“Claire, Stand straighter. You are going to be in the presence of a military official in a few moments. You are required to show him utter respect,” Dad told me. He was standing so straight that I couldn’t really believe it.
“I’m standing as straight as I can, Dad,” I replied.
“Father. I am your father in the presence of others. Do well to remember that.”
“Yes, Father. Am I standing straight enough?” I asked.
Dad sighed. “It will have to do. Gregory will be here any moment.”
Dad, all of the butlers, and I stared at the door. Our doorbell would ring at any moment, and then a butler would open the door. In would walk in my uncle Gregory, we would greet him, and then I would go and do whatever I did. I didn’t have any lessons for this week, since Gregory was visiting.
Then, a rumbling set of bells began to ring. Even though electric doorbells existed, Dad insisted on keeping our old bells. You could hear them from out in the fields if you were quiet.
As a butler opened the doors, I heard the rain outside grow in volume for a short second. Then a few men walked in, and the butler shut the door behind them. The sound of the rain almost disappeared entirely.
One of the men was older then the other two, his beard and hair showing the start of grey. The other two were maybe half of his age at best. They both had sandy brown hair that was messily left out in loose waves.
“Richard, it’s good to see you!” The oldest man proclaimed. His voice echoed through the building. He spoke again, but quieter. “Ah, oops. I forgot how hollow your home is. Sorry.”
“No matter,” Dad said. “Welcome back, Gregory. Gregory, this is my daughter, Claire.” Dad moved his hand to exaggerate me.
Gregory stepped toward me, and shoved his hand toward me. “Nice to meet you Claire. How old are you?”
I took his hand. “I’m ten, sir.”
“Sir? No, no, I’m not a sir to you. I’m just your uncle Gregory. You can just call me Greg.” Greg shook my hand, then turned back to the men he had brought with him.
“When was the last time you saw my children, Richard? What were they, ten and six? No matter, This is Spencer, and this is Ray.” Spencer waved when he was introduced, and so did Ray. Ray was a bit shorter than Spencer, so I assumed he was the younger of the two.
“Has Elisa gotten inside yet?” Gregory asked.
“She insisted on taking her bags in herself,” Ray replied.
“Daft girl. I told her that someone else would get them. She doesn’t listen, but that just makes more work for her.” Gregory walked over to the door and opened it. “ELISA! COME INSIDE, IT’S POURING OUT THERE!”
Gregory held the door open until Elisa appeared inside. I gasped. Elisa was a girl! She had blonde hair cut just below her chin. It was drenched in rain. Her eyes were a golden hazel, and she had a few freckles crossing her nose. Her cheeks were thin, and led down to two jaw bones that connected in a single, defined point. She was shorter than Ray by at least a few inches, but her height wasn’t boosted by any sort of heel. She wore a black dress, with the skirt cutting just below her knees. She had a thin jacket on over her dress, which had protected some of her from the rain. Under each arm was crooked a small bag, and she held two more in her hands.
“Everyone, this is-”
“I’m Elisa,” She proclaimed. Her voice also echoed through the building, but not as loudly as Greg’s did at first.
“Yes. She’s Elisa.” Gregory shut the door, and the rain sounds disappeared again.
“I’ll show you to your room, Gregory,” Dad said. “Spencer, you go with Pete. And Ray, you go with Mark.” Dad pointed to Pete and Mark, the two of them led the other two away.
Dad turned to me. “Claire, I will trust you to take Elisa to a fitting room. You know about… girls. So you should be able to find her a room she will be comfortable with.” Dad looked back to Greg. “Let’s go, Greg.”
Dad led Greg up the stairs, and into the second floor. I watched them go.
“Claire was it?”
I jumped and turned around. Elisa was behind me.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you! Really, that was an accident, I wasn’t trying anything on purpose, cross my heart.”
“You’re fine,” I said. “I’m Claire.”
“Lovely name, Claire. Well, where are we off to?” Elisa smiled at me. I felt my knees grow weak. I didn’t know how to respond.
“Um, well, uh, my room is the only real girl-room,” I started to play with the bottom of my shirt. Dad preferred I wear trousers over any dresses or skirts. “But it’s a lot like all of the boy-rooms in the house, too.”
“That’s fine,” Elisa said. “I’m used to boy-rooms. Whenever Pop tells the places that we’re staying that he has three kids, they always assume three boys. Although, I don’t think there’s really much of a difference between boy-rooms and girl-rooms. What’s your room look like?”
I blinked a few times. “Well, um, I can show you my room.”
“That would be lovely!” Elisa’s voice echoed again. She cleared her throat and whispered. “Sorry about that. I’m not used to places being so hollow.”
“That’s what Greg said.” I began walking up the stairs, and Elisa followed me.
“Ah, I suppose that’s proper. Pop can get pretty loud too. He’s used to being on boats and airplanes for when he moves from place to place, and those are much louder than houses. I suppose I am, too, because I’m often riding those boats and airplanes with him.” Elisa looked around at the walls and hallways while I led her away.
“Quite the place you’ve got here,” She said. “There sure are a lot of paintings and the like. Do you have any suits of armor stashed in any of these halls?”
“I don’t think so. I’ve never seen one, anyway. Maybe you could ask my father.”
“I’d rather not. He seems somewhat… Intense? Yeah, intense is the word.”
I didn’t say anything. I really didn’t know what to say. Either way, I stopped walking.
“Hey, how old are you, anyway?”
“I’m ten years old.”
“I’m sixteen. Boy, you’re so mature, I could have sworn you were at least twelve. I could believe that you were older than me, honestly.”
I smiled. “Thank you. We’re here, by the way.”
“Oh, I had noticed we weren’t walking anymore.”
I opened my door, and stepped inside.
“My, your room is a lovely little place, isn’t it?” Elisa asked.
“It’s most certainly my room,” I responded. I had never really thought of my bedroom as anything special. It was just another room, except I kept my things in it.
Elisa stood next to my bed. “You’ve a rather large bed for such a small girl. Do you ever just feel buried in your own blankets?”
“Not really. I kind of lay on top of the blankets more than under them, anyway.”
“So do I, actually. The cots on navy ships can be rather stiff, and the blankets are better used to make it softer.” Elisa threw herself onto my bed, spreading her limbs across the mattress. “My, this is rather comfy, too. Sometimes I can get a little cold, but it’s better than a little stiff in the morning. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Probably. I’ve never been on a boat. I usually just ride to town with father and mind my manners when I’m with an elder.” Elisa was a lot different than what I thought girls were like.
“Well, don’t bother minding your manners with me. We’re friends, and friends needn’t make each other feel uncomfortable.” Elisa sat up and smiled at me. I shuddered at her smile.
“What do you do for fun around here?” She asked.
“Well, I read a lot of books, usually. When the weather is nice I like to go outside and find bugs. I just look at them.”
Elisa looked around the room, and at some of my bookshelves. “My, you do have quite a few books, don’t you? You’re quite the young scholar.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
“Have you ever tried to play hide and seek in this place?” Elisa asked. She was barely trying to hide a smirk from me.
I blinked at her. “None of the butlers have ever asked me to play. I haven’t ever had any friends over, either.”
“Oh, or tag! Tag would be a great game to play around here! So many hallways and places to go… Do you ever wonder if you have any secret passages connecting rooms you wouldn’t think to be connected?” Elisa was no longer hiding her smile.
I- I hadn’t considered that,” I confessed.
“Well, what do you say you and I find some secret passages?” Elisa proposed.
I couldn’t help myself anymore. I smiled at her, and nodded.
Elisa and I were playing hide and seek, and I was hiding. I had found a perfect little closet to hide in, and I was trying my hardest not to laugh at how smart it was.
Then, I heard voices. They were quiet at first, but they grew louder as they entered the room.
“Gregory, you know they can’t be reasoned with.” It was Dad’s voice. “They attacked America unprovoked. They want a racial cleansing just as badly as the Germans do. You’re wasting your time there, and you know it.”
“Well, the Japs that I’ve met haven’t been so cruel. They’re rather fine fellows, and we have lovely conversations. They understand what’s at risk as well as I do, and they are willing to discuss the war-”
“Do you mean that they are willing to discuss our conditions of surrender? They don’t give a damn about peace; they give a damn about taking over the world!”
“No, no, no! Yes, there are power-hungry madmen in Japan, but there are power-hungry madmen here, too! Have you not seen how we are still taking over India? Our “great leader” is currently occupying another country and attempting to steal from them! Churchill is not a saint, and we should be as loathe to trust him as we are the Japanese war leaders! I’m trying to make a difference, damn it!” Uncle Greg was doing his best not to yell, but he was still rather loud.
Footsteps prattled down the hallway. “Claire, I’m coming to find you!” Elisa shouted.
“We’ll finish this discussion another time,” Dad said.
“That’s an agreeable idea,” said Greg. “Let’s see what your servants are cooking up in the kitchen, eh?”
I heard Dad and Greg walk out of the room. “Good evening, Elisa,” said Dad.
“Good evening, Richard. My, you startled me. I didn’t expect to see you suddenly appear from that room, with Pop in tow.”
“Yes, well, I’m giving him the grand tour. We’re heading for the kitchen now. Care to join us?” He asked.
“Oh, I’d love to, but I’m trying to find Claire. We’re playing hide-and-seek. Don’t tell Claire I’m out here.”
“Ah. I see. Well, I’m certain she couldn’t hear your shouting in the hallway either.”
Elisa laughed. “That’s part of the fun.”
“Hmm. Alright, well, let’s be off, Greg.” The footsteps of Greg and Dad continued away, into silence. I heard Elisa step into the room.
“Oh, Claire, where are you? Could you be hiding in here!” Claire opened a cupboard very loudly. I quietly opened the doors to the closet I was in and slid out.
“Oh, there you are, Claire! You know, it’s not as fun if you just come out of hiding. I’m supposed to find you.”
“Dad and Uncle Greg were talking about the war,” I said, ignoring her statement.
“What?” Elisa looked surprised. “What did they say?” She suddenly moved very close to me, and grabbed my hands.
“Dad seemed to want Greg to stop trying to talk to the Japanese. He said they are bad people. Then Greg said that Churchill is a bad person too.”
“Oh my,” Elisa looked at the floor as she said this. “I- I was worried about this.”
“What’s wrong, Elisa?” I asked.
I could see her eyes start to moisten over. “I don’t want to leave again,” she whispered. “I don’t want to leave anymore.”
“Elisa,” I paused. “Elisa…” I pulled Elisa close to me. “Elisa, you can stay with me. I’ll let you stay with me for as long as you want.”
She sobbed into my chest, and I let her.
That night, we all had dinner. We all sat around a table that Dad had. It wasn’t the largest table in the house, but it was large enough for all of us.
Greg was telling a story. “So I said to the man, in perfect Japanese, ‘If you won’t have him, you won’t have me either!’ And then my friend said, in flawless English, ‘I believe you are mistaken. He is more Japanese than I.’” Greg erupted into laughter, and nearly everyone else followed suit. I didn’t get it.
“Why was the man being Japanese a problem?” I asked. Dad swiftly sighed.
“Well, erm,” Greg began, “It’s because we are at war with them. That makes some of the folks around here nervous. They didn’t really know that he was born and raised here the same as you or I.”
“The word is racism,” Dad said. “The shopkeep was just racist. I’ve told you what racism is before, correct?”
“Oh, of course, Father. That makes sense now.” I smiled at Greg and Dad. Dad gave a concerned look over to Greg. Greg didn’t see it.
“So how come all of your staff are men?” Spencer asked.
“Men are what were available,” Dad responded. “There weren’t many women willing to travel out this way. It is rather secluded. Many of them have children to care for. The men here are mostly bachelors.”
“I suppose that makes sense. I’ve just never seen a home with butlers but no maids.” Spencer shrugged.
“Yes, well, the butlers do their jobs well enough. I haven’t a need for a maid at the moment. Besides, Elisa grew up surrounded by Navy men. She’s just fine.” Richard took a bite of his food.
“Oh, sir, he didn’t mean to-” Ray started.
“That’s rather true, Richard. Elisa is a perfectly healthy girl, right?” Greg asked.
Elisa nodded. “Of course. I’m as healthy as you could expect. Not an ounce of scurvy in my gums, see?” Elisa peeled her bottom lip down, showing off her red gums.
“That’s not quite what I meant,” Greg said. Elisa laughed.
“Normal is just what boring people tell you to be, so that they feel okay being boring. I don’t need to be boring, because I don’t want to be boring.” Elisa twisted her fork in her hand. Her plate was already empty.
“That’s one way to look at it,” Ray said. “Most people just call her ‘eccentric.’” He laughed, and Elisa did too. I laughed with them.
“Oh, bugger off. You would hate to have a boring sister and you know it,” Elisa informed him. Everyone laughed along with her.
“It’s never a bad thing for a girl to speak her mind,” Dad said.
I took that as an opportunity. “Well, I’m finished eating,” I said. “May I be excused?” Much like Elisa, I hadn’t said much during dinner, so I had finished eating faster than everyone.
“You’re excused,” Dad told me.
“Thank you, father.”
“I’ll head off, too,” Elisa said. “Keep the young one out of trouble.”
Dad laughed. “Good luck finding her in trouble to begin with.”
I walked out of the dining room, and Elisa followed me.
“It was starting to feel a bit stiff in there, don’t you think?” Elisa asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked in return.
“Well, there was a lot of skirting around the war. You forced them to face a certain reality. I think that the whole dinner was just a tad rough, eh?” Elisa nudged me as she said that.
“I suppose so. I never really thought about it.” I kept walking down the hall, toward my room.
“You know, this place is rather spooky at night,” Elisa mentioned.
“You use some odd words, Elisa. What is spooky and comfy?”
“Oh! Right, those aren’t very common words. Well, Spooky is just a word for frightening, and comfy is an easier way to say comfortable,” she replied. I went into my room and hopped onto my bed.
“Why not just say frightening or comfortable, then?” I asked. Elisa hopped onto the bed next to me.
“Well, I just like spooky and comfy more. They’re just fun words.” Elisa laid back on the bed, staring at the ceiling. I laid back and stared with her.
“Where do you learn fun words?” I asked.
“Not in dusty old books. Not to say they’re bad, just that they’re old. Rather, you learn these words from other people. They slowly become more popular with time, and so more people will want to use them. I think it’s interesting that I can simply help in making a word popular.” I glanced at Elisa. Her eyes were bright.
“Have you ever tried making up a word?” I asked. Elisa turned her head to look at me.
“Not really. I think making up new words is actually rather difficult.” Elisa smirked at me. “Do you want to try and make up a new word?”
“No. I like the words I already know,” I replied.
“Yeah, there are a lot of good words. That’s probably why I never made up any words. It’s hard, anyway. Trying to make up a new word take so much work.” Elisa looked back at the ceiling.
I used my hand to draw shapes in the air. “Sometimes I like to pretend that I’m painting beautiful scenes in the sky. I asked Dad for a painting set one time. He told me he would see what he could do.”
“Well, how long ago did you ask?”
“I don’t remember. A long time ago.”
Elisa pat my belly. I think she was trying to comfort me. “That’s alright. You’re young. You’ll always have time to paint when you’re older. Who knows, maybe tomorrow he’ll buy that paint set you want. There’s always time.”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
“I want to go to bed, I think,” Elisa informed me.
“I think that’s a good idea.” I shot up. “I never showed you to your room!”
“Oh, that’s fine,” Elisa said, “I can just share a bed with you. There’s clearly plenty of space.”
I put my hand on my chin, and thought about it. I liked Elisa a lot, and I didn’t think any harm could come from it.
“Okay, then. Just turn out the light.”
I woke up, and rolled over. Elisa wasn’t in the bed.
I leapt up and turned on the light in my room. Elisa was gone. I stepped out into the hallway to look for her.
My home was especially quiet tonight. I felt like at any moment, one of my footsteps could create a huge echo.
I creeped down the hallway, careful to avoid waking anyone up or make any noise. I peeked into various rooms, seeing if Elisa was inside. I consistently couldn’t find her. Then, I cracked a door open, and I was facing a pair of legs.
“Dad-” I started.
“Oh, Claire. It’s good to see you. Please, come inside.” Dad opened the door, and motioned for me to enter. I did. He was still wearing his day-clothes.
“Claire, you’ve been getting along well with Elisa, haven’t you?” He sat down in an armchair, and took a drink from a glass. I think it was just water, but it might have been a clear alcohol.
“Elisa is my friend,” I politely informed him. I hopped into my own armchair, and looked around for a glass of water for me to drink. I tried hard not to smile as I took the glass on the table next to me, and sniffed it to make sure it was water.
“That’s very good. It’s always good to have friends,” Dad responded. He looked over at the lit fireplace. “I haven’t given you many chances to make friends.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, dad.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. I was just thinking out loud.”
“I never told you much about your mother, Claire.”
I shook my head, and took a drink from my cup.
“Well, your mother chose your name. It was something that she had heard and liked a lot. She died when you were only two.” Dad nodded, and took a drink from his own cup. He continued. “We knew that it was getting worse for her for a while, but she told me she wanted a child before she passed. I told her we would try. I would do anything for her. She told me: ‘If it’s a boy, name him Thomas. If it’s a girl, name her Claire. So I did. So we did.”
I already knew my mother had died when I was two years old. Jeff had told me. She died of cancer, specifically. Her heart had failed her.
Dad was looking rather sad. I wanted to hug him.
“I think having you made her healthier, for a while. She was in terrible shape before she was pregnant with you, but she marginally improved before you were born, and after. I was terrified that the stresses of pregnancy would be too much for her. I was so glad to be wrong.”
Dad sighed, and finished the rest of his glass. “You are all I have left of your mother. I wasn’t sure what to do with you, for so long. I didn’t want to love another woman after she died, and I was even a bit scared to love you. I did my best, because all children deserve at least one caring parent, but I still worried it wouldn’t be enough.”
He let the silence hang in the air.
“Do you know why I’m telling you this?” He finally asked.
I nodded to him. I understood.
Dad laughed. “I don’t believe you, you silly girl. Come give me a hug.”
I hugged him, and he held my tightly for a while. “Whatever may happen, Claire, I love you. I know I’m just some old man, but I truly do.” He let go, and stood up.
“You should head back to bed, now. I have to talk to Gregory.”
“Goodnight, Dad,” I whispered to him. I waved as I left the room, and returned to the hall.
I walked back to my room, still silent despite not trying. I had forgotten to look for Elisa when I returned to my room.
At another point in the night, I woke up again. Elisa was next to me again, breathing softly. I was shocked for a moment, remembering that I hadn’t looked for her, but I was glad that I found her anyway.
I closed my eyes again when I heard people speaking from outside.
“You think Richard really wants us to leave so suddenly?” One voice asked. It was either Ray or Spencer.
“He’s very angry with Pop. He shouted at him for being ‘so dense’, he said.” That was the other brother. I really didn’t know who was who.
“Still, I can’t believe he would just turn his brother away like that. I wouldn’t ever turn you away from my home.”
“Yeah, but we’ve lived in the same places for years,” The brothers laughed, and their voices faded down the hallway.
I looked over to Elisa. Her breaths hadn’t changed.
“I don’t want you to go,” I whispered. I scooted closer to her, and laid my head on her shoulder.
Sunlight leaked into my room from between my curtains. Well, only a little bit, as it was still the rainy season.
Elisa was still sleeping soundly. I got out of bed, got dressed, and entered the hallway.
I could tell that it was still early in the morning because the house was quiet and there weren’t many servants out and about.
Upon walking into the grand entryway, I saw Ray and Spencer tossing a ball back and forth between the two of them.
“So how much longer do you think we’ll be allowed to stay here?” Ray asked Spencer.
“Probably a day or two, honestly. Rich has been rather disagreeable about Pop’s employment. It’s a shame, but we’ll probably have to stay in a hotel for the rest of the week.” Spencer threw the ball back to Ray.
Ray caught the ball, and swiftly tossed it again. “Richard is an odd fellow. So anti-war, but also incredibly anti-japan.”
I began walking down the stairs. Spencer saw me first. “Ah. Claire. Good morning to you,” He said. He tossed the ball again.
“Good morning, Spencer. Good morning, Ray,” I replied.
“Good morning, Claire,” Ray replied. “Sleep well?”
“Well enough,” I said. “What about you?”
“We stayed up rather late last night. I’m a bit tired, but military discipline wouldn’t let me sleep through any part of the morning,” he said.
“Nor I,” said Spencer.
“Well, that’s a shame. Have either of you had breakfast yet?” I asked.
“Not yet,” Ray informed me. “Nothing had been prepared yet.”
“Maybe something is now. I’m heading to the kitchen,” I said.
“Tell us if you find anything,” Spencer said, before they returned to passing the ball.
Walking in the kitchen, I found some toast set up on a plate, but nothing else was ready. I could tell various things were being cooked, however.
“Sorry we don’t have much prepared right now, miss Claire,” Jerry, one of the butlers, said, “We didn’t expect anyone to be up so early after how late most everyone seemed to have stayed up last night.”
“It’s no problem, Jerry. It doesn’t help that it’s a Sunday and most of the staff is at church.”
“Ah, right. I was wondering why we were so understaffed today. Anyway, feel free to help yourself to what is prepared. I’ll find you a jar of marmalade as well.”
“Thank you,” I responded. I picked up the plate of toast, and took the jar of marmalade from Jerry. “I’m going to go share this with Spencer and Ray while you’re still cooking.”
“Fine by me. Good morning Claire.”
“Good morning, Jerry.”
Upon returning to the entrance, Spencer and Ray had sat down on the stairs next to each other.
“Breakfast isn’t ready, but I brought some toast and marmalade,” I said to them.
“Lovely!” Ray proclaimed. An echo rang through the house. “Right. Sorry.”
We sat down in a circle and shared the toast.
“So Claire,” Ray began, “What do you do for fun around here? Seems rather lonely. Do you ever have friends over or anything?”
“No,” I said. “Most of the time I just read books, go to lessons, and play outside.”
“My, you’re a trooper,” He said. “I would have just gotten bored and lost my mind at this point.”
“You already have,” Spencer said. They laughed.
“What do you boys usually do for fun?” I asked.
“Well, you saw us passing a ball earlier. When we’re here in Britain we play sports with anyone we can find. On the ships, though, we usually just play card games and talk with the other troops. The Japanese play mahjong more than our western card games, so we’ve learned how to play that, too.”
Around this time, Elisa appeared and joined us in eating toast.
“Good morning Elisa,” I greeted her.
“Good morning Claire. Brothers.”
The two boys returned her greeting as she joined our circle.
“This is a rather informal breakfast, isn’t it?” She asked us.
“Um… Yeah,” Spencer said.
“That’s tends to happen when a child brings a plate of toast and marmalade into a foyer,” Ray added.
“Is there not a breakfast ready elsewhere?” Elisa asked.
“Probably, but I was kind of enjoying this quiet sit down in the foyer,” Ray said.
“No harm in sitting a while longer. Maybe the rain will even subside for a few hours,” Spencer said.
“I doubt it,” I said. “The rain hardly ever goes away until summer time.”
“So you’re saying there’s a chance?” Spencer asked.
“When hell freezes over, you dote,” Ray replied, laughing.
“Still sounds like a chance to me,” Spencer said.
Once the plate of toast was empty, we all sat in silence for a few moments. “So do we get more toast or do we actually get breakfast from the dining room?” Ray asked.
“Come now, no need to be total slobs. We’ll go to the dining room. I’m certain more is ready by now.” Elisa stood up, and walked up the stairs and into a hallway. The rest of us watched her. A moment later, she peeked her head around the corner. “I don’t know where I’m going,” She called down.
I laughed, stood up, and called her back. “The dining room isn’t up there.”
I guided the three of them to the dining room. Once there, we found that the table had been completely set and was ready for us to eat. Jerry stepped in with a platter of glasses and a pitcher of orange juice.
He turned as we all walked in. “Ah, so you all decided to finally stop eating in the foyer.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “We didn’t want your hard work this morning to go to waste!” I chirped.
“Well, I appreciate that. You should teach your father those manners.” Jerry laughed. So did everyone else. I still wasn’t totally sure what was funny, but I laughed anyway.
“Speaking of which, has anyone seen Richard? Or Pop, for that matter,” Ray asked.
“I haven’t,” said Jerry.
“I haven’t, either,” said Elisa.
“I haven’t,” I said.
“I suppose we’ll just start without them,” Ray said.
With that, we sat and had breakfast, just us children. It was fun and ‘boisterous,’ a word I’m certain Elisa would have used.
Later in the day, Elisa and I were sitting in my room and reading books. I showed Elisa one of my favorites, and she picked out a book for me at random.
“So why exactly was Dorothy taken away by a tornado?” Elisa asked me. I put a bookmark in my book.
“So that she could be taken to the land of Oz.”
“But where is the land of Oz?” she asked.
“Well, it isn’t really in our world. Oz is a magical place.”
“So why is Dorothy there, but not anyone else?”
“Dorothy was the only one out when the tornado picked her up.”
“Oh. I guess that part makes sense. American books are weird.”
“You haven’t even read it all!” I proclaimed.
Elisa giggled. “Still weird.”
I laughed with her. “All books are weird then.”
Elisa laughed louder, and so did I, before we were suddenly silenced by the calamitous crash of a slammed door.
For a moment, it was deadly quiet.. Elisa stared intently at my door. Quickly, the patter of rain was unbearably loud on my window. The dim lighting of the room felt more apparent and oppressive than before. Elisa eyes were shaking, if I could believe my own eyes. The freckles on her face appeared to shrink. I could hear the sounds of her breaths through the rain, and then I could suddenly hear mine just as clearly.
I couldn’t bear it. “Elisa, what do you think it is?”
Elisa shook her head. “It was- it was probably nothing. Don’t worry.”
I was worried, though. Elisa was so scared for a few moments. There was something she knew that I didn’t, and I couldn’t stand it.
“I’m going to go investigate,” I told her.
“You really shouldn’t. It was probably just an accident.”
Ignoring Elisa, I hopped off of my bed and toward my door. “I’ll be back, Elisa.”
“Wait!” She called after me, but I had already gone into the hallway. Unfortunately, the hallway was still too quiet. Or maybe it was always this quiet, but right then it was a specific kind of quiet.
I didn’t know where the door slam came from, so I started to just walk down the hallway and figure it out later.
After I had gotten to the opposite side of the house, I heard Greg shouting in a room. “It doesn’t matter, damn it! This is my job, not yours! I asked for hospitality for a week, one week! And this is how you act! I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“You are actively communicating with our enemies!” Dad shouted back. The shouts were loud enough to hear through the wall, but not quite loud enough to echo through the house.
“I’m not communicating with enemies! I’m communicating with politicians who want this war ended just as badly as I do!”
“They’re lying! You might as well be talking to Hitler and taking bribes from the bastard!”
“They are not Hitler! Good god, man, listen to yourself! Are you going to just say that anyone who is living in a opposing country is under Hitler’s thumb? There are still people in Germany right now who disagree with the Nazi party!”
“The poor in Germany are not the same rich elitists you know in Japan!”
“You’re a rich elitist here in Britain! What, just because you don’t live in Japan or Germany you’re suddenly the most correct? Have you ever heard of ambiguity?”
“Ambiguity has nothing to do with your communications with the enemy!”
“What, so does that make Britain the enemy now? They are the ones ordering me to communicate with Japan!”
Dad didn’t respond right away. I then heard Greg say something much quieter. Dad also said something quietly. Then, I barely heard Greg say one word: “Fine.”
I heard Greg start walking toward the door, and I quickly dived to the wall. Greg broke through the door, and began tearing down the hall. I watched as he swiftly moved away. Then, he turned a corner and was gone from my sight. I took a peek into the room he was in, and saw Dad sitting in a chair with his head in his hands. I didn’t understand their argument.
I knew I couldn’t risk being seen by Dad, so I walked around the house the other way. I passed through the halls, through the entrance room, and through some more halls before returning to my room.
Once inside, I noticed Elisa wasn’t there. I threw the covers off of my bed, to see if she was hiding there, but I found nothing. I turned around, and saw that Elisa’s bags were still in my room. I sighed in relief.
I hopped onto my bed, and looked at where Elisa left off in her book. However, when I opened the book, the bookmark fell out of the cover, onto my bed. I let out a huff, and put the bookmark back.
I sat in my room for another few minutes, waiting for Elisa to return. She didn’t.
“Maybe she went for lunch,” I told myself. Convinced, I went into the hallway and walked to the dining room again. Spencer and Ray were eating, but Elisa wasn’t there.
“Have either of you seen Elisa?” I asked them. They both turned to me and shook their heads.
“She came by earlier looking for you,” Spencer said.
“Where did she go?”
“Somewhere, I’m certain. Here, she’ll likely come back. Just have lunch with us.” Spencer motioned to the food on the table, and I felt obligated to sit.
“Don’t stress about us too much, Claire. We aren’t here for too long, you know,” Ray said. Spencer nodded. “Rather, just enjoy spending time with us while we’re here, instead of getting sad about us having to leave eventually. We tend to move around a lot, so that’s how we stay happy.”
“And you haven’t thought to question it?”
Elisa. I turned around to see her. She was staring intently into the dining room. “Have the two of you always just been so accepting of having to leave everything behind for months at a time, just to return home long enough to get attached again, only to have to abandon it again? Are you two telling me that you don’t think twice about what it means to live like this? You’re both doomed to live like Pop does, because that’s all that you’ve known. We don’t have a home. We have nowhere to stay. You just sit and let it happen?”
Ray rubbed his temples. Spencer spoke, “Elisa, it isn’t that bad. This is some people’s dream-”
“Well it isn’t mine!” Elisa shouted. The echo of her voice rippled through the home. That silence from a short while before had suddenly returned.
Elisa was panting. Her fists were clenched, and she was shaking. Her eyes looked moist. I slid out of my chair, and walked toward her. I took only two steps before Spencer spoke again.
“Elisa, this is how things are. You’ve known it for at least fourteen years. It’s not that bad.”
Elisa shook her head. “Of course you don’t understand.”
I gasped. Suddenly, Greg was behind her. Elisa turned to leave, and almost bumped into him.
“Elisa. Is this really what you think?”
Elisa’s palms were open and trembling at her sides. Then, she curled her fingers back into her palm. “Yes, Pop. That is exactly what I think. I have been dragged into a life of never knowing comfort, and this isn’t my choice. I hate it.”
Greg sighed. “You know, I’ve worked hard to keep you fed since your mother died. It’s incredibly unfair of you to accuse me of such things. Get out of my sight.” Greg walked into the dining room, and took the seat that I previously had been sitting in. I took a couple of plates off of the table, and followed Elisa out of the dining room
Outside, I found Jerry again. “Afternoon, Claire.”
“Afternoon, Jerry,” I briskly said, looking past him and keeping my eyes on Elisa.
“Let me help you with those,” He said. I handed him the plates. “Where to?”
“We’re following Elisa.” I started moving to follow her.
“Very well,” Jerry said, and he followed me too.
“Today has been a rather restless day, Claire. I hope you’re doing fine,” Jerry said as we walked.
“So do I,” I replied.
Jerry chuckled. “Witty. You seem to really like Elisa.”
“Yes,” I said.
“What do you intend to do when she leaves at the end of the week?” I don’t think Jerry was trying to be rude, but I didn’t appreciate how he was asking his questions.
“I don’t know, okay? I’ll figure it out when the time comes, okay?”
“Hmm. You are passionate, Claire. I’m glad to see it. Perhaps…”
“Perhaps what?” I demanded, my eyes still trained on Elisa.
“I was just thinking out loud. Ignore me.”
I openly took his invitation, and stopped listening as we moved down the hall. Eventually, Elisa entered my room. I followed her in, with Jerry in tow.
“Elisa,” I said. I didn’t say anything else. I was shocked to see her simply standing in place, still shaking in rage. Jerry set the plates down on the floor by the door, and then left.
“Elisa,” I said again.
Elisa placed her hands over her face, shook her head, then moved her hands to the side of her face. I shut the door behind me. “Elisa.”
“Claire. I don’t know what the fuck to do.”
I stood still. “Neither do I.”
Elisa stepped backward, until her back hit the wall. She slid down the wall until she was sitting, then started sobbing.
“Elisa- I-” I stepped towards her. I sighed, and sat next to her. I put my arm around her, and drew her closer to me. She accepted, and cried into my shoulder. I wrapped my other arm around her.
“Elisa. I won’t let them take you away.” I felt my own eyes getting moist. “Elisa. I love you.” I shook my head, but I still started crying. Arm in arm, Elisa and I shared our tears.
“What the fuck do we do?” She asked between ragged breaths. I shook my head against hers. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any answers. I was only ten.
“Claire,” Elisa sniffed, “I’m going to miss you.”
“Don’t say that,” I replied, my face still buried in her hair. “Don’t say that.”
I woke up a few hours later, with no one near me. The moment I found Elisa gone again I panicked. I leapt up from where I was. Of the two plates, one was missing. I burst through my door, and ran down the halls. I can’t lose Elisa. I can’t lose Elisa.
My footsteps echoed until I had suddenly entered the grand entrance. Standing at the top of the stairs, I saw Dad standing alone.
“Dad!” I shouted. “Where is everyone?”
Without turning to look at me, he answered. “I sent them away. Greg and I just couldn’t see eye to eye. It’s a shame. I haven’t seen him in years.”
I felt tears well up in my eyes. I rubbed them, hoping to not cry. “What about everyone else?”
Dad sighed. “I couldn’t really send Greg away without his children. They went with him.”
I shook my head, and rubbed my eyes more. Yet, I couldn’t really stop myself from crying. I ran back into the hallway.
“Claire, wait!” Dad called to me. I didn’t respond.
I kept running to my room, as fast as I could. I charged through the door, and leapt onto my bed. I curled the blankets near my body, and cried into them. At some point, I looked up and saw Elisa’s bags still sitting in my room.
“She- She left everything…”
I sobbed. I had only known her for a couple of days, but I felt like I had moved on as a person so well.
Then, the voice of a girl broke the sounds of my cries. “Well now. What are you crying for?” I looked up.
I soared off the bed and into her arms. She spun me in a circle.
“I thought you left with your pop and brothers?” I sniffled, and wiped my eyes on my arm.
“Well, I was supposed to. But your dad offered me a position here, as something of a nanny for you. He’s making a contract for me, and he’ll have it ready at some point.”
I pressed my face into her shoulder. “Elisa…”
“I think good things are going to happen, Claire. I really do.”