13

The Gingerbread House Inn

The sounds of the New York's bustling streets filled the air. The noises were like a chorus, each sound blended into the next. Then there were the lights; they glistened and shone, turning the darkest nights into day. There we stood in the middle of the busy beehive that is Times Square. The sun was setting and the nightlife started to come out. Our step-mom and her husband said they would pick us up at eight, but it was almost ten. We knew they forgot us again. This was the third time they did this to us.

"Alex."

"Alice," the twins embraced, looking round Times Square. "Where are we supposed to go?" Alex took off his backpack and pulled out the book Hansel and Gretel. He opened to the inside cover page. Alice leaned over Alex's shoulder; her pink mitten hand touched the worn out, cursive, hand-written note.

To My Darlings,

Happy Birthday!

Love your Mother and Father

This was the only evidence of happier times. We knew that mom must have written the note because dad had large, blocky handwriting.

The first time that step-mom and her husband left us was at Central Park. The people running, walking, and biking made the park seem small, but in fact, it was quite large. We decided to go to the Central Park Zoo to see the majestic white tiger. We watched the smooth and graceful movements of her walk. We heard one of the church bells toll six o'clock. They should have been here by now. When nine o'clock came around, we had a feeling that they forgot us. We walked the twenty blocks to our apartment. Finally, we were home. As we walked into the living room step-mom and her husband were watching TV. We said hello, but they did not turn around. We went to our room, cold and tired.

The next day step-mom and her husband took us to the Empire State Building, but as we left the car and started walking toward the building, step-mom said, "Be back around seven," then the car speed off. We just looked at one another. We hoped they would be back, so we took the elevator, up to the viewing platform. We looked for our apartment building, but we were so high up that all of the buildings looked like a diorama. We could not see it, but we could see the park, ground zero, and all of the metallic bridges crisscrossed over the water. Seven came and went; it was almost eleven. They could just have been caught in an appointment. Alex looked over at Alice. Her blue eyes were covered by a wave of tears. We left the platform and took a taxi home, since it was too late to walk.

Here we were in the middle of Times Square. Strangely, step-mom gave us backpacks with money, food, water bottles, clothes, and also included, which was nice, our favorite book of all time, Hansel and Gretel. Alex put the book back and put his backpack on, took Alice's backpack and started to walk around Times Square.

"Alice, please don't cry. We will think of something." Alex looked at his sister. She was trying to hold back tears, her pink winter coat stained from escaped tears. He knew that he looked the same.

"What are we to do now?" Alice said sniffling, twisting her long brown ponytail in between her fingers.

"I am not sure. We know we aren't wanted," Alex said fixing his black winter coat, "This just can't be a accident. Step-mom likes us, I think, well not really, but she was not that mean to us, but kicking us out of our parent's home, is the lass straw. It is not far it is our home not hers!" Alex started to tap his hand against his leg while humming a happy tune, trying to make Alice feel better.

"We have to find a place to stay," Alice said continuing twisting her hair and looking at her pink converse. "How about we look there," Alice said pointing to the Times Square Information Center.

"That's a good idea, but we need to think up a lie. Just in case people ask about us." We pushed through the crowed streets. The thoughts of our parents came bubbling out from a long forgotten time where we were once happy.

Our own mother died, at least according to dad, when we were five years old. We never really knew her. Then dad remarried to a woman named Glinda, who was nice, but used our dad's money till he became buried in debt that caused him not go on. There we were, stuck with Glinda. We were ten going on eleven. Then, shortly after she remarried to a man named Denis who was a fat, rich man with two grown children. No matter what we said or did, they did not care. Hansel and Gretel was the only thing that mom and dad read to us. We finally made it to the information booth.

"Hello, my name is Kim. How my I help you today?" The woman said in a cheerful, but monotone voice.

"Yea, me and my sis want to know where we could find a job?" Alex said looking past her skinny shoulders at a wall covered in brochures and maps.

"Well, let me see what I have," Kim's right eyebrow rose slightly. As she turned around, a slight shimmer came off her clip that held her in place, but there was no sun out today and the light was too bright to reflect off something half covered. She went to the far left corner of the small room where a dartboard was covered in sticky notes. "Oh, there it is. This job, I think, will take children under, um, how old are you?"

"We're sixteen," Alice stuttered; we actually turned twelve that morning, but she did not have to know.

"Well, here is a job that will take children under eighteen, but the job is in New Haven Connecticut," Kim handed us the sticky note; her pink nails now had glitter on them. What is going on? "Do your parents know you are here?"

"Yea, they do. They want us to learn how to fend for ourselves. It's a family tradition," Alex's voice shook, putting the note in his jacket pocket.

"We've been looking forward to this since last year," Alice added looking at the wall.

"Well, if you say so, but would it be alright if I call them? I don't like the idea of young children going off by themselves," Kim said in a motherly kind of tone. This seemed out of character. She kind of looked old enough to have children, but we did not see a ring on her finger. We do not like her prying, but we forged a note from them saying they give us permission to get a job. We wrote it just before we came to the booth.

"It's fine, but we actually have a note from them because they're at work." Alice rummaged through her bag and pulled out the letter. "Here you go." She handed it over to Kim. Kim examined the note, looked at us, and then back to the note.

"Are you sure this is from you parents? Some of the words are misspelled." We looked at one another, not sure what to do. On the desk was a stack of maps. We took the Connecticut one and ran from the store. "Come back here!" We heard Kim scream from the doorway.

"That was too close." We said huffing and puffing. "Let's get to that job." We started off toward Grand Central Station. As we walked, we kept hearing police cars. We had to be careful. Kim could have called the police. After zigzagging the streets of New York, we finally made it to Grand Central Station. We bought tickets at the ticket machines so that we didn't have to explain ourselves.

"The eleven twenty-two to New Haven is arriving on Metro-North Railroad track five," the voice said twice over the speakers. We gathered our belongings.

"New Haven train. All aboard! All aboard!" We climbed on and found seats near the back. Here we go; this was the start of our new lives.

After a while, we finally reached the New Haven station stop. It was around two fifteen in the morning. The streets were quiet and everything was closed. Streetlights illuminated the station, but there were no other lights on. As we stepped off the train, the sounds of wild life filled our ears. The wind picked up and the cold winter air trapped us. It was so strong that we had to stop every time the wind picked up. Then the wind stopped. We looked up at the sky and for the first time we saw stars. We were lost. Alice took out the map and the note. The Bed and Breakfast was down the street, two blocks over. We were not sure if it was open, but we had to try.

A large sign was hanging by a chain to the side of the door, "The Gingerbread House Inn: Home to the Cherry Blossom Festival." It was creaking and moaning every time the wind hit against it.

"Well, this is it. No turning back," we said as we climbed the white steps. We waited for a few minutes when the door slowly opened and a long thin-faced woman peered from the crack in the door. A pail yellow light shadowed her face.

"Yes, may I help you?" The woman said with a shake in her voice.

"May we come in?" Alice said timidly.

"Young'uns here at this hour, come in," the woman said, opening the door wider. We stepped into the dark hallway. The only light on was the stairway, but the lights flickered as the old woman showed us up stairs. She took us down a long dark hallway carrying a candle, making the shadows dance along the walls. "Here is a room for the night."

"We did not ask for a room, ma'am," Alice said twisting her hair, "We came for the job."

"The job? Oh, yes. We can discuses that tomorrow." The old woman closed the door. The room was plain, but the walls were blue and the furniture was dark mahogany. There was a candle lit over the dresser, filling the room with very little light. What kind of place is this? We walked over to the bed and as soon as we hit the dusty sheets, we fell asleep.

Light streamed into the room and we sat up, blinking, "Where are we?" we said, looking around the room.

"We are in that B&B in Connecticut. Remember?" Alice said, walking over to the large window seat. She opened the blinds and light pored into the room. The room became bright and cheery.

"Are you sure this is the same place? It looks completely different. Who was that old woman from last night?" We got dressed and went down stairs. Everything looked completely different. The dark and scary night transformed to a happy, cheerful day.

"Have a nice day," an old woman said standing in a pink and green flower dress waving at the guests who were walking toward the door. She was bent over a cane, and her hair was white as snow. "Hello young 'uns. How did you two sleep?"

"Fine, thank you." We smiled. "So how about the job?"

"The job? The job? Oh, right the job. Well it's whatever I need you to do, dearies. That sounds a bit strange, but all of my work staff is myself apart from Philip Matterson, the cook. Once in a while, my children and their children come and help out, but they could not come and help this year. Come over here and eat something. You must be hungry." The old woman led us over to a large table covered with pastries and fruit. "Eat all you want, then I will give you details of what I need you to do."

"Ma'am, what's your name?" Alice asked before we sat down to eat.

"Oh, I am sorry. I did not properly introduce myself. My name is Ruth Sanderson, but you can call me Granny Ruth." We looked at one another. Is that the same woman from last night? Our stomachs gave a loud gurgle. We sat down and gorged ourselves. Almost all of the pastries were gone and most of the fruit. We did not realize how hungry we were. Granny Ruth was back by the front desk helping other guests.

"Thank you for the food," we said walking over to her. "What do you need us to do?"

"Well first things first. Come over to the living room and have a seat." We followed Granny Ruth. The living room was filled with all kinds of chairs and couches. "Before you start working, what are your names young'uns?"

"Well, ma'am, I'm Alex and this is my sis, Alice," Alex proclaimed, holding his hand out.

"It is nice to meet you. Now tell me, are you twins? I had a set of twin grandchildren, but I have not seen them since they were babies. Their mother was my eldest daughter. She was so pretty in her wedding gown." Granny Ruth looked around the room in confusion.

"Granny Ruth, the job? What do you want us to do?" Alice said kneeling in front of Granny Ruth, trying to get her back on track.

"Oh right, the job. Well, first I need you two to clean the dining room table where you just ate. Then Alice, my dear, can you do the laundry? And Alex, can you change the burnt out light bulbs all throughout the house? Come back and I will tell you what else you need to do," Granny Ruth said then she lifted a basket near her chair and started to knit.

We got to work. We went back to the table and started to pick up plates and carried them to the kitchen. When the table was almost cleared, Alice walked over to the sink and slipped on some water. All of the plates crashed to the ground and shattered. Philip came over, and his head was almost touching the ceiling. He leans over Alice and glared at her, "Pipsqueak, clean that mess up. I am not a fucking maid." He walked back over to the stove and continued cooking. Alice slowly got up and walked over to the closest closet. When she opened it, thinking it was the broom closet, there were shelves filled with little bottles. "Don't go in there, pipsqueak. That is none of your fucking business." Philip came stomping over and reached with his long dark arm and shut the door. "The cleaning supplies are in this one." He pointed to another closet on the other side of the sink. "Now clean this mess up."

"I'm sorry, sir." Alice started to clean the floor and picked up all of the broken pieces.

Alex searched high and low, but could not find where Granny Ruth kept the extra light bulbs. He went back to the living room to ask, but Granny Ruth was sleeping. He heard the commotion between Alice and Philip. He gathered up courage and went to ask Philip.

"What do you want half-pint?" Philip said in a deep and loud voice. Alex was taken back. Philip lends over him and his almost black eyes stared angrily at him.

"I just want to know where the extra light bulbs are?" Alex said trying to sound brave. Even though he was scared.

"They are over there," Philip pointed a long dark slender finger toward the stairs, "They're underneath the steps." Philip turned back to his work.

"Thanks," Alex ran over, found the door, and took the basket of bulbs and started at the top of the house and worked his way down till the basket was filled with bad bulbs. Alex found that almost every light in the house needed to be changed. As he was just about to reach the last step, Alex tripped and all of the bulbs dropped to the floor, luckily they did not brake, but they rolled all over the floor.

Meanwhile, Alice gathered all of the bags the guests filled with clothes, then all of the bedding and went to the basement where washers and dryers were waiting to be filled. Alice sorted all of the laundry into piles according to color and made sure that each guest's clothes were separated from one another. The rooms' bedding was with the pile of clothes that belonged there. This made it easier for Alice to keep track of what went in what room.

Trip after trip, beds being made, and clean clothes being folded, Alice worked in this fashion. When she was putting the last load into the washer, her shirt got trapped behind the door and she could not get it lose because the door locked. She pulled as hard has she could, but the shirt gave way and ripped. Thankfully, Alice was wearing a tang top underneath, but she was now only down to one shirt.

After Alex, found every bulb he took them and threw then in the trash marked "recycling." Then he went to talk to Granny Ruth, but she was busy. She had not chores. He walked to the kitchen and saw Philip poring some kind of green soup into a bowl and then took out a small vile and pored that into the bowl. What is he dong?

"Um, Philip?"

"What is it half-pint?" Philip jumped at the sound of Alex's voice and thrust the vile in his pocket. "What do you want?"

"I need more light bulbs."

"Well here." Philip pulled out a sheet of paper from a drawer and wrote something on it. "Take this to Frank Peters at the hardware store. He will help you. Now leave me alone"

"Where is the store? I'm not familiar with this area," Alex pulled out the map he had in his pocket. Philip pointed to where it is. It was just down the street. Alex came back with Frank, who helped Alex carry three boxes full of new bulbs.

Finally, Alice finished the laundry and came back to the kitchen, with the shirt she wear yesterday on, where Granny Ruth and Philip were talking about the lunch menu. She was eating a green soup, while she talked.

"Granny Ruth, I'm finished. What do you need me to do next?"

"Can you cook Alice? Philip needs help," Philip looked up from the sheet of paper he was writing on and glared at her.

"I don't need fucking help, especially from a Pipsqueak like her."

"Are you sure Philip? I knew a Philip from college. We used to go out. He was such a sweet young man. He was my first long time relationship."

"Granny Ruth? Are you ok?" Alice said coming up to her a touching her shoulder.

"I am fine deary. I am going to the living room." Granny Ruth left the kitchen. Philip took the bowl and pored out the unfinished soup.

"What to you want?"

"Nothing." Alice ran out, hitting into Alex who was going into the kitchen.

"What is going own?" Alex said getting off the floor.

"Something is going on with Granny Ruth! I'm not sure what, but something is wrong." Alice fell into Alex's arms. We went back to work. For almost six years we worked in this fashion, but things became easer. Unfortunately, Granny Ruth was becoming more and more forgetful. We were taking care of everything. She talks to the guests, but that was about it. We cleaned and checked guests in and out, but we stayed out of Philip's way. There was defiantly something ominous. It was a lot of hard work, but we came to love working there. We had never felt so happy in a long time.

"Dearies, please come down," Granny Ruth said from the hallway. We went down to her little office. "I want to show you something. Where did I put it? Oh, here it is. Young'uns, did I ever show you my old photographs from when I was growing up?" She did this all the time, more than usual these days, but we did not care. We loved her showing us. I think we were only up to her high school years. Page after page, Granny Ruth showed us her life.

"Oh my dearies, I cannot believe how long it has been since you came. Now look at you, growing so fast. My darling daughter, Nicole, she was my princess. The boys some times did not let her play with them, but she always did. When she was a baby, she would always run up into my arms. Have you ever seen such a pretty day? The sun is shining so bright. Nicole used to chase the dog around the yard on days like this." Granny Ruth sat down in her favorite chair and started to knit. Leaving the photos open on her desk. We knew we heard that name somewhere, Nicole, in a long lost dream.

"Excuse me. I need to be checked in," a tall woman said.

"Yes, sorry for the delay." Alice ran over to the desk.

"It should be under Kimberly Fares."

"Oh, here you are. Alex will help you to your room," As Alice handed the woman her key, she looked up and gasped, "Kim! Kim from the information center?"

"Yes, I wanted to make sure you were alright. It has been a while. How are you?" Kim smiled and looked around the room, "This is a cute inn."

"I can't believe you're here," Alice said, staring at Kim. Her blue dress simmered in the light, but the more you stirred at the dress the color seemed to shift shades. "You must be here because we lied to you and stool the map. We're sorry."

"Yea, how did you remember we were here? It has been a while," Alex said, taking her bag.

"It is not because of that. You never left my mind; two young children going off by themselves. It is hard to forget," Kim looked from Alice to Alex. "Alex, I think you have grown since I last saw you, and you have too, Alice."

"How do you know are names?" we said.

"The nametags." Kim said with a smile. We did not have nametags on. The letter had our names on it, but how could she remember, it has been so long.

"Kim, your room is this way," Alex said and led her upstairs.

"Oh, what a pretty lady. She is not as pretty as Nicole though. My Nicole was prom queen. I remember this one time when she wanted new outfits for her children. She asked me to make them mittens for them. How small their hands were! Did I ever tell you about the time when Nicole came home and her children were wearing the mittens?" We were not paying attention because Kim came back downstairs holding two boxes. One was green with a blue ribbon and the other was blue with a green ribbon.

"This might seem strange, but I brought these for you. I hope that is ok?" We looked at one another. How did she know it was our birthday? We did not tell her it was that day we meet her. It has been such a long time they have received a gift that was not from one another. We did not know what to do. "Please take them." We opened the gifts and inside were two copies of Grimm's Fairy Tales. "I did not know what you liked, but this seemed to fit you two." We were speechless; we looked at one another then at Kim then at the books. This was the best gift we ever had. Tears filled their eyes.

"Thanks," They said sniffling. They ran up and gave Kim a large hug.

"What is she doing here?" Philip said from the kitchen door way.

"Philip you're a cook now? How interesting." Kim let go of our embrace and walked up to him, her dress was now a light blue.

"This is not your usual crowd." Philip backed into the kitchen then came back out with a vile, like the one we saw our first year here, in hand. "Well is that supposed to scare me? I know your old tricks." We stood there in shock. What are they doing? Her dress was now almost white. There was a flash, bang, and a puff of smoke. Kim was standing in a gold gown in front of a platypus.

"What happened to Philip? Where did this platypus come from?" We said looking from Kim to the platypus and back at Kim.

"Well children that is Philip. I turned him into a platypus. He was using a forgetful spell on Mrs. Sanderson." We just looked at one another. She can do magic? He was doing magic. No wonder Granny Ruth was always speaking nonsense. "I am your fairy godmother. Your mother wanted me to look after you." Kim walked back toward us. Her dress was no longer gold, but sunshine yellow.

"Alex, Alice! What just happened dearies?" Granny Ruth looked at both of us with tears in her eyes. "You two look just like Nicole, your mother."

"Our mom! Our real mom! You are our grandmother! Your our fairy godmother!" We looked at Granny Ruth, to Kim, to the platypus, and back to Granny Ruth.

"I was sure you where my grandchildren, but I was under that spell." Granny Ruth took us in her arms. "I have always loved you. Your mother loved you as well. When your mother was younger she and Kim became her close friend." We let go of our embrace and went into the living room.

"Your mother and I played all the time, till she meet your father. Then shortly after had you two. Your mother always read you two, Hansel and Gretel." We could not say anything. "That day when you came to the information center I knew that your step-mom and her husband left you again. I was watching you since your mother passed. My darlings, how I have wanted to help you for so long, but I was not to interfere. I could only interfere when you needed it the most."

We sat in silence; we have finally a family that loves us. After all of the years alone and working for ourselves, relying on one another, we don't have to feel alone anymore. We finally had a family.

"Granny Ruth. Kim. Thanks."