Read an Excerpt
It was all so senseless. That was the worst part; Jeremy's parents were gone for no reason.
If they had died of a terrible disease or even been killed in a car wreck, Jeremy might have been able to accept it. But Mr. and Mrs. Holland did not even know the man who had run into the mall waving a gun and shouting curses at the government.
Jeremy's parents had just finished their shift as volunteers in a Humane Society exhibit that urged people to spay or neuter their companion animals. As they walked toward the mall exit, the crazed man rushed in.
They were the first people he saw, and the first of six whom he shot before two brave bystanders overpowered him and wrenched the gun from his hands. Mr. and Mrs. Holland simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Fate. That was what Jeremy's best buddy, Paul, had said. "It was fate."
Jeremy couldn't buy that. If someone had spotted the gunman sooner and called the mall security guards, and the man had been taken away without shooting anyone, what then? Would Jeremy's parents have choked on their dinner or been hit by a truck in the parking lot because fate said they were supposed to die at a certain time?
No, Jeremy thought. It wasn't fate; it was bad luck. It was plain bad luck that a madman with a handgun had entered the mall just as Jeremy's parents were leaving it.
Jeremy and Paul had been at a movie. Paul's dad had picked them up and driven Jeremy home.
"Hey, look!" Paul had said as they started down Jeremy's street. "There's a police car in front of your house."
Paul's dad pulled up behind the police car and got out with Jeremy. Paul followed.
Two officers approached. "Jeremy Holland?" one of them asked.
"That's me," Jeremy said.
"I have bad news for you. I'm sorry."
Paul's dad had driven Jeremy, white-faced and shaking, to his grandmother's apartment.
The next few days passed in a blur. Jeremy stayed with Grandma and helped plan a memorial service. He read condolence cards and answered the phone and accepted deliveries of flowers.
He watched television news accounts of the shooting and saw an interview with his dad's friend, Kyle, a fellow volunteer in the Humane Society exhibit that night.
Jeremy picked at food brought in by friends: lasagna, potato salad, chocolate cake. Nothing tasted good. Even the big container of snickerdoodle cookies that Paul's mother brought, knowing they were Jeremy's favorites, did not tempt him. He simply had no appetite.
Uncle Ed arrived from Chicago to help with the arrangements. He was the brother of Jeremy's mother, but they were as unlike as two siblings could be.
Jeremy's parents had lived a simple life. They had steady jobs and an attractive small home in Seattle, but personal fulfillment was more important to them than income. Because they believed it was important to preserve the earth's resources, they hung clothes outside to dry to save electricity. They composted all vegetable scraps, digging the compost back into their garden. They commuted to work on the city bus and worked only thirty hours a week in order to have time for volunteer activities.
Through the county parks department they planted hundreds of seedlings to stabilize the banks of salmon streams. They raised funds for libraries and helped animal welfare groups.
By contrast, Uncle Ed was marketing director for a national appliance company. He worked sixty hours a week, lived in a fancy house, drove luxury cars, and thought his sister and brother-in-law were quaint. For relaxation, Uncle Ed usually went skiing in Switzerland or took a Caribbean cruise.
There was never a family feud, but over the years the contact between Jeremy's mom and her brother had dwindled to a letter at holiday time, supplemented by reports from Grandma.
That was why it had come as such a shock to Jeremy when, the day af ter the memorial service, Grandma told him, "You'll be going to Chicago next week to live with Ed."
"I don't want to live in Chicago," Jeremy protested. "I want to stay here."
"I'm sorry, Jeremy. I would keep you here if I could but you know that isn't possible."
"I could help you, Grandma. I can learn to cook, and I don't mind sleeping on the sofa. We could tell the visiting nurse not to come every day."
Grandma's eyes filled with tears, as they had so often in the last few days. "If I were healthy," she said, "I would move to a two-bedroom apartment and you and I would do just fine together. But you can't replace the nurse, Jeremy. I need help bathing, and before long I may need full-time care. That isn't a job for you, no matter how much you love me."
Jeremy knew she was right. "Why can't I stay in my own house? I've stayed by myself before."
"No," Jeremy admitted, "but I've stayed alone lots of times. I haven't had a sitter for over a year."
"Thirteen is not old enough to live alone," Grandma said. "Ed listed the house with a real estate agent this morning."
Jeremy felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. "He's going to sell my house?"
"The proceeds will be held in trust for you, along with the funds from your parents, life insurance. Ed is merely handling the business on your behalf."
"I don't want to sell the house. He has no right to do that!"
Grandma put a finger to her lips, shushing Jeremy. "Your parents had a will," she continued. "It named Ed as your legal guardian."
"Then why isn't he telling me all this?"
"He felt it might be easier for you to hear it from me. He's trying to do what he thinks is best for you."
Grandma took a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her eyes. "I know Ed and your parents did not agree on many issues," she said, "but Ed is a kind and honest man. Your mom and dad believed that too, or they would not have asked him to be your guardian."
"When did they choose him?" Jeremy wondered.
"Not long after you were born. They wanted to be sure that if anything happened to them, you would be provided for."
Jeremy was stunned. His parents had known for thirteen years that Uncle Ed was Jeremy's guardian, yet they had never told him.
"Why didn't anyone tell me before now?" Jeremy asked.
"I suppose they didn't want you to worry about something that wasn't likely to happen."
"But it did happen."
Jeremy's stomach churned. The worst thing that could possibly happen to him was now a reality.
Copyright © 2001 by Peg Kehret