The sun was up; the birds were singing cheerfully. I still held a mini-Oreo as big as a dinner plate in my lap. Nothing had happened.
Cleome stared at me in consternation. I didn't think it was possible for her green eyes to get so big. Her eyebrows shot so high that I thought they were going to fly off her face; her rose petal lips formed an astonished "o". Taffy also was staring, but then she suddenly grinned at me, squeezed her eyes with pleasure and began flicking her tail quickly back and forth.
I knew exactly what she was thinking; our part in this adventure was by no means over. Cleome would have to take me with her to the brilliancy and Taffy would have to come along as protection against snakes, ferrets and the like. Despite the dismay I felt at having to face the world from such a small vantage point, I was thrilled. It was like having your car break down at a friend's house and being forced to stay the night. Or a huge snowstorm on Christmas that means staying up late with loved ones, sleeping on the sofa beside the twinkling tree and eating leftover cake for breakfast on Boxing Day. Or being caught in a thunderstorm.
The last one may surprise you, but I love thunderstorms. They are thrilling and a little dangerous and they change the whole world, at least for a few hours. Afterwards everything is clean-washed and new. That's how I felt - I felt new. I wasn't ready to go back to my old self just yet. Nor was I ready to pass up a chance for a little thrilling danger.
I needed to reassure Cleome of this, however. She was still making her "o."
"Are you sure the spell was supposed to wear off at sunrise?" I asked casually.
She shook her head "yes." She kept shaking it until I put a hand on her arm to stop her. She squeaked, "I don't know why it didn't! I am so sorry. So, so sorry!" And then she burst into tears.
Horrified, I embraced her thin shoulders and hugged her tightly. "Please don't cry!" I said. "I really don't mind! Truly I don't." I smiled reassuringly. "I didn't want to leave you today and possibly never see you again. I want to come with you! Taffy does too."
Taffy mewed her assent and licked Cleome's cheek where it rested on my shoulder. Cleome raised her head and forced a smile, wiping her face with her cornsilk hair. "But how will we get to the maple wood now? It will take ages for us to walk."
"You still have me," Taffy said stoutly. "I can certainly carry two little things like you on my back. Not the whole way, perhaps, but when you get tired."
"Of course," I said. "We can do this together. Don't worry, we'll get you there."
She nodded and hugged me gratefully. "Thank you, Christine! Thank you."
We made our plans quickly and set to work. I pressed the power button on my computer, climbed up to the keyboard and by stomping on the keys was able to send some email. The first one was to my editor, letting her know that a family emergency had arisen and that I wouldn't be able to send anything new for a little while, but that I would be in touch as soon as I could. I then sent another email to my sister in Cleveland telling her everything, asking her to cover for me and reminding her where my important papers were if I should fail to return. I was sure my story would alarm her but not too much; she knows me well and is a very practical and reliable sort of person. (More than likely she would be jealous. She's always complaining that her life is boring and all the interesting things happen to me. What can I say? It's true.) Then I typed out a note for Bridget, my maid, giving her the same story I gave my editor and telling her to contact my sister if she had any problems.
With that done, I powered down the computer and we set to work on more practical things. We packed up some provisions from the kitchen in makeshift backpacks constructed of little leather change purses I had purchased at a craft fair and some string. We each brought a fleece dollhouse blanket and a straw hat that would serve both as protection from the sun and as camoflouge in the open. The most difficult part was clothing. Cleome put her torn green outfit back on, but I could hardly wear my t-shirt and pajama bottoms to an elf battle. None of the clothes I had made the day before were suitable, but I found a pair of trousers I had sewn for a father doll that would do. I also robbed a Cottage Collectible bear of his sweater. My Heidi Ott doll gave up her socks and shoes. The shoes weren't much, being made of soft vinyl, but would do until we reached the brilliancy and could be properly outfitted by the elves. If we found them, that is.
Since we were unable to open the refrigerator, we breakfasted on raisins and cereal from the cupboard. Cheerios may look like miniature donuts but they certainly don't taste like them. I would have to do without my coffee, which surprisingly didn't seem to bother me. Perhaps being an elf would cure my caffeine addiction. We took some oreos and my diamond earrings, not knowing when a bribe might come in handy. Cleome was shocked that I possessed such wealth or that I would want to give it up. I shrugged and pointed out that I hardly ever wore them and if I never came back they wouldn't be of any use to me anyway.
It was nearly eight o'clock by the time we tossed our laden packs over the windowsill. Taffy jumped down, then Cleome. I took one last look at my quiet, cosy study, with the fireplace as big as a cave, then climbed down after my companions wondering how long it would be before I returned again. Our eyes were shining with excitement as Cleome and I shouldered our backpacks; Taffy's tail was twitching wildly. We were off!