I was standing in the courtyard of my new house, not exactly sure what to do. How do I make friends? I had never done anything like that before: people had just trusted me. I was used to making friends naturally, without intentionally doing it. But now, Angelina had pushed me out into the wide open, without me having a clue of what to do.
Shaking my head of any bad, grim, or terrible thoughts, I walked to the Bakers’ neighbour’s house.
It wasn’t as grand as the Bakers’ house, but it was still a very nice house. The houses surrounding the Bakers’ house were all by far grander than our old, dingy house, with its bad lighting and horrible coldness.
There was a girl, sitting by herself in the middle of the road, crying. Her eyes were blotched red, and her nose, too. She looked terrible!
I ran over to her, worried that she was going to do anything frank.
“Are you alright?” I put my arms around her. She was shivering madly, each sob racking her thin frame like an earthquake was shaking beneath her feet. “What are you doing?”
Another sob. “Dying.” Two more sobs. “I don’t care any -” four sobs, “- more. Leave me -” sob, “- alone.”
Oh my gosh. I had just found a girl in the middle of the road trying to kill herself.
She was grimly awaiting her death, so I shook her shoulders a little to get some sense into her. “Girl! You shouldn’t be doing this! Why are you going to end your life so suddenly? You are so young! You’ve hardly even lived your life, no matter how meagre it may be. Does your father know?” the end part seemed silly, now that I’ve said it.
“Of course Father doesn’t know. If he did he wouldn’t have let me, would he? He have kept me locked in the house, his little precious. He doesn’t care about me, he needs me. And I don’t care if he needs me or not, I’m going. Now leave me to die.”
“Why does he need you?” I asked, rather stupidly.
“Because I manage all the affairs. The tax, the debtors, the angry people who want to sell our house... everything. And does he pay me? No. Does he even acknowledge my work? No. He doesn’t care, I tell you.”
My brow softened. “Ah, so you’re in charge of the family’s state of affairs. Have you got any siblings?”
“A sister,” she sobbed.
“Trust me,” I put my arms around her comfortingly, “I know what it feels like to have someone die on you unexpectedly. And I also know what it feels like to have that person not tell you, or give any warning at all. And I needed that person very much, right at that moment...” I could feel the tears welling in my eyes. “And that person was very important to me,” I whispered, voice cracking. I started sobbing, and the girl comforted me this time.
So there we were, two girls crying in the middle of the road.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a coach came bumping along. I stared up at it in fright, suddenly realizing we were in a very vulnerable spot indeed.
I glanced at the girl beside me, and she was still crying, the tears flowing freely down her cheeks. Worse, she was looking the other way, lost in her own thoughts.
I shook her madly - no time to be gentle in a situation like this. “Quick, get up! We need to get off the road!”
The girl nodded, and I practically dived off the road, carrying the girl in my arms.
There we lay, a tangled heap on the soft grass of someone’s house. The coach came to a stop beside us, and a boy jumped out from it.
“Are you alright?”
The shock from it all made the girl start crying again, and the boy shook his head. “What were you doing in the middle of the road? Arnold nearly ran over you two!”
“Well, that’s what ...” I realised that I didn’t know the girl’s name, even though I felt so close to her already.
“Scarlotte,” the girl interjected. “That’s my name.”
I nodded politely at Scarlotte. “Scarlotte wanted to get run over. But not anymore, I hope...” I bit my lip nervously.
“No, of course not!” she said hotly, and I breathed a sigh of relief. At least I had saved one life today.
I turned to Scarlotte, and for some reason she made me smile. “I don’t suppose you want to get run over again, do you?”
“Didn’t you just ask that?” Scarlotte asked, confused.
“No,” I said, smiling at her confusion. “I just asked if you still wanted to get run over, but this time I asked if you wanted to do it again.”
“No!” Scarlotte said straight away. “That was just too close to be fun.”
Fun. There’s that word again. What was fun? If getting run over was ‘fun’ to some people, as Scarlotte had implied, then I certainly didn’t like having fun.
“Hi, I’m this young fella’s father.” A man had stepped from the coach’s cushioned interior.
“And this ‘young fella’ is?” I asked.
The boy laughed. “Anglian Coache, pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand, and I shook it. Scarlotte just stood there staring at the hand proffered at her.
“You shake it,” I whispered to her. And shake it she did - in the wrong sort of way. She grasped his extended hand with both her hands, and shook it vigorously. Her grip tightened as she shook harder, then harder, until poor Anglian’s hand was being shook up and down so energetically - if that’s what you could call it - that he was getting a Chinese Burn all along his arm.
I stared helplessly at my newfound friend, who was making such a fool of herself. “Stop, Scarlotte! Just stop, before you tear Anglian’s hand off!”
Scarlotte stopped, and Anglian’s hand and arm was red. He clutched it painfully, and I imagined what it would feel like. I shuddered at the thought.
“What?” Scarlotte asked, confused. “I was waiting for him to say stop. And he didn’t, so I shook harder.”
“Haven’t you ever done any important deals with important men?” I asked hopelessly. “You know, greedy bankers and the like? You should know, you said you are in charge of you family’s affairs, after all.”
“They always tell me to sign on a textured piece of paper,” Scarlotte said innocently.
Anglian smiled a forced smile. “It’s alright, no problems at all. My arm sometimes... plays up, that’s all. No problem at all...” he patted his arm, then winced. “You see? All fine.”
“Oh, good. I thought I had hurt you, then!” Scarlotte said, now beaming happily. I nearly slapped myself.
“Well, folks, I’ll get a’ goin’ now, alrightee? Everythin’ good?” Anglian’s father asked from the background, then started climbing in the coach.
“Father? Aren’t you going take me with you?” Anglian asked.
“Well, I thought you might like to stay with your newfound friends. After all, you know where your house is. Walk home when you’re done. I’ve go’ a meetin’, now byeeee!” He was whizzed off as the driver clicked to the horses. His hand was waving out the window, and Anglian half-heartedly waved back.
“Father wants me to make friends so badly,” he sighed. “The only reason why I don’t have many friends is because I am always cooped up in the house, or out with my father’s business executives. Social life just isn’t working for me.”
I smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, we’ll be your friends, won’t we, Scarlotte?”
Scarlotte shrugged. “Of course we will.”
Anglian smiled. “Thank you. Father will be so happy about me. Maybe he’ll let me attend Thanksgivings. Do you think he will?”
I shrugged. I knew I was his friend, but I didn’t know what he did about Thanksgivings. “Let’s go somewhere,” I decided, “instead of just by the side of the road.”
“Good idea,” Anglian said. “I didn’t rescue you for nothing.”
“You ... rescue us?” I choked back a laugh. “If you say so. Anyway, my house is the one right beside here, so lets go there instead.”
Scarlotte’s eyes goggled. “That... that is your house? That grand old manor is yours?”
Anglian sucked his breath in. “What a beauty.”
Turning red, I quickly explained. “No, that isn’t my house. Mrs - I mean Angelina lets us live in it with her and her son, Peter. Amazing, isn’t it?”
“You mean you actually share a house with a different family? You don’t have a house?”
“Not necessarily...” I began, but Scarlotte interrupted me.
“Do you know how rude that is? That poor woman - Angelina, you called her - must be tired of you sharing her house for so long.”
I bristled at that comment. “It’s only my first day.”
“Scarlotte, leave the girl alone,” Anglian said.
“Emma,” I said.
Just then, Pete stepped out of the house, wearing a worried expression on his face. “Are you alright, Emma?”
I smiled. “Yes, I’m fine. Oh, this is Peter, by the way. Angelina’s son.”
Pete smiled a friendly greeting then tipped an imaginary hat. “How do you do?”
Anglian replied: “Very well, thank you, old chap,” as if they were grown-ups, and Scarlotte just giggled.
“Sorry, I was just about to go out and about when I heard raised voices outside my door. Pleased to see you’ve gotten it all sorted out,” Pete said. “Are you old friends?”
“Well, I’d like to think so, but no, we aren’t, unfortunately,” I said, sighing in fake unhappiness. “Though I grant we will be in a few years or so.”
“Well, we better go inside,” Scarlotte said, looking worriedly up at the sky. “I reckon its going to rain soon.”
“So do I,” I said. Then, turning to Pete, “Do you mind if we duck inside your glorious house for a few hours?”
“Tefenere,” said Pete. “That’s the name of the house.”
“Okay,” I said slowly, “can we enter the grounds of Tefenere?”
Laughing, Pete managed to spit out; “Yes, go on in. The only person who calls the old thing that is my mother, and she’s as daft as you get.”
Blushing, I slapped Pete lightly then walked into the house, my enterage following me.