no place like oz Page 29

I clasped my hands together, quickly changing the subject. “I have something wonderful to tell you!” I gushed, hoping to sweep them up in my excitement.

“You brought me a pair of coveralls and some old work boots?” Uncle Henry asked.

I shook my head, grinning from ear to ear. “Better! Princess Ozma has invited the Lion and the Tin Man to come visit us in the palace tomorrow.”

Ozma had informed me of the plan after we’d left the maze when we were heading back to the castle. She’d sent word to the Lion and the Tin Woodman that I was back as soon as she’d heard herself, and the Saw-Horse was already on his way to fetch them. Tomorrow, they would be here. We would all be together again, just like before.

It was all more perfect than I could have imagined. It was so perfect that, for a minute, I let myself forget that Glinda was missing. There was no use fretting about it now anyway—when my friends arrived, we’d be able to put our heads together and try to figure out what had happened to her. In the meantime, I didn’t see the harm in enjoying myself.

I may have shoved the thought of home conveniently from my mind for now, but Uncle Henry and Aunt Em weren’t going to let me forget it.

They struggled to look at each other over the folds of their enormous clothes.

“That’s a very lovely offer from Miss Ozma,” Uncle Henry said carefully. “But this has gone on long enough. It’s time we find your friend Glinda and head on home.”

At the name Glinda, Ozma turned sharply toward me.

“Glinda?” she asked. For the briefest of instants, I thought I saw a fire behind her green eyes.

“Well,” I said, thinking fast. “Uncle Henry and Aunt Em do so want to go home. And Glinda was the one who sent me home last time . . . so . . .”

“So it’s high time that we go back to the farm!” Uncle Henry said, nearly shouting. Aunt Em put a calming hand on his shoulder, but it only got him more worked up. He tugged at his collar. “Enough of this royal bull-pucky!” he barked. Then, noticing that Ozma was still standing right there, he got even more flustered. “I mean, begging your pardon, your royal Ozma.”

The princess shook her head kindly as if she would never think of being offended.

As usual, Aunt Em was slightly more diplomatic than Henry. Grasping my hands, she said, “I’m just not so sure this is the right place for us, Dorothy. We’re not cut out for palaces and fancy frocks like these. The only princess I ever knew before this was the Sunflower Princess at the state fair, and she’s not really a real princess at all, if you think about it.”

No, I thought. She most certainly was not. “I know it all seems silly to you, Dorothy,” she went on. “But the farm is all your uncle and I have. What do you suppose the poor animals are eating?”

Ozma stepped in. “Time moves differently here in Oz than it does back in your world,” she explained to my aunt and uncle patiently, even though it had already been explained to them. “It’s more than likely your animals haven’t even noticed you’ve been gone.”

“I don’t . . . ,” Uncle Henry started. But he’s old-fashioned enough that when a princess talks to him, he listens. And at this moment, Ozma was acting every bit a princess. I was starting to see that she could turn it on and off, just like that.

“You certainly wouldn’t want Dorothy to miss seeing her old companions, would you? And I know that the Tin Woodman and the Lion have been so looking forward to meeting you, too. Please, just stay for tomorrow’s dinner.”

“And then?” Uncle Henry asked.

Ozma smiled kindly. “Well,” she said. “I’m afraid Glinda can’t help you. She’s been missing for some time now, and I’ve already searched the kingdom high and low for her.” She glanced at me. “I’m sure she’s safe—nothing could possibly harm a witch as powerful as she is—but wherever she is, she’s hidden herself well.”

Ozma had been so funny and open and warm—nothing like what I’d imagined. I’d heeded the Scarecrow’s warnings not to tell her about the shoes, or to ask directly about Glinda, but I’d started to mostly dismiss the idea that she could have done anything to her.

Now I was unsure again. I had the strongest feeling she was lying to me.

“I’m not experienced with the type of magic it would take to send you all back to Kansasland,” Ozma continued. Her warm, smooth voice had just enough of a tone of authority to silence my aunt and uncle into submission, for now. “But after tomorrow, I’ll begin looking into ways to send all of you back. I’m sure I can find something.”

Uncle Henry and Aunt Em were nodding in resigned agreement, but I was surprised to feel my entire body shaking with anger, my fists clenched so tightly they hurt.

“No!” I shouted. The marble floors magnified the sound of my voice several times over, but I didn’t care. “No, no, no!”

Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s jaws both dropped in astonishment. They’d seen me lose my temper before, of course, but never like this. Even Ozma turned and looked at me like she was seeing me for the first time.

I was surprised at myself, even. It wasn’t like me to behave this way. I just didn’t care.

“I’m not going back there,” I said. “Not now, not tomorrow, and not ever. I belong here. We belong here. I’m not making the same mistake twice—you can go home without me if you want, but I’m not leaving.”