The regal stone arches and towers of the St. Andrew’s Church silently stood sentinel, and rays of bright morning sunlight shone serenely through the elaborate, arched stained-glass windows. The calm serenity of the early hours contrasted spectacularly with the commotion inside the church’s walls. A crowd of well-dressed figures milled around the chapel’s interior, chatting jovially and none too quietly. An atmosphere of optimistic joy permeated the room, and spirits were high, for today was the rehearsal for the wedding of Miss Caroline Wilkinson and Mister Brian Patterson. Caroline, a vivacious girl of twenty-two, was not clad in her wedding gown—that would have to wait for the following day. Instead, she wore a simple white floor-length dress. She was in the midst of the crowd, laughing and gesticulating animatedly as she conversed with her bridesmaids. Brian, spiky-haired and slightly round-faced, tweaked the collar of his tuxedo unconsciously as he talked with Mary Pritchard, Caroline’s sister, and her husband Ron.
Mary, dressed in a smart black pleated skirt and white blouse, looked very young for her age—at least, that’s what everyone told her. She was only just thirty, which not many would consider old, but with her soft brown hair and rosy complexion she could easily pass for the same age as Caroline. Standing awkwardly at her side was her daughter Olivia, a girl of about eight. Olivia fidgeted incessantly, bored with the adults’ conversation. She felt, however, that it would be rude to just leave, especially since Brian was making fruitless attempts to draw her into the conversation as well. Whenever he directed a question at her, she would answer vaguely before lapsing back into silence, waiting for her parents to rescue her from having to say anything further. She did not know Brian very well. She had been around him a fair amount, because he had usually been present whenever she and her parents visited Aunt Caroline. That didn’t mean she had made any attempt to get to know him. She wasn’t good at talking to grownups; she’d much rather have a kid her own age with whom she could play, tell secrets, make dumb jokes, build blanket forts, and dress up.
Olivia glumly surveyed the room, the adults’ ramblings meaningless noise in her ears. She could barely see a few feet in front of her, due to the thick web of legs clogging the chapel. Why couldn’t there be anyone her age here? Even a boy would do…maybe. A girl would be much better though. Her lamentations were suddenly interrupted—she became aware that Brian was saying her name.
“Hm?” Olivia turned her attention to Brian, wondering what he was going to ask this time. She really did not feel like answering more generic questions about herself and her school and whatnot, but she had been brought up to respect her elders, so she pulled herself out of her thoughts and paid attention.
“I was just telling your parents, and I thought you might like to know. My sister Kate’s daughter is here somewhere, and I figured you might like to hang out with her. I don’t want to bore you with my constant interrogation,” he said with a good-humored chuckle. “Her name’s Lavender, and she’s your age. In fact—aha! Here she is now!” Brian pointed towards the church’s entrance, where a harried but genial-looking woman was being dragged along by an enthusiastic girl.
“Hey, Uncle Brian!” the girl gushed, embracing him around his middle, the highest point on him that she could reach. Olivia observed her curiously. She was rather petite, with dancing dark eyes and a wide grin that exuded an aura of mischievousness. She had dark, wild, wavy locks, and, from what Olivia could tell, she was not shy by any definition of the word. In fact, she reminded Olivia of a pixie.
“How are ya, sweetie?” Brian ruffled her hair playfully.
“Good.” Lavender suddenly turned to Olivia, who realized that she had been staring at Lavender vacantly even since she arrived. “Who are you?” she inquired, a singular eyebrow raised.
“Umm…I’m Olivia.” She lowered her gaze as she answered. Unlike this energetic girl, she did not easily open up to people she had never met before. However, her wish had been granted—here was another girl her age with which she could pass the boring hours. She figured she had better make her best effort.
Brian crouched down next to Olivia. “You know your aunt-to-be, Caroline?” Lavender nodded, her eyes still intently fixed on Olivia, her finger on her lip in an expression of polite curiosity. “Well, Caroline has a sister named Mary, and this is her daughter.” In Olivia’s opinion, this explanation only boosted the level of confusion, but Lavender nodded again.
“Okay! Well, hi Olivia.”
“You can call me Liv…y’know, if you want.”
“Cool, you’ve got a nickname? I’ve never really had one.”
“We could be Liv and Lav,” Olivia suggested. As soon as she said it, she realized how stupid it sounded. Lavender, however, smiled.
“Liv and Lav…I like it.” Olivia couldn’t help but break into a smile as well.
“Brian, it looks like everyone’s headed to their places,” Lavender’s mom said.
Brian glanced at his watch. “Shoot, it’s already 9? Sorry about that!” he said apologetically to Mary and Ron. “I guess we’d better go, then. It’s my own wedding rehearsal, and I still can’t be on time!”
“Liv, you stay with Lavender,” Mary instructed.
“Don’t worry too much, Mary. Lavender knows this church like the back of her hand,” Brian said. “As long as you two stick together, you can go anywhere you want. We’ll be done in a few hours, okay?”
“Gotcha, Uncle Brian.” Lavender winked at him.
“All right…just be careful, Liv. And you, Lavender.”
“We’ll be fine, Mom,” Olivia said, a bit exasperatedly.
With that, Brian jogged through the crowd to the front of the church, Mary, Ron, and Kate in his wake. Olivia found herself alone with Lavender.
“Uh…” Olivia racked her brain for an interesting conversation starter. “So…you know this place pretty well?”
“Oh yeah,” Lavender replied, rocking on her toes, hands clasped behind her back. “We go to church here every Sunday.”
“Cool,” Olivia said blandly, inwardly cursing her social awkwardness. Lavender, however, had not registered Olivia’s answer. It looked as though she were pondering something thoughtfully.
“What’re you thinking about?”
She smiled slyly. “I’m thinking…we should go down to the basement.”
Olivia was taken aback. “T-the basement? Why?”
“There’s some fun stuff to do down there,” Lavender said happily, giving a thumbs-up. “Why? You’re not scared, are you?”
“No!” Olivia said defensively.
“It’s not even dark down there, really. Come on! It’s better than being up here.”
Olivia agreed with that sentiment. “All right, I’ll go.”
Lavender flashed her devious grin. “This way!” She slipped off her shoes and bounded out of sight down a hallway just off the entrance to the chapel. Fearful of losing her, Olivia did likewise and half-ran, half-slid across the carpeted passageway, her hair flying behind her. Geez, just how much energy did this girl have? She saw Lavender waving to her from a narrow carpeted staircase at the end of the hall. Heart hammering, Olivia bounded forward to meet up with Lavender.
“Down here, but be quiet,” Lavender whispered to the winded Olivia.
“How…come?” Olivia breathed.
Lavender took a lithe step down the stairwell, arms poised gracefully. She looked ready for either a ballet or a fistfight. “Sometimes, when I’m alone down here, I like to pretend like I’m a ninja, or a spy,” she said. On the landing, she did a somersault. “Well? Come on, Liv!”
“Okay…” Olivia got down on all fours and climbed catlike down the steps.
“See? You’ve got the hang of this already,” Lavender said approvingly. Together, the pair of ninjas snuck down the rest of the staircase to find themselves in another carpeted hall. This one was lined on the left by wooden doors with various religious posters and pictures on them. Each was marked with a number. Olivia and Lavender were crouched just outside 101. Even though it was early morning, the basement was rather dark and shadowy. The noises from the wedding crowd above could not be heard down here.
“Where’s the fun stuff you were talking about?” Olivia whispered.
“We’re almost there,” Lavender said. “This way.” She silently padded down the hall, footsteps muted by the carpet. Olivia trailed her, a bit creeped out by the eerie quiet. Lavender and Olivia rounded a corner into another, almost identical hallway. Lavender motioned towards the second door on the right, room 107. “In here!”
“Won’t it be locked?” Olivia asked.
“Nah, it’s always open,” Lavender said confidently. Sure enough, when she pulled down on the handle, it swung open easily. Together, the girls tiptoed into the room beyond.
It was a relatively small room, with bright carpeting and cheerful yellow walls, their tones dimmed by the lack of light. A low shelf along the back length of the room contained a variety of puzzles, board games, toys, and craft supplies—paper, glue sticks, markers, crayons, and glitter. Lavender was standing by a squat blue cabinet, situated adjacently to a tiny bathroom.
Olivia joined Lavender by the cabinet. “What’s in there?”
“This is where the fun stuff is,” Lavender said, a note of excitement in her voice. Suddenly serious, she added, “This is a secret, Liv. We’re spies, remember?”
“I thought we were ninjas.”
“Whatever. Just don’t tell anyone, okay? This is top secret info.”
“I won’t tell,” Olivia promised. Her anticipation was mounting. What was Lavender so eager to keep a secret?
“Cross your heart?” Lavender asked, a bit anxiously.
“Cross my heart,” Olivia affirmed.
“Okay,” Lavender said. “Okay.” She placed one small hand on the handle and held it there for a second. Olivia waited with bated breath, as if the secrets of the universe were going to be revealed to her, rather than the contents of a random cabinet in the basement of St. Andrew’s. Finally, Lavender closed her eyes and pulled the door open to reveal…