Untitled: Chapter One

She’d already been through every drawer and box twice over before she found them. They were musty, yellowed, tied with a faded blue ribbon. They smelled like her grandma’s perfume, but fainter, and with something extra thrown in — roses, maybe? She couldn’t quite put her finger on it. That didn’t matter, of course. All that mattered was that she had finally found them.

It all went back to the bedtime stories Grandma would tell her every night growing up. Stories about princesses, dragons, or little babushkas with their cottages and their gardens and their secret recipes… stories that covered almost every topic one could imagine. The best stories, though, were the love stories. Those were the stories she begged for — the ones where Eloise and Daniel went on grand adventures together and fell in love in the process. They were the stories that colored her dreams.

It wasn’t until Grandma lay on her death-bed that she found out the secret — those love stories weren’t just stories. They were Grandma’s stories, and there was a mystery that Grandma needed her to solve.

She thought back to the moment she found out. Grandma, lying there in the bed, weak and frail and tiny. Waking up, eyes focusing sharply, grabbing her hand…

“Louisa, I need you to do something for me.”

“What’s that, Grandma?”

“Louisa, I need you to find the letters and make sure that Daniel knows.”

“Grandma, what are you talking about? What letters? Who is Daniel?”

“The love stories, Louisa. Eloise and Daniel. Find the letters. Make sure he knows. Can you do that for me?”

“What are you talking about? Grandma?”

But she’d fallen back into a restless sleep, chest rising and falling with effort, skin pale and colorless. She hadn’t woken up again, and two days later, Grandma was buried with the first snow of the year. She’d have liked that.

Now, a month later, Louisa was finally ready. They’d already cleaned out the rest of the house — only the attic and the garage remained — so Louisa volunteered to go through the attic herself while the rest of the family tackled the garage. She didn’t know where she ought to be looking, exactly, but she had a hunch that any old letters would be stored up amongst the rest of Grandma’s missing memories — the ones before Grandpa, and before Louisa’s dad and uncles, and before her life became consumed by the mess of people she liked to call family. The attic was her safe place — the one she’d go to when life got to be too much — and sometimes she’d take Louisa with her and they’d pull out the old hatboxes, trying them on in front of the brown-speckled mirror and pretending they were at a Victorian tea party or a royal ball.

And she’d found them. It had taken more hours than she cared to admit, and she was covered in dust and cobwebs and Lord knows what… but she’d found them, and that was all that really mattered. She sat down on the cold wood floor, back against an old armoire her grandma had kept winter coats in, and gently untied the ribbon. It slithered off into a pile on the floor, and the paper seemed almost to relax, as though it had been constrained by a corset for the last five decades and could finally breathe again.

She gingerly pulled one letter from the stack, careful not to bend or tear any of the pages. The paper was brittle to the touch, certain to crumble if hit with too much pressure, and she’d never forgive herself if she destroyed the few clues she had. She lay the paper on the floor, flattening out the edges, and began to read the spidery cursive.

Do you ever feel strange knowing that had you not forgotten your umbrella, and I not been quite late for the train that morning, we might never have met? And that somehow, someway, fate thought it appropriate to put us in that same taxi at the same time? I still remember opening the door and seeing your face looking back at me from the other side — it was like a dream. Your hair was damp with curly tendrils all around your face, and your eyes were that bright, mischievous green… sparkling as though they were laughing at me, and you said, “I shan’t have you stealing my taxi from me, but if you’re quite desperate… well, I suppose I might share with you,” and then you laughed and winked.
The rest was history. It seems that the past year has been a whirlwind and you’ve kept me grounded — but somehow, you’ve kept me on my toes as well. How is it that you always do that to me? How do you know how to talk me down from the highest heights one day, and then the next day you’ve convinced me that I can fly?
You must be magic. There’s no other explanation.
I anxiously await the next time I get to see you and hold you in my arms. Seventeen days? Can I last for seventeen days?
I love you, my darling Eloise. Until I see you next, I remain
Faithfully and Wholly Yours,

Louisa exhaled, and the page fluttered across the floor. She hadn’t realized that she’d been holding her breath, but it wasn’t surprising — a letter like that would affect almost anyone that way.

And now there was an entire packet of letters to go through. “Best get started,” she thought as she gathered them into her arms and carefully placed them in an old hatbox, carried them down the stairs, and placed them in her car… and so it began: the adventure that changed her life.

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