The house looked about the way it always did: plain, weathered wood, with windows that were the only square thing in the whole face. It was still too tall, seeming to lean back against the hill, like a man too large for the chair he’d been given. The other homes on the row hunkered low enough on their two stories, and looked sideways at the leaning thing, a stranger wandered in from a strange land that they couldn’t quite get used to.
Giada craned her head back too, measuring it. The neighbors had always said that Home would look smaller as she grew up. But she’d gotten plenty tall in the last few years, and the house still looked like a gangly giant.
Stepping up to the door, she knocked and flipped her bag down to the ground to wait.
Elain opened the door, blonde hair pulled into a loose braid. She looked the way she always did, calm, and happy, and carelessly put into perfect order. Her eyes widened a little, and she paused in the doorway.
“Surprise,” Giada said, and shrugged.
“Star tails,” Elain murmured. Then she threw the door open, as quick and as wide as her smile. “Get in here.”
Giada half picked up her bag, half kicked it over the threshold, then shoved it into the first corner beside her.
“My ship came in early,” Giada said. She paused, wrapped Elain in a deep hug, and smiled into her shoulder. “Storms were bad. We didn’t even realize how close we were until yesterday. Who else is in? I tried to get a look at the lists, but the docks have gone crazy with the Festival coming up, and I couldn’t stand for more than a second without getting an elbow to the ribs.”
Elain pulled back instantly. “You don’t know…” She tried to push her lips together in a flat line, but couldn’t quite manage it. “Wait here.”
“What?” Giada said.
Elain took off running, feet hard on the stairs, swinging off the railing at every turn.
“You scare me!” Giada called after her.
And almost instantly, there was another clatter upstairs, as if something wild had heard her.
“Gia?” someone called. And the bit of Elain that Giada could still see – from shin to heel – pressed up against the wall and another bundle of skirt and leg came tumbling down the stairs. Kadri barreled into her as soon as she was off the stairs. Giada ducked, dropped to a knee to avoid her and laughed when she spilled to the floor too.
“When did you get in?” Kadri demanded.
“This morning!” Giada said.
“You should have told us!”
“It was two hours ago! When did you get in?”
“Like a week ago. And Betisa got in yesterday!”
“Bet?” Giada repeated, surprised.
Elain came back down, Betisa just ahead of her. Giada glanced at Kadri, just to make sure she wouldn’t get jumped again, then stood, grinning.
She couldn’t remember the last time the four of them were home.
There were others in the house. She could hear them shifting on the floor above and the one above that. Probably their mothers, maybe a few of their cousins. The house had always stayed full, just never so full as when all the girls were bouncing between the walls.
“We’re all here,” Giada said, just to say it out loud.
“We’re all here,” Elain repeated.
Betisa glanced crookedly around their little circle. “And the day after tomorrow is Festival.”
“Oh no,” Kadri said.
Giada thought her face might pull apart, because she was searching for something wider than a grin. “Someone had better call the constable.”