“Welcome to your new home!” Dimitra Adams said cheerfully from the doorway of a quaint, pale blue house surrounded by rose bushes.
Corey smiled and bounded up the front stairs, towards her new mother. Dimitra was a petite woman with long black hair tumbling down to her waist in curls. Her eyes were a deep green and she wore green framed glasses. She was dressed in a lavender shirt and jeans and had a light blue apron tied around her waist. Her arms were wide open and she bent down to receive her new daughter.
Corey hugged the woman tightly. All the way, Skylar had talked about his wife, about how giving, gentle, and understanding she was. She was also excited about adopting Corey, considering she’d always wanted a little girl.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Dimitra said into Corey’s ear as she hugged the girl close.
Behind Corey, Skylar had a couple of duffle bags slung over his shoulders. Corey’s teddy bear was tucked under one arm. He smiled as he approached his wife and new daughter.
“Okay, you two, let’s go inside. I’m sure Dimitra is looking forward to showing Corey her new room.”
Dimitra finally released Corey and straightened up. “It’s a lovely room, Corey. There’s tons of morning light in there since Skylar said you like the sunshine.”
Corey nodded, her long hair falling in her eyes. Dimitra reached out and pushed back the long lock, giving the young girl a gentle, tender smile. Then she took Corey’s hand and led her inside, Skylar following behind.
“Something smells yummy,” Corey commented as they walked through the house.
Dimitra smiled down at her. “Skylar said you like banana nut muffins, so I made some for you as a welcome present.”
Corey smiled back at her new mother and skipped alongside her. “I haven’t had banana nut muffins in four years. Helen wasn’t much of a baker.”
“I hope you like these.”
Corey grinned up at her. “I think I will.”
Behind them, Skylar chuckled. “Okay, you two, let’s keep moving.”
Dimitra smiled and gently put a hand on Corey’s back. She steered the girl down a hallway towards a closed door. There was an open door about halfway down the hall towards the closed one. Behind them, Skyler grunted as he shifted the strap of one of the duffle bags.
“Here we are,” Dimitra said brightly as they came to the open door. “Go ahead and take a look.”
Gently, Dimitra pushed Corey forward as Skyler edged around them to put down the duffle bags. The little girl took a few tentative steps onto the pale pink carpet. She took a few minutes to look around, taking in the lavender and white bed filled with stuffed animals, a little white table piled high with books, a white dresser with a mirror, and a nightstand with a delicate crystal lamp. Finished with her initial perusal, she turned around to face Dimitra and Skyler, who both gave her encouraging nods and smiles.
Awed by the sunny room with its pale pink paint, Corey wandered a little further in, eyes wide. She brushed her fingers against the comforter covered with entwining pink flowers and spied the window seat covered with lavender cushions embroidered with white flowers. She squealed excitedly and climbed up onto it. Peering out the window, she found that it faced the front of the house. Peering past the front lawn, a tingle of excitement ran down her spine as she recognized the house across the street. Excited, she whipped her head around to face her new parents and pointed out the window.
“My friend Terese lives right across the street!”
Skyler smiled. “I guess we picked the right house to live in, then.”
“We already told your friend we were adopting you,” Dimitra said. “Her mother said it was okay for her to come over tonight after dinner.”
Corey clapped her hands excitedly and ran to her new parents. She gave Skyler a big hug before turning to Dimitra.
“Thank you,” she said shyly. “And thank you for my bedroom. It’s beautiful.”
Dimitra hugged her back tightly. “We’re glad you like it. Would you like to take a nap or have a muffin?”
“Muffin first, please!” Corey said brightly.
Corey quickly shrugged off her backpack and let it fall to the floor. She took Dimitra’s offered hand and the three of them headed for the kitchen. As they walked along, a soft smile spread across Corey’s face. For the first time, she finally felt at home, at peace, and happy. She silently hoped nothing would destroy this newfound happiness, at least not for a while.
It was a brightly lit kitchen opening up to an informal dining area and the living room. The counters were a shining pale blue and everything looked like new. Corey was tickled to see the cabinet handles looked like little cats. Smiling, Dimitra sat her new daughter on one of the stools at the breakfast bar. Skyler settled himself beside her while his wife went to retrieve the muffins from where they were keeping warm in the oven.
“Here you go,” Dimitra said, setting down a plate with a muffin on it in front of Corey. “Would you like something to drink?”
“Could I have some water, please?”
“Of course.” She turned to her husband. “Muffin?”
Skyler shrugged. “Sure. I’m hungry.”
Dimitra smiled at him and turned to get a glass of water and a second muffin. In the meantime, Skyler turned to Corey. The little girl was eagerly chewing away at the muffin. He blinked and was reminded of when he had first met Cora Iris Fallon. She had been gnawing on a banana nut muffin, legs swinging from a porch swing. He blinked again as his wife put a plate in front of him and a glass in front of Corey before leaning across from them, peeling the wrapper from her own muffin. He turned back to Corey, who was eagerly taking a huge bite from the muffin. The girl had grown up a lot in the past four years. Four years….
“I’m sorry we haven’t been able to find who murdered your parents,” Skyler said abruptly.
At his words, Corey turned to look up at him, her mouth full and eyes wide. Across from them, Dimitra had stopped with her muffin halfway to her mouth, eyes likewise wide.
“Sky,” Dimitra said softly, “do you have to bring that up now?”
“I’m sorry, honey, but watching Corey eat her muffin reminds me of when I first met her.” He swung his gaze to his new daughter. “You were only four, Corey. So young to be orphaned. We never found who did it.”
Slowly, her eyes trained on him, Corey chewed and swallowed her bite and put her muffin down. She put her hands in her lap and folded them before turning her now serious eyes up to her new father.
“That’s okay, Skyler,” she said seriously. “I loved my parents, but they weren’t the best. Helen and Andy were wonderful for the first three and a half years before Andy got scary. I loved them, too, but I don’t miss them. I hope I’ll love you two, too.”
Skyler reached out and gently tucked a strand of her brown hair behind her ear. He smiled gently. “I hope so, too. Do you happen to know anything about their deaths?”
“Sky,” Dimitra said quietly, entreatingly.
He glanced at his wife and flashed her a smile. She sighed and wandered over to the trash to throw away the muffin wrapper. Skyler turned back to Corey, who was still regarding him with serious brown eyes.
“Corey?” he asked encouragingly.
She pursed her lips and shook her head, sending her hair flying around her face. “No. I don’t know anything.”
And with that, Corey turned back to her muffin and picked it up. Skyler watched as she took a big bite before turning to finish his own. He had the feeling Corey knew something, but wasn’t sure how far he could push, or how far Dimitra would let him push.
* * *
After dinner, Corey immediately went to kneel on the window seat and stared out into the darkness, waiting patiently for Terese to arrive. Dimitra was washing the dinner dishes while Skyler was reclining in front of the TV. She could hear her new mother humming above the sound of the rushing water and the low voices speaking from the TV. It was soothing and she idly wondered if Dimitra would hum to her when she put her to bed.
“There she is!” Corey suddenly cried out. She climbed down and ran over to Skyler to tug on his sleeve. “Skyler, Terese and her mom are almost here. Can we open the door?”
Skyler turned and smiled at her before putting down the remote control and rising. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Corey skipped ahead of him and waited patiently by the door for him to catch up to her. Skyler chuckled as he took his time catching up to her. As he slowly made his way over to her, Corey began to bounce on her toes impatiently. She knew she could unlock the door herself, but wasn’t sure if it was allowed. They had, after all, decided to put off laying down the ground rules until tomorrow, after Corey had settled in.
“What are you doing?” Dimitra asked, emerging from the kitchen, drying her hands with a towel. She was eyeing her husband curiously and tossed the towel over her shoulder.
“Terese and her mom are almost here,” Skyler explained. “Corey’s a little impatient.”
Dimitra smiled and folded her arms across her chest. “And do you think our guests would like some cookies?”
Corey nodded. “Terese loves peanut butter cookies. She likes sugar cookies, too, and chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. I don’t know what her mother likes.”
Dimitra laughed and held up her hands. “It’s a good thing I knew there were going to be a couple of kids tonight. I have sugar cookies in the oven and a cookie jar full of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Do you think Terese will like iced tea?”
Corey nodded enthusiastically. “She sure does! Her mother makes it every summer. It’s really good tea and she puts a mint leaf in the glasses every time. Did you know they grow mint in their backyard?” Her smile slipped a little. “It smells nice, but I don’t really like it as much as they do.”
Dimitra shared a quiet smile with Corey. “It’s a good thing I have some mint in my garden, too. I’ll go get some cookies and iced tea for everyone, but I’ll be careful to leave a glass without any mint for you.”
Corey grinned and ran to give her a tight hug. Then she dashed back to the front door as Skyler pulled it open. Terese and her mother were walking up the steps as the door opened up before them. As soon as the two girls spotted each other, Terese squealed and dashed into the house to give her friend a hug. Corey held on to her just as tightly. Terese’s mother smiled and continued walking up the steps. Reaching the door, she held out her hand to Skyler.
“It’s funny that we live across the street, but never introduced ourselves,” she said in a quiet voice. “I’m Lisa Flynn, Terese’s mother.”
Skyler shook her hand and gestured for her to step inside. He closed the door and turned to face her as she looked around the living room, appearing to look for someone.
“Skyler Adams,” he said. “My wife, Dimitra, is getting some cookies and iced tea.”
Lisa turned to him and smiled. “Sounds delicious. My daughter loves cookies.” She gestured into the air. “I can smell the sugar cookies.”
Skyler gestured for her to have a seat. “Come, have a seat.”
Lisa looked around and spotted her daughter and Corey at the dining table where Dimitra had set out some plain paper, coloring supplies, glue, glitter, and uncooked rice. Corey was making glue circles and sprinkling glitter over it while Terese had taken a green marker and was furiously coloring the bottom of a paper. She smiled and followed Skyler over to the couch, where they could watch the two girls. Dimitra waved to them from where she stood in the kitchen, pouring some iced tea into a glass. She emerged from the kitchen a moment later, carrying a plate of cookies and two glasses. With a smile, she set them before the girls.
“Here you go,” she said softly. “Sugar and chocolate chip cookies and iced tea with mint, Terese. Corey said you mother makes iced tea like that.”
The girl lifted her head of long blond hair and nodded enthusiastically. “Uh huh! Thank you, Mrs. Adams.”
Dimitra gave them one last smile before returning to the kitchen. A moment later, she re-emerged with a tray bearing more cookies and three glasses of tea. Smiling at the girls as she walked past, she walked into the living room and set the tray on the coffee table before taking a seat beside Lisa on the couch.
“Help yourself,” Dimitra said, gesturing to the tray.
“Thanks. This looks delicious. My son will regret not coming over with us,” Lisa said with a laugh as she reached for a warm sugar cookie. “He said he didn’t want to have to deal with girls all night, so my husband had to stay home with him.”
“That’s a shame,” Dimitra said. “I’m sure we’ll be meeting the rest of the family eventually, though. How old is your son?”
“Eleven.” Lisa glanced over to where the two girls were giggling and gluing rice to their papers. “I’m glad Corey is living with you. She’s such a darling child who has gone through too much.” Lisa shook her head and took a sip of tea. “I hope she’s happy here.”
“We do, too,” Dimitra said. “We always did want kids. Corey is kind of a god send to us. I love her like my own already. Especially since Skyler’s been in contact with her periodically over the past four years. He talked about her all the time and still regrets not being able to find the monster that killed her biological parents.”
Dimitra cast a sad look in Skyler’s direction. He made a grimace just as Corey had whipped her head around to look at the three adults. She was staring at them with serious eyes, her face just as serious and mirthless.
“It was a monster who killed my parents,” Corey said clearly, drawing their attention.
“Of course it was, sweetie,” Dimitra said. “We firmly believe all murderers are monsters.”
“No,” Corey said, stressing the word. “It was a monster who killed them. I know it was.”
“Corey,” Skyler said, “would you like to talk about this?”
The question silenced her. Abruptly, she shut her mouth and pursed her lips. Giving a quick shake of her head, she turned back to her art and picked the glue up again.
Dimitra shared a look with her husband. He shook his head and reached for a glass. He took a long drink before putting it back down. Lisa was staring into her glass, appearing to be lost in her thoughts.
“It’s okay,” Dimitra said quietly to no one in particular.