Emily lounged in her favorite spot in the world, a garden filled to the brim with tulips, roses, lilies, and lilacs all surrounding an ancient stone bench with the perfect vantage point of her mom’s sea of flowers. Emily had never realized what the garden had been missing until Dad had planted secret tufts of butterfly bushes. With a careful eye, Emily could spot them like puffs of white cotton dotting the underbelly of shrubs. The garden already swarmed with the delicate creatures it’d promised to attract. Emily loved butterflies, and would squeal in delight anytime dad bought her a butterfly-fashioned charm or embroidery. But now he’d given her the best gift of all. Anytime she wanted, she could sit in the garden and adorn her hair with living berets. If she sat very still, they’d drift towards her and investigate her sleeves and dangle like bangles. Their spindly legs tickled her elbows and she giggled.
Shaking off a pair of butterflies, Emily smiled and looked back to her work. The barely-legible lines on the yellowed notebook contained all of Emily’s hopes and dreams. But even a dream can change in an instant. That’s what Emily found when she perused the words again. The notes she wrote only yesterday seemed as if from a stranger, someone who wanted to be popular in school and catch Daniel’s eye, the artistic long-haired dream of a boyfriend. Yesterday’s Emily was desperately saving up enough allowance to buy that slinky red dress for prom, which would only assist in winning Daniel’s affections. And eventually bring him here at the apex of the moon and share a first kiss with butterflies and night-blooming jasmine as their witness.
Yet, it was all just a silly girl’s fantasy and held no weight in the things that really mattered. Perhaps it’d been the butterflies that had triggered it was time to grow out of childish things. Who was she to enjoy such pleasures when there was a whole world out there that might need her? A sense of duty wound deep in her stomach, as if it’d always been there but she’d never noticed. A duty to what, or to whom, she wasn’t sure. But whatever it was, she realized she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. For the first time in her life, she wished to leave her home.
A single cloud drifted, blocking off the sun’s harshest rays and leaving only a yellow glow to bathe Emily and the butterfly garden. She closed her notebook and leaned back to rest her palms on the seat, enjoying the warmth that seeped through the grainy stone. A soft breeze sent relief under her sweat-dampened hairline, and she closed her eyes to slits. Emily decided that she finally understood why lizards sat still for hours on a naked branch. There truly wasn’t anything quite more content than just sitting here, soaking up the warmth and its invisible nourishment that gave her an immediate zest for life. Yet this time the zest stemmed into an insatiable quench to satisfy her desire to venture out and make someone else as happy as she felt right now.
“Emily!” her mom shouted from the porch. “You’ve been out there all morning. What are you doing?”
Emily dragged her notebook to her chest before replying. “Nothing!”
A soft chuckle drifted on the breeze. “Well, you can do nothing after you do the dishes.”
Slinking to the quaint, yellow house, Emily decided she’d never considered to leave because of love. Mom beamed a smile, even while holding out a hopelessly sauce-crusted pot for her to clean. Mom loved her. Just like dad, which showed when he’d spent so many hours tossing up earth just to bring butterflies into her life. Why would she ever entertain the idea of departing from such a world that revolved around her?
As she took a steel brush and scrubbed the pot in a mountain of soap suds, Emily battled with the two desires. She could stay here forever, and she’d be happy, but she’d be empty, too. There’d be a part of her that always yearned to explore, to learn, to experience everything beyond this place and make a difference in the world. But if she left, guilt would tear her in two. How could she leave such a cozy nest built just for her? How could she depart from such ample lumps of love?
Dad swept inside, slung his pack over the chair, and drew in a deep breath. “Ah, I smell something delicious!”
Mom grinned. “You’re smelling some of my best roast pork.” She flashed Emily a wink. “Adding ginger was Em’s idea.”
Emily smiled, and was pleased mom was always willing to try something new. At least, when it came to cooking.
While conversation turned to mom fussing about trudging mud across the ancient but pristine wool rug, dad unveiled new treasures from his pack. He’d gone to town, a place Emily was rarely permitted to go, and purchased candies in brightly-labeled wrappers, three succulent apples to go with dinner, plus a new set of pink socks for mom to use in the mornings.
With the ambiance of her parents’ soft chatter, Emily’s thoughts drifted to her secret dilemma. She relaxed her fingers and the pot sank into the sink, bubbling like a sunken ship before becoming overwhelmed with suds. She stared out the single window and sniffed the air. The sent of roasting pork was overwhelming, especially with the tang of ginger, but still if she concentrated, she could smell the sweet tinges of the butterfly bushes.
As if on cue, the most gorgeous butterfly she’d ever seen drifted through the open window. Its shimmering, golden wings fluttered against the blood-red drapes as it struggled inside. But it didn’t fan its wings completely open, and kept them tilted together like a shy child.
On instinct, Emily drew her hand up and extended her forefinger. The butterfly took the perch without hesitation and rested while fanning its wings until slightly parted. The world closed in as Emily grew mesmerized by the butterfly’s movements. It was twice the size of her palm, which wasn’t saying much, Emily was a tiny person. But even for its size, it was light as a feather. The wings sparkled as if diamonds studded its veins, catching the light as it considered showing its full glory.
Emily drew the butterfly close to her face and pleaded with her eyes to see what beautiful design its wings boasted. Finally, as if appreciating Emily’s fascination, it flattened its wings, revealing two swirling golden circles rimmed by glittering black lines like an Egyptian with coal-rimmed eyes.
Drawing in a breath of awe, Emily was filled with joy until she realized the air had shifted to a heavy chill, as if the world had turned to winter in an instant. Her heart skipped a beat as she searched the kitchen, only to find the drifting motes of a dark attic. Fluttering cobwebs had replaced the afternoon breeze and a creak of floorboards were all that remained of her parents’ chatter.
“Mom? Dad?” Emily asked the quiet room with a frightened quaver in her voice.
A figure stepped out of the shadows and Emily would have lurched back, had the golden butterfly not still been on her hand. It seemed unconcerned by the impossible scene of the world being transformed, and casually drifted its wings open and closed.
“It’s okay, Elizabeth,” the man said as he drew back his dark cowl and revealed a scruffy, yet friendly, face.
“Emily,” she corrected. “Who are you?”
He drew in a deep sigh. “I fear you’ve been in the alternate reality too long.” He straightened. “Fear not. Your memories will return of this world. Your name is indeed Elizabeth. And I am your faithful wizard, Merlin. I heard your call, and sent the butterfly.” His glassy eyes sparked with hope. “I’m glad you’ve come back to us.”
Emily eyed him incredulously and lowered her hand, grateful when the butterfly flitted away. “If my home is an alternate reality, where am I now?”
Merlin’s eyes crinkled with a sad smile. “England.” He fell into a deep bow. “Welcome home, my Queen.”