Mike made a strangled noise. I laughed out loud. Somehow Gus as Legolas— ‘Ah the green smell, it is better than much sleep! Let us run!’— was a more vivid image even than Little Lord Fauntleroy. (Legolas looks nothing like Orlando Bloom. Don’t get me started.) ‘Awake! Awake! It is a red dawn’. I didn’t think teenagers did dawn. I wasn’t a big fan of dawn myself since it usually meant I’d been up all night being run down by a deadline. . . . But my stomach did a sudden flipflop: forsoothly wasn’t as funny somehow after you’d met it walking in the street. Thou’rt fortunate. Thy new comrade is swift and loyal and high-couraged. Thou and she will go far both as the world doth count span of distance, and in the journey of the heart. I had a memory about as like a bear-trap as a blob of strawberry jelly. Why did these lines insist on being remembered? I looked around nervously for walking trees or shiny-white guys in tall hats. Which would make a change.
All I saw was my dog . . . apparently eating gravel. “Hey!” Sid looked up, jaws moving sideways: clickety clickety crunch. I made a grab for her and stuck several fingers in her mouth—the dog I’d adopted less than twenty-four hours ago and still knew almost nothing about. She looked mildly surprised and let me flick the good-sized pebble out from between her jaws. Furthermore I still had all my fingers after this operation. What a good thing she likes me. Of course as soon as I let go of her collar again she bent her head for exactly that same pebble . . . so I snatched it out from under her nose and put it in my pocket. She looked at me woebegonely and sat down in a poor-sad-thing posture.
“Well,” said Serena, and looked at me. “You got everything you need?”
Reality came rushing back in that awful way reality has. On second thought maybe I’d prefer guys with swords and wands and mysterious backgrounds and a funny way of talking. “I guess so.” I didn’t think I’d fed Sid all the tunafish—or Mike all the ham. I could always share some of Sid’s dog food. I hoped I could find those pillows. I hoped Caedmon stayed warm all night—and didn’t burn the house down. I hoped dienonychus didn’t snore. How complicated living in the country was.
I was forgetting something. Oh. “I need milk for the ho —” I stopped.
Mike, having maintained a nearly straight face for Gus as Legolas, lost it and guffawed. “I doubt Sheila drinks milk.”
Serena gave me a look she probably used on clients attempting to default on their bill, or possibly her son when he forgot to turn the oven on. “She must have a tough time trying to do the Belle du Jour thing in Cold Valley.”
“Maybe that’s why they’re never here,” said Mike, still laughing.
Serena turned the look on Mike. “Milk for the house,” she said. Girl solidarity was kicking in. “It is a well-known urban ritual for moving into a new house. A bowl of milk on the—er—windowsill.”
“You leave the window open and the hippogriffs drink it,” I said. “Yes. The urban experience. And a bottle of Remy Martin for the doorperson, which you offer on bended knee with a freshly-sharpened knife in your other hand, in case they want a little of your blood to seal the deal not to lose your mail or the plumber’s phone number when your toilet starts singing Handel and Steve Reich and the shower is always cold.”
“Wow,” said Mike. “I’m really glad I’m a peasant.”
“We didn’t have a doorperson,” said Serena. “We had a resident janitor. Who used to answer the door naked, to make you go away and not ask him to do anything.”
“It didn’t work with you,” I hazarded. Mike was looking startled. Hey, rube, it’s a jungle out there.
“It didn’t work with me,” agreed Serena. “If all you want is milk you can get it at Lorraine’s—Lorraine’s Corner Store—but you’ll have to put up with Lorraine. On the other hand, you might want to get it over with Lorraine. She’ll need to know all about you and if you elude her for too long I wouldn’t put it past her to turn up on your doorstep with a casserole.”
“How good a cook is she?” I said.
There was a loud honking noise from Mike like a convoy of Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs and he hit himself in the chest a couple of times and then pulled out a phone. He scowled at whatever it was telling him and then put it to his ear. “Yeah?” GIBBLE GIBBLE GIBBLE GIBBLE, said the phone. Mike sighed. “I’ll be right there.”
“The mothership has landed and is leaking oil?” said Serena.
“Worse,” said Mike. “The bus taking the third graders on their field trip tomorrow won’t start. We’ve been holding the fleet together with paper clips and string for the last several years, but the school district keeps buying computers.” He looked at me. “You need it, my phone number’s in Merry. You got plenty of wood for at least a couple of days. Happy reading. Hope the hippogriffs like the milk.”
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