Stories like this one always begin in misery.
There was a time when Sebastian Bean had two parents, a beautiful mother and a handsome father. They all lived together in a tall narrow house on a lovely tree lined street in a fashionable area of a quaint and historic city. Sebastian had a bedroom of his own and in it he had a wall filled with bookshelves and on the shelves hundreds of books, so many that his fathered attached a ladder that slid on a rail so that he could reach the books at the top. From the long window above his desk he could see all the way to the square in the centre of town where a marble fountain burbled and people fed the pigeons. And very often in the evenings he would walk with his parents down to the ice cream shop where he ordered a chocolate peppermint cone that he ate with great enjoyment. At night his mother would come in and kiss him goodnight and before he fell asleep he would say, ‘I am very lucky’. And he was. He was a very, very lucky boy and then all at once he wasn’t.
One Sunday morning Sebastian woke to the sun streaming through his window and the birds singing in the trees. There was no reason for him to think that it wouldn’t be another lucky day in his very lucky life. But when he sat up in bed and listened to the house he was filled with a feeling that he was not used to. Something wasn’t right. He got out of his bed and opened his door and peered into the hall. What he saw was his father was talking to Doctor Little. The doctor shook his head and put his hand on Arthur Bean’s shoulder and patted it twice. Sebastian stepped farther out into the hall. ‘Father?’ he called and in the single word were a million questions. “Go back to your room Sebastian,” said his father. “I will be in shortly”.
Sebastian went back to his room and sat on his bed and the feeling that something was very wrong grew and grew until his father came in with the news that his mother had contracted a terrible influenza and that he must pack a bag at once and go and stay with his grandmother so that he didn’t get infected as well. Had Sebastian known how important what he put into his suitcase was going to be he would have packed more carefully. But he was so worried about his mother he couldn’t think. His father made him wear a mask across his nose so that he didn’t breathe in any of the germs that had made his mother sick and as he passed the door to their bedroom Sebastian called ‘Goodbye mumma.’ He didn’t know if she heard him and sadly he would never know for his mother died the next morning.
Over the next while Sebastian was sadder than I have words to describe. He missed his mother terribly and to make matters worse it seemed that his father had forgotten him. Sebastian remained with his grandmother and only saw his father from time to time and each time his father seemed more of a stranger to Sebastian. He spoke quietly and he never remembered to hug Sebastian and always left without taking him back home. His grandmother told him that his father was sad too and that he would come around and that time was a great healer.
The spring went by and turned to summer and then to autumn and finally to winter and spring again. And then one day when Sebastian and his grandmother were working in her flower beds turning over the black dirt and getting them ready for planting a long black car snaked its way up the drive and parked in front of the house. Sebastian stood and dusted his hands off on the back of his pants. The door of the car opened and his father climbed out. “Hello Sebastian!” he boomed in the voice he used to use. “I’ve come to take you home!” Sebastian was so surprised that he could not seem to move. He wanted to run into his father’s arms with relief , but he couldn’t seem to do anything but stand in one spot with his mouth hanging open in surprise. His grandmother stepped forward and placed her hand on Sebastian’s back. “Well,” she said, “isn’t this wonderful.” But her voice didn’t sound excited, it sounded very much like Sebastian was feeling. She was saying happy words but they sounded anything but. Sebastian’s father stood there grinning and Sebastian stood in the same place and his grandmother stood behind him. They may have stood this way for a good long time had the other door on the car not opened with a creak capturing their attention.
“Arthur,” said a dark velvet voice. “Will you help me out?” Sebastian’s father hurried to the other side of the car and extended his hand. A gloved hand appeared and wrapped itself around his own. As Mr. Bean raised his hand a long thin woman was revealed. She wore a tight fitting skirt and had an ostrich plume in her hat. She had a long thin nose to match the rest of her and a wide red mouth. “Sebastian,” said his father, “there is someone I’d like you to meet. This is, well it’s, your, I should say.. my wife. Your stepmother.” Suddenly the air in Nanny’s yard became very still. Even the birds were shocked into silence. “Hello Sebastian,” purred the thin woman. “It is such a pleasure to meet you at last. Arthur has told me so many things about you I feel as if I know you already.” Her voice dripped all over Sebastian and she smiled. He still had not moved a muscle although his mind had begun to race inside of him. This person, this stepmother person was going to live with them. Sleep in their house, in his mother’s bed, use her things, sit in her chair. No it couldn’t be. But as he watched his father’s face and saw him smiling at the thin woman he realized it was real. Horribly, awfully real. She smiled at Sebastian revealing a row of well manicured teeth and he was somewhat relieved to see that they weren’t pointed. “I’m afraid it’s come as a shock to you,” the thin woman went on, “Arthur, shame on you. I told you he should have been warned. You may call me Sinthia my dear.” At last Sebastian found his voice. “It’s nice to meet you,” he managed. Mr. Bean stepped closer to Sebastian and ruffled his hair. “He’s alright aren’t you son?” Sebastian was so surprised at being ruffled by his father that he, for a moment, forgot to be shocked at the situation that was presenting itself in Nanny’s garden. It had been so long since Arthur Bean had shown his son any affection at all that Sebastian didn’t quite know how to respond. Little boys aren’t so different than puppies really. Even if you haven’t paid much attention to it a puppy will always forgive his owner at the first sign of kindness and that is exactly what Sebastian did. In that split second he looked at his father and smiled and thought ‘maybe it will be alright’. Poor Sebastian, he was so happy for a little affection he didn’t even hear the other car door open until a very fat and freckly kind of a voice said, “If I don’t get something to eat in the next 5 minutes my blood sugar will plummet.”