1. She always knew her grandfather would die – he was eighty-two after all – but to say she was surprised to find his lifeless body crumpled to the floor of his office would be a drastic understatement.
The door closed behind her but she couldn’t hear it. The sight before her had been a part of her worst nightmares, but now that she was confronted with the scene, she simply couldn’t see it. It was like a staged photograph, a museum installation she was on the outside of looking into. The connection she normally had with the old man had yet to be made; logically, she knew that she should at the very least be crying, but it was as though her brain was paralyzed which caused her whole body to be incapable of anything, even breathing.
Of course, after the initial shock, Seraphina Hanson ran over to her grandfather and tried to see if he was breathing, if there was a chance that this actually was a nightmare she had fallen into and not her current reality. The tears started to fall now, almost in waves cascading down her cheeks. Even so, as she spoke to the 911 operator, she managed to keep her voice surprisingly steady.
While she waited, her eyes flitted around the room. Seraphina did not think he changed anything since he first acquired his ownership of the Newport Beach Seagulls the year she was born, save for the fact that the team photos that filled the wall behind his desk changed with each passing year. His red oak desk had scattered papers and financial books flipped open and strewn about, completely disorganized unlike the man who occupied the office. His computer – which he always complained about and rarely if ever transferred records from his books due to his disdain for the technology – was off, looking untouched as it usually was. The framed photograph of Seraphina and her older sister Katella that normally rested on the left corner of the desk was on the floor, just out of reach of her grandfather’s body, cracks diluting the smiling faces. The day’s newspaper was close to where she was sitting, crumpled, carelessly open to an article about her grandfather contemplating selling the Gulls in order to retire. She couldn’t read it.
Her mind desperately needed something to focus on now that the first round of tears were subsiding and the sporadic hiccups that typically followed such an eruption began, and yet the options she had before her were too slippery for her mind to grasp. Probably she should get up and leave the room, waiting for the police just outside the room – crime scene now, she suspected. Due to her weekly “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” marathon, she knew she shouldn’t have entered the room at all. Crime scene now. Her grandfather was healthy for his age, and from the apparent struggle that had taken place –
But she didn’t want to think about that.
Most likely, she contaminated the office, maybe even his body, but she had to make sure that he was really –
No. She didn’t want to say the word. And she didn’t want to get up. Not just yet. She knew that once they got here, they would take his body to determine cause of death and then he would really be gone. And she didn’t want him to be gone just yet.
Seraphina and her sister Katella had always been close to her grandfather. Ever since their parents die in a car accident, Ken Brown and his wife Jane took the girls in and raised them. Jane died the October of Seraphina’s senior year of high school from a stroke, but even with all this tragedy surrounding the family, Ken was always the sturdy oak tree, the sap that held the family of now only three together. Every once in a while, Ken’s two sons, Alan and Ryan would visit, but they wouldn’t stay long, and afterwards, Ken would always be in one of his rare snippy moods. He never would tell his granddaughters as to why but Seraphina guessed he didn’t want to taint their optimistic views regarding their uncles. It didn’t matter though because eventually, both Katella and Seraphina realized what losers their uncles were which only strengthened their affection for Ken. To both girls, he was their hero in different ways. While Katella admired his silent strength, always preparing, planning and yet maintaining an optimistic view on life and reveling in the spontaneous (mostly), Seraphina admired his resilience; having gone through the Depression, he literally came from nothing, worked hard, saved up, and now was a quiet multi-millionaire living in Newport Beach, living out one of his many dreams of owning a national hockey team.
Was, of course, being the key word.
Her eyes rolled down. Before, she couldn’t see him. Now, he was all she could see. His short, grey hair usually covered by a navy blue sailor’s cap he wore ever since Seraphina could remember – now somewhere on the floor, a few feet away from her left leg – his cauliflower blue eyes that would never again look at her and shine the way they used to. His false teeth that he would always pop out to surprise the girls when they were younger would never present themselves in a smile. Quickly, her mind gathered everything she knew about him and stored those memories at the forefront of her mind; the way he smelled like aftershave and musk, the way he would throw his head back and let out an obnoxious, guttural laugh when he found something truly funny – a trait she inherited from him – the way he would stick out his tongue at her when they used to go to church, before Jane died, even though the surrounding people could see. The way his arms always made her feel safe, and the way, no matter what, she felt everything would be okay no matter what she was going through – death, a breakup, a poor grade, girl problems, puberty – everything would be okay because he would take her hand, look her in the eyes, and tell her so. And she would believe him without question.
She was afraid she would forget him. Forget the coolness of his skin. The protectiveness of his touch. The way he laughed. The sound of his voice. The way he looked. The way he smiled. The way he smelled.
He was the only constant in her life, besides Katella of course, and now he was gone. Taken from her by someone.
She didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.
Her mind raced back to their last conversation. She needed to make sure there was nothing left unsaid between them, something she might have misspoken about that could have offended or disappointed him. After a few minutes, she realized that no; in fact, they had spoken only a couple of hours ago. He wanted her to meet him here at seven that evening because he needed to talk to her about something, something regarding the team. He would never mention what troubled him when it came to work. Instead, if anything, he asked her to his office once the working day had concluded and told her his dilemma. For whatever reason, he held Seraphina’s opinion in high esteem, even when it came to something as foreign to her as hockey. She had a feeling he needed to hear her point of view concerning the situation, whatever the situation might be. Of course he would never tell her his decision until after he disclosed it to the people involved, but after their talk, he would usually take her out for ice cream and then they would talk about everything but business - what Seraphina planned to do now that she was a college graduate, how Katella’s event coordination business was doing, and was Matt ever going to ask Katella to marry him?
Ken had wanted to confirm that Seraphina was going to come in that evening. The conversation was no more than two minutes. Ken had called her his Baby Doll, his term of endearment for her, and they both said “I love you” before hanging up. There was nothing special about it.
For a moment, Seraphina’s mind wondered if whatever her grandfather wanted to discuss with her led to his… Maybe she needed to fantasize in order to grapple with her current predicament, and yet the evidence, the scene before her that she was now in, had shown an obvious struggle. And a victim was produced in the form of her grandfather.
Someone had killed him, but for the life of her, Seraphina had no idea as to who would do such a vicious act to another human being, and why they would do it to her grandfather. He was eighty-two; sure, he was strong, and if anyone threatened his granddaughters, Seraphina knew Ken wouldn’t hesitate to protect them. But courage did not equal strength, and while Ken could defend himself if a match between him and somebody else was relatively even, it was highly unlikely that he had a chance against his attacker if this person was a fraction faster or stronger or younger.
Ken wasn’t a bad, mean person. He didn’t go out of his way to make someone miserable. Yes, he had to make difficult decisions regarding his hockey team, the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers and anyone else involved with the Gulls, but he was always direct, discreet, and fair. If he had to trade someone, he would explain why, but he would never trade someone without warning. He always gave people a chance to redeem themselves before making that final decision, because once that decision was made, he wouldn’t change his mind, even if it turned out that that particular decision was wrong. He negotiated salaries not just on performance, but on a person’s demeanor and if they were a team player both on and off the ice. Rarely if ever did he talk to the press personally; he let head coach and his close friend Henry Wayne take care of that for him. The only people that really knew what he was thinking about were Seraphina and Katella, the former more so than the latter only because Katella ran her own business and had to focus more on that than a hockey team. People seemed to like him, respect him, whether they agreed with him or not. Which caused Seraphina to shake her head in confusion: who would do such a thing to her grandfather? What could he have possibly done to warrant such a death?
From her position in the room, she wasn’t quite sure how he died. For whatever reason, her mind had already concluded that he had been murdered rather than simply killed or dead from something internal like a heart attack. But there seemed to be bruises forming around his neck and Seraphina could feel a lump forming on the back of his head. Her rational mind wanted to figure out just what happened, the sequence of events, the suspects. It couldn’t stop thinking even if it wanted to.
But the pain wouldn’t allow the mind to work just yet. All Seraphina could do in that moment was to hold her grandfather as tightly as she possibly could, his head resting softly in her lap, and try to memorize everything about him. Her heart constricted painfully, and before she could stop herself, she started talking to his body as though he was sleeping instead of gone. She talked about her day and how much she loved him and how he was her hero and would always be her hero and how she never properly thanked him for taking her and Katella in after their parents died and for sending her to college and for being there when she needed it. She apologized for not attending more hockey games and for dating Billy Stanford and for getting her first and only D in science class her sophomore year of high school.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there mumbling incoherent sentence fragments or when she started to cry again, but EMTs and police officers arrived soon after. She didn’t remember having anyone pry his body away from her. She didn’t remember someone helping her up and leading her out of the office. But she remembered watching the EMTs place her grandfather’s body on a stretcher and wheel him to the elevators just down the hall. She knew she would never see him again.