I awoke to someone gently shaking me awake. It was Alexander, excitedly waving something in my face at the same time.
“Ooh look, Emma! Aren’t they just so nice? Look what they gave me?”
Forcing my groggy eyes open, I said, “Who? Who are they? What just happened?” Then, sitting up, “Where are we?”
“Oh, Emma, you forgot! We just moved to Mrs Baker’s house!” Alexander started jigging the thing in front of my face again. “And look what I have!”
Oh, the moving! I forgot! Then, latching onto the second part of Alexander’s speech, I focused on the thing in front of me. It was a picture that a very successful artist had drawn on a piece of beautiful paper - almost as nice as the piece of paper that we had received from that banker man.
“What is it, Alex? I know it’s very pretty but ... I’m not sure what it is,” I said haltingly, not wanting to hurt his feelings.
Before he could answer, someone hoisted him off me, and I was allowed to sit up properly. Turning to thank my rescuer, I realized that it was Pete who had rescued me, and not Mrs Baker ... Angelina.
“There, there, Alexander,” he was coaxing my brother. “That painting isn’t that good. It was but a quick sketch of my final painting.”
Alexander looked at him with an awed expression. “Final painting?” he repeated, awestruck. “What does it look like?”
“Oh, very pretty I’m sure,” I said, deciding to interject before Alexander could get into one of his ‘artistic fits’.
Pete and Alexander looked up, startled.
“Why Emma, I didn’t realize you were here!” Pete said.
“Oh, I’m sure you didn’t,” I said back, smiling slightly. Of course he had seen me -- he had even saved me from Alexander.
Grinning rather sheepishly, Pete agreed to let Alexander see his final painting then let me into the house. Someone else had already carried my scarce luggage in, so obviously they had let me sleep in.
From the very moment I stepped into the house to the time I left it, I was entranced by it.
It was by far prettier than my house, and a great deal grander too. In my eyes, it was almost like a palace.
It had two grand square columns that rose from the bottom floor up to the third floor (they had a third floor!), which were painted gold and red. On the first floor there were two rooms: the kitchen and the entrance room, which was the most splendid of the rooms, even though it was the smallest. The kitchen took up a whole room! Our kitchen didn’t even take up half a room; it was just this little titchy thing with a portable stovetop, a coal pit and some cupboards. This kitchen even had an utility made expressly for the purpose of boiling water. It was a fancy thing, alright, but then again, the Bakers were bakers, and they ran their shop out the back of the kitchen, from the furthest window facing outwards, so I guess they did have to make a good impression.
The entrance room had two chairs and a longer chair sort of thing sitting by the side. The first two chairs were on the sides of the small room, one on each side. The long chair thing was against the wall, which I thought was unjust, because no one could see the back of it, then. Anyway, I supposed the Bakers had more style sense than us, because after all, we didn’t have to make our house look pretty, just usable, so I guess maybe the long chair was meant to be like that, though it did ail its beauty a little. The front of the chairs were nevertheless pretty, all covered in the same matching material: a silken-feeling cloth with gold swirls all over it.
I came in through the front door, meaning I was confronted with the impossible beauty of the entrance room. I blinked, horrified at first of its probable cost, then forgot about cost and enjoyed its beauty. I took off my dirty, road-worn shoes, in fear of destroying its beauty.
Upon seeing this, Pete laughed so heartily he nearly knocked his head on one of the wooden arms of the chairs. Groaning and picking himself up, he explained his reason of laughter. “You really think that your shoes will make this place dirty? Pull another one, will you? That couldn’t be you. Or the Emma I know anyway. The one I know loves to get dirty, or at least tolerates it. If you were worried about getting this carpet -” Pete scuffed his shoe on it, to my horror, “- dirty, then don’t worry any more. Keep your shoes on and let your feet be comfortable, though the carpet is actually very soft too.”
Shrugging, I reluctantly put my shoes back on, though I tried not to step so much on the golden bits.
“And the carpet we got cheap. It’s only for the entrance room, anyway. We have to make a good impression, after all,” Pete added.
That got most of the worry off my shoulders.One couldn’t blame me for being money aware, after all, I was in charge of all our family’s fees from now on.
“Up here is where we go,” said Alexander, gesturing happily up the stairs. “We get to sleep on the third floor!”
For once I was as thrilled as he was. Now I understand why he was so happy when he greeted me: this place was a mansion!
Laughing at Alexander’s childish happiness, I raced him up the stairs, examining each room that I passed.
There was the bathroom and laundry on the second floor - our little town was famous for throwing their muck out of their second floor windows - and even a little storage room, which was squashed in the little gap between the bathroom and the laundry.
Delighted at my find so far, I kept running up the stairs, feeling almost like Alexander.
Up on the third floor there were three rooms. One for Pete, one for Mrs Baker, and one for us, though we had a thin divider in the middle of our room which separated Alexander and Tom’s room from mine. I felt like I didn’t deserve sleeping in someone’s guest room, and I had to remind myself that it was by their invitation that I was sleeping here.
“Your bags are in your room already,” Pete said from behind us. I turned around with a guilty start. I hadn’t realized that Pete had followed us.
“Oh, you were following us! Uh...Sorry for running up your stairs...” I wasn’t sure what to say when the owner of the house found us squealing and running up and down his stairs. Should I have apologized or just gone straight for the hug n’ go?
Pete laughed at my obvious uncertainty. “Don’t worry, it must be fun! Let me join you when you have your gallant race back down the stairs.”
I couldn’t help but blush at our childishness. We were obviously acting very childish in front of Pete, and he was sparing us the embarrassment by not saying it directly. But we knew alright.
Then he noticed that Alexander was still holding his painting in one hand. A little scrunched at the edges where he had held it tightly while running, but otherwise still in its earlier beauty. “You don’t have to go everywhere holding that silly draft. Just pin it up in your room beside your study table. That way you can see it every day.”
“Pin it up? You mean on the wall?” I asked incredulously. “Wouldn’t it spoil the wall?”
“Of course it wouldn’t. Don’t you pin things up on your wall?”
“No,” I replied. “We wouldn’t want to damage our walls, especially as there is the threat of having to sell our house at any time.”
“Really,” Pete said curiously. “Is that so?”
Before anyone else could say anything, Alexander squealed with glee. “You said we had a study table, Peter. Is that true or just a saying?” he asked hopefully. I nearly laughed at him. Of course it’s a saying: how could a study table fit in a tiny space of room?
“Oh, it’s true enough, little Alexander. Go inside and see for yourself,” Pete opened the door wide enough to let Alexander in.
I peered in around the corner, and was astonished to find that the room was quite large. There was a bed and a mattress in the twins’ half, and a bed and a little side table in my half. Tom was sleeping contentedly on the mattress, giving a sigh and a snort every few moments. I smiled at my brother, even though I knew he couldn’t see me. It was just nice knowing that this being lying on the mattress was related to me. Even better, he was my brother. I had never felt so blessed before, to have to brothers. I conveniently ignored the fact that they were very annoying, and worried me when I needed it the least. And they were another responsibility. Though maybe a good responsibility.
“The study table is in Emma’s half!” Alexander whined. “Why oh why oh why? I need to be able to hang Pete’s painting above it!”
“Don’t worry, Alex,” I said reassuringly. “I’ll pin it up above the study table just like you want.”
“Really?” he asked, for a moment forgetting to whinge. “Are you truly going to do that for me?”
Pete quickly diverted Alexander’s attention so that he would forget about being unhappy. “Here, come with me. I’ll show you my final painting.”
Alexander gasped. I smiled approvingly at him. He sure knew how to deal with an art-fanatic.
Smiling back at me, Pete led Alexander away into his own room, careful not to let him remember about the study desk problem.
I was left there, standing by the open door of the room by myself. The silence was eerie, so I softly shut the door and walked back down the stairs, not feeling so elated without Alexander around. I took the steps two at a time, so I could get back down to wherever Angelina (yes, I had gotten the name right) was.
I found Angelina in the kitchen baking bread. I tried to knock, but she saw me before I even made my first rap on the hard wooden surface of the kitchen doors.
She turned around slowly, taking time to wipe her floury hands on her apron.“Yes?”
I felt foolish now, standing there with not a reason to. “I ah...”
“Tell you what,” Angelina said, turning back to knead her bread now that there was no apparent problem. “Go and explore the place. It’s yours now, as well as ours. Go and make friends in the area, have fun. If you ever need anything, I’ll be there.”
I smiled gratefully. “Thanks Angelina. I really appreciate your help.”
“I’m sure you do,” she said, chuckling.
I walked out, and sat down in one of the pretty chairs out in the entrance room.
Did I really want to make friends? It would just mean more responsibilities: making sure I didn’t get into fights, making them happy, going to meet them every day... I didn’t want to neglect my brothers either. But maybe making friends was a good idea. I didn’t want to stay cooped up in this house for my whole life. I wanted to go out, have some fun.
Fun... that word felt odd on my tongue. I hadn’t experienced that in a long time. A very long time.
Angelina came out to get something, and she saw me sitting forlornly on the comfortable chairs.
“Going to make any friends yet?” Angelina asked.
“Good.” Then she walked back into the kitchen again, leaving me to my own devices.
Friends or no friends? Friends or no friends? I tossed the two ideas around and finally settled on one. Friends.