As Annie walked up to the large Erie doorway that stood before her, she did her best to keep her chin up like her mother, a beautiful woman named Leah had always told her to do. Somehow Annie knew this place. Maybe in some other life or some other time, it could have even been her home.
A year ago, in situations like these, she would have been frightened and unhappy. But while the latter was still true, the former she was anything but. During the past 12 months of 11-year-old Annie's life, she had been moved from one foster home to the next. And though she never had time to begin to feel at home before moving to the next house she had grown accustomed to moving around. She was a good girl. She never did anything quite so bad to deserve this. She thought to herself that no one ever did but even that did little to comfort her.
Her father had left when she was not quite two and she had lived with a loving mother since then. Her mother had been laid off and could not find anyone willing to hire her. After so long she could no longer take care of Annie. Having few relatives she was put into the foster care system. She was a bright girl, smarter than her 11 years. Always finding a way out of anything she got herself into. She was able to make the best out of last year. And though it had been difficult, she remained happy.
Annie was snapped out of her thoughts by Miss Harper, the nice lady who she was to stay with for the summer. "Good heavens child." Miss Harper said with some emphasis, "You gave me quite a fright. Your head in the clouds, were they?" Until just now Annie had not realized she was still standing in the middle of the doorway and blocking Miss Harper's path. "Sorry Miss Harper" Annie apologized, "I guess I zoned out for a moment there."
"There's no need to apologize dear. I can't imagine how hard it must feel to move again." Miss Harper replied comfortingly, "Now let's get you settled shall we?" She led Annie through the door. They wound their way through what had to have been the biggest house that Annie had ever seen.
Miss Harper was a wealthy woman in her early 40's. She lived in a large house on a beautiful estate in the countryside. Not knowing where to go, Annie followed the woman quite blindly. She was led to a big room on the second floor of the house. "This is going to be your room for the summer Annie. What do you think?" Miss Harper asked, looking for a response. "It looks comfortable," Annie replied more cheerily than she felt inside. "Is something wrong dear?"
"It's nothing really, I just need a moment to think."
"Of course. I'll be making us some lunch downstairs. If you need anything just holler." Miss Harper chirped as she left the room. Annie was alone in a big house all by herself. The room she was in was quite large. Had it been any bigger she might have thought it quite daunting. It had a cozy feel about it. But she still had to try hard not to cry.
To take her mind off things she decided to explore. For though not in the highest of spirits, she could not keep herself from her curiosity. She wondered to herself what secrets such a big old house could be hiding.
She felt drawn to the tall bookshelf in the corner of the room. She loved to read books more than anything. She preferred fantasy or stories about real people's lives. In some strange way, she felt that they helped her to escape from her own life and its problems.
She pulled out a small, red leather-backed book. The thing had some wear on it like it had been read 50 times or so. She flicked through its pages and it appeared to be a diary or journal of some sort or other. She wondered if it would be rude to read it. That thought lasted about three seconds before curiosity overtook her. Upon opening the book at random, an old photo fell out. Fluttering to the wooden floor, it landed face up. Annie bent down to take a closer look. It was a photo of two young girls that looked about 11 and 14. The girls looked happy and Annie wondered where the picture had been taken. She flipped over the photo and there were three words written there. "Harper and Leah '' Annie read allowed. "How strange," Annie thought to herself, "Harper and Leah," She repeated to herself. For this to be the Same Leah she knew as her mother was preposterous. It was simply not possible. Annie quickly brushed away the silly thought and made a mental note to ask Miss Harper about it later.
She put the journal on her bed, pocketed the photo, and went downstairs. "Lunch is ready love." Miss Harper called from the kitchen, "Come and eat while it's still hot." Annie sat down and stared at the delicious-looking plate of food before her. Looking at the fried fish, salad, and a tall glass of lemonade almost made her mouth water. "It looks amazing Miss Harper!" Annie exclaimed.
"Eat up. I'm sure you'll want to look around when you're done. Just stay out of trouble alrighty?"
After eating, Annie put her things away, thanked Miss Harper for lunch, and skipped back up the stairs. Missing her mother all of a sudden, she tried to distract herself. She opened a door on her right and peered inside. The room wasn't as big as her own but it was close in size. The light flickered as she turned it on. Flinching, she realized just how nervous she really was. Everything in this room was covered in cobwebs and looked like it hadn't been touched in ages. Blowing the dust off of an old nightstand and the photos that sat on it she sat and stared. The photos were of a young woman with a baby girl and an older woman standing next to them. The frame was engraved with, "Harper and Leah '' Annie wondered who was who and wondered who the little girl was. There were similar photos cluttering the rest of the room and Annie was more than a little intrigued.
She headed downstairs to find Miss Harper and ask her about the journal and photos. "Miss Harper?" Annie called.
"In here dearie," she responded looking up to see Annie in the doorway. "Miss Harper, who are the girls in this photo and the other ones like it?"
"Why, that was my sister and me when we were children? That one I'm betting you found in my little sister's red journal didn't you?"
"Yes I did," Annie replied somewhat nervously, "I didn't read it but I-I..."
"It's fine Annie. I'm sure you meant no harm."
"Where is your sister now?" Annie asked curiously
"To be honest I don't know. She had a daughter and moved away when her little girl was not yet one. She didn't tell anyone anything. Not where she was going or when she'd be back. That was a long time ago. I haven't spoken to her since then." She informed Annie somewhat sadly, "Come to think about it, it's been about 10-and-a-half years since I've seen my sister or my little niece."
"What was your niece's name?"
"Leah left before she told anyone so I really don't have the slightest idea."
Before either of them could continue, they were interrupted by the phone ringing. "That must be Social Services. They said they would call me at some point today with more information about how long term you will be staying." Annie watched as Miss Harper went to the phone. The look on Miss Harper's face was strange as she sat listening to the person on the other end of the line. Her eyes looked sad but the rest of her face said otherwise. She looked like she felt more than a few emotions during that few minutes of the phone call. "It's Leah..."
"My mother or your sister?" Asked Annie not knowing which one she hoped for.
"B-both" replied Miss Harper looking as confused as Annie knew they both felt.
"What do you mean... how? I don't understand."
"Your mother just called saying that she has been given part-time custody and will be able to visit you. She also called to apologize for the past 11 years that she had been away." Said Miss Harper, piecing her story together as she told it. "It means that you little Annie is my niece, the one in the photos''
Annie thought about this. She stood there taking it all in. Miss Harper wasn't Miss Harper at all. She was Aunt Harper! And the reason Annie had felt the way she did when she had come to the house was that she had been here before. So many pieces to a puzzle she had no idea she had been a part of were coming together. "So if my mother is your sister and I'm your niece... then that would make you Aunt Harper?"
"It would appear so. And even better, your mother is coming for a visit tomorrow morning."
Annie would have cried had she been alone. Her mother was coming back for her after all these months? And poor aunt Harper! She was coming back to her after all these years. Annie's joy was louder than her confusion at that moment. She was happy that in some mysterious way things had turned out the way they did. She was going to see her mother!
Annie could hardly sleep that night. She didn’t remember falling asleep that night but she must have because she woke up the next morning. Remembering what the morning's events would be, she bolted out of her bed. She ran down the stairs faster than she ever had in her life that morning. Miss… Aunt Harper?” Aunt Harper was in the kitchen scrambling eggs. “She’ll be here in about 20 minutes dear.”
“I can’t wait that long Aunt Harper”
“I’ve waited as long as you’ve been alive Annie, I think we can both handle 20 more minutes don’t you?” Aunt Harper said cheerily.
“Alright,” Annie gave in, “but I still can’t wait.”
Annie stuffed her face with eggs and paced around the kitchen nervously. Just then the bell rang. Annie jumped up to her feet and ran to the door. Opening the door she exclaimed. “MOM!”
“ANNIE!” her mother cried, “I’ve missed you so much, baby.” All Annie could do was cry. 12 months without her and she had come back. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you two. I’m sorry Harper. I’ve been a terrible sister. My husband convinced me that I needed to move away and told me he would never speak to me again if I didn’t. I didn’t know what to do. It was a terrible thing for me to do. I divorced him before Annie was even two. After I left him I thought you would hate me so I didn’t come back. I kept Annie and we have lived alone together since then.”
“Oh Leah, I’ve missed you way too much to care about anything you did way back when. We’re sisters and nothing can tell me otherwise.” Aunt Harper replied through watery eyes.
Annie was the happiest she’d been in her life and she knew her aunt and mother had to be as happy if not happier. And while her mother did not yet have full custody she was allowed to take Annie 2-3 days a week depending on the week. And in a while, everything would be back to normal.
All through that summer, Annie spent many days with her mother and aunt. In the fall Annie started a new school. A few weeks after that her mother gained full custody. But instead of Annie moving in with her mother moved in with her. Annie didn't want to leave her aunt so that was the easiest solution. With such a big house there were no difficulties with the arrangement. She made new friends at school, something she hadn’t been able to do in a long time. Eventually, her life did go back to normal with the exception of her aunt being in her life.
Annie was finally at peace.