They’ve been walking for years, or maybe minutes. It’s hard to tell; the house leads the way, and they just tumble end over end like they’re falling down a well. She thought she saw Fantasy once, or at least the shape of her in silhouette, but then they turned the corner and the hall was dusty and unused. Sweet’s feet make imprints on the floor; she’ll have to scrub here, later.
There’s so much to do to prepare the house for guests, and not enough time in the day to get it all done. Poor Auntie couldn’t keep up alone, but that’s what she’s got Sweet for, now. But maybe a rest, first. Her feet ache from walking and her head’s starting to droop heavy on her neck. “Kung Fu, I’m tired,” she says.
Kung Fu twists around and her legs go with her a second later. Her face is bright and open, and she holds her hands out for Sweet, wiggling all ten of her fingers. “Come, come, we’re almost there.”
Sweet stretches out and tangles their fingers together. Kung Fu is so strong, and sure, and steady even when she’s walking one way and looking the other. Her hands are warm wrapped around Sweet’s.
“Will the others be there?” she asks. Kung Fu considers it, her hair spilling back and forth as she rolls her head across her shoulders.
“I don’t know I think if we go we’ll meet them on the way, eventually.”
“Where are we going?”
“We’re going home, Sweet. Don’t worry, I’ll protect you,” Kung Fu says, with a gallant nod. Sweet never has to worry, not when Kung Fu is around. She’s strong and fearless, and she always comes running whenever Sweet needs her.
The house is so big - a true mansion. She thought, when she first saw it, that it almost looked like a castle, like something out of a fairy tale. Now it’s more of a maze; every hallway leads to another hallway, a closet, a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom. The house shows them the way. Their feet pad unevenly on the floor, thump-thump-thu-thump. If they find Melody, they can make a song out of it.
Kung Fu climbs up a tall step and turns around to squat and pull Sweet up after her. Sweet allows herself to be pulled, and brushes her fingers over the scratch marks on Kung Fu’s cheek. Blanche was so very mean to her, and Kung Fu was so very brave.
“Sweet, your arm!” Kung Fu cries out, and Sweet frowns and looks down. Her arm ticks up in a circle and back down to evening.
“That’s not very nice.”
“No,” sighs Kung Fu. “Nothing here is very nice.” Maybe, but Sweet’s got Kung Fu to defend her. She keeps facing Sweet even as they walk down the hall. On top of the walls, Blanche trots along beside them in a wisp of cotton candy fluff.
The door ahead of them slides open and Kung Fu cries out, feet slipping along the mats into a fighting stance. She squares her shoulders up and edges inside, pivoting perfectly on her heel to flick the light on with the side of her foot. She never drops her hands, and Sweet admires her perfect form and the tense lines of her calves.
The room is bigger than the last bedroom, but smaller than the first. Sweet’s eyelids ache and she yawns behind her hands.
“Can we rest now, Kung Fu?” she asks. Kung Fu doesn’t answer, just frowns, but Blanche leaps down from the walls and nestles on the corner of the futon, and Sweet is so, so tired. She sets herself down and reaches up to pull Kung Fu beside her.
“Oh, do you think Auntie will mind?” Kung Fu asks. She frowns and smoothes out Sweet’s apron and the collar of her dress.
“It’s a guest room, isn’t it? And we’re guests.” Sweet presses her hands into Kung Fu’s shoulders and lays her down on the futon, and lays herself on top of her. The pillows are little cotton clouds of their own, and her head sinks and sinks into them.
The light dims, and Kung Fu’s face shines in the green light from Blanche’s eyes. Sweet tucks herself against Kung Fu’s side - the futon wraps around them, gentler than before. Soft and warm and smothering. A hand finds her hair and draws curls in it, winding and releasing.
The house is still around them. Even wrapped in Kung Fu’s strong arms and the warm, familiar futon, she can feel its eyes on them. She hopes the other girls have found good places to rest. They must all be as tired as she is. She imagines Mac cuddled in the broken refrigerator, and Melody tucked up on the piano bench, and Prof in Auntie’s room, between books and pictures and paintings. There’s a place for all of them here.
Kung Fu must have been right, when she said this would be their home. Sweet silently thanks the walls and the ceiling and the cold, glass pane she looked out of. Her fingers trace circles on Kung Fu’s chest, counting seconds. They’re louder in her ears.
Outside, in the hall, she hears a stomping, like men’s feet in a parade. Their voices ring out from a great distance, muffled by the futon and Kung Fu’s hands over her ears and the house, the house, the house. It’s very close to them but they won’t be touched. The house knows how the story goes - the girls arrive, and take their places, and do their chores, and Auntie gobbles them up one by one and two by two. And outside the men march on.
Auntie has such a big stomach for them. Auntie must have waited so long, and been so lonely, without her love. It aches in Sweet’s breast to imagine such a thing, counting time in a castle without even Kung Fu for company. But they’re here for Auntie now. Sweet will scrub the floors, and Kung Fu will chase lizards and mice out of the kitchen, and the house will breathe a little bit deeper.
The futon wraps tighter and Sweet feels like her legs might fall off and join Kung Fu’s, kicking and dancing across the tatami without a care.
“She’s so pretty,” Sweet breathes. The woman’s scarf floats on the breeze like a glamorous tail behind a bird, as she walks toward the mouth of the house. Sweet’s throat is dry and her stomach is so very empty - is this how Mac feels all the time? Kung Fu’s face presses against her shoulder, breathing hot. Is she hungry too? Sweet grabs her hand and squeezes. “Don’t you think she’s pretty, Kung Fu?”
“She’s very pretty.” Kung Fu blinks owl-eyed at the woman. Auntie and Gorgeous greet her, all old-fashioned poise and grace. They welcome her to the belly of the house and Sweet’s stomach trembles in excitement.
“Do you think she’ll like it here?” Kung Fu’s legs wrap around her waist. The woman smiles, and her teeth are beautiful and neat, like the square panels of a door.
“She’s been living in Italy, right? Maybe she lived in a castle there, too,” says Kung Fu. Sweet imagines a big one like she’s seen in films, so many rooms filled with girls and Aunties and beautiful bird women with scarves. Auntie smiles back at the woman with a wide, welcoming jaw.
“I’m so hungry,” Sweet breathes. It’s not polite but she feels herself drool and dabs it away. Kung Fu’s eyes beside her are bright, shining, a lamp in the dark.