Bronte sat next to the hospital bed with her head hung low and her breathing intentional. The focus it took to inhale and exhale as her world was crumbling down around her was immense.
The tears were finished and she was left only with the crushing weight of a shock that robbed her of her very breath.
The hospital bed was emptied hours ago. She had sobbed while they took her grandmother's lifeless body to the morgue.
Normally, someone would have come in and shuffled her out of the patient room to go grieve somewhere else. She had no idea why they hadn't done so.
She couldn't pay the hospital bills she would already owe for her grandmother's meager care. In truth her grandmother, Sophia, hadn't understood why Bronte fought so hard to save her when she knew her time was fast approaching.
Sophia had tried to reassure Bronte over and over that she would be okay. Bronte couldn't believe that there was any way she could possibly be okay without her grandmother.
Sophia was a font of wisdom, grace, and love that had sustained Bronte over the course of her miserable life and had provided a bright source of joy in an otherwise lackluster existence.
Now she was alone.
Bronte focused on breathing in and out as slowly as she could. The excruciating sense of aloneness weighed heavy on her heart, mind, and even body.
Bronte flinched when someone stepped into the room and cleared their throat.
The rich deep man's voice held a gentle note that Bronte had never heard directed at her from anyone other than Sophia.
"When you're ready to go home, there is a car in front of the hospital waiting to take you," the man said.
"There's no rush so take your time," he finished then walked out of the room.
Bronte hadn't even looked up at him but after her mind registered what he'd said, her eyes turned toward the doorway only to find him gone. Perhaps she had imagined it? Or maybe Sophia's unyielding belief in a higher power was in fact real and it had been some sort of angel.
Suddenly, Bronte's urge to get home and sink into her own bed under the thick lush quilt her grandmother had sewn for her was overwhelming. She wanted to be unconscious and believe that this was all a terrible nightmare and that she would wake to her grandmother's humming in the morning while she cooked breakfast for them both.
She stood and walked around the small room gathering her grandmother's belongings and packing them into a small, worn bag they had brought to the hospital with them a week ago.
After making sure nothing was left behind she hooked her purse over her shoulder and gripped the handles of the duffle bag with both hands. She trudged out to the curb in front of the hospital on auto-pilot, barely noticing anything around her.
She looked for a taxi but there was only a black limousine parked in front of the hospital, so she assumed she must have imagined the encounter earlier.
She turned to the right and walked past the limousine and down the street a little ways until she reached the bus stop. This bus had carried her to and from the hospital during every one of the more than a dozen visits her grandmother had made during the past year.
She stood at the curb, gripping the bag and waiting for the bus.
The black limo that had been sitting at the curb in front of the hospital pulled up beside her and the driver rolled down the window on the passenger side to speak to her.
"Miss MacEichainn? I've been instructed to give you a ride home," the driver said politely.
Bronte was confused and ducked her 5'9" frame down to peer into the car at the driver. Her copper red curls were blowing haphazardly in the wind as her light brown eyes focused onto the man behind the wheel.
"Who are you, sir?" she inquired blandly.
"I'm Gavin MacLeod and my employer was a friend of your grandmother's. He promised her that he would see you safely home this evening," the driver replied firmly.
"Thank you, Mr. MacLeod, but I'm unaware of any associations my grandmother had with your employer. I'm sure you can understand that for safety reasons, I cannot accept your offer," she explained and stood up straight again to walk a little ways down the curb in order to watch for the bus.
Her physical and verbal dismissal of the driver did not deter him. Mr. MacLeod turned on the hazard lights on the limo and stepped out to walk around to the curb where Bronte was standing.
He reached into the pocket of his navy blue suit jacket and fished out a letter which he handed to Bronte.
She looked at him skeptically until her eyes glanced at the handwriting on the front of the envelope and she snatched it from his hand to get a closer look.
It was indeed her grandmother's beautiful scrolling handwriting and read, "My Brilliant Star," which was something her grandmother had called her since she was a child.
She turned over the letter in her hands and placed her bag on the ground next to her. Bronte then slid her finger under the corner of the closure flap and tore it open along the top. She turned her back to Mr. MacLeod and pulled the paper from the inside with shaking hands.
Unfolding the stationary she saw that the letter was also written in her grandmother's graceful cursive. It read:
"My beloved granddaughter,
I know you will have many questions and may not understand everything at first, but please trust me that I have your best interests at heart as I always have.
I know that you feel alone and like there is no one to lean on in this cruel world, but that is not the case.
Over the next weeks you are going to discover many things about our family, and yourself, that I wasn't able to tell you while I was alive.
The MacLeod family is trustworthy and has been intertwined in one way or another with the MacEichainns for centuries.
I personally know Orion MacLeod, the clan leader, and his brother and right hand man, Gavin MacLeod. I've been acquainted with them and their families since they were in diapers and have deepened my friendship with the brothers over the past ten years.
You can trust them. They don't have any motives in caring for you other than the fact that they care for our family - just as I care for them.
As always, I know you will be cautious and use your own judgment. Make your own choices, my granddaughter, but remember that I respect and love these boys and they have my trust.
Your loving grandmother,
Bronte's mind raced with questions.
What the hell was happening?
Who were the MacLeods?
How did her grandmother know them for so many years and she was clueless?
Bronte didn't even know her own father and mother, nor did she want to, so how could her grandmother expect her to trust these strangers?
Bronte sighed with exhaustion and made a decision. Her grandmother was the only person she could trust, and she knew that the woman's judgement of people was flawless.
In truth, Bronte was too void of energy to wrap her head around this mystery and all she wanted was to sleep in her own bed.
So when she turned back to Gavin MacLeod and saw him holding the door of the limo's back seat open for her, she silently climbed into the car and buckled her seatbelt.
Gavin smiled and shut the door firmly, but gently, then bent to pick up her bag from the sidewalk and place it carefully in the trunk of the car.
They drove silently for the twenty-seven minutes it took to arrive outside the small apartment building. Here, she shared a three bedroom rent-controlled apartment home with her grandmother for the past twenty-seven years.
She waited only a couple of minutes until Gavin opened the door for her and she climbed out, taking her bag from his hands and then silently entering the building and taking the elevator up to the top floor.
After stepping out of the elevator, Bronte turned to the right and walked a few steps down the hallway to her door. She punched in the door code and pressed down on the handle after she heard the beep and click of the latch.
She entered her apartment, closing the door behind her, and kicked off her shoes as she dropped the bag and her purse in the entryway. She stumbled to her room and crawled under her beloved quilt, and quickly fell into a fitful sleep plentiful of nightmares and longing.