The trip to Sim State was uneventful, as she watched the familiar scenery turn to new and fascinating. The trees and even the wildlife seemed so very different on campus. No wild horses ran freely, no deer and no raccoons scampered about. She also noticed immediately the lack of lightning bugs. She shrugged and closed her eyes for the remainder of the trip.
At her dormitory, she was assigned the largest room, which had a double bed and a fireplace. Cozy, she thought. This will be nice during the winter. She lugged her heavy suitcase up two flights of stairs and was visibly winded after the trek. A roommate, named Jacob, chuckled at her heavy breathing. She glared at him, and thought to herself, I could have used help, but thanks anyway.
She felt so very out of place in her western jeans and sweater and big old cowboy boots. Taking a deep breath, she unlocked her dorm door and unpacked her suitcase. On the mantle of the fireplace, she placed a recent photo of her family, and beside the lamp on her dresser, she placed the only photo that remained of Penny, her maternal grandmother.
She needed to report to the Student Union when she arrived on campus for a meet and greet, so she grabbed a half sandwich from the refrigerator and pedaled down the street on a bicycle that had her name on it. Where it came from, she did not know, but it sure did beat walking. The campus was much bigger than she could have imagined, and the bike was welcome.
The Student Union was set up to welcome incoming freshmen, and a boy dressed as a llama, the school’s mascot, was on hand to answer any questions. Despite the odd costume, Destiny sensed some chemistry between the two of them, and before they knew it, they had been talking for the duration of the meet and greet. The boy’s name was Dave Bean, and he was local to the Sim State campus area.
Later that evening, a party for all incoming freshmen was held at the local fraternity. Though she wasn’t the partying type, Desi decided to go and check out campus life and get to know some of her classmates. The party was formal, so she put on her brand new, non-western styled dress and took a taxi from the Student Union.
Ever the introvert, the party didn’t go exactly as she had hoped. To her dismay, cliques had already started to form, and she didn’t feel as though she fit into any of them. So to break the ice, she did what she knew best: play her guitar. It wasn’t long before other classmates who played instruments began to join her. Before the party ended, she had made a couple of friends with similar interests. Mission accomplished!
The next morning began her class schedule, and it was grueling. Three classes, each two hours long with two hours in between, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Her day started at 8am and ended at 6pm. But, it wasn’t anything she hadn’t done before, and she was up to the challenge. It didn’t take Destiny long to adjust to campus life, though the first party was her last for the first term. She was much too busy maintaining her Dean’s List status to waste her time playing beer pong or doing keg parties like her peers.
About six months into her first year of college, Desi was in her first class of the day when her phone rang. Embarrassed, she quickly silenced it and slipped it back into her bag. The professor gave her a stern glance, and pointed at the “No Cell Phone” sign at the front of the lecture hall. Normally she obeyed the rules, but that morning she was running late and forgot to silence her phone. The icing on the humiliation cake was the professor’s snide comment about the interruption. Destiny slumped down in her chair, trying to hide from any more ridicule. She definitely wasn’t in Appaloosa Plains anymore.
After class, she was digging in her bag for her water bottle when she remembered the phone call. Curious, she checked the phone and the call was not a solicitor at all, but her mother, Fran. A sense of dread washed over her. She knew something was wrong. Quickly, she redialed her mother’s phone, but there was no answer. Now she was really worried. She quickly dialed her Aunt Grace, and she got the voice mail, and then Aunt Jenny. Her uncle, Paul, answered the call.
“Hi, Uncle Paul,” Desi said, clear panic in her voice. “I got a call from my mother about an hour ago, and I can’t reach her. It sounded urgent.” She swallowed back a growing lump in her throat. “I’m away at Sim State, and I can’t get there to check on them. Would you go?”
“Sure,” Paul answered. “Your aunt has the car, but I’ll call her and see if she’ll swing by your folks’ place.”
“Thank you so much, Uncle Paul.” It wasn’t going to happen fast enough, but she would feel better once Aunt Jenny stopped by. She left her phone turned on despite the rules. It was important and she needed to know.
An hour passed, and she still hadn’t heard from Jenny. She knew her aunt was no spring chicken, but she was the only one still in Appaloosa Plains. Her time was not the same as the world’s time, and she got to stuff when she got to it. Overcome with worry, she headed back to her dorm. Classes will have to wait, she thought, until I can concentrate. When she got to the dorm, however, two police cars were outside. Destiny felt sick but walked into the building. The resident assistant was frantically looking for her. “Destiny!” The RA exclaimed. “Where have you been?”
Desi began shaking her head as the officers turned in her direction. “No… No… No…”
“Are you Destiny Farmer, Miss?” the one officer asked.
With a shaky voice and quivering lip, she answered, “Yes…” She was on the verge of a sob. She already knew what they were going to say, so she thought.
“Miss Farmer, we regret to inform you that your parents were found dead in their home about 30 minutes ago.” The second officer removed his hat and held it over his heart.
Not fully understanding what was said, she asked, “Which one? Which one is gone?”
“Miss, they are both gone. We believed they passed away within an hour of each other.” The first officer also removed his hat and looked at his feet. “Please accept our condolences on behalf of the Sim State Police and Appaloosa Plains Police departments.”
She opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. She wobbled as though she was drunk, and tried to get to a chair, but she fell down prostrate on the floor. Destiny could not believe what she was hearing. At the very moment she fell, her phone rang. The officer retrieved it from her backpack. “It’s your Aunt Jenny.”
He handed her the phone, and she answered it, or tried to. On the other end of the phone was an equally distraught Jenny. She had arrived at the Farmer home to a swarm of police and rescue trucks. She learned that the time between Charlie’s and Fran’s death was about 15 minutes, and the authorities did not suspect foul play.
“Destiny, honey, if you need anything, your Uncle Paul and I are here. Just call us.” Jenny told her.
“I will.” Desi had no more words to say, but she knew she had to return home, and soon, before the end of the semester. She managed a meek goodbye to Jenny and hung up the phone. By this time, there was a crowd around Desi, and the police officers kindly shooed everyone away. And there she sat in stunned disbelief, feeling like she had made the biggest mistake of her life by leaving them. She booked a flight back to Appaloosa Plains that afternoon and was home the next day.
Destiny’s homecoming to Appaloosa Plains was nothing like she had expected when she left home six months prior. She could still see Fran sobbing into Charlie’s shirt as the taxi drove away. She turned her key into the empty house and was immediately drawn to the huge picture frame over the fireplace in the living room, filled with family photos. On the floor next to Charlie’s rocking chair sat two untouched urns, right where the Reaper had left them. Black trails of what looked like soot stained the carpet where the Reaper had traveled. She had heard of this phenomenon before, and it only happened when the Reaper had any emotional reaction. She reached down and touched the marks, which smelled how she imagined death would smell. Next to Fran’s urn was her cell phone, which remained untouched. Destiny glanced at the screen to find her phone number was the last one called. Overcome with emotion, she collapsed into her dad’s easy chair and sobbed.
Word spread quickly around town that the Farmers had both passed away, and people that Desi didn’t even know came by to show their respects to the family. Fran was well known for her produce, everyone knew Charlie was a veteran, and the townspeople knew of Penny’s racehorses, and their owners brought Marne’s last racing trophy for Desi to keep. Desi was overwhelmed with support, for which she was extremely thankful. But she had an empty house filled with memories that she either needed to sell or come back and live a life she was not interested in living. Right now, she was not interested in doing either. Aunt Jenny helped her throw plastic over the furniture, and they closed up the house while Destiny returned to school.
Once Desi had returned to Sim State, she buried herself in her school work to keep her mind off what she had waiting for her at home. The sadness almost crushed her, and the more-than-friendship she had begun with Dave no longer held her interest. But a young man in her art classes noticed her and pursued her. After classes, he would walk her home. During class, he sat with her. And on the weekends, they would go bowling together or study. Admittedly, she did have much more in common with him than with Dave. Jeffery was tall, dark and very handsome, and soon they became inseparable.
Running short on funds during her second year of school, Desi decided to stop in at the financial aid office to apply for a scholarship for her last years of her degree. Much to her surprise, she was not only eligible, but all of her pre-paid tuition was refunded completely. The icing on her cake was the shocking news that she would have enough credits to graduate at the end of her second year, thanks to the skill and experience credit she received at the start of her freshman year. Two fewer years of her life would need to be spent on campus. Now there was no reason to stay in Appaloosa Plains beyond getting the house sold. Things were starting to line up for Desi’s future, and she was getting legitimately excited, despite her tremendous sense of loss.
Before she knew it, final exams were upon her, and everything she had done for her two years on campus came down to six hours and three exams. She was ready as she was going to be for each one, and took her time, checking her work twice and three times before handing in the tests. She took a breath of relief as she turned in her last exam, feeling confident. Dodging the raindrops of a chilly spring night, she rode the bicycle to her dorm, arriving soaking wet and chilled. No matter, she thought. This is MY night to unwind and celebrate. After changing into dry clothing, she called Jeff, who was throwing an end of year bonfire party that night. He drove over to pick her up. They danced into the evening, sharing memories of class, bowling and all of their non-date “dates.” It was well past 3 am when he drove her home. They shared a sweet kiss, their first, at the front door to her dorm. Jeffery wasn’t graduating with her in the morning. He was a year behind her in studies and would be remaining on campus for at least another year. In any case, she invited him to her graduation.
The next morning, she showered, ate breakfast and dressed in her cap and gown. The day was bittersweet to her. On the one hand, she was more than ready to start her life and career in Starlight Shores. On the other hand, she knew she had to return home to Appaloosa Plains to settle her parents’ estate, sell the house and pack all of the keepsakes she wanted to bring with her. She desperately wished Charlie and Fran were alive to see her graduate with her Fine Arts degree. Desi graduated at the top of her class and was on the Dean’s List for her entire college career. And besides her parents, the one person missing from attending the ceremony was Jeffery. Her phone calls and texts went unanswered, and when she stopped by the frat house, he was not at home. Despite her best efforts to connect with Jeff before her flight back home, she was not able to contact him. Her heart was heavy when she watched Sim State disappear in the rear window of her taxi, and she missed Jeffery already. She knew their paths would likely never cross again.
Up Next: Chapter Three, Generation Two