Verse 37: ROOM TO MOVE
Captain Polglase later stated that she had seen entire regiments pack their gear with less fuss than the Robinette family.
The television crew departed shortly after seven, by which time everyone was famished. Nate's call for yet another round of pizza was voted down by acclimation and threats of grievous bodily bludgeoning. In the end it was decided to make do with potluck. Steaks, chops, and burgers, defrosted with Polglase's magical assistance, soon sizzled on the grill while a big batch of Rice-a-Roni cooked on the stove top and Zoot prepared Salade Zootoise, which was somewhat like Salade Nicoise only not very. After dinner, armed with the family suitcases and boxes Tully had scrounged from the local liquor distributor, Gloria, Nate, and Hannah began to pack, each in their own idiosyncratic fashion.
Hannah weighed each choice methodically. She inspected every piece of clothing for signs of wear, then evaluated each book in her considerable collection by three criteria: (a) had she read it?; if yes, (b) was she likely to want to read it again?; or (c) was it of such cultural significance that the people of Novagrove might gain insight into the lives and imaginations of the people of Earth? She took all her astronomy and history books, but left the physics and chemistry texts aside. Toys and games went into two piles; those she'd outgrown and those she had not. Only the most cherished of dolls and stuffed animals earned passage.
Gloria, cognizant of the fact that she was setting out on a new life in a very new place, let sentimentality rule her choices. She packed a single suitcase, reasoning that she could shop once she got there. In fact, she found herself looking forward to the opportunity to indulge in a whole new wardrobe. She took her jewelry box, a few family keepsakes, and every photo she could find. She looked longingly at the big clawfoot tub when she packed her toiletries, but decided against it. Anything that could be replaced stayed – that was her credo. She ventured into her father's room, stark and empty, and picked up an old fishing hat that she had not had the heart to throw away. In the silence of that room, with the door closed, she held the hat and allowed herself ten minutes of weeping. Then she composed herself, left the battered hat in the middle of the bed, and closed the door firmly behind her.
Nate had a very simple plan. He took everything.
"Gloria, I need more boxes!" he called.
"Already?" She surveyed his room. The only thing neatly packed was his comic book collection, meticulously bagged, boarded, and boxed in alphabetical and chronological order. Aside from that, some twenty cartons covered the floor, bed, and desk, each packed in haphazard fashion. If the mess left on shelves, tables, and floor was any indication, Nate was less than halfway done. Gloria examined a few cartons at random. She pulled a tennis racket out of one.
"You hate tennis," she observed. "You took lessons for six weeks and then gave up when you couldn’t master the backhand."
"I could still take it up again."
"Half a package of Fig Newtons? These things are rock hard!"
"I like them that way!"
"Wait, what's this? Toilet paper?"
"Two years ago, when I went off to sleepaway camp, they had this really scratchy stuff –"
"I don't want to hear it! You've got to pack smarter. Why are you taking these videogames? What are you going to do with them there? What will you play them on?"
"What, we're not taking the TV?" he sounded absolutely horrified.
"They don't have television stations in Novagrove, remember? What will you watch?"
"We can take the VCR and DVD player!"
"No! We can't!"
The discussion escalated to the point where Lex, helping Hannah move her boxes to the lower level, felt compelled to investigate. With his advice regarding the availability of electrical outlets in Novagrove (uncommon but probably do-able), and the compatibility of the PlayStation with Lex's spellengine (actually quite smooth), Gloria said they could take DVDs to play on Hannah's laptop, as well as the game console and all its accouterments. The videotapes were just too bulky and had to stay. Ditto for any half-finished models, broken toys, games with missing pieces, and why on Earth would you take fantasy role-playing gear to a planet with real dungeons and real dragons? That argument lasted a good ten minutes and in the end Gloria threw up her hands in frustration and left. Lex helped Nate pack more efficiently after that, and gently steered the boy away from some inexplicable choices with tales of what Novagrove had to offer along the same lines. Then they went downstairs and Lex scanned all of Nate's hard drive into a single memory crystal with room to spare.
At Lex's request, all three took every CD and cassette they had, even the ones they were sick of hearing. Over Lex's protests, Tully contributed a stack of his own.
"I'll get more," he assured the Minstrel. "Consider it my gift the people of Novagrove."
While Gloria was occupied elsewhere, Nate showed Lex how to download music off the internet and set up a dummy account for him. The spellengine interfaced with the program and through it took control of the entire world wide web, where, for a period of eighteen minutes 2.6 million users worldwide gaped as someone called firstname.lastname@example.org raided their libraries and downloaded more than thirty million files, at transfer rates that made them positively apoplectic with envy.
Warlock had a field day. He roamed from room to room, climbing in and out of boxes and suitcases, occasionally absconding with an item that caught his fancy. Finally fearing that they might inadvertently pack him, Gloria put the outraged beast in his three-level cage, where he proceeded to sulk until they were done.
Even with the aid of Polglase's magic pallet, the transfer of boxes from the house to her unsurprisingly capacious spare closets was a time-consuming process. Gradually, the field pavilion accepted carton after carton, along with two bicycles, the ferret cage (from which Warlock had been released, since no living creature above the level of snail could survive a journey in folded tesseract space), and Hannah's huge stuffed panda. Tully, unable to help in the task, turned in around eleven. Two hours later, the job completed to Gloria's satisfaction, they all headed off to their separate sleeping areas to rest up for the next day's hectic schedule of events.
Lex and Gloria had just slipped into bed and were in the process of getting comfortably nestled together when there came a tentative knock at the door.
"Come in," Gloria called, pulling the covers to her neck. She wondered how long it would take before she accepted Lex's attitudes regarding nudity. The door opened.
"I can't sleep. I guess I'm too keyed up. Is it all right if I come in there with you guys?"
Lex looked at Gloria. "I leave this decision to you," he said.
Gloria mulled it over, "What the hell. Come on!"
Zoot closed the door, hurriedly shed her clothing, jumped into the bed between them, and squirmed under the covers. "I think I've worn Tully out," she confided, snuggling next to Gloria. "I figured I'd better give him a night off."
"You and Tully," Gloria marveled, acutely aware of the unaccustomed presence of a naked woman sharing her bed.
"Who'da thunk it?" Zoot shifted in the suddenly close quarters. "Of course, we both know this is totally non-exclusive. The man has years of booty calls to catch up on, and deserves a chance to sample all the flavors in the candy store. I'm not crowding you am I?"
"This has been a very strange week," Gloria confessed. "But even with all that has happened, I still think this makes the top ten list of unexpected occurrences. I am going to miss you terribly, Z. Who else is going to embarrass me in public?"
Zoot rubbed her nose against Gloria's, Eskimo style. "You'll just have to embarrass yourself, I guess." They both giggled and then Gloria kissed Zoot lightly on the lips.
"Why Miz Robinette!" Zoot exclaimed in mock surprise. "How presumptuous of you!"
"Oh, shut up!" Gloria laughed, and did it again.
"Do you two wish to be left alone?" Lex asked. "I can go play cards with Captain Polglase."
"Don't you dare!" Zoot cried and flipped herself over to face him. "I have plans for you too, Sir Galahad!" She kissed him – hard. He reached for her but she pushed his questing hand away. "Nuh-uh," she scolded, turning her back on him again and grabbing Gloria's hand. "Tonight is ladies night at that location. However, I do believe you can find additional parking in the rear. Now G, lessee how you respond to a little gentle persuasion."
The activities that followed left Lex extremely relaxed, Gloria dazed but enlightened, and Zoot a little sore but with a smile of blissful satisfaction at a job well – very well – done.
When morning came, Zoot was gone. Lex and Gloria found her in the kitchen, making breakfast for Tully, the kids, and even Captain Polglase. "About time you lazybones made an appearance," she said. "Someone would think you'd been up all night."
Lex and Gloria exchanged smiles.
"You slept with Zoot!" Hannah and Nate exclaimed in unison.
"I plead the fifth," Gloria replied primly. "How long have you been up?"
"Hours," Zoot replied, taking a muffin tin from the oven.
"More like thirty-five minutes," Hannah said.
"Tattletale," Zoot stuck her tongue out at Hannah. "Who wants a hot fresh blueberry muffin, made from scratch? Well, tough, 'cause these came from a mix." She set the basket on the table. "Eat up. I made a triple batch."
Gloria offered to help, but Zoot shooed her away. "Who wants coffee and who wants tea? I think we also have cocoa."
"Coffee!" Polglase exclaimed. "Real coffee? How is this possible."
Lex explained how commonplace the beverage was on this world, and for the first time since her arrival the Captain seemed impressed by Earth. When given a mug, she stared at it as if it were some sort of religious icon. It took the combined prompting and encouragement of all assembled before she could bring herself to try it.
"Well?" Gloria asked.
Polglase set the cup down. "I'll stick to tea, thank you. But at least now I can honestly say I have sampled the legendary concoction that so enthralls The Neaman." After that, Lex once again had to explain to the uninitiated about the Council of Mages' founding member and his obsession.
"Takes all kinds," Zoot laughed. "Who wants the last muffin. Nate?" Nate belched loudly. "I’ll take that as a no. Anybody?" They all declined. "I hate to see it go to waste," Zoot observed sadly. "It looks so lonely."
"Hand it here." Lex reached for the muffin. He grasped it in his hand and squeezed. Water seeped from his fist and dripped into a now empty mug. When he opened his hand, a multi-faceted crystal glittered in his palm. "A bauble for the chef," he said presenting it to Zoot.
"Pretty!" she exclaimed, taking it. "Thank you, sir." She held it to the light and watched it sparkle. "It looks just like a diamond. What is it?"
"A diamond," Lex answered. He looked at everyone's faces. All but Polglase were completely flabbergasted. "Did I do something wrong?"
"That's bigger than the Koh-I-Noor," Tully whistled.
"Lex, diamonds are really valuable here," Gloria said. "That one is worth a bloody fortune!"
"Truly? Why? It is nothing more than carbon, just like charcoal. What are your windows made out of then?"
"Glass. Plain glass, made from silica," Hannah informed him.
"But sand glass is so fragile! Don't they break?"
"Constantly," Gloria answered. "Are you saying that in Novagrove windows are made of diamond?"
"Naturally. It's strong and easily manipulated. That javelin I used against the late Forest Troll was made of diamond. I thought you knew."
Gloria groaned. "And Michael just threw it in the dumpster! Some garbage picker is going to become a multi-millionaire."
"The decorations on my performance suit are diamonds, too," he added helpfully. "Several hundred of them!"
"Stop! You're making me dizzy!" Gloria put her head in her hands. "I suppose I had better get used to this. Who knows what other surprises await us where we're going?"
"Now you can appreciate how I have felt the last several days," Lex chucked her under the chin. "But I had you to keep me sane, and you shall have me. I'm confident you'll find a way to cope."
Gloria nodded, but doubt had crept in and showed disturbing signs of making a home in her heart. The sheer enormity of her choice began to sink in. As long as she kept moving, everything seemed so easy to accept. Frenzied activity left little time to think, but now with their anticipated departure mere hours away and nothing to do but watch the clock, she found herself entertaining second thoughts. Had she gone completely mad? Was this the biggest mistake ever? Can love truly conquer all? She looked at her family and friends, and the man who had thrown her life into such delicious turmoil.
"I have to do something," she announced. "Sitting here is driving me crazy." She reached for her cup and stared into it, looking for answers in the dregs of her coffee. Then it hit her. "Tully! Can I borrow the van?"
"Sure, babe." He tossed her the keys, "What's up?"
"I just remembered something I still have to do. Kids, how much money do you have in your savings accounts? Never mind. Just get your passbooks and come with me. I feel a shopping spree coming on."
She waited impatiently for them, tossing the keys from hand to hand. Once they returned, she pushed them out the door, told everyone else she'd be back in plenty of time, then ran out after them.
"Shotgun!" Nate called, taking the front seat. "Where we going?" he asked, buckling his seat belt.
"First to the bank. After that, we're gonna spend like drunken sailors. Money's no good where we're going, so we might as well splurge like there's no tomorrow. Where would you most like to go?"
"Best Buy!" Nate hollered gleefully.
"Hannah?" Gloria asked.
"Sounds about right," she replied.
"Best Buy it is! Let's give the local economy a real boost!"
At the Fleet Bank, Hannah and Nate closed their accounts and stared at the wads of cash they now possessed. Gloria had stopped at the ATM to verify her checking account balance. It was more than sufficient for what she had in mind.
"One more stop," she promised them, "and then we'll head for Westport." She drove over the drawbridge and stopped in front of Starbucks. "Wait here," she told them and ran inside.
The line moved slower than a Congressional hearing, but eventually she reached the cashier's station. "Can I take your order, please?" a high school girl with disturbingly over-shadowed eyes asked her. Gloria slid her Visa Check Card across the counter.
"I'd like some coffee," Gloria said.
"Tall, grande, or vente?"
"No, not a cup. I'll take it all."
"Every bag that's still sealed."
"Sandy?" the cashier called nervously. A chubby boy came over from the barrista in answer to her summons. "This lady wants to buy everything. Can we do that?"
"Ma'am, we have like six hundred pounds of coffee on hand," Sandy told her. "That's over $6,000 worth!"
"Sounds about right. Ring 'em up. Oh, and do you have any off those chocolate covered coffee beans? Tully loves them."
It took Sandy, the cashier, and a third employee a while, but eventually they loaded over a dozen large black plastic garbage bags into the back of the van. Gloria tipped each of them $100 and drove away, leaving the Starbucks morning crew debating which one of them was going to tell the manager. Nate and Hannah, once they recovered from their shock, started smiling and laughing and stayed that way through the sixteen mile trip to Westport.
"Synchronize watches," Gloria told them. "I want everyone back here by eleven sharp." Nate grabbed a yellow cart and sped off towards the videogame section. Hannah chose a blue cart and the computer department. Gloria watched them go and suddenly knew she had, indeed, made the right decision. "When in doubt, shop," she told a passing salesperson. She took a cart of her own and started in the Pop/R&B section with the letter A.
At 11:00, they gathered at the checkout line. Their total purchases came to a number that made Gloria's head spin. Despite Nate's protests that Hannah still had money left over, they loaded everything in the van and headed home. Along the way she threw her receipts out the window, feeling very much like Cortez burning his boats upon reaching the New World. Nate kept vibrating all the way back, to the point where Gloria started wishing she had a trank pistol.
"You are going to be a very wealthy woman," Polglase commented as she helped them stow their last minute purchases.
"Assuming we get there," Gloria agreed. "Otherwise, I'll just be that crazy bitch with all the coffee. It was a risk, but a calculated one. I'm trying very hard to be confident. Are you sure you won't take even a couple pounds in payment for helping us move, Captain?"
"Again, no thank you. One taste was enough to tell me I cannot abide the stuff as a beverage, and as a mere economic commodity it would complicate my life no end. Now, if you are quite done, I should strike camp."
If Gloria had been stunned by seeing a wallet expand into something the size of a loft apartment, watching the reverse process proved even more befuddling. Polglase slipped her living quarters into her tunic pocket and indicated that Gloria should precede her up the stairs.
"Remember" she told Polglase. "Not a word to Lex. I want this to be a surprise."
"Torture could not force my lips," the Captain swore. "Trust me. It has been tried."
"It's almost time," Nate told them when they got inside.
"You have Warlock?" Gloria asked. Nate held up a well-padded pet carrier. "Good. Everyone been to the bathroom? Checked your rooms for last minute items?" They both nodded. Gloria took one last look around the living room. "I know I'm forgetting something," she said. "Every time I go on a trip, I always forget something. Do they need jackets? What time of year is it there?"
"Summer," Lex replied.
"But it will be night time, right? Take your jackets. Just in case."
"I packed mine," Nate said.
"Calm down, girlfriend," Zoot commanded. "You're freaking out. Not that I blame you."Gloria forced herself to take a deep breath, held it for a ten count, and exhaled slowly through her nose. She took Lex by the hand, and held it to her breast. "I'm ready as I'm ever likely to be." She let go and faced the rest of the people in the room. "Ladies and gentlemen: let's take this show on the road."