Kayla dropped the laundry basket down by the washing machine. This was the last load to bring down. She was hot from running up and down the stairs all morning.
She rolled up her sleeves and looked around the basement. The unfinished cement walls looked bare and cold, brightened only by the dabs of paint she had splotched there when she was five.
She climbed the wooden stairs to the kitchen where her mother was writing a shopping list.
"How many guests do we have booked?" Kayla asked as she pushed her sandy hair out of her face. Having a B-and-B was a lot of work but it brought in extra income as her dad's house-painting business didn't bring in much.
Mom looked away from her shopping list. "I think we'll have three rooms taken by tonight. Mrs. and Mr. Wosen will take one and then Charmaine, and a new lady is coming tonight. An author, I think."
But Kayla didn't care if she was an astronaut. There was no one her age. She was used to being the only person around under twenty, but she hated it. She didn't even go to school! She knew taking correspondence courses gave her more time to help her mom, but still. She gathered her schoolbooks off the sideboard, grabbed a Werthers candy from the little black cat-shaped dish by the door, and ran out to the porch. She stepped into blue flip-flops decorated with palm trees, and headed toward the beach, sucking her candy. It wasn't really a proper beach, just a little string of pebbly inlets separated by small outcroppings of rocks and scrub. She swam down here in the summer but now in early September, the ocean water was too frigid to do anything but dip your toes. She settled down on a patch of moss and began her math.
* * *
When she returned to the house her mother was making up beds in the empty rooms. Kayla walked down the long hall with the guest rooms on either side. At the end of the hallway she pushed open an old white door. She ran up the narrow flight of stairs to her own room perched at the top of the house and stood just inside the doorway soaking up the sunlight that streamed through her many round windows. She loved her room. The people who had built the house must have loved the sea as she did for they had built the five round windows exactly like portholes. Kayla sometimes pretended that each window opened onto a different country She put her schoolbooks on the shelf next to her whale-watching and sea-life books. She checked the small box outside her door where her mom always put her mail. She found a postcard from Sharon, a girl from England who stayed here two summers ago, and a plain white envelope. She tore open the envelope and two pieces of pink writing paper fell out. She didn't recognize the handwriting. She read,
Dear Butterfly, (Butterfly? Kayla thought, genuinely puzzled.)
My life is so blah. Nothing ever happens. I haven't seen you for ages. Since you left it feels like my world is falling to pieces. All my friends have more friends than I do. They all go to private schools. Today my little brother messed up my room. It seems like my friends live in other worlds and no one understands how I feel about mine. Please write back soon.
Your friend, Chelsea
"What a wimp," said Kayla aloud. "She has a little brother, friends, and she goes to school, and she still thinks her life is boring."
But who in the world was that letter meant for anyway? She was definitely not Butterfly. Kayla studied the envelope. The address was blurred as if something had been spilled on it. There was a return address. Montreal.
I'm sure I don't know anyone from Montreal, thought Kayla.
Kayla's mother's voice filtered up, calling her to make dinner. Cramming the mysterious letter into her pocket, she ran down the stairs.
* * *
From the hallway Kayla heard voices from the kitchen. She was about to go in when she caught her name. Kayla peered around the doorway surreptitiously. Brochure in hand, her mother was chatting to a lady.
She must be the author coming to stay, thought Kayla. Though she knew it was wrong, she stayed to listen. Just for a moment, she told herself
"Oh, yes, Mrs. Tarnsford," Kayla heard her mom speak, "I reserved a room for you looking out over the forest."
"Wonderful! And I heard you have a daughter. I am writing a book and she may be able to help me if she would."
"Of course she will," Mom purred. "I'll send her up after dinner."
Kayla groaned inwardly. She remembered when the librarian, Mrs. Baxter, had been writing a book on "the juvenile reader," her mother had volunteered her and consequently she had spent three hours answering questions like, "How does reading relate to your personal development?" or "What book has inspired you to break the boundaries of your expectations?" At least this time, Kayla told herself, she knew what to expect.
Feeling slightly guilty for listening, she stepped into the room. Mrs. Tarnsford had just gone to get her bags. "Do I have to?" Kayla blurted out. Her mother looked round with a wry smile. "So you heard?" Seeing Kayla's face she went on. "Yes, you do have to. She is a good paying guest and she is only staying three days. Now I have lots to do. Please start the dinner," she said, giving Kayla's shoulder a squeeze as she went out of the room.
* * *
Seven o'clock saw Kayla reluctantly climbing the stairs. All the other guests had gone out to dinner and the cracks under their doors were dark. Come to think of it, so was Mrs. Tarnsford's.
When she came to the last door she knocked. There was no answer. Maybe she was reading. Kayla contemplated going back down or even better, up to her room, but she knew if she left, she'd just have to go tomorrow. So she pushed open the door. It swung open on a darkened room.
"Welcome to the dungeon. Tomorrow you shall be tried for treason," a voice boomed.
Kayla gasped and almost screamed. All the drapes were pulled and the room was completely dark except for two strangely carved candlesticks with lighted candles placed on the small table. Behind the table stood the author, holding a small gray knife. Kayla was about to scream when the lady grabbed a pen and a piece of paper.
"Hold it right there. That's perfect."
Bewildered, Kayla stayed where she was. Then at last, Mrs. Tarnsford put down her paper, blew out the candles, and flicked on the lights. She began to laugh.
Kayla just stared at her, knees weak with relief that she was not going to be in on some secret ceremony.
At last, Mrs. Tarnsford stopped. "Call me Jane," she said simply. "I'm sorry I scared you. You see, I had to. If I'd told you, you wouldn't have entered into the world properly."
"Huh?" said Kayla, completely bewildered.
Jane explained, "You see, I'm writing a story about a boy in medieval England. He gets condemned to the dungeon. I wanted to write exactly what he felt, so I got up the whole darkness thing because I just couldn't seem to write exactly what he felt.
"Did I look scared enough?"
"Completely!" Jane said.
Kayla asked, "What else did you mean about entering the world?"
Jane ran her fingers through her thick dark hair and thought a moment before answering. "Well, when you write, you are making a world for your reader to enter and sometimes it's easier to write about something that's right before your eyes. I just couldn't describe Jaird's terror and bewilderment."
"Jaird?" Kayla asked.
Jane smiled, "My character. I've been working on him so long he almost seems real to me, but then again . . ." she laughed ". . . he is real in his own world."
"Can I read your book, someday?" Kayla asked at last.
Jane went over to an old sea trunk she had leaned against the wall. She sorted through some papers and then reappeared carrying a pile of typed pages. "Here," she said, handing them to Kayla, "is my book, or all there is of it yet. Enjoy finding a new world."
* * *
Kayla held the manuscript close as she went to the door. As she was about to leave, she turned and asked hesitantly, "If it would be useful . . . I mean if you'd like it, could I help you some more?"
Jane turned from the papers she was sorting. "Of course. Besides, you might find more worlds than you expected hidden in yours."
Kayla walked slowly up the stairs to her room. She put the manuscript carefully down on her desk and went to one of her round windows. She opened the casement and leaned out, sniffing the chill of an autumn evening. A squirrel ran across the browning lawn that sloped down to the woods. She wondered what life was like for a squirrel. "More worlds than you expected are hidden in yours." Jane's words came back to her as she watched, the dusk slowly deepening. Perhaps that was what Jane had meant, she mused, and it was true when you thought about it. The squirrel's world was way different from hers; bigger, more dangerous, freer, and yet they both shared the same woods on the same day. She left the window open as she slipped her pajamas on. Soon her mom would insist on shut windows, but not yet.
She only remembered the mysterious letter as she was drifting off and she was too tired to get it. She fell asleep and dreamed that she was a squirrel using planets as stepping stones across a gray sea.
* * *
Kayla opened her eyes. Light was pouring through her portholes. She glanced at her small travel clock on the table beside her. Ten-thirty. She stretched luxuriously Saturday mornings were her favorite. She loved waking up to a school-free day. She pulled on her jeans and shirt slowly and came down to the kitchen where her mother was frying bacon for the guests. Kayla pulled out a wooden kitchen chair and sat, enjoying the peacefulness. She could hear the guests talking in the dining room. She wondered if Jane was there.
What an exciting life Jane must have; an author traveling while she writes a book. Nothing like my life or my world, Kayla thought.
Suddenly her mom remembered something. "Oh, Kayla, I almost forgot to tell you something. Mrs. Tarnsford received a call that her mother is ill. She had to go to her. She left around seven. Kayla sat, frozen. Jane was gone. She couldn't believe it, but her mom continued. "Yes, and she left a letter for you. It's on the sideboard."
Kayla jumped up, almost knocking over a vase of flowers.
"Careful!" her mom called, but Kayla was already halfway to her room, letter in hand. She sat on her bed and carefully slit open the envelope.
The paper Jane had used was thick and creamy. She ran her fingers over its softness before reading.
I am sorry not to have had the opportunity to say goodbye. I would have liked to have gotten to know you better but my mother needs me.
What a wide and fascinating life you have. You meet so many new people! While other kids in school are learning verbs and algebra, you are learning life. Keep asking questions and learning things. The more you know your world, the wider it is. Enjoy life.
PS. I have another copy of my manuscript. You can keep the one I lent you as long as you want.
Kayla just sat for a moment feeling warm all over. A wide and fascinating life, Jane had said. She felt in her pocket and found the mysterious letter. She pulled it out and read her two letters over, holding and comparing them in her mind, and then she walked to her small desk in her wide life.
My name is Kayla Airson. Your letter to Butterfly accidentally came to my house. Since I read your letter I have been finding out new things about life. I've found that sometimes our world is wider than we think. My life isn't perfect but it's right for me.
Love, Kayla, your maybe friend
P.S. I am enclosing my return address in case you want to write.
P.P.S.There are more worlds in your world than you think.