The Fairy King -12- Truth or Dare

Megan finds out it's all about truth and illusions. What is? Life...

Part 12 - Truth or Dare

by Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 24

The Truth about Fairies

The walk-through gate in the chain link fence still wasn't locked or even closed and I went through quickly. I tried to hurry a little as I passed all the parked RVs in the little lot between the junkyard and the main park. Sometime during the walk from home, I had put Phoebe's sweater on. I felt glad of it now because a breeze had come up and it was actually cool enough in the shade to be uncomfortable with bare arms.

A long metal bar painted yellow across the private street served as a gate between the RVs that were just parked and the ones that someone was living in. That gate was closed and locked this time but a person on foot could just walk around it or duck under. I suspected that the people were charged rent for parking RVs there and wondered vaguely if owners who owed rent worried about the junkyard being so handy.

Some of the older people in the lived-in RVs smiled or waved at me. I smiled and waved back. I didn't remember anyone having been that friendly when I came through last time. Maybe it was because this time I didn't look like a boy?

The low white fence of one yard attracted my attention. I slowed. The yard, like most of the others around it, was bare with only a few sad patches of grass, a few bushes and a dead tree. The trailer, or mobile home, was the first of the larger ones, a dull blue green with white trim. All the windows were curtained and a ten-year-old sedan sat in the little carport.

At first I didn't see anyone, but a black and white dog resting on the bare ground under the dead tree lifted his head and looked at me. "Looking for someone?" he asked.

"Oh," I said. I glanced around to see if anyone might be watching me talking to a dog. "I met Bowser and T.C. here the other day."

He cupped his ears in my direction, "Why are you whispering?"

I laughed. "I'm not sure. I'm Eden Bartlett, I haven't met you yet."

"No, you haven't," he agreed. He stood and glanced at the dead tree. I looked where he was looking and realized that the knot in one of the upper crutches of bare limbs was Bowser, the monkey, sound asleep, and not a football like I had seen T.C. tossing into the tree earlier. He wore a red and gold little jacket with blue trim and a cap of the same colors. He looked so cute I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing.

"Shhh. Whispering's a good idea, don't wake him up," said the dog. He stretched luxuriously, making his tags jingle, then ambled over to the fence, wagging his tail in a doggie smile. "He drives me crazy with his jabber when he's awake." He sniffed at me and blinked enormous brown eyes in a spaniel face.

"Okay, I can't stay to talk, Molly and Dolly are waiting for me," I said. I took another look around to make sure no one could see us.

"You're a girl," said the black and white dog. "You're looking for T.C., ain't ya? All the girls are crazy about that pup." He grinned, pink tongue lolling out of his mouth.

I blushed. "Well, I already have a boyfriend..." and a fiance, I didn't add.

"Hee, hee, hee," the dog snickered.

I backed away from the fence, "I've got to be going," I said.

"Wait," said the dog. "Watch this." He took a couple of running steps then stood on his hind legs with his front paws crossed in front of him. "That monkey thinks he's so smart." He took a few more upright steps then hopped forward like a rabbit another few before dropping to all fours. "Ta da!"

I laughed out loud. "Good dog!" I said. "That's amazing."

"I can do something else the monkey can't do," he said. "I can talk." He looked a bit confused for a moment. "I mean, not like this, I can talk out loud."

T.C.'s family must all be in the circus I decided. "You can?"

"I can say my name," he said. Then he opened his mouth and plain as can be said, "Ralph."

I stared, not sure if I'd really heard that with my ears. "Your name is Ralph?"

"No, it's Waldo," he explained. "But Ralph is my stage name. Let's see that monkey do that!" He glanced at the tree just as a deftly thrown twig caught him right on the nose.

I couldn't help it, I broke up laughing.

Bowser, safely up in the dead tree and wide awake now, laughed too. "Let's see you do that! Throw the stick, boy! Throw the stick! Hey, dogs can't throw sticks, can they?" He added an audible chittering laugh that ended in a monkey-sized Bronx cheer.

"You evil little squirrel!" Waldo snarled.

"You know what they actually call him?" asked Bowser. "They call him Cheezer, Porkbelly, Flathead and Ignatz!"

"You're Mustard Maker, Spam-for-Brains, and Noodles!" countered the dog.

One of the neighbors, a plump old lady in an improbably bright yellow pantsuit came out and said to someone back inside her dumpy, little silver trailer, "Oh, it's just the dog barking at the monkey again." Then she shouted at Waldo, "Will you shut up?"

"Hey, rube!" called Bowser, chittering and jumping from limb to limb of the dead tree with one tiny hand guiding the leather leash attached to the canvas collar around his neck. If the leash had got tangled he would have hung himself.

Waldo charged the fence separating the yards. "Mark! Mark! Mark!" he barked, meanwhile saying, in a perfect Jerry Stiller impression, "Ah, get back in your beer can, banana slug. If we need your opinions, we'll find a pile of elephant dung and ask it!"

"Waldo!" I said, trying not to laugh.

"They oughtn't be allowed to keep that monkey!" the old woman said to me. Then she reached inside her trailer and came out with a broom. "Or this damn noisy mutt either!" and she raised the broom and shook it at Waldo.

She must have been fifteen feet away but this drove Waldo into a frenzy, snarling and snapping, and he made as if to climb the fence or jump it. "I'll cut her off at the ankles and roll her down the mountain!" he swore.

The old woman didn't leave her stoop but shook the broom at Waldo again, used some profanity even a dog shouldn't have to listen to, ending with "Shut the hell up!" Then she glared at me and went back inside her own trailer, slamming the door behind her. So much for people being friendlier to a girl.

Bowser hung from a dead limb by tail and one foot, holding his cap on with a hand. "That's telling her, pup! Every clown wants to get into the act!"

Waldo kicked dirt and leaves behind him, barked a few more times, then looked back at me with a doggy grin. "Two matinees and a twilighter. And she never misses a cue. What a trouper," he said.

"We're still not giving her billing," said the monkey. Then he snickered and sent a razzberry toward the old woman's trailer.

The dog trotted over to me and flopped down on the grass. "You waiting for T.C.? He's down at the schoolyard throwing footballs, I think."

"No, I have to go," I said.

Bowser came down out of the tree, pulling his leash behind him. Waldo stood up with a woof and danced away from him. "Time for Act II?" he asked.

"Not yet," said the monkey. He hopped up on the fence and put a tiny hand on my wrist. "The fairies say you're going to be their queen," he said, making a soft, barely audible, "Chee!" at the same time.

"Those guys," complained the dog. "Sneaking around all invisible but smelling like magic, I don't trust them." He trotted over and nosed Bowser.

"Stop it," said the monk. He glared at the dog who clopped his jaws, leaving the end of a tiny pink tongue sticking out of his black and white face. "Moron," said Bowser.

"You sure you're not just some weatherman's renegade toupee?" asked Waldo without opening his mouth.

I giggled at that.

Bowser took his cap off, passed it from one hand to the other, put it back on and rubbed his face then turned back to me. "Fairies, yeah, they're a sneaky bunch, did they trick you into something?"

"Sort of," I admitted.

Waldo growled. Bowser turned to him, grabbed the corner of the dog's nose between his tiny fingers and yanked. "Do you mind! We're having a serious conversation here, primate to primate."

"Ow," said Waldo, mildly. But he backed up and sat down. "Fairies are all bastards," he added.

Bowser moved his head in a circular monkey nod that would give a human whiplash. He caught his cap as it fell off, passed it from hand to hand again, this time behind his back, then put it back on again. "Yeah," he said. "Don't you trust them, Eden. They lie, cheat and steal and they sneak under the canvas to watch the show for free."

"Bastards," Waldo commented again.

"Any deal you make with fairies is in their favor," said Bowser. "They'll twist the rules to suit themselves and if it looks like you're gonna win anyway, they'll make up new rules."

I frowned at him. "They said they'd hurt my friends if I didn't marry their king."

"Bastards," Waldo said a third time.

Bowser sighed. "Well, they've got their own twisted sense of honor, Eden. There's always a way out of their deals if you're not greedy or selfish. You're a smart girl, you can figure it out."

I stared at him. I'd already tried that in a way, and the best I'd been able to come up with was to use up the wishes so Tintabelle couldn't turn me back into a boy and marry me. But, just like Bowser had said, they'd changed the rules and now King Belcanto had forced me to agree to marry him.

I shook my head.

Waldo lay on the grass and looked at me with his head on his paws. "Be brave," he said. "They respect courage. But don't let the bastards grind you down."

Bowser gave another circular nod. "Be brave and good and they cannot harm you, Eden. They're made of air and idle thoughts and they cannot win if only you are strong."

I think I stood there with my mouth open. Pretty heavy advice from a little monkey.

His jacket had pockets and he searched in one of them, produced a peanut and offered it to me. I shook my head, he opened the peanut with his mouth, picked out the nut and ate it and threw the shell at the dog. Waldo snapped at it then spit it out. "Joker," the dog muttered.

Bowser touched my wrist again then my cheek and took my little finger in the grasp of his other hand. "Once you've been touched by faerie magic, you'll never be the same as you were," he said. "But that doesn't mean they get to have it all their own way."

Our stares locked, his warm brown eyes and my jade-flecked hazel ones. His tiny wrinkled face made him look like an old man but at least he didn't talk backward like Yoda. "Remember," he said. "You're stronger than they are because you're real and they aren't."

I'm not sure why but I nodded. "I'll remember," I said. I leaned down, pushed his cap back and kissed the little monkey on his wrinkled brown forehead. "Thank you, Bowser."

"You're welcome," he said. He grinned with all his teeth and straightened his cap then he spun in place, threw the leash over his shoulder and leaped toward Waldo. "Gimme a ride, Old Paint!" he shouted, chittering and squeaking.

Waldo stood up just as the monkey landed in the middle on his shoulders. "Rough! Roof! Ruth!" he said aloud and, "Hi ho! Simian!" in the voice I could hear with faerie magic.

They galloped around the yard, arguing. "Look out for the bushes, meathead!" warned Bowser.

"Duck, monk!" suggested Waldo as he dived through a fat cedar. Instead, the monkey leaped high, holding the leash away from himself and clearing the branches by inches. It looked like he landed back on the dog almost by accident. "I'm going under the trailer," said the dog, heading that way.

"No, you're not," said Bowser, grabbing the long silky black and white ears. "I'm steering this time!" and he yanked on Waldo's left ear to turn him away from the trailer.

"Wow! Yow!" the dog howled, turning to head around the tree. "Leggo!"

Bowser pulled off his cap with his free hand and waved it at me. "Goodbye, Eden!" he called.

I decided they wouldn't actually hurt one another, so I left them trading insults before somebody saw me laughing at them.

I glanced at the charm bracelet on my wrist, realizing I wasn't wearing a watch. Still it must be after three and Molly and Dolly would be expecting me. Back under the trees again, I pulled the sweater around me and hurried on.


Chapter 25

Girls Only

I stopped as soon as the blue trailer with the white trim was in sight, Space 42. This part of the park was the nicest, even though the trailers were mostly old there were large oaks and pines and sycamores between and around them. Each space had a small yard, most of them marked off by some sort of low fence. A wooden plaque attached to the fence with wire identified the Hawthornes as residents.

I hesitated to go right up to the gate because I remembered that Molly and Dolly knew me only as Ethan. How would they react when I showed up wearing a dress? I'd avoided thinking of this as a problem but now I'd come to the point where I had to face them.

How could I explain? And their mother would be awake this time, what would she think?

The door of the trailer opened and Molly bounced out, a little blonde bundle of energy and spirit. "Hi!" she called to me, dashing up to the gate.

"Hi, Molly," I said, walking closer.

She worked the latch of the gate then held it open for me. "Are you Efan's sister?"

"No," I said. "It's me." I started to walk through the gate but almost backed out at the last second when Molly shrieked.

The first two screams were wordless joy but then she shouted, "My wish comed true!" She ran past me, back into the trailer house, happily telling everyone. "My wish comed true! Efan's a girl now, my wish comed true!"

I couldn't help smiling but I shook my head.

"What in the world are you saying, Molly?" I heard Dolly ask, just as she appeared in the doorway. She stopped when she saw me. "What in the world?" she repeated.

I smiled as if nothing much were odd at all. "Hi," I said.

Molly tried to crowd past her sister, "It's Efan, he's a girl, now, so he can come over and play anytime! I wished it and it comed true!"

"Ethan?" asked Dolly.

"Um, it's really Eden?" I said. "Or really, Margaret Eden Bartlett. I prefer Eden."

"I thought your name was Ethan?" she said a little sharply.

"I'm sorry for letting you think that," I said. "When I said my name after falling on those rocks, maybe I lithped. But you thought I was a boy and I let you." I grinned and giggled. I knew I didn't sound or look like a boy now, and seeing is believing, isn't it?

Dolly stared at me for a long moment, then laughed and shook her head. "No one is going to think you're a boy today," she said.

"I hope not," I said and laughed with her.

She put a hand on top of her little sister's head. "You sure had me fooled, but this one is going to think wishes come true now."

"Wishes do come true," said Molly firmly. "I wishded Efan was a girl and she is!"

"At least you got the pronoun right this time," I said.

"Sure I do," said Molly. "What's a prodow?"

"Come on in," Dolly said. "I've got lunch ready and Mom will be out in just a minute." She rolled her eyes. "I had some trouble telling her about you and now..." She shook her head again. We all laughed.

The sisters got out of the way and I stepped into the trailer. To my right, a small, neat living room held a TV set, a couch and a chair and some bookcases. On my left, a tiny kitchen gleamed including a dinette set with four vinyl-padded chairs. Past the table, a hallway closed off with a curtain led further into the trailer. Everything was clean and seemed to be resting exactly where it should be.

"Why in the world were you dressed that way yesterday?" asked Dolly.

"Uh, well, I thought I'd go exploring and I didn't want to get good clothes dirty?"

"You must be a real tomboy," she commented.

"Not really," I said. "I'm more of a bookworm."

"You're very pretty for a worm," said Molly.

Before I could think of what to say to that, a tall woman pushed aside the curtain and entered the kitchen from the hidden hallway. She certainly looked like Molly and Dolly with blue eyes and blond hair and her smile made the resemblance even more apparent but there were two large and obvious differences.

I tried not to stare because she had a very impressive bustline with a lot of skin on display. I didn't think I'd ever seen so much cleavage on one slender woman outside of a movie. They were improbably large, so much so that I wondered if they were real. A scoop-neck, hot pink t-shirt revealed about as much as it concealed and her tight aqua-blue slacks clung to the rest of her curves as well. Smiling at me, she asked, "Who's this?"

"I wishded Efan was a girl and now she is!" crowed Molly.

"Ow! Not so loud, Melody!" her mother ordered.

I winced, not just because of the volume but also because it seemed likely that that was exactly what had happened to me. "I'm Eden Bartlett, Mrs. Hawthorne," I said quickly. "When your daughters saw me yesterday, they thought I was a boy."

"I'm Laura, not missus anything," she said. "You kids need glasses?" she asked Dolly.

"Mom! You should have seen her yesterday, no makeup or jewelry, blue jeans and a boy's shirt. She would have fooled you too."

"Hmph," said Laura. "I think I know a bit more about boys and men than you do, Dorothy." She grinned at me, "I expected to be dealing with some stammering kid but I guess this party is just for us girls, huh?"

I smiled and nodded. "Uh, I did get my hair re-styled this morning, I think I looked sort of unisex yesterday?" Would I have been staring and drooling over her attributes two days ago? I wondered if she had dressed so revealingly just to test a young male visitor. Or did she always put those globes on display? Maybe.

"I thought so," said Dolly. "That makes a big difference. And that baggy shirt and jacket made you look totally flat."

I blinked a couple of times, thinking about that.

"You've not got much up top yet," observed her mother. "You'd never have gotten away with it if you were a member of this family." She grinned, waving a hand at her chest and then at Dolly who was very well-built for a sixteen-year-old. Still I couldn't see her developing her mother's showgirl bosom naturally.

Dolly and I both blushed, I think. I said, "I wasn't trying to get away with anything, it just seemed kinda funny to go along with it."

Laura took milk and Diet Pepsi from the refrigerator, while Dolly placed bowls of green salad, chili mac and steamed veggies on the table. "It's not fancy, but there's plenty," said Laura apologetically, "and the kid is a finicky eater. Gotta have this at least twice a week."

"I like chili mac," said Molly.

"We know you do. Now go wash up," Laura ordered her. Molly scooted through the crowded kitchen without causing any collisions and her mother called after her, "Don't get water everywhere."

"I won't," Molly promised from the hallway.

"You need to freshen up, Eden?" Laura asked me. "If you just want to wash your hands, you can use the kitchen sink."

"Yes, ma'am," I said. I took off my sweater and laid it carefully on the back of the upholstered chair. After I washed up we all sat down to eat; I even managed to remember to smooth my skirt under me as I sat.

Laura looked at me approvingly then glanced at her eldest daughter. "Maybe you ought to wear skirts more often, Dolly," she said, "Eden has such good manners and she seems more ladylike."

"I don't think the dress has anything to do with it," Dolly said. "Now see what you've done," she added to me but she was smiling.

"See what you done," Molly repeated. "Wha'd she do?"

Laura laughed with my embarrassed giggle. "Do you have any younger brothers or sisters?" she asked.

"Two brothers, Adam and Sean, one sister, Phoebe, but I'm the youngest and the last one left at home."

"Were you as much of a pill as Molly can be?" asked Dolly.

"Oh, probably," I said and I winked at the little girl which caused a shriek of four-year-old glee.

"Molly!" Laura scolded. "No screaming in the house!" Then to me she added, "Don't encourage her."

"Yes, ma'am," I said. My ears still rang a bit from the squealing so I was happy to agree.

We chatted some more while we ate salad, the yellow and brown chili concoction, and steamed carrots. I took small portions but finished all of it and it tasted very good, surprisingly. Not that different from some of the meals Mom fixed when she and I were alone and she had a hot chapter or two to get out.

It all felt pretty normal, other than my being a girl now, until Molly piped up with, "Efan talks to squirrels."

Laura smiled at me. "Anyone can talk to a tree rat but do they talk back?"

"Uh huh," said Molly. "Efan told us that one squirrel's name, it was Nicky-something. An' he went to get his cousins and we made popcorn for all the tree rats in the park. And lots of birds, too! Can you talk to birds, too, Efan?"

I felt the near-edge of panic but Dolly and Laura were both still smiling. Apparently, I would not have to explain the strange happenings yesterday after all; Dolly and Laura were treating it like a kid's game. "Well, some birds." I said cautiously.

"Some birds can talk, too," said Dolly. "Parrots, cockatoos..."

"Ravens," added Laura helpfully.

I wondered that I had not seen any ravens around; these mountains were supposedly the home of lots of the big black birds. Down in the coast cities where I grew up, we had crows but I hadn't seen any of those around either.

Molly looked doubtful, "But squirrels and mice don't talk--except to Efan. And she called the mice to come out of the grass and they did!"

I shrugged helplessly. "If you're very quiet and still, and don't look directly at them, lots of animals will forget to be afraid of you."

Laura laughed. "I don't think this one has ever been quiet for more than half a minute--unless she's asleep." She stroked her youngest daughter's hair fondly.

"You should have seen it, Mom," Dolly commented. "Eden crouched down and the mice came out and looked at her as if they knew her. Then Molly let out a squeal..."

"And the mice shot up in the air! Like...like spring-inna-boxes!" Molly giggled. "That was so funny! But I'm sorry I scared them."

We all laughed again, then Dolly said, "That squirrel wasn't afraid of you either, the one you called Nick?"

"It's just a knack I seem to have--with animals." Not really a lie but it made me want to squirm to be so misleading.

Dolly nodded. "Maybe you'll be a veterinarian?"

"That's an idea," said Laura.

"What's a vetternan?" asked Molly.

"A doctor for animals," her sister explained.

I shook my head. "I'm allergic to cats," I explained. We'd never had any pets, because of my allergies and asthma--also why all of our floors were bare wood, tile and linoleum.

"Yike," said Laura. "That's like if I were allergic to drunks." She laughed. "Come to think of it, I am, which is why I quit waitressing."

Dolly looked embarrassed and I must have looked confused. Laura explained, "I'm a dancer in a club in Berdoo." She chuckled. "The pay is good, lots better than waiting tables, I only work four days a week and it keeps me fit."

I tried not to show any astonishment or disapproval. "My Mom writes Romance novels," I said for some reason.

Laura laughed again. "Spicy ones, I hope?"

My turn to look embarrassed, "Some," I admitted.

"Another profession that's looked down on, sometimes," observed Laura.

"Have we got any ice cream?" Molly asked.

"Nope," said Dolly. "You ate all of it."

"Wanna go get some?" suggested Laura. "I'll clean up here and you and Eden can go to the Pine View for some fudge ripple?"

"I wanna go, too!" yelped Molly.

"No," said Laura. "Remember? You're grounded from going to the store cause you can't keep out of the road."

"I'll be good! And Dolly and Efan can watch me!"

"No," Laura repeated. "And don't argue about it or you'll have to take a timeout in the bedroom."

Molly subsided with a murmured, "Rats."

"Wanna go?" asked Dolly. "It's not far, just out the front gate and down to the highway."

"Sure," I said.

I put my sweater back on and Dolly took a jacket and a small, navy blue purse. I'd have to start carrying a purse, I reflected as I followed Dolly through the trailer door.


Chapter 26

Secrets of the Squirrel Conspiracy

Outside, the sun stood about an hour above the western peaks, though it wasn't quite four o'clock. There's always a long twilight in the mountains; after the sun goes down the sky can stay bright blue for hours.

The breeze I'd felt before had strengthened a bit and came now from the north, blowing across the town before it reached the trailer park. North lay the taller forests and deeper lakes of the San Bernardino Mountains, home to resort towns like Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.

The wind smelled of pine needles and woodsmoke, someone probably had a cookout going on this last weekend of summer. It also smelled and felt cold, or at least cooling, and I was grateful for the borrowed sweater I wore, pulling it around me and hiding my hands in the folds.

Dolly smiled. "Mom likes you, I'm glad. It's a good thing you turned out to be a girl."

"Huh? Why?" She had really startled me with that.

"Mom doesn't like men very much..." she began then looked back toward the trailer as we passed through the gate. "I mean, she doesn't like most men. Considering..."

"Considering?"

"What she does for a living," Dolly finished.

"Oh. I guess she doesn't meet the very best sort of guys in her line of work." I wondered what it would be like, to dance in front of men who wanted to look at a pretty girl. I wondered how much Laura wore while she danced--if anything.

Dolly laughed quietly. "They're not all cruds, some of them are very sweet to her. I guess it's really my dad leaving right before Molly was born."

I couldn't imagine that. I couldn't imagine my dad leaving his family but I knew that sort of thing happened all the time to other people. "I'm sorry someone hurt her that way," I said. "And you and Molly, too."

She nodded.

We walked through the older, shadier part of the trailer park till we came to the entrance. Overhead, several squirrels followed us by running along branches and jumping from tree to tree. One of them was Nick and I heard him call to me, "Lady Eden, Lady Eden! I wanted to talk to you about the cat!"

I tried to ignore him. I didn't want Dolly to see me talking to animals again. Besides, if squirrels were having trouble with a cat, what was I supposed to do about it anyway? I pulled my thoughts back to what Dolly was saying.

"I wanted you to meet my mom--before someone else started telling you about her. There are lots of rumors about what she does. Pineview is a small town."

"The rumor mill?" I guessed.

She nodded again. "They can be kind of vicious," she said.

"Ouch."

"Uh huh." She sighed. "Okay, Mom works in a 'Gentleman's Club', she dances wearing just a g-string and pasties and high heels and jewelry. But that's all she does."

I nodded. I didn't know exactly what a g-string and pasties might be, but I could guess.

"She doesn't bring men home, she doesn't sleep with any of them. And all the money she earns she gets from tips for her dancing." Dolly sounded very firm and certain, almost indignant.

"Okay," I said.

We didn't say anything for a bit, just walking along the Pine Home Road in front of the trailer park. Ahead, on the corner with the highway, just past a bridge that crossed the dry creek bed where I'd first met Molly and Dolly--and the fairies--I could see the little market where I must have bought comic books during my blackout. I felt very odd about that.

The squirrels were still following me in the trees. I could hear them chittering and complaining. I hoped Dolly hadn't noticed.

But she was intent on what she wanted to say. "I get teased a lot at school, some of it pretty cruel."

That got my attention. I wasn't any stranger to the cruel sort of teasing that can go on among kids. But I'd been teased and bullied for being me, a short, skinny, sickly boy-who-should-have-been-a-girl. I'd never been mistreated because of what my parents did for a living.

"Even Molly gets some of it in daycare," said Dolly.

"That's rotten!" I said indignantly.

"I worry about when she starts school. And I didn't want you to try to be friends with us and then find out."

"I--that's not going to make any difference to me," I said.

"You sure? You could end up getting--well, picked on for being friends with me. I live in a trailer, my Mom dances nearly naked in front of men. We're trailer trash, Eden. You live in those fancy new houses up on the ridge. High class, rich people. Maybe you don't want to be my friend."

I stopped then and stared up at her. Like her mother, Dolly was tall, taller than me by five or six inches probably. And she stood there with her shoulders back, kind of defiantly, almost daring me to say I disliked her for such lame reasons.

I thought about it for two seconds then I glared up at her. "My dad is a sewer engineer and my mom writes romance novels and I'm proud of both of them. I don't care what your mom does for a living and neither will my folks. They lived in a trailer house in Georgia when my oldest brother was born. No big deal, okay? Don't be such a snob!"

She stared back at me for a moment then she laughed. "How do you figure that I'm being a snob?"

"If you think some people are better than others because of where they live or what they do or what they look like, that's being a snob, in my book. And I've been picked on before, so don't worry about me; I'll be friends with whoever I like."

She grinned and pulled me into a hug, which surprised me but I hugged back. Phoebe used to give me lots of hugs when she wasn't enjoying tormenting me and I hadn't realized I missed it when she stopped a couple of years ago. We both giggled as we broke apart; I felt good about things for at least several seconds.

But we had stopped walking while the talking got heavy and that allowed my animal entourage to catch up to us. The line of trees separating the trailer park from the road made a highway for squirrels and one of them poked his head out of the greenery just above our heads to chitter at us.

Dolly pointed and laughed but she had heard only the chittering. "Your Imminent Majesty," said the squirrel in a voice that must have existed only in my head. "You promised that you would listen to my petition in the matter of the cat."

"Look, it's one of your other friends," said Dolly.

"Not now," I muttered.

Nicafekanichinechichinicnick, or Nick for short, put both of his front paws together and made several quick bows. "I beg of you, Lady Megan. The cat oppresses us mightily, sneaking around and harassing us at our work. It's a wonder it hasn't managed to catch one of the children in its cruel claws."

I sighed.

"It sure looks like it's begging you for something," said Dolly. "Too bad we don't have popcorn in our pockets like Molly."

"Is there a cat in the trailer park?" I asked Dolly.

"Several," she said looking a bit puzzled.

"Most of the cats are polite and seldom a problem," said Nick. "After all, the big folk feed them and we forest types don't invade big folk homes because of them. It's just one cat, a big gray male that's making all the trouble."

"Is there a big gray tom that chases squirrels?" I asked Dolly.

"Uh, yeah, I think there is. A gray tabby with white feet named Whiskers or something."

Nick sighed. "His feet are not named anything, as far as I know. The whole cat is called Thomas G. Willikers by the old woman who feeds him."

I had to smile at that, imagine having your grammar corrected by a squirrel. But Dolly couldn't hear Nick's end of the conversation and so was saved that embarrassment. She could hear my part of things, though, so I had to be careful not to look like a kook.

"Why did you ask about a cat?" Dolly wanted to know.

I shrugged, "I thought I saw one chasing this little guy or one of the other squirrels." Nicky bobbed his head in agreement.

"He sure seems tame."

"He's not really," I warned her. "I think he just likes me."

"Certainly, Lady Eden," said Nicky. "Everyone likes you but will you do something about the cat, please, Your Ladyship?"

"I'll try," I told him, nodding. "I mean, I think I'll try to see about getting a bell put on that cat."

"A bell?" said Nick, rubbing his pinkish nose with his tiny hands. "Now why didn't we think of that? If ol' Tom Gee has to carry a bell around ringing it, we'll always know where he is. What a wonderful solution! Unless of course, you were willing to hang the miscreant for his crimes?"

I shook my head. "No, a bell will do."

Dolly looked at me curiously. "I didn't say anything," she said.

"Just thinking out loud," I said. I giggled to think what a ditz I must sound like to her.

"Thank you, Your Incipient Highness. Thank you, very much! I'll go tell everyone else!" said Nicky, bobbing and chittering at the end of the branch. And then suddenly, he was gone, back into the green world of the treetops.

"Oh!" said Dolly. We both jumped a little then laughed.

"I guess he got tired of whatever little squirrel game he was playing," I said.

"You think?" she said, looking around. "That was pretty strange. Do such strange things happen around you all the time, Eden?"

"Uh," I stammered a little. I hated to lie directly. "You never know what kind of odd thing an animal is going to do."

"I've never seen squirrels--or mice--act the way they do around you. Sure your last name isn't Doolittle?" she teased.

I shook my head and giggled nervously. "We'd better get on to the store and get back with the ice cream before Molly comes looking for us."

"She'd better not!" said Dolly, but we both started along toward the corner store. There were no cars in sight and no people, an oddity for a kid from the city like me. "Do animals always act so oddly around you?" she asked.

"No," I said. "Not really." I tried to think of a way to change the subject. "Do you know Phillip Daniels? He knows you?"

She smiled. "You've met him?" I must have blushed because she said, "You have met him. He's your neighbor on the ridge, huh? Kind of cute but so solemn."

"Um," I said, wondering if I could have come up with a better choice of subjects.

"Edie!" Dolly laughed, seeing my expression. "He's a senior, you know. And he has a reputation for being a bit weird?"

"He's not weird," I said instantly.

She laughed again. "Maybe you two would be a good match. You're both a little odd." She took the sting off that with a sympathetic smile. "It's a small school, everybody's going to know."

"Know what?"

"If you go out..." she glanced at me. "He's asked you out, hasn't he?"

I nodded, face flushing again.

We came to the bridge over the wash, two car lanes wide with a walkway on each side and a white wooden railing. I stopped to look up the wash, I suppose I thought I might see Phillip and Roland on their way back home.

"He just met you, right? And he's already asked you out. That's odd, I don't think he goes on many dates."

No sight of a horse and rider; I started across the bridge.

Dolly followed. "There's something about you, though, Eden. I wish you'd tell me what it is?"

I took two more steps, halfway across the little bridge, before I heard the fairy bells.


Next: [A Wish Too Far]

More [The Fairy King]



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