Walter “Tusk” was a respected member of elephant society. He was sort of like a grandfather to all the children of Celesteville. When news came that his granddaughter Celeste was marrying into the Royal Family, the fact that this would technically make Ol’ Tusk royalty by extension was one of many reasons for the town to be ecstatic.
Unfortunately, those feelings of jubilance would be short-lived. That’s the trouble of being a respected member of society - it makes it that makes much more painful for everyone when you pass on.
No one knew the cause; he should have lived much longer. Perhaps he wasn’t taking good care of himself and no one was aware. Perhaps being all alone in that big house once the children moved out was too much for him. Whatever the reason, just a few months after Celeste donned the crown and rose to her throne, Ol’ Tusk gave his last breath.
The funeral service came and went. Nothing too dramatic, but just the right amount of grandeur for someone whose name lived in the hearts and minds of so many people, and for a relative of the queen. People cried, paid their respects, and the old man was laid to rest.
It had been about a month since then. But Tusk’s absence was still setting in.
Celeste and Arthur stood at the grave, in silence. Arthur placed one flower among many, at the foot of the tombstone.
“Here you go, grandpa. I know you already have a lot of flowers, but...Celeste says you can never be too beautiful.”
Celeste tried to force a smile, but it wouldn’t take. Instead, she just stood there with her brother, not speaking a word. What more could she say? It wasn’t as if he could hear her. And yet, for some reason she felt compelled to stay. The sad part is that with Arthur on his adventures and Celeste settling into palace life, this was the closest their family had been in a while. Ironically, it was an otherwise pleasant spring day. The sun was shining, and flowers were even beginning to bloom naturally in the fields surrounding the cemetery. Celeste was perplexed as to how a place could be so beautiful and saddening at the same time.
A hand on her shoulder brought the queen back to reality. “C’mon, Celeste, I think we should go…”
Celeste blinked, then turned to face her brother. “You go on, Arthur, I’ll be fine.”
Arthur gestured to his bike. “You sure about that? I’m kind of your ride…”
“I’ll walk back to the palace.”
“I don’t think Cornelius and Pompadour will be cool with me leaving you alone out here.”
“I’ll deal with those two, just...let me stay here a little longer.”
Arthur was quiet for a moment. He had never seen his sister so...what was the word Pompadour used? Despondent. Maybe it was best he gave her a little solitude. “Okay,” he said, “Just don’t stay so late you make Babar worry!” With a quick hug, Arthur hopped on his bike, and just like that, Celeste was alone with her grandfather.
Celeste turned back to the grave. Now no longer in anyone’s company, she allowed herself to feel. The lump in her throat, the sting in her eyes, she welcomed it all. He was gone. He was really gone. Celeste could remember him, telling stories about his life, about the elephants’ history, their days in Pleasant Valley. Playing with her and Arthur, keeping up with them despite his age. They were good memories.
And now, they were all she had left of him.
“Grandpa…” she began. “I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time with you. Babar says you’re watching over us right now, but...is it true? Are you really still here, with me?”
Celeste felt a hand on her shoulder, and immediately turned around in shock. But she looked up to find that it was, in fact, not the ghost of her grandfather, but a rhino woman in a yellow sundress and hat.
“Oh,” Celeste sighed. “It’s you.”
Lady Rataxes wasn’t sure if Celeste was dismayed to see her or just disappointed that she wasn’t someone else. Regardless, she made her best effort to be friendly. “Hello, Celeste, how are you today?”
Celeste narrowed her eyes at Lady Rataxes. “Decent, all things considered...” she replied, pointing her trunk at the grave in front of then.
Lady Rataxes faltered, and donned a more serious expression. “Oh...right. Um, actually, that was the reason I came here. I wanted to say...sorry for your loss.”
There was a brief pause, then Celeste turned away, facing the grave again. “Oh. Well…thank you,” she said half-heartedly.
The rhino queen spoke softly and sympathetically. “I know how it feels to lose a loved one...well, not really. But I can’t imagine life without my dear mother, or my sweet Rataxes! I imagine it must feel something like that.”
“You imagine it’s something like the life you can’t imagine?”
Oh dear, she backed herself into a corner there. Darn, she wasn’t very good at this, was she? “What I’m saying is…”
Again with the hand on the shoulder.
“...I know you must be devastated, and I thought you could use someone to talk to.”
Celeste gently brushed off Lady Rataxes’ hand. Gently, but she was still brushing it off. “That’s a nice thought, but I already have Arthur and Babar for that.”
Again, Celeste had a point, she did already have plenty of friends. Even more so after marrying Babar. “But...don’t you think you could use a female friend?”
Now Celeste managed to force that smile. “I think I’ll manage.” But Lady Rataxes could see, clear as day, that the younger queen’s smile wasn’t sincere. So, rather than try to continue the conversation, she simply approached the tombstone. Since she had come all the way out here, the least she could do was pay respects.
“I suppose I should say something, shouldn’t I?”
It was the cemetery’s intended purpose, so Celeste didn’t object. “You can, if you want,” was her passive reply. Though she wasn’t sure what Lady Rataxes planned on saying, having never even met her grandfather before.
Lady Rataxes cleared her throat. “I never knew...Ol’ Tusk.”
“But...he must have been a great man, and a wonderful role model, to have raised a smart and beautiful granddaughter like Celeste. If only he could see the amazing things she’s doing now...”
That caught Celeste’s attention. She looked up just in time for Lady Rataxes to turn and face her.
“What?” The elder queen asked. “Why do you look so shocked? It’s true…”
“I know, but...I didn’t really expect that from you. It’s just that—”
“It’s just that I’m Lord Rataxes’ wife, right? And because there’s such bad blood between him and Babar, I must feel the same way towards you?”
Bam. Lady Rataxes hit the nail on the head. And Celeste went from being bitter to flustered. “I...well, yes, that is what I thought. Sorry, it’s just that...it’s true that Babar and Rataxes signed that peace treaty, but things between our kingdoms are still…”
“Yes. That’s the word. And through it all...I guess I’ve never really known what to think of you.”
Lady Rataxes sighed, walking to a nearby bench. “I don’t blame you. I love Rataxes, but even I can’t deny that he’s made some downright lousy choices as king, and those don’t reflect well on me.”
Celeste took a seat next to her as she continued. “You don’t know how lucky you are to have Babar. Or...how lucky he and your subjects are to have you.”
The younger queen’s eyes lit up. “You really think so?”
“Of course!” Lady Rataxes exclaimed, smiling wide. “Celeste, you are the light of hope in this town! You’ve done so many things for the elephants. Everyone here knew your name, even before you married Babar. The kingdom’s named after you, for crying out loud! And now look at you. You’re the queen…”
“Right...I’m still not used to wearing this thing.” Celeste took the crown off her head and held it. She could see her reflection in the golden adornment. “I wish I had spent more time with him,” she sighed.
“You mean your grandfather?”
Celeste nodded. “I mean, living with Babar in the palace is lovely, but, ever since I became queen, I can’t help but feel...estranged from my family. Even Arthur and I hardly talk anymore.”
“Well, you know you can always go back and visit them. I visit my mother all the time! And I don’t doubt that Babar would understand.”
“It’s not Babar I’m worried about...do you think they would still see me the same way?”
“Celeste, this crown hasn’t changed one thing about who you are.” Lady Rataxes took the crown in her hands and placed it back on Celeste’s head. “Your parents would welcome you in their house with open arms, I guarantee.”
Celeste wasn’t sure how Lady Rataxes could make such a statement without knowing her parents, but the sentiment was nice. Still, it begged the question.
“Lady Rataxes...why the sudden interest in me?”
“I’ve been thinking about something that Babar said…about all of the kingdoms having to stand together to build a better jungle.” Lady Rataxes turned to Celeste, a warm smile on her face. “Now, you and I both know we have the most stubborn kings in this whole jungle for husbands. So I figure, if they won’t stand together, we will. That’s why, when news of your grandfather’s death spread to Rhinoland, I decided I just had to be here for you. I may not know what this feels like, but I do know you shouldn’t have to endure it alone.”
Celeste sniffled. She had been through with the tears for a while now, but her eyes were still glassy. “I miss him, Lady Rataxes…I miss him a lot.”
Lady Rataxes then did something Celeste didn’t expect. She pulled the other queen into a hug. “It’ll be alright, my dear. Just be sure you make the most of the time you have with the rest of your family.”
As they seperated, Celeste smiled as well, a genuine smile this time. “Thank you, Lady Rataxes. This...means a lot to me.”
“Anything for a fellow queen, Celeste.” As the two dignitaries spoke, the sky above them began to redden, indicating the oncoming night. Lady Rataxes stood from the bench.
“Well, it’s getting late. That brother of yours already ran off, didn’t he? Would you like a ride back to the palace?”
Celeste yawned and stood up as well. “That would be great. I originally planned to walk back. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Lady Rataxes turned in the direction of her car. Before following her, Celeste looked back at her grandfather’s grave one last time.
“Goodbye, grandpa,” she said sweetly, tenderly.
And thank you, Babar...
By the time Celeste was dropped off at the palace, the sun had almost gone down. Arthur was waiting at the window when she got back, and came outside to greet her.
“There you are! Just like I thought, Pompadour talked my ears off for leaving you behind.”
Celeste had a small laugh at Arthur’s misfortune. “Sorry about that. I’ll be sure to talk to him.”
“Say, who was that who dropped you off just now? That kinda looked like Rataxes’ car…”
“Why don’t we go inside and talk about it over dinner?” Celeste put her arm on her brother’s shoulder and led him inside. She was eager to tell him about the new friend she’d made today.