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New Novel: Death, Incorporated: Chapter One


Chapter One: Two’s Company; Three’s A Crowd

 Seraphina Smith-Wu sat, soaking up the sun in the courtyard of her Santa Clarita high school. It would later be days like this--days taken for granted--packed, yet uneventful days, which stretched on into limitless possibilities, which Seraphina missed with all of her heart--with all of her soul.

 "Sera--oy! Earth to Sera!"

 A voice interrupted her daydreams,

"So? What do you think?"

 "About?" Asked Seraphina, hoping that the utter lack of interest in her voice would dissuade Janice from sharing anything further.

"About?!" Janice responded indignantly, "I'm only pouring my heart out here. You are way too into that zen shit, Sera. Honestly. It's not healthy."

"What about being completely at peace with myself isn't healthy? Please--explain."
"Or, on second thought, don't. Because the bell's about to ring, and we've got an English test today. Let's go."

Seraphina rose, grabbing her bag and stuffing her phone into her pocket, long legs striding, carrying her closer to the oblivion she knew English class would offer, followed by Janice.

"He's totally crushing on you," said Janice, "Sawyer says she heard it from Jenna that HE is planning to ask you to the winter dance. You know," Janice qualified, "him. Logan Anderson. I wish he'd asked ME to the winter dance," Janice continued, "the winter dance is just one step away from prom, and prom is one step away from marrying into the wealthiest family in the state! I've looked. His Dad pulls a ridiculous paycheck from CharoCorp. He makes a cool ten million annually, and that's just what he declares on tax day. Who knows what money he's making from his investments? The possibilities here are limitless."

"Sera?" Janice asked, stopping short of their English classroom, upon discovering halfway into her monologue that Seraphina wasn't paying attention.

"Yeah," Seraphina said, inviting no further conversation.

"Well," said Janice hotly, “you could show a LITTLE more interest. I AM looking out for your future."

"My future?" Seraphina asked.

"Obvs," replied Janice, "always."

"Well," Seraphina quipped, opening the door to English class and lowering her voice, "then you are doing a terrible job because my foreseeable future includes the English test which I'm now late for."

 Seraphina glanced back at Janice with a smile and a wink to stave off the rage she knew Janice would later unleash. Janice's initially stony face melted into a smile and an eye roll as Janice picked up the pace, hurrying into the room, trying not to be seen by Mr. Adams.

 "Ms. Smith," said Mr. Adams, without looking up from his orderly desk, using Seraphina’s more colloquial and easily digestible English name, “so glad you could join us. And you appear to have brought Ms. Watson with you. I take it that something of dire importance must've kept you from arriving on time?"

"DIRE importance, sir," said Janice, casting a knowing look at Seraphina. Seraphina winced, glad of the need to unpack her bag and ready herself for the test, which gave her an excuse to look away.

As the bell rang, Seraphina packed her things quickly and got up, ready to sit through her history class--the only one she enjoyed, and to head to cheer practice.

 You see, Seraphina was a driven individual. She sat on the student council, helped with bake sales, played volleyball and had held a place on the cheerleading squad, which she had kept since middle school. Seraphina Smith was busy. She didn't have time to let the grass grow. Free time meant time made free to think--to feel--and feeling meant pain. Pain could lead to stagnancy, and stagnancy could lead to the kind of life that didn't bear thinking of. Pain was for the weak, and Seraphina didn't have time for weakness.

Seraphina knew what pain was like, and, like most kids her age, wasn't keen to feel it again. 

 Seraphina's mother had taught her that, in a roundabout way. Sera and Nancy had always been as close as a mother and daughter could be. They ate together, and when they ate, they made funny faces at each other, scrutinized the other diners in their vicinity and people watched, speculating at what each person's life must be like--gave them each a name, based on their most outstanding features and attributes, speculated about where they were going and why, whether they had families, what their friends were like and what kinds of cars they drove. They made silly faces at cars and school buses as they drove by, made up names for their least favorite school teachers and co-workers and would spend family vacations roasting marshmallows over the campfire and wondering what their lives would look like in ten years.

 Then came Nina. Nina came along at just the right time for Nancy. Nancy needed a partner her own age, it must be said, though her close relationship with Seraphina kept her young. Sera wasn't thrilled, needless to say, at the prospect of Nancy being someone else's partner-in-crime, making faces at buses, cars and trucks alike with someone else at her side, roasting marshmallows with someone else, speculating on where their lives might go with some generic person at her side, but as the months, and then years went by and Nina became part of the family, Seraphina saw how happy her mother had become. 

 Rather than taking Nancy away from Seraphina, Nina seemed to be a catalyst for Nancy to spend more time with her family--more time at home streaming silly teen movies on Netflix, more time gazing at diners when they went out to restaurants, people watching and wondering what other people's lives might be like and what sort of a family each diner was going home to on their way out of the restaurant; more time going to high school basketball games and rooting fiercely for the home team's hard-working girls, more time helping Seraphina with her homework, more time styling her hair before school, and more time getting manic/pedis at their favorite spas.

 Nina seemed to complete a part of Nancy that Seraphina didn't even know needed completion. She added to Nancy's happiness and Seraphina's wellbeing, rather than taking away from their close relationship. Nina had, somehow, someday, while Seraphina's guard was down, become family. Seraphina could not adequately understand how this had happened, but it had. 

 Now Sera's school conferences miraculously included not one, but two parents. Her take your parent to school days now included not one parent, but two whole parents with separate and equally interesting jobs to talk to her fellow students about. Seraphina was loved. And so, it seems, was Nancy. Nancy had been holding back a part of herself that perhaps even she never fully understood. Nina nourished this part of Nancy back to health, until, one day, Nina and Nancy took Seraphina out of school for the day. Happily--giddily, even, they drove her to the courthouse, where they brought in three dry cleaning bags full of freshly laundered and pressed garments. Nancy and Nina were getting married, and Seraphina was to be their one and only bridesmaid! Seraphina couldn't hold back her yelps of joy and pleasure as the three of them walked out of the courthouse, blowing paper trombones and wearing funny hats with their fancy dresses. They went for ice cream down the street, attracting what seemed to Seraphina like all the attention in the world as they went, but Seraphina didn't care. She did not have eyes for the happy smiles and well wishes the strangers on the street stopped and offered the happy family as they walked by. She only had eyes for Nancy--and for Nina, her other mother, for all intents and purposes. Seraphina joyfully skipped as she held Nina's and Nancy's hands that day.

 From then on, things had become downright wonderful. Her family was finally complete, with the happy accident of a baby brother thrown in as the completely unnecessary, but greatly loved and cherished cherry on top. Nancy had heard about a young boy from her family's hometown in Japan, who needed a family, and, before Seraphina knew it, she had a new baby brother. Sam was eighteen months old when he joined her family, and, despite Sera's initial resistance to the idea that another child might take the spotlight off of her, she eventually fell in love with him--drool, goofy smile, and all. 



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