Wandering Hearts

Looking Glass Saga - Book 4

She used to think Wonderland would go on forever.

Overview

After an unsettling Christmas with Adrianna's family, Alice returns to school and a much more normal problem than she'd ever had to deal with before. Adrianna likes a boy and needs a date for his friend if she wants to spend more time with him. Alice agrees, but soon finds she's not ready for what that means.

The other side of the mirror and searching for Adrianna's brothers becomes an escape from the life she'd dreamed of, even as she gains a new shadow while exploring Wonderland. She gains a shadow in a boy named Peter who has taken an interest in her and the things she can do. He is definitely not from around here and learns that where Wonderland ends, another world begins.

Excerpt

Chapter 1


Winter Wonders


After six hours on a plane and another half hour in a van with Adrianna and her brothers, Alice wasn’t sure what she was expecting when they finally pulled up to Adrianna’s house. The excitement of taking a plane for the first time had worn off by the first hour in the sky and she found herself anxious to be able to walk around without having to squeeze between other people. At this point, she would have taken just about anything that wasn’t a small room that she had to share with several other bodies.

What she got was the Case house, and it was huge. With a family of ten, they likely needed the space, but she hadn’t expected to see the signs of people even as they drove up to it. There was a car up on blocks off to one side of the driveway, abandoned in the snow that had mostly been cleared. Someone had made a few snowmen and left large snow boulders in the front on the way to the house itself.

There was also a small house off to the side of the main one that looked like someone inhabited it. The curtains were not completely shut and, while the lights were off, Alice could tell that someone likely lived inside at some point. She wondered if that meant she was going to be meeting even more of Adrianna’s family that had decided to visit.

Though Alice offered, she was shuffled into the house with Adrianna as her brothers dealt with their bags. She tried to stay out of the way, taking in the foyer with wide eyes.  It felt warm, and not just because it was heated. Someone had bothered to decorate with Christmas decorations and that made it feel at least a little festive, whether they wanted it to be or not. It even smelled like pine.

“So you guys finally made it,” an older man said, coming into the large foyer at the sound of the commotion. His chocolate brown hair looked shaggy and he had the same smile on his face as the rest of the family. Another one of Adrianna’s brothers. “About damn time.”

“Good to see you too,” Travis said, dropping the bags at the door. “A little hand?”

The new brother proceeded to start clapping, procuring several rolled eyes as some of them went back out to the cars to get more bags.

“And you must be Addie’s friend,” the new brother said, stepping forward. “Alice, right? I’m Ryan. I’m sure everyone’s told you plenty of lies about me already. So nice of you to join us this year. Now, where is that sister of mine?”

Adrianna reached out and smacked him lightly on the arm, looking a little annoyed. He smiled and picked her up in a hug, then put her back down. “Still in one piece?” he asked. “Haven’t let Lance get away with anything too fun this semester, have you?”

“Like she could stop me,” Mike said behind him. Alice was going to have to remember to call him Lance while she was here.

“Dad says they didn’t even hear about you once,” Ryan said. “How the hell did you manage that?”

“Adam and Matt weren’t getting me into trouble,” he said.

“So Evan had an easier job of covering for you?”

“Pretty much,” Evan said, coming back in from the snow with the rest of the bags. “Let’s hope the streak continues after I graduate.”

“He’s still got two more brothers to cover his ass,” Ryan said, winking at Lance. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

Alice moved nervously out of the way, over to her bag, listening as the family talked around her. It wasn’t just that she felt out of place amongst them and like she didn’t know what she should be doing here, though that was certainly part of it. It was more how casual they sounded about two of their brothers being completely absent. A pang of guilt went through her as she shrunk out of their way.

Adrianna found Alice’s arm, bags in her other hand, and tugged her to the stairs. “Come on,” she said. “I’ll show you where you’re going to be staying. There’s a room right across from mine.”

Alice followed her up, looking back as the brothers all seemed to devolve into playful bickering amongst one another, and she was glad to be out of it. With everyone seeming to want to talk to Ryan, she felt like she was intruding on a private moment, even if they were so loud that Alice could hear them as they went down the long hall and around the corner.

“This one’s yours,” Adrianna told her as she opened the first door around the corner and turned on the light to a bedroom. It was only a little smaller than Alice’s back home, and even more sparsely decorated. It was blue and beige throughout and had a queen sized bed, a desk and a dresser with a mirror on it, as well as a few pictures of generic flowers hung up on the wall. On the far side of the room, there was an open door to a bathroom.

“My room’s right there,” Adrianna told her, indicating the room directly across from this one. “I’m going to take a shower. If you need anything, my door’s usually open.”

“Thanks,” Alice said, not sure what else to say. Adrianna went off into her own room, Alice staring after her. Adrianna didn’t close the door behind her. Alice had a distinct sense of uneasiness about it. She took a step toward the door to close her own, but stopped herself. She should do what everyone else in the house did, and if they left the doors open, then she would do that too.

Instead, she moved out of the way of it, putting her bags down on the bed and taking a seat. After being cramped with other people for so long, the solitude was welcome, even if she didn’t have the quiet. The house sounded like people, with voices drifting through the halls even as she heard the doors opening and closing. She couldn’t even tell if any of the doors were the front door, and no one seemed to care about being loud. Already, she could hear the faint beat from one of the other rooms echoing through the halls. It was more like being back at school than home.

Except for the door.

With a deep breath, she got back to her feet. She was going to take a shower too. And if she did that, she would have to shut the door, right? Adrianna had done that, so it would be all right if she did the same. The door closed softly under her hands, bringing with it the quiet and a strange sight. There was a lock on the inside of it, like at school.

Ignoring the odd leap that her heart made in her chest, Alice went to the washroom and took a shower, cleaning off the day of travel she didn’t realize she’d been so dirty with. She felt lighter as she changed into clean clothes from her bag and took the opportunity to look around the room a little better. It was very plain, but Alice didn’t mind. It was the first time she had been allowed to stay with a friend, so she had no expectations of accommodations.

She stopped as she opened the drawer on the bedside table. The rest of the drawers and closet in the room had been empty, but there was a small package that had been left inside. She vaguely remembered once finding a book in a bedside table before, back when her family had taken a vacation, but this was nothing of the sort. It was a small box wrapped in red and green with a tag on it. Beneath it was an envelope with Alice written on it in handwriting that she had not seen in over a year.

Alice put the present back on the bedside table and went to the envelope, glad to find that it had not been sealed. She wasn’t sure if she was allowed to open it yet and glanced at the door to make sure it was still closed before opening hastily opening the envelope and pulling out a card. There were no words on the front, just a bird with mistletoe, and she opened it.

 

Alice,

Merry Christmas. I’m sorry I missed last year, so I made you something special. Maybe leave these at school so Dad doesn’t find them. Hope everything is going well and you’re having fun at Lucena Academy. I miss you and I’m sorry I cannot be there.

Love Lori

 

Questions ran through her mind that she couldn’t piece together. She wanted to know where her sister was and if she was all right and why she hadn’t contacted her before now and how she’d gotten a card from England into her bedside table.

The knock at her door made her jump and she turned to stare at it, waiting for her father to catch her with the card. Instead, a voice came drifting through the door. “Alice, are you in there? Are you decent?”

Alice scrambled to hide the card quietly under the pillow. “I’m decent,” she said, not moving from the bed.

The door cracked open and Joe peeked in. “How are you settling?” he asked. “Finding everything okay?”

Alice nodded. “Thank you.”

“Dinner’s ready downstairs. Addie’s just getting ready and she’ll be down in a bit if you want to wait for her.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

Joe smiled as his eyes drifted off of her and to the gift she left on the table. “If you have gifts, we can put them under the tree,” he offered.

“I found it,” Alice said, still confused. “It’s for me. From Lori.”

Alice didn’t understand the look that flickered across Joe’s face, but it returned to a gentle smile soon after. “Grab it and we’ll still put it under the tree,” he said. “Cards are fine, but we don’t do gifts until Christmas Day. Come on,” he added, tapping the door frame. “Dinner now. Sounds like Addie’s done, too.”

Alice nodded and got up, grabbing the present and giving it to Joe. Adrianna was there a moment later, hair in a wet braid down her back, and smiling. She went to Alice’s side and, with a glance at Adrianna’s room, Alice left her door open and followed the two of them down to dinner.

“What’s that?” Adrianna asked, looking at the gift in Joe’s hand.

“This is what we call a present,” Joe teased her. “It’s when one person gives another person something they think they would like, but makes them wait to figure out what it is and actually use it. It’s a very ancient practice.”

Alice stayed quiet as Adrianna frowned up at him, anxious about the card she’d left behind. Joe had said they were okay, but any note from Lori suddenly felt like contraband. After the way her parents had declined to even mention her sister, she wasn’t sure if she should have told Joe about the present. If her father found out…

“Come on,” Adrianna said, snapping Alice out of her reverie. They were in a room with a very large table and several of Adrianna’s brothers already sitting at it. They looked different than they did at school, clearly more comfortable here, even if comfortable for Joe meant that he looked a bit like he’d just walked out of a cartoon that Alice would get in trouble for watching. She followed Adrianna to a spot near the end by a man who must be Adrianna’s father.

“So this is Alice,” he said as Alice took a seat, offering a hand. Alice shook it and he smiled before letting her go. “I have heard a great deal about you,” he said. “All of it good.” A look crossed his face, though Alice knew what he meant. He spoke to Alice’s father, who had a rather interesting opinion of Alice to say the least.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said. Her father would likely be checking in to make sure she was on her best behaviour and she had no intent to give Mr. Case any reason to tell him anything. “You have a lovely home.”

“Not so lovely kids filling it, though,” he said, smiling back at the kids sitting at the table. “Unfortunately, Claudia isn’t feeling too well tonight, though I think she just wanted to miss the madness of the kids getting home. She should be up again tomorrow, though. Not to worry. Addie, maybe grab Alice a plate?”

Adrianna got up and went to the kitchen, leaving Alice alone at the table with her father. Alice’s smile became set as she realized what was coming. She looked around, finding that at least Lance was nearby, sitting just across from her and occasionally glancing over when she wasn’t staring at the door, so perhaps the interrogation from Mr. Case wouldn’t be too bad.

“So how was the flight?” Mr. Case asked her. “I hear it was your first time on a plane.”

“It was good,” Alice said.

“And the boys haven’t been giving you any trouble, have they?” His eyes glanced over to Lance, who very abruptly looked back to the door.

“No, they’ve been fine.”

He laughed at that. “That’s a word I haven’t heard used for them in a while,” he told her. “They’re usually a bit of a pain collectively. I got a call about some of them pushing you into a lake.”

“It was fine,” Alice said. Adrianna had chosen that moment to come back with two plates of spaghetti in her hands. She set one down in front of Alice and Alice was glad to have a reason to be free of the conversation.

“Is Rayne here?” Lance asked, looking pointedly at his father. Alice knew that look, like he was asking something else entirely that he didn’t want to say. Beside him, Travis straightened up and started to pay attention. “She should be here.”

“No,” their father said. “She’s staying with friends for the holidays.”

“Rayne?” Alice asked quietly, turning to Adrianna.

“Oh, she’s kind of like our housekeeper,” Adrianna told her. “She lives in the house next to ours and helps clean up stuff. But only sometimes. She’s usually studying and working on stuff for Claudia. You’d really like her. She’s a lot of fun.”

Lance didn’t look happy with the answer, “She’s also-”

“Which friends?” Travis asked over him, shooting Lance a warning look. A look of pain crossed Lance’s face before he forced it into an almost sarcastic smile. “I don’t think she mentioned that.”

“I believe she said it was Jackie,” their father said. “She might be back around New Year’s.”

“Probably not,” Lance muttered. Travis shot him another sharp look, but he said nothing else, stuffing his mouth full of spaghetti.

Alice wasn't used to dinner like the Cases did it. There was conversation, vibrant ones that moved up and down the table, spoken between mouthfuls. Alice stayed silent for it, watching and listening as Ryan and Evan started talking about various schools that Evan was planning to apply to in the next year. Near her, Mr. Case was paying Lance a little attention.

“I think this is the quietest the phone has ever been while you kids were at school,” he said. He glanced at Alice and gave her a grin. “First it was these two,” he said, indicating Joe and Travis, “but as soon as they stopped being little hellions, the next batch went in.”

“There is no way we were as bad as these three,” Joe said.

“Just because you two didn’t work together didn’t mean I didn’t get the same number of calls back from the school. I was worried they weren’t going to let me dump them or Addie in there at all after you two.”

“We are not that bad!” Lance insisted. “It’s just a couple little harmless things here and there. Nothing permanent. It can all get cleaned up in under an hour. It’s not like we ever spray-painted a car, Travis.”

“One time.”

“I can't even believe they let you back in after that.”

“Unlike the three that changed all the locks on the dorms on day one,” Joe said. “And don’t think we didn’t know who did it. You three are always a pain in the ass about it all. It’s kind of nice with just one of you around now.”

Alice felt a pang of guilt at that, but she let it fall. While she was here, she was going to try and not go off into Wonderland to find Mark — Adam while she was here — and Matt. It seemed like a bad idea with too many people who might find out. While she was in school they had a door that locked and people weren’t trying to find her all the time. Here, Alice was sure people were going to be keeping track of her much more closely. She would have to be a lot more careful about her trips to Wonderland so she didn’t get caught.

Adrianna nudged Alice gently to get her attention. “You wanna go shopping tomorrow?” Adrianna asked. “I have to get stuff for everyone. And figure out what everyone wants. You haven’t done anything yet either, right?”

Alice shook her head. She hadn’t even thought about Christmas shopping yet and it hadn’t actually occurred to her that she would need to do it. For as long as she could remember, either her mother or Ms. Miller had taken care of that for her. On occasion, she would be brought to a store and be allowed to point out the things she wanted to get for people, but as she looked around the table, she realized that there were a lot of people she now had to shop for and no guiding hand to tell her what she should be getting in case she chose wrong.

“Maybe we should wait a couple days,” Joe suggested. “Get settled and let the Christmas greed seep in a little more so we have something to try and work from when we try to get everything.”

“Christmas greed is good,” Lance said. “I’m all for letting a little Christmas greed give me an easier time to figure out what to get everyone. Even if everything’s just getting mailed here in a week already gift wrapped.”

“Aw, no fair!” Adrianna said. “You’re done already?”

Lance grinned. “Online shopping,” he said. “You’ll figure it out one of these days.”

Alice kept quiet, smiling and laughing at the appropriate moments. The conversation drifted again, to different traditions and things they did in the season, then to plans they needed to make. Alice kept nodding and trying not to feel like she was in over her head. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do here. This was not like her home or like school. She didn’t know what the rules were here and she could tell Mr. Case was not going to be telling her what she needed to do.

She spotted a flash of purple in her fork and a wicked grin that almost seemed like it was taunting her with somewhere where she knew exactly what she needed to do. Maybe just one trip into Wonderland while she was here. She had to find Adrianna’s brothers still, after all.