Door #6 was good enough to tell me its location. The rest took awhile, but that was only to be expected. The door was in England, and the British have a reputation for reserve. For a while, all I could do was hum the old Rolling Stones tune, “I see a red door and I want to paint it black…” A pub? No, I decided it belonged to a house. That reminded me of meeting my relatives in England years back. It went well, but it could so easily have gone wrong…
DOOR #6: HUG FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER
“We are not lost.”
Shaun looked at the pub we were walking by with the desperation of a man dehydrating in the desert. “Maggie, we’ve been looking for Mom’s cousin’s house for an hour, and I’m parched. Let’s get a drink, and we can ask someone where to go from there.”
“It’s just another block or so.”
“You said that three blocks ago.”
Just my luck to have the only brother in the world who doesn’t mind asking for directions. “We have to find Carolyn’s house. I promised Mom we’d look her up. Meeting her cousins from America for the first time? You know she’s going to want to feed us when we get there, and – ”
“If we get there.”
I narrowed my eyes. “And, if you’re stuffed on pub fair and buzzed on Newcastle Brown, she’ll be offended.”
“True.” His pained expression would have made me laugh if I weren’t so irritated. “But if she has to administer CPR so that I don’t collapse before she can feed me, I don’t think she’ll be too thrilled about that, either.”
I kept walking, speeding up a little as I crossed the street. “’Travel with your brother,’ they said. ‘It’ll be fun,’ they said.”
He snorted. “’Your sister has that great sense of direction,’ they said. ‘You’ll never get lost,’ they said.”
“Ha.” I pointed at a Tudor house with a door as red as a fire engine, reminiscent of every mailbox I’d seen in movies about London. “Sixteen Drover Lane. Carolyn’s house. We have arrived.”
“Forty-five minutes late.”
I glared at him, said, “We told her we’d be here at 2:30, and that means we’re only fifteen minutes late,” and then pasted on a smile as I knocked on the door.
A few seconds went by as we stood, facing the bright red door. No one answered.
I turned my head to Shaun without actually looking at him. “You did email her to confirm, right? Like you said you would?”
“Did she answer?”
He coughed. “I may have sent it a little late, but I did send it.”
“When did you send it?”
“Shut up. I hear something.”
We both listened. Shaun leaned to the left, trying to see through a small gap in the front window curtains. “Somebody’s in there.” He waved as though trying to flag down a 747.
The door stayed shut.
Shaun rapped on the window, smiling clown fashion at something only he could see. “She saw me. I know she did.”
“She probably didn’t get your email, and now she’s madly straightening up.”
“I think she’s waving,” Shaun said, face pressed to the glass. “Maybe she wants us to let ourselves in.”
“Are you sure? That doesn’t sound very English.”
Shaun shook his head. “And you’re always telling me not to stereotype. You haven’t met every English person on the planet, Mags. Besides, she does share our DNA.”
He grabbed the door handle, leaned in, and smacked his cheek on the red paint. The wooden door didn’t budge, except for a slight vibration from the impact of Shaun’s head.
I didn’t say “I told you so,” but the smile on my face probably said it for me.
Rubbing his forehead, Shaun looked back through the window. “There’s someone else in there.”
“I think Mom said she has a son about our age. Cool! Maybe he has cute friends.”
“They’re gesturing at me. I think they’re laughing.”
My smile disappeared. “That seems rude.” I tapped him on the shoulder. “Fine. If they’re going to be all British and stand-offish, let’s be all American and huggy.”
Shaun nodded. “She’s picking up a bag and walking to the back door. I think she wants us to meet her around back.”
We rolled our bags down a narrow alley between the two houses. “Wow, this is tight. I wonder why she wanted us to come back here.”
Shaun’s shoulders shrugged just ahead of me. “Who knows? Maybe the front door is stuck.” He turned himself and his bag sideways, his bag skipping awkwardly along behind him.
I trailed after, picking up my luggage and leaning at an awkward angle to balance the weight. At last we emerged into daylight again, finding ourselves in the tiny garden behind the house.
A fifty-something brunette closed the backdoor. She looked different from the pictures Mom had of her, but those pictures were from a while back. Her son had a bag and headed toward the back gate.
Shaun set his bag down. “Carolyn! Greetings from across the pond!” He threw his long arms around her. I grabbed her son and gave him a smacking kiss on the cheek.
“Hands in the air!”
Letting go of my second cousin, I turned my head to see who gave the order. Two police officers stared at us, billy clubs at the ready, looking a great deal less friendly than village bobbies come across in novels.
I glanced over at Shaun, who let go of Carolyn. He and I threw our hands skyward, while Carolyn and her son started toward the back door of the house. The policewoman grabbed her, while the policeman who’d yelled the order went after her son.
“Bloody hell!” The policeman held his quarry’s arms with one hand and fished out handcuffs with the other. “Just what we need, some tourists trying to be heroes.”
A neighbor stuck her head out. “Have you got them? I knew Carolyn was out of town visiting her son, so as soon as I saw those two break in the house, I called the station.”
“You did well, ma’am. Thank you.” The policewoman gestured her back inside, and then sidled over to me and Shaun. “Look, that was damn brave of you, going after people wanted in three counties, but my partner’s right. It was stupid. Leave the police work to the professionals, okay? Go wait in the front yard while we get these two sorted.”
The policeman looked at the man’s face. “Damn. I think she bit him.”
Shaun and I took our luggage back around front. He looked at me, and then stared at the road. “How long do you think it’ll take them to work out the truth?”
“About thirty seconds. You have some red paint on your face.” I saw a cab rounding the corner. “We could be in France in a couple of hours. I’d rather be remembered as the helpful American vigilante than the idiot who couldn’t pick her cousins out of a line up. How about you?”
“Better for us and for Anglo-American relations.”
You can run a lot faster when it’s for a good cause.
Kimberly met her own English cousins several years ago – or at least, she’s pretty sure she did.