Tuesday, October 28
“The Maddy is home!” Sofie warbled from the table as Madeline entered from the garage.
Gina was on the couch reading a textbook. Macroeconomics. Thrilling. “Don’t let her talk you into it, Maddy.”
“Don’t let her what?” Madeline was still a bit winded from the sweet run she had just finished. She was getting better at this running thing. And this in spite of the chronic condition she suffered, also known as being her. She peeled off her shoes and sat on the floor to stretch.
“These things are so terribly written,” Gina grumbled as she angrily flipped pages. “And she’s going to ask you to—”
“Want to play a game?” Sofie asked excitedly.
Madeline was doubled over across one outstretched leg. She reached eagerly for her toes, still falling a few inches short. I’ll get you my pretties! Someday.
Noticing what she was doing—barely—Gina asked, “How’d you do on your run?”
“Okay,” Madeline answered. “I just ran around Washburn Park a few times.”
“Not bad. I’ll go with you sometime if you want.”
Madeline started to decline but changed her mind. “Okay. Sure.”
“Maddy?” Sofie reminded her of her presence.
“Oh. Sorry, Sofie. What kind of game?”
“Hey, did you just go running?” Page, who had been in the kitchen messaging on her phone, came over.
Feeling uncomfortable with the attention, Madeline decided to save the rest of her stretching for later. “Yeah.”
“Cool. We do that too sometimes. I mean, I do.”
That could only have been a Freudian slip. Madeline had suspected Page had a boyfriend for a while now, largely because of a few phone calls she’d accidentally overheard. She had a feeling it was Stephen. Mostly because Page had gradually replaced tabletop gaming as his primary interest of choice, outside of work.
“So, how far did you go?” Page asked.
“Two-and-a-half miles,” Madeline said dismissively. But really she was thrilled. Miles. Plural.
Sofie whistled conspicuously.
“Sorry again, Sofie. What did you say it was called?” Madeline asked.
“Don’t do it,” Gina warned.
“She’ll win. She always does.” Page busied herself with another message. “Don’t you have a date tonight, anyway?”
Now that was a question Madeline had not ever been asked before. Not legitimately, anyway. She ended her stretch and sat up. “No, not tonight. He’s got something else going on.”
Page sat on the edge of the couch opposite Gina. “Well, it can’t be work. You two always stay late together now.”
True. Though they had never talked about it, she and Rob had been trying to match their schedules so they could spend more time together. And he’d taken her out three more times since their first date.
Gina growled softly, almost imperceptibly. Almost.
Madeline gave her a side-eye. What was the growling about? “Yes and no. He’s doing a conference call with some people he met down at CalArts. They seem really interested in him down there.”
Page checked her nails. “Hm. Well, he seems like an okay guy.”
“I will not win!” Sofie pouted, still trying to get people to pay attention to her. “Not for sure.”
Gina turned another page with a slap. “You’re the only one that can read the stupid cards.”
“Huh? Oh, right, your game. What did you say it was called again?” Had she said it was called anything?
“It is called the Sternenfahrer.” Sofie pointed at the table where she had the game already set up. “It is from my country. It makes much fun! There are space ships!” She crossed her arms in a pout. “But no one plays with me.”
“Maybe we would if you bought the English version.” Page threw a cushion at Sofie.
Sofie caught it and threw it back. “Not the same!”
Madeline rose and approached the table. “The shternun-fahruh?” She struggled with the name. “All the cards are in German?”
“Yes but I will read them for you.”
“She cheats.” Page tried to put her feet on Gina’s lap, and got a long, hard stare in return.
“I do not,” Sofie huffed with defeat and started to clean up the game.
“Um, hold on. I’ll play with you,” Madeline said, almost accidentally. It was weird to see Sofie in a state resembling “sad”, and it threw her off.
“Really?” Sofie paused in mid-reach for one of the big plastic spaceships lined up on the table.
“I, ah…” Madeline hesitated. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll try it,” she said and watched Sofie’s face return to something more familiar.
“Ja toll! Ich werd’s neu aufsetzen!”
“She forgets what little English she knows when she’s excited,” Page explained.
“Isn’t she always excited?” Madeline asked in a loud whisper, using her hand as a mock privacy shield.
“No, she’s usually crazy. This is excited,” Gina answered.
It could be so hard to tell.
“Also, bereit!” Sofie called.
Madeline assumed that meant something like “Ready” and sat down at the table to survey the battlefield. There was a large board filled with stars and planets, a few decks of colorful cards, and a pair of six-inch-tall plastic spaceships that looked straight out of a 50’s science fiction movie. Hmm. “On second though, maybe I should shower first.”
“Nein! Setz dich!” Sofie exclaimed, then, “I mean, it is okay. You always smell good to me, Maddy. Remain seating-ed!”
“Okay. I’ll remain seating-ed. So, what’s the English name for this thing?”
Sofie thought about it for a second. “I think… ‘Spaced Travelers’.”
“‘Spaced’, huh? Sounds like my kind of game. But maybe you mean space travelers?”
“Ja, sure. That.”
And then Sofie explained the rules. Of which there were… many. From what Madeline could figure out from the rapidly spoken, not-entirely-English tutorial, the game seemed like a mix of Go Fish, Monopoly, and gambling. In space. So, she was kind of interested.
“That’s, um… That’s a lot of rules, Sofie.”
“Ja, I know. But you will get the hangar from it.”
“You mean I’ll get the hang of it.”
“I swear she does that on purpose,” Page muttered from across the room. Despite the silent, stared protests she had been on the receiving end of, she had successfully maneuvered her legs on to Gina’s lap.
“I really don’t think she does,” Gina stated. “That’s the problem.”
“You all love me,” Sofie said, dismissing them. No one disagreed.
Twenty minutes later, Madeline was doing anything but winning the bizarre game. In light of her hopeless situation, she tried learning a little more about the Chateau’s smallest resident.
“Do you miss Austria much?”
“Ja und no.” Sofie rolled a pair of dice. “I think I am like many students here who come from other places. It’s fun to be here, but sometimes I want for home, do you know?”
“Uh, well. Not really, actually.” Madeline took her turn with the dice and frowned at the numbers. “I don’t miss my home very much. Not anymore.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“I don’t have a ton of sweet and sparkly memories,” she answered. But she really didn’t want to talk about it. Steering things back to Sofie: “What’s it like in Austria?”
“It’s so beautiful, Maddy! So much green on the hills and in the mountains. And food is much better there. I miss it. Much, sometimes,” she said in an unusually quiet voice.
“It is!” Sofie brightened back up. “We are proud of our food, and our chocolate, and our culture. There is much of music and dance. We even still have, ah… What is the word for a special dance with many people? All dressed nice. Oh! A ‘football’. That is a very strange name for a dance. Why do so many people in the world speak English? It makes little sense.”
Madeline hid a giggle behind her hand. “You mean a ball. Just ‘ball’. No feet involved.”
“Then how is one supposed to dance?” Sofie asked skeptically. “Your language…”
Madeline giggled again. “So you have balls, huh?” she asked. Page snickered at that and Madeline gave her a look. What?
“Ja, genau! They do those still,” Sofie answered. “Like in story tales.”
Madeline wished her world worked more like those in ‘story tales’. Though, she had a lot less reason to complain these days, didn’t she?
Madeline rolled good numbers for once and reached for a handful of the little resource cards. Sofie smacked her hand lightly and directed her to another stack. “So, then what brings you to Eugene?”
Sofie hesitated to answer. “I like ducks. Go, team!”
A car honked outside, and Page got up. “Whatever. Tell her the real reason, Sofie,” she said on her way to the door. “Gotta go! Have fun, Maddy.”
“Page.” Gina put down her magazine and the two shared a long look, silently communicating something.
“I’ll be okay. I promise,” Page said quietly as she slipped out the door.
Madeline gave Gina a look. What was that all about? But Gina simply picked up her textbook again.
Madeline eyed her suspiciously. This was not the first time she’d witnessed something like this. What was up with those two?
She glanced at Sofie and was surprised to see another new emotion from her, and a familiar one at that: she actually looked shy. Maybe even embarrassed.
“I’m… It’s a hard story for me to tell. Some people laugh at me.”
Madeline poked her. “Sofie, I think that’s the third contraction you’ve used tonight. Keep it up!” She had more or less become a personal tutor for both Page and Sofie, which was both wonderful and occasionally tiresome. But she’d managed to improve both their grades, and especially Sofie’s in English. Lately, they had been working on contractions. No one knew why Sofie had such a hard time with them. As far as anyone knew, that wasn’t a normal struggle for German-speakers to have.
Madeline poked her again. “Anyway, you can tell me.I won’t laugh at you.”
“Yes, you will.”
“No, I won’t.”
Sofie’s face cycled through a variety of expressions, and then she said, “Okay. I came to here because… Weil ich in einem Mann verliebt war!” She covered her mouth with her cards as if whatever she’d just said was made of pure, unrefined Scandal. “Ah, I mean… because I loved someone.”
“No way! You came here because of a guy?” That was certainly interesting.
“He was called Chris. We met in my home city of Klagenfurt last year. He was studying broads.”
“You mean studying abroad?”
“So you two became a thing?”
“Ja. When he returned home, I followed him after some weeks. I wanted always to come to the United States, and I had much love for him…” she trailed off. And there was more of that uncharacteristic sadness. A lot of it. “And then I found out he wasn’t who he seemed to be. Not even his name. He…” She shuffled the cards in her hands. “He tricked me. He took who I was from me. And I was left with nothing.”
“He took… who you were?”
“She was scammed. He stole all her stuff and emptied her accounts. Even took her IDs and passport,” Gina explained. “That’s what she means by he took who she was.”
“That’s part what I mean,” Sofie said in a near-whisper. Madeline barely caught it. “You think I am stupid, no? For following him here. For letting him scan me.”
She meant scam her, but Madeline didn’t feel like correcting her this time.“I don’t think you’re stupid,” Madeline assured her. “I really, really don’t.”
Assuming that meant “Really?”, Madeline nodded. “Trust me, I don’t.”
Smiling happily, Sofie jumped across the table to hug Madeline. “Ich hab’ dich lieb, Maddy!”
“Um, thank you? I think?”
Sofie sat back. “Oh no. I broke the game.”
“It’s okay, we’ll fix it.” Madeline tried her best to rearrange pieces while Sofie worked on the cards.
Behind her, on the couch, Madeline heard Gina’s frustration levels spike again. “The quizzes ask things that aren’t even in the book! I hate it when they do that!” She slapped her textbook shut.
“Hold on.” Madeline went to the kitchen, grabbed a chocolate granola bar from her stash, and handed it to Gina on her way back to the table.
“We dated for one month.” Sofie looked momentarily hurt. “Then he left me for another girl.”
“Surprise,” Gina murmured from the couch.
Madeline turned to glare at her. Sure, she was Gina, but even she usually had more tact than that.
She got up, retrieved a chocolate granola bar from the stash in her cupboard, and handed it to Gina on the way back. “Here. You get cranky when you’re hungry,” she said with a smile that was hopefully calming.
Gina looked at the bar. She seemed almost… surprised.
Madeline winked at her, then returned to the table. Sofie was frowning and staring into space, lost in unpleasant memories.
“Sorry, I’m back. And I’m really sorry that happened to you,” Madeline said.
The Austrian’s smile returned. “It’s okay. It was almost a year ago.”
“Yeah, well…” Madeline shuffled her cards, and was pleased to hear a wrapper opening behind her. “It was still awful.”
Sofie just blew a strand of hair from her face.
“But…” Madeline straightened in her chair. “If it happened a year ago, why are you still here? I mean, if he’s why you came and it backfired like that, why didn’t you, you know, go back home?”
“Would you have gone back home?” Sofie asked.
Uh. Well. “Maybe.” The truth was, it had been on her mind almost every day since the bookstore. Never enough to make her do it, especially not now that she had Rob, but the thought lingered.
“I will not,” Sofie stated firmly.
Sofie folded her arms intently, thinking. “I came for him, but I stay for me.”
Madeline started to say something, but she couldn’t find the words. So she just said, “Oh.” Her hand drifted to her necklace.
“And now, I have great chances ahead of me!” Sofie had this excited, hopeful smile. She was making progress getting on the gymnastics team—technically the ‘Acrobatic and Tumbling’ team, not that Madeline understood the difference—and was being seriously considered for next year’s roster.
“Yeah, you do.” Did Madeline have “great chances” too? She didn’t know yet. It seemed like it. “But, how did you end up here? At the Chateau?”
“Sydney and I were doing some work in San Francisco for a magazine, and we found her in tears, wandering around the airport,” Gina answered through a bite of granola bar. Her textbook was open again. “She knew even less English then, if you can believe it.”
“The security people were harassling me for not having my passport and would not help me without it. Even though that is what I needed help with. I knew not what to do, and I could not speak well!” Sofie said with wide eyes. “Then the Sydney and Gii-gii appeared like angels and came to my rescuing. I do not know what I could have done without them. They let me stay here.”
Madeline glanced in the direction of the couch. Gina’s eyes were fixed firmly on her book, but there was the barest trace of a smile there.
Satisfied, Madeline folded her arms and tried to picture Sofie crying, but she couldn’t manage it. It was strange enough to have seen her both sad and embarrassed tonight. Sofie was always laughing. In fact, just the other day she had come home from training so exhausted that, somehow, despite her incredible agility, she had managed to drop a heavy mixer on her head while trying to get something else from one of the higher cupboards. Madeline rushed to her aid after hearing the crash and found Sofie bent over on the floor, bleeding from a deep cut on her head. The doctor said she was severely dehydrated, probably from overtraining, and she got five stitches. Despite that, Sofie didn’t shed a single tear through any of it. She just laughed and made fun of the situation.
What would it be like, to be that cool with yourself?
“So, that is how it went,” Sofie went on. “And here I am!”
“And I’m really glad you are.” This seemed like a good time to go back to talking about happier things. “So, tell me more about Austria. Rumor has it that the hills are alive. With the sound of music, they say.”
Sofie gave her a sarcastic look, then began singing the praises of the old Eastern Empire until they finished the game. Madeline was defeated. But not by very much.
“That was close. You are nice and smart,” Sofie said.
It seemed everyone commented on how smart she was these days, when it had to be obvious how much of a mental—and physical—klutz she was. Why did people insist on trying to make her feel better, prettier, or smarter than she really was?
“I just got lucky,” she yawned. “Maybe I’ll get even luckier next time.”
“You mean you will play with me again?” Sofie asked excitedly.
“Sure, it’s a fun game. Good company, too.”
“You are like Sydney, I think,” Sofie said.
“What, because I’m a photographer?”
“No, because you are nice. You ask me about Austria. And you help us with homework, and me with English contradictions. And you play my game and don’t think I am—that I’m—stupid. That is like Sydney. You’re an angel, too.”
Madeline almost laughed out loud. An angel? Yeah, right. She hated the world and everyone in it just as much as the next person—well, except for Gina, probably—she was just too much of a coward to let it show, was all. So, yeah. Not angelic.
Besides, did you thank someone for proclaiming your virtues? Or was that lacking in modesty and therefore contrary to virtue? Hm. Something to chew on next time she couldn’t sleep. “Hey, you just used two more contractions. Maybe we’ll work on your vocabulary next.”
“Hmm.” Sofie narrowed her big, dark eyes. “You don’t believe me. Gii-gii, tell her!” she ordered. “Tell her that she is a great person!”
Gina was taking her empty wrapper to the kitchen. “You’re all right in my book.”
“See, she loves you too!”
Madeline wasn’t sure that’s what Gina’s response had meant. But it made her feel nice anyway. She smiled at Sofie, and after helping clean up the game, excused herself to take a shower. She leaned against the wall under the hot, artificial rainstorm, letting it bathe her in clouds of steam.
“‘I came for him, but I stayed for me,’” she whispered to herself. She chewed on that for a while, then let her mind wander to the residents of the Chateau. Sofie had a story, and Gina did too, though she didn’t know what it was. Did everyone? Did they all have special reasons why Sydney let them live here?
And if so, what was hers? Was she only here because she was… some kind of charity case? She was going to have to think about this.
She finished in the shower and changed into her pajamas, then searched the house for Sofie, finding her in her bedroom. She knocked softly on the door.
“Come iiinn!” Sofie sang.
Madeline peeked inside. She adored Sofie’s room. There was nothing boring about it. The walls were painted like purple mountains with white caps, and they were covered in all kinds of stuff: photographs, posters, ripped-out magazine pages, doodles, drawings, and even sticky notes with smiley faces on them. The ceiling was a blue sky with puffy clouds.
Madeline really liked how Sydney let everyone decorate their rooms however they wanted. It probably made them feel all the more at home. She wondered sometimes what to do with her own, but she figured she probably ought to focus on keeping it clean before trying to pretty it up.
“Maddy?” Sofie asked.
Madeline snapped back. “Oh, sorry.”
Sofie was sitting on her bed, watching a movie on her laptop. She patted the mattress next to her enthusiastically, inviting her to sit.
“Whatcha watchin’?” Madeline climbed onto the bed.
Sofie turned the screen so she could see. “It’s a show called Kommissar Rex. It’s about a very smart dog that helps with the solve of crime in Vienna. It’s fun.”
Madeline watched for a few minutes, not understanding a single word, and she found herself wishing she could. She adored Sofie—she couldn’t help it—and if learning German would help her understand the Austrian a little better, or maybe make her feel more at home in this country, then it seemed like a worthy ideal.
“Sofie, can I ask you something?”
Sofie paused the show. “But of naturally!”
“But of course,” Madeline corrected absent-mindedly while she searched for the right words. “Why do you talk like you do? And, I don’t mean with an accent. What I mean is, you just—say stuff. Like, whatever pops in your head. And you do it without caring what people think. Or wanting to hit yourself with a shovel after saying it.”
Sofie looked confused. “Hit with a shovel? Is that a real thing?”
“No. That’s just—an example—forget I said part.”
“Oh good.” Sofie closed her laptop and chewed on the question for a minute. “But I am having a hard time with the translate of words to answer your question. Why do you ask?”
“I…” Madeline shrugged and looked around the room some more. “I used to be kind of like you is all. I guess. That’s what someone told me once.”
“You were like me? Why not anymore?” Sofie asked.
“I guess I’ve embarrassed myself a few too many times.” Among many other things. “I’m sorry, you probably don’t really care about any of this.”
Sofie gave her a playful nudge. “I also have done that many times. Embarrassed myself.”
Madeline looked at her. “What? You?”
Sofie nodded vigorously. Then she looked out the window thoughtfully. “Do you know that some people do not like Sydney?”
“Psh! How could anyone not like Sydney?” Madeline asked, incredulous.
“She has much energy, she talks loud and different,” Sofie said, matter-of-factly. “Like me, in some ways. But you and I cannot imagine not liking her.”
That… was true. Madeline couldn’t imagine it. Well, maybe she could. If she really tried.
“Some people like rain. But some people hate it,” Sofie continued, still looking out the window. “What can the rain do? If it stopped being rain or went away forever, some would be happy. But others would be sad.” Her thoughtful expression flashed with something else. “And the ecosystem would be destroyed and hundreds and thousands would die!” she exclaimed with wicked glee. But she immediately became thoughtful again. Solemn, even. “But there would be great sadness.”
Neither said anything for a minute. And then, “Did you just use the word ‘ecosystem’?” Madeline asked.
Sofie gave her a nudge. “You taught me it, remember? And also ‘existential ruinate-town’.”
“No,” Sofie returned with a smile and a shake of her head. “I prefer to ruinate town.” She continued smiling. “Thank you for help with school and English, Maddy.”
“Sure thing, Sofie,” Madeline answered, somewhat distant, her mind filled with thoughts of rain.
“And, Maddy?” Sofie squeezed her hand, drawing her back.
“Don’t go anywhere, okay?”
Madeline blinked at her, not knowing what to say. “Okay, Sofie.”
Sofie wrapped her in a hug. “Ich hab’ dich lieb!”
Madeline smiled uncertainly. “You said that earlier. What does it mean?”
“It means, ‘I hold you dear.’”
Madeline blushed a little. “Ee hab dee leeb, too.”
She was awake, in bed, staring at the ceiling, her mind churning like the continued storm outside with thoughts of rain, and Sydney, and Sofie, and people who pretended their name was Chris, and people who pretended to like her then proved that they didn’t, and why she was here.
Around 1 a.m., she sat down at her desk, clicked on her lamp, and reached for a certain notebook. It had been a while since she had opened this one.
I didn’t come here for you. I absotively did not. Probably definitely absotively not. But what I’m trying to say is, even if I had come here for you, I’m staying for me. That is all.
But that wasn’t all.
P.S. Would you like me again if I stopped being rain?
She tapped her pencil on the book for a few minutes, frowning at the page. Then she slapped the notebook shut and returned it to its burial place in the back of the bottom drawer. It didn’t matter what he thought. Or what he liked or didn’t like.
She clicked off her light and returned to her bed.
It didn’t matter.