The grandfather clock chimed in with military promptness and fanfare, announcing the hour at 11:00 PM, while the companion grandmother clock remained silent except for the erratic ticks of seconds gone by; the children all swore her ticking sounded like the clicking of sewing needles. Ester always smiled when they whispered their suspicions in her presence, but whether it was at their imagination or observation, she never corrected them either way.
“Always remember, dear,” Ester would say, “imagination is observation of a special sort.”
Regardless, 11:00 PM was a late hour, especially for visitors. The rapping at the door was timid, fearful of bothering the infinitely patient Ester. Aunt Ester, however, smiled at the prospect of company and motioned to the scattered stuffed animals to return to their positions. They trundled off in a dozen directions, in a chaotic, waddling exodus. Aunt Ester opened the door.
The Rokossovskys stood on the veranda, the forthcoming apologies ready in their expressions. Courtney, their seven-year old daughter, carried much of her parents in her appearance, from the slender build and rounded face of her mother to the auburn hair and thoughtful grey eyes of her father. Marylyn Rokossovsky stroked Courtney’s long hair; fatigue weighed down their expressions.
“We’re so sorry–” Edward Rokossovsky began, his regret rehearsed on the walk up to the front door, but no less sincere.
“Hush now,” Ester said, chiding Edward with a smile. “It’s no trouble at all.”
“We didn’t know who to turn to,” Marylyn said, drawing her daughter in close. “Courtney’s been suffering from terrible nightmares, and the doctors can’t do anything for her.”
Ester smiled at Courtney and leaned down. “Would you like to sleep the night here, dear?”
The question drew a weary smile from Courtney.
“We wouldn’t ask,” Edward said, “but–”
“Edward, Marylyn, it’s fine,” Ester replied.
“It’s just… we heard that Brian Lloyd’s boy was having nightmares,” Edward said, “until he spent the night here.”
Ester nodded. “I have a special bed that I think Courtney will adore. And I have a guest room for the both of you. Now, while I show Courtney to her chambers, why don’t you go to your car and collect your luggage.”
Edward and Marylyn grinned sheepishly, having already brought their luggage in the hopes Ester would welcome them. Ester extended her hand to Courtney, who accepted it without hesitation.
“Would you like to see your room? They’re all waiting for you?”
“They?” Courtney asked, her fatigue momentarily forgotten.
Ester smiled and winked at Courtney before leading her up the winding oak staircase where the engraved wood faeries competed to hold their place the longest; the winner was currently seven years in the lead, but the others weren’t about to be undone without a fight.
Courtney’s room was lavish in its Victorian sensibilities, with gold, floral-print wall paper, a mahogany vanity table, a cushioned window seat, a ceiling mural of fairies set in stained glass and brightly colored curtains pulled to the sides of the four-post bed. At the head of the bed rested a mountain of stuffed teddy bears. Courtney’s eyes lit up at the sight and immediately ran to the assemblage.
“You’ll sleep with them tonight,” Ester said, “and when you wake up all rested tomorrow, you’ll tell me which bear you dreamt of.”
Courtney nodded, then furrowed her brows.
“What is it dear?”
“Uhm. What if the bad dreams come?”
“They wouldn’t dare,” Ester said with mock indignation. “Why, no bad dream has ever set foot in this house since I’ve lived here.”
Courtney appeared relieved, and then noticed the ceiling mural and the floating lights behind the stained glass.
“The lights are moving,” she said, surprised.
“Yes they are. They’re special fireflies who live up there.”
“How do you turn them off?”
“Why, by telling them goodnight, of course. They have to sleep too.”
Courtney giggled, then said “Goodnight.” To her delight, the lights behind the glass winked out.