A Mail-Order Dream

By: Janelle Daniels



She gripped the knob and opened the door. “Hello?” she called out quietly, just in case they truly were sleeping.

When no one replied, she took a step into the room. Her foot caught on something, and she screamed, flailing her arms as she tried to regain her balance. With nothing to grab onto, she fell forward, landing hard on one elbow.

Tears smarted her eyes and she lay there for a moment, while snickers sounded softly across the room. Sniffing loudly, she eased herself to a sitting position, and began taking stock of her body for any other injuries. Luckily, her elbow had taken the brunt of her fall.

The pain eased, but she continued to sit there, her arms wrapped around her knees. When the children began whispering, her lips curved, though she kept her face hidden from their view.

Tripping her hadn’t been a good choice, and from the thin wire she spied, secured on both sides of the door, she now knew it was intentional. But she sure wasn’t going to start off their relationship by yelling at them. For whatever reason, they’d felt the need to play a trick on her, and she wasn’t going to respond in the way they’d most likely be anticipating.

A few minutes went by, and there was more whispering. It wouldn’t be long now. And then, just as she expected, she heard the soft patter of footsteps as the children moved from their hiding spot to see what she was doing, and why she hadn’t said a word.

She held herself as still as she could as they approached. Their steps paused, and she guessed they were trying to decide what to do.

“Hey.” The boy prodded her shoulder with a finger. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Are you alive?” the girl asked.

The boy snorted in that superior way only a seven-year-old could. “Of course she’s alive. She isn’t laying on the floor with her mouth open, is she?”

The girl’s voice lowered, “Your mouth hangs open when you die?”

Aria couldn’t take it. A chuckle escaped her and both the children froze. When she peeked up at the two wide-eyed faces, she laughed again. “I got you!”

The boy harrumphed. “You did not. We knew you were alive.”

“Because I wasn’t laying on the floor with my mouth open?”

The girl nodded seriously. “That’s how you know.”

Aria stifled another bout of laughter, and instead, nodded in agreement. “I’ll have to remember that. I’m Miss McKinnon, but you can call me Aria if you’d like.”

The girl smiled sweetly “Aria—”

“Father wouldn’t want us to be so informal.”

“Is that so?” She studied the boy’s serious brown eyes, thinking how very much he looked like his father. “Are you always so formal and polite?”

“Yes. It is expected.”

“Oh. Well, I certainly don’t expect that.” She sighed dramatically as she sat and dusted off her skirt. “I can’t seem to remain formal. It’s a failing of mine.”

The girl’s mouth formed an O. “Really?”

“Really, really.”

“Me neither!” She placed her hands on Aria’s knees as she leaned in. “Father says I need to learn ‘decorum.’ ” Her clear blue eyes narrowed on the word. “What does ‘decorum’ mean?”

“It means to have dignified behavior.”

“What’s ‘dignified’ mean?”

“Well…” She looked around the room, as if it would give her the right words. “I guess it means that you should be polite and be on your best behavior.”

The girl leaned closer. “Do you have decorum, Aria?”

“Miss McKinnon, Phoebe!” the boy corrected.

Aria didn’t give the boy her attention, instead, she remained focused on the little girl. “Is your name Phoebe? What a lovely name. It reminds me of a beautiful princess from olden times. You would’ve had your own castle and a pet dragon the color of the darkest rubies. You would’ve climbed on his back when the stars sparkled like diamonds at night and rode through the skies until morning.”

The boy puffed out air. “Dragons aren’t real.”

Aria finally turned her attention back to him and met his cynical look, which shouldn’t belong on any child. “Are you certain?”

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