Princess Emily tied back her wild honey-colored hair, tucked up her skirts, and mounted her pony. The cool afternoon breeze blew a smile onto her face, and she looked forward eagerly to the ride ahead of her.
“Are you coming, Leanna?” she asked, turning slightly in her saddle.
“In a moment, dear sister,” came the reply. Princess Leanna was having trouble keeping her pony still as she tried to mount it. She had only just learned to ride and mounting was harder for her since she was two years younger and two inches shorter.
Princess Emily nodded and rested her hands patiently on the reins of her own pony. Moments later, Princess Leanna was beside her; and they were galloping swiftly down the trail from the castle.
“It’s such a lovely day right now, but I do hope those clouds bring a storm. Storms are always so exciting to watch from the tower room,” Princess Leanna said as she tried to keep reins and stirrups straight.
“I don’t know if I like quiet storms or loud ones better. Thunder and lightning are so exciting, but rain is perfect for reading,” Princess Emily replied.
Her sister laughed. “You and reading.”
She laughed with her. They continued down the trail and pulled their ponies to a stop at the mailbox. Both girls dismounted. Leanna opened the mailbox.
“Anything?” Emily asked.
“Just a few ads,” Leanna said in disgust.
The girls got back on their ponies and back into character to begin the rest of their ride home to the castle. The clouds were moving swiftly together to hide the sun and turn the sky an ashy gray. Princess Emily noticed this and urged her horse faster towards the castle, praying that they wouldn’t be caught in the rain. Princess Leanna tucked the mail into the front of her riding jacket and hurried to follow her.
“Looks like the king has returned,” the older sister said as they came upon his carriage in the driveway.
He was just getting out of it tired and worn from a long day of work, but he managed to smile when he saw his princesses coming. They dismounted immediately and curtsied before giving him a hug.
He laughed. “Still playing princesses, I see.”
They grinned. He didn’t seem to mind if they did.
“Well, Princess Emily and Princess Leanna,” he paused to squint up at the threatening sky, “I think you’d better get your ponies into the stable before it rains. When you’re done, come inside for dinner. I have something important to tell you.”
“Okay, Dad,” they said, smiling again and hurried towards the garage.
Emily propped her bicycle against the wall and moved out of the way so Leanna could “stable her pony”. They stepped outside into the windy yard and outran the first few soft raindrops to the front porch. The house was warm and inviting in comparison, and they could smell dinner as they slipped their shoes off in the entryway.
“Chicken soup with hot rolls,” Leanna guessed.
“And apple pie for dessert,” Emily added.
They soon discovered that their noses had been telling the strict truth as they sat down at the table across from their older brother Will and their darling baby sister Mae. Mom carried in the pot of steaming chicken soup and set it down on a trivet next to the basket of hot rolls. Peeking through the kitchen doorway, they could even see a bit of the apple pie pan; and they gave each other a fist bump under the table. Detective was another game they played.
Moments later, Will was piling mashed potatoes onto his plate; Mae was licking the butter off her roll; and Emily and Leanna were blowing on their soup waiting impatiently for it to cool. Dad suddenly set down his spoon and folded his hands causing everyone to look up at him. He was going to tell them something important now, wasn’t he?
Mae was now ripping her roll into tiny pieces and tossing them to the cat, but no one noticed because they were busy waiting for Dad to speak. Mom placed a supportive hand on his arm, and he cleared his throat.
“We are about to start another adventure.”
The children looked up at him in surprise.
“Where? What?” Will asked.
“My job has moved to Dunton Station, so we’ll need to move with it. This will mean a new house, new friends, new surroundings.”
Emily and Leanna exchanged glances. The house they lived in right now had just the right size yard, the right number of trees, and enough stonework on the porch to make the princess game work. Dunton Station was very far away.
“It also means being closer to Grandma and Grandpa,” Mom added, causing them to cheer up a little inside.
“I want you all to pray about this on your own and ask God to help you be strong, grateful adventurers. I don’t really like the idea of moving either, but it’s what He’s decided to give us next.”
Emily nodded and Leanna bit her lip. Will asked a few questions about details, but the rest of dinner was much quieter than usual.
Emily yawned and pulled her blanket tighter around her. She had been talking to God and was already beginning to feel braver. Living in the city would be different but not completely bad, and there was always Grandma and Grandpa. Outside the rain held a square dance on the roof making the girls’ room in the tower seem much cozier than usual.
“Princess Emily,” her sister whispered from her bed on the other side of the room.
“I’m still awake, Princess Leanna,” Princess Emily replied, propping herself up on one elbow.
“What do you think of the adventure we are going on?”
“I’m almost looking forward to it. It will be very different, but sometimes that’s good. What do you think?”
“I think it is all going to be all right, but there’s just one thing I’m worried about.” Princess Leanna sighed.
“What is it?” Princess Emily asked, drawing her robin’s egg blue blanket up to her chin.
“Will the princess game still work?”
“I’ve been wondering that myself.”
Princess Leanna yawned and lay down against her pillow. “Maybe we’ll make up a new game.”
“Maybe so. Goodnight, Princess Leanna.”
Leanna was already fast asleep.
Emily leaned forward to pick up her pen, but it slid away from her as the minivan turned. They had been on the road for five hours now, and the inside of the van was a cross between a traveling circus and a junkyard. The suitcases had been tucked nicely under the seats; but every other nook and cranny had been filled with the leftovers from packing the moving van so that it nearly burst at the seams.
She noticed that her pen had rolled into the foot well near the side door. “Will, would you pass my pen please?”
He leaned sideways out of his seat to get it for her then passed it to the back bench she and Leanna were sharing with the diaper bag, an antique lamp, and a dusty soccer ball.
“Thanks.” She gave the pen and the clipboard to her sister who added another feature to the girl they were drawing together.
The car swerved again; and Leanna said, “I bet if Mae could talk, she’d ask if we were there yet.”
Emily laughed. “I’m almost ready to say it myself.”
They had crossed the old train tracks nearly half an hour ago and just now were beginning to reach the actual city. The buildings were taller than any they had ever seen, and they craned their necks to see the tops of them. Dad turned the van into a parking lot near one of the buildings, and the girls exchanged glances. Was this it?
Leanna asked the question. “Are we going to be living here in this hotel?”
Dad stopped the van in a parking space near the building. “This is an apartment building and each of those porches belong to a small house. Yes, we will be living here.”
Will slid the side door open, and they all piled out of the van. Mom took the sleeping Mae in her arms, and they walked silently towards the building. Dad visited the front desk and put the “house” key in his pocket then led them towards the elevator that would take them to their floor.
Everything was clean, shiny, and brand new. They were all quiet as the elevator glided up noiselessly to the third floor. Moments later, they entered their apartment, and the silence turned into a relieved hum of activity. Dad and Mom decided the air conditioning should be turned on right away, and they began thumbing through the instruction manual and fiddling with the dials.
Leanna and Emily started their exploring with the room Dad had promised them. The walls were the stark white of a sheet of paper, and the window looked out on a busy street. Mom had promised them paint and lacy curtains. Having their own things in the room would help a little as well, but it was still nothing like home.
“The princess game…” Leanna said sadly as they stood in the living room. Every room in the apartment was the same. And every apartment in the five floors was probably the same as the next. No stonework, no yard, probably even no room to ride the ponies.
Emily swallowed and nodded. “We haven’t been on the porch yet.”
She took her younger sister’s hand and led her outside onto the porch. Dad and Mom had figured out the air conditioner and moved on to discussing furniture placement. Mae had fallen asleep on a blanket on the floor, and Will was inflating an air mattress for the night. They had the porch all to themselves, and they could see the whole world from that tiny platform.
Buildings and buildings stretched out below them. From the top they were very different from each other—each one had its own character and shade of color. They could even see as far as the train tracks and the old station the city was named after. Someday they would have to ask Dad to take them and the ponies down there to explore.
“A treehouse, Emily!” Leanna said excitedly.
“Yes! That’s perfect! The buildings are like trees, all alike but different from each other somehow. And the house is small and cozy. It’s perfect!”
They hugged each other happily.
“I’m going inside to tell Mom and Dad that we found a game,” Leanna said.
Emily lingered on the porch for a moment and looked up at the city sky. It was ashy gray with clouds. What was a treehouse like in storms?
“Thanks for the game, God. Thanks for helping us to be grateful. But I was wondering—what do you call people who live in treehouses?”