May 2010 Volley Challenges:
by: Miss Raye
Amarylles read over the missive one more time to make sure she had it right.
The letter had come out of the blue, but the emotions that came with it flooded over her the same way each time. Utter devastation and a griping pain that seemed to clutch at her heart. The same emotions had driven her to her knees on the porch of her home in Lexington and had reduced her to tears in the hotel in St. Joseph.
Her sister was dead. She had never felt more alone… more empty.
The words were simple and still they changed the way the sun rose in the morning and the moon at night. Nothing had been the same since she'd read the words written in a strangers hand.
Buck Cross, Madora's husband, and if she could grasp the truth of it, the father of her child.
The stage ride from St. Joseph had been less expensive than the train ride, but it had been horribly taxing to her. The tight confines, the press of bodies… it was almost to much to bear at times and truly she suffered every inch of the way.
Still, it was preferable to staying at home with her mother. Orelia Hinston had told her extensive and influential circle of friends that her daughter was 'dead to her' the day after she'd left to go west and teach school. Now, with the declaration a reality the woman was inconsolable.
She'd finally realized that she'd lost any chance of a future with her daughter and refused to talk about her grandson.
The door of the barn banged open and a little boy raced out with a whoop and a holler. Dressed in long pants and a button down shirt his cheeks were flushed with color beneath his dark brown hair. He was sturdily built and if the volume of his voice was any indication, he was hale and hearty.
A man followed after him. Taller by a few feet, the man had good posture and moved with a quiet confidence that most men tried to emulate, but never quite mastered. The cut of his clothes were admirable, especially in a small western town like Rock Creek. She blinked once and then another time as the man looked up into the sky. The man was… an Indian.
Buck. The name had seemed odd, but then again with all of the strange names emblazoned on the covers of those horrid dime novels, she'd half expected some mustached mountain-man like Buffalo Bill. 'Buck, goodness,' she shook her head, 'Why didn't Madora tell me?' Amarylles swiped at a tear. 'I would have kept her secret.'
"Papa!" The boy stopped suddenly and the man nearly ran into him. From her hiding place, Amarylles stifled a gasp the man swept his arms around the boy and lifted him up in a circle. Their laughter rang through the air, bouncing off the walls of the surrounding buildings.
The slowed, their circle widening as the melody of a song reached her ears. It was a moment before she realized it was the child singing.
'Tis the gift to be simple,
Amarylles clutched the letter to her chest and swallowed a sob. His voice was young and quiet, but it soared like her sister's. It had been the one thing that made the long tiring church services survivable as children, listening to her sister's voice nimbly following the gracefully written notes in their shared hymnal. And the song. It had always been her sister's favorite since the first time she'd heard it.
Surely… surely she would have taught it to her son.
She started to push herself up from the ground but found her knees weak and her legs numb from the unaccustomed position. The wood of the fence posts was smooth and gave her little to hold onto with her soft kid gloves, but she managed to right herself with a surge of determination.
The man stopped. His eyes finding hers across the corral fence, his jaw setting tight beneath his bronze skin, he watched her closely.
"I-I'm sorry…" she could barely push her voice past her lips, "I don't mean to intrude."
He only nodded and really, she respected him for that. She had spied on him after all. He could have yelled at her and she would have understood.
"I wrote to tell you that I was coming." She watched his expression, but it was as unreadable as a stone mask. "Did you receive my letter?"
Setting his son down, Buck took the boy's hand and moved closer to the fence. There was something familiar about her even though he was quite sure that they had never met. "I don't think so; the only letters I've received lately have been from family."
His words stung her; he could tell that from the way she flinched in reaction. It took a moment for her to shake free of her thoughts and then she held out the letter.
Something inside flipped over as he recognized his own writing on the paper. Looking up into her face he searched her features for some kind of likeness, some connection to his wife. Where Madora was reed thin and fair haired, her sister was dark haired and a bit rounder in the face than was fashionable, not that Buck had ever taken any store in fashion.
She stood there, suffering through his scrutiny with a quiet acceptance that was very different from her sister. Madora was a feisty one. She had never let anyone tell her what to do and he'd never tried to. There was little that spoke of family between the two.
His gaze swept over her garments and saw the mark of her Eastern values stamped into the tiny pearl buttons and heavily boned bodice. He didn't miss the determined look in her eyes either. That was the only thing that worried him.
"You won't take my boy away."
The words shocked the boy as well as his aunt and Buck felt the painful pinch of his son's fingers digging into his hand.
"I'm sorry, I-"
"He's my son and he stays with me."
"Oh, dear…" she was nearly wringing the letter between her hands, "that's not what… I mean that I'm not here to…" She knelt down a bit, setting her gloved hand on the corral rung to steady her. Looking through the wooden rails she peered at her nephew. "I wouldn't dream of it, Mr. Cross."
Her free hand pressed to her lips as she blinked back tears. "He's so beautiful."
"He's the best of both of us." Buck felt the familiar stab of pride when he thought of his son… the last link he'd had to Madora.
"Yes… yes… you see," she straightened and took in a breath as she prepared to face him.
He found it both admirable and adorable that she viewed him as a man to be reckoned with. He only wished Rachel or Lou felt the same. It would be easier if they feared him just a little. Or maybe more than a little.
"My sister came west to follow her dreams. She thought that it was a calling of hers to teach the children out here and," she blushed a bit, "but I'm sure you know that, Mr. Cross. You're her family."
Buck ruffled the boy's hair and nodded for her to continue.
"I'm only here because I'm ashamed." Her breath caught and she had to take a moment before she could continue. "That I didn't have the courage that she did. That I allowed my mother to dictate my behavior in regards to my sister." With a weak smile she finished. "I'm ashamed that it took my sister's death and this letter to bring me here to Rock Creek."
"You're here now," his tone was soft and Amarylles wasn't quite sure she'd heard him clearly. Buck tugged his son along with him as he opened the gate of the corral and stepped outside. He stopped a few feet away and lifted the boy into his arms again so that he was eye to eye with his aunt.
"I'd like to introduce my son to you, Miss Hinston. This is Alex Cross. Alex," he nodded at her, "this is your Aunt Amarylles."
The boy looked a bit concerned at that sound of her name and she reached out her hand with a little laugh. "Aunt Amy will be just fine." She swallowed back a sob when the boy took her hand in his. "I'm so pleased to meet you, Alex. I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier."
"You mean when Mama was alive." The boy's gaze wasn't judgmental, he was just stating facts as children saw them… simply.
"Yes," she nodded slowly, gathering her strength, "I should have been here when your mother was still with us."
"Oh, she's always with us," Alex was very sure and solemn in his words, "she's inside me and Papa 'cause we loved her." He gave her a bigger smile. "And you too, Aunt Amy… she lives in you too."
A moment later she had Alex in her arms and a heart full of joy.
by: Miss Raye
Daisy craned her neck to look over at Lou's hands. "It's not fair."
"Fair?" Louise kept her eyes on the work. "What's wrong?"
Silent for a moment, Daisy let loose a sigh to end all sighs. "This… this 'sewing' thing!" She dropped the fabric onto the table top. "It's stupid."
Lou kept her laughter in check as she pulled the needle through the fabric and knotted it with sure movements. "I don't think it's stupid. I think it's something worth doing."
"Hmph." Daisy sat back in her chair, arms folding over her chest with a grand flourish. "Yeah, well, if I needed a new stocking, I'd just grab one outta a store when the owner wasn't looking."
"Oh," Louise managed to keep her voice soft as her eyebrows arched in real surprise, "I suppose that is one way to do it."
"It's the easy way." Daisy was sure of her viewpoint, her voice rising in volume as she smiled. "No need to waste time doin' somethin' simple like that," she gave Lou's stockings a disdainful look, "it ain't worth the effort."
"That's one way of looking at it." Lou threaded the needle by the light of the lamp and quickly knotted the end. "I'd like to think that I do it because it's practical."
"Practical?" Daisy had that 'tone' again… the one that said she liked the word about as much as eating glue. "That's just… boring."
"Boring? Maybe." Louise turned the cloth in her hands, inspecting the work. "Or maybe it's showing that I can take care of myself." A quick look over at Daisy told her that the girl was paying attention. "That I'm a woman, grown and capable."
Daisy wasn't really ready to believe it, but she did pick up the work she had dropped a moment ago. Turning it to the side as Lou had done, she looked at it closely and gave a little sigh. "I'm gonna be a woman… pretty much there already." She looked up at Lou and was satisfied when Lou gave her a thoughtful nod. "So, maybe I'll give this thing a try."
Louise turned to smile at Daisy. "That's good."
Picking up the needle, Daisy scowled at Lou, but it didn't look like she really meant it. "I ain't sayin' this is good, but I'm gonna give it a try." She sniffed at it disdainfully. "Just this once."
by: Miss Raye
Well I been deep down in that darkness I been down to my last match
But the good news Is there's angels everywhere out on the street
If you're going through hell Keep on going, don't slow down If you're scared don't show it
James Butler Hickok was beginning to think that he was destined to never eat a meal in peace. The waitress slid the plate of eggs and steak in front of him and her over accommodating smile was eclipsed by the hunger that rumbled in his stomach and the fear that he wouldn't get to finish this meal.
It was no surprise on his part that he mumbled grace while his fork and knife were making quick work of cutting his food, the coffee in his mug didn't seem to hold much fascination. Swallowing, after all was fast and liquid went down just as quickly. He could always grab a drink if-
Gunfire sounded out in the street and his teeth closed on the metal tines of the fork, the sound grating inside his head. It took a terrible amount of concentration but he remained in his seat as the town Marshal and two deputies ran out into the fray.
As he chewed through each bite he said a silent prayer that he'd be able to-
"Bring him inside!"
The batwing door swung into the room as two men dragged someone in out of the hail of fire in the street. "Let go!" The man flailed against his rescuers, managing to clip one of them hard enough on the arm for the man to let go and drop the ungrateful man in the sawdust.
The young man righted himself, brushing the dust off of his coat. "I was almost there!"
Jimmy looked back down at his plate and quickly shoveled a little more of his meal into his mouth. Time was a wastin'.
He managed to swallow another two bites before the unfortunate man plopped down in the chair on the opposite side of the table. "Mister you gotta help me."
Jimmy gave him a quick look before taking another bite. "Don't 'gotta' do nothin'."
The man wasn't dissuaded easily. "No really, mister."
Swallowing another bite, Jimmy quickly put another in his mouth and chewed a bit too quickly, things weren't going well. "I'm eatin' my breakfast here-"
"And this is my life we're talkin' about!"
Jimmy slid a glance at the doorway. "Nobody comin' in here tryin' to kill you yet."
"They're not after me…" the boy looked at Jimmy with a heartbroken hang-dog look that reminded Jimmy a little too much of Ambrose, "it's what's on the other side of town."
His tongue pushed a bit of food off to the side so it didn't spit out when he opened his mouth. "I know I'm gonna regret puttin' this in words, but 'what' is on the other side of town?"
The younger man brightened up, his arching frown flipped over into a grin. "The woman of my dreams!"
Jimmy took a swig of coffee. "Why don't you just wait 'til the fire dies down and go out after her then?"
A fist pounded down on the table top and Jimmy's coffee mug nearly tipped over with the sudden motion. "She's leavin' on the stage in ten minutes… if I'm not there, I'll never see her again."
He didn't know what it was that made him make the decision to help the simpering idiot. Maybe it was because he'd missed out on so many chances before… that this was his way of helping someone who couldn't help himself.
The boy's forehead hit the table top in the throes of another 'woeful' moment.
Then again, maybe he was doing it just so that everyone would stop staring at him.
Jimmy pushed his plate into the center of the table and after a swift wipe at his lips dropped his napkin onto his unfinished meal. "Have a seat."
"Huh?" The young man lifted his head like prairie dog looking for predators and wondered, "Sit down?"
"You said you had ten minutes so you'd better be real good at drawin' a map."
It only took Jimmy a few seconds to figure out that the boy's map skills were nearly as good as his directional skills… if God hung the sun in the wrong part of the sky the boy might be even a little less clueless than he was… just a bit.
Jimmy pushed back his chair and got up with a sigh. "I'm gonna hate myself for doin' this."
"Excuse me, sir?" The boy looked even smaller than he had at the table. "Wait-" he put up his hands as Jimmy pulled a Colt clear of his holster, "I didn't mean nothin'."
Pulling on the boy's arm Jimmy hauled him up out of his chair. "You wanna get to your girl?"
He nodded, mute for a moment before giving him half a smile. "I love her."
"Then let's go."
Walking the boy past the startled saloon girl, Jimmy stepped through the door to the back room that served as a kitchen. The small Chinese cook waved his cleaver just missing the boy's nose, leaving him grasping at the appendage just to make sure it was still attached.
Jimmy barked back at the man in Cantonese and left him to his work preparing yet another two dollar steak.
The back door swung open easily under his boot heel and Jimmy poked his head out for a look around. Curious, the younger man managed to lean forward enough to see what they would face outside. Jimmy's hand on his collar jerked the man back as a bullet pushed through the door a few inches in front of his startled expression.
Jimmy hurtled the both of them out of the door and they flattened themselves against the wall of the printing office next door. "Come on… come on…" a momentary lull in the hail of bullets saw them ducking onto the boarded walk outside of the printer and Jimmy pushed the boy's head down as they moved on to the butcher next door.
A bullet through the glass window just behind them had Jimmy hissing out a few words that would have made his mama blush. A bullet nailing the post just before them had Jimmy backing through the doorway of the butcher shop.
"But we can't stop now!" Ignoring the slight whine in the boy's tone, Jimmy gave a nod to the butcher who glared out the window at the ruckus. "Goin' out the back side, Thomas."
"Fine by me, Hickok… Damn hooligans." His voice tried to follow them into the storeroom. "Watch out for the boxes out-"
Jimmy saw the boxes at that very moment and while one leg stepped high enough over the obstacle, the other, laboring under the added weight of the boy didn't quite. "Damn!" The crack of his shin through the top board of the box could be heard echoing back into the storefront.
Getting out of the alley was the next problem. The outlaws firing up the street were spread out and if he was any judge, which folks expected Jimmy Hickok to be, they were too stupid to know how 'not' to shoot up everything in sight. Nearby, a horse whinnied, the pitch too high to be anything but blind fear. Jimmy pushed the boy up against the alley wall. "Stay here… don't move." The tone was enough to make the boy shrink into the shadows.
Sliding along the wall Jimmy reached out a hand to the hitching post, yanking it back when a stray bullet flew past. Again he tried and got the end of the reins that someone had tied to the post. For once Jimmy wished that the man had been less careful… or at least less skilled. The knot held, even with his insistent tug and the horse pulled in the other direction, desperately trying to free itself so that it could run to a safe place.
Another bullet had the horse near crazy and Jimmy was afraid it would break its neck trying to escape. Concerned more for the horse than himself at the moment, Jimmy shoved his pistol into the waistband of his pants. Stepping out into the light, his voice soft and gentle as he could get it with his heart pounding hard in his chest, Jimmy reached out a hand and grabbed the reins less than a foot from the horse's mouth and using the knife he'd pulled from his scabbard cut the reins free of the hitching post.
The frightened mare nearly dragged him into the street straight into the line of fire. It took every ounce of strength he had to bring the mare toward the alleyway. "Let's go."
Jimmy could tell that the young man was having second thoughts. "We're gonna ride? I don't think-"
"Hell no… but I ain't askin' ya to think… I'm tellin' you to get over here."
Jimmy turned the horse so the mare was facing out into the open land outside of town and gave her a good sound smack on her rump. She was gone before he turned back to his charge. "We're just a few buildings down from the depot now, but we're gonna have to cross through the street."
The young man swallowed hard and nodded slowly. "Yeah… fine."
Smiling at his charge Jimmy gave him a reassuring slug on his arm. "You've made it this far… what's a few more feet?"
The crooked smile on the boy's face said it all. "What's a few more bullets, right?"
Grabbing the boy's collar Jimmy gave him a little tug toward the street. "Now you're gettin' it."
Together they ran through the street, passing through a hail of gunfire from outlaw and lawmen alike. It was dangerous… it was terrifying and there was a moment when bullets seemed to stud the earth behind their boots but they kept going.
They kept running until with one last desperate burst of energy they flew through the open door of the Depot.
The stage depot was empty. There wasn't a sign of the stage… not even a faint dust trail was left on the horizon. Jimmy had never seen anyone crumble so completely. He ignored the scoff from the old drunk half-passed out against the wall and reached down, grabbing a fist full of shirt in each hand. Like some unstuffed scarecrow, the boy's legs didn't quite hold him up when his feet touched the ground.
"She's gone…" he whispered the words as though hearing them would only make it hurt worse.
The clock inside of the depot office chimed and Jimmy looked into the darkness, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light of the end of day. "I think you oughta stand up straight, son."
"But… but, she's-"
"Standin' right behind you."
He heard the hitch of breath in the boy's throat and Jimmy had to let go of his shirt or risk ripping it off of him as the boy whirled around.
Jimmy had to admit that the boy had taste. She was perhaps a mite too petite, but her face was pretty, her mouth curved in a generous smile. She was dressed for travel, a pile of bags at her side, her dark head of hair piled up beneath some kind of hat.
"I thought you'd left."
Her fingers clutched at her reticule, the knit of her gloves slipping a bit on the smooth cloth as she nodded. "I couldn't go… I just knew… that you were coming for me."
"I'll always come for you, darling'."
Jimmy stepped outside, pulling his hat down from his head with one hand and removing his handkerchief from his pocket with the other. A quick swipe over his face was all he needed to wipe away the exertions of the dash across town.
The couple inside seemed to be doing a whole lot of talking as he leaned up against the wall of the depot, his legs needing a few moments to recover their strength.
He heard a shriek and his hand instantly fell to the butt of his Colt, his handkerchief falling to the boards beneath his feet.
"Of course I'll marry you!"
His head dropped forward until his chin touched his chest, the smell of starch mingled with sweat. "I'm gettin' too old for this."
by: Miss Raye
Oh, I didn't get that it was high time I quit it, I just couldn't carry on that way
Oh, I did some damage, I know it's true, didn't know I was so lonely till I found you
He was ready to catch hell. He'd been gone before, a few weeks here… a few weeks there… but this time he'd really stepped in it.
Maybe that was why he kept offering to by round after round for the man sitting across the table from him. "How about it, Tom? Another one before I head on home?"
The older man shook his head and wagged a finger at him. "Puttin' off the inevitable ain't gonna make it any easier, son."
Teaspoon held up his hands in surrender. "I know… but can't you come along with me… soften the blow a little. After all, it was you that 'dragged' me outta Austin lookin' for them rustlers."
"Really now?" Tom Harper shrugged and looked down at the Ranger star pinned to his shirt. "Seems to me you came along pretty easy. Just had to say 'mount up.'"
Waving him off, Teaspoon lifted his empty glass and looked into the bottom of it as if willing the few drops clinging to the bottom would multiply magically into a full swallow. "Yeah, well… I gotta tell Polly 'somethin' when I get home."
Tom nodded and nodded to the bartender to bring another round. "True enough." He lifted the glass when it was full and gave Teaspoon a smile. "That's why I stayed single."
It was a few hours before Teaspoon Hunter found his way up into the saddle and managed to get the horse moving in the direction of home. He ambled past the buildings in town and tipped his hat a few ladies passing by without falling into the dirt at their feet. He was swimming in bad whiskey and bad decisions, one feeding into the other until he hung his head in shame.
"What kinda husband am I?"
The horse didn't have any answers for him as he rode along, the mare just flattened her ears along the sleek lines of her head and plodded through the dusty street.
"I promised I'd lover 'er… that's not the problem. I got no shortage of lovin' feelin's for that gal, but it's that day to day stuff that's got me beat."
Two men paused on their walk under some trees and one of them whispered to the other pointing in his direction.
"I don't get it," Teaspoon sighed, "when a man is feelin' guilty it's like everyone can see it."
The little cottage where they lived was at the end of the main street in town, but as passed over the cross roads he drew up short for a moment. There were another couple of buildings down at the end.
"Boy howdy," he wondered, "I knew I was gone for a few months, but I never knew there'd be this many changes while I was away."
Shaking his head, he pressed his knees into the mare's sides and held on as she lurched forward toward their little home.
"I'll take it like a man when she wails at me, just hope I can duck fast enough." He rubbed at the back of his head, nearly knocking his hat from its perch. "Last time she came at me with that sauce pan I went left when I shoulda gone right." He laughed, a little rueful chuckle. "She didn't mean to hit me," he sighed, smiling at the memory, "and spend the whole night makin' it up to me with an apple pie and whole lotta sugar."
He pulled the reins just a bit, slowing the mount just before the gate. It took some doing to slide down from the saddle holding onto the horn as tight as he was. It took even more effort to stand on his feet once they touched the ground. Somehow every time he drank it felt like every speck of dirt was a molehill beneath the soles of his boots.
The window was dark, odd for that time of day. There was usually a lamp on in the sitting room, a book beneath it open to whatever page Polly's stopped at before starting up their supper. It was strange, but maybe, with him gone, she'd taken to sittin' in the kitchen and reading in there.
Teaspoon nodded at the thought. It was practical and made some sense, so she'd probably come up with a way to wait for him to come on home and save some on the oil. "She's a smart one, that Polly'o'mine."
The door swung open easily on the hinges and Teaspoon had himself a look. She'd been after him to fix up the hinges on the door since they'd moved in. It was always easy to put it off, saying it made sense to have the door noisy; no one could sneak up on them through the front door.
Polly had put up a fuss about it, letting him know in no uncertain terms just how she felt about his 'idea.' Sure, he'd tried to talk her into seeing his side of it… and she'd talked him into sleeping on the floor in his old bedroll.
"Polly? Honey?" The house felt strange… the usual smells of Polly's cooking absent from the air. "You feelin' alright?"
He turned the corner and peered into their room hoping… or rather not hoping to find her asleep or sick in bed. The room was empty.
The wardrobe stood open, it's interior clean and achingly empty. The chest at the foot of the bed was gone. The chest that Polly had kept all of her dearest possessions… gone.
The weakness in his knees had little to do with the drink in his stomach or the sleepless nights on the trail. Polly was gone.
Polly was gone and he had no idea where she was, but there was one thing he did know… she wasn't planning on coming back.
The wooden floorboards met his knees with a sickening crack but he felt nothing but the emptiness of the house. She was gone.
Polly was gone… no more flying pans and loud fights.
Polly was gone… and he wouldn't have to sneak in after she'd gone to sleep and pray she'd forgive him come morning.
Polly was gone… and he was lonelier than he'd ever been in his life.
Lou's unexpected shout caused Kid to look up. He sprang to his feet, but stopped just inside the shadows when he spied her cleaning the hay off her clothes. He wasn't too surprised to find Buck standing beside her - the two of them had become much closer since Teaspoon had discovered Lou was really a girl, and the rest of them didn't have to pretend they didn't know anymore. Kid took a deep breath to calm himself and keep from running over to check out what was taking place. Lou had asked him to trust her, so he needed to do his best to show that he did. He decided that moving just a little closer wouldn't hurt; he wanted to hear what they were saying.
"You sure you're alright?" Buck asked.
Lou nodded. "Just embarrassed." She glanced around the yard. "Glad everyone wasn't around to see me fall. I feel so stupid; I know better than to stand that close to the edge when pitching hay."
Buck reached over and pulled a piece of hay from Lou's hair. "I'm just glad you managed to get the pitchfork away from you, and that you're alright," he said.
"Me too," replied Lou. "I'd hate to be injured right before the town dance this weekend. I'm really looking forward to getting to go as 'Louise' and having a chance to dance with all of you."
Buck nodded his agreement. "It's a lot easier now that everyone knows about you. I was always afraid I'd say something to give you away; I'm not sure how Kid managed for as long as he did."
Lou smiled up at him and glanced towards the bunk house where Kid stood trying to hide in the shadows. "You mind finishing here for me?" she asked Buck with a wink. "I'd like to go get the hay out of my clothes."
Buck smiled as he replied, "Not at all." As Lou walked away he called, "Take your time; the others aren't due back for another hour or so."
The plan had been simple - get a job, make some money, go back and get them out. That's all there was to it - 3 easy steps that in one horrible moment had taken an extremely unpleasant wrong turn. Now, here she was letting Charlotte cut her hair while trying to forget what had just occurred.
Charlotte's voice brought her out of her thoughts. "Put these on," the older lady was saying. As she dressed, Charlotte continued speaking, "It's a simple plan," she said. "Join the Pony Express, make some money, go back and get them."
Charlotte stopped speaking and took a step back. "Let me look at you," she instructed.
After a few seconds, she went to her dresser and opened the drawer. She turned and said, "Here, try these."
Louise McCloud looked at the offered spectacles. "I can't," she whispered. "Those were your grandfather's."
Charlotte nodded. "He'd be pleased they are being used for such a good cause. Now, put them on and let me see."
Louise obliged her.
"Perfect," said Charlotte. "If I hadn't been the one to change you, I wouldn't recognize you. Now, go quickly, and don't forget - it's a simple plan."