They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What I saw left me speechless. “Is this for real?” I asked. Mr. Smith gave a small, sad smile. “I am afraid it is, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Please come with me.” Mr. Smith drove me to the familiar building on the corner of Horseshoe Bend and Huckleberry Lane. What I saw caused my heart to drop and tears to well up in my eyes. The Everglow Children’s Home is no longer a place of hustling, bustling activity with children playing outside and delightful smells coming from the flower garden or open kitchen windows.
“What happened? I haven’t been gone that long…” Mr. Smith laid a hand on my arm and gently interrupted my flow of questions. “Let’s go back to my office and I will do my best to answer your questions.” Mr. Smith took me back to his law office located on the second floor of the Van Gould Merchant House.
“Ms. Simwell hadn’t been in the best of health for the last couple of years, but she didn’t want anyone to know. As her health declined, so did the repairs on the building. Repairmen weren’t called and the ECH really began to show its age. She did her best to find a replacement that the board of trustees would approve of and thought she had with Scarlett Nox and her brother, Drake, an experienced handyman with a small renovation business. The board gave their approval and Ms. Simwell retired. At first glance, Miss Nox seemed like an ideal Director – charming and knowledgeable about accounting.” With a bitter sigh and grim face, Mr. Smith continued. “She was knowledgeable all right and managed to embezzle the majority of the account before anyone realized what was happening. Her brother had been tasked with a complete renovation and the children were temporarily sent to stay in other facilities in nearby towns. He removed every fixture of any value and left nothing behind. Well…I’m sure you know where this is headed. The two of them skipped town and the board had a hard time weathering the resulting scandal. There was no way to regain the community’s trust and fundraise to replace the missing money. The House officially closed its doors.”
“What about Ms. Simwell?” Before I finished asking this question, a sense of dread filled me and I knew what the answer was going to be. “I’m so very sorry, but her heart simply gave out and she passed away in her sleep. Before you ask, she had recently changed her will and requested a simple burial. She also stressed that you not be contacted because you needed to stay focused on your studies at the Island Academy.” Mr. Smith handed a small box to me. “You were always one of her favorites and she kept every letter you sent.” I clutched the box tightly in my lap so that my hands wouldn’t shake. “She had few possessions, including a small house and left instructions for everything to be sold and the money given to you so that you could afford a place of your own and not hang on to her ratty, old things – her words, not mine.” Mr. Smith said with a gentle smile.
I signed the necessary paperwork, thanked Mr. Smith for his time, and left his office. I stopped at the market and bought a bouquet of white flowers, her favorite, and then headed to the cemetary. With eyes full of tears and sobs breaking up my words, I said goodbye to dear Ms. Hope Simwell and promised that I would make her proud.