no place like oz Page 37

I let her keep the party idea, though. No point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, is there?

Sixteen

Over the next week, Ozma put all thoughts of ruling the kingdom aside as she made plans for what she promised me would be the grandest event Oz had seen in most people’s lifetimes. Every day, chefs, bakers, dressmakers, and party planners visited the palace, each one of them bursting with wild ideas and begging for the princess’s favor.

I was pleased to notice that they also took a special interest in me. Every new visitor who passed through the palace stopped to shake my hand, or to give me a kiss on the cheek and to marvel at what a wonder it was to have the famous Dorothy Gale back in Oz.

I half expected Ozma to be jealous of all the attention I was getting. But she masked it well, and never failed to appear delighted when yet another one of her subjects treated me as if I was just as important as she—maybe even more important. One day, when a little furry Nome peddling jeweled goblets thanked me for ridding the land of the witches, I almost wanted to wink at him and whisper in his ear, “Just you wait. My work isn’t done quite yet.”

Except for one thing: ever since I’d flossed Ozma’s brain, I was having a hard time hating her. In fact, when I set aside the unfortunate fact that she had imprisoned Glinda and tried to steal my shoes, we were getting on well.

We spent our days planning the menu and picking out decorations: bright, blooming flowers that changed colors every time you looked away; handfuls of stardust sprinkled over everything—we even coaxed the Wandering Water to form a babbling brook around the outside of the ballroom. I have to say, it put to shame the streamers and tea candles that passed for lavish back in Kansas. We spent countless hours lying on the grass in the garden, threading flowers through our hair, speculating about who was coming to the party and daydreaming about the possibility that there might be a few suitable princes in attendance.

My spell had done the trick—she had no recollection of our fight by the fountain, or of the controversy over my magic shoes. As far as she knew, we were just friends.

In fact, Ozma was starting to feel like the closest I had to a best friend. It had been so long since I’d had a friend like that. Of course, the Lion and the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow were my loyal friends and the most wonderful companions anyone could hope to have, but they were different. It wasn’t like having a girlfriend my own age.

All the Scarecrow ever wanted to talk about was his magnificent brains, which made me wonder what good was it to be the greatest mind in all the kingdom if you never actually thought about anything except your own intelligence.

The Tin Woodman spent most of his time in the palace’s musty old library with his nose in boring old books of love poetry. When I agreed to let him read one aloud to me, I was so mortified at how romantic it was that I could barely stand to look at him afterward.

As for the Lion—well, he was usually off in the woods, hunting or whatever it is lions do in their alone time. When he did deign to set foot on the palace grounds, he could barely go ten minutes before his newfound courage got the best of him and he tried to pick a fight with the first palace servant who crossed his path.

With the three of them as my only other choices for company, who could blame me for preferring to spend my days dreaming and party planning with Oz’s sweet little despot? At least she was capable of carrying on a real conversation. And she seemed to actually want to spend time with me. I just had to be careful not to do any magic around her.

I knew now that I could subdue her, if necessary—just wash her brain clear of any tension between us. But to be honest, I felt a little uneasy about having to do it again. Why go to the trouble?

“Can I ask you a question?” Ozma asked one afternoon, just a few days before my ball when we were in her closet trying on party outfits for the umpteenth time. I nodded absently, trying to decide between slinky silk or dramatic tulle and chiffon—I was leaning toward slinky.

I must admit, it felt like such a sweet victory to think that I’d be celebrating my sixteenth birthday again, like this, after the disaster of the first party.

Ozma turned and fixed me with a penetrating look. “Why do you live with your aunt and uncle?” she asked, out of nowhere. “What happened to your mother and father?”

I paused in surprise. “Oh,” I said quietly. It wasn’t the kind of question I was expecting.

“I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have . . . it must be such a sad story. You don’t have to talk about it.”

I shrugged. “No,” I said. “It’s all right. I don’t even remember them. My mother died when she gave birth to me, and my father was killed just a few months later. There was an accident with a plow. I know I should miss them, but it’s hard to be sad about people you never even knew.”

Ozma smiled in sympathy.

“What about you?” I asked. “You’ve never mentioned your parents at all, I don’t think. Just Lur-whoozit.”

Ozma passed her hand down the length of her body and her emerald-green dress turned to bloodred.

“Maybe add a train?” I suggested.

“Perhaps. No, they’re so easy to trip over. Think of how embarrassing that would be.”

“You can have a team of Munchkins on hand just to hold it up,” I said, and we both laughed over the absurdity of the idea.

“The truth is,” Ozma said, when we had recovered. “I don’t have parents. I never did.”