My sister and I go to day care before school. My mom has gotten a job now that we are both in school, so we go to Tree House at 7:00 every morning. The program head, Mrs. J, is a prim woman with frosted blonde hair and stern eyes. We do not behave, and she does not like us. She threatens to wash our mouths out with soap. We think she is kidding, so we push the boundaries of bad behavior.
With four other kids, we explore. Tree House is held in a huge Presbyterian Church with seemingly endless back stairways and locked doors. We make vehicles out of waffle blocks and race them down the hallway. Once out of sight, we scatter, exploring. There is the Fireside Room, which is always locked but one day is open. We spray air freshener all around until the room is choked with artificial pine scent, uninhabitable.
We sneak into the boiler room, a blue-carpeted nursery, the kitchen. One wonderful morning, I sneak past Mrs. J as she stocks some shelves. At the back of the storeroom is a stairway. Up the steps, and it is dark. There are objects close by, crowding around. My hand brushes heavy velvet — a curtain, sweeping down from the ceiling. I push it aside, step through, and I am standing on a stage in a large chamber, facing row upon row of folding chairs, all empty. Blinds filter light through soaring windows. I climb down from the stage, walk along the center aisle, until I reach the double doors at the back of the room. A plaque reads: Westminster Hall.
I step outside, into a black-and-white tiled corridor. To the left is a set of wooden doors. They are unlocked, so I step inside, into a small chapel. I ascend to the altar and flip through a heavy red book with gilt edges, which is lying on a podium. I read from the book, and hear my voice echo through the small room. Empty pews. Outside, through the windows, an old tree.
I see a cabinet on my way back toward Westminster — Mrs. J must have realized I am gone by now — and open it. There is a pinata inside, stuffed with candy. I laugh and grab handfuls, stuffing my pockets and unwrapping a Tootsie Roll right there. I am golden. I am heroic. I will be worshipped when I return with tales of this escapade.
Abandoning the now-empty pinata, I see another staircase at the end of the hall. I climb up, and up, and up. A locked door says “Sanctuary,” but I cannot get in. I keep climbing, and now I hear footsteps on the stairs below me, a shrill voice yelling, “Stephanie! Get down here this minute!”
I run. I must reach the top, I will never have another chance, never be the first one to find all of this again, and if I’m going to be watched constantly for the next few weeks I had better make this good. Up, and there I am, at the bell tower, and I look over the rail and Mrs. J is coming up the stairs, panting, out of breath, red-faced. I am high on adrenaline and try the door, because this is it, I have made it all the way to the top, but it is locked, and then she grabs my arm and drags me down and the adventure is over, but I keep the candy and the feeling of invincibility, so I win.