Authors: Kelly McClymer
As we stood at the window, we heard voices in the hallway. A quiet murmur, perhaps of a spa patron. Then the voice of Lady Buena Verde, clear in her command. “Now I’ll drop you off at the sauna for a wonderful refresher after that grueling tarot session.” The patrons and Lady BV passed the entry to the conservatory without looking toward us just as Lady Buena Verde declared, “Chrysalis Cliff is committed to helping you improve your mind, spirit, and body. Our staff is top quality. Ask for anything you need. Enjoy yourselves, ladies.”
I tensed, but the voices faded and the danger passed in a second. I looked at the girls. They were holding hands and biting their lips. I raised an eyebrow, as if the close call hadn’t rattled me as much as it had them. “Next time we should wear camouflage and paint those cool black smears under our eyes.”
“Good idea.” Triste didn’t smile. Did she know I was joking?
Rienne cleared that up. “I think we’d stand out more in camouflage, don’t you?” Neither of them knew I was joking.
Oh well. If you have to explain a joke, it doesn’t work. I moved forward with our plan. “All clear. We’re going to be quiet, quick, and thorough, right? We get our photos and we get out.”
They whispered, “Yes, Pippa. Quick and quiet.”
We found quite a few butterflies in the garden, fluttering and flitting like butterflies do. White ones, blue ones, brown ones, huge yellow-and-black ones. It felt a little like a fairyland, to be honest. I’d never seen so many butterflies in my life. Not real ones, anyway. Mom had indulged my preaccident butterfly mania with necklaces, rings, barrettes, and printed sweatshirts. I knew if she’d heard of butterfly gardens, she’d have taken me to one. I wished I could show her this one.
I let the twins wander and argue in fierce whispers about which butterfly was the rarest, while I looked for a black butterfly. I didn’t really have a lot of hope of finding one. But it couldn’t hurt to look. After all, I was in a butterfly garden.
Triste very quickly found the butterfly she wanted to photograph. “This one,” she said as, camera in hand, she softly crept up on the unsuspecting butterfly. It was not the prettiest of the bunch, but she liked it.
Just as she snapped the first picture, Geoff came around the corner carrying pruning shears. He had on a clean T-shirt imprinted with the Chrysalis Cliff logo and a neat pair of jeans. Much better on the eyes than the chauffeur’s uniform from yesterday.
He said sternly, “What are you three doing here?”
Even though he smiled and clearly was not serious, the twins backed up and put their hands behind their backs. You’d think he’d found them pulling wings off butterflies rather than innocently photographing them.
I motioned to Triste, who had gotten as still as a baby rabbit sensing a nearby fox, to keep snapping while I defended them. “The girls need some pictures of butterflies for their online camp. We’re just going to take a few pictures and then we’ll go back upstairs.” It seemed reasonable to me.
Geoff nodded. “Don’t let me bother you.” He started trimming a dead-looking plant and I tried hard not to stare at the way his biceps flexed when he brought the handles of the shears together. Sarah would have made a flirtatious comment, but all I could think about was that Laurie had called him “my guy.” What a waste of hotness.
I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy the view, because Lady Buena Verde appeared out of nowhere. She did not look happy. “You can’t be here. You must go up.” When we didn’t move, she shooed us with fluttery hands. “The rules really must be obeyed, Philippa.”
I looked at the girls, who were watching Lady Buena Verde with solemn expressions and clutching each other’s hand again. Another one of my inconvenient traits surfaced: stubbornness. I knew I would be risking my job if I defied Lady Buena Verde, but it wasn’t fair. We couldn’t just leave. Rienne didn’t have her butterfly picture yet. And as far as I could see, we weren’t even close to being in danger of disturbing any guests.
I felt as if roots were growing from my heels into the
ground, which was a very bad sign that my stubborn streak was about to go nuclear. I took a deep breath and looked at the girls. I knew what I wanted to say. And I knew it was going to get me in trouble. I opened my mouth and dug in my heels as a mostly gray butterfly lighted on Lady Buena Verde’s head. It fluttered gray wings for a moment, and then took off.
She didn’t notice, but the roots in my heels disappeared and I no longer had the urge to argue with Lady Buena Verde. Somehow the butterfly had reminded me that I could opt for the middle path. “We’ll wrap things right up, then,” I said sweetly but firmly and nodded at Rienne, who took my hint and quickly snapped shots of a few random butterflies. I grabbed the other camera from Triste and took a picture of the mostly gray butterfly that had landed on Lady BV’s head. It wasn’t the black butterfly I’d been looking for, but it had saved me from losing my job.
Within seconds we were ready to go. I had managed to keep the peace and get us what we needed. I rocked at the nanny job. I grabbed the tripod and led the twins past Lady Buena Verde and back toward the safety and invisibility of our domain.
Geoff had his back to Lady Buena Verde and seemed not to have noticed that we were being shooed out of the garden. But when we scuttled past him, I heard him whisper, “Good work, Philippa. Don’t take her on head-to-head, or you’ll lose.”
I almost stopped, but Lady Buena Verde’s glare kept me moving. I didn’t need to cause trouble for a guy who might turn out to be my only ally.
Once we were out of the garden, the twins began to
whisper furiously again. “That wasn’t fair. Father never would have shooed us out of there,” Triste said.
“I don’t like her.”
“Mother wouldn’t like her either.”
“You shouldn’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s true. Mother wanted Father to make Chrysalis Cliff more about peace and welcoming.”
We scooted back through the house. As we passed the turnoff to Laurie’s office, Triste stopped in the middle of the hall. “We should see Father about this.”
Rienne stopped, too, but her glance toward Laurie’s office didn’t look very certain. “What would we say?”
How about “let me out of this prison and be a normal kid if you so badly want me to have fun”? Not that I thought it would be wise to put those words in the twins’ mouths.
Triste wasn’t so reticent. “We should ask if we can be permitted to photograph butterflies if we need to, and if we behave ourselves, of course.”
“Excellent point, Triste.” I decided it was time to put on my nanny hat. “We should get permission ahead of time, so we don’t feel unfairly scolded in the future.” I had a feeling Lady Buena Verde wouldn’t be happy, but she wouldn’t know until after we’d dealt with the permission issue and cut out her objection.
Laurie was at her desk. A guy was bent over her pointing out something in a newspaper they were both looking at on her desk. For a second I hoped she’d found a new guy, but then they saw us and she jumped up and said, “Philippa, I want you to meet my brother, David.”
“Hi,” I said, suppressing my disappointment. Her brother. Bummer.
Or not. He straightened up, taking the paper and folding it under his arm as he smiled. “Philippa. What an old-fashioned name.” His blue eyes were bright, and I was a little surprised to find myself being checked out with enough interest to make my temperature begin to rise. “I like it.”
Triste and Rienne had no time or patience for my flirtation, however. Triste spoke up firmly. “Laurie, we need to see Father.”
“You do?” She spoke to them with a lilting tone that made it seem as if she thought they were three, not ten. She patted her brother on the arm and gave him a no-nonsense sisterly look that said “get lost.” “I guess we can talk more about this at home, okay?”
He nodded and threw me a rueful smile as he left. I wondered if he came by often or if this was a rare treat, but I didn’t know how to ask. Not that it would matter since we weren’t allowed to leave our domain.
“So, what exactly is the problem?” Laurie asked. If the twins wanted to see their father, they would first have to get past his gatekeeper.
Rienne told Laurie our plight and she dropped her jaw in shock. “You didn’t!”
Great. Everyone here thought it was okay for the girls to be locked away like freaks. I said, “Well, yes, I’m afraid we did.”
Laurie picked up her Blackberry and pushed a few buttons. “Lady Buena Verde saw you?”
Was that really the most important question? “Sure. But
she didn’t turn into dust or melt away, so don’t worry.”
“Oh, no!” Laurie cried.
I could feel the girls getting more and more tense at the idea that they’d broken some big rule. Laurie was totally channeling Lady BV, treating them like inconvenient obstacles to business. Well, Laurie and Lady Buena Verde might have been happy to lock the kids in a tower, but I was under explicit instructions from Mr. Pertweath himself to make sure that his daughters got a daily dose of fun. “What’s the big deal?” I blurted.
Laurie gave me an awfully patronizing look for someone who was basically my age. “Guests pay for peace and quiet. Frolicking children are not peaceful or quiet.”
I glanced at the twins. Were we talking about the same kids? “We weren’t frolicking. We were quietly taking pictures in the butterfly garden.”
Laurie’s tone softened. “I guess you can be forgiven. This time. But you have to understand that we run on very carefully arranged schedules. There are people here who don’t want to see another soul but Lady Buena Verde—not patron, staff, or interloper. They pay good money for that privilege. I hope you understand.”
“I guess.” I thought about it for a minute. Solitude in a house full of people. Yeah, I could see why it would be worth a lot of money.
“Well, I suppose no harm was done.” Laurie looked at the twins.
Triste spoke up. “We’d really like to see Father. Just for three minutes.”
“I’m sorry, girls, your father is in private sessions all afternoon,” Laurie sing-songed. Then she turned to me sternly. “From now on, please stick to the schedule. That’s why you were hired, you know.”
I really didn’t like being lectured to by someone only a few years older than me. Actually, I didn’t like being lectured to at all, by anyone, of any age. But she had me with the job thing. Sigh. “Okay. We’ll stick to the schedule.” At least until I could get Mr. Pertweath to change it.
Once we were back in our domain, the twins settled at the computers to begin identifying their butterflies. I picked up the binder intending to commit the schedule to heart—both so we wouldn’t get in trouble and so I could discuss what should be changed with Mr. Pertweath the next time I saw him. Which, according to the schedule, would be at dinner tonight.
The computer beeped softly, and I felt like I was really beginning to understand the way this place was run as I went to answer Havens’s summons.
“Good day, Miss.” Havens didn’t look too happy. “I’m afraid we have to cancel the family dinner this evening.”
“Cancel? No.” Triste and Rienne were heartbroken, butterflies forgotten as they came up behind me to see Havens’s face on the monitor.
“I’m sorry, girls. Your father’s schedule requires it.” Havens smiled grimly. “I will send up hot fudge sundaes with your dinner.”
“With sprinkles?” Triste asked.
“And whipped cream,” Rienne ordered. Then she said
to me, “We always get sundaes if Father has to cancel.”
“How nice.” Nothing says I love you like a bribe from an absentee parent.
“Would you like one, Miss?” Havens asked.
“Do you have chocolate ice cream?”
“Then yes, Havens. I would. Thank you.” The simple life. Ask for a hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream and ye shall receive through the miracle of a dumbwaiter. I could get spoiled by this life.
“You’re welcome, Miss. Girls.”
I looked around the room. We got ice cream sundaes, but not freedom. This whole “domain” thing was rapidly beginning to feel like another word for “prison.” The doors were fancy, but locked, all the same.
I looked at Rienne and Triste, who’d gone back to identifying butterflies, and felt a stab of sadness. I was choosing to be here, and being paid well for my time—this was a summer job, after all—but they had to live here for at least another eight years, being ignored by their father and lectured to by everyone else. And to think I’d been afraid they might be spoiled brats.
I could see what my most important duty was—and it wasn’t on the schedule, naturally. I had to get Mr. P to start making time for his daughters. They needed
not fun. How to convince him of that? Not a clue.
It was my duty to protect the children. It was my heartbreak to have to protect them from their own father’s indifferent regard.
—Miss Adelaide Putnam to Lord Dashwood,
Manor of Dark Dreams,
The next few days were subdued and uneventful. The girls and I stuck to the precious schedule (“dinner in family dining room” was not part of it), and they kept busy doing Internet research on butterflies.