So, Sophie,” Zach said awkwardly after thirty minutes of silence in his heated car. “We’re… really glad to have you in our home. I hope… nothing’s… you know… bothering you?”
Sophie sniffed and rubbed her nose. If he couldn’t tell, something was bothering her. When was she ever going to see Mrs. Willy again? Would it be weeks? Months? Years? “I’m fine,” she mumbled, gazing out the window at the lush scenic meadow they were crossing. But she very much was not fine.
Though the scenic route did seem to lift her hopes up for the new place she was staying. They were crossing underneath a curving arch of white cherry blossom trees, and with the evening sun shone, it shimmered petal prints onto the car and through the window on the roof. The road was smooth and steady, without a single pothole or bump like the rides she sometimes took during small trips in the orphanage.
Zach gave her a small smile in the quick glance he took of his right side—where Sophie was seated. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he said after a second, making her jolt. “Oh, sorry. This was a natural archway that blooms every spring and lasts till fall. Each time it seems to become more and more fluorescent. It… should make you feel better.” He whispered the last part, mostly to himself. “But anyway, we’re almost here.”
Sophie let her hair fall over her face, using it as a blonde curtain. “Thank you.”
“For showing me this arch. And… for letting me stay in your home.”
Zach laughed. “It’s nothing to thank me for. Oh, also.” He cleared his throat. “I heard that you went to a high school back in that city. And you’re, what—twelve?” His brows shot up when she nodded. “That’s crazy! You must be top in everything, then!”
Sophie blushed. “I dunno. Everyone makes fun of me for skipping so many grades.” She wrung her fingers together.
“Trust me, they’re just jealous,” he said with a smile. Sophie sighed.
“Nobody’d ever be jealous of me,” she replied under her breath. “I have… nothing to be jealous about.” Sophie looked out of the window for the rest of the ride, every second of silence dawning upon her and resting deep in her bones, causing her to shiver with nerverack. Finally, they took a short turn a few minutes later, and Zach parked under another arch of flowering vines and beanpoles.
“Don’t worry,” Zach said quickly. “This isn’t our garage or anything. But this is the parking space in our bird garden. I thought you might like to see it before we head inside.”
Sophie swallowed. “Yes, that would be… very nice.” She got out of the car as Zach did and slowly shut the door. Immediately, the smell of honeysuckle, jasmine, and warm cider filled her nose, and she heard the brilliant chirps of dozens of birds and the flow of water. Otherwise it was quiet as she and her guardian stepped out of the small archway.
Sophie gasped at what was laid before her.
A ginormous silver bird bath was on the other side of the parking space, streaming water down it’s spouts, and pink flowers wrapped around the edges of the bowls. Robins, blue jays, cardinals, and many other types of birds Sophie couldn’t recognize flitted around it, some swimming down the mini waterfalls. It sat on a circular golden platform, and four golden pathways stuck out of each side. Each path was lined with perfectly square hedges and had a curved vined arch at the beginning. Zach led Sophie to one of the pathways arched with yellow tulips.
“There are many parts of this garden,” he explained, “but this one is by far my favorite. It also leads directly to the house. We can show you the others, too, if you’d like.”
“This place is beautiful,” Sophie breathed. Zach chuckled.
“You have yet to see this.”
They walked down the golden pathway quietly, and Sophie felt a little like Dorothy in Oz. Then, the path came to a stop, descending in five golden steps. She tried her best to fight off a squeal.
A pond laid in front of them, sprinklers shooting out at different times and spinning and twirling and dancing and moving. Beautiful swans were filed along the clear water. A variety of flowers speckled across it. Given it was the time the sun was falling down in the horizon, the pond cast a beautiful glow with hundreds and hundreds of tiny lit candles. “The candles are sensors,” Zach said. “When they detect night is arriving, they light up. It’s a magnificent sight.”
Sophie’s mouth went dry as they turned around to face more hedges. Except this time, they were giant. “Sculptures,” she whispered. “You made sculptures out of hedge?” A large bear hedge was carved on one side, standing on both feet and raising his paws as he roared. It was so intricate, even his fur was carved to the last bit. His tongue and teeth were also visible.
A sculpture of a seal, a turtle, and a lion stood next to it. Sophie spun around, and there was an eagle sculpture with its talons raised, a dire wolf howling into the sky, and a huge elephant, it’s trunk spouting carved water. “This is…” Her voice trailed on, unable to voice the beauty of it all.
Zach smiled. “Thank you. We… worked a lot on this spot. We made it years ago, for our baby girl. But… we never really…” He looked away.
“You have a daughter?” Sophie asked. Then she realized that it wasn’t a good time to be talking about personal matters and shook her head. “Sorry. I thought you had no kids.”
Zach sighed. “We never knew her.”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore.” He cleared his throat and motioned to Sophie. “This way’s our home,” he told her, walking behind the sculpture of the dire wolf. Sophie followed him behind the nestled branches and almost bumped into him as he came to an abrupt stop. Zach shuffled to the side, leading her to the front of an overly sized castle-mansion.
The house was massive with gleaming mother-of-pearl columns that broke up the glass walls. It had five floors, each growing smaller as it stacked, and the windows were dimmed so you couldn’t see through from the outside, but a light sparked from dozens of them. Each floor above the first had a wide balcony in front of it, and the window was larger, like a glass door. Sophie stood there in awe, wondering how anyone could live in such a massive home. It didn’t even seem like a home.
Zach laughed at Sophie’s puzzled expression. “Come on in. I’m sure Alex is waiting.”
They made their way through a giant glass door, and suddenly everything was blindingly bright. Walls of a soft cream color. Huge throne-like chairs in the entree way. Glass coffee tables. A pale fur rug underneath it. Golden fire spritzed in the chimney. Two long, spiraled gold stairways leading up to a gold-fenced balcony at the top. Marble floors which looked slippery under Sophie’s feet. An enormous chandelier linked with hundreds of tiny clear facets. Sophie felt very misplaced, even in the fanciest dress she had.
A woman fit for a queen strode into the room in a pale pink gown made of wispy tulle. She had blonde waves that hung below her shoulders, and wore dramatically long gloves along her sleeveless arms. Sophie almost thought she should bow or something when the woman inhaled a breath and forced a small smile. “Welcome to our home.” Sophie felt a little better hearing her nervous voice. At least they were both tense about this cycle.
“Thanks for having me” was all she could think of. The awkwardness had reached a new level.
“Well, Sophie, this is Alex, my wife. Alex, this is Sophie,” Zach interluded.
Alex nodded. “It’s our pleasure.” She searched for something to say. “You both must be thirsty. I’ll take up some lemonade.”
Sophie inhaled as she and Zach followed Alex into the kitchen, a humongous room made only of glass walls. The furniture was all toned a warm white, except for the wispy, golden drapes along each of the walls. Zach sat down in a throne-like chair and motioned for Sophie to sit down next to him. She watched as the sun finally rested beneath the sky and the first stars glinted.
“I showed her the pond,” he said after a short minute of silence as Alex took out three glasses and a bottle of a pink, sloshy liquid. She looked up as she poured the drinks.
“What did you think of it?” She asked Sophie, biting her lip and passing them both glasses. Sophie took a tiny sip of the citrusy drink, and it turned out to be sweeter than any lemonade she’d ever tasted before.
“It was…” Sophie wanted to say beautiful, but that didn’t describe it well enough. “Wonderful. Extremely wonderful.”
Alex smiled for real this time. “I’m so glad you like it,” she said quietly. “Did you see the other parts, as well?”
“Not yet,” Sophie mumbled. “But… it would be nice.”
Alex nodded. “Yes, it would.”
After a few more awkward minutes of sipping lemonade, Sopie felt something soft and curly brush against her legs. She scrambled out of the chair as both her guardians laughed. When she glanced down, a white, curly-haired puppy was sniffing her toes. She smiled with them, but it disappeared when she realized that her globe had the same puppy. It must have been a coincidence.
“That’s Jax,” Zach said as Sophie crouched down to pet the puppy. “And he’s never seen a child before. So… this will be interesting.”
Sophie looked up to see Alex and Zach grinning. “Well, I guess we should show you your new room,” Alex said as she got up and gathered the empty glasses. “I hope you don’t mind pink.”
Sophie squeaked. “This is my room?”
Alex and Zach had brought her up three of the floors, where her room lay on the fourth. It was a massive room with a giant bed on the side, which had a huge, intricate golden headpiece that was crowned with carved roses and swirls. The pink sheets were embroidered with gold thread. A big chandelier with sweeping diamonds hung on top of it. The walls were mostly pink, though some of the sides were vertically-striped pink-and-white with a golden border. They were broken up with fantasy paintings and one long glass window, which was draped with three heavy, fancy pink-and-gold curtains. One whole wall took up the closet, and half of another for the bathroom. A bookshelf took up the other half, full of thick, untitled volumes, and beside it, a small study table. It looked like it was inspired by the Eloise Suite.
Alex sucked in a breath. “I hope so.”
Sophie spun around. “What do you mean?”
“If you don’t like it… we can give you another bedroom.”
She had to be joking. It was the best room ever! “I love it,” she replied quickly. “Even if there’s… a whole lot of pink. It’s… great!”
Alex let out a breath. “Awesome.”
“We’ll leave you to unpack,” Zach said after a second, grunting as he dropped her big trunk on the floor. “And if you want to call Andrea, you can always use the telephone sitting wired by your bedside table. Dinner will be ready by the time you’re done.”
“Okay,” Sophie said. “Thank you.”
As soon as they both left, Sophie quietly closed the door and dropped her backpack beside her trunk. How was she ever going to live here, in this fantastical place, with bird baths and scenic views and fancy decor? Sophie started with her trunk, and dragged it to the closet covering the wall. She nearly tripped over on her own feet.
The closet was the size of a huge swimming pool, and might have been bigger than the room itself. There were two floors, and the room was round—all a gleaming white color. A small, rectangular floor-to-ceiling window was on the first floor, which had a thin walkway and was wrapped with a swirly-designed railing. The walls were carved so that clothes could be hung, and drawers with no handle were underneath. On the second floor—the bottom one—was a round, small table attached to the ground with no pegs, like a hard sitting area. The ceiling was domed and high up.
But the craziest part was that clothes were already stacked up in the hangers.
So many, in fact, that it would last Sophie at least two lifetimes. She decided to leave the trunk on the ground, her jaw still dropped, wondering why they’d have so many clothes her size. Then she slowly backed into her main room, where the same puppy startled her. “Gosh,” she whispered. An idea pricked Sophie and she bolted to her backpack, searching through the mayhem of books and homework until she realized that the globe was in the trunk. She hurried back, eventually pulling out the clear orb.
She waited until the snow fell before comparing it side by side Jax, who was still sniffing every one of Sophie’s things. She tried not to suck in a breath at the resemblance. But she couldn’t resist.
Each hair, each curl, seemed to look exactly the same, up until his beady blue eyes. She placed the globe back in her backpack, not wanting to search through old memories. There didn’t seem to be much to unpack, so she squeezed her textbooks and journals into one of the shelves and stacked her homework folders on the study table. She was going to head back downstairs when she noticed the pale pink telephone wire sitting on her bedside table.
Sophie picked up the phone and pressed it to her ear, at the same time punching in the numbers on the dial key of the only phone number she knew. Ring. Ring. Ring.
“Hello, this is Andrea Willy of Della Orphanage speaking,” Mrs. Willy’s muffled voice spoke from the other side of the speakers. Sophie sucked in a breath.
“Hi,” Sophie said softly.
Mrs. Willy’s gasp couldn’t have been more delighted. “Oh my gracious goodness! Sophie! How are you doing? I can’t believe you’re calling me already! It feels so empty without you right now! Oh my golly! What do you think of your new people? Are you alright with ‘em?”
“Um… they’re… nice enough.”
“That’s great, hun. I’m guessing you’ve settled in? How’s the new place?”
“Oh my gosh, you have no idea.”
Sophie snorted. “Um, it’s literally a palace. My closet is two floors and I’m basically sitting in the Eloise Suite.”
Mrs. Willy gasped. “Now this is the place you deserve. These people really are kind of amazing!”
Sophie hesitated. “I just met them. And… they have a dog.”
“You love dogs!”
“Yeah, but, it looks just like the one in the globe.”
Mrs. Willy laughed. “Oh, for goodness sake, Soph,” she said, “relax, would you? It’s just a little detail cluing in: maybe this was meant to be! It’s not some silly conspiracy.”
Sophie took a second before giggling. “Yeah, I guess it is pretty stupid.”
“Well, you should go to bed. Or eat dinner, if you haven’t. I’ve got some work on my hands to get rid of. Talk to you later, Soph!” The phone clicked off before she had a chance to say goodbye. But it felt… much more relieving to talk with her.
She set the telephone down on its stand and went into the bathroom. She shouldn’t have been surprised, but of course the bathroom had four sinks and a giant spa-shower in the middle. Two bathrooms were on the side, and Sophie quickly used it before heading downstairs. Unfortunately for her, there were two different stairs on the third and second floor, so she basically was lost. In the own place she was staying.
“Sorry, I know it’s a bit confusing,” a voice said behind her. Sophie whipped around to find Zach standing there with a glass of water. “But both ways lead the same direction. It’s like the stairs are some magic trick.”
They descended the stairs in silence and back to the kitchen. Dinner turned out to be Alex’s ‘special treat’—tropical fruits on skewers and cream dip with a side of spiced bread stick. It was delicious, and the fruits strangely tasted like a chocolate sundae soaked in marshmallow. Sophie was almost tempted to ask for seconds. “It was great,” Sophie told Alex as she dropped off her plate in the sink. “Thank you.”
Alex smiled. “I’m glad you liked it. And… if you need more nightgowns, they’re in the drawers of your closet.”
Sophie tried not to let the word ‘gowns’ get to her.
They stood there for a moment before Sophie mumbled another thanks and went back up to her bedroom. She’d forgotten her toothbrush, but when she went into the bathroom, an unopened teal brush lay on the sink counter. She was very grateful for the toothpaste, as well.
When she was done showering and changing into one of the nightgowns—a pale pink silky night suit that went up to her toes with a frustratingly lace collar—she climbed into her bed, where Jax lay at her feet, sniffing the comforter. But before she closed the burning pink lamp on her side table, she padded to the other side of the sheets to get a better look at the puppy. No, not puppy—it looked… old. But small. The dog looked right back at her with curious eyes, and she held her breath as he sniffed and lapped her hand.
Sophie ran her other hand through the dog’s long curls. She lived here now, with this achingly familiar dog in a slightly too perfect home with two generous people. But at the same time, she couldn’t stand that she used to always believe, before that day, that her mother would come to get her. But she didn’t. And now she was stripped away from the one place that felt like home, the one person that felt like family. Into this area which didn’t make sense at all.
With that, she clicked off her night lamp, and let the tears take over for the night.