I really despise the overhead intercom Madeleine had installed in my Sacred Garden, and I don't believe I'll ever completely adapt to being woken up in such a harsh and boisterous way. But I don't expect it to end anytime soon, either. *sigh* So I rubbed my eyes, stretched and shrugged my shoulders, and made my way to the garden gate. I could see Mitzy the Arctic Fox waiting patiently by the gate, and it was always nice to see him, but I couldn't resist responding flippantly to my beautiful gatekeeper as I passed by, "Oh, nice, Madeleine--looks like those shock collars you ordered have finally arrived!...or were they remote vital statistics monitors this time?"
"Very funny, Mr. Kev," Madeleine replied equally flippant, and she added, "No, I'm saving those for Christmas." And she handed me the clipboard of garden activity logs to sign off on. "Actually, Mitzy the Arctic Fox says the boss wants to see you. You're supposed to go with him to the ITT--whatever that is."
I greeted Mitzy warmly, but we made very little small talk...just enough to confirm Madeleine's report was accurate. It was, of course. So I returned to Madeleine's desk (Achilles' Last Stand) and told her, "Unfortunately I can't tell you what the ITT is, other than it's a secret place no one can know about. On a super important note, I need you to remove any type of bugs or homing devices you have planted on me before I go."
"Oh, your fancy new Dragon's Egg told you about those, did it?" she quipped.
"I'm serious, Madeleine, the boss would be extremely offended if I entered his space with any sort of tracking devices. And he would know they were there the moment I entered. And it's a Dragon's Eye, not an egg! And no, it didn't tell me anything, I just know you well enough by now. So if you don't mind, beautiful gatekeeper..."
Madeleine sighed and pulled me closer, "Fine. Whatever." And she removed one of the buttons from my jacket. "You and your silly little games. Turn around." And she spun me around and removed something from the back of my waist, though I have no idea what it was.
I told Edwin the Bee that I loved him as I exited the garden gate and wandered off with Mitzy the Arctic Fox. Edwin just grumbled something unintelligible and went back to His meditation upon His lotus flower. On our way to the ITT (which stands for Interterrestrial Terrestria) Mitzy explained to me that Vanya's niece was there visiting, but that Vanya had to leave on important business and needed me to look after her while he was away. [Vanya, of course is the aforementioned "boss" and head of the Forest Mafia as we call it. Vanya is also the largest, and kindest bear you can imagine. The ITT is where he dwells, and he never shows himself in public, though he is known and feared throughout our dimension...and beyond. But he has always been a dear friend of my Sacred Garden and its inhabitants though I am the only one in the Xanadu Forest (except maybe Edwin) that has ever met with him in person. Mitzy is his right hand man.]
I knew of course it was a great honor for Vanya to request me for such a task, and despite any hesitancy at all I might have toward looking after his niece, I also knew well that one does not say "No" to Vanya under any circumstances. I expressed as much to Mitzy. Mitzy understood, and assured me I would do a most perfect job...that I was the perfect man for the job. As we entered the hallways of the ITT, I could hear a female voice (which I assumed was Vanya's niece) shouting at what I assumed was Vanya, "It's just stupid, uncle! I told you I don't need a babysitter!"
What I had believed was confirmed when I heard Vanya's low voice reply most calmly, "My dear Yana, I know well you don't need a babysitter. But the rest of Interterrestria needs one so that it is protected from YOU while I am away. No one in the land is safe if you become bored." The dear niece seemed to agree with Vanya, since I heard no more argument from her. A few steps more and a quick left turn, and Mitzy and I were suddenly in the room with Vanya and his neice Yana. It would have been an awkward moment had not Vanya grabbed and squeezed 30 pounds off of me and lifted me off the ground. "Mr. Kev...it is so very great to see you!" (did I mention Vanya gives the greatest bear hugs ever?) The massive bear set me back down on the ground and told me kindly, "You should visit more often. You know you are welcome here anytime. No invitation needed."
Yana was a most beautiful black bear, a bit shorter even than me, with a Guns N' Roses T-shirt and what I thought was a rather short plaid skirt. And she wore a studded collar around her throat. I was about to approach her and introduce myself, but she interrupted, "Well, well, dear Uncle Vanya, you didn't tell me the babysitter was so cute! This we can do!" And just like that the lovely black bear wrapped her arm around mine and said, "Come, cute babysitter, we've got lots of hell to raise!"
Vanya stopped us just before we were about to exit the room and said, "Just a moment, you two! Now, Kev, I know Mitzy has warned you what a handful she can be (unfortunately, Mitzy hadn't!) so I'm extra grateful you've agreed to keep an eye on her for me. I cannot stress enough, for the sake of all of Interterrestria, please do not take your eyes off her for even one second. And my dear Yana, remember, you promised...NO explosions or violence of any kind."
Yana protested, "Uncle Vanya, I told you Grooshy McPaggleton makes stuff up. I wasn't the one that blew up the school! Why won't you just believe me?!" It was that moment that I became very aware of what I had just gotten myself into and was more nervous than I had been for many a sun-greeting.
Uncle Vanya hugged us both at once and gave us each a kiss upon the cheek. "You kids have fun. And please, please stay out of trouble." And Yana the beautiful black bear and I left the ITT and began our adventures together.
"So where are we off to, Sweetcheeks?" Yana asked me as we stepped out into the Xanadu Forest.
"Well," I replied, "I thought maybe we could stop by the Library Tree and you could meet dear Caesar Emeritus, the Baloo-eyed Akita. And maybe you should just call me Kev?"
"Absolutely not, Sweetcheeks Kev! I need a very long break from books. Try again," Yana re-replied.
And I re-re-replied with, "I've got it! Let's go to Prince Rodrick's Fun Fun Zone!"
Yana said simply, "That doesn't sound like fun at all. Sounds like one of those places where you take kids, and you play stupid games and win tickets, and cash the tickets in for stupid prizes that are worth less than the paper the tickets are printed on."
"Well, yeah," I admitted. "It is that, to be honest. But they have go-karts too!"
"Just how old do you think I am, Kev? You can't be THAT stupid, right?" Yana asked. Then she continued, "Don't answer. Please. And fine, we can go there. I will humor you...but only because you're cute.......Sweetcheeks."
And there at Prince Rodrick's Fun Fun Zone was where I made my first critical mistake. You see, Prince Rodrick was quite happy to see me, and I was happy to see him. I hadn't been to the Fun Fun Zone since Twillerbee and I took our children there during the glory days of my Sacred Garden. So, as you might imagine, Prince Rodrick and I (he's an Arctic Roadrunner by the way) had much to catch up on. But by the time we had updated one another and I got around to purchasing some game tokens, Yana had already hot-wired one of the go-karts, ran two Lemmings, three Otters, and a Bird of Paradise off of the course and into the bails of hay. And as a bonus, she took out two vending machines and a storage shed too! Prince Rodrick was not happy! I made good with him, though, by handing him handfuls of pumpernickel (a small fortune in the Xanadu Forest) and finally coaxing Yana out of the go-kart. I passed out the game tokens I had just purchased to all the victims of Yana's go-kart disaster that I could find (some were already inside yelling at poor Prince Rodrick). Entertaining Yana was going to be quite a challenge indeed!
I asked Yana without any intention of joking at all if she planned to cause so much trouble at every place I took her. She told me she only ever had good intentions, though she admitted that her anti-establishment streak sometimes gets the best of her.
Since Prince Rodrick's Fun Fun Zone wasn't too far from the Lemmington border, I decided to take her to the Lemmington Town Square for some fabulous shopping. And I managed to convince her...but "only because I was cute" she made sure I knew.
Our time at the Lemmington Town Square was mostly pleasant, and we both picked out some wonderful accessories--both for ourselves and for each other. For me, she picked out a pair of lovely glittery lightning bolt earrings; and for her, I picked out a lovely plaid bow, and she let me clip it above her ear for her. It matched her skirt perfectly, we both agreed. And I purchased two large bags of kettle corn to bring to my Sacred Garden when we returned. But then I made another critical mistake!--I spoke too long with the Lemming I was purchasing the kettle corn from (I have often purchased kettle corn from him), and Yana the beautiful black bear found an opportunity to blow up a fireworks stand. I'm still not really sure how we escaped in all the commotion or how she even did this, but I can tell you a mob of angry Lemmings chasing you isn't nearly as humorous as you might be inclined to imagine. They can be very nasty when properly triggered! But escape we did, and disappeared into the trees of the Xanadu Forest. I was not letting go of her cursed paw until we were safely over the border, our of their jurisdiction.
I don't normally speak like this--especially when I'm babysitting--but out of sheer frustration I let go of her paw finally and pushed it away from me, shouting, "What the hell is wrong with you?! Don't you know these people know me?! And they used to like me and trust me not to destroy their Town Square!"
I was truly shocked to see a genuine look of remorse upon her face. I could feel that she was about to cry, and that she was sincere. She fell down on to the ground and put her paws over her face, choking up a bit as she said, "Look, I'm sorry. I really am. I don't know what happened. I really was just trying to have fun. I wanted to test things before I bought them. I'm sorry my uncle put you in this place...you're too nice for this."
I knew there was a great risk that I was being played, but I also knew my heart was too tender to take the chance. So I sat down next to her and put my arm lovingly (but innocently) over her shoulder, and said softly, "Look, Yana, there's a lot I don't know about you. But I know what a wonderful spirit your uncle is, and I can only imagine that, since you are part of his family, that you also have a huge and beautiful heart as well. I don't even know why you came here to Interterrestria...Mitzy only told me you had come to spend time with your uncle. But there's more to it than that, isn't it? My heart feels that. You were sent here, weren't you?"
Yana sniffled a bit and wiped a tear from her cheek. "Thank you, Kev. You're very nice. Too nice. But thank you." I adjusted the plaid bow above her ear in a nurturing sort of way as she continued, "And you are right...they sent me here--the administration, I mean. They think I blew up the school. But I didn't, I swear I didn't. It wasn't me. I'm anit-establishment, not evil and heartless! Grooshy McPaggleton, the dean of the university believed I did it, and she convinced everyone else that I did it too. But no one listens to me or believes me, so what's the point? They sent me to my uncle thinking he could 'rehabilitate' me. How great is that?! I'm so bad that only the Mafia can fix me? I mean what the hell, right?! That's how well they all think of me."
I grabbed Yana's paw tenderly, and pulled us both up to our feet as I told her, "I believe you, Yana. I really do. And I believe IN you. And I'd like you to know that I've spent lots of my own life dealing with people that don't believe in me. It sucks, but it is what it is. They're not worth the time and energy. I feel maybe Fate had a hand in this, that maybe you were meant to be here with us. We're nothing like them here in Interterrestria. We're far from perfect here, and some of us are more than a little off our rockers, but we never lack love. And we never judge."
Yana wiped one final tear off her cheek, and said softy, "That sounds so nice. Thank you, Kev. You really are too nice. I'm so sorry I cause so much trouble. I swear, it just follows me around like a plague. And if you'll still hang out with me, I promise I'll try to be better, I really really promise. That I'll try, I mean. I can't promise bad things won't happen when I'm around. It's just always been that way, you know."
I smiled softly at her and replied, "I would be honored to keep hanging out with you. And thank you for opening up to me so. And I promise to try and not yell at you anymore when bad things happen around you. But, like you, I can only promise to TRY. I'm not perfect either, you know." Yana seemed to appreciate that a lot. Then I added, "But I need to ask you about that poor Lemming that was tied to a tree and had a golf ball shoved into his mouth: that was you, wasn't it?"
"Yes, that was me," Yana admitted boldly, "I caught him trying to look up my skirt. Stupid little perv! But at least I didn't kill him, right? You shouldn't let those Lemmings fool you so easily, Kev...they may look cute and innocent, but they can be some shady critters!"
We both had a good laugh after that, and Yana wrapped her arm around mine once again, and we made our way slowly toward the heart of our beloved Xanadu Forest. And I eventually told her, "I know a perfect place for us to go next: the Record Emporium which is very close to my Sacred Garden. And there is also an ice cream parlor there...the finest ice cream in all of Interterrestria they say."
"That sounds perfect, Sweetcheeks Kev," Yana smiled, and added, "Ice cream and record albums. Yes, now this we can do!"
And so we journeyed pleasantly, and talked all along the way about life, love, and great music.
Life is beautiful.Thank you all that have stuck with me for so long.
Lovely of lovelies.
I love you.