Can't Help Falling(4)

By: Kara Isaac

She stuck her head in. Darkness met her like a warm embrace. For all the unfulfilled promises her mother had made, for some reason the one about always feeling safe in wardrobes had stuck. Along with the compulsion to continue her mother’s lifelong mission to find the one.

There were rules, of course. No feeling for the back until you were inside. No playing it safe, keeping your feet on the outside and reaching out. You had to commit. Narnia would never be found by those who were uncertain or ambivalent.

Sitting on the bottom, she swung her legs inside, tucked them toward her chest, and pulled the door closed behind her until just a sliver of light remained. Her hand hit something small. In the darkness she couldn’t see what. Picking it up, she held it right in front of her face. A floral teacup and saucer set. What was a teacup doing in a wardrobe? Though, to be fair, it was probably thinking the same thing about her. Her hand relocated it under her tented knees so she wouldn’t accidentally break it.

She sat for a second. Felt her shoulders relax against the wood. Then realized she wasn’t alone in this space. Something soft brushed against her head. Reaching up, she grasped a sleeve. Her pulse drummed in her throat. Maybe . . . She’d never really allowed herself to hope it might be true. Even though she couldn’t deny her compulsion to climb inside every antique-looking, wooden wardrobe. The deep-seated kind that wouldn’t allow her to walk away until she knew for sure it wasn’t a portal.

But there had never been one filled with coats before.

Well, if this was it, she wasn’t going to discover the mystical land sitting on her backside. Pushing herself up to standing, she faced the back of the wardrobe and reached out a hand in front, preparing for disappointment, yet half expecting to feel the soft whisper of a snowflake against her fingers.

Her hand hit wood. Solid, unmoving wood. Her whole body sagged. There was no portal here. She was crazy. Just like her mother.

Emelia battled the urge to sink to the floor. To curl herself up into a ball and cry. What was she doing here? In Oxford. In an antiques shop. In a wardrobe. It would have been funny, if it weren’t so pathetic.

Turning around, she leaned her forehead against the frame of the door, trying to settle her thundering pulse and soothe the unreasonable disappointment that had blossomed inside.

Suddenly, light flooded in. Everything shifted and her body jolted, discombobulated by the sudden change.

“Argh . . .” Arms flailing, she plunged headlong into the space where the door had vanished faster than a Turkish delight within Edmund’s reach.

“Oomph.” The sound of air bursting from lungs registered about the same time as the sensation of arms grasping her waist, preventing her from hitting the floor.

A blur of navy blue and the scent of cinnamon were all she managed to distinguish from the chaos as her feet found the ground.

One thing she knew for sure: there was no chance this was the octogenarian who’d been holding down the fort when she’d walked in. A good thing, since she would have squashed him flat. Instead, she found herself staring up into the very surprised face of a green-eyed male with an unruly thatch of what could only be described as flaming ginger hair.

Relinquishing his hold, he grinned down at her. “So . . .” The accent told her he was as English as mushy peas and warm beer. “Are you a Susan or a Lucy?”

A Susan or a Lucy? Where did that come from? Victor was always the one with the lines, not him. Never him. Peter was the guy who could practice a line for days and be left dry mouthed and mute when it came time to deliver it. Let alone when someone who looked like a Narnian wood nymph fell on top of him.

The missing girl stared up at him. All wide blue-gray eyes and wavy hair the color of Cadbury milk chocolate. She was tall too, reaching his nose when most girls barely made it to his shoulders.

She was clearly a Lucy. Susan, ever the older sister, was way too practical to go climbing into wardrobes on a whim.

“Let me guess. You’re Peter.” Both her tone and her face were inscrutable. The only thing that gave anything away was the American accent.

He frowned, searching her face for anything that could trigger a memory of her. “Do I know you?”

Now she looked confused as she shook her head, hair bouncing across her shoulders. “No. Why?”

“Then how do you know my name?”

“Your name?”

This was the weirdest conversation ever. Not that, he supposed, much more could be expected when it began with someone falling out of a wardrobe onto you. “How did you know my name was Peter?”

Now she gave him the kind of look one gave someone extraordinarily thick. “I was being sarcastic. Peter. As in Peter and Edmund. Lucy and Susan’s brothers. And no one ever wants to be Edmund, do they?”