Scottie ripped the bright-colored paper off the box in seconds. As the paper fell to the ground, Scottie began to open the box and pull out something wrapped in bright orange tissue paper.
“What is it? What is it?” Sophie asked excitedly.
Scottie unwrapped the tissue paper and held the object in her hand. It was a picture frame, big enough to hold an 8 inch by 10 inch picture.
“Let me see, let me see,” ordered Sophie. She took the frame from Scottie’s hands and held it in both of hers. “Wow, it’s beautiful. It looks like the frame is made out of hundreds of tiny mirrored jewels or crystals.”
“Oh, big deal!” Scottie said in a disappointed voice. “I thought she would send us something a little more exciting or weird, like those rain boxes.”
“Well, that’s not very nice,” Sophie replied. “And look,” she continued in a higher voice, “the frame seems to change color as you come near it, kind of like those silly mood rings Ma talked about wearing when she was a little girl.”
“Yeah, right,” Scottie said sarcastically.
“I mean it, Scottie. Look at the color it’s changed to since I’ve been holding it.”
The frame changed from a silvery clear color when it was in the box to a deep blue tone, and now in Sophie’s hands it was a bright canary yellow.
“I think it’s happy next to me,” Sophie said with a smile.
“Oh, puleeze,” Scottie replied. “I think you’re losing it!”
“Okay, then, let’s see what color it becomes now,” Sophie said in a rather snooty voice as she handed the frame to Scottie.
Scottie held the frame and the crystals immediately changed back to silver and then to a deep, dark ebony. It startled her so much that she dropped the frame, which luckily landed on her bed. Scottie then said in a hesitant voice, “Okay, maybe this frame is different.”
“Auntie Jill never sends anything that’s ordinary,” Sophie observed. “In fact, look at the frame. She’s already put a picture in it.”
“Well, now, that is weird too,” Scottie said as she picked up the frame off of her bed.
This time, Scottie was curious and really looked at the frame more closely. It had what looked like a diamond-shaped piece of glass centered perfectly on the top part of the frame. As she held it, the frame began to change to an ocean blue. Both girls also took a closer look at the photograph in the frame.
“The picture looks like the ranch house,” Sophie described. “It has arches in the front and a large three-tiered fountain like ours. But it’s next to a road that passes in front of it.”
“And it can’t be from around here,” Scottie observed. “Look at the plants around the house. The area looks like a forest with some tropical plants.”
“Wait, I see a small sign on the house at the top of the stairs behind the fountain. It says Rancho de La Joya. I don’t think this is a house, Scottie. I think it’s a hotel. I guess Auntie Jill took this picture somewhere in Mexico or South America.”
“But where is Auntie Jill?” Scottie asked. “Why would she send us a picture of a hotel that looks like our ranch house in a forest without her in it?”
“I don’t know,” Sophie answered. “Maybe she took the picture because of the similarity to our house and the hotel.”
Sophie then picked up the frame and turned it over. “Look, there’s a note attached to the back of the frame.” Sophie read:
Please do not remove this photograph until I send another one for you to replace it. You will understand why very soon.
Love, Auntie Jill
Sophie looked at Scottie and asked, “Is this gift weird enough for you now?”
“Oh, yes! This is more like our auntie!”
“This frame is so pretty and a little big, so let’s put it on the table facing the door. That way everyone can see it as they come into our room,” Sophie suggested. “There, it looks great right here.” As she set the frame down, it turned a deep red.
“Oh, my gosh!” Scottie blurted out. “We’d better clean up and get ready for dinner. Then we can show Ma and Pa the frame.”
Just as the girls stepped into their own closets, Sophie heard something near their bedroom door. She poked her head out of her closet to see what the noise was. Where the table stood, she noticed the frame had moved. In fact, it was now turned around on the side of the table closest to them and it was facing them!
“Scottie, did you move the picture?” Sophie called out.
“No,” Scottie replied, “my arms can’t reach that far!”
How weird, Sophie thought as she walked back into her closet to put on some clean clothes. As she walked out, she noticed that the picture was now on the wood floor in front of the table.
“Scottie,” Sophie called out again, “we must’ve had some kind of earthquake because the frame is on the floor.”
“What?” Scottie asked as she walked out of her closet, now clothed in a clean outfit.
Scottie looked at Sophie, who was staring at the table without a frame on it. Sophie then looked at Scottie and said in a hushed voice while pointing at the floor, “Scarlet, look!”
Scottie looked at the picture and both girls watched as the frame began to glow. It was as if a light bulb had turned on within the frame. It turned from deep red to hues of glowing yellow, green, blue, and then orange.
“It reminds me of a flame in a fireplace,” Scottie said as she walked toward the frame to pick it up.
“Wait!” Sophie ordered as she caught Scottie’s arm to stop her.
Both girls continued to stare at the frame.
“Oh, wow,” said Scottie, “I think my eyes are playing tricks on me, but the frame looks bigger.”
“It is bigger,” Sophie agreed in an excited voice. “This is no ordinary frame. And look, the picture is growing too!”
As the frame grew, it pushed the table back almost against the bedroom door. It continued to glow and change colors as it became larger and larger.
“Oh, my gosh,” Sophie shouted, “the frame has grown so much it’s touching both walls and is almost touching the ceiling crossbeams.”
Just as the plaster on the walls was about to start chipping off, the frame stopped growing. The girls looked at each other, eyes wide open and jaws dropped. They then looked at the frame, which had basically disappeared into the picture.
“This is no ordinary frame,” Scottie barely squeaked out, repeating what Sophie had said earlier. “It’s, it’s . . .”
“Magical,” the girls shouted at the same time with shocked voices.
The picture was very clear now. They could see plants with flowers along the road, which almost seemed to run into their bedroom. The hotel across the road had several large archways which made a long porch in front of the building. Under one archway were two heavily carved wooden doors that remained open.
“Listen,” Sophie said in a low voice. “You can hear the water splashing in the fountain in front of the hotel!”
“I can hear the birds too,” Scottie added. “I can hear something else. Look, it’s a horse and rider!”
Both girls gasped as a horse came galloping into the picture on the road, continuing across the picture (almost heading into their bedroom), to the other side of the room, and then out of sight.
“Whew, that was close,” Sophie sighed.
“You know what, this is like a drive-in movie, only way more exciting,” Scottie exclaimed.
Just as Scottie said that, a colorful parrot with a bright red head and body, brilliant blue tipped wings, and vibrant yellow chest and shoulders flew into the room. Scottie ducked her head as the bird buzzed her hair and landed on the mirror attached to her dresser.
“Don’t move,” Scottie said with the corner of her mouth to Sophie. “Do you see what I see?”
Scottie was so close to the parrot that she could almost reach out and touch it. The bird looked right at Scottie, tilted its head in a way that birds do, and then winked. Suddenly, it flew back toward the road, over the fountain, and through the hotel doorway.
“Did you see that?” Scottie asked in an amazed voice. “I could swear that the parrot looked at me and winked before it flew out of here!”
Before Sophie could reply, a beautiful butterfly floated into the room and landed on Sophie’s shoulder. She looked at it from the corner of her eye while staying as still as possible and barely breathing. It was black with deep orange round shapes on the larger forewing and yellow round shapes on the lower hind wing sections. It slowly opened and closed its wings while still on Sophie’s shoulder. She could see something shimmer or sparkle on the butterfly and realized it was coming from its wings.
Sophie whispered, “Look at the wings.”
Scottie nodded her head and said quietly, “I’ve never seen a butterfly like this before. It’s twice the size of the butterflies we see here on the ranch and the wings look like they’re covered in glitter.”
“I think it’s more like crystals or rhinestones,” Sophie whispered back.
The butterfly then fluttered off Sophie’s shoulder, circled the bedroom, and floated back to the flowers along the road.
The girls looked at each other and Scottie finally said, “I don’t know about you, but I want to know what’s going on and I think that parrot can lead us to some answers.”
“No! No!” Sophie replied in a stern voice. “We can’t go out there. It could be dangerous.”
“Oh, come on,” Scottie complained, “where’s your sense of adventure? This must be what Auntie Jill wants us to do or why would she send us such a magical frame with this picture in it?”
Well, first let’s change into something more appropriate than these shorts,” Sophie suggested in a nervous voice. She ran into her closet and then into Scottie’s. She had two pairs of cargo capri pants, one in each hand. “Let’s wear these pants. You never have enough pockets in a place you know nothing about, and these pants are a little short so we’ll stay cool if it’s hot.”
Both girls leaned into the picture to look up toward the hotel and sky. They could see that it was very sunny with a slight breeze in the air.
“Oh, and we’d better get a light jacket just in case it gets cloudy,” Sophie suggested as she pulled Scottie with her so they both would get them out of their closets.
Scottie was the first to walk out of her closet with her capris on too.
“Uh oh, I think we waited too long. LOOK!” Scottie shouted.
Sophie ran out of her closet over to Scottie and looked at the frame. It was already half the size it used to be. Suddenly, the frame began to glow very brightly and in a blink of an eye, it was back to its original size on their bedroom floor in front of the table.
Scottie put her hands on her hips and began to say loudly to Sophie, “Thanks a lot! Because you took so long, the frame couldn’t wait anymore!”
“Well,” Sophie said with a raised voice and her hands on her hips, “now we know how long we have once the frame grows. Heck, we don’t even know what made it grow in the first place. Or maybe it’s finished showing us what it can do and won’t grow again!”
The girls got really quiet, breathing a little heavily and staring at each other. Then at the same time, they began to laugh.
“This is crazy,” Scottie giggled. “Here we are, yelling at each other over a picture frame that glows and grows! Come on, help me move the table back to where it belongs and I’ll put the frame back on the table.”
After they did this, they continued to put on their socks and shoes to go eat dinner.
“Girls,” Ma said as she knocked on their door, “time for dinner. So what did Auntie Jill send you?”
Scottie walked up to Ma and showed her the frame before Sophie could say anything. Amazingly, the frame stayed a silvery color, as if it knew not to change colors or glow when someone other than Scottie or Sophie was in the room.
“Auntie Jill sent us this frame with a pretty picture already in it. Doesn’t it look a lot like the ranch?’ Sophie commented as she gave Ma the frame.
“It’s a pretty frame, but a little boring compared to the other gifts Auntie Jill has given us,” Scottie chimed in as Ma held the frame.
“The picture and frame are very nice. You both need to send Auntie Jill a thank you no matter how boring you think it is,” Ma said as she put the frame back on the table. “Now then, dinner is ready a little sooner than I thought, so let’s eat.”
Ma left the room and the girls followed her, being sure to shut their door on the way out.
“Oh, yum, pasta with red sauce!” Scottie exclaimed as she and Sophie sat down next to Pa at the dining table.
“Now, hold on,” Pa said as he smiled at Ma. “Let’s thank the Lord for blessing us with such a wonderful meal.”
“And cook!” Sophie blurted out.
After they all ate, the girls helped Ma clear the table. It was all they could do to not run back to their room to see what Auntie Jill’s gift was up to.
“What are you girls up to the rest of this fine summer evening?” Pa asked while lighting his pipe.
“Oh, we’re going to check on Fuzzy Mama, and since it’s so light out, we’ll probably brush the horses,” Sophie answered while linking arms with Scottie to pull her out of the kitchen.
“All right, girls, have fun but don’t get dirty again,” Ma said as the girls were already out the kitchen door.
As Sophie and Scottie started walking toward the barn, Scottie suddenly took Sophie’s hand and said, “Quick, this way!”
Scottie pulled Sophie so hard that she almost fell to her knees. They walked quickly around the back of the house to the front door, quietly opened it, and tip-toed down the hallway toward their bedroom.
“Gee, Scottie,” Sophie said in an irritated voice, “you didn’t have to pull me so hard and we should’ve at least checked on Fuzzy.”
“Oh, she’s fine,” Scottie said in a bossy way. “Besides, Pa always checks her before the sun goes down. Now open the door. I said, open the door!”
“I’m trying,” Sophie answered, “but the door will only open about an inch. I think there’s something in the way.
Suddenly, the girls looked at each other and gasped.
“I think I hear a parrot screeching in our room!” Scottie exclaimed in an excited voice.