For Beck, the day was too bright. Too happy. Songbirds wheeled over head; the misty, snow-capped mountains glistened in the distance; the sun was shining and only a scant few pillow-like clouds drifted across the cerulean skies. This should be one of the days Mom took him and Arley on a picnic, out in the fresh, clean mountain air. Not the day of her funeral.
Arley was openly crying, but Beck had sworn he wouldn't, he'd promised. He wouldn't have somberly dressed adults patting his shoulder and cooing their support. Somberly dressed adults who still had their parents, maybe both, while he didn't have either of his, and while Arley didn't have either of hers. He just wouldn't have it.
A hand came down on his shoulder. Seemingly, it didn't matter if he cried or not. The hand was Mr. Quimby's, a balding, red-faced man in his late thirties. "I know what you're going through, Beck."
Beck stared at him. Who went bald in their thirties? Besides, Mr. Quimby talked about his children being so lucky to have both grandparents. "Bite me," he snapped.
Mr. Quimby looked taken aback. "Excuse me?"
Beck gave him a plaintive look and shook Mr. Quimby's hand off of his shoulder, then trailed down the gently sloped hill of the graveyard, away from the service. He'd had enough.
Beck's father had died a few months after Arley was born, so Beck didn't remember much. Something about his funny half-smile, or how he'd bounced Beck on his knee and made up silly rhymes. That was all. He did remember his mother crying when she heard. She'd shut down, leaving her newborn daughter and two-year-old son largely to their own devices. No more outing to the mountains, or walking through the glass tunnels of the aquarium.
Now there would never be any more.
Beck swallowed around the painful, metallic lump in his throat and crawled into the car, waiting for everyone to finish sobbing and consoling each other so he could leave. He just wanted to get out of here, hole himself in his neighbor's basement so he wouldn't have to look at this perfect, beauteous day.
He wasn't going back to his neighbor's house, that was for sure. Why else would Ms. Bone have him pile his belongings in the back? They were shipping him and Arley off somewhere -- that was the only logical explanation. But Arley had better be going with him. The grief would crush her like a bug. She wouldn't be able to take it. Maybe he wouldn't either, if they took his sister away. Maybe he wouldn't.
The door across from him opened; Ms. Bone's sympathetic face peered in. "Are you ready to leave, Beck?"
"Yeah." His voice cracked.
Ms. Bone slid into the seat and turned the key in the ignition. "I'm going to get your sister, okay?" She patted his cheek and returned to the service. Not long after, a sniffling Arley clambered into the back seat and they slowly pulled out of the parking lot, coasting down the road.
Ms. Bone looked at Beck, seemingly concerned. "It was a lovely service," she said mildly.
"The flowers were lovely."
Beck stared at her. "The flowers? Who are you?"
Ms. Bone cleared her throat and shifted in her seat. "I know this must be very difficult for you, Beck."
"Your mother was financially strapped at the time of her death."
"Oh? You mean living in a crappy nowhere town and getting free lunch at school wasn't her being humble?" Beck's dark eyes were hard.
"I understand that you must be very upset wi--"
Beck cut her off. "You don't understand at all." He knew the argument must be getting to Arley, and he felt bad. But he couldn't have stopped himself if he tried.
Ms. Bone pulled into the breakdown lane. Her icy eyes bore into his. "Beck, I will not tolerate this behavior. I am trying to help you. We all are."
"Don't try." As much as he hated to admit it, hot tears were pressing behind his eyes, threatening to spill between his resisting eyelids.
"Beck--" The blonde woman sighed and pressed her fingers to her temple. "You are being sent to live with your mother's brother. I expect good behavior until--"
"I didn't know she had a brother."
"Don't make this difficult, Beck."
Satisfied, Ms. Bone continued. "Your uncle's name is Henry, and he's.. he's a bit peculiar. But a good man all the same, I'm sure."
Arley's teary, small voice crept up form the backseat. "Have you met him?"
Ms. Bone jumped, as if surprised by Arley's presence. "No, sweetie, I haven't. But he's sent for you," she replied, pulling back into traffic.
Arley didn't say any more.
"Now, you two are going to board the three-'o-clock train to Parton. Once you arrive, wait for your uncle. Am I understood?"
"I forgot my plant."
Ms. Bone blinked in confusion. "What's that, Beck?"
"I forgot my plant. We have to go get it."
She glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Two-thirty. "Beck, we'll be late."
"I need my plant." Beck didn't even know what kind of plant it was. There was some program at school, something about gardening... but that plant was one thing that was better off because he was around. He'd raised it form a seedling, and it had prospered under his careful watch. He needed it. He needed to know he was doing something right.
"Beck, you have disrespected me. We are almost to the train station. You are going to have to live without your plant."
"You don't understand. I need it." His voice cracked again. The tears were still pressing at his eyes.
"The world is full of plants." Ms. Bone's normally soft eyes were clear of her usual sympathy.
Beck was angry. The world wasn't full of his plants. That plant was his. He'd raised it. It was better off because of him, and now Ms. Bone would throw it away.
As far as he was concerned, he had every right to cry.