The whole reason Emery had taken this job at the asylum was because her family was facing hard times. But times had not always been this hard for the Claytons. Once upon a time, Emery's father had been an undergardner at the grand Carlysle Estates.
Emery grew up in a modest little home on a backward street, not far from the Carlysle Estate. Every morning, her father kissed them goodbye and left for work. And every evening, he returned home with stories for his girls and money for his family. On rare occasions, he took Emery with him to work. Emery loved the gardens and the big house, but the thing that fascinated her every time she and her father went through the gates were the iguanas.
They were huge, created out of wrought metal, entwining themselves in the gates. Such exotic creatures did not exist in the city, and Emery thought they were mythical dragons. But her father told her that they were patterned after iguanas that the master had seen on his travels.
Emery was 10 years old -- and Alfred was just a baby -- the last time she saw the iguanas. Shortly afterward, her father came home with no job. The Claytons left their modest little home for a tiny apartment, and then they left the apartment for a drafty room on the poorest end of town.
Things did not improve for the Clayton family. Soon after Johnny was born, their father left to search for work. He sent letters home at first, but it had now been over two years since they had heard from him. Emery's mother worked until she got sick. And now their only hope was Emery's new job at the asylum.
Rumor had it that the illustrious Carlysle family had not faired well since that date either. Their fortune was intact, but they lost something that money could not buy back. Their daughter died around the same time as Emery's father lost his job. And Lady Carlysle had worn black ever since. Emery's mother told her children that they must forgive the Carlysle's for dismissing their father and harbor no ill will against them.
All of this rushed through Emery's mind when Beth talked about the iguanas, and she stared at the girl in disbelief.
"You couldn't have been there when I was," Emery murmured. "I would have remembered you. I played with all the other workers' children." She cocked her head at the girl. "You would have been about 4 years old when I was last there. Maybe your family came there later. What did your parents do for work?"
"I sat in the Box and thought about it all the time." Beth leaned dreamily against the wall in the hallway and chewed her lip. "There was a whole roomful of toys!" Her face lit up. "I liked that room."
Emery nodded her head sympathetically. She knew what it was like to see other people's pretty things and not be able to touch them. "But you couldn't play with them," she prompted.
Beth jerked her head up. "Yes, I could. They were MINE."
"Yours?" This didn't make sense. "Then maybe you only visited there. Because the Carlysle's only had one daughter and she's d..." Emery's voice trailed off.
Beth nodded and pointed to herself. "Elizabeth Carlysle." She cocked her head at Emery and lifted one corner of her mouth in a half-smile. "And we had a cat named Precious."