Chapter 12: Morning Away From Home
Jeffrey yawned and stretched out his arms. He curled up and glanced outside to where he spotted the snow falling again. He approached the edge of the cave and grinned wider than ever. “Lizzy!” he said. Her eyes blinked open.
“It’s snowing,” Jeffrey said.
“My, how wonderful. Snowing the way it used to back home.”
“Fresh snow for play!” Jeffrey cheered, pumping a fist in the air.
“We’re so lucky, Jeffrey. I’ve seen snow fall so many times, yet it never fails to mesmerize me. I can’t wait for the others to see,” Lizzy said.
“What can’t you wait for me to see?” Ellie asked.
“It’s snowing, Ellie,” Jeffrey said. Lizzy grabbed their hands and walked them to the tip of the cave to look out. Jeffrey reached his hand out, but Lizzy shoved it back inside.
“Don’t put your hand out, Jeffrey. We’re not wearing mittens, you would surely freeze,” Lizzy said. “Let me grab our mittens. One minute.” She skipped to their sleeping area where Oliver’s head curled up.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” Ellie said.
“Top of the morning to you,” Charlie said. He kneeled and fussed Oliver’s hair.
“Are you mocking me?” Oliver turned to Charlie.
“Not at all…” Charlie said. A widening smile held him from giggling.
“Alright.” Oliver stood. “It’s time we got ready to go. I can make another fire while the rest of you stay down here,” Oliver said. Jeffrey, Ellie, and Lizzy didn’t waste one second to hop there.
Oliver took out a match and set a fire. The blaze blew along the rock and extended light across the cave. “Come grab your toys from the backpack while I dry your clothes. Here’s a blanket.”
“My blanket.” Jeffrey yanked it from the girls.
“Don’t act selfish, Jeffrey. You must share,” Lizzy said, heaving the blanket toward herself.
“I’m the oldest here. I should get it,” Charlie said, towing the blanket his way.
“Give it here.”
“No! To me.”
“If you need it, there’s an extra one in the backpack,” Oliver said.
“Let’s go, Ellie,” Lizzy said. “Those buffoons can fight each other.”
“Give it back, Charlie,” Jeffrey said. He tugged at the blanket, but Charlie held on tighter.
“What sillies, Alice,” Ellie said, “still fighting while the three of us know how to share.”
“Their mistake. We can only teach them so much,” Lizzy said.
Zip! Oliver shut the backpack and drew out a comb. He seated himself behind Charlie and dragged it through his hair. Oliver tugged through and dug the comb into Charlie’s knots. “Ouch,” Charlie said, “what’s that for?” he turned to Oliver and scowled.
Oliver shook his head. He has got to cooperate for once and not act like he’s Jeffrey’s age. “Stop it, Charlie. Behave for once and let me get this over with.”
Charlie crossed his arms over his chest. Gee, am I that much of a hassle? Why does he have to make it painful? And yell at me?
“Oh Charlie,” Lizzy said.
“Gee Char, it’s stuck like syrup,” Oliver said. He jerked the tan comb to the beginning of Charlie’s neck. The tassels came out clean.
“One done,” Oliver said.
“Ew.” Charlie patted on his hair. He tugged at the ends and shook his hair back to its old form.
“Goodness Charlie, why ever would you do such a thing?” Lizzy asked.
“I don’t like combed hair,” Charlie said.
“I don’t like uncombed hair, but I still deal with you,” Oliver said.
Oliver moved to Jeffrey and wrenched through his curls. If combing Charlie’s hair seemed like a bad dream, then Jeffrey’s hair tangled like a nightmare. Oliver brought the comb through the ends of Jeffrey’s hair.
“Ow! Stop! Stop!” Jeffrey said.
“Stop acting like a worm and sit still,” Oliver said. He pinned Jeffrey back to him, but Jeffrey wormed away.
“Enough,” he said.
“Why won’t you let me? It doesn’t even hurt that badly,” Oliver said.
“Because combing hair is for girls like Ellie and their dolls, not boys,” Jeffrey said.
“Hey!” Ellie said.
“Well, you caught that fib from your foolish brother. Combing hair gets all the knots out and makes it clean,” Oliver said.
“I don’t want clean hair,” Jeffrey said.
“Come to me, Jeffrey,” Lizzy said. “Now, do you think Father would want you to have knots in your hair?” Jeffrey shook his head. “I didn’t think so. What would Mother have done in this instance?”
“She would comb my hair without a word,” Jeffrey said.
“And would she let you complain?” Lizzy asked.
Jeffrey shook his head.
“So, why don’t I comb it gently?”
Lizzy grabbed the comb from Oliver. She stroked through his curls until his hair became neat and tidy. “Did that feel so bad?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Come near the fire with me,” Lizzy said.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to sit too close,” Oliver said.
“Oh Oliver, you mustn’t worry so often. Trust him every now and then and he’ll act more grown up one day,” Lizzy said.
“This one time, but assure me you won’t burn.”
“I won’t,” Jeffrey said.
Flames rose and fell. Heat seeped into their bodies and the glow enlightened their imaginations. Lizzy shifted over her right shoulder. When will I get to see the ice pond? I don’t know if I can wait much longer.
Jeffrey stared at the fire. It sure looks hot. Should I touch it? I better not or Oliver will get super-duper mad.
Ellie shook her doll. Will Daddy find us? I miss him.
Charlie shifted his gaze on Coco. Look at her. She’s so funny, goofing off in front of everyone. Hehe, she’s wiggling her whiskers and paws. He gazed at his siblings. They had all found themselves occupied in some sort of activity. They’re not watching. Rude. “Guys, look at Coco!”
“Oh my! Watch her tail fuss,” Ellie said.
“Hehe, her whiskers move too!” Jeffrey said.
“She reminds me of all the bunnies and squirrels who came to our front porch to say hello,” Lizzy said.
“And remember that little kitty that came once? She had those same whiskers!” Ellie said.
“I remember that! Aw, I miss home now. Coco would’ve fit right in,” Lizzy said.
“She could’ve snuck in Ruth’s room and scared the jeepers out of her,” Charlie said. They all exchanged laughter.
“Yes, yes, Cocoa’s cute, but we need to get a move on and prepare for real. Most of your clothes should be warm and dry. Jeffrey, you first,” Oliver said. He tugged Jeffrey away from the group. “Arms out!” Oliver picked up Jeffrey’s coat and slipped both sleeves over Jeffrey’s arms.
Charlie came from behind and swooped Jeffrey’s arms. “Airplane!” Charlie said. He circled his brother up and down and tilted him from side to side. Oliver shook his head and waited for Charlie to put Jeffrey down.
“Stop it Charlie. Must you distract him and set such bad examples for him. Who do you think he looks up to, Charlie? You. Don’t delay us again.”
“Must you always yell at me?” Charlie asked.
“Yes. My only hope is one day you’ll realize what I’m saying and learn to set an example and show Jeffrey the right path.”
“Can’t I have a little fun without your disapproval?”
“No more games with Jeffrey. That’s it. Make airplanes of your siblings far from us all you want, but not here,” Oliver said. He positioned his little brother on his lap wriggled his brother’s socks over his toes and stretched them up to his knees. Oliver snuck his two feet and pants into the boots and swished on his mittens.
Charlie flipped Ellie and Lizzy into airplanes. Jeffrey squirmed, but Oliver held him back. “Why can’t I go play?” Jeffrey asked.
“Because I’m not quite finished getting you ready. How about we put your hat on?” Oliver said.
“Fine.” Jeffrey said. Oliver adjusted the hat right above Jeffrey’s eyes, but covered his ears. “Shoo. Go play, but stay in my sight. Lizzy and El, c’mere,” Oliver said, “put on your socks and shoes.”
“Okay,” Lizzy and Ellie said. They twisted on their hats, squeezed their feet into the boots, and stuck their hands in their mittens.
“Oh so many layers,” Lizzy said. She buttoned her overcoat to the hem. She peered at Ellie and rubbed her hands together. Lizzy charged behind Ellie and drew her hat over her eyes. Ellie turned around and pulled the hat off her eyes.
“Hey! Lizzy? You trickster,” Ellie said.
“Sorry El, but it looked pretty funny. Let’s get each other’s earmuffs on,” Lizzy said.
“Don’t worry, Liz,” Ellie said, “I have a better idea. Let’s do that to Jeffrey.”
“Yeah, he’ll never know we’re coming,” Lizzy said. “Hold on one sec.”
Ellie didn’t wait for Lizzy. She scampered behind Jeffrey and thrusted the wool hat over her brother’s eyes and nose.
“Help! I can’t see,” Jeffrey said, “help!” He tried throwing it off, but the mittens made it too hard for him to remove it. Oliver fixed his hat off his eyes.
“You’ll be okay, Jeffrey. Don’t act like a baby if you don’t want this to happen to you,” Oliver pivoted to Ellie. “Now, Ellie,” Oliver sat her down, “it’s not nice of you to play tricks on Jeffrey.”
“But it was funny. And you said he’s a baby.”
“That is for me to say, not you. Don’t you dare insult your brother because I’m sure you don’t like it when we pick on you.”
“I’m sure you remember when you were little and before we could play with Jeffrey, everyone picked on you. We’d tease you about Alice or your hair or your dancing, and you’d run off to Daddy and tell him everything. You were a tattle-tale too. You should know how Jeffrey feels because you’d feel just as bad as Jeffrey if we picked on you again, right?”
“So do you understand why you better not pull any of these ruses?”
“I guess,” Ellie said.
“Good. Now Charlie, go get dressed,” Oliver said. “The rest of us are waiting on you and we shall not dilly-dally much longer.”
“Fine. Blame me.”
“Yes, you deserve the blame. Come on now.”
Charlie scrambled his stuff together. He hung his jacket over his shoulders, snugging half of his arms in the sleeves. He hunched forward and hoisted the coat on. He dragged his socks, wrinkling them over the ankle. He dug his feet into each of the boots and picked up his mittens and hat. He jogged to the exit. “Are we ready?” he asked.
“No you ninny. Let me help you with your mittens,” Oliver said. He snatched Charlie’s gloves and buckled them over his hands in a hurry.
“There. Everyone ready?” Oliver asked.
“Yes,” they said.
“Let’s go,” Oliver said.
Lizzy grasped Ellie’s hand and galloped and skipped. Their hair flew into the air, only to crash back against their neck. Up front, Oliver slowed to a jog as a new hill emerged in front of them. Ellie and Lizzy slowed their gallop and Charlie hopped along with them. Jeffrey stopped and slogged behind.
Oliver reached the forefront of the hill and let out a breath. He peered back at the others as they joined him. Jeffrey remained behind. “Come on, Jeffrey. We’re all waiting on you,” Oliver said.
“Coming!” Jeffrey said. He pumped his feet and stared up, but his eyes missed the stump in the road. “Oof.” Another stumble. Ellie, Lizzy, and Charlie glanced at Oliver.
Oliver shook his head. “A little faster.” But Jeffrey took his time and plodded the rest of the distance.
“I made it!” Jeffrey said.
“Took you long enough.”
“It’s not my fault I’m the youngest.”
“But it is your fault that you cry every time we try to carry you and your constant stumbles. Anyway,” Oliver said. “It’s time we go up this hill, but we will walk. Jeffrey, get over here and let’s go,” Oliver said. Oliver gripped Jeffrey’s hand and paraded up the hill.
“Ouch,” Jeffrey said, “why are you squeezing so hard?”
“Learn to stop your complaining,” Oliver said.
“How much longer?” Charlie asked.
“My legs have tired from all this climbing,” Ellie said.
“Might I add that I’m a wee bit hungry,” Lizzy said.
“Maybe we can have a break,” Jeffrey said.
“We must keep going if we ever wish to get off this mountain. Lizzy, don’t you remember that short song Mother taught us?” Oliver asked.
“Yes! Let me sing it,” Lizzy said. “Well, if one or two or three get lost, I know I’ll always have one more.”
“Ooh I love singing along,” Ellie said.
She and the others chanted in. “And if one or two or three get left behind, I know they’ll always find their way. Well, if one or two or three get lost, I know I always have one more. And if one or two or three get left behind, I know they’ll find their way.”
“But if my brother gets stuck in the woods, at least I have a sister,” Lizzy said.
“But if my brother gets stuck in the woods, at least I have a sister.”
“And if one stumbles away, I know he’ll find me again,” Lizzy said.
“The stumble speaks of Charlie,” Oliver said.
“I don’t want Charlie to stumble away,” Jeffrey said.
“Don’t worry, Jeffrey. It’s a mere joke. We wouldn’t ever let that happen,” Lizzy said. “We all help protect each other.”
“I think we’re nearing Green Acres,” Oliver said.
“Will I find flowers and trees?” Ellie asked.
“Of course,” Oliver said.
“And animals too?” Jeffrey asked.
“I don’t know why there wouldn’t be,” Oliver said.
“Will we have somewhere to sleep?” Charlie asked.
“Will the rumored grass reside in this greenery too?” Lizzy asked.
“Unfortunately, chances remain slim. The greenery refers to plants and such,” Oliver said, “whatever we find will be beautiful so long as you don’t set your sights on one thing.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll see lots of snow!” Charlie said. He whipped a snowball at the back of Lizzy’s head. Everyone turned to Charlie.
“Charlie!” Lizzy said, “how dare you!” She threw the ball back at him, smacking his cheek. “Ah, sweet revenge!” Charlie formed a ball. Ellie and Jeffrey cowered behind one another.
“Back in line, Liz,” Oliver whispered. She stopped and scooted behind Oliver. Charlie, Jeffrey, and Ellie ran between each other like a startled herd of sheep. Oliver rolled his eyes. “Get back in line! I will have not a single distraction more or we’re leaving you behind!” He nudged his siblings behind and snatched Jeffrey’s arm. Oliver stomped the hill, towing Jeffrey off his feet. Ellie clung to Lizzy’s hand while Charlie scratched his head. Marching footsteps replaced sounds of laughter.
Lizzy eyed Oliver. What’s going on with him? He snapped at everyone and he’s been distant lately. I better make sure everything’s alright. “Hold on one second, Ellie,” Lizzy said. She let go of Ellie and scampered to Oliver.
“What’s the matter?” Lizzy placed her hand on Oliver’s shoulder. She batted her eyes at him and opened her smile.
“Nothing,” he said.
“Yes. There’s got to be. You seem…well…not your usual,” Lizzy said.
“Really?” he said.
“And how so?”
“You yelled at everyone, something must be going on.”
“Oh, but I didn’t yell at you. I said it nicely to you,” he said. “You see, the others don’t always listen as well as you.” He smiled to her.
“Well…maybe that’s true,” she said and giggled.