"Hey 'Becca," Howie greeted, his eyes still sleepy. He sat across from her and immediately dug into a plate heaped with eggs and bacon, toast, grilled tomatoes, fruit salad, and hashed browns.
"How did you get all that on your plate?" she marveled.
"Very carefully. Ready to head back up the mountain?"
Rebecca stalled for a moment, stirring more cream into her coffee.
"Howie, I don't want to drive back with Tark. He's weirding me out." Howie looked at her directly, with obvious concern, "No problem, there's plenty of room on the bus. It leaves in like, 20 minutes." They finished breakfast together. Howie hoisted his backpack over one shoulder and picked up Rebecca's bag. "Let's go!" and he led the way out of the gleaming hotel and up onto
the air-conditioned bus filled with rumpled co-workers, exhausted from a weekend of networking and partying.
The bus stopped in zDepth's parking lot. Gina offered to give Rebecca a lift home "We're dropping off Howie too."
"This is beautiful, magical!" exclaimed Molly as they turned onto the drive to Trapper's mansion, gnarled orchards to either side of them casting rows of slanted shadows in the late afternoon sun.
"Whoa, this is your house?" asked Howie.
"Yes," sighed Rebecca. "This is it."
"Can we come in, please!" begged Molly. How could Rebecca refuse, especially with Dorothy jumping up and down on the front porch, waving furiously and calling "Come on in, I've got soup!"
The witchy girls were enthralled with the mansion, sincerely hoping aloud that it was "haunted." Dorothy led them into the kitchen, sharing tidbits about the family history. Savory soup was ladled out and warm bread passed around. "It's called Surprise Soup," explained Dorothy, "because it comes out differently every time, and always has a surprise ingredient."
"Which is...," prompted Gina.
"Beets," smiled Dorothy, "from the garden."
"It's absolutely delicious Ma.., I mean Dorothy" slipped Howie, then blushed and earned himself a permanent place in Dorothy's heart, forever.
It grew dark outside as they talked and joked companionably. Rebecca felt proud of her mother and the colorful kitchen with its bunches of dried herbs and tall jars full of beans and grains, home to such a loving and creative cook. When her
friends left, vowing to return soon for the tour Dorothy had promised, Rebecca told her mother an edited version of the trip to Los Angeles.
"Well dear, you just show up to work like you always do, bright and early, and do an excellent job. I'm sure he'll never mention a thing about it."
And Tark never did.