interest as well.
"I live in Queens with my husband and kids. Actually, I live pretty close to that airport where you guys landed."
"Where do you work?" Abigail asked.
"Guys," Jefferson admonished, "you can't go snooping around Mrs. Nelson's private life."
"It's okay," Amy assured him. "I don't mind."
"See," Abigail said with apparent satisfaction. "She doesn't mind."
Seeing defeat, Jefferson kept quiet as Amy proceeded to explain she was a librarian. Listening to her talk, he supposed she didn't feel burdened by the kids' inquiries.
* * *
Jefferson came back down after getting the kids to bed. Amy was in the kitchen, finishing up her drink. She had stayed a while longer after dinner to chat with the kids before their bedtime.
"Tell me something," she probed. "What do you do if any of them demand a bedtime story? I can't imagine too many of those come in Braille."
"According to my research, some do," Jefferson said. "So far, except for the occasional story about their parents, the twins aren't very demanding. As for Matthew, I memorize stuff I find on the internet and put a bit of my own spin on it whenever I don't remember something ... you know, improv."
Amy chuckled and downed the last of her wine.
"I'd better get going," she said. "Thanks for dinner. It was fun."
"I'm glad you had a good time," Jefferson said. "Thanks for all your help."
Amy set her glass down on the kitchen table and grabbed her coat from the back of her chair. She headed for the front door.
"Oh," she said, stopping. "I almost forgot. I got these in the mail and I thought you might like them."
"What are they?" Jefferson asked.
"They're brochures for a youth soccer program the city runs every fall," Amy explained, coming back and handing them to him. "They're already getting sent out now. I think Matthew might still be too young, but if the girls are interested ..."
Her voice trailed off.
"We'll look into it," Jefferson said, reaching out for the brochures. "Thank you."
His fingers brushed the back of her hand before he found the pamphlets. Amy flinched, though she wasn't sure why.
"I can scan these," Jefferson commented, taking the brochures.
"Yeah," Amy said, wondering if she ought to have just provided the program's website address instead.
They stood there, staring at one another.
I have rearranged this story a bit. It is now thirty-eight chapters (instead of the original forty-two.)
Cast of characters:
Jefferson Thomas: a blind NYU law professor.
Presley: Jefferson's guide dog.
Abigail and Taylor Thomas: seven-year-old twin daughters of Stanley and Margaret Thomas. Nieces of Jefferson Thomas.
Matthew: four-year-old son of Stanley and Margaret Thomas. Nephew of Jefferson Thomas.
Joan: Monique's nurse.
Eric Nelson: Jefferson's colleague and best friend
Amy Nelson: Eric's wife and Jefferson's friend
Beth and William Thomas: Jefferson and Stanley's parents. Abigail, Taylor, and Matthew's grandparents.
Stanley "Stan" Thomas: Jefferson's brother. Killed in a car accident in Berlin.
Margaret "Maggie" Thomas: Stan's wife. Killed in a car accident in Berlin.
Feedback is always welcome. Enjoy.