Everyone thought she was crazy.
Aunt Constance told her to her face that she would get kidnapped like that "poor girl in that spy movie with the Irish guy." Her father assured her that she didn't have to run halfway across the world because surely some man around home would take notice of her, and if she'd just stick to a job, she could settle down perfectly.
None of them understood.
Lyra Grace Adams had spent her whole life running away. When she was a kid, she'd pack her bag with snacks and a blanket, then take off into the woods for a whole day with her sister, Celia. It was in those woods that she learned to dream and imagine. They built fantastical worlds all around them, worlds full of interesting creatures and histories. Celia was the one who taught her about Europe and the wonders it held.
They always planned to go, even from the time they were still drawing their map in crayon. Celia, being two years older, was much wiser and had spent hours pouring over their parents' atlas and history books. She told Lyra all about the different tribes and histories, about the ancient Picts and the Romans. That's where all modern history began, she would say: Rome.
And Rome was where they would make their first stop, when they were all grown up.
"This is your captain speaking. We will be landing in five minutes, so please be sure to put up all trays, buckle your seat belts, and prepare for landing."
Lyra groaned a bit and curled up tighter where she sat—not that she could be taking up any less room. The man beside her had spread his legs wide the moment he sat down, and had taken up both armrests. She would have said something (or more likely made good use of her elbows) if she hadn't gotten the window seat. As it was, she'd settled in for the nine hour flight from Atlanta armed with earbuds and her coziest sweater.
She wiggled about in her seat until she could catch the end of the seat belt with her fingers, trying not to brush the man's arm, and gingerly buckled it over her waist. As she waited for him to do the same, she tried to distract herself by checking on her pack one more time. iPod tucked away, passport in the front pocket, extra jacket looped through the top handle.
"This is your captain speaking once more. I'd like to remind you to please have your trays up and your seat belts on; prepare to land."
Lyra sucked in a breath and her eyes snapped shut as she felt the plane suddenly take a nose dive. She hated this part of flying with a passion—hated the stomach churning sensation of plummeting straight through air, hated seeing the ground rising up all too fast, and especially hated the way the plane slammed into the ground at the end of it.
Her jaws collided as the plane landed, making her teeth clash together with a loud snap. She groaned and forced her hands to relax from where they'd been clenched into fists in her lap, tiny crescent-shaped marks left in the flesh of her palm.
"Buona Sera, Ladies and gentlemen, we have officially landed on Italian soil. Enjoy your stay in Rome and thank you for flying with..."
Lyra shivered and peered out her window again, but it was no good. The sun had set hours ago and besides a bunch of generic lights, she couldn't see much of anything. She wasn't even sure of the time anymore, her body and mind disoriented. She had attempted to sleep at some point on the plane, but the constant stream of thoughts had prevented it. At least she'd done a fair amount of reading.
She waited with the others until there was a ding and the signal was given to get off. She started to her feet, but it didn't take her longer than a few seconds to realize there would be no moving yet. Just because they could stand didn't mean the door was open and they were allowed to get off yet.
Huffing a sigh, she flopped back into her seat and shifted her bag, papers crinkling in the side pocket as she did so. Out of habit, she pulled the folded papers out and flattened them against her lap, her eyes scanning over the picture and then reading the details again.
NAME: Eliana Durante
AGE: 18 months
ALLERGIES: Bees, Chocolate
LIKES: Reading time, creative projects such as painting, intellectually stimulating interactive games, music, exploring (this should be heavily monitored and limited to the correct time on the schedule).
DISLIKES: Bees, cats, sudden loud noises, bath time, being alone.
Lyra smiled at the picture of the tiny girl with grey-blue eyes, a cloud of brown curls, and a definite curious tilt to her head as she regarded the picture taker. She was dressed in finely-made clothing, no cheap Walmart stuff for this family, along with an embroidered cardigan and small, leather shoes. She smiled and turned to the second page, thinking of the tiny doll she'd tucked into her bag. She figured bribery wouldn't hurt.
The next image was of a serious-looking young boy in a school uniform that looked prestigious. His eyes were bright, but an incredibly dark shade of brown, and she couldn't help but wonder if he took after his father. If so, she hoped she'd have as little contact with him as possible. She didn't need another handsome man in her life.
NAME: Niccolo Durante
AGE: 5 years
LIKES: History lessons, museum visits, playing football, practicing violin, learning Latin, logic challenges.
DISLIKES: playgrounds, heavily populated environments, unstructured activities, television.
Lyra had to ask herself again, what kind of kid enjoyed learning an archaic language over watching something like Spongebob? He definitely presented more of a challenge than Eliana, and she figured just from the look of him that it would take him a while to warm up to her. If he did. Maybe the Roman soldier figurine she had would help?
She flipped to the third page and scanned the extensive list of rules, then the meticulous schedule. At the time she'd accepted this post, it had seemed perfect with her days so tightly scheduled that there was no room for getting lost in dangerous thoughts. Now, however, it seemed a touch restrictive.
Okay, a lot restrictive. She half-wondered if there would be time to get to know the kids at all, or settle in, before hitting the ground at full speed as the plane had.
On her laptop back home, the sounds of shouting echoing in her ears, the job of an au pair had seemed so easy. She'd scanned Italian families first, of course, and had seen this posting about five minutes after it had been submitted. From there, it was applications, contacts, background checks, and in no time, the plan was set. It took some time to get the right visas in place and figure out payment, but the fact she was an English-speaking American, not to mention a college graduate, had pretty much sealed the deal.
Come to think, though, she'd never spoken with the children's parents. Or parent, as was the case. The assistant whom she'd been speaking with all this time had kept back most of the details, but her understanding was that Signor Durante was a single father and in need of a care taker for his children. His wife was out of the picture, but what happened was left to her own imagination.
"You may now exit the plane. Please walk in an orderly fashion and enjoy your stay!" one of the flight attendants called. As the mass of people began to clear out (and Mr. Manspreader left her row of seats), Lyra got to her feet and stretched until she felt a shiver jump down her spine, a yawn erupting from her mouth. She tucked the papers back into place and shouldered the backpack, then reached up into the carry on compartment to get her other piece of luggage. She'd learned to travel light.
She stepped off the plain into the airport, blinking hard to focus her vision, then headed over to get her passport stamped and go through all the pageantry to enter the country properly. After that, it was another hour and a half by train to get to Florence, or Firenze as the locals called it. The family driver would pick her up from the station there, and she'd be brought to Signor Durante's home.
She could only pray she had the strength to stay lucid through it all.