“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at six,” he said.
He smiled but his eyes looked sad. He reached into the back and handed her suitcase down to her.
“You sure you don’t want me to carry it in for you?”
“I’ve been carrying it myself the entire trip,” she replied. “I’ll be waiting at six.”
With a nod, he pressed his foot down on the pedal and shifted into forward gear.
“I love you,” she said in a whisper she was sure he couldn’t hear.
“I love you too,” he said, and then drove off.
She turned and started up the stairs of the huge building. It looked nothing like the home that she had grown up in—the one that she had left ten years before. But there was a lizzie waiting to open the door for her.
“Garrah? Is that you?”
The lizzie hissed affirmative and looked at her appraisingly.
“It’s me– Stahwasuwasu Zrant.”
The lizzie blinked and rolled his yellow eyes around.
“You are so different,” he said, in the native tongue. “You are all grown up.”
“Yes, I am. I’m glad to see you here still.”
“I am senior lizzie now,” he said, rising to his full height. “You will need a new name. You are no longer azrant.”
“Well, that’s for another day. Are any of the soft-skins up?”
He gave a very human shrug.
Nodding, she stepped past him and entered the vast foyer. She stopped to take off her hat and coat and hang them up. As she did, she came face to face with the portrait of her father, hanging on the wall. She looked at for a minute, remembering her father’s voice.
“Hello,” said someone.
She turned to see a woman with reddish blond hair and alabaster skin, dotted here and there with a few freckles. She had thin lips, but very large green eyes. She was wearing a silk housedress.
“You’re Iolana, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and you must be Maria.”
“Welcome home,” said Maria, stepping forward and giving her a great hug. “How are you? You must be exhausted from your trip.”
“I’m fine. I slept a bit on the train.”
“Well, come into the parlor,” she said, taking Iolana by the arm and guiding her to the right.
“I’m glad you’re here,” said Iolana. “Otherwise I would be entirely lost.”
“This room should be a little familiar.”
They stepped through a doorway into the parlor, and it did look somewhat familiar. It was about the size and configuration that the parlor in the original Dechantagne house had been. Even the furniture was similar, though not exactly the same.
“Augie wanted it to feel like home,” said Maria, guiding them to the sofa and sitting.
“Where is Augie?”
“Oh, he’s still in bed. His usual time to get up is half past seven.”
“You’re an early riser?”
“I always have been. What about you?”
“I usually am too. I think I got that from my father.”
“Your mother is an early riser too,” observed Maria. “She should be down in a few minutes. She usually has tea before going to the office.”
“How many do you have living here?”
“Not enough,” said Maria, with a laugh. “It’s just Augie and me, your mother, my dear mother-in-law, and Gladys. Now there’s you and your lizzie friend.”
“Esther should be along shortly,” said Iolana. “We’ve also brought a friend with us. Her name is Willa Armice.”
Iolana turned to see her mother stepping into the room from a heretofore unnoticed doorway. She was dressed in a black pin-striped day dress. Iolana had seen her mother just a year and a half earlier but was shocked to see her hair gone almost entirely grey.
“Mother,” she said getting up and walking around to kiss her on the cheek.
“How was your journey?”
“Good. I’m on my way to the office. Maria can show you your room.” She turned on a heel and passed through the room and on to the foyer.
Iolana let out a breath that she hadn’t realized she was holding.
“Lovely,” said Maria. “I can see that she’s happy to have you home. Come along and I’ll do just as Auntie suggested. That way, you can freshen up before breakfast.”
She took Iolana’s arm again and led her out the doorway through which Iolanthe had entered, down a long marble tiled hallway to an elevator. There was a lizzie in the elevator car with its clawed hand on the controls, but Maria paid him no attention.
“I hope you don’t mind that I had your room set up in the west wing. That’s where Augie and I have our rooms. He said you would prefer it that way. Our mothers are both in the east wing.”
“Our mothers… Oh, you mean Auntie Yuah.”
“Yes. Sometimes it feels like she’s very far indeed. Other times, not so much.”