Written in Red Page 138

“I will ask my sister if she would wake for a few days and soften the air. It will be easier for our Meg to walk if the pavement is free of snow.”

“She would appreciate that. And I appreciate that.”

Winter walked away, the train of her fluttering gown trailing behind her.

Simon rushed back to the desk and removed his shirt and sweater. Overall, not too many flakes fell in the office or on the desk. Since the computer was still running and didn’t explode when he touched a key, he figured it would be all right. Using the clothes, he had everything on the desk wiped down by the time Vlad came upstairs.

“She sounded angry,” Vlad said. He disappeared for a moment, then returned with a couple of towels from their restroom and helped Simon wipe down the furniture.

“But still in control enough not to create a blizzard inside the store.” He considered how she would have entered. “Did the books in the stockroom get snowed on?”

“No, just the floor. John is mopping that up now. I’ll get a broom. We can sweep up the snow in the hallway and on the stairs.” Vlad looked around, then extended a hand. “Give me the shirt and sweater. I’ll use the dryer at the social center. It’s closest, and your things will be dry by the time you need to take Meg back to the office for the afternoon deliveries.” He paused, then asked, “What are you going to do with Sam?”

“Blair is taking him. Nathan and I are having a hard enough time leaving the bandage on Meg’s leg alone. I don’t think a puppy could stop himself from worrying at it, and he could hurt her. She’ll stay with us this evening, and Sam can cuddle with her in human form.”

When they had the snow swept up, Simon receded the fur, put on a spare flannel shirt he kept in a bottom desk drawer, and got back to work.


Pausing at an intersection, Meg rolled down the driver’s-side window and breathed in air that held the warmth of spring. Oh, winter was still beneath that warmth, but the roads were clear of snow and ice, she was on her midday break, and she was alone for the first time since she made the cut two days ago.

Even friendship could feel smothering, especially when your friends were large and furry and liked a lot of physical contact. She came to realize that despite taking a human form, the Others’ understanding of human anatomy was mostly limited to what parts of that anatomy they liked to eat. They had responded to the cut on her leg with the intensity usually reserved for an amputation.

Yesterday she had appealed to Merri Lee, Heather, Ruth, and Elizabeth Bennefeld to explain that a simple cut that was healing well didn’t require a wheelchair, a driver, or a guard constantly watching her in case she keeled over. Simon didn’t want to accept it, but they hadn’t given him any wiggle room.

And that was why she was driving the BOW by herself on this fine Windsday afternoon, looking for a spot where she would stop and eat the box lunch Tess had made. Interior roads were clear for the first time since her arrival in the Courtyard, so she turned the BOW inward, following whatever road appealed to her.

Trees and open spaces. She saw a Hawk on a tree stump. She didn’t look closely enough to determine what he was eating for lunch.

Stopping at one intersection, she watched all the ponies canter past her, clearly enjoying a chance to run. She turned in the direction they had come, only to discover they had turned and were now following her, slowing when she slowed, lengthening their strides when she sped up a little, staying with her as she turned onto one road after another. They left her when she turned toward the little houses that belonged to the girls at the lake. She pulled up next to one of the houses, then got out to walk along the wide path that circled the lake.

Winter was skating, a mature woman now with hair that streamed down to her waist and was as white as the snow that floated in the air around her. Seeing Meg, she waved and said, “Stay there.” Her voice didn’t carry, exactly. It seemed to rise from the banks of snow.

The Elemental flowed up effortlessly from the lake, leaving no footsteps in the snow. She smiled at Meg. “Where are your companions?”

“I’m enjoying a wander without them,” Meg replied, returning the smile.

“Are you also enjoying the gift from me and my sister?” Winter asked.

It seemed an insult not to know what was meant by a gift. And, really, when Meg looked around, the meaning was clear enough. “Soft weather. Clear roads. The sun coming through a window to create a beam of warmth.” She looked at Winter. “You did this for me?”

“You like to be out on the land, like to touch it. We wanted to make it easier for you to walk and enjoy without hurting your leg.” Winter looked away. “The ponies are dear to us. What was intended for them is not something we will forget. But you saved them. That is also something we will not forget.” She looked at Meg and smiled. “Spring would like to meet you. She is down by the creek.”

“Then I’ll walk down and say hello.”

Meg continued around the lake to the road that ran between the lake and the creek. A girl stood on the rocks that formed a natural retaining wall, watching two ducks paddle around in open water no larger than the circle Meg could make with her arms. There were other dark patches at the edge where land and water met—a sign of melting ice.

The girl turned. Seeing Meg, she ran up a path between snowbanks. Her hair was a mix of browns, and her dress . . .

Meg wasn’t sure if her dress was made to resemble flowers or if it was made of the flowers that would be the first to bloom when the snow melted. She could match tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses with their images, but there were others, blue and delicate, that looked as if they would never bloom in any place that wasn’t wild.

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