Fox had promised to take me to a faraway palace, a promise I hadn’t really believed. But then my new parents brought me to a real palace instead…
“You live here?” I said.
“And now you do too,” Benny said.
They’d told me I didn’t have to call them Dad or Father until I got to know them better and felt comfortable, and I couldn’t tell if they were hoping I would right away. I had to be careful not to call them by the wrong names: Benny was the one with the glasses and the nervous smile, and Finn was the one with the kind blue eyes.
The trees and plants were different here, and the weather was much hotter than it was at the orphanage. I had to fly through the sky in a plane to get here, something I’d never done before. Was the fairy world like this too?
Their house looked like a palace on the inside too, and I was afraid of breaking anything. Would they send me back if I did? Maybe they’d choose a less clumsy daughter instead.
I was relieved when they brought me into what they told me was my own room.
“Who else sleeps in here?” I asked.
“Oh–we don’t have any other children, Lani,” Benny said. “It’s yours and yours alone. And even if we did, we have plenty of room here. You wouldn’t have to share.”
Wouldn’t have to share? But we shared everything at the orphanage. It was really their room, not mine, but they were kind enough to let me use it.
“We’ll let you settle in and unpack,” Finn said. “Please let us know if there’s anything else you need and I’ll be happy to add it to our shopping list. It’s been two men in this house for so long–we have a lot to learn about having a little girl around, but we hope to learn fast.”
“I don’t need anything…” I lived in a palace.
“Still,” Finn said, “we’ll take you shopping tomorrow for new clothes, at least. And we weren’t sure what kind of toys you liked, or if kids even like toys these days, but we got you a computer and a tablet.”
What was I supposed to do with those? But I smiled, because I could tell he was nervous too. “Thank you,” I said. An adopted child was always supposed to be grateful.
And then I was alone with my thoughts and my stuffed bear. Miss Hudson had given me my first-ever new dress before the trip here (Finn and Benny had paid for it, but she picked it out) and it itched. I’d never worn something so fancy, and I was worried about spilling something on it.
My room was so quiet… It was never quiet at the orphanage. But if I went to look for Finn and Benny, what if I got lost in their palace? Or maybe they’d think I asked for too much when they wanted time to themselves…
I looked at the computer Finn and Benny had bought for me. Computers were expensive, weren’t they? That’s what Miss Hudson said. She had a really old one for important orphanage and adoption things, but we weren’t allowed to use it.
But I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on, or what I was supposed to do after I did. Did they want me to do the same kind of things Miss Hudson did on the computer? I’d have to ask tomorrow…
And what was I supposed to do once I unpacked? I didn’t have many belongings. Did they want me to clean? But everything was already so clean. Everyone was supposed to keep busy at the orphanage…there was always work to be done, or even just looking after the younger kids and helping them until they learned to help themselves.
It was dark now, so maybe I should go to sleep…
The bed could fit at least four of us in it. And it was all mine? Which part was I supposed to sleep on?
I had so many questions to ask Benny and Finn tomorrow…but right now, I couldn’t stop myself from yawning.
The darkness made the silence worse. At the orphanage, I would’ve heard other kids whispering or coughing or scratching or crying, even after lights-out…normal night-time sounds when you’re surrounded by so many others all in one room.
But here, I was all alone…
It would’ve been nice to have Fox and Griffin to talk to. Would they find me again? Maybe I’d dream about them tonight.
But when I finally fell asleep, I only dreamed of storms.
The next day started off better. Benny and Finn told me they had a surprise for me, even though I didn’t think they needed to give me anything else, not when they were nice enough to adopt me.
I wondered if Finn taking my hand was the surprise, but maybe he just thought I’d get lost.
“We heard how much you liked gardening,” Benny said, “so we hoped you’d like this. We don’t usually have much to do with the outdoors–a landscaper takes care of everything–but it was one of the things Miss Hudson told us while we waited to meet you…”
“We should probably explain,” Finn said. “I know it’s probably hard to believe, and it might be too soon to tell you, but…Benny and I are both vampires, so too much sunlight is painful for us. But we wanted you to have a place that makes you feel comfortable and reminds you of home.”
I’d already met fairies, but even if I didn’t believe them, I would’ve pretended. “I believe you,” I said, without adding that the orphanage hadn’t been my home, not really. I wouldn’t mind if they’d adopted me just for my blood, if it meant I could keep having parents and living in a palace.
I let go of Finn’s hand and took a couple steps forward. “This place is so pretty…”
Fox and Griffin would’ve liked it too, especially Fox.
I wouldn’t say so, but I liked this little garden even more than my huge bedroom… The tall, flowering hedges made me feel safe in a way that the walls and locking door didn’t.
The palace was nice, but this…this felt like home.
I gave them both a hug, so they’d know that I was grateful.
It seemed to make them both happy, like it had made Fox happy.
I wanted to stay, but Finn really wanted to take me shopping, and I didn’t want to disappoint him and Benny.
But it was an even bigger surprise than the garden…
My eyes couldn’t take in the whole thing…
“Is this a factory?” I asked.
“Most of its products were probably made in factories,” Benny muttered, “but you wouldn’t know by the prices.”
“Benny,” Finn said before smiling down at me. “Don’t worry about the prices, Lani.”
Was I supposed to worry? I didn’t know anything about prices or money…I’d never had money of my own or paid for anything myself. Miss Hudson did that.
But they’d already started walking and I didn’t want to lose them…
“Let us know if you see anything you can’t live without,” Benny said. “We have a gift card to burn.”
I’d already tried to tell them that I could live without most things…and what was a gift card? Should I ask, or would it make me sound stupid? Did they want me to help them burn it?
But then I realized how much I stood out next to them. There were so many people here, and one of them would notice that I didn’t look like Finn and Benny. Would someone think they kidnapped me and call the police? Would Finn and Benny decide it was too much trouble to keep me?
The lights were so bright… I was sweating in a way I never had under the sun. Would Finn and Benny think I was smelly?
“Should we get a grill?” Benny said. “To grill human foods?”
“I don’t like the idea of you near open flames,” Finn said. Did that mean they really did want me to burn the gift card? Maybe they adopted me to do the things vampires had trouble with. Why else wouldn’t they adopt a baby when everyone wanted a baby? “And we’re here for Lani, not new toys for us.”
They moved on, and I followed. “How about toys for you, Lani?” Benny said.
I just wanted to go back to my garden. “I don’t need anything…”
“Uncle Benedict!” came a child’s voice.
“Uncle Finn!” came another.
“Oh, Benedict,” a man said. His voice sounded a lot like Benny’s. “What a pleasant surprise. Daisy had me take the boys out while she works on a new menu.”
Finn rested a hand on my shoulder. “Lani, this is your Uncle Leopold, Benny’s twin,” he said. “And your cousins, Anders and Caspian. We wanted to introduce you once things settle down, but…” He laughed. “We have a lot of family between the two of us, so maybe it’s best to get started early.”
I stayed close to Finn when Benny left to go talk to his brother–and was tempted to take his hand when one of my cousins approached. “I’m Anders,” he said. “The eldest. It’s very nice to meet you, cousin Lani.”
I could feel Finn looking down at me like he expected something of me…but what? How was I supposed to act around a cousin, especially one I’d never met? Especially one who wasn’t a real cousin?
“H-hello,” I said. “You look a lot like your father…”
“Everyone says so,” he said right away. If everyone said so, was it stupid of me to have said it too? But he sounded proud, so maybe it wasn’t a bad thing to say…
I didn’t realize my other cousin was right next to me until he spoke. (His father had said boys, despite the long hair, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made with Fox and Griffin.)
“Oooooh, so you’re the adopted kid?” he said. “What happened to your parents? Do you like Uncle Finn and Uncle Benny better? Aren’t you glad they picked you?”
“Caspian,” Anders scolded. “Don’t mind him,” he said to me. “He’s only reached Level Three in Lyons Etiquette.”
What level was I? What level was I supposed to be? Finn and Benny had said they still had to fill out paperwork to change my name to Lani Lyons-Straud, so Lyons Etiquette was probably something I needed to work on…
Luckily, Caspian got Anders’ attention again and they didn’t seem to expect any answers from me. Even if Caspian didn’t look like his dad–he didn’t have the sharp teeth or the pale skin and his hair curled wildly–he still had the same eye and hair color, and his mom probably had hair like his too.
What if someone in this huge place did look like me? Could my real mother or father be here? Or maybe I had brothers and sisters, ones I could talk to as easily as Anders and Caspian talked to each other.
But no one came up to us when Benny and Finn took me to look at clothes…
The only reason I picked anything out was because Finn insisted and I knew it would make him happy. I didn’t mind having only one dress, but maybe it was a good idea to have less fancy clothes so I wouldn’t get it dirty, especially in the garden.
This place even had food–so much that there was no way people could eat it all before it went bad.
When I asked what happened to the uneaten food, Finn said that it got thrown out. If you weren’t chosen and brought home, you ended up in the trash…
But I was chosen. I’d make sure Finn and Benny didn’t regret it. I just had to try harder, which is why the one thing I asked for was a journal.
Benny’s full name was Benedict, and he had a twin named Leopold. Leopold was married to a woman named Daisy who probably had curly hair. Their sons were Anders and Caspian, and Anders was older.
I’d have to take more notes when they introduced me to more people. I wouldn’t forget their names or embarrass Finn and Benny.
Benny sat down at the table, protected by the shade of the umbrella. “You like to write?” he said. “My sister enjoys writing as well–she’s a novelist. I haven’t read many of her works aside from the ones involving butlers–do you like butlers, Lani?”
I could tell he wanted me to like butlers by the way his face lit up when he asked. I didn’t know what a butler was, but… “I love butlers,” I said. Would he believe me…?
“I knew you were meant to be our daughter,” he said. It was the right answer.
I just had to keep learning what they liked and wanted…
Finn seemed surprised when I set the dinner table without them asking. “You don’t have to do that, Lani,” he said, but he sounded more surprised than unhappy. “But thank you.”
“I don’t mind,” I said. “You’ve done so much for me, and you took me shopping…”
“You’re our daughter,” he said. It was nice to hear, even if he was just pretending.
But I could tell that he and Benny didn’t have to pretend to love each other. I’d never seen two men touch each other like that before, but I hadn’t seen a man and woman touch like that either. This was probably how most people’s real parents touched…
I’d never been able to choose what I wanted to eat before…
For some reason, them eating “blood noodles” didn’t bother me at all. And we could all pretend we were the perfect family, one who ate all their meals together…
But I wouldn’t forget that I was only here because they let me be. I took the dishes away without being asked.
Benny said I could just toss everything in the dishwasher, but I didn’t know what a dishwasher was. But I’d learn.
And then maybe someday they really would love me, instead of having to pretend.