The only word Krista made out of the flood of elvish was her own name. It did not matter that she could not understand Summerlane?s house mother, Collette. The tone was enough. Panic. Krista shoved the rest of the crafting remains she had been cleaning into her apron pockets and ran to the bedroom where Collette stood, staring at the communication panel. Her delicate fingers pressed on cheeks paler than buttermilk. ?What is it?? Krista asked, immediately drawing her arm around Collette?s shoulders to offer comfort.
When she looked to the scrawl of texts, one after another after another, her arm tightened. ?Who is Ortiz?? Krista asked. It did not matter, she supposed. The only people who had their communication number were Lirssa, Kids of Summer, Aric who was the children?s tutor, and the doctor. All of whom she could see listed in the contacts at the top.
?He called her Lulu.? Collette whispered.
Lirssa only let people close to her, or knew her from her flights in space, call her that. It was real. It was all bitterly real. Shaking her head was not going to change that, and still she did. She felt her muscles tighten, rocking her head to and fro. Collette?s arms were around her in turn. ?What will we tell the children??
?The truth,? Krista forced out of a tight throat. Her heart ached to lie. To tell them Lirssa was just on a long break. Maybe she was? She wanted to believe it, too. Wanted to stop imagining the young woman burning, hair gone, eyes gone?body charring and falling away into the dust of space.
Gulping down a breath through a dry throat, she repeated, ?We tell them the truth.?
?After bathtime,? Collette said. ?I want to tell Tobias first. I want them to have time to process it before Aric---? and Collette stopped short.
?Oh,? Krista breathed out the pain as she remembered his name among the list of contacts. Still, she checked again and she felt Collette lean and do the same, sharp eyes picking out his number among the others. Aric knew. ?He won?t be coming to teach tomorrow.?
?Maybe,? Collette sighed, ?maybe he will need to continue.?
Krista disagreed. The children did not need to be used to make a grown up feel better.
Collette seemed to read her thoughts. Centuries of noticing slight human traits likely helped. Krista had found she could not hide her feelings from the house parents. ?Krista, the children need to see how adults handle grief, too. Don?t you trust him to do so wisely in front of them??
She did not. Collette smiled and patted Krista?s arm. ?Bath time.? She urged with one last shared hug. ?I appreciate you staying late to help.?
?There?s the room in the attic I could take for a few days.? Krista was already determined she would. In fact, it made more sense for her to be here at Summerlane all the time. Lirssa had not liked the idea of housemaid, the children not learning to do their own part of being a family.
But Krista loved being here. The children, the parents, the support of the Foundation, and ? Lirssa. The young lady did not remember, and why should she? Krista looked so differently now, she knew. The years had been harsh and the street unkind. Lirssa would not remember one face among the many she had helped that night.
This work, though, this is what got Krista up in the morning and helped her feel whole and right in this horrible city when she went to sleep at night.
So, during bathtime, she helped the children wash up, laughing and playing all the while. Mara studied her closely. Mara was so much like Collette. Kai, the new child, she too watched closely. They knew. They could somehow feel tonight was different. Krista still kept up the pretense that it was a night like any other, and it would be a night like more to come.
?Children,? Collette called as the last one pulled her nightgown over her head. ?Tobias and I would like to meet with you all together tonight. Stories to be told.? Collette made it sound all so magical with the sparkle in her eyes.
Several of the children were quick to scamper after and into the big room that was the parents? room. Penny?s little hand slipped into Krista?s. She smiled down at the little girl hugging her worn blanket. ?Hello, sunshine. Let?s go join the others.? Mara took her other hand and they all sat on the big bed with the others.
?Tonight?s story is about stardust.? Tobias began. He had no tears in his eyes, though they shone. His voice was as warm as ever. It was the smile, of course. A smile which children were so attuned to. It was sad. ?Some say we are made of it. Everything is.?
?Even poop?? Gideon yelled his question, tossing himself sideways on the bed to give it a bounce everyone felt. He was going for the laughs. He got them. That boy and poop jokes.
?Everything,? Collette responded, but did not let the children devolve into giggles. ?And some say when we are gone, we return to stardust.?
?So no one that we love is ever truly gone.?
Krista felt a tremble run through Penny. Hugging her in close, she whispered. ?He can?t get you, sweetpea. He?s gone.?
Tobias saw and nodded, but he continued, ?Special friends, well, we can look up in the sky and still see them.?
The children looked at the ceiling, imagining. ?Krista,? Tobias urged, ?dig into your pockets. I think you can help with this magic.?
Her pockets. The crafts. Glitter. Stardust. Krista felt around in the pocket for pinches of glitter and with the nod from Tobias, tossed it in the air above them. With a twitch of his fingers, the glitter swirled and then settled into constellations above them. ?The stars are where Lirssa is now.?
The truth. Krista tried not to frown. Tobias had told the truth and had not. It let the children know and not know. The ones who could put it together would. The others would get there in time.
Lirssa was the stardust from pockets.