In the brief time Sophy had been in the attic, her eyes had adjusted to the dimness. She made out shapes in the gloom, mostly the kind you’d expect in an attic—boxes, stacks of old castoff lamps, clothes, ancient appliances. But as she came around a corner of boxes piled high, suddenly it all changed. Here there was no dust. Here, the floor opened up, neat and shining, to a clean fresh space lined on all sides with bookshelves. And on the shelves, free of dust as well, were rows and rows of books. Old old books with real leather covers and words in gold lettering that had faded with time. Some of the spines had ridges, some were smooth. Sophy, not even thinking about it, was reaching out a hand to touch one of the wine-dark covers when she heard Aristotle’s bark-like voice from a corner.
“Sophy!” he gruffed. “You look so much like your mother. Beautiful, beautiful mother. Ah, how I miss her.”
Turning her head to his voice, Sophy saw him. He was small, too, possibly even tinier than Glaydis because he was not as robust. All chin and cheekbones in his face, with thin, soft-looking skin hanging loosely around his features, wispy white hair springing from his scalp. He laid in a bed with blue-striped sheets pulled up to his chest. Over the crisp sheets he had folded his ancient-looking hands, bumpy and spotted and bony looking, pajama cuffs almost swallowing them completely. Propped up on brightly white pillows, he looked old and tired and sunken. Not until you looked closely at his eyes did you realize how much life burned hot still inside the frail-looking body. They gave the feeling that if he could move things with his eyes, his power would be limitless.
“Oh, Ari,” said Glaydis, patting one of his gnarled hands softly, “you always did have a weakness for brown eyes.”
“Hmmmph,” Ari gruffed again. “Eyes have nothing to do with it. Antoinette Thorne was beautiful inside and out. So was Edward, for that matter.” He turned his head to Sophy. “Your parents were wonderful people. I’m sure many have told you that.”
Tears burned in Sophy’s eyes. She tried to find the voice to say that no, no one had bothered to tell her that. That no, no one ever really even talked to her about her parents. That her aunt and uncle seemed to think it was in her best interest not to dwell on her parents, lost to her now forever.
Glaydis seemed to understand immediately. “We’re telling you now, dear girl,” she said, her voice comforting and soft. “We’re telling you now.”
Sophy sniffed. Reaching a tiny hand into a hidden pocket, Glaydis extracted a little soft square of cloth. “Here, dear,” she said, stretching her arm toward Sophy. “Take this for your nose.”
The cloth was barely larger than a square of toilet paper, and Sophy carefully dabbed around her nose and eyes with it. Sniffing rather loudly, she looked around for somewhere to sit, feeling overtall and large in the small, tidy, book-lined space.
“Oh!” Glaydis cried, “let me get you a seat.” She bustled behind one of the shelves and emerged with a small footstool. “This will do,” she said, and she put it at Sophy’s feet. Sophy, taking her cue, carefully sat down on the small stool. She found it surprisingly comfortable.
“Well,” Glaydis said. “Now that we’ve got you seated and all ears, I think it’s probably time that we explained a few things. Perhaps we should start with The Collection.”