I didn’t think there was anything left between us and climbing into Merry and driving out to Cold Valley, six potted rose bushes, deinonychus and an orc farm. And Caedmon. Caedmon would protect us. I glanced at the office on our way in but I wasn’t going to pester Serena any more. I didn’t want her to hear my knees actually knocking.
What with the knees and everything I stumbled going up the stairs to cabin seven one more time. I was sure I’d been living here for years. No, if I’d been here more than two nights I’d’ve taken the crushed food off the walls. Or at least embellished it with sophisticated decals. What I would have done with the neon campfire would have cost me money when it was discovered. And possibly the good will of the father of Merry’s mechanic. I swept up some of the bags and bundles I’d had to leave behind on the first trip because even Sid’s skinny butt took up a certain amount of room. Although the stuff I’d bought at the pet store took up a lot more space than the dog.
I had to put everything down on the ground to wrestle with Merry’s passenger-side door. There was probably a trick to it. Arrgh. I shoved everything but Sid into the passenger footwell and re-cat’s-cradled Sid to the seatbelt. Merry’s dimensions being what they were I could have had several dogs on the passenger seat and my Vespa and the complete twenty-volume hard copy Oxford English Dictionary (plus supplements) in the footwell. Sid lay down on the seat and stretched out comfortably. Her feet did dangle over the edge a little.
Then I went back inside for the last Majormojo bag (Kleenex, dishwashing liquid, paper napkins with dogs on them because why not they were on sale, and a jar of local honey from a stand right outside Godzilla Food’s city-crushing-monster-width front door), my hairbrush which was mysteriously hiding under the bed, one pink striped sock I was pretty sure was mine and I hoped its twin was already at Rose Manor waiting for us and . . . a bracelet.
I don’t wear bracelets. I looked at it in astonishment. It was a wide, elaborate cuff thing that Topaz’ owner might have worn with the burgundy velvet although she’d have to abridge the lace if she wanted it admired properly. It was silver and it gleamed. It was so amazing I couldn’t imagine how its owner had left it behind and not made the most tremendous fuss till it was found. I rubbed my finger over it. The silver was worked in what I thought—I couldn’t be sure in the poor light—was something like tiny braids and in the center, the widest part, there was an inset medallion. Of a rose. It was so beautiful I didn’t quite shiver, but I maybe almost did. Those five gratuitous rose-bushes had creeped me out quite a lot. And there was Rose Manor itself.
Well. The bracelet wasn’t my problem, merely a temporary frisson. Like I needed frissons. The thought of Darla turning the weight of her disfavor on me as soon as her meticulously-kept list reminded her I still hadn’t returned any of her or Mr W’s phone calls was frisson enough. Meanwhile I really did have to stop in the office on the way out to sign off and return the key. Serena could deal with the bracelet.
I took a deep breath of cheap motel air—something I had remained well acquainted with during my years of marriage to Gelasio because the only cons that wanted me as Guest of Honor had limited budgets for accommodation—closed the door of cabin seven for the last time, and gimped down the stairs. The ankle I had twisted in one of Rose Manor’s ruts hadn’t forgiven me.
Sid thumped her tail when I got in the driver’s seat. At least I had a dog. If I said that to myself any more often I was going to have to look for a sampler kit. I could learn to cross stitch in front of the fire on long winter evenings. I wasn’t too hot at craft stuff. It would probably come out saying The Uruk-hai Rule. Maybe I should just get a tattoo. I backed out and swung around cautiously. I wasn’t at all sure where any of Merry’s edges were yet. Probably over various state lines. And possibly the Canadian border. There was a Hyundai parked in front of cabin two and a two-door VW in front of cabin three. I sighed. I managed not to flatten either of them as we made our way cautiously to the office.
Merry’s hand brake went on like pulling the sword out of the stone. I climbed more stairs to the office door and yanked it open, nearly hitting myself in the face because it offered so little resistance. I had my other hand in my pocket. The key was in that pocket, but so was the bracelet. I was absent-mindedly rolling it through my fingers like a charm.
The person who looked up from the counter when the door-opening bell went ping wasn’t Serena. It was a man I’d never seen before.
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