Binny clutched one final box of Skrumshus chocolates that the girls hadn’t eaten. She’d said goodbye to Matilda and Maisie. It seemed like it was way past their bedtimes, but of course, bedtimes were pretty much irrelevant in the Stacks. It wasn’t like there were any parents to enforce them anyway.
Binny could tell it was late from the sparseness of the crowd in the hallway all heading to their various destinations. Binny opened the wooden door with the wrought iron decorations and headed into the garden. It was lit by moonlight, and beautiful even in the low light.
Binny took a moment to take a look around the garden. Matilda hadn’t completely convinced Binny that the Stacks was a great place, but she had made her take a moment to appreciate some of the benefits.
The garden was truly beautiful. Binny saw the moonlight glint of some of the sprays of gray branches that formed arches between the trees. And then Binny’s eye caught something moving in a far corner.
Binny walked towards one of the garden’s evergreen alcoves tucked against the garden’s walls. Some of them contained tall moss-covered flower urns. But this particular one had a stone bench. And on the bench was sitting a man – the man with the glasses that Binny had met at the Library twice now.
“You scared me.” Binny sounded annoyed.
“You didn’t look scared.”
The man was talking with that half smirk that Binny had noticed before. It bugged her. “OK. Maybe you didn’t scare me. But you are annoying me.”
“Ouch!” The man feigned injury.
Trying to sound more serious, the man said, “I’m sorry. I just wanted to find you and apologize.”
“For what?” Binny crossed her arms.
“I saw what happened the other morning in the hallway. You made something, didn’t you? For Michel.”
“What if I did?”
“Well, I worried that since I advised you to read the book, that I was somewhat responsible for sending you down that path.” The man said.
“I make my own choices.”
“Oh?” The man sounded surprised.
Binny thought he was being condescending. “You don’t think I can make my own choices?” And then after thinking a moment, Binny added, “In the Stacks anyway.”
“Of course you can. But what do you mean by ‘in the Stacks’?” The man asked.
“I just mean that we can’t make our own choices when we’re in our books. Then it’s up to our authors I guess.” Binny said. “I’m not really sure how it all works to be honest.”
“And you think that here, outside of your book, you have more freedom to do what you want?” The man asked.
“Well, it’s a funny thing. To be honest. I’ve been wondering if the freedom we have in the Stacks is really all that free. I mean if I get in trouble for writing a poem? It wasn’t even something big. Just a haiku. You know what I mean?”
“I know what you mean.” The man smiled gently looking pleased with himself.
“You’re doing that thing again.” Binny’s eyes narrowed.
“That thing where you talk as if you know something I don’t. I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but it’s kind of annoying.”
“Ah, the annoying thing again.”
Binny nodded for emphasis.
“I sometimes have that effect on people. Kids especially.”
“You have kids?” Binny asked.
It was the man’s turn to be caught off guard. “Uh, well, yes in fact. I do.” The man thought for a moment. “In fact, I’m looking for them now.”
“Well, the key is to think about where they might like to hang out, at least in terms of places from books, and then go to that place. At least that’s been my strategy.”
“Binneeeeeeeee.” Hermione’s voice sailed over the garden’s wall.
“Oh, I better go. I’m late. It’s been nice talking to you.” The man headed for the garden’s exit.
“OK. Goodbye I guess.” Binny shook her head at the man’s sudden exit.
“Binnneeeeee,” Hermione yelled again.
“I’m here. I’m coming,” Binny said, so Hermione would stop yelling.
Hermione entered the garden from the house side. “Was someone just here?”
Binny thought for a moment, and then not entirely sure why, said, “Nope. I was just enjoying the moonlight for a moment before I came in.”
Hermione looked skeptical, but said no more on the topic. “I’m glad you decided to come home.”
“I brought you guys something.” Binny handed the box with the purple ribbon to Hermione.
“From Skrumshus? Arya loves these. Me too,” Hermione said excitedly.
At least for the moment, Binny felt like she’d avoided a scolding. Binny made a mental note to bring home sweets whenever possible.
Binny sat cross-legged in front of the fire, watching Arya tear into the chocolate sampler from the candy factory in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. The book, not the movie! Even Katniss sampled one. Binny, for her part, was quite sick of sugar at the moment.
Binny thought back to the events of the evening. She didn’t want to share that she’d found her book father. The results made her feel rejected and ashamed. And she certainly wasn’t going to mention the man who was waiting for her in the garden. But she did feel okay sharing her story of hanging out with Matilda and Maisie.
“They said they didn’t want to risk being abandoned again.” Binny recounted the earlier conversation.
“Well that certainly seems practical,” Hermione said.
“I’m not one to ask about losing your parents.” Arya shuddered.
“You guys know this isn’t by accident, right?” Katniss said. Binny thought Katniss was trying to soften her aloofness. Binny also thought it wasn’t working that well.
“What isn’t by accident?” Hermione sounded irritated.
Katniss ignored Hermione’s tone. “That we’re all missing parents.”
“My parents aren’t missing,” Hermione said.
“Neither are mine,” Binny said.
“Right they’re either muggles and completely useless, or totally distracted and therefore completely useless.” Katniss ticked Binny and Hermione off on her fingers. She pointed at Arya, “Gone.” Tick. “Maisie, abandoned. Matilda, abandoned. Me, dead Dad, useless mother.” Tick, tick tick. Katniss had to use her second hand for the last tick.
“What’s your point?” Hermione asked.
“My point is that the authors do this on purpose. There’s no story if the hero has functioning and effective parents. They’ve got to be distracted, depraved, or dead. There’s no other way. Competent, loving, and functional parents make for a boring story.”
“Hermione. Didn’t you say a few days ago that maybe the authors are really our parents?” Binny asked quietly afraid of sounding stupid.
“No. What I said, is that the authors were a kind of god.” And then sounding more conciliatory, Hermione continued, “But I guess that’s not so far off. A creator is a creator. So maybe they kind of are our real parents.”
“I saw a picture of my author. On the back flap you know? He looked friendly. All pudgy and bearded. And he seems to have a thing for hats.” Arya said. “But that’s another parent I’m never going to see.”
“Actually, that’s not exactly true,” Binny said.
All heads snapped towards Binny.
“What are you talking about?” Katniss said in a low voice.
“It was something Two told me. I told you I went to the Little House in the Big Woods. But before that I told Two that I wanted to meet Laura Ingalls Wilder. She’s a fictional character, so she should be somewhere in the Stacks.”
“But she’s not a fictional character.” Hermione said, understanding slowly dawning on her face.
“Exactly!” Binny said. “She’s the author. And Two was very clear about authors trying to sneak into the Stacks by writing themselves into their fiction. Apparently they have a way to keep them out of the Stacks. Every night, we get to come here, but the authors are stuck in a place called Diyu.”
Katniss and Hermione looked at each other, but said nothing.
Arya chimed in, “So we’re back where we started – no parents of any kind, authors, adoptive, or otherwise. We’re on our own, here, and we always will be.”
Binny dreamed again that night. And again she was in Madrona. In her book. But something was off. Something felt or looked off. Binny wasn’t entirely sure. This time Binny wasn’t on her skateboard. She was walking up the path to the house. Everything looked pretty much the same.
Binny walked up to the front door. She tried the handle and it was unlocked. Binny went in. Things were arranged a little differently. Her father’s office where he would do his illustrations was no longer on the back right side of the house. It was in the front left corner.
Binny peered into her father’s office. The drafting table was replaced with a heavy wooden desk. A laptop sat on the desk. It was turned on, but Binny couldn’t make out what was on the screen.
And then, out of the corner of Binny’s eye, a cat jumped from behind a comfy seat in the corner of her dream father’s office and shot out of the room. The cat was all white, and looked super fluffy. Binny’s family in her book didn’t have any cats. Her mother was allergic.
Binny followed the cat out into the living room. Another cat, this one gray with little brownish patches eyed her suspiciously. The plush white cat from before was standing behind the suspicious gray one. They both looked ready to run at a moment’s notice.
Binny froze not wanting to scare them off. And then, after a moment, a third cat sauntered into the living room. She walked across the large oriental rug like she owned the place. Ignoring the other two, she walked right up to Binny and started nuzzling her leg.
Binny crouched and started petting her. The cat enjoyed the attention. The calico cat’s sisters watched intently but didn’t move a muscle. How did Binny know they were three sisters? She had absolutely no clue. But she was certain they were sisters. It was a dream after all. It didn’t have to make a lot of sense.
Binny stayed that way for a while, petting the calico cat. She wasn’t quite sure what to do next. And then she heard the front door behind her unlocking. Before she had a chance to turn around she heard a voice announce, “I’m home.”
The three cats scrambled, knocking Binny off balance. Just as she gathered herself to stand up, turn around, and see who had entered, Binny woke up in her bed at Misselthwaite Manor. Once again, it was time to go to work.