(No longer under contract restrictions, I can now share the story freely.)
A Dutch settlement, north of New Amsterdam,
The New World 1638
Father would want me to record this day. I fetched parchment and pen. My soul was hollow as I wrote words unthinkable only days earlier.
Alone, so very alone, I write to stave off the madness that encircles me. My only wish is to hold on long enough to see you return.
Sickness has spread through our village. I am told I must remain indoors so as not to tempt the Devil’s wrath. Watching from my window, I have seen the bodies wrapped in linen and taken behind the village. I know not how long this will continue or who shall succumb next.
Father, it has been too long since I have gazed on your kind countenance. I fervently hope you will hear my prayers and hasten back to your most obedient daughter.
May God have mercy upon us.
The rain had stopped, finally. The gray clouds broke in the afternoon sky as the cab pulled to a stop in front of a house on Lindengracht. Dad jumped from the front seat and hurried to help the driver wrestle the luggage from the trunk. The cab’s dome light came on and threw a beam onto the metallic clasp of Mom’s purse. Lydia caught the glint of the reflected streak and winced. She looked away, but the damage was done. A flickering cascade of broken, mirrored glass danced at her feet. Instinctively, she closed her eyes. Not now, she commanded. Not now.
Moments later, Lydia opened her eyes and found the image gone. She sighed with relief and got out of the cab. Standing near Mom, Lydia gazed at the three-story brick structure and stifled a yawn with her hand. It was more modern than many of the buildings they had passed since their arrival into the garden district, but still old by American standards. The house reminded her of Colonial Williamsburg except that it was very narrow and tightly surrounded by other structures, one building almost melting into the next. She closed her eyes and yawned, opening her mouth wide. Stretching, she thrust her jaw left and right, fighting the effects of jetlag. It had been a long flight from New York City.
Dad deposited Lydia’s wheeled suitcase alongside her and returned to retrieve the rest of the bags. Mom left Lydia to grab her own shoulder-bag and makeup case from the back of the cab. Lydia turned to look at the tree-lined street and remembered from her tour book that many early canals in the area had been filled in. The grassy strip just beyond the paved street was probably one of those former canals. She wondered what it was like to live in a city where water was the main method of travel. Sleepy pictures of Venice floated through her mind as Dad tapped her shoulder indicating he was ready to go inside.
Lydia pulled her suitcase to the bottom edge of the house’s stairway and bumped it up the six steps following Dad. The three of them stood before a massive oak door while Dad dug deep into his pockets for the key. The family would stay in this historic house owned by the company while Dad interviewed with a Dutch publishing firm. His previous job as editor at an independent art book publisher vanished when the company decided to change its product line. Now that company produced novelty books for children.
“It’s got to be here,” Dad said, his Southern accent making the words melt like butter on toast.
Exasperated, Mom stepped forward and reached to help Dad explore his other pants pocket.
Dad playfully slapped her hand as he took a step back. “Not now, Ronni. The child’s watching…” He grinned.
Mom rolled her eyes. “I’m only trying to help.”
Lydia smirked. She’d seen this kind of behavior before. Dad enjoyed these little stabs of humor while Mom was always uncomfortable with them, reacting slightly shocked each time. Maybe if Mom pulled her own joke once in a while Dad would be able to lay off it. But really, Lydia couldn’t see that happening. Her parents’ dynamics just wouldn’t allow it. They’d never change.
“You two aren’t going to do this the whole time we’re here, are you?” Lydia asked.
Dad produced the key that had been hidden in his hand the whole time and reached for the door. Mom raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips as if to say look what I have to put up with.
“Of course not, darling. I, for one, am going to be on my best behavior.” He swung the door open and stood gallantly to the side, allowing the ladies to pass.
Lydia stepped over the threshold and into a darkened room. Directly in front of her, a staircase led to the upper floors, and just to the left, illuminated only by the light from the street, a vase of tulips sat on a pedestal. The creamy white vase was overwhelmed by the vibrant yellow and red flowers that overhung it. The splotch of color momentarily made the entranceway warm and inviting. Dad closed the door and plunged them into darkness.
“How ‘bout some lights?” Lydia asked.
“One second, one second…” Dad slapped at the wall feeling for the light switch.
A click and the overhead light came on.
“Very nice,” Mom said examining the entranceway and taking note of the fresh flowers. A mirror hung on the wall opposite the arrangement. That caught her eye. She stepped forward and peered at herself. Long slender fingers sporting a French manicure smoothed her eyebrows and corrected a bit of stray lipstick. Without taking her eyes off herself, she pulled a brush from her purse and whisked her newly colored blond locks from her face.
“You look beautiful already,” Dad said grabbing her around the waist, embracing her.
“You always say that,” Mom answered.
“Because it’s always true.”
Lydia turned away from the tender moment. She’d seen that many times, too. She abandoned her suitcase and strolled left into the living room. Two large windows brought light in from the emerging sun. A beige room with a fireplace and comfy blue sofas greeted her. She sunk luxuriously into one of them and eyed the coffee table, considering whether to rest her feet on it. Slipping her shoes off, she started to raise her feet, but then Mom entered the room. Her feet stayed on the floor.
Dad poked his head around the corner. “Don’t you want to explore the new digs, Sunshine?” he called to Lydia.
“Sure,” Lydia said pulling herself to her feet.
Mom surveyed the room and stationed herself at the rain-spattered window. “Do you suppose it’ll rain the whole time we’re here?”
Lydia joined her at the window. “The guidebook says that in Amsterdam, it’s raining, just stopped raining, or getting ready to rain. It doesn’t look too bad right now.”
Mom turned and looked at Lydia. She swished Lydia’s long brown hair off her shoulders so that it hung behind.
“I’m waiting,” Dad called.
With practiced motion, Mom pulled a few short tendrils curling in the humidity and smoothed them down behind Lydia’s ears. Lydia felt her mother’s eyes on the strawberry birthmark at her hairline. Starting in pre-school Mom had covered it with makeup and Lydia repeated the behavior mostly out of habit. As her mother reached up, Lydia stepped back and spun around. She ran to meet Dad at the foot of the stairs.
“Race you to the top!”
Lydia gave him her best, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look.
“You think I’m too old for it? Just because I’m a little gray and have a little extra weight,” Dad poked his pouch of a tummy, “doesn’t mean I can’t still beat you.”
“I mean, I’m too old for it. Fourteen-year-olds don’t race their fathers anymore.”
Dad sighed, sounding almost hurt. “Sounds like some ridiculous teenager rules! I thought you and I would resist the imposition of silly rules and blaze our own way.”
“Nope,” Lydia said. She started slowly up the stairs.
“I’ve always said that maturity is overrated, and fun should take precedence.”
“That’s not sounding very parental. Don’t let Mom hear you say that.”
Lydia paused at the top of the stairs while her father caught his breath. In his mid-fifties, Miles Bradshaw had begun to show the decade or so that separated him from his wife. As Lydia gained height and maturity, she watched her father become grayer and rounder. His reading glasses had recently become a permanent fixture. And while the physical changes were expected, she more frequently questioned her father’s ability to adapt to her growing up and changing. He should know that ninth graders are beyond racing their fathers up a flight of stairs. Besides, her father always said that being an only child had made her mature beyond her years. So why did he want her to participate in such incredibly childish behavior?
A quick look upstairs revealed three comfortable bedrooms and a small bathroom. From a window in the smallest bedroom, Lydia peered out onto a grassy courtyard framed by laurel bushes. A garden with spring bulbs bloomed alongside the foundation, and in two beds separated by a walkway were rows and rows of tulips.
Dad leaned against the doorframe. “Small, but nice. What do you think?”
“It’s fine,” Lydia answered. She went to the bed and bounced up and down a few times. “What will our new house be like?”
Dad moved to the window. “That depends. Assuming I get the job, we’ll get a place in the country. Big change for us.”
“That means no Saks or Bloomies. You think we can get a puppy?”
“I think that might be negotiable— if and I mean if, we move. I know you’ve always wanted a pet. Heck, I had a dog as a kid. Loved the dickens out of that hound dog.”
“I know, Dad. That’s why I think it’s time I had my own dog. It’d make the move easier if I had something to look forward to. You know?” Dad gazed out into the backyard seeming to consider her plea.
“Let’s see how things progress, dear daughter, and I’ll get back to you on that. Let’s say you’re not looking at the parent who needs the convincing. Right now, I’m more concerned over how your mother’s going to handle the move. She’s going to have the hardest time adjusting. That is, if we move.” Dad walked down the hallway out of sight.
Lydia fell back onto the bed and smiled. Visions of puppies danced in her mind’s eye. At least if they did move, the prospect of getting a dog was on the table and since Dad was okay with it, it meant that Mom would cave over time.
She sprang to her feet. The move would be a big change and she worried about how they’d all adapt. She knew that Mom was not looking forward to giving up Manhattan to go upstate. In fact, Mom had done her best over the years to erase her rural roots and pretend to be from the city. She enjoyed the fast pace of the metropolis and its myriad choices. Mom loved the crowded streets, the theatre life, the shopping, and the excitement that seemed to make the streets pulse. Dad was right that Mom would have the hardest time relocating.
Lydia herself was conflicted over the family uprooting itself from the city. She could see some definite disadvantages, but she also recognized that it wouldn’t be all bad. There was the possibility of the puppy! No doubt she’d miss her friends and the routine of her life. She might have to give up ballet, but that might not be such a horrible thing. What worried her most was the uncertainty of the whole thing. If Dad didn’t get the job, they’d stay in the city. But if he did, and it was very likely that he would, then they would be moving.
When Lydia considered that possibility, she felt unsure. What should she feel? Scared and sad about leaving her friends? Hannah especially. How would Hannah get along without her? Would Hannah be mad at her? Blame her? Would Hannah forget her the week after she left? Maybe. Lydia considered the other option. What if she could actually feel some excitement about the change? Maybe getting out of the city would be a good thing. The school might be a little more relaxed and not so focused on standardized tests and whose parents did what. In a small town, she might be able to go more places on her own and enjoy more freedom. She’d be able to be outside more. Actually, be in nature and see wildlife. That would be cool! Being a teenager away from the city might have its perks. But then again, there was always the problem of whether she’d fit in. Would she be able to make friends?
The only thing she was certain of was that Dad would make it through any transition just fine. His perpetually upbeat attitude assured he’d always land on his feet, finding something good in everything that ever happened.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs broke her train of thought. She realized it was only Dad bringing up some of the luggage.
A slight breeze lifted her hair off her shoulder and Lydia wheeled around. Facing the window, she watched as one of the curtains floated up and then returned to its normal position. An odd occurrence with the window closed, but one she thought could be easily explained. Obviously, the windows were not well sealed, and the wind had raised her hair and blown the curtain, startling her. Old houses were like that, just like old apartments. Back home, weather stripping ran all around her bedroom window because without it, her room would be freezing in the winter.
Lydia approached the window, confident that she would be able to feel the draft responsible for moving the curtain. She floated her hand around the window searching for air flow but found none. The window was old, but it seemed to be in good repair and Lydia did not feel a breeze. Dropping her hand, she tried to remember how the incident had happened. She was tired and maybe jetlagged just enough to think she saw a white curtain move against a white wall. If she was turning around when she saw it, maybe it was just that motion combined with not focusing precisely, that made the curtain look like it moved. Yes, that must be it. Lydia refused to dwell on it.
There were far better things for her to concern herself with. Deep down she had a feeling that Dad was going to get this job. He really wanted it, and he’d be good at it. She sighed. How could she make this move better for Mom? For herself? She turned and left the room, walking to the master bedroom, which faced the street.
A large, four-poster bed with a bright blue comforter hugged the wall to the left. She stepped around her parent’s luggage and into the intense sunshine pouring through the sheer curtain panels in the two windows in front of her. The first sunlight of the day beckoned to her, and Lydia rushed forward to be engulfed in its warmth.
From the window Lydia watched as a large, muscular woman pumped her bicycle and drew near. The woman leaned the bike against the lamppost in front of the house and secured it with a combination lock. Lydia pulled the curtains back for a better look and a few moments later, the doorbell rang.
While the print copy is no longer available, the ebook can be found here: