The Gift

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"Let's explore the closets." Olivia, my very tiny friend from school had come to visit her aunt, Sanda, but it was really just an excuse to see me and Connor. He and his family still lived in Jeeves' flat above the garages, but since he was currently sequestered in a makeshift lab on the property with Mr. Shaw, she and I had found a shady spot on the lawn to sip lemonade and catch up on each other's news.

"It's too hot to go inside." I wasn't grumpy, just lazy. Natasha, Connor's big red dog, was on her back next to me, getting the mother of all belly-scratches, and I didn't want the blissed out dog face to turn into sad eyes if I stopped.

"I've heard the closets at Elian Manor are even better than the attics at school."

"I wouldn't know. This isn't really my house." I said it without thinking, by Olivia's startled reaction made me add, "I didn't grow up here."

"But this is your family's manor house. Your roots are here, your people have always lived here, this place is your history." Olivia sounded shocked that I could think anything else.

"I guess if anything, there's a little bit of my mom here, just because she lived here when she was young. But the only thing I can claim in common with this place is my name."

Olivia pushed Rocky off her lap and stood up to brush grass off her shorts. "Oh. My. God. I can't believe you haven't claimed every inch of this house. It's like a giant playground just waiting to happen. Come on, I want to play dress up, so we're going to start with the closets."

"That sounds as much fun as a stick in the eye." I grumbled halfheartedly, giving Natasha an extra scratch behind the ears. But I stood up to follow her anyway.

"Oh shush! Under all that badass, you're still a girl who likes pretty things, despite ... whatever that is." She looked meaningfully at my @T @T Walker T-shirt, which so perfectly suited my geekiness I couldn't believe she didn't love it.

"Hey, don't knock the nerd just because you're like a perfect porcelain doll." It was so easy to tease Olivia about her diminutive size. She had just turned sixteen, but was about as tall as Connor's eleven-year-old brother, Logan. Instead of the glare I expected, she smiled sweetly in a way that was possibly scarier.

"See the window that's open on the third floor?" I followed her gaze and nodded. "If I get there first, you play dress up with me as long as I want. If you win, we'll come back down here and lounge with the beasts." She indicated Connor's pack of dogs that had attached themselves to us since she arrived. "But no staircases. Go!" I had exactly one second to register what she meant before Olivia was running across the lawn to the big stone manor house my mom and I had stayed in with Millicent for almost a year.

Olivia was fast, but my 5'10" legs were longer and I beat her to the house. I had already mapped a way to the second floor, so I was up on a window ledge before I realized she was taking a different route. I paused just long enough to see her climbing a drain pipe like a monkey, which she could do since she weighed about as much as a whisper, and I realized she was going to beat me unless I pulled off something truly spectacular.

I made it to the second floor with no problem and was about to leap across to my sure-win ledge, but then Olivia shut a window on her way past, and the sure-win became sure-fall. I changed direction practically mid-leap, which threw off my balance enough that when I grabbed up, my hand slipped off the stone. Olivia lunged down to snag my wrist, and when we tumbled inside the third floor window, we were both red-faced and sweaty.

"You didn't tell me we were playing by roller derby rules."

"Sorry about that." Olivia didn't look sorry, but I forgave her. I knew I'd have gotten much worse if I'd been racing Ringo. "I figured you were going to win by a mile and wanted to give myself a fighting chance. Besides, it's paybacks for the doll comment."

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