Counting Thyme

Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin Page B

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Authors: Melanie Conklin
fast. “You can borrow my cashmere sweater to go over this. It’ll be perfect.”
    â€œBut the sleeves are too long.”
    â€œWe’ll roll them up! Come on, get changed. Then we’ll curl your hair.”
    And I did, because it felt nice not to argue with her for once.

    Inside Emily’s building, there was a uniformed man waiting in the elevator. “Your name, miss?” he asked, holding the doors for me.
    â€œThyme Owens. I’m here for Emily Anderson’s party.”
    He checked a list and nodded. “The penthouse it is.”
    Then he pressed a button, and the elevator zoomed up while my stomach dipped. The doors had a mirror finish. I blinked, and someone else blinked back: a girl in a puffy black jacket and a pink party dress, with dark, wavy hair. Thanks to Cori’s curling iron, I looked more like her than ever before. But that was nice, somehow. It made me feel like maybe I could be more like her—have fun and be cool, even if it was only for one night.
    The elevator stopped, and the doors parted, revealing a huge vaulted foyer with a super-tall Christmas tree. The air smelled like evergreen and freshly torn mint from Grandma’s garden.
    â€œHere you are, miss.”
    I stepped out of the elevator onto a white marble floor. My fancy black shoes clicked against the stone. They also pinched my toes, but Cori had claimed they looked best with the dress.
    The elevator doors whispered shut, leaving me alone with the glittering tree. A thousand tiny white lights sparkled among the branches, which were packed with ornaments of every shape and size. I wondered if Emily collected ornaments the way Grandma Kay did. My heart sunk at the thought of Grandma, alone in her house at home, decorating her tree by herself.
    Emily was standing at the other end of the foyer. As soonas I saw the surprised look on her face, I knew it was a mistake to come so early. She must have thought I was some kind of stalker.
    â€œSorry I’m early.”
    She smiled. “It’s no problem. Come on, I’ll show you my room.”
    I hoped that it really wasn’t a problem, but now I felt lame being there at all.
    We stopped by a coatroom, and I hung my jacket on a long metal rack. Then Emily led me down the hall and through a living room the size of our apartment. There was another fancy Christmas tree in front of the windows, next to a row of long tables dressed in white cloths. We turned down another hall, and Emily opened a door. Inside was a plush white carpet, a couch, and even a fireplace—but no bed.
    â€œWant some water?” Emily asked.
    â€œSparkling or flat?”
    â€œUm . . . I guess flat?”
    She disappeared through another door, and I caught a glimpse of a tall white canopy bed inside. So this was just her sitting room?
    A minute later, she came back with a bottle of water for me and a Perrier for herself. She plopped down on the couch and I perched on the other end, careful not to drip water on the shiny pillows. Being alone with Emily in her bedroom was a lot different than sharing a lunch table. I wondered what shethought of my dress and my hair. She had on a sparkly black dress that looked like something a model would wear—the sequins shimmered every time she moved. She must have felt awkward, too, because she kept fussing with her hem. Maybe she was having second thoughts about inviting me.
    â€œI like your fireplace,” I said, because Grandma Kay always said to open a conversation with a compliment.
    Emily smiled. “Here. I’ll turn it on.” With the flip of a switch, small orange and blue flames flickered to life on the logs. “It’s gas,” she said. “My mom says a live flame adds ambience to a room, like, the way fresh flowers make people happy? But I don’t know.” She glanced at the tiny blue flames. “It doesn’t look that real to me.

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