Bang! Bang! Bang! The three quick, loud knocks on the door startled most of the students, including me, while we were taking the test. Everyone knew it was the guidance counselor, Mr. Catalfo, because he was the only person who knocked like that. He came by every now and then to ask a student to follow him down to his office to talk about grades and things like that, except he walked so fast that by the time you made it to his office, it seemed as if he had been waiting there for a while. Mrs. Jones opened the door for Mr. Catalfo.
"I need to see Miss Stone in my office please," he said. It looked like Mrs. Jones was going to say something, but Mr. Catalfo turned and started walking away before she could.
"Okay, Lianna, just give me your test, I guess you can come finish it after school," Mrs. Jones told me. I stood up and sighed. I didn't want to come back after school to finish my test; I was going to take Selene and Agana to visit mom in the hospital. I handed Mrs. Jones my half-finished test and began the short walk downstairs to the guidance office. I decided to get back at Mr. Catalfo for making me have to finish my test later by taking my time and making him wait for me.
When I got to his office, I saw that Mr. Catalfo wasn't the only person in the room. There were two men with him, one I recognized as Dr. Warren from the hospital. The other was a complete stranger to me. Then I noticed my younger sisters, Selene and Agana, sitting in the room as well. A suspicion began forming in the back of my mind, but I quickly suppressed it because it was the absolute last thing I wanted to happen.
Mr. Catalfo looked up from the papers he was reading when I walked through the door. His face, normally showing no emotion, gave only a look of sorrow and condolences. There were no other chairs in the small office, so he stood up and pushed the one he had been sitting on next to my sisters. "Miss Stone, please take a seat," he said. The question I had been holding in burst out of me as soon as I sat down.
"Is mom okay?" I blurted out.
"I'm sorry, girls," Dr. Warren started. I heard Selene whisper 'no' beside me. "Your mother passed on early this morning."
"No! She can't be dead! We just saw her yesterday, and she was fine!" Agana yelled. Selene just sat still, making no noise. Her face had taken on a sickly pallor.
"You girls and your mother both knew that her remission could end at any moment," the doctor said calmly.
"You're lying!" Agana screamed. I reached across Selene and put a hand on Agana's leg.
"Agana," I said quietly. "We knew it was only a matter of time. Please let him speak." She turned her head away from me, buried her face in her hands, and started sobbing.
"Who is he?" Selene asked, gesturing toward the stranger who had escaped our attention for a few minutes.
"This is Mr. Thomas Jameson, your social worker," Mr. Catalfo introduced.
"Social worker?" I questioned. I drew back a bit and knit my brows in confusion.
"I'm in charge of your affairs, including finding homes for you," Mr. Jameson said. "Luckily I was able to find three families to take you girls in temporarily. They are expecting you tomorrow. More permanent situations will be settled as soon as possible."
"Three families? As in we're going to be separated?" Agana half-yelled.
"Unfortunately, I was unable to find one family that was able to take in the three of you, so yes, you will be separated," he explained. His voice conveyed none of the sympathy that his words seemed to give.
"We just lost our mother, and now you want us to be living in different homes?" I asked, taking a page out of Agana's book and practically screaming. I threw my arm around Selene and pulled her close to me, as if that would keep Mr. Jameson from separating us. She silently cried into my shoulder.
"You three are all underage, so you now have to go into the foster care system. I'm sorry, girls," Mr. Catalfo said. He was the only one out of the adults who actually seemed upset for us.
"Lianna is turning eighteen in two months, plus she's already been taking care of us when mom's condition got really bad! Can't she just continue doing what she's been doing?" Agana argued. Mr. Jameson put his hand on her shoulder, but she just shrugged it off.
"Well, in two months, Lianna can try to gain custody of you and your sister. Until then, you will have to stay in different homes," he said forcefully.
"You can't just ship us off after giving us this news! At least let us stay at home tonight, please. We can go to our foster families' homes tomorrow," I pleaded. I hoped that spending the night at home would help me figure out a way to keep the three of us together.
Mr. Jameson sighed. "I was going to have you guys stay in a hotel room tonight, but I guess I could let you stay in your house. It will give you more time to pack your things and get closure."
I still held Selene against me, and I reached across her with my other hand and held Agana's. I kissed the top of Selene's head. "It'll all be okay," I whispered.
I snuggled under mom's red and blue comforter with my left arm around Selene and my right arm around Agana. Agana's soft snores gently moved the red curls of hair that were hanging in front of her face. Selene was so still that the only sign of her breathing is the slight rise and fall of her chest. They had both been sleeping for a few hours, but I couldn't get myself to fall asleep. I tried to wiggle my way out of the bed without disturbing either of them, but Agana clutched at my shirt sleeve.
"Where are you going?" she whispered. I looked at her; she was on the verge of tears again.
"I couldn't sleep, so I figured I'd get a glass of water. Do you want one, too?" I asked.
"Yes," Selene mumbled, interrupting Agana before she could answer.
"You're awake too?" I questioned. Selene responded with a tired 'mhmm'. I grabbed her shoulders and hauled her into a sitting position, making her groan in protest. "Come on, girlies, let's go get some water," I said. I grabbed Agana's hand in my right one and Selene's hand in my left. In the kitchen, we filled our glasses with water and sat at the counter.
"Lianna, are they really going to separate us?" Agana said after a short pause.
"No. We're gonna stay together," I answered.
"But Mr. Jameson said-"
"I don't care what Mr. Jameson said, you are my sisters and I am not letting them take you away from me," I insisted. I saw the girls' slightly frightened faces and immediately softened. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get so intense. I just- I just don't want to lose you guys, okay?"
Agana wrapped her arms around me and buried her face in my shoulder. "We don't want to lose you either, right Selene?" she said. She didn't get an answer. "Um, Selene? You okay over there?"
"Huh? Oh, uh, yeah. Was that box on the counter before?" Selene asked. She pointed to a small navy blue box with a gold-colored ribbon wrapped around it and tied in a bow.
"No, I'm pretty sure it wasn't," I said as I walked over to the strange box. It made quiet jingling noise as I picked it up, as if there was something metal inside. There was a small note tucked neatly under the bow. Selene and Agana stood behind me, looking over my shoulders. I picked it up, unfolded it, and began to read it.
To my beautiful daughters,
I'm so sorry that I had to leave you like this. I love you three so much. Of course I am leaving everything to you three, but in this box are some things that I need you to have now. One of the items is a book. You may not understand it now, but you will in time. There is also a necklace. Take good care of it, Lianna, and don't let anything happen to it. Never forget how much I love you, and keep each other safe.
I gently pulled on the ribbon and opened up the box. Sure enough, there was an old leather-bound book and a necklace inside. I inspected the book first. It was bound in dark brown leather and had a simple metal latch keeping it closed. A small metal tree decorated the cover. I opened the book and flipped through the pages. The writing and diagrams inside were complete gibberish; none of it made a lick of sense. I turned and handed the book to Agana. "See if you and Selene can understand anything in there." I took the necklace and sat by myself at the table.
The necklace itself was just a simple gold colored chain. Hanging from the chain was a small orange-yellow gem. It sparkled in the dim light as it danced around on the chain. I became enchanted by it and only stopped staring at it because Agana sighed loudly. I looked over to where she was sitting with Selene.
"I'm assuming you didn't find anything," I said.
"Well, we found some maps and pictures and a whole lot of confusing handwriting, but none of it makes sense," Selene explained. "The only thing that makes any sense is the star chart." She was very passionate about astronomy and seemed to be calmed by the fact that there was one thing in the strange book that actually made sense to her.
"I'm pretty sure all of the writing is in a different language or something, or maybe it's written in code," Agana said.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the green glow of the microwave clock. It read 3:46. "Wow, I did not realize it was getting that late, I think we should go to bed."
"What about the book? And the necklace mom left for you?" Selene asked.
"We can worry about those after we get some sleep," I responded.
We walked back to our mother's room and climbed back into bed. I started to put the necklace on the bedside table, but then I changed my mind and put it around my neck. It felt warm against my collarbones. Agana tucked the mysterious journal under her pillow before snuggling up to her sister. I put my arm around them and fell asleep thinking about what I could do to keep us all together.
Agana screamed, making me jump. I looked around and focused my eyes on her. "What's the matter? What's wrong?" Only then did I notice our surroundings.
Agana, Selene, and I were lying in a huge bed surrounded by fluffy white pillows and blankets. Huge,arched windows with billowing white curtains let in the sunlight, making the room feel very open.