I was going to stop there, and then I thought about the rumors that would instantly begin, concerning my plans for all that floor space. A Jackson-Pollock style atelier. A roller-skating rink. Orgies. Lots and lots of space to spread out all four or five hundred pages of an unsatisfactory story draft. Or maybe I was entering into partnership with my neighbors’ orc-breeding program. I took a deep breath. “I wanted somewhere I could have a dog. The small sensible houses didn’t allow pets.” I tried a smile myself. My mouth seemed to have forgotten the system. Maybe showing my teeth was good enough, although they were outclassed in this company in the large, square and white department. “My dog was on the list for the future. I wasn’t expecting to find her quite so soon.”
Lorraine giggled. It was rather alarming. Not as alarming as large black men wearing swords and speaking forsoothly, but still alarming. “Isn’t life just like that,” she said. “But whatever brought you to our little corner of the world?”
Maybe it was the giggle that unhinged me. But my evil twin seized control and I heard myself saying: “Oh, my great-great grandmother is from around here. Or great-great-great. My mother still has the family Bible that belonged to her. Saralinda Cadwallader, Cold Valley, 1864. Her father was killed in the Civil War, so her mother brought her and her six brothers”—six brothers? MacFarquhar, get a grip—“north, to escape sad memories. The brothers, according to family mythology, all grew up and moved away. Saralinda stayed here.”
Mr Love-Me laughed. He had a deep hearty boyish-boardroom laugh. I disliked him more than ever. “Hey, Lori, maybe you’re cousins. Dad’s family settled here in the late 1800s, didn’t they?”
Lorraine giggled again. “This is my nephew, Hamilton,” she said. “He has such an imagination.”
I didn’t say anything, but in my mind I was dressing her in Brunhilde’s Valkyrie armour. Kirsten Flagstad era. Something about the way Lorraine wore her hair reminded me of a winged helmet. And I was having a great idea. She could be Gurgsmeel’s new apprentice. They would make a formidable team. Yes. I almost groped in my pocket for something to make a note on, but the gesture of hand-to-pocket reminded me that I was here for a reason, and having purchased the reason I could go away again before I got myself in any more trouble. If Mr Love-Me—Hamilton—would leave, taking his opinion of himself with him, maybe my evil twin would settle down.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I wasn’t sorry. “I’m only here for milk.” And not the Spanish Inquisition. But nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. “I was just worrying about leaving Sid tied up outside. She’s been homeless for so long and I only—er—adopted her yesterday.”
“Oh, bring her in with you, bring her in,” said Lorraine, reverting to bustling mode. Maybe she didn’t want to be my cousin any more than I wanted to be hers. And if I were her cousin apparently I had to be Mr Love-Me’s something or other too. Ugh. I was sure Saralinda’s descendants would have produced better. “There aren’t many customers this late,” Lorraine went on, “and my regulars won’t mind.”
“I have to get going,” said Hamilton. No doubt he did: he had maidens to ravish and competitors to swindle. “Nice to meet you, Kes,” he said, making rather a mess of lingering over a name that was neither Ashley nor Amber, but then I wasn’t a maiden and would resist ravishing with a force he would find painful. He held out his hand for shaking. I wished I had two dogs so I could have had leads in both hands. I shook his hand and managed not to wipe it on my jeans when he let go. He strode off down the street like a man sure there was a film crew following him. Then I followed Lorraine into the cabinet of Dr Caligari.
The personality behind the front window décor was reflected inside the store as well. The big glass-front refrigerator was at the back, which meant you had to penetrate past the epic display of rainbow acrylic dusters and frilly flowered aprons that would have given June Cleaver heartburn. There were shelves of candy with names like Super Charged Choco Blast and Munchy More More Munchy Ha. There were a number of exclamation points involved in the latter. I averted my eyes. I had never heard of the canned soup brand Mr Grooovy but if the name wasn’t enough the photo of a smiling Mr G looked way too much like Hamilton. Maybe Hamilton was a model. That could explain a lot.
Sid and I made it to the back mildly traumatised but intact. The refrigerator seemed mostly to contain milk, orange juice, beer and butter. How normal. There was a freezer compartment with ice cream and pizza, and a chiller bin with a few tired, frightened-looking lettuces.
I bought my milk. I said thank you. We fled back to the street, Sid crowding at my heels. She didn’t like the aprons either. I took a deep breath. We turned back toward the Friendly Campfire.
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.