World of Quiet Enlightenment
◄ Negotiation Smoke and the Disturbed Skeleton ►

CONTENT WARNING: This chapter covers subjects such as death and exploitation. Reader discretion is advised.

As Andrea's uncle sat across from her, Charmaine couldn't help but feel uneasy. After weighing the consequences of staying versus turning around and walking out, she took a deep breath and decided to stay and hear the old man out. After all, her problem was with his niece and not with him directly.

"How have you been, Edward?" she politely said to start the conversation.

"Oh, I've been here and there. I've been mostly here in the Big Apple since I have no family out west anymore."

Charmaine sighed. She was hoping that Andrea wouldn't be mentioned, but it was apparently inevitable.

"You know I won't see a courtroom."

"I'm so sorry for your loss. Even now, I still stop and wonder what happened."

"She took both of us for fools. That's what happened."

The first clue that Andrea was going to steal Charmaine's money was the fact that she got a "loan" from her Uncle without any strings attached. Although Charmaine knew little about Andrea's Uncle, she heard enough from her (at the time) best friend to know that he was a cold, calculating, businessman in his prime.

"Yes, I would have never expected her to do something like that. It's like she snapped."

"I don't know who that woman was, but she sure as hell wasn't my precious little princess. You know what she told me? That she was using the money to go back to college."

It all made sense to Charmaine now. Andrea had no problems lying to her friends, why not her family? After shaking his head, Andrea's Uncle continued.

"Some of the stuff she's done. She's a shame to the family. My father, her grandfather, got his start by opening his first restaurant at the age of twenty-five. The fact that she would try to sabotage his legacy by releasing mice. And hanging around that boy. Disgusting."

"Agreed. I don't mean to digress, but we have some business to discuss." Charmaine said, wanting the man to shut up about his niece and get to business. After all, her son was waiting outside in the December New York weather.

I don't mean to digress, but we have some business to discuss."

"Ah, right! My apologies! You are interested in a partnership, right?"


"While I said that my connections to Oregon were severed with my niece's passing, I want to buy out your restaurant. After all, ten grand of my money is tied up in your establishment. I'm willing to add more to my investment in exchange for control."

"Uh… excuse me?"

"Andrea told me that she wanted $10,000 to go back to school, money that I found out was given to you to start your business."

Charmaine blinked. Was this really happening? Of course, Charmaine never saw a penny of that $10,000. Instead, Andrea used that for the few months that she could stay afloat in San Francisco.

"You are mistaken. Andrea never gave me a penny."

"You, ma'am, are a liar. Andrea gave you the money and you kicked her out of the operation. Why else would she do what she did?"

Charmaine was in disbelief. Even knowing all the horrible things that his niece did, Andrea's Uncle was unable to see that the woman was capable of just "snapping".

"Again, you are mistaken. I'm sorry for taking your time, but I think that our conversation is over."

"WHERE DID YOU GET THE MONEY?" the older man said as he raised his voice. Charmaine wasn't about to answer that she had a sizable fortune from her late husband’s life insurance.

"Goodbye, Edward." Charmaine said as she got up to leave.

"I'LL GET MY MONEY. I'LL GET MY MONEY!" Andrea's uncle cried out as Charmaine walked out into the hallway. The man got up with the intent to chase after her, but found himself restrained by the pain he was in. He walked over to a file cabinet and opened it up with the intent of finding something to ease the discomfort.

"Damn it." He uttered when he saw an empty tray. He got out his cell phone and sent a quick text.

Outside of the restaurant, Charmaine found her son waiting for her while doing the best he could to stay warm.

"How'd it go?" Kenton asked. Charmaine, fresh from the revelation of Andrea's actions, could only hug her son with relief that he was unscathed.

"The deal wasn't for me. C'mon, let's do a little sightseeing before we go to the airport."

Back in Oregon, Olivia took a seat in Mia's living room as Cameron and Mia sat on the couch across from her.

"Cameron. Coaster." Mia said as he set down the mug of hot chocolate on the coffee table.

"Nag. Nag. Nag." Cameron said as he looked around for something that could be used, settling on taking off his stocking cap and placing his drink on that.

"I swear, if you spill that, I'm breaking the mug on your head and shoving the pointy bits right into your…"

"Anyways, how are you two holding up? I feel that I was a bit, well, distant leading up to my move. And I know that it was a year in July…"

"We're okay. Kenton has been wonderful to us." Cameron said as he tried to readjust his hair.

"He even said that he's being strong because you're not there… Wait, that's not what I'm trying to say." Mia said as she looked down.

"Wanna try that again?" Cameron smugly said.

"Shut up. He's trying to be strong for the both of you, I guess that's a better way to put it."

"Not really."

Olivia giggled a bit as Mia reached up and scrambled Cameron's then-almost-neat hair.

"Totally not cool."

"At least you have Cameron to take my place as your friend. I was worried that you'd be alone after I left."

Cameron and Mia looked at each other for a second before Cameron started laughing.

"Don't say it. Cameron. Don't even think it."

"…Come on! It's too easy of an opportunity to pass up!"

"What is it?" Olivia said as she tilted her head sideways in curiosity before taking a sip of her hot chocolate.

"Cameron and I… are more than friends. Actually."

"Say WHAT?!" Olivia said, nearly spitting out her drink.

"If I took your place, does that mean that you two were…"

"NO!" Olivia and Mia angrily said in unison.

"But yes… we've, uh, been together since about the time you left." Cameron said, almost proud of being able to boast about his girlfriend.

"Oh, Mia. Honey. I knew that you were going to be hurting, but really… this?"

"'I'm incredibly happy for you.' 'Why, thanks, Olivia! It's so good to have your blessing, even though we're two independent teenagers who can think for ourselves.'" Cameron sarcastically said before getting elbowed by Mia.

"I'm just giving you some grief. You two are unbelievably cute together. I love both of you and I'm happy that you two can make each other happy."

"Much better!" Cameron said with a cheerful smile.

"Anyways… I'm sure the two of you have heard about what happened with Elias's father."

"Oh yeah, about him trying to kidnap your cousin? That's so eerie for that to happen given how far away you were."

"I know. Lucas was such a good kid, and Toby was so much happier with him around."

"I'm sorry, but who's Lucas?"

"The other kid that Elias's father had, I guess it would be his half-brother. The news didn't really mention much about him because he's a minor."

"…Oh my God." Cameron said as he nearly dropped his drink, only managing to spill a little bit on the stocking-cap-coaster.

"What is it?"

"This is freaky as hell, but there's this guy who's about my age who I see occasionally at the video store and at the restaurant. His name is Lucas and he's homeschooled. I think he lives in Elias's old house, but what's freaky is that he almost looks like Elias. Same color eyes, similar hair."

Before Olivia could respond, her phone went off with a text message alert.

"I wonder if it's Orson..." Olivia thought aloud as she checked it and sighed when she saw that it was a message from her grandmother letting her know that supper was ready.

"Who's Orson?" Cameron whispered to Mia, who only could shrug in response.

"I've got to go. I'll catch up to the two of you tomorrow?"

"Kenton comes back tonight, I think." Cameron said as Olivia put on her coat.

"But still, I'll still see you two lovebirds, right?"

Mia nodded and smiled as she walked Olivia to the door. When she was gone, Mia turned around to see Cameron with a weird look on his face.

"Are you okay?" she asked as she sat down next to him.

"It's so weird… Elias having a little brother. It feels so strange, when William used to treat me like crap, I would fantasize about Elias being my big brother instead. Now I know that there's someone out there… who's going through this. Or not, that's what's so sad. Does this Lucas guy even know that he had the best damn big brother in the world…? It's not fair, Mia. It's just not fair."

For the first time, Mia saw a tear leave the side of Cameron's eyes. Without saying a single word, she wrapped her arms around him and the two of them sat there in silence.

In Boston, the boys were still in the living room, this time watching television.

“Coming to you live from Earth’s rancid porta-potty…” a robotic voice with a British accent said as footage of video games played on the screen.

"Do you guys really like this garbage?" Orson asked as Calvin proceeded to shush him.

"Toby… we need to talk." Bud said as he walked into the living room followed by his wife.

"Oh, we'll step outside." Orson said as he started to get up.

"No, you two stay. Toby, I just got off the phone with your uncle. We're moving back to Maine. All three of us."

"What about your job?"

"Eh, I'll still commute until I find something closer. To be honest, the job wasn't worth living in this sardine can."

"Well… wait, is this really happening?" Toby asked, wondering if he didn't doze off and was really dreaming.

"It is, sweetie." Toby's mother said.

"And you can thank this young man for telling us what you didn't. Or, rather, what you shouldn't have had to tell us." Bud said, gesturing to Orson before looking down sheepishly. Toby shared a similar downwards glance in embarrassment before turning around and spontaneously hugging his best friend's older brother. After a bit of awkward shock, Orson returned the hug, proud of himself for successfully saving the boy.

Night fell and progressed across the country, and several hours later in Oregon, a small town's early-morning sky become obscured with the sight of smoke. Over the course of an hour, the smoke grew in intensity. As the town started to awaken, the peace was broken with the screaming of fire engine sirens. As they battled the blaze, engines and firefighters from the neighboring towns joined in to battle the inferno engulfing the corner of Panther and Jaguar streets.

And so, began a day that Charmaine Hayes would never forget…

◄ Negotiation Smoke and the Disturbed Skeleton ►