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SYDNEY WARREN HEARD the doorbell, turned off the stove, and made a dash for the front door. Her mother taught art classes at Ohlone Community two days a week and wasn’t typically this late. Sydney was supposed to join her today, but had been down for the count with a nasty migraine, so her mom insisted she stay home and rest. Any progress with the migraine had been lost in the last couple of hours when her mom hadn’t answered the dozen or so texts and voicemails Sydney had left.
Sydney pulled open the door, hoping that her mother’s explanation would be a lost phone and keys, but what she found were two police officers standing on her porch, looking grim.
“Sydney Warren?” the older gentleman asked.
Sydney forced back tears as she nodded.
“I’m Officer Hill,” he said, nodding to his female counterpart, “and this is Officer Montclair. I’m sorry, ma’am, but your mother has been in a car accident.”
“Where is she?” she asked, feeling a modicum of relief. If it was an accident, she could deal with that. “I’ll come right now.”
“She’s at the hospital.”
“What do you mean at the hospital?” she challenged. “Why didn’t they call me? Why did they send cops?”
“May we come in?” Officer Montclair asked.
Sydney hesitated for a second before stepping back and letting the officers inside.
“Let’s find somewhere for you to sit down.”
She lifted a shaky hand to her mouth. “I need to sit down?”
Officer Montclair nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Um, okay,” she rasped, and headed into the front room, sitting in her mother’s favorite chair. “How badly is she hurt?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but your mother’s injuries were too extensive, and she didn’t make it.”
“What? I don’t understand.” Sydney swallowed. “I thought you said she was at the hospital.”
“She is. I’m sorry; we can’t give any more information.” Office Montclair gave her a gentle smile. “The doctor will speak with you when you get there.”
Sydney nodded woodenly, her mind numbing as shock set in. “I’ll get my keys.”
“Do you have anyone who can drive you?”
She shook her head.
“We’ll take you, ma’am.”
“How will I get back?”
“One of us will be happy to bring you back.”
She swallowed hard. “I...I need to get my purse.”
The officer nodded and Sydney walked in a haze to the kitchen, grabbing her purse and keys before sliding on her shoes and heading back to the front door. She followed the cops to their car. She could have been walking through water to an octopus chariot, as surreal as the situation felt.
Sydney was grateful the officers didn’t speak to her on the ride to the hospital. By the time they arrived, she had half-convinced herself that they’d made a huge mistake and she’d prove it to herself, and them, before telling her mom all about her eventful day.
She checked her phone (again) and there was still no return call from her mom. She still hoped she’d walk into the room and find someone else there.
One of the officers opened her door and she slid out, following him inside.
They led her down a hallway teaming with medical staff and into a room that was eerily quiet. A doctor met her right inside the door. He cleared his throat, but Sydney caught sight of the figure in the bed and rushed past him before he could speak.
“Mama,” she whispered, her heart rate spiking. Her mother lay bloodied and bruised, a tube in her mouth, her chest rising and falling as a hissing sound echoed in the stark room. Sydney glanced over her shoulder. “She’s breathing.”
The doctor sighed. “We’re keeping her heart beating because your mother is an organ donor, but there is no brain activity. I’m sorry.”
Sydney stroked her mother’s cheek as a tower of hopes crafted by denial began to crumble. “What happened?”
“Head-on collision,” one of the police officers answered.
Outside of the trauma to her body, she looked so peaceful. How could she be gone? Sydney’s world shattered silently as she sat beside her mother’s body, watching her chest rise and fall as the machines kept her “alive.”
“Are you her only relative?” the doctor asked. “Is there anyone else? Your father perhaps?”
With a mighty effort, Sydney turned her head to answer him. “My father died a while ago. It’s just us. My uncle, my mother’s brother, lives in England, but I’m the one who has power of attorney.”
The doctor pulled a chair up to her and touched her shoulder. “I just need a signature on these forms to release her organs, but why don’t you sit a while with her? We have a little time still.”
Sydney nodded and sank into a seat. “I need to call my uncle,” she rasped.
“No problem,” he said. “I’ll give you some privacy.”
“Thanks,” Sydney whispered, and pulled out her phone with a trembling hand.
* * *
Sydney walked off the plane and into the loving arms of her aunt Clara. “Welcome, love!”
Sydney gave her a tired smile. “Thanks, Auntie.”
With nothing left for her in California, Sydney had pulled up stakes and moved to London. After all, the death of her mother left her an orphan. A twenty-four-year-old orphan, but an orphan, nonetheless.
Aunt Clara hugged her. “You’re probably knackered, eh? We’ll head straight home and you can sleep. Your uncle will be home around six and we can talk.”
Sydney nodded. “Is Lucy there?”
“She will be soon. She had a couple of classes today, but should be home around four.” Her aunt smiled. “Come on, Burt’s got the car idling at the curb. Dennis is waiting at luggage claim.”
Sydney nodded and walked with her aunt toward baggage claim. She didn’t know Burt or Dennis, but deduced they were part of her aunt and uncle’s staff. Uncle Carville—Uncle Cary—was exceedingly wealthy. Over the years he’d found it necessary to put into place an extensive myriad of trusted house staff and security personnel who had been with him for years. This protection now extended to Sydney, since she would be living with them for a while.
Arriving at baggage claim, Sydney discovered Dennis waiting to pull her bags from the carousel. She smiled and introduced herself and then pointed out the three that came around quickly. As they waited for the final piece, she thought about how she could easily get used to this kind of pseudo-Kardashian-esque lifestyle.
“There it is,” Sydney said, and pointed to the final and largest, green and blue tartan suitcase coming towards them.
“I’ve got it, miss,” Dennis said, and pulled it off the carousel.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a young man jogged to them at Dennis’s wave of a hand and grabbed two of the bags, while Dennis took the other two and then led Sydney and Aunt Clara to the car. A rather fit, white-haired man gave a slight bow and opened the back door as they approached. “Burt, this is Sydney.” Aunt Clara slid into the car.
He smiled. “Lovely to meet you, miss.”
“You too. Thanks.” She followed her aunt and Burt closed the door.
“You should feel free to just rest and get acquainted with the staff over the next week or so, love,” Aunt Clara said. “You’re not obligated to do anything for a while. Give yourself some time to grieve properly and heal.”
Sydney nodded. “Thanks, Auntie.”
They sat in peaceful silence as Burt drove them from Heathrow to St. Peters Place in London. Her aunt and uncle lived in a spacious four-story townhouse they’d gutted and renovated twice in the last thirty years. Lucy and her brother also lived there, although Anson would be moving out soon, as his job was taking him to France.
Burt pulled the car up to the front of the house, and Aunt Clara and Sydney climbed out. Tears sprang to Sydney’s eyes as she gazed at the house and felt the love and comfort of family it had always held for her.
“We’ve put you in the room next to Lucy,” Aunt Clara said. “She wanted you close, but if you’d like to sleep somewhere else, you let me know.”
Sydney smiled. “That’s my favorite room—I love being next to her.”
Her aunt chuckled. “Almost verbatim what she said.”
Burt and Dennis started up the stairs with Sydney’s luggage and Aunt Clara squeezed her hand. “Are you hungry, love, or would you like to sleep?”
“I slept a bit on the plane, so I think I’ll go with hungry.”
“Come on, then, I’m sure Leticia has prepared something delicious you can snack on.”
Sydney followed Aunt Clara back to the kitchen and enjoyed a spread of cheese and cold cuts before heading to her room and falling into bed. For the first time in a long time, she fell asleep quickly, but as usual, couldn’t stay asleep all night. She only managed two hours and spent the rest of the time attempting to read.
At what her family would consider a “respectable hour,” Sydney showered in what was deemed the “small bathroom.” It was just off her bedroom and probably bigger than a few studio apartments in San Francisco. She’d giggled when her aunt had apologized the first time she’d stayed. The room was all marble—a claw-foot tub, shower that fit two, plus a toilet and bidet. Double sinks sat along a wall with two mirrored medicine cabinets above them. A large skylight in the ceiling flooded the room with natural light and could be opened via remote.
She headed down to the kitchen and found Lucy sitting at the dinette table, a gossip magazine open in front of her. Because of jet lag and the fact that Lucy had gotten home later than expected, Sydney hadn’t seen her yesterday, so it was a long overdue reunion.
Lucy let out an excited squeal and rushed for Sydney, pulling her into a hug. “You’re here, you’re finally here.”
“I’m here, cuzzie.” Sydney giggled and hugged her back. She pulled away and shook her head. “Do you ever not look perfect?”
Lucy had dark, glossy, shoulder-length hair that swung perfectly in an asymmetrical style that Sydney couldn’t have achieved without a constant hairstylist. Sydney’s, on the other hand, was long and straight, and probably would be forever. She was way too chicken to cut it more than an inch at a time.
Lucy rolled her eyes. “Hello, pot, have you met kettle?” She tugged Sydney to the table. “Come and have some brekkie.”
“What would you like, Sydney?” Leticia asked with a smile.
“I’m happy to make something.”
“You know the rules, love,” the cook said good-naturedly.
“Oh, fine.” Sydney gave her a mock frown, secretly loving being banned from the kitchen for a few days. “I’d love an egg on toast, please. I’ll get my own coffee if you have it.”
Leticia chuckled. “It’s in the pot.”
Sydney poured a cup and then sat next to Lucy.
Lucy set her magazine aside and folded her hands on the table. “What do you want to do today?”
“Just hang out if you don’t mind.” Sydney sipped her coffee. “I need to sit down with your dad at some point and sort out the inheritance and money from the sale of the house, but I kind of want to pretend that I’m on vacation for a little while.” She forced a smile to her face, hoping it met her eyes, and lowered her coffee cup to hide the shaking in her hand.
Lucy squeezed her arm and nodded. “Okay, so we’ll hang out today and then tomorrow we’ll be obnoxious tourists.”
“That sounds perfect,” Sydney said, hoping it sounded genuine.
“Do you need to stop at the bank?”
“No, I have my credit card and a hundred pounds in cash.”
“Good,” Lucy said, staring at her phone. “Stasia and Nadia said they’d love to join us.”
“Oh, that would be fun!” Again with the overly happy tone.
“We don’t have to.”
“No, I want to. Really,” Sydney assured her.
Lucy grinned and pulled out her phone. “I’ll let them know.”
Three hours later, Sydney, Lucy, Stasia, and Nadia walked into a cafe near the London Eye. The girls had tried to get Sydney to go on the Ferris wheel, but it was never going to happen. They argued through most of the line, ordering in between good-natured bickering.
“But it has the most amazing views,” Nadia continued as they took their seats.
“And if you’d like to go up in that death trap, you can feel free to take a few photos for me,” Sydney said.
“It’s perfectly safe, cuz,” Lucy piled on.
Sydney nodded. “It is if you watch from the ground.”
Stasia giggled. “She wouldn’t even go on the roller coasters with me when I was in the States. I was forced to go with one of her friends.”
“Oh, yeah, you had such a hard time screaming and hanging on to the arm of one Topher Murray, rock star wannabe and general poor man’s bad boy.”
“He was nice.”
“I know he was, which is why he isn’t a real bad boy. He took you on all the scary rides, promising to protect you, and spent the whole time staring at your butt whenever you walked in front of him.”
Stasia gasped. “He stared at my bum?”
“Yes, yes, he did.”
She groaned. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have totally given him tongue if I’d known.”
Lucy choked on her tea. “Anastasia!”
“What? I thought he wasn’t interested, so I kissed him all chastely and crap.”
Sydney giggled. “He was trying to be a gentleman because I told him if he wasn’t, I would cut a certain appendage off.”
“Well, why’d you go and do that?” Stasia demanded. “We could’ve had way more fun than we did.”
“I don’t think I want to know what ‘more fun’ would have entailed.” Sydney took a bite of her sausage roll and shook her head.
“No, you really don’t,” Lucy agreed.
Stasia sighed. “He was so hot. Are you guys still friends?”
Sydney shrugged. “Facebook friends mostly. He moved to Australia for a girl, and I guess they broke up, but he stayed.”
Stasia raised an eyebrow. “Hmm, maybe I should reach out. I love Oz, and I’m thinking Daddy owes me a little trip for my grades this past semester.”
“Aren’t you nearly twenty-four?” Sydney said.
“Your dad still buys you trips for doing well on college courses?”
Stasia giggled. “Daddy buys me anything I ask for.”
Sydney blinked back tears.
“Oh crap, sorry, love,” Stasia rushed to say. “I’m sorry about your parents. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, it’s okay.”
Lucy reached over and took Sydney’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“So, Topher,” Sydney pressed. “Do you want me to connect you two?”
“Yes, that would be amazing.”
Sydney nodded, the subject effectively changed. All in all, it was a good day spent with old friends, and Sydney was able to enjoy the moment. Win for her... for now.
* * *
A week later, Lucy arrived home from school and pulled Sydney into her bedroom and closed the door.
“Whoa, lady, you okay?” Sydney whispered.
Lucy’s head bobbed up and down as she let out a quiet squeal. “I met a boy.”
“Seriously?” Sydney giggled. “Deets, please!”
“His name’s Zach and he’s American.” She let out a girly sigh. “His accent is divine.”
“Yeah, yeah, go on.”
“Well, he’s just transferred from his school in California, and we’ve been talking for a few days. We hit it off right away and today he asked me if I’d like to go out with him. Like a date, date, and I said yes. Oh my god, Sid, he’s so cute. Dark hair, these yummy chocolate-brown eyes, and he’s tall and a total beefcake.”
Sydney shook her head. “Sounds just like your type.”
“It’s like I imagined him and he appeared before me.”
“Maybe’s he’s a robot,” Sydney retorted.
“With a really big schlo—”
“Not all of us aspire to be virginal, love. No judgment, just fact. It’s been a dry year for me and I need a little relief.”
Sydney felt heat creep up her cheeks. “I just haven’t met the one yet. That’s all.”
“Like I said. No judgment,” Lucy stressed. “Anyway, once Dad runs his little report on Zach, I’m hoping he’ll release me from my gilded cage and let me go out with him.”
“I’m sure he will.”
“I can’t wait for you to meet him! You’re going to love him.”
Sydney smiled. “I don’t doubt it.”
“It needs to be soon, okay?”
“Sure. How about this weekend?”
“That would be great. I’ll talk to him about it and we’ll make a plan.”
Lucy slid off her bed. “Okay, I have a paper to finish. I’ll see you at dinner.”
Sydney grinned and watched her leave. She wondered if she’d ever be in a place to date casually, but she doubted it. One thing Sydney knew about herself was that she never did anything casually. It made her vulnerable and it got her hurt, but try as she might, she couldn’t change that part of her. She cared about people too much. For now though, she was happy to live vicariously through Lucy and watch the drama that would certainly unfold.