no place like oz Page 6

“Aunt Em,” I said, wandering over to where she was sitting alone on the couch. (Aunt Em has never had Uncle Henry’s gift for chatter.) “I think I should open your present. So everyone can see it.”

“Of course, dear—if you say so. But . . . don’t you think you should open some of the others first, though?”

“I’ll get to them,” I said. “I just can’t wait for yours.”

“Okay, dear. I’ll ask Henry to bring it down.” My aunt set her tea down and went to fetch Henry.

I’d been dropping hints for weeks that I wanted a new dress more than anything, and from the way my aunt’s eyebrows had shot up into an arch every time I mentioned it, I had a feeling I’d be getting my wish. I didn’t know how she was going to manage it—they’d already spent more money than they could really afford on the party itself—but if anyone could pull it off, it was Aunt Em.

Suzanna Hellman wouldn’t be so smug once she saw me descending the stairs in a dress that was sure to put hers to shame. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like just the thing to turn the party around.

A few minutes later, Toto was wagging his tail excitedly and racing around the room as Uncle Henry came out of the kitchen carrying a large, floppy package wrapped in tissue paper. There was no box and the paper was crinkled and creased in all the wrong places, but I didn’t mind.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts. And it certainly looked like what was on the inside was exactly what I thought it was.

Henry placed the present with the rest of the gifts, and everyone began to gather around. I picked it up and held it to my chest, and as I did, my eyes met Aunt Em’s. She looked away with an expression that almost seemed worried.

“Well?” Suzanna urged me. “Are you going to open it or not?”

I peeled away the wrapping as Suzanna leaned in close, eager to get a good look. I heard her stifle a snort as heavy twill fabric came into view. My heart stopped.

The rest of the paper crumpled to the floor and the dress swung loose.

It was long and brownish green. Not sparkling green, or forest green or even blue green like the ocean. It certainly wasn’t Emerald City green. No. It was green like . . . well, it was green like Aunt Em’s old dress.

That’s because it was Aunt Em’s old dress. She’d tailored it to my size, fixed it up to make it look new by cinching the waist, giving it a fuller skirt, and adding poufy ruffles to the shoulders.

There was no getting around it. The dress was hideous.

The whole room knew it. Even Mr. Shifflett from the next farm over had a look of shocked horror on his face, and I’d never seen him wear anything fancier than a pair of clean coveralls.

My cheeks burned in embarrassment. The only sound in the room was coming from Suzanna, who was fighting to conceal outright laughter.

Toto snarled loudly at her, ever faithful, but that only made her suppressed giggles louder.

The worst, though, was the look on Aunt Em’s face—a crushed mixture of hopefulness and humiliation that broke my heart.

She had tried—there was no question about that. Just like she’d tried with the cake. But I could see what she had done: the color of the dress was faded and the edges of the fabric were worn. The red embroidery on the sleeves looked out of place, and I knew it was there to hide the tear from when she’d caught it on the chicken coop.

Suzanna gave up all attempts to cover her snickering once the dress was fully unfurled. “Oh, how nice,” she said. “It’ll be sure to keep you warm when you’re working out in the fields. And you won’t need to worry about getting it dirty!” At that, her sister burst out laughing and buried her face in her hands.

If I’d had a bucket of dirty water to throw in Suzanna’s face, I would have. If I had, I’m curious whether Suzanna, like many a witch before her, would have melted right before the eyes of me and all my guests. I for one would not have been astonished. It wouldn’t have been anything I hadn’t seen before.

But I was empty-handed, and I knew the only way to stave off the angry, hot tears that were prickling at the corners of my eyes was to maintain my dignity. “My, what a dress!” I exclaimed jubilantly to no one in particular, least of all Suzanna.

“You have to try it on,” she singsonged mockingly. “Go ahead. Show it off.”

At that, Marian Stiles began to giggle into her hands, too, and then Marjory Mumford. When Mitzi began laughing along with them—like the Benedict Arnold that she was—I realized the sad, final truth: I had no friends.

None of these people belonged at my birthday party. The people who belonged here were the ones who really cared about me: the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion and Glinda and all the other people I’d met in Oz. They were my true friends.

“Well,” Suzanna prodded me again. “When’s the fashion show?”

I had had more than enough. I was Dorothy Gale. I was The Girl Who Rode the Cyclone. Not to mention the girl who went to Oz, and defeated two real witches on my own pluck alone. She was nothing compared to them.

And now I was angry. It was one thing to be cruel to me. I could take it. But I didn’t understand why anyone would want to hurt my aunt.

“I don’t think you know who you’re talking to,” I said to Suzanna with every ounce of imperiousness I could muster. Which happened to be quite a lot.

Suzanna just hooted, and Marian looked as if she was about to burst.