I trailed behind Hayley as she strode across the parlour to the front door. It had only just occurred to me that the big square heels on Hayley’s femicidal shoes meant she wasn’t leaving punch-marks in my floor. My floor. I’d better get used to it: the possessive pronoun had moved in. I discovered that I was reluctant to leave, although I wasn’t sure if that was because I was already fond of the place or because I was afraid, once I left, I wouldn’t want to come back. Although the discovery of Caedmon seemed to have done something (tentatively positive) to my attitude. With the Silent Wonder Dog, there would be three of us. Three didn’t seem quite so ludicrous in a house this size. Especially if you then included Yog-Sothoth and the stove-delivering fairies.
I stared out over my new domain as Hayley locked the front door. Ron’s truck was gone, and there were no cars in either of the other driveways. “Do you know anything about my neighbors?”
“We sold the house next to yours, five years ago.”
Yours, I thought. Yours.
“I was working at HH part-time as receptionist and chief stat-machine wrestler before I graduated. Most of the time I was worrying about whether I’d copied the right contracts and got the right names, but I remember these two. She thought the country would be good for her nerves, and he wanted her to shut up. They’re never here. He works in Washington DC, or he did five years ago. Type A-plus personality. I guess she still has her nerves in Washington. The people on the corner are okay. He has a construction company in New Iceland and she teaches first graders. I went to school with their oldest daughter. She married a plumber in Bittern Marsh.”
Small town life. I would have to hope that the first time I walked in to the Cold Valley drugstore for a newspaper or a postcard there weren’t any other shoppers, so I wouldn’t have to listen to the conversation stop while they all turned around to stare at me. Who needed hard copy anyway? Unless Caedmon required wadded-up newspaper to light his kindling.
I stared at my house as Hayley backed down the (long) drive and turned my head to keep it in sight as she drove away. I just barely stopped myself from turning around and straining for the final glimpse, like a kid leaving the house she’s had her vacation in to go home and back to school. I was only going back to the Friendly Campfire for as long as it took the paperwork to go through. Although the prospect of turning on my phone and my laptop was a lot like going back to school. Never mind my agent and editor, Norah was going to be biting large chunks out of me for not telling her what was going on.
I kept Hayley talking by a few judicious questions. The girl from around here knew everything about everything about everyone, and now that I was moving in I had every reason to want to know as much of it as possible. Including that the Cold Valley drugstore was called Mightyfine and carried, not merely aspirin and newspapers, but a good selection of chocolate. And the famous local ice cream made by the Willendorf Dairy, the biggest dairy farm in the area (it had been some of their cows that had caused me armrest-clutching angst on the way from New Iceland. On our return journey I tried to pretend that cows in a field right next to the road where you could see how gigantic they were was normal and ordinary). “So you don’t have to come in to New Iceland to get your Venus ice cream fix,” said Hayley, having ascertained that I’d had my cherry pie a la mode last night.
She parked in exactly the same place just down the street from the Homeric Homes office that her car had been in when I arrived over two hours ago. One of the minor fascinations of small town life was going to be the parking. That there was parking. That owning a car was not (I hoped) going to be a source of permanent daily anguish and frustration and close examination of civic street cleaning schedules and/or renting space in a parking garage that would cost as much as your house. Hayley had taken her briefcase out of the back seat, the car had locked itself zeeeep and I had followed her back through the Homeric Homes office door before I’d pulled my courage and my wits together sufficiently to have my mouth open to ask her about renting or buying a car. With Serena’s strictures in mind I was hoping that Rick of Odin’s Autos was not her second cousin or her brother’s best friend.
But I forgot what I was going to say when Hayley tossed her red briefcase in her chair and turned to the person at the next desk. “Hi, Lena. We don’t need the info on those new listings after all. Ms. MacFarquhar is going to take Rose Manor.”
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.