The streets of London are busy, the clatter of hooves and the rumble of carriages over cobblestone mingling with the calls of costermongers and flower girls. I knock on the door of a tidy little brownstone that smacks of new wealth with none of the sophistication of the landed aristocracy. A girl with wild green eyes and black hair, dressed in a gown of clashing colors that makes me think she’s half gypsy, opens the door.
Maria: Well, what do ya’ want?
Author: Er, I have an appointment with Miss Summer Lee.
The girl’s eyes narrow as she studies my modern clothing suspiciously, but before she can say another word, a voice calls from the parlor.
Summer: Oh, do stop being so tiresome, Maria. Let the lady in and bring us some tea.
The black haired girl humphs, but allows me inside, and I try not to gawk too much at the antiques that surround me as she leads me into a smallish room with dark green velvet drapes heavy enough to feel oppressive. I blink while my eyes adjust to the light, and study the girl sitting on the chaise. While Maria had made me think gypsy, Summer Lee made me think of a forest fairy, with her diminutive stature and golden coloring. I had to remind myself that although I knew Summer well, I was a complete stranger to her, so I resisted the urge to hug her, and instead sat on a lovely velvet wingback chair.
A: You asked to see me?
S, nods eagerly: Oh, yes. I need your help.
A, smiling: I think you can manage whatever life throws your way, Summer. You don’t need me.
S: But I do. I’m terribly confused, you see, and it’s all your fault.
A, squirms a little, but refuses to feel too guilty: You’re in a bit of trouble. But I have every confidence you’ll figure everything out.
S: Tarnation, if it weren’t for that man, I’d agree with you.
A: I assume you mean the duke?
S, throws her arms up in the air: Who else? Not that I’m complaining about hiring him, mind. He managed to turn the outside of me into a lady, leastways.
She did look charming. Her hair had been swept up in an elegant back bun, with perfect spiral curls falling across her cheeks, a fringe of hair on her forehead softening her elfin features. She wore a dress of ivory satin, edged with lace around the neck and hem, with a full bustle swelling behind her. Embroidered slippers peeked from beneath the lace of her gown, and a stunning pearl choker circled her throat. I sighed as I looked down at my worn tennis shoes and denim-clad legs.
A: You’re now as lovely outside as you are on the inside.
S, scowling: Ha. You know darn well what terrible thing I did—
Fortunately, Maria chose that moment to enter the parlor, bearing a tea tray glittering with silver and china, which she set down with a clatter. The hem of her purple and green striped skirt lifted, and out ran the tiniest Chihuahua I’d ever seen. The little dog barked at me once, then cocked her head at my shoelaces, a wicked gleam in her eyes, and promptly bounced over and settled herself at my feet, chewing on the ends of the strings gleefully. At the same time, the bundle of fur on Maria’s shoulder uncurled itself to reveal a little monkey, gazing at me curiously.
A, smiling in pure delight: Chi-chi! India, you little scamp. You’re both even cuter than I imagined.
M, frowning in confusion, and then shrugging: Summer, the duke is waiting in his carriage for ya’. And ya’ know how he hates to be kept waiting.
S: He’s more than an hour early. She huffs. Oh, botheration, tell him I’ll be right there. Looks at the tea tray and me regretfully. Do you think you can come back so we can have a proper talk?
A: I’m sorry, Summer, but I don’t think I can manage this again. It’s…difficult to come to you. I start feeling woozy, and kinda hazy around the edges.
Summer bounds to her feet, silk skirts swishing, and grasps my hand.
S: But wait. You have to tell me what happens. What am I going to do?
A: I wish I could, Summer. But the truth is, I just don’t know.
S, brown eyes flashing gold: Tarnation, how can you not know?
A: Because my characters always take over the story, Summer. I have no idea what you’re going to do next. The room shimmers and fades and Chi-chi lets go of my shoelaces with a startled yelp. But don’t worry. I promise you’ll have a happily-ever-after. I write romances, after all.