Several days passed before Sarah knew it. She stood in front of her father's house nervously, straightening her jacket. It was a large mansion, fenced off with tall brick walls surrounding the vast yard within. The taxi driver closed the door he held open for her, then walked back to the front seat and took off. Sarah watched the yellow vehicle disappear around the bend before facing the enormous house. Sighing, she approached the gate and pushed it open.
The house, the yard, and the driveway brought back vague memories. It was so long since she’d been here it almost felt awkward and strange to return. Although she grew up here, her memories were distorted and sparse. Why did she forget so much about her childhood?
Reaching the door quickly, she hesitated before knocking. How should she greet her father? What if it was her stepmother instead? Sarah held her hand floating before the door when it suddenly opened. Inside stood her brother.
"Welcome. Dad is going to be a little bit. Let me show you around."
He was quick and abrupt in his speech, turning to walk back down the hall with no notice. Sarah walked in quickly as he left her behind, holding a quick debate about whether to take her shoes off and close the door first. With quick flicks, she knocked her shoes off and pushed them to the side, and quickly swung the door closed. Before she could open her mouth to speak, he had already begun the tour of the home.
"This is the living room to the left, down the right hall is the kitchen, and up the stairs to the left is the bedrooms. The library and study are also up the stairs to the right. We also have the lounge and day room past the dining room. There are snacks in the kitchen if you want, the cook is preparing dinner, and mom is in the garden enjoying tea. I am sure you would like to be entertained by her so you may do as you wish. The exit to the garden is also down the hall beside the lounge."
The primly dressed boy didn't pause a beat, taking to the stairs to disappear around the bend. His footsteps muffled quickly into nothingness, leaving Sarah alone in the hallway. Letting out a disgruntled huff, she crossed her arms. Why was he in such a rush to leave her? There was her chance to say something to him. Instead, she was left alone in the dust. A little cross with herself and at him, she whispered to herself.
"Good to see you too, Tyler."
Sarah turned from the stairs, looking down the hallway towards the rest of the house. The hall had a hardwood floor and rolled-out floor mat that stretched from one end to the other. The color faded after years of constant traffic and began to fray at the edges. If she understood Tyler’s tour, the garden was down the hall. The vague memory of the yard came to mind when she used to run around and play freely.
Although she wished to see the garden again, the idea of facing her stepmother alone didn’t sound appealing. Sarah was still gaining confidence to walk freely in a house she’d long been removed from. Instead, Sarah made her way up the stairs. The idea of reading in the library was more intriguing than introducing herself to a stranger she’d never met.
The same worn carpet trailed up the stairs and into the upstairs hallway. Even though the stairs parted left and right, they both connected to the same hallway. In the middle of the staircase hung a giant chandler with small crystal-like shards spiraling into a peak in the middle.
There was a small balcony that overlooked the stairs so anyone could see who was coming up or going down. Sarah ran her hand along the balcony to appreciate the view. Turning down the hall towards the library, she noticed a few doors on each side. All of them were closed with no signs.
Sarah bit her lip, walking down quietly and inspecting each of the pictures on the wall. Some were old frail photos of past generations, others expensive art of landscapes or buildings. Approaching the first door, Sarah pulled against the handles. It rustled with a loud clunk, indicating it was locked.
She moved along to the next door on the other side of the hall to meet the same fate. A few more doors further down, Sarah picked up the pace to find the library. Before she could reach the next door, a picture on the wall caught her eye. It was a picture of a family posing outdoors in front of the mansion she was standing in.
Sarah gasped, recognizing it. With small steps, she approached it. The image of 3 people came into view. She spotted her mother and father smiling. In the middle of them was a small girl with long black silk hair wearing a frown. Sarah reached out towards the picture, touching it gently to trace the outline of her past self.
The image brought forth several feelings. Some painful, some happy. It was hard to tell exactly how she felt about seeing the image. How after so many years could she not remember this picture or memory? The image flickered with an instant electric buzz around everything but her. Grinding her teeth, she decided to let it go, turning quickly towards the closest door to her. One day she would need to deal with these feelings, but today was not one of them. All she wanted was to make it through the day successfully. Then, after she went home she would sort it out.
Grabbing the handles of the next door, she pulled at them forcefully. It didn't take much effort as she began to swing it open before her.
Sarah stepped back a bit as the door opened up to the library. The onslaught of old books and leather hit her senses, making her smile. All memories of the photo forget she stepped into the room. Shelves lined the large room with layers of books along each wall, with a few extras further into the back. Up on the far back wall was a large stained window that opened the room with bright natural light, giving a welcoming glow.
Unlike the school's library with several dim lights, this room had long hanging chandlers much like the one hanging over the staircase. Despite the room looking disused for many years, not a trace of dust feathered the tables, chairs, or shelves. Look’s like father kept excellent care of the books, Sarah thought with a smirk. Quickly, she walked up to the closest wall and ran her fingers across the binds, looking at each name as she did.
Sarah closed her eyes with a warm smile and traced several books before stopping at one. Pulling it out, she anxiously looked at the front book of an unknown author. Flipping through the pages at glance, she noted it was written in old English. It was fascinating. Hugging the book close, she looked around the room once more. The vague feeling of being here before in her past passed in a faint wave of nostalgia.
The middle of the room held a small coffee table and a leather couch. Sarah walked towards the chair and flopped down into it with sudden disappointment. The moment her bottom hit the stiff and cold leather, she knew it was still very new and hardly used. Sarah grunted from the hard impact, then quickly stood up she examined the chair.
There was barely a wrinkle in the leather, confirming her suspicion. Did her father read in the library at all? Sighing, she sat back down in the chair, disgruntled. It was nothing like the school's worn couches, but it would have to do. Nestling down into the chair as best as she could, Sarah tucked her feet beside her on the cushion. Ready and comfortable, she opened her book and began to read.
The library’s temperature was cozy and warm, whispering a sweet lullaby of tranquility. No wonder she spent all her time in the library at school, it was possible she subconsciously remembered this room within the house. Where all the books came from was no concern to her, as long as they were there to read. With a small yawn, Sarah leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
Several hours must have passed by when a knock at the door startled Sarah awake. Looking about the room, she felt lost and disoriented. When did she fall asleep? Rubbing her sleep-filled eyes, she looked down at the table to see a cold cup of tea next to it. Sarah was so enthralled with the book, she didn't even notice anyone come in. Or was it when she fell asleep? She stretched out with a slight groan before closing the book that was still open on her lap. With a glance at her watch, she knew it would be well time for dinner.
Sarah stood up, straightening her skirt while returning the book onto the shelf. A voice stopped her moments before she could slip it back into place.
"I figured I would find you in here."
Sarah froze. The sound of the deep rolling voice was one she had not heard in person for many years. It was the same tone she remembered as a child, and even over the phone when he called her. Continuing to slide the book into place, Sarah held her hand flat against the shelf for a moment. She was nervous about facing him, even after all this time. Timidly turning her head, she finally met eyes with her father. He stood in the doorway, a grand smile looking tenderly back at her. He offered a small chuckle at her unease.
"Hello, Sarah. It's been a long time. I'm honestly not surprised you would stow away here instead of meeting your new mother."
"Stepmother. She is no mother to me."
Sarah didn't mean to come off so bitter. She was sure the woman was a lovely and kind person, yet she was nothing but a stranger. With a quick brush of her skirt and jacket, Sarah straightened out her uniform to present herself before her father.
Dropping her hands to her side, she stared awkwardly at him. Why was she suddenly so nervous to speak to him? Should she politely thank him for the dinner invitation? Was that too formal? With a few quick steps, her father closed the gap between them to embrace her close. He hugged her tighter than she ever felt before. It took a few moments to realize he wasn't going to let go when she slid her hands up around to hug him in return. If there was anyone she would hug, it would only be him. It was a feeling she missed and felt safe in. Resting her head on his chest, she closed her eyes.
"Hello, dad. I missed you."
Not letting her go, he spoke softly. "I missed you too. You look so grown up and just like your mother, the real one, I mean."
Sarah chuckled, sure he was just telling her to make her feel better. Stepping away from the hug, he sighed heavily with a smile. "Well, my lovely bookworm, shall we head to the dining room?"
With a nod, the two of them made their way down the hall.