After a pause so quiet she thought she could hear the dust settling, Sophy finally said it out loud. “What do you mean by ‘we’?” she asked.
The old lady put her hand up and waved it in a half circle. “All of us, dear. We are your people, even though you do not know us.”
“My people,” Sophy echoed. She sat again on the bed, still hugging the pillow, and puffed up another dust cloud. “My people?”
“Your parents were our dearest friends,” Glaydis said. “We loved them so, and we miss them terribly. We cared for them, and they cared for us. In fact, it was for one last part of the Collection that they went out that fateful day. Being a Word Watcher can carry its dangers, there’s no question about that.”
“I don’t understand,” said Sophy, thoroughly confused. “I don’t understand any of this. I don’t know who you are. I’ve never heard of you or anyone else and I don’t understand how you knew my parents. And what is a Word Watcher? What is the Collection?”
Glaydis didn’t answer any of these questions directly. “We have been waiting for you to come for quite awhile now,” she said, instead. “It’s been two years since we lost your parents, and we’ve not been quite sure what to do. At first we thought...well...since the house belongs to...”
“Glaydis!” suddenly came from the dark corner where all the scuffling had started. “Glaydis! What is it?”
Glaydis laughed, a tiny chortling laugh and put a tiny wrinkled hand over her mouth. “Bless me!” she said, laughing again. “I forgot all about Aristotle.”
“Aristotle?” Sophy said, incredulous. “You don’t mean, that Aristotle?”
Glaydis laughed again. “Oh, no, my dear, although that speaks so well to both your acceptance of what is beyond this world and your knowledge of history! Well done.” She put her two hands to her head scarf and made a little adjustment. “No. Aristotle is my husband.” She turned again. “Ari!” she said, a little more loudly, before turning back to Sophy and whispering, “He’s a little hard of hearing. Ari!” she said again, a little louder.
“Yes!” he responded, his voice gruff but not unpleasant, like the bark of a friendly dog.
“My dear,” Glaydis answered, “She’s here! Sophy is finally, finally here!” She held out a hand to Sophy. “Walk over here with me, my dear,” she said. “Ari has a bit of trouble getting around.”
Sophy slowly rose from the bed, letting the ratty pillow fall from her hands as she did. Her mind stumbled around on everything she’d just seen and heard—a tiny old woman apparently living in her aunt and uncle’s attic with a hidden old man named Aristotle, both of whom knew her parents? Word Watchers and something about a Collection, and this wasn’t really an attic at all but the Sky Parlor, and now here she was, rising from a dusty, creaky old bed and walking toward an impossibly tiny woman holding out a kindly hand to her.
And still she walked forward, drawn perhaps by the unexpected kindness as a thirsty gazelle draws near water, even while sensing danger all around.