Grace fidgeted in her seat, resisting the urge to play with the door’s silver buttons. She knew a sharp “Would you quit fiddling, already!” would issue from her mother the moment her fingers strayed, so instead she reached up to twirl a lock of her hair. She wriggled, watching the scenery go by. A sign read "Greentown, 1 mi." Grace squealed with excitement. It had been so long that she’d gotten to go anywhere; she could hardly contain herself.
Not far away, another little girl squirmed on a stone bench, alternately bouncing on her freckled hands, and kicking at pebbles in the dust. “Stop it,” chided her guardian. “You’ll scuff your shoes.”
“Won’t.” she replied, glowering for a moment before brightening as she saw cars driving through distant gates. She looked anxiously at her chaperone.
“Yes, that’s her.” he said. “Don’t worry. You’ll know what to do. “
She nodded, red curls bobbing. The cars drove up winding paths. “When she gets here, I’ll really get to leave? For good?”
He nodded. “Of course. You’ll take her with you, as her guide. “
She bit her lip, nearly jumping with anticipation.
Through the window, Grace stared at the manicured lawn, graceful statues and carved stone façades. She had never seen such a beautiful town. “Are we almost there?” Her mother looked down at Grace's seat, her mouth set in a thin line that could have been angry, sad or just tired. Grace never knew. She looked away, folding her small hands back into her dress, and tried to be ladylike.
When the car stopped, though, Grace forgot her mother’s silent admonition and scooted herself out the backseat the moment the door opened. She ran full tilt towards a small pavilion, stopping halfway up to twirl and laugh in the sunlight until she heard a voice behind her.
“Hey! Over here!” Away from the cars and people moving towards the pavilion was a pretty red-headed girl. Grace glanced at her parents, but they were focused on each other, so she skipped down.
“Hi!” she chirped. “Who are you? I just got here.” The redhead just stared, and Grace suddenly felt shy, twirling her hair around her finger again. The older man gave his charge a nudge.
“Oh! Sorry!" she blushed. "I’m Angela. I know you’re new. I’m… I’m your guide.”
“My guide?” asked Grace. She pulled harder on her hair, confusion mounting.
“Stop that!” chided Angela, giggling. “You’ll pull it all out!”
“Pull it out?” echoed Grace, her brow furrowing. She looked up the hill at her mother, who was seated now, clutching Grace's father. Grace felt her hair, remembering now that it had all fallen out, and as she remembered her body flickered, a pale, balding image of herself replacing the peach-perfect of a moment ago.
“Stop it!” Angela gave her a little shake, really scolding. “Enough of that. That’s all done with. You get to come with me now.” Grace’s long hair and glowing skin returned. She smiled nervously.
“Won’t Momma be mad? I didn’t ask…” Grace's voice trailed off as she looked up the hill to wave at her parents, but her mother's face was buried in her father’s coat.
“It’s okay,” reassured Angela. “She knows. It’s time to leave.” She reached out, taking Grace’s hand in hers. “It’s okay. I know the way.”
Together they stepped off the paths of Greentown and out into the wide, wide world.