Any "What happens next" predictions are welcome, as well as what I can do to make this chapter better.
The first place Emily wanted to go once they got to the mall was the toy store. They didn't spend much time there, though. Emily knew exactly what she wanted, a new rabbit for Owen to play with, and the plastic figures. There was also a craft set that looked fun.
After that, it was off to browse the clothing store. Emily rarely wore anything very casual. Unlike her mom and dad, she didn't have sweatsuits or grungy jeans for lounging about the house. Only when she was sick did Emily ever stay inside anyway. Her closet mostly consisted of skirts, blouses, and lightly coloured dressed. And none of the skirts were made of that stiff material the other girls wore, if they wore skirts at all. Emily favourite light, flowing materials that danced in the wind. There were only two things that could get her to wear pants. That was when it was extra cold, or if she was going to be in a place where there would be a lot of mosquitoes.
But pants were exactly what her mother persuaded to buy, since she was going to be spending a lot of time in the park when school was over. But she only agreed to one pair. The shirts she chose were much suited to her style. One was pink, and the other was baby blue. And both were really very dressy, the kind that most girls only ever wore to parties.
Their final stop before going to the food court for lunch was the book store. Her mom said that she could have any two books she wanted.
"Oh, look!" Emily squealed upon seeing the first book she wanted. "The Chronicles of Faeries. I don't have book four yet." She snatched it off the shelf quickly, as if it was the only copy left in the city and held it to her as if someone wanted to steal it away from her. "Can we get it, Mommy?"
"Of course you can, honey. It is your birthday. You can have any books you want. But I can think of one book I know you'll love." Her mother took Emily by the hand and led her to where the "L" authors were shelved.
The shelves contained a wide array of editions. Some were large hardcovers, filled with lush illustrations and an elaborate cover design. Others were smaller, with only a few line drawing and simple cover illustrations. The one thing that all these books had in common was a story of some of the luckiest children in the world. For these children had been able to leave their world and have adventures in the magical land of Narnia.
"Remember when we read The Magician's Nephew together?"
"Yeah," Emily breathed. "It was such a good story." Her gaze was transfixed on the eyes of the great lion on the cover of one of the books. She could almost feel his power pulsating, pulling her in to explore the mystical realm within the pages.
Her mom knelt down to Emily's eye level. "Well, I was thinking that we could get the rest of the books in the series."
"But . . . but," Emily stammered. Her eyes were still fixed on the lion's. "But you said I could get two books, not seven. She clutched The Chronicles of Faeries even tighter, unwilling to let it go.
"Yes, but that is why they invented the omnibus." Her mom picked up one of the large hard covers with a sleek black jacket and a picture of the lion on the cover.
"See how big this is. It's got all seven stories in one big book."
Emily's sad eyes brightened and her smile returned. "Really?"
"Really. Now let's go pay for these and get to the food court before it gets too crowded."
* * *
Emily and her mom each ordered a hamburger, and got a large fries and root beer to share. They chose to sit in the area that attempted to look like an outdoor cafe. There was a small flower garden in the middle, and even a glass dome above it.
"So what do you want to do for the summer?" her mom asked.
"I'm going to read my new books of course," Emily answered. "And play with my craft set." And maybe meet a unicorn, she added silently. She'd never seen a real unicorn. They didn't exist, but no one had ever told her a thing like that. It's not as though she had told anyone her desire to meet a unicorn, anyway. That would just give the other children more ammunition to use against her.
"Are you sure that will be enough?" her mom asked, sounding more serious than usual.
"What d'you mean, Mommy? That'll be enough what?"
"Enough for you to do. Summer break is two months long."
"Sure, it'll be enough." But there was something about the look on her mom's face that made Emily feel uncertain.
"I know you don't like to play with the other kids at school, but I think it's time you started to learn how to interact with them better. It's okay now, but the older you get, the more problems you're going to have."
Emily remained silent, not completely understanding her mother's words. She watched as her mother picked her purse up off the floor. She opened it and pulled out a broshure, which she handed to Emily.
"Last year I let you spend all summer in the park, reading your books, But this summer I've signed you up for two weeks at this camp. It's a long way from the city, just like in a lot of the books you read. It's right next to a lake and a forest. The pictures are beautiful."
She examined the broshure, as if she were trying to make sure it was safe. The pictures of the lake and forest were beautiful. They were just like the places in some of her most treasured stories. They were places she could get lost in for days and be perfectly content. She could see herself in these pictures. They seemed to draw her in, just like the lion's eyes.
The pictures she couldn't see herself in were the pictures with other children in them. Playing, swimming, laughing. It gave her a feeling of . . . wrongness. Playing and swimming were fine. It was the laughter Emily didn't like. It was laughter that made her hate school, that made her different from everyone else.
"They have lots of fun things for you to do, with kids you would never have met otherwise. It won't be like at school.
POW! Emily's mother knew exactly what the problem was. She knew that EMily was different. But what made her think that things would be so much better at camp?
"No, Mommy, I don't wanna go!"
"It's already been paid for. I can't get the money back. Anyway, like I said, you need to learn how to interact with the other kids. This'll give you a chance to start fresh, with kids who don't know you."
Emily's eyes glistened with fearful tears. "But why?" How could her mother do this to her on her birthday? Why did she have to go to this place? She looked down at her feet, which swung nervously several inches above the floor.
"I just want you to be happy."
Emily had nothing to say to that.
They left without finishing their lunch. Neither of them had much of an appatite anyway. Unlike the drive to the mall, which had been full of excited chatter, the drive home was wracked with awkward silence. Emily was miserable, and she wasn't sure if her mother was angry or just disappointed. She wanted to tell her mother she was sorry, certain that she must have said or done something really bad to make her mother this upset, but the words were lost trying to find their way to her mouth.
Wordlessly, her mother opened the door and entered the house. Emily followed behind, carrying her new books. She watched her mother go into the kitchen to get a drink. But instead of waiting to face her mother's wrath, she ran up to her room and closed the door. There, she allowed the tears to flow freely.