tilly with the others: part 38

"Mrs. Zondernaam! The girls are in the rec room. You just go down these stairs and hang a left."

"I remember," said Tilly, forcing a smile and hoping she managed to convey a warm tone in her voice. "Thank you for having me over, Beth."

"Oh, you're wearing stockings, the floor's cold in the basement..." Beth frowned. "I suppose you could wear your shoes, it's dry out..."

"It's all right, I have my travel slippers in my purse." Tilly fished around in her bag and pulled out a pair of moccasins that zippered shut on themselves.

"Oh what a good idea!"

Tilly smiled blandly and put her slippers on. She had learned that Canadians consider wearing shoes in the house the height of boorishness long before she'd met Beth. What she had never been able to figure out was why so few of them bothered to bring indoor footwear when they visited.

Owen ducked through the front door. "Um, I got the kale... red is okay, right?"

"I don't know, the recipe didn't say. We'll make it work."

Someone's trying to be in a good mood, thought Tilly as she eased her way down the stairs. The stairs were polished wood without a runner or treads, and looked slippery enough to skate on.

"Oma!" Emily and Mercedes ran to meet Tilly at the bottom of the stairs. She bent down and gave them a kiss on each cheek. For Emily she hardly had to bend down at all.

"Come on!" Mercedes pulled at Tilly's hand. "We got a new game. You'll like it."

Tilly let herself be led to the rec room and settled into the same armchair she always used. It had been in her and Marcus's rec room when Owen was growing up, and they had given it to him when he moved out. Somehow it had survived Beth's redecorating — probably because the seat was high enough to be comfortable for Owen. Tilly's feet didn't touch the ground when she sat in it.

"Can you two keep a secret?" she said, meaning both of them but mostly addressing Emily.

"Windmill cookies?" said Mercedes.

Tilly retrieved the packet of speculaas from her shopping bag. Mercedes cheered.

"We can have some after," said Emily. "I'll put it behind the DVDs on the middle shelf. 'Kay, Oma?"

"They're for you, not for me. I can get my own."

"Thank you." Emily smiled. "They'll be good for after school."

Mercedes launched into a rapid-fire, incoherent description of the new video game. Tilly listened politely and then asked Mercedes to demonstrate it. Emily sat in the chair beside Tilly and didn't say anything, even when her sister said or did something Tilly knew usually got Emily annoyed.

Tilly and Emily watched Mercedes work her way through four levels on the game before Owen called down the stairs and said lunch was ready. Mercedes saved the game.

"I'll put everything away," said Emily. "You go wash your hands first."

Apparently Mercedes still hated tidying up, Tilly noted, because she ran out the rec room and up the stairs without any arguing or back talk.

Emily popped the game disc out and put it back in its case. "Have you seen or heard anything about the door?" she said.

"Nothing," said Tilly.

"I haven't either," said Emily. She turned off the TV set and gaming console. "I thought I would e-mail you when I saw or heard something, but nothing's happened. I should just e-mail you anyhow."

"Don't get in trouble," said Tilly.

"I won't." Emily let Tilly leave the room ahead of her, turning off the lights behind them.

"LUNCH!" Beth yelled down the stairs. "It's getting cold!"

"We were just putting everything away," Emily called up the stairs.

Owen appeared at the top of the stairs and quirked an eyebrow at Tilly, but didn't say anything before he headed to the dining room.

Tilly closed her eyes and made herself breathe as she climbed the last few steps. All of a sudden dealing with extraterrestrials in the elevator shafts didn't seem so bad.