Freedom at long last! Chores had been successfully hurried through or delegated to someone else through bribery.
Time for parkour practice.
I crossed the room in 0.5 seconds and made for the exit.
I froze in my tracks and cringed.
Aside from Jasmine and Smellie Ellie, she was probably the bane of my existence.
I turned. “Yeeees?”
“Del, I’m so sorry, but I forgot. My mom told me to tell you you’re going to a birthday party today with Sam.”
I frowned. “What?”
“Sam. The girl from that art class you took last year. The party starts soon—I’m sorry I forgot!”
“Sam from art class? Why does Madison want me to go to her birthday party?”
“It’s not just you,” Cécile said. “Ellie is invited too.”
Ellie glanced up from her laptop. “Me? Go to a birthday party with Delusional? Forget it.”
“Actually, you’re both going. Together.” Cécile gave her a look. “Orders of Mom.”
“She thought it would be good practice for you two to finally get along. And it’s just for a nice girl from that art class.”
I folded my arms. “I’m still salty Madison took me to take that. I don’t even like art—that’s Ellie’s thing!”
“Is she trying to get us to become friends?” Ellie said.
She and I glanced at each other.
“Ew!” we both cried, jumping back.
“Obviously she is.” Cécile tucked a curl behind her ear. “So, whenever you’re done being little children, get ready to leave and off you go.”
“But the girl’s young! We’re not gonna have any fun.”
“Nonsense. You’ll have plenty of fun. Plus, there’ll be cake.”
I grinned. “Cake? Better be chocolate.”
“Chocolate as dark as your heart, maybe.” Ellie scrunched up her nose. “Ugh, Del, you are so basic. I prefer red velvet with cream cheese frosting myself.”
“That’s because your tastes are, in your words, eclectic,” I said, spreading my hands in a circle to emphasize it.
“And you are full of chaotic energy.” Ellie scoffed and pushed past me. “Whatever. I’m ready to go.”
“Oh, wait,” Cécile said.
We both turned.
“It’s kind of a fancy party. Dress nicely.”
I shrugged. “Okay. I’ll find some nicer shoes.”
“Del… you’ll have to wear a dress. Birthday girl’s request.”
I fidgeted. Blue tulle scratched my armpits, and my thick jacket didn’t help. Little girls squealed in the corner of the house, playing with wrapping paper.
I distracted myself with the second slice of cake I had taken while no one was looking.
“Smellie, hold my dishes.”
“What? No, go put them away yourself,” she said.
“I’m not going anywhere near those toddlers.”
“They’re seven and eight!”
“They’re sticky and they pull my hair!”
“It’s not funny,” I said. “Baby Shark” rang out from the living room.
The notes cringed my spirit, soul, body, and even the very foundations of the building.
“Oh, come on, Del.” Ellie gestured to the decorations. “You have to admit the party at least looks beautiful.”
“Oh, it is. I’m not saying it isn’t. Whoever their party planner is did a really good job.”
“I’m so glad you like it!” someone said behind us.
A girl our age—with snazzy sunglasses a deep maroon hat tilted sideways—approached.
“I’m the party planner. This is my first gig, and I’m so happy everyone seems to like it.”
Ellie pushed me to the side and stepped closer. “You did amazing! I’m an artist myself and I really appreciate the work you did on this entire place, I mean the color scheme and aesthetic was so well done and you have superb taste in the decorations!”
“Yeah, you did really good,” I said.
The girl removed her sunglasses and smiled. “Wow, that means a lot. You have no idea! I’m Sora, Sora Kendrick. I hope this is only the start of Sora Saavae Experiences.”
“Oh my goodness, is that the name of your business?”
Sora grinned. “Yep! I’m going to make it big in the world. You’ll see!”
Ellie gestured to Sora’s outfit. “Your fashion is impeccable. It goes great with the colors of the decorations. You truly have artistic taste. I think you could do with some long silver dangles, though.”
“Oh, I’d love to wear earrings, but my foster mom won’t let me get my ears pierced until I turn 13.”
“That stinks,” Ellie said. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay. Only one more year! I’m just so glad she let me do this.”
I laughed. “Wow, you’re lucky. My legal guardian would never let me do something like this.”
Sora smiled. “Why not?”
“Well, my Danger is my middle name, if that gives you any inclination.”
Sora beamed. “Is that really your middle name?”
Ellie scoffed. “No, her middle name is actually—”
“I’m Delaney,” I said quickly. “Delaney Danger Clark. Del for short. And this is Smellie, I mean—”
“Ellie!” Ellie stuck out her hand and shook Sora’s. “I think you’re going to be a world-famous party planner one day, Sora.”
Sora beamed. “Thank you so much, Ellie.”
“I can help your business rise to the top, Sora,” I said. “Believe me, I know how to make you the crème de la crème. The best of the best. Because I am the best, naturally. If you really want to be a success, you’ll hire me as a consultant.”
Sora grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind, Del. What’s your contact information?”
I opened my mouth to give her my phone number, then remembered Madison had taken it away for the week since I cannonballed right on top of Jasmine.
By accident, I swear. I was landing for her pile of clean laundry since she claims I have cooties.
But I missed.
“My email address is email@example.com,” I said.
Sora pulled out her phone and jotted it down. “You mean you got your own domain name for the sole purpose of having a really cool email address?”
“Oh yeah,” I said.
Sora beamed. “That’s exactly the kind of over-the-top spark every party planner needs to create an extravaganza.”
And for the remainder of the party, Sora, Ellie, and I kind of hit it off.
Sora thought I was hilarious, and Ellie was enthralled with Sora’s ambitions and flair.
I had to admit she was pretty cool, and really nice.
“Were you ever in an orphanage, Sora?” I said.
“Until I was nine. Then I was moved into foster care. What about you?”
“I lived in an orphanage with my sister until I was thirteen. Then she moved to where Ellie and I now live, but I didn’t arrive until later.”
Sora’s eye shone. “Oh, man, I’d love to be adopted. It’s not that I don’t like my foster mom, but it’d be great to live in a family I can call my own.”
Something inside me twinged. EMOTION? I think not. I shoved it away.
Sora glanced behind her, then back at us. “Look at the time! The party is over, and I need to help take the decorations down.”
She tipped her hat at Ellie. “Ellie, it was wonderful to meet a fellow artist.”
She smiled and tipped her hat at me. “Del, we’ll keep in touch.”
“We sure will. Can we help you take the decorations down?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”
“Don’t care.” I reached for the fairy lights above us, and Ellie and Sora took to the balloons.
The lights glowed almost as much as my insides did.
We walked back home as daylight began to fade.
I had brought a change of clothes that were more comfortable than the itchy blue tulle dress and made Ellie keep it all in her bag along with the headband that kept slipping out of her hair.
We walked in silence until I said, “Smellie?”
“No, Del, we’re not asking Madison to adopt Sora.”
I stopped and turned to her. “Why not? I’ve been the newest person here for four years. It’s high past time we added someone else to the gang, don’t you think?
“I’ll tell you why. We don’t have enough room! Bad enough that Jasmine, Emelie, and Josefina are all sharing a bed meant for two. There’s barely enough space for the ten of us. I’m already breathing the same air as you. We can’t add another girl!”
“Pretty trivial reason if you ask me. Ever heard of more than one room? We can split up, expand, make more space, we’ve got the entire human house to invade.”
“We don’t have enough room, Del, and that’s final!”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were the sole proprietor of authority in this household.”
“We’re crowded enough as it is, Del.” Ellie glared. “Why can’t you just shut up about it?”
“What’s the matter with you? Why are you so opposed to her coming? We all came from similar situations as Sora. Surely you know how it feels! And don’t even try to pretend you weren’t starstruck with her coolness.”
Ellie frowned. She chewed her lip. After a while, she shook her head and hurried off.
“It’s getting dark, Del.”
Ellie stormed toward the house. What was her problem? Who wouldn’t want to add another member to the gang? Especially Ellie? She had been so impressed!
I had to bring Sora into the family somehow. She was too cool of a person to be left without a family.
Mission: Sora was fully engaged.