Callie can’t wait for her new life to start. After a major friendship breakup in San Diego, moving overseas to Scotland gives her the perfect chance to reinvent herself. On top of that, she’s going to live in a real-life castle!
But as romantic as life in a castle sounds, the reality is a little less comfortable: it’s run-down, freezing, and crawling with critters. Plus, starting off on the wrong foot with the gardener’s granddaughter doesn’t help her nerves about making new friends. So she comes up with the perfect solution: she’ll be homeschooled. Her parents agree, on one condition: she has to participate in a social activity.
Inspired by a journal that she finds hidden in her bedroom, Callie decides to join a birding club. Sure, it sounds unusual, but at least it’s not sports or performing. But when she clashes with the club leader, she risks losing a set of friends all over again. Will she ever be able to find her flock and make this strange new place feel like home?
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Callie pressed her forehead to the thick windowpane and looked out across the rolling hills. She wanted to drink in everything at once—the infinite shades of green, the mossy stone walls along winding paths, the sheep grazing in far-off fields. A draft danced across the back of her neck, but the chill was quickly replaced by a flicker of something Callie hadn’t felt in ages. Maybe ever.
At home, her life was small. Small apartment, small people. Making herself smaller and smaller until she almost disappeared.
But here, in an actual castle where everything was larger than any life she’d ever known, where the grassy fields beyond the window stretched out like an ocean of green, she already felt her world expanding.
She felt her self expanding.
Callie wasn’t the kind of girl who traveled to Europe, like Kate, who “wintered” in Switzerland, or Imogen, who spent her birthday in Paris. The only place Callie had ever traveled was Phoenix. It was sadly lacking in magical firebirds.
But now here she was. In Scotland. In an actual castle.
Even the exhaustion of the endless travel from San Diego to New York to London to Edinburgh to the village of South Kingsferry couldn’t extinguish the new thing bubbling up inside her.
“Hey kiddo,” her dad said, peeking his head into the billiards room. “Are you joining us for the rest of the tour?”
Of course she was. Callie wanted to turn over every stone in this fortress of a place, from the servants’ quarters to the castle keep, an enormous tower at the castle’s center. For hundreds of years, the keep had been a lookout to watch for enemies and take refuge if the worst should happen.
“Where’s the moat?” Callie’s little brother, Jax, had asked when they first arrived. Their parents had laughed.
It wasn’t such a silly question, though. Some of Callie’s daydreams in the months leading up to the trip definitely included moats. But her parents had been here before. To them it was less of a fantasy.
“No moat,” Dad said. “Or drawbridge. It wasn’t the sort of castle with its own military. Just a family and their servants. And visiting nobles.”
Generations upon generations of an old Scottish family named Spence had lived and died in this place, and in between they’d had dreams and fears and great loves and crushing disappointments. Even when the Spence line had dwindled down to only Lady Philippa Whittington-Spence, she’d made sure to keep it a place where a family could build something together, safe from intruders.
“Where’d you run off to?” Mom asked, when Dad appeared with Callie in tow.
“I found her in the billiards room,” Dad said.
“Billiards?!” Jax screeched, appearing from behind a massive gold chair. “I wanna see!”
He took off running and Dad sprinted after him.
“What do you think?” Mom asked, staring at the massive portrait of a stern man in a military uniform, hanging over the biggest fireplace Callie had ever seen. “I always felt like this guy was judging me.”
“Is it all the same?” Callie asked. “From when you lived here before?
“Pretty much. All your first impressions... I bet they’re the same as mine the first time I arrived. Almost twenty years ago now!”
“You’re old,” Callie said, and Mom laughed.
“What do you think? You okay?”
Callie nodded. She was more than okay. “I guess I can’t quite believe this is really happening. I mean... we live here now.”