Chapter One Thousand Nine Hundred Fifty-Three
31st December 1969
The sound of firecrackers on the street out in front of the house startled Sophie awake. While she had been told that she would be allowed to stay up until midnight, she had swiftly fallen asleep on the couch shortly after ten while watching television with the others. She might have been able to stay awake if Ziska had been present, they always could find fun things to do. However, Ziska had gone with her family on a ski trip in the Alps, though skiing was one of those things that was more or less impossible for her. Suse Rosa had decided to spend the holidays with her family in Prague and wouldn’t be back until Friday.
Now it was a couple hours later, Sophie noticed that she was on the couch in the parlor, with Jo and Tat getting a sleepy Marie off the couch. Malcolm stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. He had always been somewhat aloof with Sophie, unsure on how to react towards her. Was she his little sister or a guest in their household? Even after two years that had persisted. Katherine and Douglas were out for the evening, having gone to a party that was being held by the Emperor in the Grand Ballroom of the Old Winter Residence. Marie had wanted to go to that, but both Jo and Tat had fixed expressions on their faces when they had listened to her complaints. They had gone to Royal events thrown by the Emperor in prior years and Sophie suspected that this was another one of those cases where one ought to be careful what they asked for. More ominously, Katherine had said that the two of them would get more than fill of that when they came of age, not just Marie. Sophie wondered why she was being included in whatever it was that Katherine was talking about. That resulted in one of the rare occasions when the children of the house were allowed to spend the evening more or less unsupervised. It seemed a bit silly to Sophie, Jo was twenty-three and was a Student Teacher. Why had Katherine talked about her as if she were the same as Sophie who was ten?
“You need to put on your coat Sophie” Jo said as she grabbed Sophie’s hands and pulled her to her feet. Minutes later, Sophie followed the others as they stepped out into the cold winter night, there was a low overcast with the clouds reflecting the lights of the city. A few flakes of snow were falling but swiftly melting once they hit the pavement. There were many people who lived on this block standing around in front of their houses and despite the late hour, those same houses were brightly lit when normally they would be dark with the occupants asleep.
Noticing that Jo was looking at her watch, Sophie could hear that the murmur of voices around the neighborhood was growing in intensity. Some people were counting down as others were lighting off more firecrackers, the clatter of pots and pans filled the air. Marie handed Sophie one of the sparklers that she was lighting.
“Right about NOW!” Jo said.
Marie started yelling “Happy New Year!” into the night, joined by Tat and Malcolm. In the distance, the thud and crack of fireworks could be heard. Sophie smiled at how happy everyone was.
Like that, the year and decade ended.
It was something that Sophie had mixed feelings about. Everyone she had talked with had said that they were turning the page, putting the past behind them, and she was encouraged to do the same. Sophie had no idea what would actually change though in the coming year. She still had the same struggles in school with getting picked on. The specter of her mother was still out there, even if no one knew where she presently was. Sophie worried that her mother would show up unexpectedly and upend her life, if for no other reason than to prevent her from being happy. She was supposed to start at a new school after the Summer Holiday. Katherine said that it was an excellent opportunity for her. This was because she would be in an environment where scholarship was more valued than social standing because of the results of her inexplicably high marks. Sophie wanted to take her foster mother’s word for that, but every time she considered how the other girls in her present school had made a sport out of making her cry, she had difficulty believing that things could ever be different. How had she been accepted into a school that valued academic rigor? Sophie had been told her whole life that she was stupid, blundering around wrecking everything for everyone unfortunate enough to have her blighted presence in their lives.
Even as she had that thought, Sophie knew that it was the things her mother had drilled into head. It had been disturbing how even knowing that her mother was out of her life and had been wrong about everything, she just couldn’t get herself to stop doing that.
“Are you upset?” Marie asked Sophie snapping her back to the present. The sparkler in her hand reached the end of its fuel and guttered out, leaving an ash covered wire in Sophie’s hand. The celebratory mood on the street was already fading as everyone was swiftly going back indoors.
“No” Sophie replied, “I’m tired and its cold.”
“Oh” Marie said as they followed the others back into the house.