Still obsessing over how exactly I want the beginning to go, because of course I am, but I'm actually really happy with this one. Rest of the story's coming together too, haha.
She must have had this dream over a hundred times by now. Every time, it always started the same way; with her stepping down from the carriage, patting the horse’s rump and feeding it a crumbled sugar lump she had kept in her pocket all day for that very purpose. She then waved to her coach-mates and the driver before turning to bound down the short path to her house.
She’d been particularly eager, she remembered vaguely, to show off something she’d made at school. What had it been again, a drawing, a figurine? It must have had something to do with the upcoming celebrations, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember what it had been. Memory could be funny like that, losing certain details while bringing other, seemingly more insignificant ones into stark relief.
She braced herself as she looked down at the little figure unlocking the door (how proud she had been when her parents had let her have her own key!); the dream usually went one of two ways at this point. The door swung open easily – no ponderous creaking, a good sign – and the little girl and the young woman both stepped into the sun-filled hallway. What came next?
“I’m home!” yelled the little girl, unceremoniously dumping her kit in a heap by the stairs and kicked off her shoes. She didn’t seem particularly put out when she received no response, and instead continued onwards to the kitchen. She fetched a fresh loaf of bread from the pantry, and with a look of immense concentration (the bread knife was, in fairness, about the size of her forearm) set about cutting herself a thick slice. Leaving her past self behind, the young woman drifted away to walk the paths of memory. She knew she had a little time before things started going wrong; she might as well enjoy it.
Not that the house had changed much in the past ten years, really. It was perhaps somewhat less cluttered than it had been back then, and there were fewer brightly coloured pictures on the walls nowadays. In her memory there were even some pennants hung inside, back when she had been young enough to get excited about the preparations, and before the whole biennial event was permanently marred by tragedy.
As if hastened by her dark thoughts, she heard approaching footsteps on the drive, followed by a key turning in the lock. “Wren, sweetheart? Are you back?” The sound of her father’s voice made the bottom drop out of her stomach and she froze in her tracks, unable to turn around. But of course, she wasn’t the Wren being addressed here.
“DAD!” came the answering yell, followed by the noise of her scrambling down from a chair and the thudding of feet as her younger self dashed to greet him. “Is mum with you? Let me show you what I did at school today!” The diminutive form skidded to a halt in the doorway, and for a split second Wren found herself looking directly at the girl she had been - crumbs around a mouth spread in a wide grin, tight curls, fingers sticky with remnants of the fruit conserve she’d had with the bread - before she felt a strong sensation of vertigo and blinked.
When her eyes opened, she was that vulnerable little girl again. The smile died on her lips as she looked at her father in front of her. Nowadays she was only a couple of inches shorter than him, but in this dream she was seeing him as the towering figure he must have seemed back then. Even still, he was nothing like his usual self. His broad shoulders, usually set straight, sagged, and his eyes, red from tears, were devoid of their usual playfulness. It was the first time she had ever seen him look so vulnerable.
She took a hesitant step forward. “...Dad? ...What is it?” He opened his mouth to say something, stopped, shook his head and looked down at his hands, clenching and unclenching his fists. The colour seemed to seep from their surroundings, and perhaps at the time the sun had in fact dipped behind a cloud - who could say? Her father broke the stillness of the scene by sweeping forward and enveloping her in his arms. They stood like that for a little while, her little figure trembling, his closeness both reassuring and foreboding. Eventually he pulled away and crouched down to look her directly in the eye, his face grave.
“Sweetheart, I’m afraid I’ve got some terrible news about your mother…”
Wren lay unmoving in her bed for a little while after waking, before the characteristic call of the bird she was named for caused her to open her eyes, swing her legs to the side and sit up. ‘Just like clockwork,’ she thought, absentmindedly brushing a hand across both eyes and wiping it on the sheets.
The day had only just broken, and the beginning of the sun’s gradual climb suffused the dawn sky with pink. Despite it being early morning it was already pleasantly warm; if the breeze didn’t pick up there was a chance it might grow too hot. Wren made her way to her washroom and splashed some water on her face, then headed down the stairs.