Felicity the loose cannon

Felicity swinging from the chandelier

Felicity’s Italian Romance

Journey to Europe with the Playroom Family

A Playroom Production

By: Bellhop #52

Ciao e benvenuti in Italia!

Hello and Welcome to Italy!

My fellow bellhops and I agree that the story of how one of our own fellow bellhops comes to be acquainted with the Playroom is a story worth telling and I, Bellhop #52, am just the bellhop to do it. 

This is a story of true love, sisterly affection or cat fights either term will apply, new friendship and of course action, adventure, and danger. Sit back but I can’t guarantee that you’ll relax  and enjoy the story.

-Bellhop # 52

“I’m bored!” Felicity whined as she belly flopped into her four poster colonial bed. “There’s absolutely nothing fun to do around here anymore!”

          “I don’t believe it,” Samantha said in wonder. “Felicity Merriman has finally run out of crazy ideas.”

          “It’s a miracle!” Nellie exclaimed.

          “Hey,” Felicity huffed angrily. “I’m not crazy!”

          “Yes you are!” The rest of her family chimed in.

          Felicity just ignored them as she turned to face her best friend Elizabeth Cole. “So, what do you want to do today?”

          “I don’t know,” said Elizabeth standing behind her closet doors wearing nothing except her historical undergarments. “But I’d like to get dressed and I don’t know what I should wear. Should I wear my blue tea dress or my riding outfit? And I can’t wear the tea dress if we’re going to do something crazy and dangerous. It’s much too delicate.”

          “Urgh!” Felicity complained as she smothered her face in her pillow. “You people just don’t understand! And I’ve never done anything crazy or dangerous in my life!”

          “Okay Felicity, how about the time….”

          “Elizabeth! Just tell me what we should do!”

          “Um . . . we could go horseback riding in death valley and then come home and cry about our near death experiences.”

          “No,” Felicity said dismissively. “Been there, done that. Except I never cry.”

          “Sure, Felicity, whatever you say.”

          “There’s just nothing left Elizabeth. We’ve saved town hall from giant spiders a million times, we’ve cleaned up all of Gwen’s messes when she nearly exploded the universe, we robbed the bank and blamed it on the mailman, and we chased Logan’s mutant magic monsters back into the sewer. And that was just yesterday! What are we going to do for the rest of the week?”

          “I don’t know Felicity, but maybe we don’t need to do something dramatic. I mean, it’s spring break. Can’t we just use the time off to relax for once?”

          “NO!” Felicity shouted. “Where’s the fun in that?”

          They were silent for a few minutes until . . .

          “Ooo, I know!” Felicity jumped her to her feet when a light bulb clicked on behind her and she just happened to get an idea.

          “Oh no,” Elizabeth muttered. “Please don’t let it be something crazy and dangerous. . .”

          “We should take a vacation!”

          “A what?” said Elizabeth.

          “A vacation! That’s just what we need! We take a vacation every summer and winter. Why can’t we do one in springtime, too?”

          “Oh no,” said Samantha. “Spring is my one season off from dragging this crazy bunch all over the world. Besides, we’re already two days in which means that I’d need to plan everything immediately and somehow get you all packed and on a plane before the day is out. I’m sorry, but that’s just not going to happen.”

          “But maybe you don’t have to,” said Felicity. “I could do it.”

“Heaven help us,” Samantha muttered to Nellie. Nellie smothered a giggle behind her hands as her friend turned back to Felicity. “Alright Felicity, If you can plan everything and get everyone packed then maybe I’ll consider it.”

“Yes! Thank you Samantha!” Felicity exclaimed. “I’ll give us the best vacation we’ve ever had. You won’t regret this, I promise you won’t.”

“We’ll see,” Samantha said skeptically.

“I might as well plan a vacation for my family too,” said Nellie. To Samantha she added, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure she doesn’t send you guys to the moon or somewhere else equally bizarre.”

“Thanks Nellie. You’re a true friend.”

“Don’t mention it.”

On the other side of the room, Felicity squealed in delight as she flipped through the world book. “Let’s go to Antarctica!”

Nellie glanced back at Samantha. “On second thought. . .”

“Please, Nellie. Don’t let her send us there! Anything but that.”

“Fine,” said Nellie. “But you owe me.”

******************************************************************

          “Come on, let’s move, move, move! We don’t have all day here people! We have a plane to catch.” Felicity said as she hurried her family out the door.

Bitty F. paused in the doorway. “How did you manage to get a flight this last minute?”

“Yeah, how did you?” Samantha asked.

Felicity flushed red. “That’s not important.”

“As long as it doesn’t get me arrested, then we should be good.” 

“Relax,” said Felicity, “you won’t be arrested, but Gwen might.”

“What?” Gwen looked up from where she piling a mountain of luggage onto her red toy wagon.

“Nothing,” replied both sisters.

Gwen wanted to say more but was distracted when the wagon rolled down the street and tipped over, spilling all their luggage into a muddy puddle where a flock of griffins swooped down to take off with it. “Aw, come on!” Gwen exclaimed as she flew after it. “Griffins, really?”

As the family, minus Gwen and the luggage, neared the airport, Samantha decided it was time to resume command. “Alright Felicity, spill your guts. It’s past time you told me what craziness you have in store for us.”

“No can do sister dear,” called Felicity. “Until we arrive, this vacation is mine.”

“At the very least you could tell me where we are going.”

“Pish, posh, this is supposed to be a family vacation. As long as we are together, the rest shouldn’t matter.”

“Felicity Merriman!”

“Oh come on Samantha, don’t you trust me?”

“No actually, I don’t.”

“Good. Some uncertainty will do you some good.”

******************************************************************

          “Boarding: Flight one to Antarctica,” boomed a voice over the airport loudspeakers.

          “Well,” said Nellie giving Samantha one last hug. “This is where we say goodbye.”

          “No!” Bitty Q. screamed as she clutched onto Bitty F. “Not yet!”

          “Don’t go Bitty!” Bitty F. cried. “I’ll miss you too much!”

          “Oh brother,” Samantha mumbled. “Do they have to do this every time?”

          “Snap out of it soldiers!” Felicity yelled as she tried to break them apart.

          Nellie glared at Felicity and tried to comfort the sobbing Bitties. “What Felicity means is, it’s only a week. You’ll see each other soon enough.”

          But Bitty Q. still cried uncontrollably. “I don’t wanna go! We’re all gonna die!”

          “We are not going to die!”

          “I can’t believe you’re actually going through this,” said Samantha. “If anything, I thought Felicity would send us to Antarctica, not the other way around.”

“Yeah,” said Nellie. “But we’ve already seen all the other continents. It’s time to branch out a little.”

“Yes, but Antarctica? Isn’t that a little far? I mean, what will you do when something bad happens? You’re all alone down there.”

“Hey, at least I know where I’m going.”

Samantha sighed. “That’s true.”

“Last call for flight one,” announced the flight attendant.

From the terminal ramp Logan shouted, “Are you guys coming or not? Hobo Joe’s plane isn’t going to run forever.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” muttered Nellie. “Come on Bitty, let’s go.”

“No!” Bitty Q. flailed her arms and legs as Nellie dragged her away. Even though Bitty had everyone in a ten mile radius watching them, Nellie still smiled at Samantha and said, “See you next week!”

Bitty F. tried to follow but Samantha’s words stopped her. “Bitty, you want to get on Hobo Joe’s ritchy old plane?”

Bitty F. choked back a sob. “No, but Bitty. . .”

“Bitty will be just fine,” Samantha said and then shuddered when she saw Hobo Joe’s plane tip dangerously to one side while it teetered down the runway. She could hear her friends screams when the engine backfired leaving a trail of soot in their wake. “Or maybe,” Samantha said quietly to herself, “Nellie doesn’t have to worry about what happens in Antarctica because Hobo Joe will probably kill them all on the way there.”

******************************************************************

Tick tock, tick tock, Samantha watched time tick away as she sat in the airport lounge. It had been two hours since Nellie’s family had left for Antarctica and Samantha’s family was still stuck here in the airport, stretched out across the whole seating area as if they owned it. Carry-ons and lunch boxes were thrown haphazardly about, Big D. jabbered on about random things, Emily sat perfectly still with her back straight and hands folded neatly on her lap, Felicity had her feet up and was reading a magazine about a celebrity group called Sparkle Dancers, and Gwen draped herself across a seat and was banging her head against the armrest as Bitty F. sobbed next to her, “I miss Bitty!”

“Shut up!” Gwen snapped and then settled back into her chair.

Bitty’s lower lip quivered, she was about to start wailing even louder, when Samantha just sighed tiredly, “Leave her alone Gwen! I bet you’re missing Logan just as much as Bitty is missing Bitty.”

Wisely, Gwen made no comment.

“And you!” Samantha turned to face Felicity. “Do you even know what flight we’re on? Do we even have tickets? We’ve been here for three hours Felicity! How long do you expect us to wait here?”

Felicity opened her mouth to speak as a voice on the loudspeaker announced, “Boarding: Flight fifty two to Rome Italy at gate number one hundred fifty two B.”

“That’s our plane!” Felicity exclaimed.

“Gate what?!” Samantha glared at her adopted sister. “That’s on the exact opposite side of the airport!”

Gwen shouted, “We’ll never make it in time!”

“Oh yes we will!” Felicity pulled a rocket powered skateboard out of her carry-on. She threw both babies on and pressed a button. Bitty F. squealed in delight as they went zooming across the airport. With a toss of her head and a wave of her arm, Felicity took off running as she said, “Come on, you’re too slow! We’ll never make it at this rate!”

Samantha and Emily looked at each other and then raced to catch up. “How did she manage to get that thing through security?” Emily wondered aloud.

Samantha shrugged. “It’s Felicity, I probably don’t want to know.”

“Wait!” Gwen yelled. “You forgot the carry-ons!” Gwen looked down at their heap of stuff and then at her disappearing family. She hurriedly piled it on her back and started running but knew she’d never catch up. “Guys!” she huffed breathlessly, “ Wait. . . for. . . me!”

To Gwen’s surprise, Felicity yelled across the airport at the top of her lungs. “Don’t worry Gwen! I’m coming!”

Gwen’s eyes widened in sheer terror as Felicity came barreling towards her at full speed. Gwen dropped to her feet but Felicity only grabbed her carry on and kept on running. Soon Gwen was mauled by the rest of her family.

“Ow! Bitty, that’s my hair!”

“At least you have hair!” Bitty complained. “And where’s my carry on?”

“Um. . . it was so huge I had to put it in luggage.”

“What?!”

“Bitty, it was over fifty pounds!”

Emily looked over at them and then quickly ducked her head back down again. Her face grew hot as she realized everyone else in the airport was staring at them. Oh my, she thought, they’re making an even bigger scene than last time.

Emily was relieved (and who wouldn’t be?) when Samantha shoved her way between them. “Guys! Knock it off and get on the plane!”

Everyone jumped to comply and they continued their classic mad dash to where the plane awaited boarding. They mowed over the flight attendant lady standing at the top of the ramp. “Tickets?” she squeaked from her flattened position on the floor.

Six tickets pelted the woman as the Playroom people marched onward.

Slowly, painfully, the flight attendant got to her feet, patted her hair back into place, and collected the scattered tickets. “I don’t get paid enough for this job.”

******************************************************************

          Dishes clanged together in the soapy sink of a brightly lit gourmet kitchen. The hotel chefs of the Great American Tourist Destination in PFV Rome Italy kept their bus boys busy as the evening dinner rush began.

“Smith!”

A poor, but honest, hardworking young bellhop looked up from the dishes wishing he could go somewhere, do something, and be someone who didn’t have to answer to the nagging voice of his stepbrother. 

“What is it now?” Smith dreaded the answer but knew he was at his brother’s beck and call anyway.

“Don’t take that tone with me, Smith. And besides,” his so called brother smirked, “I have a new assignment for you.”

He waited for Smith to dry his hands before handing him a crisp white envelope with the hotel emblem printed on it. Smith looked at him suspiciously but his evil brother just shrugged his shoulders and lifted his hands in a gesture of innocence. “What? It’s only your average American family going on vacation. Your job is to cater to their every whim.”

Slightly satisfied, Smith tore open the envelope and regarded the message with horror. “Average?! Average?!! Did you not hear the news reports of what they did to their last hotel! It’s the Playroom. They’re . . . they’re. . .”

“Crazy? Nuts? Whack-o?”

 Smith’s eyes narrowed. “You can’t do this to me.”

The evil smirk widened reminding Smith of a reptile right before it struck its prey. This was a challenge or a dare and Smith knew it. “Oh, brother, yes yes I can and I will unless, of course, you chose to quit.”

 Smith closed his eyes and saw the pleading anguish in his mother’s expression, his real siblings poor faces and their need for so many things. He couldn’t quit. He needed this job. His family needed him to have this job. He couldn’t fail because failing them was never an option. Never.

Wordless and defeated, Smith shook his head as his enemy laughed, savoring his misfortune. Smith sighed. At that moment in time, Smith had no idea that by assigning him as a personal bellhop to the Playroom family, his evil brother actually helped cause the best that could have ever happened to him.

****************************************************************** 

            “Attention passengers!”

          Samantha hushed Bitty with one arm and elbowed Gwen in the gut with the other. “Huh?” Gwen rubbed her side and she peeled off her sleeping mask.

          “Shh!” Samantha said before turning her attention to the voice.

          “Attention passengers! This is your pilot speaking and I would like to thank you for traveling with MEDIA (Most Expensive Deluxe Italian Airfare) with our magic technology we are able to give you the most relaxing journey none of you would ever dream of having on a regular airplane that also proves to be the safest. But it does come with quite a hefty price tag as a few of you well know.”

          The other rich passengers chuckled softly but Samantha twisted in her seat to face the row behind them. “Felicity Merriman!”

          Felicity looked up from her magazine for about two seconds. In the seat beside her, Emily was frightened by the look on Samantha’s face but Felicity didn’t break a sweat. “What?” Felicity said as she casually turned the page. “Go big or go home, right? Isn’t that what they always say?”

          Samantha growled angrily under her breath. Remember, this is before Bitty Q. is famous so in this story the Playroom family isn’t nearly as wealthy as they are now but Felicity was busy spending like they were. Great, Samantha thought as she slumped back in her seat. Now I have to figure out a way to pay for this mess. Maybe they should have gone to Antarctica. At least Hobo Joe’s plane is free.

          At the front of the plane the flight attendant clapped her hands for attention. “Instead of going through the usual safety procedures because nothing bad could ever possibly happen to this plane I’m going to introduce our very special and very famous—”

          “Not to mention very rich, very successful, and very handsome,” said an older man with a thick Italian accent and a twinkle in his eye.

          “Oh yes, we mustn’t forget that.”

          “Yawn,” murmured Gwen. She readjusted her sleeping mask and reclined in her seat. “It’s probably not anyone important anyway.”

          Samantha just rolled her eyes and didn’t bother to shush her although she knew or at least suspected Gwen was about to be amazed.

          “Signore,” the flight attendant clasped the old Italian’s hand, “It has been an honor flying with you as you tour the Americas but now it is time you returned home to your beloved Italy—-”

          “Ah, Italia,” he said dreamily. “No place on earth is as bellissimo e romantico, eh?”

          If Marie-Grace had been there she probably would have been thinking, France has got him beat.

The flight attendant announced, “May I present the one, the only, and the very best chef in the entire world Giovanni!”

Gwen did perk up at this. “Did she say chef?” But her words went unheard against the roar of applause from the other passengers. Eventually, Gwen lost all interest and was trying to snooze again. A few minutes past and just when Gwen was about to be lulled to sleep by the motion of the plane, she was jerked awake by a delicious aroma that came wafting from the back of the plane.  One of the great ironies of the Playroom is that even though Gwen and Logan are by far the skinniest, they are also the hungriest. They eat the most out of everyone but because of magic, their stomachs are bottomless pits and they never gain any weight at all.

Gwen rose from her seat in a sleepwalker’s trance and literally followed her nose as she floated over to where a kind, old, Italian chef was happily cooking away.

Giovanni paused mid whistle to see a girl staring wide eyed up at him. She was practically drooling. “What is that?” She asked.

“Oh, this? This is food. Have you ever had any before?”

“I know it’s food! I’m not stupid!”

“That’s debatable!” Samantha called from her seat.

Giovanni said, “This is my newest creation. Would you like to try it?”

“Would I?!”

“I’m doing a bit of advertising. Everything you see here is a free sample.”

Gwen was almost giddy. “Really?!”

“Perche si naturalmente.”

Even though she had no idea what he just said, Gwen threw herself at the buffet and devoured all of Giovanni’s masterpieces. Although Giovanni was a bit surprised by Gwen’s animalistic eating habits, he knew better than to turn down an eager customer even if she was scaring away all the other potential customers.

Gwen’s mouth was stuffed full of food when she said, “I’m going to Italy, you know.”

No duh, Giovanni thought, you are on a plane bound for Italy. But all he said was, “Oh, really? Il mio ristorante is in Rome.”

“That’s where we’re staying!”

His eyes seemed to twinkle down at Gwen. “Then you’ll have to stop by. bring some money next time please.”

“Oh I will, and I’ll bring my whole family with me.”

There’s more of you?! But Giovanni smiled and winked at her. “I’ll be ready.”

******************************************************************

The plane zoomed across the Pretend Friend Ville sky. Emily sighed quietly as she turned to gaze out the window. It was so blue and the clouds were arranged so perfectly it almost resembled a painting. Wait. . . was that . . ? No, it couldn’t be. With the glare on the window it almost looked like there was a massive solid black jet about to crash right into them.

“Um. . . guys?” Emily said hesitantly.

“Shut up or speak up!” Felicity snapped in irritation . “Although it’s not like anyone is ever going to hear her anyway.”

“Felicity!” Samantha scolded. “Be nice!”

“What? It’s true.”

Emily looked down and swallowed hard, deciding not to speak after all, a decision that would put all their lives in danger.

Gwen opened her mouth wide and was just about to chomp down on one of Giovanni’s new finest, delectable, and mouthwatering creations when suddenly the black plane rammed into their side and sent the M.E.D.I.A. plane hurtling out of the sky. Gwen stumbled forward and her food went flying to hit some random lady in the back of the head. She shook her fist at Gwen. “Hey! Watch—

The lights flickered off and a horrible noise screeched over the intercom. “This is your pilot speaking—”

The plane lurched sideways and Bitty screamed. “I don’t wanna die!”

This caused much panic and confusion among the other passengers. Since the airline didn’t have any real safety procedures, no one knew what to do. Samantha took charge and pulled three parachutes out of her bag. Felicity looked at her in surprise. “Where did those come from?”

“Never travel without your own means of escape,” Samantha replied calmly. “I only have three so we’ll have to double up. I’m with Bitty, Gwen you’re with Big D.—-”

“But she’s dead weight!” Gwen complained.

Samantha glared at her. “Would you rather I toss you out without one?”

“No, please continue.”

“Thank you. Felicity you’re with Emily.” Felicity nodded but Emily went pale and Samantha wondered if this was a bad decision. Where Emily was paralyzed with fear, Felicity thrived on danger and tended to be a bit or very reckless. 

As the girls strapped themselves into their parachutes, the plane was hit again and now the cockpit was on fire. “When I count to three,” Samantha said, “we jump.”

Everyone nodded. “One . . . two—”

Felicity jumped. Emily was clinging onto her back for dear life. She opened her mouth to scream but she was so terrified no sound came out. By now the fire had spread and Samantha pushed Big D. and Gwen over the side. Bitty screamed in her ear as she jumped. The plane exploded and spiraled out of control behind them. Luggage of all different shapes and styles rained down from the wreckage above.

“What happened to the other passengers?” Gwen called up to Samantha but another voice answered.

“Ciao down there!” Giovanni called from his advertising blimp where all the other passengers were waving at them. “Do you need any help?”

“No, we’re good! But thanks anyway!” Felicity shouted impulsively while Samantha growled in anger at her. As they landed, Felicity smiled over at Samantha. “Wasn’t that fun?”

Samantha glared at her. “Oh yeah, it was a real treat!”

Felicity’s smile grew wider. “I knew you’d enjoy it.”

Samantha sighed as Felicity scampered off. “I knew this vacation was a bad idea.”

******************************************************************

          The rest of the family proceeded to the hotel while Gwen was off searching the countryside for their spewed luggage. “Here,” Samantha handed Felicity a key to their room. “Don’t lose it.”

“Why can’t I get one too?” Bitty complained.

“Because you’ll lose it immediately,” Samantha replied.

“And she won’t?”

Samantha huffed in annoyance. Bitty was right, Felicity would lose it immediately if she didn’t try to use it in some extreme, magical stunt first. “Whatever. I’m going to go check on Gwen and the luggage so you’re free to do whatever you want—”

Felicity grinned.

“On second thought,” Samantha added and Felicity’s smile fell. “Go to find the room. Stay there until I get back and please, try not to blow anything up.”

“But that’s boring!” Felicity blurted out.

Samantha glared at her and Felicity said, “I meant, whatever you say.”

“Good. That’s what I like to hear.”

“Mother dearest,” Felicity mumbled under her breath and Bitty giggled. Emily was just grateful Samantha didn’t hear. She really didn’t want to witness a fight between the two of them.

“Okay, now that we got rid of her,” said Felicity, “let’s go explore a bit. This hotel is amazing!”

“But Samantha said we’re supposed to go find the room!” Emily.

“Oh Emily, don’t be such a stick in the mud. Nothing bad could possibly happen to us. It’ll be fun.”

But Emily wasn’t to be swayed. “No. Come on Bitty, let’s go find the room.” She took her younger sister’s hand and lead her away.

Felicity sighed. “Fine! Suit yourself, more adventure for me that way.”

*****************************************************************

          Brrring! Brrring! Smith sighed tiredly. The phone kept ringing. He hadn’t even met his Playroom guests yet and they were already proving to be bossy and demanding in ordering massive amounts of room service.  “Man, these people must be pigs,” Smith muttered as he loaded up his arms with all sorts of dishes.

          He took the back servant’s stairs, his evil step brother put a spell on the elevator so every time Smith used it he was ejected through the roof, all the way up to the fifty second floor. Smith was the only employee that used the stairs and he found it to be quite creepy at times with all the cobwebs and dust. Today, he was a bit unsettled to hear a thump, thump, almost like approaching footsteps. “Ciao?” Smith called out. “Who’s there?”

          The thumping stopped. Must have been the rats, Smith thought. He hoped his brother hadn’t put another magic mutating spell on them so they would viciously attack like last time. Smith continued up the stairs and then he heard it again. He paused, froze in place, and crooked his head listening closely. “Show yourself! I know you’re there!”

          Suddenly a flash of light blinded Smith and a dark figure tackled him to the ground. He gave a muffled grunt surprise and dishes shattered as they clanged down several flights of stairs. Smith struggled to stand and he felt magical ropes tighten around him as they bound him to the wall. “Alright brother,” Smith’s tone was biting, “enough is enough! Release me!”

          “Brother?” A voice questioned, a voice much too high to belong to any man. “Who said anything about a brother?”

          Smith heard a pop of magic and his vision cleared. He gasped to see the face of a girl, the most beautiful girl he’d ever laid eyes on. Fierce green eyes looked at him in determination and bright red hair stuck out in every which way beneath her bonnet. She wore a full length colonial gown that looked like it came straight out of a history textbook and this intrigued him because most girls he knew would never be caught dead in public wearing something like that.

“Who are you?” The girl  demanded to know. “And who are you working for?”

“I could ask the same of you,” Smith said. He let out a moan as the ropes pulled tighter around him.

“Answer me! You were behind that plane attack, weren’t you? You will pay for endangering my family!”

“I don’t. . .”Smith was losing air fast, “know. . .what. . .you’re talking about.” His face flushed purple but he had enough air left to say, “I’m just a bellhop.”

The girl laughed. “Just a bellhop indeed! Then why are you sneaking up the back staircase?”

Smith nearly passed out but she twisted her hand and magically loosened the ropes a little. “I was not sneaking!” Smith said in outrage. “I don’t know who you are or why you suddenly felt the need to attack me because I’m just a poor bellhop named Smith trying to do my job the hard way because my evil brother is out to get me! And now, thanks to you, he has another reason to fire me.”

“Mmm,” the girl pondered knowing he was telling the truth yet wanting to toy with him anyway. “Why should I believe you?”

“I’m completely unarmed and know absolutely nothing about whatever it is you’re jabbering on about! If I really was in league with some villains society—-” 

          “Ah-ha! So you are evil!”

          “What? No!  Is this how you greet all strangers? By accusing them of being evil?”

          The girl nodded. “It’s much safer that way.”

          Confused by this twisted logic Smith said, “Sei pazzo!”

          Her face darkened and in fear of what she might do Smith hastily added, “And why are you lurking in a dark stairwell anyway?”

          “I’m not lurking!”

          “Oh sure, you’re not. What’s your name by the way?”

          She tossed her ponytail over her shoulder. “That’s for me to know and you to wonder.”

          Smith stared at her for a moment and she stared back, hands on her hips with fierce determination blazing in her eyes. “Okay, whatever,” he said. “So what do you plan on doing with me? You can’t keep me here forever.”

          “Well, you seem harmless enough so I guess I’ll let you go. But know that I’m watching you.” With a blast of magic, she thrust her hand forward and the ropes binding Smith to the wall suddenly came undone causing him to fall to the floor. “I’m Felicity by the way.” She bobbed a clumsy, off balance curtsy that nearly sent her toppling down the stairs. “How do you do?”

          What a strange person, Smith thought. “I’m doing horribly actually and it’s all your fault!”

          “My fault?! What did I do?”

          Smith rolled his eyes and started walking. “Wait!” she called after him. “Where are you going?”

          “Back to the kitchen!” Smith called over his shoulder. “You’re welcome to come but I doubt they’ll let you get away with kidnapping down there.”

          Felicity shrugged. “Why not? I might as well come, I’ve got nothing better to do.”

******************************************************************

          Felicity galloped down the hall, her skirts swishing with every step. “So this is where you work? It’s beautiful here! What do you do all day? Do you save the world by taking out evil villains? I’ve done that, a bunch of times actually and—”

          Smith snorted. “You nearly destroy the world just by being in it.”

          “Hey! That’s not very nice and I’ll have you know that I’m very good at what I do.”

          “Which is what exactly?”

          She tossed her ponytail again and turned her back on him. “Also for me to know and you to wonder.”

          He paused and looked down at the bouncing ball of energy before him. “Yeah, okay and the kitchen is this way.” Smith tried to squeeze past but she surprised him by gripping his arm tightly.

          “Wait!” Her bright green eyes stared intently into his. Smith was caught in a sea of excitement and found himself captivated by this enchantment she had over him. Her lips parted as if she were about to say something very serious and then, “Why are we going to the kitchen again?”

          Smith shook his head and jerked his arm away as he kept walking. “I’m going to the kitchen because it’s my job to serve the people of this hotel. You are here because—”

“Ooo!” Felicity squealed. Another bellhop came out of the elevator with an empty luggage cart. “I love these things!”

Smith just sighed. The strange girl dove onto the cart and rolled away in the opposite direction. This girl intrigued him but he had a job to do. She had already gotten him into enough trouble as it was.

******************************************************************

          “Where’s my room service?!” Bitty F. screamed into the phone fifty two floors above them.

          “Shh!” Emily shushed. “Inside voice Bitty, please!”

          “Oh right, sorry,” Bitty F. whispered then went right back to speaking loudly again. “You’re my bellhop! You should have been here by now!”

          Emily rolled her eyes and went back to reading. There was a pause as the person on the other side said something.

          “What do you mean a crazy red headed girl attacked you in the stairwell?”

          Emily looked up from her book. Felicity. Oh no, she thought, Samantha won’t be pleased when I tell her about this.

          “I don’t care what you’re excuse is, just get here! Now! I’m hungry!” Bitty F. slammed the phone back into place. “What I would give for some decent help around here!”

          A few minutes later there was a knock at the door. “Oh Emily!” said Bitty F. “Would you be a dear and get that for me?”

          Why? It’s your room service, Emily thought but she nodded mutely and got up anyway.

          Emily opened the door to find a young bellhop, near her own age, struggling to balance trays upon trays of Bitty’s favorite snacks. “Here,” said Emily. “Let me help you.” She reached to take something when the tray slipped from his fingers. They caught it at just the same moment and he lifted his eyes to meet hers. A faint blush rose to her cheeks.

          “Grazie,” he said. “Come ti chiami?”

          “Emily.”

          Her eyes were a soft gentle blue and Smith couldn’t help but notice that they lacked the intensity of the bright green ones belonging to the crazy girl her had met moments earlier. Like the crazy, Emily has beautiful red hair but hers was cropped short and very neat whereas Miss nut job had very long messy hair she kept stuffed under a colonial mob cap. Emily also wore a dress but it was straight out of the 1940s, not colonial America and it wasn’t anywhere near as filthy dirty as Felicity’s.

          “Hello!” Bitty F. cried. “Still waiting here! Would you two please stop staring at each other?”

          “Oh right,” said Smith as he tore his gaze away from Emily.

          Emily had finally worked up enough courage and was about to speak when–

          “Guys! You would not believe the amount of fountains this place has!”

          —the door burst open and in comes Felicity, right on time, looking disheveled, messy, and unusually wet.

          “You again?!” Smith exclaimed. “I thought I got of rid—”

“Smith? What are you doing here?”

“Wait,” said Emily. “You know each other?”

“Yes!” Felicity shouted as Smith protested, “No!”

Emily frowned as Felicity put an arm around Smith. “Of course we know each other! He’s my new best friend!”

“Oh no I’m not!” Smith hurried to remove her arm. “You have been in this country all of five minutes and already you accused me of being evil. And you almost got me fired!”

Emily’s eyes widened. “You almost got him fired?”

“Oh baloney,” Felicity waved the issue away. “He’s just being dramatic.”

“Excuse me,” said Bitty F. She wrestled a tray of food away from Smith. “I’ll take that!”

“You didn’t answer my question,” said Smith.

“Well,” said Felicity, “you never asked it!”

“What are you doing here?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Since you’re all hopelessly clueless,” said Bitty F. with a big mouth full of food. “Let me enlighten you. Smith, meet my adopted sisters, Felicity the nutcase—”

“Hey!”

“And Emily the sane, boring one.”

Emily felt her face heat up.

“We all live as one big, happy family on 742 Play Road Massachusetts.

“You mean to say,” Smith’s eyes widened in horror as worry lines etched themselves as across this features, “That I am the personal bellhop to that thing?” he pointed to Felicity.

Bitty F. nodded. “Yes!” Felicity shouted. “We’re gonna have so much fun this week!”

Smith closed his eyes as he banged his head against the wall. Emily giggled. Smith said, “Well, I really need to be going—”

“Aw! But you just got here!” Felicity interrupted.

“I’ll be back.” He added under his breath, “Unfortunately.”

Emily laughed quietly. Smith heard and it was she he was looking at when he said, “I have the evening shift off tomorrow. If you’re interested, I could maybe give you a private tour of Rome.”

“Ooo!” Felicity squealed. “Italy! At night! How romantic! I’d love to come. Thanks for the invite, I’ll be there!”

‘Um. . .,” said Smith, “I wasn’t—”

“I can’t wait!” Felicity ushered him out and waved as she slammed the door behind him. “See you tomorrow!”

******************************************************************

          The next day was a very busy one for our Playroom friends. Samantha keeps a tight, rigid schedule but even then there is room for something to go horribly wrong. In Pretend Friend Ville, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually called the Leaning Tower of Pizza and it’s made of well, you guessed it, pizza.

          Gwen stared up at it in a mix of awe and wonder as she read the sign, “The Leaning Tower of Pizza, a slice of heaven on earth.”

          “Get over yourself Gwen,” said Samantha. “That pizza is older than you are.”

          “Not by much, I’m an elf, remember?”

          Samantha chose to ignore that comment and instead gathered the troops. “I’m with Bitty, Emily you’re with Big D. and Felicity you’re with Gwen. here are your group schedules for the week.” She handed an envelope to each group.

          “Aw, you’re making us suffer through an opera and an art museum?” Gwen complained as she read over Felicity’s shoulder.

          “Yes Gwen,” said Samantha. “I am making you appreciate fine art in hopes you might actually learn something.”

          Felicity snorted. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen. We’re on vacation Samantha! Enough with the educational stuff. Can’t we do something fun?”

          “Some people think it is fun and you’d do well to—”

Felicity dashed off without listening. “Come along Gwen, let’s climb to the very top of this tower.”

Samantha sighed heavily. She rolled her eyes and commented to Emily as they watched Felicity and Gwen run up to the top. “She’ll never learn, will she?”.

******************************************************************

          “Did you hear that?” Felicity and Gwen ignored the Danger! Keep Out! Warning Structure Highly Unstable! Signs as they made their way up the dark, creepy, spider filled stairs of the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

          Gwen jumped. “H-hear w-what?”

          Thump, thump, whisper, whisper. “That?”

          “No, did you?”

          “I think someone is hiding in here. Or following us.”

          Thump thump, followed by male shouting, “You idiot! All our plans—”

          “Shh!”

          Gwen looked at Felicity in wide eyed terror. She said in a high squeaky voice, “Did you—?”

          Felicity nodded and moved towards the sounds.

          “Felicity! Wait! Where are you going?” Gwen said a little too loudly.

          The thumping stopped and a gruff male voice demanded, “Who’s there?”

          Felicity clamped a hand over Gwen’s mouth and whispered in her ear, “Stay calm and quiet so they don’t discover us. These guys are up to no good and I am going to get to the bottom of it. You can either stay hidden over here or come with me but I’m going to try and get closer. Nod if you understand.”

          Gwen nodded. Felicity continued, “We could attack, we have the element of surprise on our side but we’re out numbered and don’t really know what these guys are up to. They could be doing something perfectly legal.”

          Gwen pried Felicity’s fingers off her face. “Ha! Legal? In an off limits part of a famous monument?”

          “Well, you never know and I don’t want to do anything hasty.”

          Gwen snorted. “Like you’ve never done anything rash!”

          “Sta zitto! Don’t make me use the duct tape on you.”

          Gwen stayed silent, knowing that was a threat Felicity would follow through on. They crept forward together, Gwen whimpering as she clung onto Felicity’s skirt.  Felicity rolled her eyes at Gwen and strained her ears to listen closely.

          “The old man isn’t going to know what hit him.”

          “Yeah, we’re finally gonna get him, boss.” He snickered.

          “Quiet fool! It’s Mr. Senator Boss Man to you. Everything is in place. The laws will be passed and then we’ll get him and his cronies one by one.”

          “And the best part is,” said the sidekick, “Our good pal Giovanni is finally going to pay for what he did to us all those years ago. Italy will be avenged!”

          Gwen gasped. Felicity hurried to put a hand over her mouth but it was too late. The damage had been done.

          “Who’s there?” A bright flashlight shone on their hiding place but not before Felicity grabbed Gwen and darted behind a barrel of pizza sauce.

          “Did you see something boss?” the sidekick asked.

          “No, but I know someone is here.”

          “Is it the cops? The fuzz? The P-I-Gs?”

          “No you imbecile! If there were any real authorities in this country then we would have been caught a long time ago. I mean really, the police in this city are much too easy to bribe. No, these people are hiding from us.”

Gwen was hyperventilating which only made their situation all the more dire.

“Why?”  said the sidekick.

The boss man sighed in aggravation. “Need I explain everything? The people in this very room with us must not want us to know they’re here which means. . .?”

The sidekick nodded. “Oh. Which means. . .?”

“Shut up and help me find them!”

Felicity bit her lip, unsure of what to do. She glanced at the sauce barrels and at the open window overlooking the cobblestone streets and suddenly she had an idea. “Gwen!” Felicity hissed. By now, Gwen was curled into a ball, rocking back and forth. “Pull yourself together! On the count of three I am going to throw you out the window and hope you land in that dumpster behind that restaurant over there. If not, you’ll do a face plant on the  cobblestone street. Either way, I want you to run to the nearest dark alley and wait there until I find you. Tell no one of what we witnessed. Got it?”

“What? Wait. . . no! You can’t—”

 “One!” She grabbed Gwen by the scruff of the neck.

“Felicity! Wait—”

“Two!” Felicity swung her sister backwards.

“What are you—”

“Three!” Gwen went flying off the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

At the base of the tower, Samantha and company looked up. “Is it a bird?” said Bitty F.

“No,” said Big D. “Is it a plane?”

“No,” said Emily. “It’s a—”

“Gwen!” Samantha shouted. She took off in a run.

Meanwhile on top of the tower Felicity was trapped between two villains. She crouched behind the sauce barrels and they continued to approach, smiling to themselves. “Come out, come out wherever you are!”

“We got ‘em now boss!”

Felicity squeezed her eyes shut, murmuring a quick prayer. Then with a great mighty heave she flipped the sauce barrel on its side and sent it rolling towards them. Barrel after barrel she sent rolling at her attackers.

The sidekick screamed when several barrels crashed onto him and knocked him down with such force the barrels exploded causing sauce to pour everywhere. His boss was quicker, darting around barrel after barrel as they crashed into the flimsy pizza wall behind him. A police siren sounded in the distance and Mr. Senator Boss Man said, “Forget her! Let’s get out of here!”

Completely covered in pizza sauce, the two men ran down the stairs slipping and falling as they went. Felicity was about to follow when she realized the tower was surrounded by police. Hopefully they’ll be caught, she thought with a smile. But then so will I. Her smile faded.

With a running start, Felicity gracefully leapt out the window. The wind caught her skirt just right and acted as a parachute as it gently lowered her to the ground. As soon as her feet touched, Felicity hiked up her skirts and took off in a run. Now all she had to do was find Gwen—before Samantha did.

******************************************************************

          “Breaking news!” News media all over Italy was reporting, “Unexpected trouble at the Leaning Tower of Pizza today when two kids were caught on video sneaking into a highly unstable section under repairs. The delinquents vandalized two hundred barrels of sauce mortar and collapsed several walls. The police are asking for any information leading to the suspects, both American tourists. The Tower is closed for repairs until further notice.”

          Samantha picked up the remote and turned the T.V. off with a click. “Alright Gwen, talk to me.”

          Gwen held a bag of ice to her bruised face. She did not land anywhere near the dumpster. “Talk about what? I love to talk. I could talk all day—”

“I know it was you and Felicity who did it. Now tell me what actually happened.”

“Well, if you already know—”

“Gwen! Did Felicity throw you off the tower?”

“Um. . .maybe?”

“So that’s a yes.”

Gwen did not respond.

“So Felicity threw you off the tour and then vandalized the place. Why?”

“She told me not to tell you.”

“What? Why not?”

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Gwen muttered with a frown.

“What doesn’t make sense?”

“If the cameras caught us then they should have caught. . .”

“Who? Come on Gwen, tell me what’s really going on here. Or else Felicity is going to be in big trouble and not just with me.”

“First the police, then the media. . .the whole nation is corrupt!”

Samantha rolled her eyes. “What else is new? The whole world is corrupt.”

“True, but—”

“Gwen, I know what you’re thinking and there is nothing you can do.”

“But—”

“No buts. You could have and should have been arrested today and if the authorities really are as corrupt as you say then bailing you out isn’t going to be as easy as it is at home.”

“Yeah, and who’s fault do you think that is?”

“Felicity.”

“How do you think you’ll stop her?”

“I’ll try and talk some sense into her.”

“Ha! As if that’ll work!”

Samantha sighed. “I know. Just don’t follow her lead and do anything stupid, okay? I don’t want to start any wars or anything.”

“Oh relax,” said Gwen. “I’m sure it won’t come to that.”

“Yet,” Samantha added. “With Felicity, it’s a possibility.”

******************************************************************

Felicity kept running, pausing only long enough at the entrance of every dark alley to check for Gwen. She saw no sign of her and as she strayed farther and farther from any probable landing sights Felicity began to think, That rat! She must’ve gone back to the hotel without me. If she went to Samantha. . .her eyes blazed at the possibility, I’ll kill her.

Felicity wasn’t paying any attention to where she was going and suddenly she smacked into something, or rather someone, hard. “Oof!”

“Watch where you’re going lady!”

“Sorry.” Felicity gasped. “Smith? Is that you? What are you doing here, this far from the hotel? And why such a poor, bad neighborhood?”

Smith picked himself up, dusted himself off, and glared meanly at Felicity. “I do have a life outside of work you know and just because this neighborhood is poor doesn’t mean it’s bad.”

“Well,” Felicity said snootily as if such a statement ruffled her feathers. “You don’t have to be so mean about it.”

Smith just rolled his eyes and started to walk away. Felicity called, “Wait! Where are you going?”

“Home,” he said over his shoulder.

“Wait!” He stopped.

“You live here?”

“Yes Felicity, I live here.” Smith pointed to a hollowed out, window smashed, graffiti covered building.

Felicity gasped. “There?”

“Yes Felicity, there. Now if you’d stop gaping like a rich fool and come in I’m sure my mother would love to feed you.”

“Don’t you mean meet me?”

“No, I mean feed you. We are Italians after all.”

******************************************************************

Emily spent several hour that evening getting ready for Smith’s private tour of Rome. First, she had to take advantage of the hotel spa and then she had to find just the right outfit. “Which one Bitty, red or blue?”

“Neither.”

“Okay, then how about—”

“Emily, I don’t care! You look fine in either one.”

“Fine, fine? Or fine—”

“Emily! Get dressed already! He’s gonna be here soon.”

Emily nodded. “Right, right you are but—”

“Oh for the love of—” Bitty F. threw up her hands. “Emily, come on!”

“But. . .”

And so it went. Until finally, Emily was all dolled up and beautiful, waiting for that special knock at the door. But it never came.

An hour passed. Then another and another. Emily checked her watch, the door, and the phone repeatedly but to no avail. Every time the door opened her hopes would rise only to be utterly crushed when it was Gwen, Bitty F. or Samantha. They would come in quietly, giving a slight shake of their head. Emily, always the optimist, waited and wondered with patience.

Hours passed. No Smith. And no Felicity. To Samantha, that meant only one thing. Felicity was going to pay and she was going to pay dearly.

******************************************************************

          The moon shone through the window as Felicity gently eased opened the door to their hotel. She tiptoed in, cringing when the hinges squeaked. It was past midnight and she hoped—

          “Where have you been?” Samantha’s arms were crossed, her foot tapping impatiently and her nostrils flaring.

          Felicity winced and then forced a cheery smile. “Calm down, Samantha! I wasn’t doing anything bad.”

          “I’ll be the judge of that and the last time you said something like that we were all thrown in a government jail for your illegal time travel activities.”

          “But it all worked out in the end!”

          Samantha snorted. “Yeah, no thanks to you.”

          “Hey! I got us out and exposed an evil villain’s plot to take over the world using time travel. It’s not my fault the U.S. has too many silly rules regarding time travel. They should have thanked me since the scoundrel almost assassinated the president, remember?”

          Samantha shuddered for indeed that awful day was seared into her memory forever. “Where were you tonight, Felicity?”

          “Nowhere.”

          “I don’t believe that, not for a second.”

          “Out.”

          “Out with who? And please tell me it wasn’t Smith. And please tell me you weren’t trying to hunt down the guys who shot down our plane.”

          “So what if I was? Smith is my friend too and isn’t it our duty as good, law abiding citizens to rid the world of evil villains and corrupt governments?”

          “Felicity! We’re on vacation from work! And this is not our country. We have no right to meddle in their affairs.”

          “That was a government plane that hit us Samantha! It has something to do with the Senator guy on the tower today and Giovanni. I just know it does. There is something very wrong here and I want to find out what so I can help fix it.”

          “Just because you are from a time period when a particular group of people did not agree with a certain governments rule does not mean all governments now are evil.”

          “But this one is! Look at the evidence! And I could help them. You can’t just sit around doing nothing when people need help you can give.”

          “Felicity Merriman!” Samantha used her stern mom voice, a tone Felicity absolutely hates. “Stop it, stop it right now. There is nothing you can do except endanger this family. Personally, I don’t care what you do to Gwen. You can throw her to the moon for all I care.”

          “Hey!” Gwen shouted from her bed. “Person with a bruised face over here!”

          “Shut up Gwen!” Both Samantha and Felicity replied. Gwen muttered something incomprehensible.

          Felicity took advantage and was about to slip away when Samantha grabbed her arm. “Felicity, we’re not done yet.” Felicity sighed.

          “Again, Gwen doesn’t matter—”

“Heard that!” said Gwen.

“But what about the rest of us?” Samantha continued. “If it had been Emily up there on that tower today or even worse, Bitty or Big D.? What would you have done then?”

Felicity hung her head. “But it was Gwen—”

“Felicity, think for a minute before you go galloping off, would you? And please, please, please for once don’t be the hero. You cannot save everyone and everything—”

“But—”

“No, Felicity. Enough craziness. You have risked our lives too many times before in the past and for this vacation at least I want us to try and be a normal American family on vacation.”

Felicity pouted.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun but—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. But it’s not about having fun. It’s about saving people and ridding the world of evil.”

“Felicity, we are done talking about this and you are done being the hero of Italy. Now, were you off with Smith tonight or not?”

“Oh Samantha, Smith is the most wonderful, hardworking, honest gentleman ever! I don’t care that he’s poorer than church mice he’s great and—”

“Shh!” Samantha glanced over at Emily’s bed. Her eyes were closed but Samantha knew she heard.

Felicity only lowered her volume a notch or so. “He took me on a tour of Rome. He’s quite strong and handsome in the moonlight on a gondola ride. And we actually got along well after he stopped being hostile to me.”

“He’s the hostile one?” Samantha echoed in disbelief.

“Yes,” Felicity continued absentmindedly, as if she hadn’t a care in the world. “I met his family, they’re really nice except that evil step brother of his.” She gasped as a thought occurred to her. “I bet he’s involved with Mr. Senator Boss Man and the guys who blew up the plane!”

“Hold it!” Samantha interrupted. “Just because you don’t like someone—”

“Doesn’t mean they’re evil,” Felicity finished. “I got that but this time—”

“Felicity! Snap out of it! You were talking about—”

“Oh, Smith!” Felicity sighed dreamily as she sank comfortably into a recliner. “Oh, Samantha! I think I’m in love!”

Samantha was skeptical but Emily held in tears.

“And guess what?!” Felicity could barely contain her excitement. “Smith invited me out to dinner tomorrow, just me and him. But that isn’t all.”

Oh no, Samantha thought. “He’s taking the day off tomorrow! I invited him to hang out with us. I can’t wait!”

******************************************************************

          “Group one, Felicity, Emily and Smith. You are going to the art museum, the opera, and—”

Felicity made a face.

“—wherever Smith deems appropriate.”

Felicity grabbed Smith’s arm. “Come on Smith, let’s go!”

“Um. . .don’t you think we should wait for Emily?”

Felicity sighed, only it came out as more of a frustrated growl. “Fine, I guess.”

Smith held out his arm out to Emily and she hesitantly took it. “It isn’t every day I get to parade around Rome with two lovely girls on my arm, now is it?”

Felicity giggled. “He called me lovely!”

“Wow, you’d think she’s never been given a compliment before,” Smith murmured to Emily. It was her turn to laugh.

“Are you guys talking about me?”

Smith and Emily only laughed harder. Maybe this won’t be so bad, Emily thought as she looked up at Smith. He winked at her. And then Felicity had to ruin it again.

“Smith! Look over there! What’s that? Let’s go!” Felicity pulled Smith away from Emily with so much force Emily thought she would dislocate his arm. Smith laughed as he willingly followed. It seemed to Emily that he admired Felicity, how much was yet to be seen, but it was clear that romance was in Rome and for the rest of the day Emily was to be their shadow.

******************************************************************

          Emily spent more time chasing after Felicity and Smith than she did with them. During the opera, Felicity awhile and then convinced Smith to sneak out with her. Sneak out they did but they left Emily behind. By the time she realized they were gone it took her a good three hours to find them. At the art museum, Felicity used magic to enchant all the statues and paintings. It freaked Emily out along with many other unsuspecting tourists but to Smith who was in on it, it was great fun. Even though he didn’t yet care to admit it, this crazy colonial girl fascinated him and with her he was having the time of his life. Smith had had a hard life so far and it was good for him to be around someone as fun loving as Felicity. Smith had never even smiled before Felicity came barreling into his life but with her he laughed all the live long day. Captivated by green eyes, fiery red hair, and spontaneous personality, Smith didn’t even notice the shy yet equally beautiful Emily. She just seemed to fade into the background along with every other girl who was not Felicity.

          “Table for two please,” Smith requested.

          “Giovanni!” Felicity exclaimed.

          “Do I know you?”

          “Yes! I mean no, but you met my adopted sister Gwen—”

“Ah, Gwen. Yes, I remember. I hope you kids came hungry because today you are my very special guests. Table.” He clapped his hands and a table for two appeared in the center of the room on a raised platform. “Enjoy!”

Smith pulled out Felicity’s chair and she graciously sat down. “Um. . .guys?” said a timid voice behind them.

“What do you want Emily?” Felicity snapped.

“Um. . .where am I supposed sit?”

“Don’t know, don’t care.”

“What Felicity means is,” Smith said, “ask Giovanni. He’ll find you a seat. Everyone is welcome here. He actually helped my family once when we were living under a bridge.”

“You lived under a bridge?!” Felicity exclaimed in alarm.

“Yeah, but it was fine. Cold, wet, and miserable until Giovanni took us in. Then I found a job and a better place to live so we no longer had to impose on the old guy. Everyone in my neighborhood has been helped by Giovanni in some way.”

“Aw, my poor, poor, poor, Smith! Don’t worry, I’ll never let anything like that happen to you ever again. Order anything you want Smithy dear, I’m paying for today’s meal. Why are you still here Emily? Go ask Giovanni!”

“Um. . .right. . .okay, go up and talk to a stranger. You can do this Emily, you can.” Emily took a deep breath and marched up to Giovanni before she lost her courage. “Excuse me? Sir?”

“Oh goodness! Where did you come from?” Giovanni looked down at Emily while balancing three trays on each arm.

Emily opened her mouth, closed it, and blushed until her whole face was red.

“Just sit over there,” Giovanni gestured to a lonely, broken table in a dark corner. “We’re a full house today Miss, and that’s the only table available right now. Wait there, I’ll have someone take your order at some point.” Giovanni rushed off to the kitchen leaving Emily even more unsure and embarrassed than usual.

Hesitantly, she went back to Felicity and Smith’s table. “He told me to go sit over there,” she pointed to the dark table covered in spider webs. “So I guess I’ll go now.”

“Yeah whatever,” Felicity said as she clasped Smith’s hands and leaned across the table to gaze deep into his eyes.

“I’m really leaving now,” Emily continued. “I’ll just go sit over there, all alone. Just me, party of one.”

“Have fun,” said Smith. He only had eyes for Felicity.

Emily swallowed hard and walked away, trying desperately not to cry. I’ll just go sit alone as usual, she thought, and mourn my nonexistent social life. Emily sat in the shadows of shyness, forgotten by everyone, even the generous Giovanni.

******************************************************************

          “Oh, Smith,” Felicity sighed.

          “Oh, Felicity,” Smith murmured.

          “Oh, how I’m going to be sick,” said Emily. They were standing outside the door to their hotel room and Felicity was busy bidding goodbye to her beloved Smith.

          “Every year,” said Smith, “Giovanni hosts a festival for all the poor street rats of Rome. Most of the city turns out for the party and I was wondering—”

          “Yes!” Felicity shouted. “We would love to come!”

          “Alright then, I’ll be back—”

          “In an hour? Sure, I’ll be waiting for you dear Smith. Come along Emily, we have a lot of work to do to make me look presentable.”

          “That won’t be too hard,” Smith said, “for you are already the most beautiful girl—”

          “Oh, he’s such a charmer! Don’t you agree, Emily?” Felicity rose up on her toes to kiss Smith on the cheek. When she smiled at him, his heart nearly exploded it was pounding so hard. “I can’t wait!”

******************************************************************

          Samantha was just a little later, like a couple hours, than expected returning to the hotel for she literally had to pry Gwen off the Leaning Tower of Pizza. For such a skinny girl, she could really pack it away. As she walked down the hall, Samantha heard vicious arguing and screams arising from one of the rooms. Boy, she thought, would I hate to be related to that and then realized she was.

          “Give it back Emily!”

          “No! You always get whatever you want when you want it. It’s not fair! Why can’t I have something nice too?”

          “This is my party, he invited me, and that’s my dress! Stop pulling! You’re gonna rip it! Go back to being the little mouse of a girl you always are!”

          Samantha knew she had better intervene before this got even more out of hand. “Darn it!” She rattled the doorknob, realizing she was locked out. “They’re going to kill each other in there.”

          Samantha pounded on the door but paused when she heard, rip! Followed by a gasp and Felicity screaming, “I hate you!”

          Then a quieter, softer but no less deadly voice said, “No Felicity, not nearly as much as I despise you.”

          Then the door was yanked open with a blast of magic. Both girls stopped instantly when a voice demanded, “What on earth is going on in here?!”

          Felicity immediately threw Emily under the bus. “She started it!”

          “No, Felicity—”

          “I didn’t do—”

“She started it!”

“No, she started it!”

“I don’t care who started it,” Samantha said, “Because I’m ending it. Now, DROP. THAT. DRESS.”

They released their grip on the now ruined gown at the same time sending them both crashing into a heap on the floor.

“Good,” Samantha commented. “Now Emily, tell me what happened.

Felicity protested. “But—”

Samantha silenced her with a look. She said to Emily very gently, “Please, tell me what happened.”

“No.”

Both Samantha and Felicity looked up in surprise.

“You know what? I don’t even care anymore. Felicity, just go without me. You want Smith? Well, you can have him.”

Samantha tried, “Emily—”

“No, if Felicity wants it then I don’t.” Emily bolted from the room, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Emily!” Samantha called. She glared at Felicity. “Look what you did! I hope you’re happy now, Felicity.” Then she ran after Emily.

Felicity only felt the tiniest twinge of guilt. She didn’t know what to make of this for that was probably the most she’d ever heard Emily speak. Emily unnerved her most days, her silence making Felicity feel as if Emily was watching her every move only to judge and condemn her actions. Felicity would never dare admit this to anyone but she tended to be a little wary of Emily. But because she was so shy, it was easy to forget about Emily all together.

With impeccable timing, Smith knocked on the door. He extended a bouquet of flowers to Felicity with a smile. “Are you ready?”

Felicity sighed. “Sure? Why not? Let’s go.”

Smith paused. “Is Emily coming?”

“Probably not.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, forget her. Let’s go have the time of our lives.”

******************************************************************

“Breaking news!”

“Oh, shut up,” Gwen mumbled reaching for the remote.

 “Restaurant owner Giovanni rallied supporters in Ro—”

The T.V. turned off. “No!” Gwen shouted as she hurried to turn it back on again.

“—saying how unfair and unjust the new taxes are. He said. . .” The camera flashed to a clip of Giovanni standing in front of the government buildings with a thousand supporters chanting behind him, “Give us our money! Give us a chance! Give us our freedom! Give us Italy!”

Giovanni stood up at the platform. “Every day the poor keep getting poorer and every day the rich keep getting richer. This nation is in shambles and it is because of men like him!” He pointed to a picture and Gwen’s mouth fell open. It was Mr. Senator Boss Man, the very same guy she and Felicity had seen plotting on top of the Leaning Tower of Pizza.

“Italy!” Giovanni shouted. “Our government has been corrupted. Now is our chance to fight! Now is our chance for change!”

The picture on the screen flashed back to the newsroom. “The Senator’s reply cannot be discussed at this time but police forces have made several arrests and are monitoring the situation so our country does not become corrupted by the lies of Giovanni. Giovanni, the madman himself, is still on the loose. This is an interesting new path for Giovanni considering his history as a politician—”

          Gwen’s mouth gaped open.

          “Giovanni’s rebels have attempted several attacks on the leaders of Italy. It seems Giovanni is not the harmless, old restaurant owner he pretends to be. Giovanni claims peaceful protests yet his men have kidnapped several senators and even attempted an assassination of our dear, beloved president. One Senator in particular has promised to lead Italy to greatness and Giovanni to his downfall.”

Then the news turned to sports and Gwen turned the T.V. off, her mind reeling with the new information. Giovanni, a politician? Protests? Assassination attempts? The Giovanni she knew would never do any of that. Giovanni works best behind the scenes and he tries to stay out of government issues. Since all news media and press are corrupt, biased, liars. . . Gwen nearly collapsed under the weight of a new thought. Giovanni was set up. By who, the government, but why? Then Gwen gasped. The festival. . .

“Bitty! I’m going out!”

“What? Why—”

“If I’m not back with Felicity in two hours then send Samantha after us. I have a feeling something really, really bad is going to happen at that festival.”

******************************************************************

          “Who knew a poor peoples party could be so much fun!” Felicity exclaimed. A group of guests looked up at her. “Oops,” she whispered. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”

          Smith laughed and took her hand. “It’s okay, Felicity. Most people here know they’re poor and that it’s far better to be an honest poor man than a rich fool.”

          “In that case,” said Felicity, “let’s get this party started!”

          Smith laughed again, delighted in sharing this moment with Felicity. The party continued on, Felicity stealing all the attention. She made everyone happy that night as she danced on tables, strung up a zip line through the village square, played rough with the little boys, braided flowers into little girl’s hair, and sampled everyone’s fine cooking. Everyone loved Felicity, but perhaps not quite as much as Smith.

          “Felicity?” he said softly as they slow danced under the lanterns. Her head was resting on his chest and he thought now was the perfect time for—

          A panting ball of Gwen suddenly came barreling between them. Felicity and Smith jumped apart, Felicity speaking to Gwen as if she were a dog. “What is it girl? Did Bitty fall down the well again?”

          Breathing hard, Gwen shook her head.

          “Okay, then what—”

“ThenewscasterladyontvsaidthatGiovanniandthesenatorandaplotwithassainationattemptswiththepresidentandpoorrebelsattackingsomethingabouthistoryandhewassetupandnowI’mafraid—”

          “Whoa!” Smith interrupted. “Slow down! Did you catch any of that?” He asked Felicity.

          “Hmm. . .no, I didn’t understand a word of it. But I know someone who could.” She pulled out a phone. “Good thing I’ve got a Gwen whisperer on speed dial.”

          “Hello!” Logan shouted through the phone. They could hear the Antarctic wind whipping in the background.

          “Hey Logan!” Felicity shouted back. “This is Felicity. I have a problem—”

          “You have a what?”

          “Problem!”

          “Program?”

          Felicity rolled her eyes. “Problem! I cannot understand Gwen.”

          “No one can!”

          “Tahtdraeh!” Gwen protested.

          Smith looked at her in surprise. “What language is that?”

          Felicity ignored them and shouted back at Logan, “I know! But she’s trying to say something important and I really need to know what it is.”

          “Okay! Hurry before the line goes dead! We’re in a major storm here!”

          Felicity nodded at Gwen. “Go on, tell her what you told us.”

          Gwen opened her mouth and said, “diarfam’IwondnaputessawehdnayrotsihtuobaginhtemosgnikcattasleberroopdnatnediserpehthtiwstpmettanoitaniassahtiwtolpadnarotanesehtdnainnavoiGtahtdiusvtnoydalrestucswenehT.”

          Felicity and Smith looked at each other in disbelief. “Did she. . .?” “Wasn’t that. . .?”

          “Logan!” Felicity said, “Did you get all that?”

          “Um. . .I’m a little rusty on my ancient elfin languages and Gwen tends to ramble a bit when she’s upset—”

          “Logan!” Felicity shouted impatiently, “Just say it already!”

          “Okay fine, be that way—”

          “Logan!”

          And Logan said in an overly excited Gwen like tone, “The newscaster lady on tv said that Giovanni and the senator and a plot with assassination attempts with the president and poor rebels attacking something about history and he was setup and now I’m afraid.”

          Smith went pale. Even Felicity muttered an, “Oh, my.”

          Logan said, “Who’s Giovanni and what—”

          “Never mind that now!” Felicity hung up on Logan and started running. “Come on, guys! We have to stop something bad from happen—”

          KABOOM! Smoky ash filled the village square as buildings crumbled around them. Gwen nearly fainted. We’re too late, she thought. A helicopter roared overhead. The media, Smith thought bitterly.

          “Snap out of it soldiers!” Felicity barked. “We have work to do! Tend to the wounded! Clear everybody out in the next ten mile radius! Sniff out more bombs and disarm them! Then meet in that dark alley over there if the buildings around it haven’t collapsed here. Hurry! Do as much as you possibly can in a short amount of time. Then we’ll hunt for clues and whoever did this although I think I already have a good idea. Ready, go!”

          Smith, Gwen, and Felicity scattered in all different directions, Smith worried for his friends and family, Gwen wondering how one would go about disarming a bomb and Felicity anxious to see justice served.

******************************************************************

“Samantha!”

          “What do you want Bitty?”

          “It’s been two hours!”

          Samantha frowned. “Two hours since what?”

          “I don’t know. I was just supposed to tell you when two hours were up.”

          “Um. . .okay, is there a particular reason? Or—”

          “Gwen!” Bitty F. shouted. “I remember! Gwen said something about—”

          “What? What did Gwen say?”

          “Danger! And Felicity.”

          “What?!! What exactly did Gwen say?”

          “Um. . .I forget.”

          Samantha smacked a hand to her forehead.

          “Oh, I remember! Something about feeling bad? No, that wasn’t it. Oh, oh, oh! The festival! Something bad happening at—”

          “The festival!” Samantha exclaimed. “Gwen went to the festival with Felicity?”

          “Um. . .maybe? I don’t know. I try to avoid you guys and your problems as much as possible.”

          Samantha sighed. “Alright, I’m going to that festival. Bitty stay here—”

          “Who do I tell?”

          “What?”

          Bitty F. nodded. “Who do I tell? When you don’t come back, then who do I tell?”

          Samantha said grimly, “If I don’t come back then we are all probably dead somewhere or in prison. But. . .call Nellie. She’ll know what to do.”

******************************************************************

          Samantha heard the police sirens before she got to the scene of the crime. News media all over Italy was reporting that Giovanni’s rebels attempted to blow up Rome. Samantha wondered how anyone could believe that load of garbage when the only area damaged was the poor sector of the city which is where all the “rebels” live. “Excuse me, sir?” Samantha asked the nearest police officer. “What happened here?”

          The officer shrugged. “They’re saying it was another rebel attack. But if you ask me. . .oh, never mind.”

          “What? Please tell me.”

          “Don’t matter much what I think, do it now? It’s all about what the higher ups pay me to think.”

          “But surely you’re entitled to your own opinion?”

          “Of course. But only a dummy would dare express it. And I ain’t no dummy. Now if you’ll excuse me miss, I must ask you to leave. This area is off limits for the investigation. Some investigation that’ll be. They’ll probably just call us all down to the station and pay us to keep our mouths shut. A strange game, politics. It’s all about image, appearance, reputation, who has more money and who is most willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get it. A lot of good that’ll do you in the end times. This Giovanni guy, now he is the only real hero this town has ever had. Undercover like, secretive ways, knows how to get ya where it hurts,” he pounded on this chest, “and a kinder man you’ll never meet. To do this to him, turn him into a scapegoat for all the problems they’ve caused, it’s just plain wrong. They’re afraid, I think. Afraid of what the world would be like if there were more Giovannis out there. A world a little less corrupt. A world with a little more love in it. Now that’s the kinda world you and I want to be living in. Not so with these fancy government types. No, they’re too blinded with power and wrapped up in themselves to share in the common good. But you didn’t hear any of that from me.”

          Samantha nodded in a kind of dazed, stunned silence. “I didn’t hear anything from you.”

          He winked at her. “Good, you and me kid, we know what matters.”

          They started to part ways when Samantha suddenly exclaimed, “Wait! My friends, they were at a party here—”

          “If they were injured then they’d be taken to the hospital by now. If not, then they’re in prison. Or. . .” he looked around to make sure no one was listening, “they’re still running free in there.” he gestured to the smoking pile of rubble and hollowed out buildings that looked anything but safe. The officer dropped his voice to a whisper, “I heard a rumor about three kids who organized the evacuation, tended the wounded, disarmed the remaining bombs before they went off, and helped several families escape before we got here and started arresting everyone. Made a lot of higher ups very angry those kids did and they have yet to be caught. Might be your friends.”

          “That sounds like them alright, but how did you know. . .?”

          The man smiled. “Oh, let’s just say I had a funny feeling from a friend.” He pointed up. “Now that’s one higher up I’m glad to serve and you can see Him at work in and through people like your friends. Good day to you miss, and good luck.”

          “Thank you so much!” Samantha called after him. She shook her head in amazement. “Wow, what a nice guy.” Then she went chasing after Felicity in more of a thoughtful mood. The police officer had given her a lot to think about.

******************************************************************

          Gwen was visibly shaking as she timidly crawled into the dark alley meeting place to await Felicity’s next orders. “Hello?” Gwen called. “Anybody here? Felicity? Smith?”

          Gwen’s eyes began to widen in fright and the hairs on the back of her neck were prickling when she heard heavy breathing and heavy footsteps echoing in the alley behind her. Suddenly it grew closer and someone whispered in her ear, “Boo!”

          Gwen jumped six feet in the air. Felicity doubled over in laughter. “You face! You should have seen your face! I wish I had gotten that on camera!”

          “Hey! That’s not funny!”

          Felicity laughed harder. “Oh, but I think it is.”

          “Where’s Smith?”

          “Right here,” said Smith as he appeared in the alley.

          Felicity bombarded him with questions. “Did you find your family? Are they okay? Did they make it out?”

          “Well, great uncle Anthony didn’t make it. He was helping others get out when the building came down on top of him.”

          “Oh Smith,” Felicity said softly. “I’m so sorry.”

          “It’s okay. He turned one hundred and ten last week. He lived a great life is probably very happy it was him and not his grandchildren or anyone else.”

          “But still. . .why would a government try and kill its own people? It just doesn’t make any sense at all. Anyway, what about the rest of your family?”

Smith hung his head.  “My step brother set it up to look like I work with the evil government and was going to turn them in to be arrested. Apparently, my brother “saved” them from me. My mother and sisters are safe in the countryside now but they never want to see me again. They officially disowned me.”

“Oh, Smith!” Felicity squeezed him tight in a warm hug. She was covered from head to toe in dirt, her skirts were soaking wet and ripped, she smelled like ripe garbage but to Smith she had never looked lovelier. She had risked her life to help others, a quality that only made Smith fall deeper in love with her. “Oh, Smith!” Felicity exclaimed again. “How terrible! What about your father?”

“He’s been missing for years. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Is that why—”

          “Felicity,” Smith said sternly. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

          “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Oh, Smith! I feel just terrible for you! I can’t even begin to imagine how miserable my life would be without my family even though Samantha can be quite the stick in the mud at times. You’re just like us now. An orphan. All alone in the world, feeling the sting of rejection. A misfit, an outcast with no place to call—”

          “Thanks Felicity, but I think I got that.”

          “Poor Smith! Oh! I know how we could help you! Maybe we could adopt—”

          “Oh no you don’t!” said a firm, familiar, authoritative voice. “We are not adopting Smith.”

          “Samantha!” Felicity went pale. “What are you doing here?”

          “What am I doing here?! What am I doing here?!” Samantha echoed. “I’m here to make sure you don’t do something stupid and crazy like adopt Smith. He’s an actual person Felicity, not just some stray cat you can take in off the street.”

          “But why not?” Felicity whined. “He needs a family and we adopt people all the time. He could be like the brother we’ve never wanted.”

          “No, Felicity. And if you haven’t noticed, we don’t just adopt strangers willy nilly. Sorry Smith, but I think you’re old enough to look out for yourself and—”

          “No need to be sorry Miss Samantha,” said Smith. “You couldn’t pay me enough money to be adopted into your family.”

          Felicity gasped. “I’m deeply hurt and offended by that!”

          “I hate to bust up this lovely chat,” said Gwen, “but we’re still running from an evil government here!”

          “Shh!” Felicity hushed. “I think I hear someone. Quick! Everyone into that dumpster! Now!”

Gwen dove in head first. Smith held out his hand to help Felicity in but she ignored it and cannonballed in on her own. Samantha sighed as she glanced down at her clean, new old Edwardian style dress. “Why does it always have to be a dumpster?”

“Come on!” Felicity grabbed her arm and pulled her in. Samantha wrinkled her nose in disgust. Felicity beamed at her.

“Isn’t this fun?” Felicity whispered.

“Oh yeah,” Samantha said sarcastically.

“Shh!” said Gwen. “They’re coming!”

Outside the dumpster a male voice said, “Did you get the plans?”

“What plans?”

“Idiot!” Mr. Senator Boss Man said. “I was relying on you—”

“The president is sending a man to the hotel tonight.”

“Which hotel?”

In the dumpster, Felicity nudged Smith. “Maybe it’s our hotel.”

Samantha said, “Oh come on, we’re not that lucky.”

Mr. Senator Boss Man’s henchman said, “The big one with all the Americans.”

Felicity smiled smugly at Samantha as she mouthed, “I told you so!” Samantha scowled.

“And you’re sure this mystery man will come through? Because everything is riding on this.”

“Of course I’m sure! The man will be in the lobby by the conference center, next to the pool.”

“Good. And no one arrested Giovanni, right?”

Felicity frowned. Weren’t they trying to catch Giovanni?

“Right, Giovanni is still running free.”

“Which is going to make our revenge even sweeter.”

“If all goes well. It could backfire horribly for everyone in Rome.”

“But that is a risk we are willing to take.”

“We’ll exchange the plans, maps, keys to the city and evidence to plant on Giovanni tonight.”

A slight pause the sidekick asked, “What about those kids?”

“What kids?”

“The ones who—”

“Oh, those kids. Have them arrested and then sentence them to the coliseum reenactments.”

“What’s that mean?” Felicity whispered to Smith.

He had gone pale. “Certain death.”

“Shh!” Samantha hissed. “Zip it and pay attention!”

Mr. Senator Boss Man continued, “But don’t worry about it if you don’t catch them.”  

“But boss, won’t they–”

“Ha! They’re just kids. It’s not like they can stop us from conquering Rome and rebuilding her into the great empire she used to be.”

Gwen’s eyeballs nearly popped out of her head. Felicity growled a warning at her. “Make one sound and I’ll bury you so deep in this dumpster you will never see the light of day again. Got it?”

Gwen opened her mouth but Felicity held a finger up to it. “Ut-ut-uh, shh! Remember?” Gwen nodded.

Outside the dumpster, the villain’s laughter rang out in the alley as they walked away. A few minutes passed before a voice with a thick Italian accent called softly, “They’re gone. You can come out now.”

“Is it safe?” whispered Smith.

“I’m not sure,” Samantha replied. “It could be too risky.”

“Ooo! I know!” Felicity grabbed Gwen.

“Hey! What are you—”

Felicity thrust Gwen upward so her head stuck out. “Felicity!” Samantha sighed in exasperation.

“What? You said you didn’t care about Gwen.”

“You said what?!” Gwen accused.

“Shut up and tell me what you see,” said Felicity.

“I see. . .” Gwen squinted to make out a hooded figure in the dim lighting. “Giovanni!”

“Yes, yes, it’s me now hush up and tell your friends—”

“Giovanni!” Felicity popped her head up letting go of Gwen who fell headfirst to the ground.

“Ouch! Thanks a lot Felicity!”

“You’re welcome,” Felicity said as she neatly stepped down.

“What are you doing here, Giovanni?” Samantha asked picking a piece of garbage off herself.

“Yeah, what are you doing here?” Smith echoed.

“Come with me to my restaurant. We have a lot to discuss. Hurry now! And keep quiet, we’re not out of the woods yet.”

******************************************************************

          Bitty F. watched the second hand tick around and around and around while the minute hand slowly moved forward. “Time’s up!” Bitty F. shouted.

          “Uh?” said Emily.

          “It’s been two hours! Samantha isn’t back yet!”

          “So?”

          “They’re dead somewhere or in prison! I have to call Nellie!”

          “Bitty, wait! I’m sure there’s—”

          “Hello?” Bitty F. shouted into the phone. “Nellie?”

          “Yes?” The blizzardy wind was howling in the background. “Who is this?”

          “Bitty! I need help!”

          “You need kelp?”

          “HELP! Samantha, Gwen, and Felicity are dead—”

          “Dead?!”

          “Or in prison. I don’t know, I need help! They’re with Smith at this festival but the news lady says Giovanni blew up that part of the city and—”

          “Whoa, Bitty! Slow down! Who is Smith? What festival—”

          Police, ambulance, and fire truck sirens wailed in the distance. Bitty F. started crying. “I’m scared Nellie, they haven’t come back yet and something bad happened with the government and—”

          “Okay Bitty, calm down—”

          “Should I go look for them?”

          “No! Bitty, stay right where you are especially if there’s danger in Rome. Hang on, I’m coming on the first flight that leaves this poor, icy excuse for a land mass.”

******************************************************************

          Samantha, Gwen, Felicity and Smith sat at a table in Giovanni’s restaurant calmly sipping tea and eating light pastries.

          “This is delicious,” said Gwen.

          “Thank you Giovanni,” Samantha said.

          “Alright,” Felicity chimed in. She rudely guzzled her tea and nearly swallowed the pastries whole. Samantha almost scolded her but then decided to let it slide. “Let’s get down to business. Giovanni—”

          “Yes, yes, I need to explain a few things first.” He stopped to slowly sip his tea.

          Impatient as always Felicity said, “Giovanni! What happened between you and that senator guy?  Why is he out to get you? Why did the media lie about—”

          “Patience, young one, patience. All good things come in time.”

          Felicity scowled. Giovanni calmly ate a pastry, much to Felicity’s annoyance. “A long time ago,  Rome used to be an empire—”

          “Could we skip ahead a little?” Felicity interrupted. “We don’t really need to go all the way back to ancient times, do we?”

          “Felicity!” Samantha scolded.

          Giovanni frowned at Felicity. “As I was saying, the history of Rome is rather terrible. Right from the get go Roman government has been filled with bad, power hungry people although it pretends to be a democracy. Some of that has carried into modern times—”

          “Like Mr. Senator Boss Man!” Felicity added.

          “Who?”

          “You don’t know him?”

          Gwen said, “The guy who is publically turning you into a rebel and—”

          “Ah, yes. That guy. We—”

          “Why is he doing that?” Felicity asked. “It seems—”

          “Felicity Merriman!” Samantha shouted. “Shut up and let the poor man speak, would you?”

          Giovanni nodded at Samantha. “Thank you. Now this ‘Mr. Senator Boss Man’ as you call him is my mother’s cousin’s friend’s uncle’s neighbor who lives across the street from my sister Sally’s sweet shop.”

“Well, that’s a distant relation,” said Gwen.

“Shh!” Samantha glared at her.

Giovanni ignored them both and said, “He’s always been ambitious, going back to when we were kids.”

“In the dinosaur ages,” Felicity snickered. Samantha glared at her.

“He has big dreams,” Giovanni continued. “Not to prosper Italy but to destroy it. He is one of those men who is so easily driven mad by greed, power, and—”

“Why you?” asked Felicity.

“Pardon?” said Giovanni.

 “What Felicity means is,” said Samantha, “why would this guy attack you to get what he wants?”

“Ah, an excellent question Miss Felicity,” said Giovanni. “The short answer is revenge.”

“Revenge?” Gwen said in surprise. “What? Why—”

“Giovanni!” Felicity exclaimed. “What did you do?”

“Felicity,” Smith laid a hand on her arm, “I think it’s best if you—”

“Shut up?” Samantha offered.

“Yeah that,” said Smith.

“Okay, now you’re just being mean,” Felicity complained.

“Come on guys!” said Gwen. “We’re not accomplishing anything here!”

“My thoughts exactly,” Felicity grumbled.

“And whose fault is that?” said Samantha.

“Do you want information or not?” Giovanni asked.

“Yes!” Everyone shouted all at once.

Giovanni shook his head. “Never mind. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want you kids—-”

“No!” Felicity exclaimed. “Giovanni, we’re already involved. We need—”

“He’s right Felicity,” said Samantha.

“What?! Whose side are you on here?”

“Do not blame your sister,” Giovanni said. “This is too dangerous. I do not want you kids to get hurt.”

“But they’re planning—”

“Felicity,” Samantha warned.

“It does not matter,” Giovanni continued. “This is not your mess to clean up. I thank you very much for what you did today—”

“See!” Felicity burst. “If we could do that—”

“It’s over Felicity,” said Samantha. “You had your adventure. Now it’s time—”

“No! Can’t you see the story is so far from over? That we can never give up the fight—”

“Felicity,” Smith said quietly. “It’s time for us to go.”

Felicity gawked. “Not you too!”

He grabbed her arm. “Come on!”

Outside the restaurant, Felicity struggled to free herself from his grasp. “Let go of me, you wretched, vile, horrible, person you!”

He let her go. “I’m trying to help you! Those guys will be at the hotel any minute to exchange the plans and we have to be—”

Felicity slapped his arm. “Why didn’t you say so you silly goose!” She hitched up her skirts and started running. “Come on! There’s not a moment to lose! To the hotel!”

******************************************************************

          Felicity squatted behind a potted plant in the lobby of the hotel. “Do you see him yet?” She whispered to Smith.

          “Um. . .no. Well, no. Wait. . .there’s a guy over there in a suit. He might—”

          Felicity tackled him. The man thrashed about, bystanders trying to come to his rescue. Felicity rode him around the lobby as if he were a mechanical bull.  “Give me the plans! You’ll never get away with whatever it is you’re scheming you—-”

          “Aiuto! Ferma! Chiamino la polizia!” The man shouted. “And what plans? I’m just an ordinary American businessman on an ordinary business trip.”

          “Oh, likely story!” Felicity clamped a hand over his mouth as the man at the desk called hotel security. “That’s everyone’s cover story nowadays! You know what plans I’m talking about you dirty, lying, filthy, stinking, bad guy!”

          Smith slapped a hand to his forehead. “I can’t watch,” he muttered. But then out the corner of his eye he saw two men standing in the shadows of the hallway. They spoke in hushed, hurried tones as one handed the other a briefcase. “Felicity!” Smith hissed.

          She didn’t hear. The average businessman wrestled her arm off his mouth. “Get off me you crazy fool!”

          “Never! Just like you and your villain squad will never win!”

“Felicity!” Smith hissed louder. The men in the hallway parted ways. Felicity kept on bashing the innocent man over the head with his briefcase. “Oh for goodness sake,” Smith muttered. He was about ready to tear his hair out in frustration.

 By now, hotel security had Felicity and the businessman surrounded. Smith cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted to be heard. “Felicity, you’ve got the wrong man! The real guy is getting away!”

“What?! Why didn’t you say something!”

“I tried!”

“Well, you should’ve tried harder!” She tightened her grip on the businessman and moved until she was almost standing on his shoulders. “Smith, catch me!”

Before Smith could register what that meant, Felicity jumped off the businessman, flew over the hotel officials and landed in a pile of Colonial skirts on top of poor Smith who was flattened on the ground. Felicity instantly sprang back to her feet. “Come on Smith! What are you doing down there? We have a villain to catch!”

Felicity and Smith chased the two goons down the hall as hotel security followed close behind them. At a fork in the hallway, they split up. One villain went way while Smith ran after followed by half of hotel security. The other went the other way with a crazy colonial girl chasing after. With heavy skirts weighing her down, Felicity couldn’t run as fast as the man with the briefcase. As they reached the swimming pool, the man slowed on the wet tiles while Felicity slid and skidded towards him gaining enough momentum to pounce. Felicity and the man rolled around on the floor, fighting to gain possession of the briefcase. In the tussle, the briefcase went soaring into the air over the swimming pool. Felicity dove into the pool head first without even waiting to see where it landed. Water logged and desperate, Felicity looked up to see the man standing, completely dry, on the opposite side of the pool triumphantly holding up the briefcase. By now, the police had arrived at the scene. Felicity scowled and shook her fist as they, and hotel security, surrounded the pool.

******************************************************************

          “Felicity Merriman! What on earth were you thinking?” Samantha exploded in a rage when hotel security dropped a rather wet and angry looking Felicity off that their room with the strict instructions that the whole family had twenty four hours to get out of the country and never come back.

          “Where’d you find that drowned sewer rat?” Gwen said with a laugh. Felicity silenced her with a menacing glare.

          Samantha ignored Gwen as she continued, “You weren’t thinking, were you? You never stop and think! That poor, poor, businessman you attacked, you are so lucky he didn’t decide to press charges. And then you chased a man involved in the evil government plot after Giovanni and myself explicitly told you not to. This is all over the news. Way to be subtle, Felicity. Now all the bad guys have another reason to want to capture us. Great going. Did I mention how angry I am with you right now? Felicity, look at me.”

          Felicity shivered in her wet things and looked up at Samantha, wishing she could look down again. There is nothing Felicity hates more than a good old fashioned motherly lecture. She hoped Samantha didn’t turn dragon on her.

          “I tried to warn you to stay out of it but no, you didn’t listen. You just had to be the hero and ‘save’ Italy. Even Giovanni basically told you that this nation is a lost cause—”

          “He never said that!” Felicity protested. “And no one is too far gone for—”

          “Giovanni did say to stay out of it. That this is not your mess to deal with—”

          “But—”

          “No buts, Felicity. It’s over–”

          “It’s never over,” Felicity whispered fiercely.

          “Oh, but it is. For you at least. We’re going home tomorrow whether you like it or not.”

******************************************************************

          The next morning, Felicity snuck out early before dawn. If this was her last day in Italy then she was going to make the most of it. She cautiously peaked out the door and seeing no one, decided to proceed.

          “Buon compleanno,” a low voice said in her ear.

          Felicity jumped. She put a hand over her heart and said dramatically, “Oh Smith. Don’t you ever scare me like that again! I thought you were Samantha.”

          Smith mumbled an apology.

          “Wait. . .how did you know it was my birthday?”

          Smith grinned. “Gwen’s been blabbing it to the hotel staff all week in hopes we’ll make a giant cake for you.”

          “Will you?”

          His smile fell. “We were until . . .”

          “Are you going to help me?”

          He frowned. “Help you with what? Getting us both locked up for the rest of our lives?”

          “No! With saving your country from total ruin and evilness.”

          “If you do something for me first.”

          “What? You really mean it, you’ll help me?” Felicity’s excitement and attention span matched that of a puppy’s.

          “Yes, but only if you let me make this a happy birthday.”

          “Chasing villains makes me happy.”

          “Yeah, but I’m got something greater in store for us today. Follow me.” Extremely puzzled, Felicity followed after Smith for a change, instead of their usual him being dragged behind her.

******************************************************************

          “Breaking news!” Emily was about to shut the T.V. off when she realized this wasn’t another segment on “Crazy Americans destroying the peace of Italy” complete with photos of Felicity throwing Gwen off the Leaning Tower of Pizza, Felicity standing next to a bomb seconds before it went off, and Felicity riding a businessman. 

          “Government officials are kicking off their rooftop party on top of the Capitol building today, a custom tradition in Rome when all leaders gather to celebrate the nation’s yearly successes.”

          Celebrating how well their evil plots went is more like it, Emily thought.

          “This year the party’s theme is music. Each member of the senate has brought an instrument they’d like to play. We’ll see them in action later today. In other news, a wild forest fire rages on the outskirts of town, several firefighters have been hurt in the blaze. In the poor sector of the city, an out of control seven alarm fire rages. Reports of panic from the people but I’m here to tell you not to panic. Firefighters have everything under control and things will calm down soon. Instead of panicking over events not likely to take place, take the day to celebrate all our government has done to protect and prosper us over the year.”

          Emily frowned but didn’t think much of it until a moment later when she accidently ran into a businessman in the hall.

          “Mi scusi,” he muttered. Emily blushed and then stumbled onto him, sending his clipboard of papers flying everywhere. “Watch where you’re going, fool!”

          The evil glint in his eye was eerily familiar. She reached to help pick up pages when her eye caught a glimpse of one that read:

Operation Nero  

She strained to see—

He quickly snatched it away and quickly hurried off. Emily gasped. Fire. Rich higher ups playing musical instruments on the roof. Nero. Gwen just happened to be walking by. “Gwen!” Emily grabbed her sister by the shirt.

“Huh? What?”

“We have to find Felicity! But she won’t listen to me so you’re going to be my voice.”

Gwen’s eyes narrowed. She hated to be the bearer of bad news especially where Felicity is involved. “What do I have to say?”

Emily whispered in her ear and Gwen’s eyes bugged out of her head. “We have to find Felicity!”

******************************************************************

          Felicity sighed dreamily as she rested her face in her arms. The whole gondola boat rocked sideways and Smith hurried to balance out her weight before she plunged them both into the inky black water. “Oh, Smith! Why—”

          “Shh,” he pressed a finger to her lips. “Per favore, don’t speak. There’s something I need to tell you.” He pulled out a small box wrapped in loud wrapping paper and a giant red bow on top.

          “Oh, Smith. You didn’t have to—”

          “But I want to. You see dear Felicity, you make me happy in a way I’ve never known before. My life so far has been one big bowl of sorrow but finally you showed me how to smile again. How to laugh and be merry despite all the evilness in this world. You make me happy Felicity, and your courage to do the right thing, the impossible things inspires me. Grazie mille. Now go on, open it.”

          Without any further invitation, Felicity furiously ripped off the wrapping paper and gasped to see a watch. But not just any watch, it was a magical time travel watch that you could go any place during any year whenever you want. With it, you do not need to take the time travel train and your actions in the past are not monitored by any officials. There are only three such watches in existence because they are made of a very ancient dangerous magic by a banished wizard, no one else has ever figured out how to replicate it and they’re illegal on most planets.

          “Oh, Smith. I absolutely love it! But how? You must have had to sell your soul to the devil to get your hands on one of these babies.”

          Smith grimaced. “Not quite, but it did come at a heavy cost and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life paying for it. But you are so worth it, Felicity. Ti amo.”

          Felicity didn’t know any Italian so she didn’t catch that last phrase but just the fact of poor Smith squandering money he didn’t have for her when he is still homeless was enough to tame, at least a little, her wild heart. He leaned forward, so close that she thought he might—

          A frantic ball of Gwen came crashing down between them. “Hey, guys. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” She grinned.

          Felicity almost smacked her. “Gwen?! Really, now?”

          “Perfect timing, huh?”

          Emily stepped out of the shadows. Felicity’s eyes blazed. “You!”

          Smith held her back. “Felicity—”

          “Who does she think she is? Coming here? Right when—” Felicity’s face flushed red.

          “None of that matters now!” Gwen snapped. “Rome is about to become a blazing inferno!”

          Smith paled as Felicity’s jaw dropped. “What?”

          Emily nodded and whispered, “The government—”

          Felicity growled. “Easy girl,” said Smith.

Then they all looked up to see smoke billowing in the distance. “Where’s the water supply?” Felicity asked.

Emily quietly piped up, “All the firetrucks are surrounding the capitol building.”

“There’s been a drought lately,” added Smith. “Water has been rationed for months now.”

“I wonder who’s responsible for that,” said Gwen.

Felicity let out a curse. “Okay, evacuate as many people as possible.”

“How?” Gwen asked. “Fire is closing in on all sides.”

“Figure it out!” Felicity snapped. “Use Giovanni’s blimps, enchant other things to fly, do something! Go! Help anyone with anything unless they’re the government!”

The gang started running but Felicity pulled matches out of her stays, colonial term for corset, and went running in the opposite direction. Smith paused. “Wait, where are you going?”

Smith was frightened by the gleam in her eye and the grin on her face when she said, “If Rome is going to burn, then the government is burning with us.”

******************************************************************

          “I’m scared Samantha,” whimpered Bitty F. as she buried her face in Samantha’s skirt.

          “I know Bitty,” Samantha soothingly stroked Bitty’s bald head. They stood on the roof of the hotel as fire consumed the rest of the building. Hundreds of people were screaming and running in circles.

          “We’re gonna die!” Bitty screamed. Samantha hated to admit she was right. Felicity, Gwen, and Emily were still missing while Samantha, Bitty, and Big D. were trapped on a burning building. A helicopter zoomed overhead. “Hit the deck!” Samantha cried and both babies complied.

          Soon a rope ladder was extended to them. “Need a lift?” Nellie called from above.

          “Nellie!” Samantha shouted. She wasted no time in getting her sister to climb aboard.

          “What about them?” Big D. gestured to the people below them.

          “They’ll be fine,” Logan called from the pilot’s seat. “All the planes from my airport in Boston will be here within minutes to pick them up.”

          “Logan,” Samantha said, “since when do you know how to fly a helicopter?”

          “She doesn’t,” said Nellie.
          “I have a license!” Logan protested. “It’s online certified.”

          “Well, that’s comforting,” said Samantha. She turned to hug Nellie. “Thank you so much!”

          Nellie shrugged. “Don’t thank me, Bitty called in a panic three days ago.”

          “What?!” All eyes turned to Bitty F. in shock.

          “What?” Bitty F. shrugged. “What do I say? I just saved our lives. You owe me big time.”

          Elizabeth Cole peered out the window. “What happened here?”

          Samantha sighed. “Felicity. That’s what happened.”

******************************************************************

          Felicity coughed on smoke as her feet crunched on charred ruins. Gwen clung tightly to her skirt, Smith put an arm around her, and Emily stood in her shadow. Together they saw a weeping figure hunched over a pile of rumble in the distance.

          “Giovanni!” Felicity gasped.

          “That’s where his restaurant used to be,” Smith said quietly.

          Felicity clamped her jaw shut and her hands curled into fists as anger boiled inside her at anyone evil enough to do this to Giovanni or anyone else for that matter. Then she glanced down at her wrist, fiddling with the magical watch. If only. . .she could!

          Smith grabbed her arm. “No, Felicity.”

          “What? But why—-”

          He shook his head. “This is a gift not to be used lightly. There are better ways of dealing with hard things than making it so they never happened. Refined by fire. The people of Rome are going to be made stronger because of this. We don’t know how and we don’t know why yet. We just have to trust,” He pointed up, “Capisce?”

          Felicity nodded and then sighed as she looked down at her watch. “Rome will be refined by fire.”

          “Um,” said Gwen. “I don’t think that phrase was meant to be taken literally.” She gestured to the fires still raging around them. Smith barked a laugh.

 A helicopter circled above. “Not the media!” Gwen exclaimed.

“No,” Emily said softly, “it’s—”

“Felicity!” Samantha climbed down a rope ladder. “I am so glad we found you guys!”

“‘We?’” echoed Gwen.

Logan waved as the copter slanted a little too close to a burning building for comfort. “Are you alright?” Samantha asked searching for any signs of fatal wounds and relaxing some when she didn’t see any.

“I thought you were mad at me,” said Felicity.

“Safety first and then I’ll punish you.”

Emily and Gwen started to climb while Felicity and Smith made their way over to Giovanni. Smith knelt by the older man’s side and whispered something. “No, no, non importa. Lasciare senza di me.” Giovanni shoed them away

Felicity knocked him out.

Smith glared at her. “What did you do that for?”

“It is the only way he’ll leave.” With a flick of her fingers, the unconscious Giovanni flew up to the helicopter.

Smith held Felicity close. “Grazie,” he said.

Dazzling green eyes sparked up at him. “For what?”

For an answer, he kissed her, catching even Felicity off guard. Logan sounded a fog horn. “Come on, lovebirds! We don’t have all day! Burning fuel here!”

Felicity laughed and shouted something back as she climbed the ladder. Smith took one last look at the charred streets once filled with so much life. “A piu tardi, la mia amata casa.”

*****************************************************************

          The playroom family went home in utter despair. Felicity draped herself across her table in her area of the room. She sighed and gazed at the ceiling muttering, “if onlys,” to herself. Glogan were trying desperately to come up with some kind of way they could help Giovanni, Smith and all of Rome. “We could hire people to rebuild,” Gwen suggested.

          “Yeah,” said Logan, “but we’d need lots and lots of money for that.”

          “Famous people have so much money they don’t know what to do with it.”

          “Too bad we’re not rich and famous,” Logan lamented.

          Felicity shot upward like a rocket. “That’s it!”

          “Oh no,” Gwen muttered. “The last time she said that I was thrown off a famous landmark.”

          “What’s it?” said Logan.

          Felicity dug through the stage clothes box and pulled out several sparkly dance dresses. She threw a purple one at Elizabeth, gold at Logan, red at Gwen, blue at Molly and Emily and a green that matched her eyes for herself. “We’re gonna become instant, popular, overnight celebrities!” Felicity explained excitement growing in her voice. “We’ll be a new hit dance group and with these dresses, we’ll just gleam in the spotlight!”

          “Spotlight dancers!” Logan shouted. “Felicity, you’re a genius!”

          “I beg to differ,” Samantha said aside.

          Logan said, “We’ll use magic to disguise our hair and facial features so no one will know it’s us! We’ll have—”

          “Fake names!” Felicity finished. “Elizabeth, you’re Lizzy—-”

          “I’ll be Margarita!” Gwen shouted.

          “Um. . .no,” said Felicity. “You’re Wen.”

          “Geesh guys,” said Elizabeth, “With names like these, people will never guess our real identities.”

          “I know, right?” Felicity sighed happily.

          “I was being sarcastic, you know.”

          Felicity ignored that comment and said, “And the best part is—”

          “We’ll donate all the money we get as being famous to Giovanni!”

          “And Smith.”

          “Him too, along with the rest of Rome.”

          “Let’s do it!”

          Everyone hurriedly scurried about, all excited about the new idea of becoming instant celebrities. Felicity practiced her backflips and handstands, Elizabeth longed for a longer dress because coming from full blown colonial attire to skimpy dance dress was not an easy adjustment, and Emily wished they didn’t pick her to be a part of this. What about Samantha? Or Nellie? So they couldn’t dance to save their lives but just as long as it wasn’t Emily up there. At least she could dance, she just didn’t like to do it in front of people.

          Within minutes, the spotlight dancers were on stage with a crowd of a thousand people cheering and screaming their names, a nightmare for Emily but a dream come true for Felicity. Funny how when Felicity wants something done it happens instantly, whether it be saving people’s lives or putting on a good show. That’s just how well a little imagination and a little magic work.

******************************************************************

Once Upon a Nightmare

Once

Upon a  

Nightmare

By: Assassin #52

I know you, I walked with you once upon a NIGHTMARE
I know you, that look in your eyes is so familiar a gleam
And I know it’s true that visions are seldom all they seem
But if I know you, I know what you’ll do
You’ll REJECT me at once, the way you did once upon a NIGHTMARE

But if I know you, I know what you’ll do
You’ll KILL me at once
the way you did once upon a NIGHTMARE

I know you, I walked with you once upon a NIGHTMARE
I know you, that gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam
And I know it’s true that visions are seldom all they seem
But if I know you, I know what you’ll do
You’ll MURDER me at once, the way you did once upon a NIGHTMARE

A Felicity version of “Once upon a Dream”

 From Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

A  General Note to the Reader about this Tale:

          Welcome to Felicity’s world! Where battling evil, rescuing your friends, saving the world, encountering situations that require a great deal of courage and experiencing an intense amount of betrayal and heartbreak are all in a day’s work. I’m your host, Assassin #52, as we embark on a deadly mission with our friend Felicity.

          This story takes place at an odd time in Playroom history. It is in the midst of what we would call the Playroom golden age if we were to give their family stories era names. It is six months before Samantha meets up with Eddie Ryland yet it’s after and kinda during Marie-Grace’s pirate adventures. “Once Upon a Nightmare” also features Martha so it’s important to maybe read the fourth pirate story “Across the Sea and Beyond” before this one as that one does include Martha’s beginnings as an evil mastermind. However, many of Martha’s schemes are isolated plans of attack that do not need to be followed in one specific order as she does do many other things after that and before this that are not written down yet.

Although the family is vacationing in Russia and Germany for this winter vacation, Marie-Grace is not present. She is off with her pirate doing other things regarding ghosts that have come back from the captain’s past. Her experience will be recorded at another time, but what she is up to during this family vacation has nothing to do with anyone else as she is not with her family during these events. Just know she’s off with her pirate again. Our central key players today are Felicity, Gwen, and Martha.

It has been approximately four years since the Italy vacation, roughly four years since Felicity has met her beloved Smith. In that span of time romance bloomed between them with countless balls, Spotlight Dancer concerts and their life together as celebrities, weekend trips to Italy visiting Geovanni in his restaurant, and a constant pattern of Felicity saving Smith’s life and Smith showering Felicity with presents in return. The Italy trio was formed, Gwen, Logan, and Felicity. They become great friends in how they always save the world together each having their own roles. They became the Italy spy gang, their signature being the fact they each wear a cloak and constantly carry magical weapons and daily do battle against the corrupt Italian government. Yes, very cloak and dagger like with plenty of secrets, exciting danger, and spectacular heroics. Felicity especially is famous for her red cloak, villains recognize our super hero for it, and Logan is famous for her red boots. Sometimes Elizabeth tags along for the ride and sometimes she does not. Elizabeth doesn’t really enjoy the peril and trauma of saving the world, but she does it so she can hang out with Felicity.

The Spotlight Dancers are also a core piece of their time spent together. The Spotlight Dancers were formed as a way to help fund Geovanni. All the money they make from being famous goes straight to Geovanni’s pocket which he uses for the restaurant or his underground movement of helping the poor. Felicity, Smith, Logan, Gwen, Elizabeth, Molly, and Emily, are all Spotlight Dancers. Each person uses magic to disguise their hair and eye color so no one will be able to recognize them when they are their usual playroom selves. No one outside the playroom, except Geovanni, knows that the awesome Spotlight Dancers are really wackos from Play Road.

Playroom Name:              Spotlight Dancer Name:            Sparkly Dress Color:      

Logan                               Rebecca                                      Gold                               

Gwen                               Wen                                            Red                              

Felicity                             Lissie                                          Green          

Smith                               Seth                                            Shiny black pants & vest

Elizabeth                          Lizzy                                          Purple                   

Molly                               Jennifer                                      Ice blue             

Emily                               Miley                                          Aqua blue             

          Lissie and Seth are the coolest celebrity couple. Miley also known as Emily watches from the background. Smith never notices her because he is so blinded by Felicity. In PFV, the Spotlight Dancers made several C.D.s and movies together as well as putting on frequent shows. Elizabeth has leg issues which is a problem being in a dance group. The cover story for the public is Lizzy lost a leg in a shark attack on a cruise in the Mediterranean. On stage and off, this dynamic group of friends works together and parties together. In both worlds, Felicity and Smith are supposedly madly in love. Their special song together is “See You Again” by Miley Cyrus before she went nuts and left the real world Disney.

Smith is madly in love with Felicity. He trails behind her like a love sick puppy. And now we know why, Felicity’s magical creature is a siren, but back then no one knew. Her siren power was discovered when the family had quite a disaster at the Never Ending Ball. Felicity found out she was a siren the same time Gwen realized she’s an elf. Except Felicity kept it quiet and told no one especially not Smith. It’s a power or influence Felicity can’t shut off or stop. Unlike Samantha the dragon who can control when she breathes fire, siren powers are more of a magical temperament and personality type rather than a rare physical change. Felicity thinks she loves him, yet really she is in love with the idea of being in love. The fact that he adores her and regularly showers her with gifts adds to Felicity’s concept of what being in love means. Their courtship lasted these four years.

Smith works for Geovanni and he is the one who is constantly being kidnapped or taken for ransom or being put in a dangerous place where Felicity needs to rescue him. Smith is known as being a wussy wimp, a scaredy cat boy who hides under the bed when lighting strikes or the police are knocking at the door. Felicity is sick of being the man in this relationship, she is sick of constantly taking care of him and rescuing him from danger. She wants someone who can keep up with her, but she’s not willing to give up Smith because his adoration is security and she believes they are true loves meant to be together forever.

Felicity is the first playroom girl to ever date anyone minus Samantha’s fiasco with evil Eric and being a siren this makes some sense. Her relationship with Smith is quite serious in that it lasts so many years. Of course they are quite romantic what with the way the Bitty Babies constantly set up dates for them and then crashing them. During these four years, Smith is hanging around the playroom as often as the pirate is now. Smith is the playroom’s first taste of love as well as Felicity’s first love.

There are many exciting adventures from the Italy years that may or may not be written about at some point, but for now this is what you need to know in order to read this next chapter in their lives, a time of great change for Felicity.

It is Valentine’s Day 2014 in the Playroom and you know what that means! Vacation is starting and Felicity is beginning to have some doubts as to whether she and Smith really belong together. . . . .

          “L is for the way you laugh at me, O is for the way you overact, V is vaguely interested, E is for explosives that destroy—–” sang the cupids dangling from the ceiling fan, their rose petal tutus fraying and their pink wings wilting due to a long night of nonstop partying.

          “Urgh!” Bitty F. complained. “They are so unromantic!”

          “I know, right?” added Bitty Q. “Put as sock in it, we’re trying to create a romantic atmosphere here!”

          “And we can’t do that when dopey cupid #1 and even dumber cupid #2 are mocking the song of love!”

          “Party’s over kid,” said Logan midair trying to adjust her harness diaper wedgie. “Can someone hurry up and cut me down from here already?”

          Bitty Quansa rolled her eyes. “Oh, no you don’t! We still have a few lingering couples here and we need your services.” She pointed to Marie-Grace and the pirate who were hiding behind the red curtain on the cupids’ second story shelf speaking low and urgently. For the past several weeks PFV’s most charming and most dashing couple were at odds with one another. They were locked in a verbal war no one could glean any info on. According to the Bitty Babies, this rift was bad for business. Part of the grand Valentine’s Day scheme was to shoot those two up with one of cupid’s arrows.

Gwen kept on singing her twisted love song. Bitty F. threw a red heart shaped box of chocolates at her which painfully slapped her upside the head. “Ow! What was that for?”

          “Get a grip, cupid, and start doing the job we’re paying you for!”

          “Hey, you didn’t pay us nothing,” Gwen accused.

          “Careful,” warned Logan, “or I’ll shoot up Matthew again.”

          “NO! Anything but that!” wailed Bitty Q.

          At the sound of his name, Matthew dreamily came waltzing over to Bitty Q. An arrow was still sticking out of his rear. “I know you; I walked with you once upon a dream!” The theme of tonight’s big Valentine’s Day bash was dreams, meeting the true love prince or princess of your dreams and living out those dreams by walking around in them for a while so they fit snugly like a pair of well-worn shoes. Happily ever after is built on dreams, you know, and those dreams must be tested before they can be accepted.

          “In your dreams, buddy,” Bitty Q. muttered. Matthew was an annoying homeless boy who had a hopeless crush on the musical protégée Bitty Quansa. Bitty treated him like dirt, but that didn’t stop Matthew from pursuing her. Matthew didn’t need any help in expressing his obsession with Bitty. It was a classic case of a prank gone wrong. Cupids Glogan tried to shoot Bitty, yet somehow ended up hitting Matthew instead.

          “The gleam in your eyes is sooo familiar a gleam,” continued Matthew dancing passionate circles around Bitty Quansa. Bitty kept dodging him all evening and she wasn’t about to quit now. With Marie-Grace and the pirate completely forgotten, Bitty Q. sped off to avoid Matthew darting between obstacles like the chocolate fountain and crystal ice sculptures before finally crash landing in a mountain of pink wrapping paper.

          “Bitty, wait for me!” called Bitty F. chasing after her.

Gwen laughed and said to Logan, “Don’t you just love Valentine’s Day?”

Logan glared at her. “Now who is gonna get us down from here?”

On the other side of the room, Felicity Merriman listened to this absurd exchange and sighed contentedly as she stuffed more chocolate in her face. All in all, it was another lovely Valentine’s Day. Smith came and showered her in sweet desserts and sweet words. He also gave her a $3000 gift card to the black market weapon store as a thank you for rescuing him from the Bermuda Triangle. If it was possible for anyone to buy love then Smith came very close because he could certainly buy Felicity’s with a present like that. The thought of the black market weapon store on Lawless Street sent tingles up her spine. There’s nothing she loves more than purchasing illegal weapons. There’s just something great about the irony of using a villain’s own weapon to defeat him. Was it bad Felicity was far more excited about the actual present than Smith and his heart behind it?

 This year all the boys, Smith, Andrew, the pirate, the Swedish boy, Phillip, Prince George, Lenny, James and Parker surprised their lady loves by forming a barber shop quartet. They even wore the striped shirts, hats, and bow ties except for the pirate who would not conform to such ridiculousness.  They marched down Play Road to sing and dance right up to their special girl. Once he reached her, he knelt down and presented her with a rose. Felicity smiled as she held the paper rose to her nose and inhaled deeply. With magic, even paper roses could smell better than the real deal.

Her smile faded as she pictured the moment Smith knelt before her looking at her with those warm brown puppy dog eyes of his. It was a moment that should have filled her with intense feelings of love or something, but there was nothing. No spark, no flame, no heart beating fast, no breathless wonder and no sense that they belonged together. If anything, Felicity felt unsettled like Smith and she weren’t meant to be. More of a forced smile, a growl of irritation of having to pretend yet again, a feeling like she was just acting in one of Bitty’s plays.  As Smith was proclaiming his undying love for her, Felicity gulped down a sigh, choked back a groan of meh indifferent callousness and took his rose in an act of sheer will power of pretense.

Felicity kept glancing over at Samantha whose smile didn’t quite reach her eyes as she accepted a rose from her cowboy friend Andrew. Felicity wondered if her sister was having the same meh feeling that she was although neither sister would ever dare admit it. Boys threw themselves at Felicity’s feet and she often had to beat them off with a stick. Andrew was the only human male being on planet earth that showed the slightest bit of interest in the average darling Samantha Parkington. Samantha sometimes felt like she had to settle for less than the best. Passionate, wildly emotional, dramatic Felicity was supposed to be in this grand romance with her true love Smith. The playroom and their Spotlight Dancer fans would be crushed if it weren’t so. It had to be true love otherwise Felicity just wasted the last four years of her life. Yet whenever she tried to picture their dreams of a future together Felicity couldn’t see it. She felt sick with disgust every time she tried to force herself to imagine it. Felicity shook her head and sighed more deeply resting her chin on her arms as she leaned over her tea table.

          “What’s that sigh about?” Elizabeth Cole asked pulling up a chair beside her best friend. Felicity sighed again which made Elizabeth regret asking.

“Oh, Elizabeth!” Felicity cried. “What if Smith isn’t my true love?”

Elizabeth’s eyeballs nearly burst out of her head. She was used to the unexpected with Felicity, but this was unthinkable! For the last four years, Felicity constantly and loudly proclaimed how madly in love with Smith she was. For the last four years, Elizabeth had to hear about and deal with all the Smith trauma, the gifts, the gossip, the daring rescues, the secret missions, the glamor, the fame, the fights and making up, and the oh how wonderful is Smith! Always a sarcastic whoopee from Elizabeth with everything Smith related. “Where did this come from?”

“I don’t know,” said Felicity near hysterics. “I just don’t know anymore.” And the sobbing began.

Elizabeth awkwardly patted her friend’s back. “There, there.”

Felicity blew her nose on her apron messily. She was never a pretty crier. “Oh, Elizabeth! What do I do?”

“Well, do you love him?”

“Of course!” said Felicity without missing a beat and Elizabeth realized this was going to be a lot harder than she originally thought. To add to Felicity’s complex character dynamic, the girl despised change. Idealistically, she applauded and approved of change for the nations. She risked her life daily to stamp out evil corruption, fight for freedom, and demand basic human rights like food and shelter. But when it came down to personal change in her own life, Felicity resisted with all her thrashing fury.

In all honesty, Elizabeth never believed Felicity and Smith were a good match in the first place. She’s too high strung and wild, he’s too serious and practical. Felicity needed someone who could keep up with her dangerous schemes. She didn’t need someone to ground her or tie her down like so many people once thought. She needed a partner in her career. Smith needed someone he could take care of and cherish. He didn’t need to be rescued all the time. Maybe if he wasn’t always being pushed out by Felicity’s heroics he could actually stand up and save the day himself for once. They weren’t exactly bringing out the best in each other. “Maybe it’s time to say goodbye to Smith.”

Felicity stopped sobbing and looked up from her hands to glare at Elizabeth. Her stare was hard, invasive and offended. Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

Elizabeth gulped. How to put this delicately? “Well, maybe Smith isn’t—–”

“But we love each other!”

“As friends? Or something more?”

Felicity hung her head. “But—–”

“I mean, what if he doesn’t need you to save him all the time?” There, she said it, just like ripping off a band aid to expose not a tiny scratch but instead a giant flesh wound.

Felicity’s outburst was outrageously loud. “Of course he needs me! That boy would have been dead a long time ago if I didn’t have his back! We love each other, of course we do! What else have we been doing these last few years?! Rescue, gift, rescue, gift, that’s how true love relationships work, right? We’ve been through so much together we can’t just end it now! We belong together!”  

“Why don’t you try the true love machine in the park?” said Gwen still hanging from the ceiling fan. Logan had been brought down already.

Felicity’s ears perked up. “What?”

Logan pulled Elizabeth aside. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Uh . . . being a supportive friend?”

“And how do you think that’s going to pan out?” Logan hissed in a whisper.

“What?” Elizabeth whispered back.

“What do you think is going to happen to the Spotlight Dancers if Seth and Lissie are no longer?” As leader of the group, it was Rebecca’s (Logan) job to ensure all was running smoothly. “And how awkward will it be when Felicity and I go to Italy to fight crime with Geovanni? Look at that face,” Logan yanked Elizabeth’s ear and turned her head so she was staring up at Gwen’s pink diaper, “How heartbroken is that girl going to be if she can’t see her friend Geovanni because Felicity forbids us from going to Italy?”

“But what if he’s not her true love?”

“Oh, he’s totally not.” Logan waved off her concern. “Have you ever seen them alone in a room together? I’ve seen cats and dogs show more affection than those two! But until Mr. Perfect Prince gets his butt in gear, and frankly I don’t think that’s ever going to happen because no one in their right mind would ever love Felicity, she is happy with Smith. As long as I’m cupid, Felicity and Smith are madly in love and we’re going to do everything we can to ensure they stay that way! For the Italy mission. For Geovanni. For Gwen. For the Spotlight Dancers, have some compassion girl! Do you really want to witness what Felicity would act like if she went through a messy breakup? How much wacko insanity are you willing to take, to put us all through?”

No, Elizabeth most certainly did not want to be left with comforting Felicity as she mourned the loss of Smith and all things Italy. That had been her whole life, what Felicity had been totally consumed with for the last four years and Elizabeth did not want to be the one to bring the wrecking ball down on Felicity’s dreams.

Logan saw the light dawn on Elizabeth’s face and nodded solemnly. “That’s my girl. Now get over there and ham up how great Smith is. Yes I know he’s a loser, but I don’t care if you have to lie through your teeth. Get it done!”

“Oof.” Logan shoved Elizabeth in Felicity’s direction. Elizabeth straightened her back and smoothed her gown. She heard Felicity ask Gwen, “What’s in the park?”

“The true love machine. You walk up to this machine, put a quarter in and ask if the person you’re with is your true love or not. Apparently it really works, or at least all the online ratings say it does.”

“Is that a real thing?” Elizabeth asked skeptically. “How does it know?”

Logan glared at Elizabeth and gestured wildly as if to say, “What did I just tell you?”

“It’s a magical mystery.” Gwen looked to Logan meaningfully. “They have a website, of course they’re real!” Logan whipped out her phone and began building a website.

“That’s perfect!” Felicity brightened and burst from the room. “I’m going to the park!”

“Oh, no!” Gwen exclaimed after Felicity had slammed the door shut. “What do we do now?”

“Let me guess,” said Elizabeth. “There’s no magic love machine in the park, is there?”

“Nope,” said Logan cheerfully. “But there’s about to be! Elizabeth, my friend, my compadre—–”

“No!” Elizabeth crossed her arms and shook her head. “I can’t deceive her like that.”

“Oh, come on!” Gwen complained. “Do you want her to be wretchedly disappointed?”

“No, but lying to her—-”

“We’re not lying to her,” Logan assured. “For all we know Smith is actually her true love.”

“But what if he’s not?”

“Oh, he most definitely is,” Gwen said confidently. “How else would they have survived prison in Italy together?”

Elizabeth didn’t feel right about this, but she didn’t want Felicity to ruin their lives by cutting Smith out of it. She shuddered at the thought of what Felicity would do to them all if she were hit with the devastating revelation Smith wasn’t who she was meant to live happily ever after with. Besides, for all they knew maybe he really was her true love in a twisted not blatantly obvious way. “Oh, alright.”

Logan grinned. She pulled out a cardboard box and began writing in marker. “Here,” she shoved it in Elizabeth’s hands and pushed her out the door. “Get out there and make some Valentine’s Day magic!”

******************************************************************

          Felicity went charging through the park at full speed searching in vain for the true love machine. The snow quietly fell in little flurries around her making the bright red cloak the only thing visible to the naked eye in the impending storm. She was beginning to think there wasn’t a magical machine that could solve all her life problems when she suddenly saw it over the next hill. She let out a gasp in breathless wonder. “Oh, magic machine! Can you tell me—–?”

          “Excuse me miss,” said an older lady with pepper gray hair and many wrinkles tapping her on the shoulder and pointing to the hundreds of people standing in front and behind her. “There’s a line.”

          “Oh,” said Felicity staring at the winding line in dismay.

          “Well, did you think you were just going to waltz up here and get your answer without waiting like the rest of have been?”

          Felicity blinked. “Well, yes. I didn’t think anyone else would be interested. Truthfully, it sounded like a scam to me.”

          The old crone laughed. “Of course it’s a scam, but that doesn’t stop people from wanting to believe it. What’s your name? Not that people give out their real names at events like these because the magic in name carelessly given will come back to haunt you so I’m Lois.”

          “I’d rather not say. You’d just call me crazy just like everyone else I encounter.”

          Lois giggled like a little girl. “Not as crazy as I am.”

Felicity eyed her curiously. “You don’t look like someone searching for true love.”

“Oh, I’m not. Believe me, I’m not. You can’t be married as long as I have and still think happily ever after is possible. I’m just here for a young friend who is too shy to consider the question. Like you, she said it was a scam. But I thought it would be fun to find out for her. Fun, but not worth waiting in this line for!” She shook her fist at the long length of people separating her from the magic machine.

Felicity was about to ask Lois a question when the old lady suddenly said, “Cut in front of me.”

Taken aback Felicity said, “What?”

Lois nodded. “Go on in front of me, I like you and you’ll be here until yesterday if you ever find the end of this line. Besides, you can entertain me while I wait.”

Stunned Felicity said, “Alright.” They talked for a while as they inched forward. Felicity entertained Lois by telling her funny tales of her family and her latest escape from death by evil government in Italy. In turn, Lois told Felicity stories of what life was like 52,000 million years ago before magic even existed. The woman was so old she had been born in a day when Pretend Friend Ville had not yet discovered magic. Felicity found that she could not even imagine trying to live in a world without magic.

          Inside the machine, Elizabeth was utterly exhausted. If she had known she would be giving fake advice to every person in town then she would not have signed up! Finally, what seemed like ages later Felicity was first in line.

          “Alright folks,” said an overly tall man in a long overcoat and moustache standing in front of the machine. He was obviously in charge and obviously Glogan stacked on top of one another. “The machine is closed for now. Maintenance repairs.”

          Groans echoed throughout the line. “You can’t do this!” Felicity demanded. She looked to Lois who nodded in agreement. “We’ve been waiting in the snow for hours!”

          “Sorry miss, but order are orders—–”

          A hand reached out of the machine and grabbed the “man” by the collar. His middle teetered to the side making his tummy stick out at odd unreal angles that are usually not possible for a normal person. There was fierce whispering for a moment until he stood and cleared his throat. “Well, the machine may be able to handle one last customer if the customer can afford——”

          Felicity stuffed a wad of bills into the quarter slot. The “machine” roared to life. “Beep boo bee bop.”

          “Here’s how this works,” said the man in the long overcoat. “Ask any three questions, but they must be yes or no. Afterwards you may be eligible for option four which is that red button,” he pointed to a red circle drawn in crayon. “Option four is the real true love test, the sleeping beauty curse. If you press it you must be able to rescue your sleeping love from a dragon and—–”

          “Is Smith my true love?” Felicity blurted out.

          “Yes,” said the machine in a monotone voice.

          “Will we live happily ever after?”

          A pause. Felicity started banging on the box and was surprised when the machine said, “Ow!”

          “That’s not a real answer!” Felicity demanded. “Does Smith really love me or is he blinded by my siren powers?”

          The man with the moustache gasped. “Siren? Like a beautiful girl who lures men to their deaths? What do you—–”

          “That makes so much sense!” His tummy yelled. The man frowned down and jabbed himself in the ribs.

          The machine sighed. “Yes. He really loves you.”

          Felicity smiled. “Okay, I think that’s all I needed to know.” Then she stared at the red button.

          “Oh, no miss. Don’t—–”

          But it was too late. Felicity punched the red button putting all her weight into. She rushed forward and crashed into Elizabeth as her fist put a giant hole in the box. Felicity gasped. “Elizabeth? What . . . .?”

          “It’s not what it looks like!” Elizabeth gasped hurriedly the wind knocked out of her.

          Felicity frowned, the full implications of Elizabeth sitting inside the true love machine not yet dawning.

          “Smile!” said Lois holding up a camera. “This one is for the scrapbook!”

          “Oh, no, not the red button! Now you did it!” exclaimed the man with the moustache. He toppled sideways revealing Gwen in the lower portion of the overcoat while Logan peeled off a fedora and a moustache.

          “Run!” shouted Gwen and the two of them darted off into the woods.

           Ignoring this momentary interruption, Felicity turned back to Elizabeth. Her eyes were brimming with tears. “Elizabeth, how could you?”

          Elizabeth gulped, but before she could answer Big Dolly came running through the park with a bright red, familiar fire breathing dragon hot on her heels. “Felicity! Felicity!” She waved breathlessly Parker in tow. He struggled to keep up and kept pausing to yank his pants up. “Felicity!” Big D. doubled over panting as she reached her adopted sister. “Wow, do I really need to get out more!”

          “What do you want Big D?” Felicity scolded in mild annoyance. “Can’t you see I’m busy here?!”

          Big D. shook her head. “No, you need to get home ASAP! Smith—–”

          “Well, why didn’t you say so?” Felicity jerked to attention as she started to run home. “What’s he gotten himself into this time?”

          “Not his fault this time,” said Big D. riding in style on her sister’s shoulders.  “It’s you.”

          “WHAT?”

          Big D. nodded and then proceeded to explain everything that went on at home while Felicity had been in the park waiting for her chance at the true love machine.

******************************************************************

          One moment, Smith was in Italy waiting tables at the restaurant until he blinked. Then the next moment he was suddenly back in the Playroom. “Hey, wasn’t I just here?”

          “Yeah,” said Big Dolly Chinchon, “big whoop de do, you’re always here!”

          “But this time I didn’t mean—–”

          “Parker, strap him down!” Big D. commanded.

          “Already on it boss,” said Parker the pro wrestler getting his fists ready. He ripped off his clothes to reveal a sumo wrestlers mawashi, essentially a loincloth/belt.

          Smith’s eyes widened in terror. He had always known Parker was famous for his wrestling career, but he had no desire to be beaten by him! There was no contest; Smith with his flabby pathetic muscles didn’t stand a chance. One swing of Parker’s fist wasn’t even necessary because the mere sight of Parker in his sumo outfit made Smith faint.

          Parker whined, “Aw, but I wanted to—–”

          “Excellent,” said Big D. briskly. “Now carry him up to the royal bed on Glogan’s highest shelf and I will inject the serum. And then start planting the thorns! Oh, Samantha! We need a dragon and we need one now!”

          “Shouldn’t you wait to inject the serum until you know for sure she’s going to push the button?” Molly said rationally.

          “It’s Felicity,” said Big D. as Parker dragged the unconscious Smith up the ladder. “Of course she’s going to push it!”

          Emily frowned. “Don’t you need a spinning wheel if that’s the sleeping beauty true love test spell?”

          “Oh, no,” Big D. waved away her concern. “Spinning wheels are dreadfully old fashioned and mostly for dramatic effect. This will serve our purposes just as well and is much more sanitary to boot.”

          “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” asked Parker after dumping Smith in a heap on the flowery pink bed.

          “Of course I do!” Big D. snapped. “Logan told me we need to set up the ultimate true love test spell so that way we can really prove he’s her true love. The way we do that is by knocking him out with the sleeping beauty enchanted sleep and then wait for her to kiss him so he wakes up.” Big D. looked up after stabbing Smith with a shot of magic potion. Her brow furrowed in concentration. “Or did Logan say we’re just supposed to make Felicity think this is that spell but not actually do it just in case—–?”

          “You know,” said Molly thoughtfully. “If she’s not his true love then her kiss won’t wake him and he’ll be sleeping for the next 100 years or until we find his real true love.” She glanced meaningfully at Emily and poor Emily blushed until her whole face was red. Even though Felicity and Smith had been together all these years Emily still had a secret crush on Smith. She couldn’t help but wonder what if things had gone differently all those years ago in Rome?

          Big D. shrugged. “Either way, it’s too late now! Not our problem anymore.”

          “Big Dolly Molly Chinchon!” boomed a terrible voice that made Big D. cringe. “What on earth did you do to Smith?”

          “Hey,” Parker said bumping Big D.’s arm. “There’s our dragon. Do you think she’s angry enough to—-?”

          Fire blasted past Parker’s head missing by mere centimeters. “I’ll take that as a yes,” said Big D. scrambling for the door. “That’s our cue, let’s go!”

          “Wait for me!” Parker tarried behind. “I’m indecent! I can’t go out there with my sumo pants on!”

******************************************************************

          “You guys did what?!” Felicity exploded upon entering the Playroom. She didn’t really mind so much, it was actually a sweet gesture on their part in helping her uncover the truth of this situation. Except Felicity was paralyzed by the fear Smith would not wake up. Only true love’s kiss could wake someone from enchanted sleep and if Smith and Felicity weren’t true loves then her kiss would not wake him. The fact that Smith could end up sleeping for the next hundred years didn’t bother her so much as the idea that their relationship was as good as dead if it didn’t work. It was a change in lifestyle Felicity wasn’t ready or willing to make yet and now the sleeping beauty true love test was forcing her to confront that change. Felicity seriously doubted Smith would wake. Part of her hoped he won’t wake because deep down in a place she would not admit Felicity didn’t want to be tied to that boy for life.

          Big. D. smiled reassuringly. “Oh, you’ll be fine. Just kiss him and he’ll wake up. It’s that simple.”

          That’s at the heart of what she feared. What if he didn’t wake up? Would she have to hunt down his real true love having many random girls kiss him until one woke him? How awkward and painful would that be for her to watch? What if their love wasn’t meant to be after all those years of believing they belonged together? Felicity couldn’t bear the agony of waiting anymore. She silenced Samantha’s dragon roar with a flick of her magic fingers. With her bare hands she began ascending the thorn bushes clinging to the shelf.

“I’m coming for you Smith,” Felicity muttered. “Again.” This was a pretty mundane anticlimactic rescue after all they’ve been through over the years yet today Felicity’s heart was pounding in dread. She didn’t fear evil government torture chambers or zombie Ancient Roman emperors brought back from the dead in order to resurrect the old dictatorship. She was more afraid of this kiss than any of those battles combined.

Finally, Felicity reached the highest shelf and knelt beside her beloved Smith’s bedside. “Eww! He snores and drools?” She shuddered in disgust. Then she sobered in all seriousness and gazed down at his plain, not quite as handsome as she once thought, face. She stroked his cheek and brushed a lock of hair out of the way.

          “Just kiss him already!” Everyone in her family shouted.

          “Oh, alright.” Felicity took a deep breath, closed her eyes and kissed him.

          One minute passed, then another and another. Nothing. Desperate, Felicity kissed him again. There was no magical orchestra playing in the background, no glowing lights or amazing moment of Smith coming to. Nothing, absolutely nothing. With a sinking heart, Felicity realized the ugly truth of what she had been avoiding for years.

          Below her, the family reacted in a mix of shock and surprise. “Well, now how do we wake him up?” said Samantha brushing a few dragon scales off her skirt. “Because we can’t leave him unconscious for a hundred years! And did you know this spell has been out lawed by the DMA (Dangerous Magic Association) due to too many people never waking up?”

          “Cupid is the exception!” Logan shouted in defense. “He’s the master of true love spells and if you get an exception from him—–”

          “Did you?” said Samantha.

          “Um . . . . . I don’t want to answer that. But as long as I’m cupid—–”

          Samantha sighed. “Still, the question remains, how do we wake him now that Felicity is not his true love?”

          Felicity swallowed the lump in her throat, tears beginning to pool in her eyes.

          “We start trying other girls,” said Molly putting lipstick on Emily.

          “Oh, no you don’t!” Felicity said throwing herself over Smith like a protective wall.

          “Freeze!” said Gwen. “There’s got to be a loop hole to this spell, a backup way to wake someone under because there’s no way this spell would have been published if there was no other option.” She looked to Logan. “Any ideas?”

          Logan put on her thinking cap, a literal hat, and stroked the cat thoughtfully. “Hmmm. Well, there is one way.”

          “What is it?” Felicity said eagerly.

          “To wake someone from enchanted sleep without true love is to defy all the laws of natural fairy tale magic,” Molly protested. “I still say we should——”

          “I’ve got it!” Logan shouted. “Gwen, go get that brew out of my lab, the new one we’ve been testing this week. Also grab my lab coat and goggles. Bitty Q. I need a drop of your fairy magic. Oh, and Samantha hand me that cupid arrow. Big D. I need the serum and the needle you injected him with.” Everyone jumped to do Logan’s bidding as she worked to create a magic potion that may save Smith from a hundred years of sleep.

          “One last ingredient,” Logan said five hours later. She took a ladle and dipped it into the toilet where Glogan dump toxic magic waste nightly.

          Felicity gasped. “You’re not really going to—–”

          Logan smiled. “Yup, just did. It’s not like we use for normal waste, we only use it for toxic magical waste. The chemicals are perfectly ripe for what we need here. Smith will never know what hit him!”

          Felicity shuddered. “I know, but sewer monsters crawl out of that thing nightly!”

          Logan poured the potion into a baby bottle. “Okay, it’s done. Now Felicity, go pour this on his lips. All of it! And make sure you apply pressure because we need to mimic a kiss so the spell releases him.” Felicity nodded and did as commanded.

          Felicity tossed the potion bottle in the trash. Smith’s eyes fluttered open and gazed up into Felicity’s eyes. “I knew it was you! You’re my true love, your kiss awakened me!”

          Felicity gulped while her family tried to smother their laughs. “Who wants to tell him?” said Gwen.

          Smith frowned. “Tell me what?”

          Felicity smiled brightly as she took his arm in his. “That I love you and I woke you up.” She wasn’t lying per say because she did love him as a brother and she did wake him up. Felicity glared at her family making it clear that whoever dare spill the beans to Smith would not meet a pretty fate.

          Samantha shook her head sadly. She had hoped Felicity wouldn’t do this, but if she wanted to keep up the charade and delude herself and Smith then that was her business. “Okay, folks, Valentine’s Day is officially over. Kick it in high gear, because we have a plane to catch!”

******************************************************************

Italy 3 Weeks Ago January 2014. …..

Soft footsteps landed lightly on the newly fallen snow as the masked man trudged through the inky blackness of night. He raised his weapon up high by the theater entrance and brought it down hard to knock out a guard. The masked stranger silently slithered through the shadows into a concert hall where a dance group sparkled on stage. He knelt in front of the large crowd pressing up against the stage. He kept his gun concealed in his jacket where no one could see him aiming it at his assignment.

Despite the assassin’s shocked reaction, the informant still insisted the famous performers were not the airhead celebrities they claimed to be but instead evil, wack-o playroom citizens out to destroy them all. At first the stealthy assassin could not believe his ears when his boss briefed them on the assignment. Then he shrugged and went along with it.  

Yet the assassin couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. His arm began to waver and the weapon slipped through his grasp and cluttered to the ground. Scowling, he quickly tucked it away. He preferred to work behind the scenes and to do this job in such an open public place with so many witnesses and no way to escape was a very bad idea. His boss had a flair for drama and didn’t particularly care what happened to him. Her underlings were easily replaced by the next gullible fool.

If the boss was correct, and she always was, there would be plenty of opportunities to fulfill his assignment next week when the target was on vacation. For now, the assassin could do nothing except sit back and enjoy the show. As he watched his target dance, he saw a flash of green in eyes disguised a blue. A faint magic dye could not smother the vibrant and vivacious red hair beneath. The more he gazed upon her the more certain he grew that yes his boss was right and this girl his is target. And she was none one other than the most deadly of creatures, playroom’s Felicity Merriman. 

He crept out of the auditorium before the show was over. There would be a price to pay for his failure tonight. His boss did not handle failures very well, yet it might even be worth it if it meant a flame as bright as Felicity would live on to fight another day.

******************************************************************

Germany February 15, 2014

“I can’t believe you guys are forcing me to take all the luggage again! I have a delicate spine here!” Gwen grumbled as she hauled eight suitcases, ski gear for everyone and all their carry-ons up the stone curves of a spiral staircase. “And why a castle of all places?”

“Need I remind you who begged me to let her plan this vacation?” Samantha said. “If you didn’t want to haul the luggage up a long spiral staircase then you should have booked a different hotel!”

“Since I did the work of planning it, shouldn’t you carry the bags?” Gwen whined.

“Oh, goodness no.” Samantha laughed lightly, a musical sound like the tinkling of bells. “Luggage is always your job Gwen.”

Gwen continued muttering under her breath as she wiped the sweat from her brow. Since her current technique, all the luggage piled on her back like common cattle, was no longer working Gwen placed everything on the dog sled minus the dumb dog. She got behind it and began to push it upwards. “Is anyone going to help?”

A chorus of no resounded from her family as they trotted off without her. Right as she was mid-heave Gwen heard a cough on the now silent stairway. Without bothering to look up she said, “I knew you’d come back for me, Felicity. Could you give me a hand?”

When no hand appeared Gwen glanced up to see not Felicity’s face but that of a balding old man in sunglasses and a leather jacket. His gun was aimed directly for Gwen’s heart. He stood with his legs apart blocking the whole path. For a moment Gwen froze like a deer caught in the headlights. She gulped and slowly tried to reach for her own weapon which was unfortunately buried in her bag deep on the bottom of the luggage pile. So Gwen did what Gwens do best. She screamed in terror as she jumped, her head smashing into the ceiling and abandoning the luggage as it went crashing down several flights of stairs.

The man was amused by Gwen’s reaction and was about to shoot when she crawled through his legs and ran with newfound energy to the top of the tower. By the time he turned around, Gwen was nowhere to be found. The man didn’t bother to pursue her. He figured there would be plenty more opportunities to kill an idiot like that. The boss may not like it and that was just too bad. He was the most senior assassin, humor an old man by letting him play cat and mouse for a while. Plus, with all his years of experience he was confident in his abilities to destroy the playroom once and for all.

******************************************************************

          “Are you sure you saw someone?” asked a rather annoyed Felicity as the scaredy cat Gwen lead her back to the scene of the crime.

          “I’m telling you, Felicity, that there was definitely someone here who definitely had a gun and who was definitely trying to kill me!”

          “Sure, whatever you say,” commented Felicity calmly between yawns. Although Felicity had her doubts she knew what Gwen was insisting was most likely true. They lived dangerous lives where saving the world so many times made you instantly number one on every villain’s hit list. Gwen was known to be overdramatic and this type of encounter never failed to startle her where it was just piece of everyday life, just a part of the job for Felicity and Logan. “Gwen, even if there was someone here your high pitched girl scream probably scared them off.”

          Gwen nodded, feeling a bit silly.

          “So, can I go now?” Felicity asked.

          “I guess so. . . .” Felicity high tailed it back up the stairs as Gwen scanned the area just to be sure no one was lurking in the shadows. Then her gaze fell upon the pile of suitcases. A few had popped open leaving skirts, petticoats, drawers, and hair ribbons galore scattered everywhere.

          “Wait!” Gwen cried frantically. “Come back and help me with the luggage!” Even if Felicity had heard, she would not have returned. Gwen sighed as she cleaned up the big girls clothes. She gazed in dismay at the towering steps above and could feel the ache in her back return as she hauled it all back up again.

******************************************************************

          Felicity Merriman, an all too happy sounding of a name, giggled senselessly disturbing the peaceful quiet of the wintry pine tree forest as Gwen reenacted the wrestling match with her dinner. When Gwen had planned this vacation the only restaurant she picked out was MacDonald’s. Samantha was too disgusted with the thought of traveling overseas to eat a silly fast food joint so she forbid them from going there. The castle where they were staying was in the absolute middle of nowhere and the closest restaurant was four miles away by foot in the darkest part of the forest. It was a shabby little diner not used to many guests where apparently the food wasn’t always quite dead all the way.

          “Did you see the way that bear jumped of my plate and pinned me to the ground?” Gwen said as they trudged through waist deep snow on their way back to the castle. The rest of the family was still at dinner trying in vain to catch their lively meals. “And the way it roared when I kicked it to the other side of the room?”

          “I think Bitty F. will be having nightmares for weeks.” They crossed the drawbridge and Felicity gasped when she saw torchlight glowing from her window. “Someone’s in my room!”

          “Oh, I’m sure it’s not that direly drastic,” said Gwen. Felicity pulled her along and went charging up the stairs. “Maybe you just forgot and left the light on?”

          Gwen’s hopes were dashed upon the rocks when they saw the debris littering the great hall. Armor parts spread willy nilly across the floor, paintings were ripped down from their golden frames, and the furniture was upside down. Their suitcases were slit open and clothes scattered everywhere. Felicity’s scream vibrated through the empty halls of the cold stone castle. “Where are my weapons?”

          Gwen dove for her backpack. The mushy ice cream Sunday was still there and so was her pearl elf necklace, but every tool of self-defense was missing. She only had whatever she carried on her person and that wasn’t much. She could only pray Felicity had more hidden in her skirt because if there was a serious life threatening crisis on this trip there was no way they would be able to make it out alive. With the sketchy man with a gun following them, they needed every weapon they could get. Right now, they had nothing to protect themselves with.

          “Martha,” Felicity growled.

          “Hold your horses,” said Gwen. “I don’t think——”

          “Oh, it was her alright and this time she is going to pay!”

          “Felicity,” Gwen’s voice cracked in fear. With trembling fingers she pointed to the window. Felicity flew to the frame and peered out. In the courtyard, she saw a shadow of a young man quickly fleeing the property. He was so vaguely familiar, yet Felicity couldn’t quite place him. Who is he? A villain? A friend? Someone she had seen in Geovanni’s restaurant? Either way, he held Felicity’s jean purse of magical weapons and it was clear he was the culprit who ransacked their rooms.

          Felicity stood on the edge of the ledge. “Hold down the fort, I’m going after him.” She jumped.

******************************************************************

London, England 2 Years Ago . . . . . .

            Reginald Artemis Chapman the 16th sighed as he gazed out the window of his dungy basement office. He heard Big Ben chime noon and wished more than anything that he could go home, take a long nap, and never wake up. There had to be more to life than this! He didn’t want to hurt people, he wanted to help them. His whole life so far had been spent helping his father with whatever evil scheme needed fine tuning next. His dad spent his time training and grooming his son to take over the evil family business someday, the ancient order of the bounty hunters. Yes, according to good old pops Reginald was in training to become the world’s greatest evil assassin spy second only to his dear old man the greatest villain England had ever seen.  But Reginald was tired of working for the dark side. He wanted his life and the lives of others to matter more than what country will go to war if we kill who?

          There was a firm knock at the door. Fearing it was his father; Reginald dove under the desk and cowered. He was surprised to hear a soft and gentle voice with an Italian accent, “Hello? I am looking for a Mr. Reginald Chapman?”

          “Just a moment,” Reginald squeaked in a high register. “I mean,” he cleared his throat, “Come in.”

          The door opened only part of the way and an old Italian man entered the office. Reginald stared at the Italian and bit back a groan. For several months now corrupt Italian government official kept asking for their services for help in picking off other senators and other blackmailing business that required the work of an assassin. “If you’re with the Italian government your proposal has already been filed and it will be a month before——-”

          “Oh, no, I’m not with those bumbling buffoons,” the kindly old man laughed. “My name is Geovanni and I’m here for an entirely different purpose.”

          Reginald gasped. “The Geovanni?” There wasn’t a villain or crazy Spotlight Dancer fan alive who had not heard that name before.

          “The one and only.”

          “B-but you’re so good!” Reginald stuttered. “What purpose could you possibly use for me?”

          Geovanni smiled knowingly. “A good one. Now, I don’t need an assassin. Nor do I need a villain puppet. I need a young man who can think for himself and work for the cause of light instead of dark. Could you be him?”

          “Yes,” said Reginald more confidently than he felt.

          “Good. I have some young friends who I fear are in danger of becoming targets for many of your assassins in the distant future. I can’t tell exactly when as the future is always shifting, but someday they’re going to need someone like you on their side.”

          Reginald was confused. “How can you know the future?”

          “Time travel. Any who, how is not important. My time is short here. Please, please consider my request, the safety of all humanity needs it.”

          “What is it you want me to do?”

          “Report to me everything,” Geovanni said simply. “Come to my restaurant in Italy once a week and we will discuss. Yet you still need to keep working and learning from your father. His skills are great, but he chooses to use them unwisely. Learn from him, pretend to be on his side yet always come to me before taking any serious action. I will help you with right and wrong decisions in your delicate situation. There will come a time when you will be greatly torn, do you follow your father’s dreams for you or do you break away from that? For now, that’s all. This is your way out of here, slowly but surely being a double spy. Do as your father commands for now but not always. Report to me an world domination plots, and my friends and I will stop it. Think of how many lives that would save.”

          Reginald crossed his arms. “Why should I believe you? How will you stop me from calling my dad right now and telling him about your offer?”

          “I won’t. You can call him if you like, but you’ll always have the blood and guilt of an old man’s death on your hands and my spunk young colonial friend might take you down in revenge.”

          The offer was extremely tempting. “Sounds risky. If I get caught. . . . .” He let the sentence hang in the air.

          “Risk is always involved. What’s the greater reward? Killing people through your father’s operation or saving them in mine? As far as for believing me goes,” he locked gazes with the boy, “you don’t know for certain I’m a man of my word although I am indeed exactly who I claim to be, a lonely broken down old man with a bleeding heart of compassion for all the people of this world. The not knowing is part of stepping out and risking it all, and I promise you it will be worth it although not in the obvious ways one might think.”

          This moment was like a dream come true for the abused Reginald. This was his chance to make a difference by breaking away yet still staying exactly where he was. This was his chance to be part of something good in his lifetime. This was his chance to make his life matter.

          “You don’t have to decide right now,” Geovanni said softly.

          “I’ll do it,” Reginald said surprising them both.

          They shook hands to seal the deal. “You my son,” said Geovanni unexpectedly pulling him into a warm hug. Reginald felt like he would be more of a son to this man than he ever had with his real father. “Have a heart of gold.”

******************************************************************

Germany, February 2014

Felicity chased the shadowy figure back into the heart of the forest. She matched him step for step always keeping him in her line of sight yet always staying a good length behind him. The key was to move without being seen or heard and Felicity was a master at the dance of the hunt. Her only downfall was the bright red cloak that she wore out of sheer stubbornness. Red splotches caught her target’s eye as he occasionally looked back at her. Amused, he didn’t spin around and confront her. Let her think she was in control here. The goal was to draw her as far away from the castle and her family and as close to the sight of the ambush as possible. He admired her skill; if he wasn’t a professional spy then she would have had him fooled. Except no one could miss those flashes of red as she darted between the trees for cover.  Only a highly trained assassin could detect the subtle swish of petticoats amidst the howling wind and swirling snow. It was more than simply a game, it was a dance. A dance between an assassin and his target, a tango between predator and prey, a whirl wind of life and death, a waltz between a girl who had it all and a boy who had nothing at all, and finally a drama between an almost villain and a daring heroine. A dance between enemies who admired each other so greatly they might even become friends.

          For fun, he stopped in his tracks, turned around slowly and quick as lightening aimed his gun at her throat. He was fast, but she was faster. With a high kick she knocked the weapon out of his hands. She gripped his forearm and flipped him to the ground. He pulled her down on top of him so he saw lying on top of a frozen snowbank while she was resting in a push up position on top of him. They gazed at each other, their frosted heavy breathing mingling in the closeness between them. Her piercing green eyes bore down into his equally hard crystal blue ones.

Felicity felt her breath catch as her heart thudded in her throat. He was quite handsome, more so than someone she knew. She didn’t speak which was odd for her since accusations and interrogation tactics would have normally been the first words out of her mouth. Instead, she felt as if she could be forever content to stay silently here in this snowbank gazing down into those eyes.

          She leaned to her left trying desperately to reach her weapons bag. He saw her coming and flung his arm back to throw the bag high into the air. Kaboom! The bag of highly flammable magical weapons hit a tree and exploded just as the boy and Felicity tumbled down the snow and ice covered hill. Pine branches that once swayed ever so gracefully in the peaceful high mountain air now burned ugly destruction, smoke curling into the night and wood crackling in the intense heat. The black sky was awash with the colorful patterns and booms of fireworks echoing for miles in the deserted wilderness.

******************************************************************

Back at the restaurant, Bitty F. oohed and ahhed as she looked out the window. “Come see, pretty fireworks!”

          “Silly Bitty,” said Big D. “There are no fireworks in the wilderness!”

          Then a smoldering tree crashed into the roof of the restaurant. “Incoming, hit the deck!” Bitty F. threw herself under the table.

“Felicity Merriman!” Samantha shouted.

          “I love how you always assume it’s Felicity,” said Big D.

The foundation of the rickety shack shook as more flaming tree debris came thundering down on the roof like pouring rain only much more hot and dangerous. The babies and Emily cried out in alarm. Martha grinned and took off into the night unnoticed by her oldest adopted sister Samantha. “Everyone back to the castle!” Samantha scooped up Bitty in her arms and began to run dodging flaming branches as she went. “Felicity has some explaining to do for this one!”

******************************************************************

          Felicity forced her weary frostbitten muscles to pull herself out of a massive snow drift. Her eyes scanned the horizon to see the mass carnage her weapons bag wrought on the forest. “Aw, come on!”  She blew on her hands and stamped her foot partly to get warm and partly to express frustration. “That was my favorite bag and my brand new rainbow wand too!”

          “Seriously? You’re alone in the woods with an assassin and that’s what you’re worried about?”

          Felicity spun around. The young man was nonchalantly leaning against a tree. “You’re an assassin?”

          He swallowed hard. “No, but I could be and you’d never——”

          “Ah-ha! So you are an assassin. Now the only question is why are you trying to kill me? This is not the first time I’ve dealt with your kind!”

          His nose twitched in disgust. “Ouch, you make us seem so—–”

          “Like rats? Scum of the earth?”

          “I was going to say—–”

          “Are you working for Martha?”

          Silence reverberated in the dead quiet of the night. “Paranoid much? What’s your name anyway?”

          Felicity snorted. “Like you need to ask, you probably already know it!”

          “I didn’t, I swear—–”

          “Why did you steal my weapons and lure me out here?”

          He ignored her question. “What’s your name? I seriously don’t know, I try not to get too close to my targets——”

“You could’ve killed me by now but you didn’t because either you care about me or you botched the job somehow.”

          “You’re right,” he said. “I should have and I will now!” He reached for his gun and swore when he realized he had put it in Felicity’s bag. No matter for a team of cutthroat assassins crawled out of the woodwork to finish the job for him. Every single one had their gun pointed at Felicity.

          Felicity gulped. She scanned the perimeter searching for a way out of this one. One guy fired his gun and missed. He hit the tree above Felicity. Felicity ducked, missing another bullet. She dove between one man’s legs and shimmied up the tree behind him. She climbed higher and higher as the assassins below swatted at each other as they scrambled to climb up after her. Her nails dug into the frozen bark, her hands twitching in the cold and not quite able to grasp. She monkeyed out onto the edge of a horizontal branch, her skirt flaring out. One hand slipped. She let out a short piercing scream. She didn’t usually cry for help. Felicity had saved herself so many times it never occurred to her to call out. However, this time dangling from the icy branch by one hand she did.

          Reginald stood on the other side of the clearing every instinct screaming for him to save her yet every rational thought saying see this is part of the mission through. He reached for his partner’s gun that had fallen behind a bush. Felicity saw him take aim and muttered a prayer as she prepared for him to end it all. Every rational thought went out the window when he suddenly shot the assassin whose gun he stole.  No one had ever saved her life like that before. What was one supposed to do in this instance? Her eyes met his. She mouthed the word thanks, and then fell to the ground catlike as she landed neatly on two feet.

The three remaining assassins gaped at the treachery. One of their own? How could he? Though none were as shocked as Reginald himself. Reginald swallowed hard. How could he? How could he murder a friend for this unknown girl’s life? One word came to mind. Geovanni. He could picture the old man’s kind smiling face in his mind telling him to do what’s right. Only question was, was this the right girl?

Felicity was the only one who wasn’t surprised by Reginald’s shot. The look in his eyes seconds before, the intensity of his focus on her told her something she instinctively knew yet didn’t want to admit out loud or quietly even to herself. That look told of a certain caring, a certain tenderness thrilled her to the very core and made Felicity blush redder than her hair. Although she didn’t yet know what to make of this unusual boy (was he friend or foe?) she knew enough to take advantage of the moment. She kicked an assassin in the gut and he went reeling backwards. He tripped on a snow covered log under his feet and his head slammed against a tree rendering him unconscious. The two assassins left shook themselves out of their daze. One lunged for Felicity while the other faced Reginald.

Reginald saw the ogre size man charge headlong towards the girl. To his immense frustration and shame, Reginald was helpless to stop the ogre for he was busy putting the other assassin in a  headlock. Felicity tried to dart away, but her skirt caught on a pile of dead sticks. With an angry cry, she pulled with all her might. The fabric didn’t rip and the ogre man tackled her. Pummeled deep into a snow bank, Felicity fought waves of unconsciousness. Blood as scarlet as her cloak oozed from several wounds staining the snow around her crimson.  She felt a sharp stinging sensation in her left arm as if someone had given her a shot.

Reginald saw the ogre man stab Felicity with a shot of toxic serum his dad cooked up in his lab and screamed, “NOO!” Startled, the assassin in Reginald’s clutches squirmed harder. Reginald tightened his hold and the man’s face began to turn blue. Suddenly, Reginald threw him to the ground and strode towards Felicity. He tapped the ogre looking man on the shoulder. The bully turned around and Reginald punched him in the nose.

Woozily Felicity tried to stand, a hand holding her throbbing head. Her intention was to help the strange boy and beat up the ogre from the other side, but she crumpled to the ground weak as a newborn foal on clumsy legs. She couldn’t see straight and couldn’t make her body move the way she wanted to. With a snarl of irritation at her sudden helplessness, Felicity crawled one painful thrust forward after another. The ogre man felt a hand snatch at his pant leg and he whirled around. Felicity cowered inside her cloak armadillo style. The cloak flowing around her camouflaged into the bloody snow so perfectly the ogre didn’t see her and thought he must have imagined it. That slight moment of confusion was all Reginald needed to dispatch the ogre assassin once and for all.

          Strong arms encircled Felicity and for the first time in her life she was grateful to be a girl. Reginald scooped her up, cradled her like a baby and carried her further into the forest. It began to snow, lightly at first and then the flakes fell harder, faster, making it a blurry vision of white with whirling wind and poor visibility. He had to get her to some kind of safe shelter where he could examine her wounds and make sure she didn’t die from whatever was in that injection. With each footstep she whimpered in pain. Being Felicity, she was deeply ashamed of it too. It must have been some serum to make the invincible Felicity weaker than a newborn kitten. Reginald  tried to be gentler, yet he had to hurry. They didn’t, she didn’t, have much time. He murmured words of comfort, but he could tell by the look in her eyes that she didn’t buy it, not for a moment. You don’t steal someone’s weapons, lure them into the forest, and then almost kill them for no reason. Staring into those defiant green eyes, a sudden memory came to him.

******************************************************************

Geovanni’s Restaurant, Rome Italy

 Six  Months Ago. . . . . .

          A dark figure was hunched over a streaming mug of coffee in the back corner of the bright restaurant. People chattered and laughed among themselves, but this lone ranger was watching and waiting for his turn with the big man himself. It wasn’t long before Geovanni spotted him. “Ah, Reginald, il mio amico! How was your trip? One moment and I’ll be with you.”

          It was so crazy busy inside the restaurant today Reggie knew it would be more than a moment. He calmly sipped his beverage as he settled in to wait with a good book, How To Take Down An Evil Government For Dummies by Logan Buckingham. A couple hours passed and still no Geovanni.

          A horse neighed and reared outside in the street. Suddenly horse and rider crashed into the front window. Screams echoed from terrified customers as Geovanni moaned, “Mamma mia, my restaurant!”

“Geovanni! Geovanni! Whoa girl, whoa!” The horse skidded into tables spooked beyond belief. Dishes shattered and food was flung everywhere. The rider was a young girl. Although she wore a long dress she didn’t ride side saddle. In fact, she didn’t have a saddle at all as she sat astride the copper colored mare. Reginald squinted in the dim lighting. He couldn’t quite make out her face for it was hidden in the hood of her bright red cloak. “Oh, Geovanni! I hate being the bearer of bad news but the worst thing just happened!”

“I’ll say,” said Geovanni eyeing the busted window. “It’ll take me months to get that fixed!”

The girl waved the issue away. “I’ll give you double the dough this week and Logan can put it in for free—–”

“That’s what I’m afraid of!” The old man exploded. “The last time that kid tried to do construction on my restaurant——-”

“Oh, phooey! Logan is an excellent maintenance worker, she does stuff for us around the playroom all time——”

“You said that last time and she nearly blew up the entire city!”

“It’s not her fault that propane truck just happened to be parked outside while she was working on the furnace——”

“Felicity,” Geovanni gave her his stern “listen to me because I’m old and wise” look. “How many times I have told you to slow down and keep that horse out of my restaurant?”

“Geovanni!” Felicity whined.  “Back to important matters! Life or death matters! Smith and Elizabeth——”

“Shh! Not here,” said Geovanni, his head darting this way and that. “Come with me——”

“No, I don’t have time!” said Felicity impatient as ever.  “Smith is being held hostage by a team of British assassins!”

Reginald choked on his coffee for that was the exact matter he was here to discuss. Well, not the exact thing. He wasn’t trying to rescue anybody. He was simply here to tell Geovanni about his dad’s latest captives. One was a sarcastic blond girl in a dress similar to this girl here. She refused to tell her tormentors anything even under great pressure. The other was a wimpy boy who kept crying for someone named Felicity. Luckily the boy didn’t know anything about Geovanni’s real secrets for if he did he would have squealed them all immediately before any threats were made. Reginald assumed the people this girl spoke of must be the captives back home because it was too big a coincidence for them all to be connected to Geovanni and not be the same situation.

Felicity paused staring directly at Reginald thinking it odd he spit coffee out at that precise moment, but then shrugged and continued her rant to Geovanni. “Apparently they mistook Smith for you and in order to bring the newly reformed Italian government to her knees they are going to——”

“Shh! Felicity, sta ‘zitto! Not here, not now!” Again Geovanni’s head darted to the right and left fearing someone, a vile enemy perhaps, had overheard. “Come with me and we will discuss—–”

“No!” Felicity shouted mounting her horse in one fluid motion. “I don’t have time for one of your tea parties! My friends need me now! Even in this century those evil redcoats are trying to destroy everything and I’m going to stop them once and for all!” As quickly as she had come, the girl was gone.

Geovanni sighed deeply. “One day once and for all will get you killed, mio

piccolo passero.”

          Reginald came behind the old man. “What was that about?”

          The old Italian sighed again. “Nothing. Just a friend of mine racing off into danger again.”

          Reginald wanted to ask another question, but didn’t dare. He was used to a need to know basis and Geovanni would tell him if it were important for him to know. Unlike Felicity whose curiosity has almost killed her multiple times, Reginald knew it was best if there were some things he did not know.

 “Come,” said Geovanni beckoning Reginald into his private office away from prying eyes and enemy ears. Geovanni never had any children of his own. First and foremost, Smith was like a son to him. Somehow Reginald seemed to fall into that camp too, although Reginald seemed more of a nephew of sorts. Reginald was independant. A ninja in the night who lived far away and didn’t need the same wisdom and guidance that Smith did. Just a friend who needed a listening ear. Not as sonlike. Smith was the beloved favored one who would always hold a very special place in the old man’s heart whereas Reginald was a lose cannon whose loyaties could not be counted on yet. Truth was there were so many orphans or people with bad dads on the streets of Rome that Geovanni had taken a whole bunch under wings, lovingly stepped up and fulfilled that role for. He may not have had children of his own, but he loved each and every kid he met as if they were his own flesh and blood.

“About what that girl was saying about those assassins. . . . . . . ” Reginald began warily.  

“Si, si, I know.” Geovanni waved the issue away. “That’s not what I want to talk to you about.”

“It isn’t?”

“No, no, that will blow over in a matter of days. What I want you for is something bigger.”

Reginald nearly staggered under the weight of that statement. “Bigger than my dad taking children hostage?”

Geovanni smiled. Reginald hated when he did that. It was almost as if the old man was reading the future posted somewhere behind Regniald where he could not see. “In a few days, Martha—–have you heard of the villian Martha?”

Reginald nodded. Who hadn’t? The girl was responsible for starting a few wars and trying to take over the world. Not only that, she was a wack-o from Play Road giving an even greater sense to the family’s reputation as nuts.

Geovanni continued, “In a few days Martha and her cronies are going to hire fourteen assassins from all over the world. And I especially want to make sure you are one of them.”

“Why?” Reginald frowned.

“Because you will do the right thing and not kill your target.”

At this point, Reginald was seriously considering hearing aids. “Excuse me? You do know what assassins are supposed to do right? And what Martha will do to one of her employees if they don’t do what she wants? Who am I taking out anyway? The President?”

Geovanni laughed and the sound of it got on Reginald’s last nerves. When Geovanni realized the boy wasn’t laughing he sighed and patted a hand on his back. “Ah, yes, you have a choice to make. It’s time.”

Reginald gulped. Surely he didn’t mean?

Geovanni nodded. “Don’t worry about Martha.”

“But what if she——”

“Is it better to live as an evil villain or die doing what’s right?”

Reginald didn’t want to answer. His whole life so far had been lived as the former. He knew better than anyone that the dark side wasn’t really a life at all.

“I can’t tell you the answer, son, but I can tell you that this choice is one you will have to make soon. Be ready for that moment because it will come when you least expect it.”

“My target,” Reginald said slowly, “is someone important to you?”

“Si, very important. Not just to me though, she’s a true hero to the rest of this world as well.”

“What if I make the wrong choice? Wouldn’t you be responsible for her death by putting me in this position?”

“I’m willing to take a chance on you. You’re the only assassin I know. Besides, even if you decide as you say ‘wrong’ I am fairly confident that all the persons I care about will come out alive.”

“How?” Reginald exploded having enough of this guy’s riddles. “What makes you say that?”

Geovanni clasped his hands as if to say a prayer and sent his eyes heavenward. “Because I have faith that good will always win.”

******************************************************************

Remote Forest Wilderness Germany, February 2014

“You saved my life,” Felicity whispered. Reginald set Felicity down in the mouth of a cave where she stood on trembling legs. She was stubborn enough to refuse collapsing to the ground in weakness although that’s what her body wanted to do. He hoped there were no hibernating bears residing here. A dank cave wasn’t his first choice, but they needed shelter from the storm A.S.A.P. and this was their only option. She gazed up at him in starry eyed wonder thinking of Smith and how he always expected her to rescue him yet never once risked his life for hers. “No one, except my sisters Glogan, has ever done that for me before.”

          “It was nothing.”

          Not if you are my assassin, Felicity thought. This puzzled her more than anything. If his fellow villains had sent him to kill her, then why wasn’t this boy trying to complete the job? He saved her life instead. Tears stung her eyes. Smith would have never done anything like that for her. “What’s your name?”

          A smile twitched at the corners of his serious mouth. “Reginald Artemis Chapman the 16th.”

          “Urgh! That’s terrible!” She shuddered. “Reginald and a number? That bad, huh?”

“Well, we can’t all have fabulous names to go with our dashing physique.” She laughed. He loved the sound of her merriment. “Tell me yours.”

          “Felicity Merriman.”

          “Felicity,” he whispered to himself. “What a beautiful and festive name.”

          On the other side of the clearing Felicity muttered, “I’ll have to call you something else.”

          “Why?” he said in alarm.

          “Because Reginald is an atrocious name.” She turned away from him already plotting the perfect nickname. “Arty? Farty? Naldy? Oh, I know, Reggie!”

          It was his turn to shudder. “That sounds like veggie. What if I happen to like——”

          “Thank you, Reggie, for saving my life.”

Reginald gulped down a lump of emotion. He had never saved anyone’s life before never mind being thanked for it. Felicity winced in pain, yet still tried to remain tough. Reginald was at her side in an instant. “Let me help——”

“No!” Felicity jerked away from him like a frightened bird too wounded to take flight but still trying to take off nonetheless.

“You’re hurt——”

“And whose fault is that? Oh, yowww!” Felicity sucked in a breath and staggered against the wall of the cave clutching her arm where the ogre assassin shot her up with serum. Despite her pain, Felicity would not be accepting any aid from this dude.

Reginald took off his coat and laid it on the ground beside her. Then he took her in his arms and began to gently ease her to the floor. Felicity gasped. Reginald stopped suddenly and looked her in the eyes. “You okay? Am I hurting you?”

A blush crept up her cheeks. It wasn’t the pain that made her gasp. It was the tender way he held her. Strong arms. So close. Too close. His scent washed over her making her want to bury her face in him and never let go. Smith. The sudden thought of that name wracked her with guilt. What was wrong with her? She just met this guy today! And she had a boyfriend. Granted, Smith may not be her true love per say but they were still in love, right?

On the outside, Reginald appeared calm and collected when on the inside he plagued with frantic anxiety. A slight touch of hers zapped him as though he was being shocked by a thousand volts of electricity. Even though there was this certain air of intrigue surrounding Felicity, he had to do his best to ignore and squelch back any sort of growing attraction so he could focus and do his professional job of makeshift doctor. Wow, from assassin to healer in a matter of moments. What was wrong with him? It goes without question that Geovanni was right, but was this the moment the old man spoke of? Was this the moment he needed to decide whether to turn towards the light or to extinguish this beautiful flame of life forever? Reginald couldn’t bring himself to kill her. Not right now at least. He knew toying with her like this, saving her life and nursing her back to health only to kill her later, was unnecessarily cruel. What choice did he have though? He wasn’t ready!

Felicity gritted her teeth and bit her lip to keep from crying out, this time from the sheer physical agony and not Reginald’s handsome face swimming before her eyes. She squinted in the dim light. Were there four of him? Where did those other guys come from?

Reginald saw her discomfort and did his best to remedy it. He laid her down on top of his coat. She shivered and he knew he had better get a fire started quickly. His survival skills were top of the line. He could survive out here for months if he had to. Only question was, would she survive even one night in this wounded state of delirium? First things first though, check the injuries before she bled to death. He tried to examine her. Too much fabric. He nearly swore. This was impossible! How the heck was he supposed to bandage her potentially fatal flesh wounds with all these petticoats getting in the way? She weakly tried to fight him off. “Felicity,” he growled in a no nonsense voice.

“But—–”

He saw it in her eyes. She looked away, suddenly ashamed. Yet it was still there lurking unspoken under the surface, but you’re my assassin.

His voice softened. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Y-you’re n-not?” she warbled barely hanging on to any remnants of consciousness.

He forced a smile which only came out looking like a grimace. “I had my chance. Remember? I already saved you once today.”

She faintly nodded dimly recalling the events from earlier. It left her feeling more confused than ever.

“Felicity,” he whispered urgently. “I need you to trust me. I am going to do whatever I can to help you but I need your consent and your corporation. Please, please, please, let me help you.”

Felicity had never needed this kind of help before. She was always the one doing the saving. How many millions of times had she nursed her beloved Smith back to health? Now she found herself on the other end, helpless. She didn’t like it, not one bit, but maybe now she could better relate to Smith. Part of her, the dreaming side, wished he was the one here with her now and the other part, the realistic soul crushing side, knew if Smith were here right now then she would be as good as dead. “Yes,” she whispered.

His straining ears almost missed it. “Hmm?”

“Yes, I’ll trust you. Do what you must.” And then she finally, thankfully, fell deeply unconscious.

******************************************************************

          Five days passed inside their icy dwelling. Felicity spent most of that time dozing in and out of consciousness and babbling about her life in the Playroom. Although she was injured and on the verge on death Felicity’s mouth certainly still worked! Reginald, who was so used to silence, was surprised by how much he enjoyed listening to her endless chatter. He learned about her bossy older sister Samantha, the famous diva queens Bitties Babies, the French pirate, fighting crime with Glogan in Italy, and lastly some idiot guy named Smith. She went on and on about this Smith character making Reginald want to punch the boy in the face the next minute he sees him. What kind of guy sits off to the sidelines as his girlfriend fights to the death as a gladiator? A coward that’s who and Reginald couldn’t tolerate cowards. In her deluded state, Felicity told enough about Smith for Reginald to know more than he ever cared to know about a girl’s feelings in her epic fail of a relationship.

Then Felicity began rambling about Geovanni. His ears perked up confirming the sneaking suspicion she was indeed the girl he has encountered dozens of times smashing into the restaurant building. He was always slinking in the background while she was stealing the show with her stellar style. “How do you know Geovanni?”

          Felicity didn’t acknowledge him, and in her feverish daze she continued to ramble on in the story of how she first met Geovanni and Smith on their family vacation five years ago before the PFV burning of Rome. Reginald pursed his lips. He was deep in thought wishing perhaps not for the first time that he had a piece of duct tape to cover that mouth of hers. Using his expertise skill of reading body signs, Reginald was able to determine that the drugged serum the ogre gave Felicity wasn’t fatally poisonous or meant to kill. Reginald knew his father’s lab like the back of his hand. Twisted memories churned in his mind like butter as he remembered the ice cold floor, scurrying rats in cages, dead, lifeless, and haunted eyes of human prisoners who screamed agonizing wails until their last breath. At first, Reginald was very worried that whatever they shot Felicity up with was something excoriatingly horrible like that. Then he realized that whatever it was was only a simple potion meant to make her come willingly and quietly. It seemed someone wanted to capture her alive. Why send an assassin after her if they wanted her alive? So whoever it was could kill her himself. It was always guaranteed to be much more brutal if one was extracting vengeance. The thought paralyzed him and suddenly Reginald had a pretty good idea of who that someone was.

They had to get out of here. It was only a matter of time before . . . . .he couldn’t let his thoughts travel down that path. Even though it was his mission to deliver the merciless act of betrayal to this girl he was in the process of saving. But Felicity was certainly in no condition to go trekking through the forest. Neither could he leave her alone long enough to scout out if anyone had discovered their whereabouts in this cave. The snow storm was continuing to worsen. He doubted anyone could have tracked them here, but Reginald would rather appear silly in his overly cautiousness than be dead. 

The fire flickered out giving way to a black smoking log. He stroked the fire and tossed on one of the few precious logs to give them the last of its dwindling warmth. He eyed their meager stack of logs and realized with a grumble that he would have to leave her in order to get more wood. They would both freeze to death otherwise. Reginald pulled on his soggy wet gloves in preparation to go out into the storm. She moaned in her sleep, but stilled as he kissed her forehead. Her dirty matted hair curled around her head as a pillow. The sight of her made his heart clench. “I’ll be back soon,” he said amazed how his whisper could ring so loudly in this cave.

*****************************************************************

          Felicity woke with a start to a room of total darkness. Where am I? What the heck did I get myself into this time? And what is Samantha going to say? she thought clutching her head as she sat upright. Shivering, she pulled her cloak tight around her shoulders. Glowing red embers, the remains of a poorly built fire, gave her an ounce of light just enough for her to know she was in a cave. The image of a hibernating mama bear was the first concern that flashed before her mind’s eye. Why am I in a cave? Then the memories came staggering back all at once. Castle. Ransacked. Chasing down the culprit. Dance in the woods. Assassins. Reginald saving her life. . . . .

          And then what happened? She had no idea. For the life of her she could not remember. It was disorienting to find yourself hiding in a cave after a big battle and not knowing how on earth you got there. Felicity didn’t like this heavy dread of the unknown hanging over her.

A whirling hole white brightness appeared to her left as Reginald pushed over a boulder to enter. The sound of rushing wind as the storm raged on echoed into the cave. Felicity was momentarily blasted with a rush of cold air. Her teeth chattered uncontrollably. Reginald was there in an instant. His numb fingers dropped bundles of wood with a loud clatter as he hurriedly tried to light a fire. “Give me that,” said Felicity pushing him out of the way. In seconds, she had a well-built roaring fire and they were settled before it like old friends.

He raised an eyebrow. “Well, someone is feeling better I see. How did you do that?”

 “Anything you can do I can do better.”

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Who spent the last five days keeping your frozen butt alive?”

“It’s a wonder either one of us survived with your pitiful pile of sticks that barely gave off enough heat to warm a mouse!”

He didn’t want to get into this and thought charming her might be better. “Seriously, you’re amazing. How did you manage that?”

She didn’t glow under his praise like he thought she might. Instead she just shrugged. “In the 1700s everyone had to. It was an everyday thing. There wasn’t any other way to live.”

“I guess history beats boy scouts,” he said.

“Every time. Wait, did you say—-”

He nodded. “You’ve been out for five days.”

A hand flew to her mouth to cover a gasp. “Oh, no, no, no!”

“What, you have an important date or something?”

“Yes, actually I do.”

His smile fell. “Oh.”

“A smack down with my evil sister Martha! I have a funny feeling this is all her fault. Again.” He grinned secretly relieved she wasn’t really going out on a date with some other guy. She huddled closer to the fire resting her head on his shoulder as she did so. He longed to wrap an arm around her yet feared she might jump away if he did. “Thanks, by the way. For saving my life.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Now start talking.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Start talking. Who are you really? Why are you an assassin? Who were those guys in the clearing? Why did you sneak into my room and steal my weapons? Why lure me out here and not kill me? Who are you working for? Is it Martha? Because I bet it’s Martha. And most of all, why take care of me in the wilderness for five days? Why put that much effort into saving a stranger?”

“Why do I feel as if this is an interrogation?”

“Because it is. Now start talking.”

“Oh, alright. I’ll talk.”

“Oh, good.”

He felt her smile as she snuggled closer. A quiet moment passed as he fought to find the right words.

“I’m not hearing anything. Speak!”

“Yes, I’m working for Martha.”

She leapt to her feet and pointed an accusatory finger at him. “I knew it! That still answers nothing, but you are evil!”

“No!” He shouted before he even realized the words were out of his mouth. “No, I’m not!”

“Huh?”

“I’m not evil. I’m a spy. A double agent. Martha thinks I’m loyal to her, but I’m really trying to——–”

“Take her down from the inside!” Felicity launched herself at him and threw his arms around him in a hug. “That’s brilliant!”

“It is?” He gulped down another lie. Or maybe this was the truth. Was this the choice Geovanni meant? To be evil like his dad and Martha expected or to be the good spy working from inside enemy lines?

“Yeah, you’re a genius! I wish I had thought of it sooner! Oh, Reggie, I’m so glad you’re not evil! That could have made things awkward fast. Now we can take down Martha together. You don’t have to be the lonely scared spy fearing death upon discovery anymore because I’m here to help!”

He felt rather faint. The strength of her arms around him made him realize dumbly that now he would either have to be a really good actor, play along and hide from her that he was evil and eventually do the deed his assassin father and evil mastermind Martha were paying him to do. Or by following Felicity whole heartedly and being good Reginald would have to break away from the dark side forever, give up the family assassin business, and never see his dad again. What was a boy to do?

“So what’s Martha up to these days?” Felicity asked. “What’s her evil plan?”

Reginald shook his head and dizzily came out of his fog. “Martha believes that the only way she can successfully take over the world is if she kills off every potential hero that may stop her. Mainly your family. She hired an assassin for each member of the Playroom family and plans to—–”

“Kill us all off?! Why, the nerve of that girl! We give her a good home and this is how she repays us?”

She seemed to be taking this remarkably well. As if your sister trying to kill every member of your family was an everyday occurrence. Maybe it was, it’s impossible to tell family dynamic with someone as wack-o nuts as Martha. “Aren’t you concerned for your family?”

“Of course. But Martha is not going to succeed. Not while I’m still alive.”

That’s exactly the point, thought Reginald.

“So what’s the plan?”

“What?”

“You must have a plan for taking her down. How are we doing this?”

Reginald didn’t know how to feel about the word we. On one hand, it was delightful to be part of a good team. He couldn’t stop the tingly feeling of warmth from welling up inside his soul. On the other hand, the word we meant he was in this with her whether he liked it or not. His scattered mind scrambled to come up with something to please her. “There’s a convention today. Martha is gathering all her assassins, minions, etc. to go over the final plans before we take action.”

“Alright, let’s go.”

“Um, maybe I’d better do this alone.”

“What? No way! I’m coming too.”

“Are you sure you feel up to it?” The last thing he needed was her fainting in a room full of assassins out to kill her.

“Pashaw, I feel great! Better than great!”

“Won’t she recognize you?” He gestured to the bright red cloak.

Felicity turned her cloak inside out so now it was a midnight blue color. She smiled. “This is what we call a disguise.”

******************************************************************

Back at the Castle with the Rest of the Gang, February 2014

Today’s family activity was snowboarding or skiing in the National Park. There wasn’t much else for them to do what with being isolated in a drafty medieval castle in the dead of winter. Gwen’s plan was to ditch her group, Big D. and Emily, to go off and hunt down Felicity. A week had passed with no word whatsoever from the girl and Gwen was getting a bit worried. Samantha wasn’t the least bit concerned because this was not the first time Felicity disappeared without a trace nor would it be the last. More than likely, Samantha reasoned to Gwen, Felicity got caught in the storm when she tried to hunt down whoever destroyed their hotel room and was having complications finding her way back to them. Or she had gotten wrapped up in some villain’s evil plot to take over the world and needed time to defeat him. Sometimes when Samantha was feeling quite lazy she thought it best to leave things alone when it comes to Felicity. Besides, Felicity was more than capable of taking care of herself.

          Gwen wasn’t so sure this was a regular routine villain hunt down. She felt a little uneasy for she had seen the balding man with the gun watching her every move again. Gwen escaped this time by jumping in the frozen lake and swimming in the icy water to the tunnels under the castle. Next time she may not be so lucky. Gwen had also seen another mysterious figure shadowing Bitty and Samantha. Was every shadow really an assassin? The thought made Gwen even more jumpy than usual. It seemed to her someone was definitely trying to kill them all.

          The question plaguing Gwen most was not why. She knew why. The playroom was very famous for their saving the world adventures. The mere idea of them was enough to get under any villains skin. Not to mention that it was being taught in evil mastermind schools that the only foolproof way to take over the world was to get rid of the playroom first because as long as even one was alive you will be stopped. Why was not the issue.

 No, the question was who. Was Martha behind it? That was Gwen’s worst nightmare. There was just something about Martha’s presence that made Gwen jumpier than a squirrel with a flea problem. Lately Martha had returned to live in the Playroom. A year ago Martha had run off to be a villain. Now suddenly after trying to kill them all with witchcraft disease and causing several wars she felt she could waltz back into the Playroom as if nothing had happened and live her life accordingly. It was enough to make Gwen’s blood boil. She shared a bunk bed with Glogan. Martha swore she saw the error of her ways and was no longer a mad villain bent on world domination. Samantha was thrilled the prodigal daughter had returned to them, but Gwen wasn’t so sure they could trust Martha so easily again especially since earlier this morning when she overheard an odd phone call between Martha and her former head minion, Clark.

“Yes, yes, that’s good. The whole list? You got an assassin for each person? Okay. You hired the Brit, right? The target has a long history of fighting against the British, I’ll enjoy the irony. Did the medieval torture swords come in? Urgh! You’re impossible! You’re a blubbering idiot! How are we supposed to form an army——?”

“Martha?” said Gwen. “Who are you talking to?”

Martha flipped her cell phone shut. “Oh, no one.”

“Didn’t sound like no one to me,” Gwen muttered.

“It was no one.” Martha grabbed Gwen by the front of her shirt and lifted her up so they were at eye level. Gwen gulped in fear at Martha’s hard gaze. She was extremely aware of the strength in the arm holding her up, strength enough to strangle and not bat an eyelash over it. “You heard nothing.”

“I heard nothing.” Gwen laughed nervously.

Martha set her sister down. She opened the window as she adjusted her goggles and helmet. With another glare at Gwen she strapped on her snowboard and took off down the snow covered mountain. Gwen breathed a sigh of relief when she was out of sight.

“What was that about?” said Emily.

Gwen sighed. “I wish I knew.”

“Are you guys ready to go yet or not?” asked Big Dolly.

“Um. . . . you go on ahead of me, I’ll catch up.”

Emily frowned. “Aren’t we all supposed to stay together? I mean, how are you going to find us later?”

Gwen clamped a hand over her sister’s mouth and ducked behind the couch as Samantha walked by. “Um, ah, I just need to um. . . .”

“Why is Gwen being weird?” said Big Dolly.

“When isn’t she weird?” said Samantha. She ignored them and took Bitty by the hand heading out the door.

Gwen breathed a sigh of relief. “Whoa, that was close! A little too close if you know what I mean.”

Emily wasn’t smiling. “What’s going on, Gwen?”

“Oh, fine. I’m going to go look for Felicity.”

Big Dolly and Emily gasped.

“Why is that surprising?”

Emily said, “Because—–”

“You’ll end up killed,” said Big D. “And then Felicity will end up dragging your dead body home. And then Samantha will blame us because we let you go tramping through the forest alone in a snowstorm to get mauled by a bear or struck by lightning—–”

“Hey, I’ve been struck by lightning plenty of times and always turn out just fine!”

“Sure Gwen,” said Emily. “You’re completely alright in that noggin of yours.” 

“Or strangled by gnomes or shot by an assassin or something,” Big D. continued.

“How do we know Felicity hasn’t done that?” said Gwen.

Big Dolly said, “Because Felicity is a survivor.”

“And I’m not?”  

Both Emily and Big D. busted up laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

Neither could answer for they were so choked up in giggles.  Gwen rolled her eyes in surrender. “Okay, fine. If you won’t let me go alone then you’ll just have to come with me.”

The laughing stopped abruptly. The adopted sisters shared a look, ut-oh, we’re in for it now!

******************************************************************

          “I’m cold,” said Big D. In her pink penguin snowsuit, she waddled behind in Gwen’s footsteps trudging through waist deep snow. Her hood didn’t fit her giant head real well and kept sliding off making her bald head even icier.

          “Well, let’s get out of this blizzard then,” said Gwen taking her by the hand. Hope of a roaring fire in a cozy parlor sparked inside Big D. until she realized her sister only meant let’s take shelter in that cave up ahead. They had been wandering aimlessly in the raging storm for several hours now with no lead in sight. Gwen swore she was the best tracker among them. Usually she could sniff out a scent and follow a trail like a dog on a hunt. However, the whirling snowstorm wasn’t helping. A couple miles back, Gwen noticed red threads caught on a bush in a clearing and assumed the threads were from Felicity’s cloak. Who else would be out here in the middle of nowhere wearing bright red? It wasn’t exactly the latest fashion trend. Then the trail went cold. Gwen was hoping to see the rest of the cloak attached to a live familiar freckled face girl, but luck like that wasn’t ever something Gwen could count on. And two whiney sisters tagging along did nothing to improve Gwen’s mood. Emily was too shy to voice her complaints, but Gwen could feel Emily’s silent glower aimed at her back.

          “Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Emily finally said.

          Of course I do!” Gwen shouted to be heard over the wind. “Into this cave, yup, just like that—-” Gwen broke off when out the corner of her eye she saw something fluttering in a snowbank above the cave. Was that Felicity’s apron? The words Reginald Was Here were scratched in the rock surface with an ugly black x running through them. Who the heck was Reginald?

          “Samantha’s instructions for the day say nothing about a cave,” said Emily. “Oh, wait, it’s in the fine print. Do not under any circumstances go anywhere near a cave.”

          Awestruck by her discovery, Gwen knelt in the entrance of the cave and had a victorious ah-ha moment. Felicity’s shoe!

          “Is this when we get mauled by a hibernating bear?” said Big Dolly with chattering teeth.

          “No,” said Gwen. “This is most certainly not when——-”

          ROAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Emily screamed, Big Dolly cried, and the scaredy cat Gwen jumped into Emily’s arms like Scooby Doo always leapt into Shaggy’s only to be immediately thrown to the harsh cave floor. With no hesitation, Emily practically soared down the mountain on skis while Big Dolly ran after her wildly waving her arms and calling, “Take me with you!”

          Gwen cowered behind a large rock. She didn’t understand. Every sign pointed to Felicity being here at some point. So where in the world was she now?

******************************************************************

          Felicity was, in fact, trying to meld into the shadows as she inconspicuously crept beside Reginald.  “Do you see me now?” Part of her cloak was draped over her arm as she lifted it to cover everything except her twinkling green eyes.

          Reginald sighed. “Yes, Felicity, I can still see you.”

          “Drat!” He heard the scurry of feet as she ninjaed her way over to another tree. “How about now?” She giggled. “Am I a good spy or what?”

          “You wouldn’t survive two minutes as a spy,” he mumbled under his breath.

          “What was that?”

          “Nothing.”

          “Do you see—–”

          “You have to remain completely still. Any movement at all, a slight twitch of the nose, scratching an itch, blinking, anything and you’re spotted.”

          Felicity frowned knowing that would be absolutely impossible for her. “You’re no fun. How can anyone be expected to——”

          “Here, I’ll show you.” Suddenly he was behind her, his solid presence warming her from the inside out. His breath was hot on her neck making her face flame even more. His arms wrapped around her waist in an iron grip, pulling her close and making it impossible to run. Not that she wanted to run. She desired to relax in his embrace and . . . . .

SMITH! She had to remember. . . .  .

Reginald didn’t move a muscle. She marveled at his gentle strength, the way he could fuse with the shadows and become a perfect statue in a way she could never. It felt as if he could literally hold her there forever.

. . . . . What was that other guy’s name again?

“Felicity,” he rasped longing to be something he could never give. She turned her head and he lowered his head to kiss her. He was doing it anyway regardless of whether it was okay for an assassin to fall in love with his target or not.

Anticipating the kiss she closed her eyes and whispered, “You moved.”

“I don’t care,” he said. Before their lips met, a loud roar exploded through the forest like a gunshot. They jumped apart. Squinting through the falling flakes, they gazed up the mountain to see a familiar figure come speeding downhill followed by a roly-poly pink blob and a shrieking Gwen who was wrestling an angry bear.

“Looks like someone found our cave,” she said, grinning.

He cleared his throat and looked away, coloring slightly. “Discovery for a spy is never a good thing.”

“That’s my family.”

“Oh.”

“Even better, right?”

“Right.”

They started walking in a tense silence, each one wishing that moment had gone a little differently and each one putting it out of their minds as fast as possible while they mentally prepared for the mission ahead. Every step took them closer to Martha’s evil powwow. Felicity’s brow crunched as she suddenly thought of something. “We lived in that cave for five days with a bear?!”

It was his turn to grin. “Yup.”

******************************************************************

          Big Dolly lost sight of Emily within seconds. “Guess I’m on my own now.” She laughed nervously as she glanced over shoulder. Gwen and the bear had passed her too and now the poor little dear was all alone this vast winter landscape. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she wandered further into the dark woods. “I think the castle is this way? Or maybe it’s safe to go back to the cave now that the bear is gone? Maybe talking to myself is the hypothermia setting in. Who am I kidding? I love to talk even if it’s just to myself. I wish Parker were here. He’d know what to do. He’d carry me all the way back to the castle. I know he would, he’s nice like that unlike someone else I know looking at you, Gwen! Stupid sister. Stupid bear. Why can’t we ever vacation on a nice relaxing tropical island? A winter vacation does not mean go somewhere with more snow! Maybe someone will come back for before I freeze to death out here? Ha! They won’t care enough to rescue me. Oh, but Samantha will! I just have to wait for. . . .  .”

          Suddenly a big rush of wind from a skier nearly knocked Big Dolly over. “Emily? You came back for me! Oh, I knew you would! I never had any doubts.” The skier gal removed her helmet and shook out her bushy auburn hair. At first Big D. thought it was Felicity. “Oh, Felicity! Where have you been all this time?!”

          The girl slowly turned to face her. Big D. gasped. It wasn’t Felicity.

The evil glint in Kelly’s eye sent Big D. reeling into a tree behind her. Kelly, a.k.a. Kelsey when she wasn’t a villain, was Martha’s sidekick. It’s somewhat of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation. She is totally insane and Big D. is more than a little afraid of her. “I am NOT Felicity!” Kelly howled.

          Big D. swallowed hard. Kelsey had always been compared to Felicity. It was mostly due to looks because both had red hair and green eyes. If someone needed to play Felicity’s clone then the role was always cast to Kelsey. Unlike Felicity, however, Kelsey didn’t have the same ease Felicity did when it came to making friends. Kelsey was forced to be friends with Meredith, someone she really didn’t like but since neither one fit into the family they were stuck together as outsiders. When Meredith went evil and became Martha, Kelsey had no choice but to tag along, unless she wanted to be a third wheel in somebody else’s friendship. Felicity has a larger than life reputation as a faithful friend. Felicity will heedlessly risk her life to save someone else. Just because Kelsey looks like Felicity, Kelsey is just sorta expected to do the things Felicity does how she does them. And those are big shoes to fill. The pressure and the expectation to be someone she’s not may be a key contributing factor in Kelsey’s slide over to the dark side.

          Big D. shrank back. “No, no, of course you’re not—–”

          “What? Not good enough for you? Is that what you’re gonna say?”

          Big D., ironically enough, was at a loss for words.

           “Oh, for the love of—–” Kelly glanced at her watch. “I’m late! Thanks a lot!”

          “You’re welcome,” said Big D. without thinking.

          Kelly glared making Big D. cower more. “Well, I can’t leave you here.”

          “W-what?” Big D. could taste fear in her frozen jaw. She had been hoping someone would rescue her from this frigid nightmare, but not crazy, evil Kelly. Anyone except her! Or Martha! Big Dolly didn’t know which would be worse; to be trapped at the hands of the evil queen herself or just her sidekick, both were nasty options! At least Kelly wasn’t totally psycho? Or was she? It’s all so confusing! So many questions! Big D. scratched her head. How do Felicity and Logan tell if someone is good or evil?

          Kelly grabbed Big D. by the arm and yanked her forward. Big Dolly stumbled and struggled to pull away. “No! I’m not going with you!” She tried to run, yet in her fluffy snowsuit she could barely waddle.

          “You have to!” screamed Kelly grabbing her hand. “I’m taking you to my evil lair; you have to be my prisoner or else you’ll go back and tell everyone everything!”

          “I don’t know anything!” Big D. was crying now. Pain seared through her arm. All the fibers were being stretched beyond agony as Kelly pulled one way and Big Dolly pulled another. “And I won’t be your prisoner!”

          What would Felicity do in this instance? Big D. bit her lip to keep from crying out. Another hard yank on Kelly’s end made Big D.’s frozen arm CRACK! A small hole where Big D’s arm attached to her body and it was only a matter of seconds before it grew wider. Big Dolly wished Parker, Samantha, Gwen, Emily, ANYONE were here with her.

          “You’re coming with me!”

          “NO!”

          In a final burst of strength, Kelly pulled with all her might just as Big Dolly jerked away in the opposite direction. RIP! The snowsuit wasn’t the cause of that ripping sound. It was Big Dolly’s already fragile and somewhat damaged arm. Big Dolly looked down in horror as blood and stuffing flowed like a river from her armless shoulder.

Kelly stared down at the arm in her hands, her wide eyes growing larger. A moment of clarity rang through her evil fog. What have I done? It was one thing to be a villain in Pretend Friend Ville but another completely different thing physically hurt someone in a real world way. No magic in the world could fix this.

Big Dolly stared at Kelsey in disbelief. Kelsey couldn’t meet her gaze. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean——”

          Big Dolly found her voice. “I will never forgive you!”

The words hit like a slap to the face. If Kelsey wasn’t already turned to the dark side that phrase alone would be enough to seal her fate. Big Dolly would forever only have one arm and it was all Kelsey’s fault. It was more than she, both Big D. and Kelsey, could bear. Kelsey dropped the arm in the snow as if it were scalding hot. She ran off into the woods leaving Big D. stranded alone with a fatal wound.

          Big Dolly’s eyes rolled back in her head as she began to faint. Blessed unconsciousness. Before she was totally out, however, she thought she saw a giant red siren appear and hover over her head as loud warning summons for the whole family to hear. The magic emergency siren was set up by Felicity and Logan to automatically appear if something horrific happens. Although they programmed it years ago, the magic emergency siren had never been used. No crisis had ever been bad enough. Until today.

Big Dolly also thought she saw; before the world went black, their adopted moms Jessica and Jackie appear out of thin air in a puff of smoke. Jackie, like Kelsey, was whimpering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m soooooo sorry, I didn’t mean——”

          Jessica was crying. She didn’t speak nor could she stop the flow of tears as she imagined the blood staining the snow red. She gently held Big D. staring at the spot where her arm should have been. This moment was Jessica’s and Big Dolly’s worst nightmare coming true. No amount of magic or imagination could fix this.

******************************************************************

Felicity was still inwardly reeling from the almost kiss that she nearly stumbled into Reginald multiple times on their walk to Martha’s liar. He led the way while she tiptoed behind following in his footprints. Her colonial shoes didn’t fare well in several feet of snow like this. The whole of her stockings and the hems of her petticoats and dress were soaking wet within minutes. “My feet are gonna turn to ice blocks.”

“What was that?” Reginald fought to hear over the raging wind. He grew frantic when he didn’t feel her bumping into him.

“I SAID MY FEET ARE——”

“Shh!” He whipped around to put a hand over her mouth. He thought he heard another person, an enemy perhaps, but it might just be the wind. Or was that a siren? Who would be blaring a siren way out here? “Did you hear that?”

“Hmmm!” Felicity squirmed under his iron grip. She didn’t hear anything. Wait, did that sound like a siren? The emergency family siren? No, it couldn’t be. That’s impossible. It must have been her imagination.

When he was satisfied it was just the wind or his over active imagination, he released her much to his regret. She gave him an earful, but he tuned her out instead focusing how beautiful she was even ranting at him here in a blizzard on the way to some evil villain’s convention. She was so determined to always do the right thing. She was so ready for whatever danger or trauma may come their way. He had never met anyone like her before. Never met any girl so willing or capable of keeping up with his lifestyle. A double spy’s life was a lonely and perilous life. Yet she somehow understood. She was strange and a little looney yes, but she was filled with a certain goodness his dark soul was attracted to like a moth to flame.

“DID YOU HEAR ME THAT TIME?” Felicity jumped up and down waving her arms in his dazed, starry eyed face.

For an answer, Reginald scooped her up in his arms so her feet were no longer touching the ground. “Is this better?” he whispered. His eyes pierced hers. She gulped and looked away. He held her like she was a princess at the end of a Disney movie. Felicity’s heart gave a quick flutter. Smith would never think to do that. If he did, his noodle arms might give out. Not so with the dark, mysterious, and handsome Reginald. He continued trudging through heavy wet snow this time carrying the special lady as if she weighed no more than a feather.

“Are we there yet?” she whined hoping to break the spell of this moment. Her complaint did the opposite for it made Reginald’s desire to kiss her even greater.

“Almost.” A while later he set her down. “You ready?”

She looked around. Forest. Trees. Snow. Winter. White. Silence save for their breathing and the soft patter of falling flakes on evergreen trees. “This doesn’t look like an evil convention to me!” She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.

“Well you’re a little spitfire, aren’t you?”

Felicity was torn between glowing beneath that praise or being rudely insulted by that despicable comment. She followed him to a tree where he knocked three times in a specific rhythm.  A rectangular slot opened and a set of eyes peered out. “What’s the password?”

Reginald cleared his throat and said in a Russian accent, “Is mother home?”

“Who’s the chick?” The eyes darted over to Felicity.

“Ah, the newest recruit. The assassin for a Miss Elizabeth Cole—–”

Felicity gasped in horror. Reginald elbowed her in the ribs. “—-since you know how the last guy. . . .” Reginald motioned his hand in front of his throat in the universal sign for death.

“Oh?” The eyes bobbed in suspicion. “Sure she’s not your girlfriend or something?”

“I’m not his—-” This time Reginald stomped on her foot. He put an arm around her and held her tight to his side placing a kiss on her cheek. Felicity’s cheeks were on fire. Her skin tingled from where his lips has touched her. Nope, nothing like Smith at all. It was a thousand times better and that’s what scared her most of all.

Reginald smiled and winked at the eyes in the tree. “Promise you won’t tell?”

The man to whom the eyes belonged laughed. “I won’t if you won’t. Mine’s in here too. Lucky ladies don’t wanna miss out when Martha kills off the Playroom once and for all making it a glorious day for evil villains everywhere.”

“Absolutely!” Felicity squealed with forced enthusiasm.

The man in the tree nodded with approval. “You may enter.”

The bark of the tree swung wide open as if it were a door. Reginald took Felicity by the hand and she shivered with delight. “Follow my lead,” he hissed.

They walked down a long, dark tunnel. It was surprisingly warm and cozy for being inside a tree. They came to a dead end and Reginald opened another door. He held Felicity’s hand tighter. “Don’t let go of me, we’re going into the belly of the beast.”

She nodded, her heart nearly pounding out of her chest in adrenaline and something else. This room was an auditorium bathed in light. On a platform down front, Martha stood in front of a power point. A power point? Really? Thought Felicity. Why use something so ordinary for something so sinister? As if he could guess what she was thinking, Reginald whispered in her ear, “Every object has the power to be used for good or evil.” He led Felicity to a dark corner in the back, a spot where they could see everything but not everyone could see them.

“Quiet!” Head minion Clark called for attention from the crowd. No one listened.

“QUIET!” Martha’s voice made everyone immediately drop what they were doing. The sound of it made Felicity shudder. Without realizing it, she nestled closer to Reginald. Startled, Reginald looked down at her. Her eyes met his. She tried to pull away, but he carelessly draped an arm around her. Felicity’s every sense was heightened. Again she couldn’t help comparing him to Smith, and she found Smith lacking on every front. She shook her head to clear her thoughts and to try to think of anything except the guy sitting beside her. Focus on Martha. Focus!

“Now, this is plan B,” said Martha taking a laser pointer and pointing to the screen. “You assassins are ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE at your jobs! They should be dead by now!”

Felicity’s courage was failing her. To hear you own sister say you should all be dead by now was a painful blow to her faithful heart. If Smith were here he’d be the one cowering into her side and it would be her job to be strong for and comfort him. But Smith wasn’t here and Felicity felt oddly free in a way she hadn’t in a long time. It was nice to be the one comforted for a change.

“So you’re firing us?” An assassin called from the front row.

Martha laughed. It was a cold, chilling sound that Felicity felt deep in her bones. The voice of evil. She buried her face in Reginald’s side, ashamed of her cowardice yet not daring to lift her head.

“No, I’m not firing you,” said Martha. “You have a key purpose in the next phase of our plan. We are going to wage war on the castle when they least expect it. Then you will have a chance to redeem yourselves and get the job done.”

Another person in the audience raised a hand. “And when is this battle happening?”

“As soon as I obtain a certain weapon,” said Martha gesturing back to the screen. “First I need to get King Arthur’s sword.”

Gasps filled the auditorium. “But that’s impossible!” Mutters among themselves. “It’s been lost for centuries!”

Martha yelled, “QUIET! Thank you. Now, this sword is not lost anymore. And it’s the most powerful weapon in the entire world. Not only does it make the person holding it king or queen of whatever, it also flood them with power beyond what any of us can imagine. One little scratch of this sword and you’re instantly dead. The last time it had been seen was by King Arthur himself. It was rumored that on his death bed he crawled out into the woods and stuck it back in the rock from whence it came so no one except his direct descendent could ever use it because the rock knows the blood line and if your intentions are good or evil. It’s recently been found by none other than Felicity Merriman.”

To Reginald’s great horror, Felicity’s face appeared on the screen. Reginald tucked Felicity’s hood on better and adjusted her wig. Now would be a really bad time to be discovered.

Martha continued talking, “She went on some mission to England to save that wretched Smith character and “just happened to” come across it along the way. We all know that’s not true. The great Felicity purposely planned to snatch it all along and use it selfishly for her own evil purposes.”

Felicity yearned to stand up and say that wasn’t true, that she would never, that’s a lie, but knew better than to let her emotions and her love of passionate speeches get the best of her.

“So where is it now?” someone in the crowd asked.

Martha said, “Felicity donated it to some British museum. It’s now with the Traveling King Arthur Renaissance Fair on display for the whole world to see. It just so happens that this fair will be in town tomorrow. That’s when we make our move. As soon as I snatch the sword from the big rock we immediately attack on the palace where half of the playroom is staying. I have an army of brainwashed medieval knights all ready to go. Any questions?”

A few hands shot up. “How are you going to get the sword out of the rock if you have to be a good descendant of King Arthur?”

Martha replied with a smirk, “One of my assassins is a descendant. That’s part of why we hired him. He doesn’t know who he is and I’d like to keep it that way for now. The good requirement in his bloodline doesn’t make him trustworthy or loyal to our cause so I’m not going to say who. All of you are required to be at the fair tomorrow. Allow me to make my move when I’m ready. All you guys have to do is be ready to follow my every order and be ready to execute the battle plan at a moment’s notice. Has anyone seen Kelly?”

Murmurs of no chorused among them. “Hmm, that’s odd,” said Martha. “She was supposed to be here. She better not be getting cold feet about this, I need commitment! Who is with me?”

“I am!” The crowd shouted in unison. Except the back corner remained oddly silent. Martha squinted in the bright spotlights. “Who is back there? Show yourselves!”

Felicity was paralyzed. She couldn’t make herself move. Reginald stood up and dragged Felicity with him. “Oh,” said Martha. “It’s assassin number 3. And who is with him? I don’t remember hiring you.” The spotlight moved to shine directly on Felicity and Reginald. The assassin sitting on Felicity’s other side bumped her so her hood fell off. The smug tech guy manning the spotlight turned on a giant fan and blew it at them. When they had walked in he had noticed something not quite right about her hairline and being an expert in backstage makeup he made a pretty good guess that was about to pay off. The breeze was so intense the skin in their jaws was flapping and some people had to hold onto something lest they be blown away. Reginald could not suppress a curse as Felicity’s wig fell off. Both her hands went to her head, but it was too late. The damage had been done.

The crowd of assassins gasped. The girl from the screen was in their midsts! The girl they were supposed to kill came right to them! Martha’s eyes narrowed. “Felicity! Somebody get them!”

Reginald pulled a loaded gun out of his coat and shielded Felicity with his body. “What, you’ll shoot your own men?” They taunted instilling a fear in Felicity that she had never known before. She was trapped in a roomful of assassins all trying to kill her. Could she even trust the man who had brought her here, the very man placing his body in a position to give his life for hers? Her panicked heartrate alone was enough to send her into cardiac arrest, but when Reggie said, “Yeah, if I have to,” and shot the guy closest to them plus the dumb tech guy, Felicity’s heart melted in a burst of love for him and she knew without a doubt that she could trust him. It goes without saying that if Smith were here he would have been one of the dead guys slumped on the floor.

A stunned silence descended on the shocked auditorium. Nobody, not even Reginald himself, had been expecting that. No one moved. Reggie mouthed to Felicity, “Run.”

She didn’t waver. A typical Felicity move would be to stubbornly refuse and try to be the hero with him, yet today Felicity for once did exactly as she was told. In a flash, she was gone speed being her one and only goal. When the hounds of hell are hot on your heels you can run faster than you ever thought possible. She didn’t make it very far. She ran headlong into a burly security guard in the tunnel. “Ha, ha, got you now pretty girl! And to think I let you in!” He held both hands out reaching for her neck in an attempt to strangle the life out of her.

Felicity pulled a Gwen like move and dropped to the floor where she crawled between his legs and took off running up the passageway. She looked back and waved at his confused, upside down face appearing where she had just crawled through. The door they had come in was shut and she didn’t know how to open it. No knob, no latch, no buttons to press, no nothing! And it was much too heavy for her to try and kick down. She pounded on the door and sank to the floor. There was no use. A man came running up the tunnel behind her. Felicity said one last prayer as she braced for the end. “Reginald!” Her heart leapt in joy. She had never been so glad as to see him.

“Out of the way!”

She shimmied to the side as he came crashing through the door leaving a perfectly Reginald sized shape for her to neatly step through. She shook her head in wonder. This dude was amazing. “What are you waiting for?” He yelled over the wind. “Run!”

Felicity grinned, and leaping like the graceful gazelle that she is swiftly passed him. He slowed to shoot the closest gaining ones. The whole team of 52 assassins came charging after them. Until Martha appeared with a bull horn and called, “STOP! Enough! Come back!”

“You’re just going to let them get away, boss?”

Martha grinned and that perhaps was the most frightening thing of all. “Oh, no, we’re far from done with them. I’ve much bigger plans brewing. You’ll see. Sometimes the cat likes to toy his prey for a while, capisce?”

Deep into the forest, Reginald and Felicity collapsed into a snow bank both red faced and breathless. “Did we lose them?” Felicity asked in a quavering voice. She didn’t try to hide her vulnerability like she usually would have if she was around Smith.

“Probably,” he said putting away his gun. He could not unsee the moment he betrayed his own comrades, his own brothers, the minute he pulled the trigger to save this girl’s life. It was a moment that would haunt him for a good long time.

Her sparkling eyes twinkled up into his. “You saved my life. Again. Thank you.”

He swallowed hard. “Don’t mention it.” The intensity of her gaze hurt to watch as his mind’s eye replayed the scene of his comrades slumping to the ground dead by his bullets.

“Are you okay?”

He blinked away tears. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“No, you are not. Feelings Inside Not Expressed.”

“Huh?”

“That’s what the word fine stand for. What’s really bugging you?”

“Nothing, I—-” Their hands clasped together. His finger twirled a stay piece of her hair and curved around to dup her cheek. Her eyes closed as she leaned into his palm. They both moved towards each other making it impossible to say whose lips first touched whose in a kiss.  

******************************************************************

          Samantha paced for hours along the chain of glass windows as the setting sun cast an eerie glow into the vacant hospital waiting room. What was taking so long? Was the fading of this day symbolic of the fading of life? Big Dolly’s mouth twisting in pain as her scream echoed for miles across the frozen tundra, her arm detached and laying several feet away as the constant flow of blood stained the snow crimson would forever be the face of Samantha’s worst nightmares. Would she be okay? Or would she forever live with one arm? Oh, God, please don’t take her arm! But better the arm than her life, Samantha thought as the tears came fast and furious. Finally, she picked a random seat and sat burying her face in her hands.

Suddenly the doors burst open as Nellie stormed in to enfold her best friend in a hug. “I came as soon as I heard. How is she?”

Samantha wiped her nose on her sleeve. Nellie had been vacationing with her family in Greenland. It meant the world to Samantha that Nellie would leave her vacation and travel across the world to be here for this. “No word yet.”

Nellie looked around the empty waiting room. “Where is everyone?”

“This place is pretty remote. We’re lucky they have a hospital at all.”

“No, I meant where is the rest of your family?”

Samantha gulped back another sob. “Back at the hotel. Praying. Except—-”

“Felicity, Kelsey, and Martha?”

Samantha nodded. “They’ve been missing for days.”

“So has Kelsey. She left Greenland three days ago! I should have known she’d try and find her way to Martha. The million dollar question is what was Big Dolly doing out there alone with her?”

Samantha couldn’t hide from her best friend the awful guilt she felt. She should have known better than to send Big Dolly up a mountain in a blizzard with Gwen and Emily. Gwen was an ignorant goofball and Emily was too shy to look after the loud mouth Big D. Despite Samantha’s careful scoldings beforehand, Emily and Gwen abandoned their little sister the first moment real disaster struck. Samantha still didn’t know exactly how that all went down as neither one would confess, but she hoped to get it out of Big D. later and punish all accordingly. “It’s my fault, really.”

Nellie snorted. “Now I’m sure that’s not true.”

That made Samantha smile a little though the stubborn ache in her heart continued to remain. “I’m surprised Felicity didn’t hear the siren and come running.”

Nellie’s eyebrows shot up. “The siren went off?”

Another nod from Samantha.

“Oh, dear.” She gave Samantha another hug. “I left Parker back in Greenland. He’s devastated, but——”

The door burst open again. Parker stood in the door frame, his chest heaving from sobbing so hard. “Where is Big D.?”

Samantha broke away from Nellie and rushed to Parker’s side. “Parker, I know——”

A nurse came in. “Miss Parkington?”

“Yes?” Samantha’s heart leapt in hopes of hearing some news, whether it be good or bad, about the beloved Big Dolly.

The nurse glanced at Nellie and Parker. “And who—–”

“They’re fine,” said Samantha. “Family. Whatever you say to me you can say to them.”

The nurse opened her mouth and was about to speak when Parker the professional wrestler tackled her to the ground. The nurse screamed as Parker threw her to the floor and pinned her down by throwing all of his weight on top of her. Her head cracked as it hit the cement floor while Parker delivered blow after blow. “Where is my friend?!”

“And that’s exactly why I wanted to leave him in Greenland,” said Nellie.

A giggle escaped from Samantha’s lips, but she quickly sobered as a team of ten security guards tried to fight Parker. “Geesh,” said Samantha. “He’s not world famous for nothing!”

Nellie gave her a withering look as she pulled an orange stuffed moose out of her handbag. “You think? Parker, catch!” She flung the moose at him. “Mrs. Moosey is here!”

Parker abandoned the nurse. With a cry of delight, he snatched his favorite toy. “Mrs. Moosey!” He was momentarily distracted until he remembered Big Dolly giving him this moose as a present years ago. Parker exploded in an angry roar and charged down the hall. “BIG DOLLY, WHERE ARE YOU?!”

A hoarse, “Parker?” called from one of the rooms on the far end and that was all Parker needed. He planted his rear by her side and refused to budge.

Nellie hung her head in her hands and sighed. “Why do I even try?”

The crumpled nurse slowly tried to stand, Samantha and Nellie helping on either side. “He’s fine,” said the nurse. “She’ll be in and out of consciousness for the next 48 hours. She just came out of surgery—-”

“Surgery!” Samantha exclaimed. She let go of the nurse and the lady fell against Nellie. “Did you hear that Nellie? Surgery!” Nellie nodded at her friend while she harrumphed from holding up the injured nurse.  Samantha directed her next question at the nurse. “Did you manage to get the arm back on?”

“Um, yes and no—-”

“WHAT? What kind of answer is that?” Samantha’s dragon magic flared up. Someone was getting angry.

“We had to glue—–.”

“Glue?!”

“Samantha!” Nellie barked. She helped the nurse to a seat and took the spot next to her. “Let the poor woman complete a sentence, would you?”

Red splotches of embarrassment appeared on Samantha’s cheeks. “Sorry.”

The nurse took a deep breath. How she hated dealing with the patients crazy families! “She lost a lot of blood, but thankfully no stuffing as we have no way to replace that. It looks like her arm had been sewn on which is something no hospital in all of Pretend Friend Ville can do.”

Samantha exploded, “No one in this entire world can sew it back on?”

“I’m afraid not. It’s beyond our skills.”

          Samantha was about to scream at that nurse, yet stopped when Nellie laid a hand on her arm. An arm. A hand. Oh, poor Big Dolly!

          “We did, however, manage to figure out a way to put it back on.”

          “How?” Samantha said bitterly believing it was hopeless.

          “Glue,” said the nurse. “We glued the edge of fabric on her shoulder to the edge of plastic on her arm.”

          “It’s the year 2014 and glue is the best you could do? I thought we had made advancements in medical technology!”

          “Will it hold?” asked Nellie ignoring her friend.

          “We don’t know,” said the nurse. “No one in all of Pretend Friend Ville has ever attempted anything like this before. That’s why we want to keep her for a couple days.”

          “A couple days!” Samantha wailed. “Our hotel is 40 miles north of here!”

          “It’s okay, Samantha,” said Nellie. “I’ll leave Parker here with her. He’s not going to budge from her side for even a single moment. You go back to your family; you know you can’t leave them unattended for long.”

          “But—-”                         

          “It’s only a couple days. What could happen in two days? She’ll be in the best of care.”

          Somehow Samantha doubted it. If they had been home with the best in Boston maybe, but here in this podunk village in who knows where foreign country definitely not. Still, it wasn’t exactly as if she had a choice in the matter. “Oh, alright.”

The nurse continued, “We have to wait for the glue to dry and see if it holds. It might not. Or it might be okay, the surgeon did use gorilla glue. However, it is going to be very fragile. Hanging by threads. It may come off again.”

          “What do we do then?” asked Samantha.

          The nurse shrugged. “Glue it back on again?”

“So let me get this straight,” said Samantha. “You’re saying that every time her arm falls off, which may be often considering how fragile it will be and how many dangers we face each day, we just glue it back on? For the rest of her life? And that’s even if your glue idea works in the first place?”

          “Yes?” the nurse squeaked out.

          “It might be easier to let her go armless,” said Nellie.

          “Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” said the nurse. “If she has no arm then she’ll bleed stuffing everywhere and then she will die. That could work if you could somehow seal up the hole. If you can sew up the hole where her arm had been then you might as well be able to sew the arm itself back on. But no one in all of Pretend Friend Ville can sew real world items so she’s stuck.”

          Samantha’s knees went weak. “If she doesn’t . . . .” Samantha swallowed hard for she couldn’t bring herself to say the word, “then she’ll be somewhat disabled forever?”

          The nurse nodded, again hating the fact that she had to be the bearer of bad news. “Who knows? Maybe the glue will be stronger than we think and she’ll only have to have this surgery done once.”

          Again, Samantha was doubtful. Tears stung at her eyes as she could envision Big Dolly having glue surgery multiple times during the years. Stiff, long sleeves would help support her arm and hold it in place. Too bad Big D. owned so many sleeveless dresses. In her head, Samantha was already home on Play Road pulling all their long sleeve outfits off the shelf.

          “A duct tape sling is another option if the glue doesn’t work. But we’re pretty positive glue is your best bet,” said the nurse trying and failing to be cheerful. “May I ask how this injury occurred?”

          “Kelsey,” Samantha growled as her hands balled into fists. Even though Big Dolly had been on the verge of unconsciousness when the family came to her rescue, she had managed to spit out one name loud enough for Samantha to hear.

          “Whoa, there girl,” said Nellie trying to calm her friend. “More violence will only get us into another emergency room. Besides, we have to forgive Kelsey.”

          Samantha sighed. She knew Nellie was right even though she didn’t like it. “Fine. I won’t beat Kelsey into pulp.”

          “That’s my girl.”  

          “If there’s no further business here I am going to admit myself to the emergency room now,” said the nurse.

          “Sorry!” Nellie cupped her hands and called after her. “A wrestler in the family, you know how that goes!”

          The nurse didn’t bother to turn around as she walked down the hall though she did offer thumbs up.

          “You heading back to Greenland?” Samantha asked as they hugged one last time.

          “Yeah, I think I had better before Logan blows up the hotel room. Oh, and it looks like Elizabeth might be dating a Viking now.”

          “Ooooh, all the gossip!” That was the family’s catch phrase whenever something juicy romantic was brewing. “Tell me all about it later.”

          “You’ll get a postcard soon,” Nellie promised. “How about your vacation? Other than this I mean.”

          Samantha let out a long sigh. “Gwen is convinced there’s an assassin out to kill her. Felicity has been missing for a week. And now this. So I guess it’s adding up to be your typical, standard family vacation.”

          Nellie laughed. “Oh, no, I think this is far worse than the time——”

          “I think you’re right. We haven’t really done any activities until today what with the blizzard and all. Tomorrow we’re going to King Arthur’s traveling Renaissance fair.”

          “That should be fun?”

          Samantha shrugged. “I guess. We’re going to see some fancy sword in a big rock.”

          An audible gasp echoed from behind a potted plant. “Kelsey?” said Samantha moving a giant leaf to the side.

          “Um, no one here by that name!” Kelsey ripped the leaf out of Samantha’s hand and covered her face with it.

          “Why are you hiding?” said Nellie.

          “What are you doing here?” said Samantha.

          “No reason. Nothing important.” Kelsey struggled to hide her tears. All my fault. All my fault. Big Dolly is going to die or be a cripple for the rest of her life and it’s all my fault.

          Samantha said slowly, almost timidly, “Do you want to see Big Dolly—–”

          “No!”

          “Okay,” said Samantha. “What if you——”

          “No! I’ve got to go—–”

          “Oh, no you don’t!” said Nellie grabbing Kelsey by the scruff of the neck. “You’re coming back to Greenland with me whether you like it or not. And you will make the prettiest Get Well Soon I’m Sorry card this world has ever seen!”

          Kelsey kicked and struggled, but knew it was no use. Martha would have to carry out the plans without her. Kelsey wanted everyone in the family to die. That’s why they hired assassins, right? Then why did she feel so awful about hurting Big D? A perfect opportunity to strike and she missed it! Martha will kill her for this! Maybe not having to report back to Martha right now was a good thing.

          “Bye,” said Nellie to Samantha. She held Kelsey tighter than a dog owner holds the leash of a wild disobedient dog. That girl would not be sneaking off for a good long time.

          Samantha smiled weakly. “Bye.” On trembling legs that felt like jelly, she walked to Big Dolly’s hospital room alone.  

******************************************************************

          Knock, knock, knock. “Felicity? Are you ready yet?” They were at the Black Forest Inn, separate rooms of course, and Reginald was waiting while Felicity used magic to get a few things from home, for instance a medieval ball gown and matching shoes.

          “Just a moment, my fair gentleman.”

          Reginald rolled his eyes. “I thought you didn’t care for frilly dresses.”

          “I don’t! If you’re making me purty up a bit in order to fit in at this stupid fair then I must at least try to look halfway decent. Okay, I think I’m ready. . . .Oh, wait! No! Don’t come in yet.” BANG! She knocked over the dresser and the nightstand fell like a dominoes.

          He knocked again. “Felicity? Everything okay in there? It sounds like a stampede of elephants went by.”

          Giggles. “Okay, come in.”

          Trying to hide his eagerness, he stepped into the room and gasped his jaw dropping to the floor at the sight of her.

“Well, what do you think?” She placed one hand on her hip and the other at the back of her head in a super star model pose. “Good enough?”

          She was more than good. She was magnificent, radiant. Her medieval ball gown was a deep forest green that matched her eyes sparkling green eyes perfectly. A golden rope embroidered with green vines wrapped snuggly around her waist revealing a slim figure and cascaded down the skirt. Her bushy red hair was brushed down in a marvelous shine as two strands of braids crowned her head. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes upon and he couldn’t stop gasping at her like a fish on dry land opens its mouth in the fight to live.

          Felicity’s cheeks flamed as red as her hair. “Well, can we go now or do you want to continue gaping some more?”

          He shook his head. “Beautiful.”

          Smith called her beautiful all the time and never did it feel as good as the way Reginald uttered the word now. Reginald wasn’t commenting on her ability to save his life. She was the helpless one here and Reggie still admired her despite that. His compliment wasn’t out of some twisted form of eternal gratitude. It was a simple admiration of who she was, not what she could do for him.

          Reginald took her arm. “Remember the plan?”

          “Of course I do! The question is do you remember anything after——” gazing at me like that. She couldn’t say it though she normally would have.

          As if he could guess where she was going his face flamed red. “Um, never mind.”

          They remained silent for the whole walk to the fair, Felicity latched onto his arm like a real lady. Smith never had so much class. A romantic at heart, true, but he often awkwardly flubbed it up. Not so with the dashing Reginald. They entered the gates of King Arthur’s village with trumpeting fanfare. One of the guards caught sight of Felicity and he couldn’t resist blowing a few notes to announce the arrival of this princess. Reginald smacked a hand to his forehead in dismay. So much for sneaking in without anyone noticing.

          A court jester took Felicity’s hand and kissed it as he bowed low. “My lady.”

          Felicity didn’t know how to react so she said nothing. She lifted her chin as she supposed a snobby medieval princess might. “Oh, brother,” muttered Reginald trying not to be jealous of the fool’s attention to her.

          “And Sir Knight,” the jester said to Reggie. “Would you two like to be part of the jousting competition? It’s happening in that arena in a few minutes.” He pointed to a football stadium over yonder.

          Reginald said, “No,” as Felicity said, “Yes!”

          “Right this way,” said the court jester leading them to the field.

          “No!” Reginald pulled Felicity aside, “Remember the plan? We have to get to the sword and guard it before Martha has a chance to take it!”

          “Oh, Reggie, can’t we have a little fun first? Martha isn’t even here yet and the sword is in the center of the arena. What better way to keep an eye on it? Besides, I want to joust!”

          “Felicity, no. We don’t—-”

          “Oh, please Reggie! Just a little fun first?”

          The court jester, who happened to be the host of the jousting games, cleared his throat. “Oh, alright,” Reginald muttered.

          Felicity jumped in the air and squealed, “YES!”

           The fool smiled. “Now here’s how this works. The beautiful princess will be on this platform here.” He positioned Felicity on a lavish throne on top of a wooden platform which was next to a microphone where the host’s spot is. A handler came by and gave Reginald a white horse. “And our knight will fight for her hand. Wait just a moment while we find another knight.”

          “WHAT?” Felicity shrieked. “But I wanna joust!”

          Reginald snorted as he mounted the horse. “Not in that dress, honey.”

          Felicity gasped with her hands on her hips. “Come back here!”

          Reginald smirked as he rode off to fight for her hand. “Remember this was your bright idea.”

          “Grr!” Felicity fell back into the throne pouting with her head resting on one arm of the seat and her feet dangling off the other side.

******************************************************************

          “Ah, there’s nothing I love more than the smell of fried mutton in the morning,” said Gwen as the remaining family members entered the gates to King Arthur’s village. The food vendors at this fair took all of the traditional food from this era and threw it into a fryer full of grease in the back of their food trucks. Samantha plugged her nose. The horse manure, fired food, and the bubonic plague created an interesting mix of smells transporting them back in time.

In order to attend King Arthur’s Renaissance Fair, one must dress the part. Gwen was clanging around as a knight in a full suit of armor. She forgot to pack her own armor from home so early this morning before the fair started she snuck into the knight’s locker room and stole the smallest suit of armor she could find. She worried about the consequences for about two seconds and then went on her merry way. Now she was wondering about the whose armor she stole and if she would run into an angry naked knight today. She shrugged and thought Oh well; I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Bitty Baby Fatterson was a court jester. Big Dolly would have been one too, but she was still in the hospital. Her absence affected them all more than they were willing to admit. Samantha was decked out as a medieval queen should be with a poofy, flowing gown of rich colors.  Emily decided to be a peasant and wore an old, dirty potato sack. Samantha and Emily were dreaming over the gorgeous dresses hanging in a shop window while Gwen and Bitty Fatterson hung out by the food trucks. Gwen sunk her teeth into a leg of fried mutton as Bitty F. was trying the fried pheasant.

“Excuse me, you knight there!”

Gwen spun around to see an older male court jester approaching her. “Who, me?”

“Yes, you! Would you like to be part of a jousting competition fighting for a beautiful princess?”

“Do I ever! I’ll do without the princess, thank you, but yes I want to play with a pointy stick on horseback. Boy, won’t Felicity be jealous when I tell her about this! She’s always wanted to joust.”

The court jester lead Gwen to the field. Bitty was so absorbed in her food that she didn’t see Gwen go off with the jousting games host. When Bitty did finally come up for air she was frantic to find herself all alone. “Gwen? Oh, no! The last baby who was abandoned all alone had her arm ripped off! Samantha!” Bitty began running through the crowded streets of the fair calling Samantha’s name as she went. She bumped into someone familiar. “Oof, sorry!”

The girl spun around. Martha. Bitty cried out in terror clutching both of her arms tightly to her chest as if she could stop Martha from tearing off a limb. Martha’s nostrils flared. Her shaking rage further ignited Bitty’s fears. “Where is that dumb rock?”

“I don’t know!” Bitty wailed. She backed away slowly and then ran until she bumped into Samantha. “Oh, Samantha!” Bitty clung to her older sister’s skirt and wept uncontrollably.

“Bitty! What’s the matter?” She stroked the top of Bitty’s bald head. Somewhere along the way she lost her funky fool’s hat.

“Gwen is gone. And Martha is here!”

“What? Where did Gwen go? Martha?! What’s she doing here?”

“I don’t know!” Bitty wailed louder this time. “She said something about a rock.”

Samantha frowned. “Gwen or Martha?”

“Martha.”

“Oh, no, no, no!” Samantha had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. There was only one rock of importance that she knew of and it had a very powerful weapon sticking out of it.

The sound system throughout the fair crackled as an announcement was about to be made. “Come one, come all, come on down to the stadium with King Arthur’s rock to watch the middle age’s greatest jousting competition as two knights fight for a fair maiden——-”

Gwen’s voice cut off the host, “I don’t want a maiden, I’m not doing it for that, I just want to joust!”

The host shoved Gwen out of the way and continued his proclamation. After the sound of Gwen’s voice over the intercom, Samantha ignored the rest. Gwen jousting? Samantha had thought she was worried about being killed and now here was with a seeming death wish! Did Gwen even know how to ride a horse never mind wield a lance with some competent skill? Of course not! Samantha fought a groan of frustration. This family would be the death of her. “Bitty, stay with Emily. Emily, keep her glued to your side. If you lose this one or she gets hurt in some way, I’ll. . . .I don’t know what I’ll do but trust me it won’t be pleasant! Both of you PLEASE try not to get yourselves killed while I’m gone. I’ve got to get to that field!”

******************************************************************

          Gwen’s first of many mistakes was mounting the horse. Somehow she was staring at a tail. “Um, I don’t think this is how this is supposed to be.”

          “On your mark, get set, ready, go!”

          “No!” shouted Gwen. “I’m not ready!”

          A gun went off to signal the start. Gwen’s horse spooked and reared taking off in a gallop. “Ahhhh!”  Gwen bounced up and down as her horse jaunted in wide circles around the field. Her eyes caught sight of a glittering green dress on the platform. Her mouth formed a perfect O of surprise. “Felicity?! You’re the princess I’m fighting for???!”

          Felicity stood and squinted at the knight half falling, half dangling off the side of a horse. “Gwen? What are you doing here?”

          “Ahhhh! I could ask the same of yooouu!” Gwen’s horse lunged away from Reginald’s who was fast approaching. One strike from that lance and it would all be over for Gwen.

          Reginald didn’t know what he should do. He recognized this clueless knight as Felicity’s sister and thought it might be wrong to hit a girl. Yet he had a role to fulfill here and he wasn’t one to back down from a job that needed doing. Besides, he really wanted to win the princess Felicity even if it amounted to nothing except a silly game to aggravate her. Something about the romance of being her knight in shining armor appealed to him. With all her spunk and fight, he didn’t think anyone had fought for her like this before and he sensed that it would touch her deeply. He took a deep breath and muttered, “Sorry, Gwen.”

          “What? No! Give me a chance to—–”

          Reginald swatted Gwen with his lance as if she were a pesky fly that needed to be shooed out of the way. Gwen was flung backwards to the ground, her metal encased butt hitting the ground first. She moaned and saw stars. She opened the visor to see her panicked horse come charging directly at her and quickly closed it again. Hooves thundered over her and she said, “Why did I want to joust again?”

******************************************************************

          “And the winner of the jousting competition is…… drum roll please!” announced the court jester.

          Samantha ran wildly across the field. She just had to reach them before it was too late. Crash! She smashed into a peddler’s cart. “Fried mutton?”

          “No, thank you—-”

          “Only 99 cents!”

          “Excuse me—–”

          “Poisoned apple, dearie? Half price for yesterday’s batch!” An old crone hobbled by with her cart of apples. It was the same old crone who had waited in line with Felicity for the true love machine in the park. “There’s a special treat for your special someone if you know what I mean!”

          More and more people kept getting in her way as they tried to sell her useless knock off Renaissance merchandise. She strained to see the stage platform over their heads, squinting at. . . . .who was that? Felicity! What? Samantha tried even harder to fight off the peasants to no avail. “Gwen! Get Felicity! Don’t let her slip away!”

          Gwen groggily struggled to sit up, her metal knight helmet still ringing. Who was the other knight that fought for Felicity? She woozily got to her feet with the heavy armor causing her to stagger like a drunken sailor. Surely not Smith! The unknown knight and princess Felicity were arm in arm on stage ready to be declared winners of King Arthur’s joust. If only she could see straight! “’Kay!” She slurred and Samantha knew it was hopeless.

          The announcer whispered to Reggie, “I don’t know your names.”

          “Oh, you don’t need——” Felicity began but her knight elbowed her in the gut. “Ow! Careful that’s heavy metal man!”

          The audience laughed. “Your names,” hissed the host.

          “Felic—-” Again Felicity started to speak only to get another stomach full of metal.

“The charming Sir Phillip and the irksome Lady Rose,” Reginald covered smoothly.

          “Congratulations to Sir Phillip and Lady Rose!” The applause was deafening as the people cheered.

          “Really?” Felicity whispered through clenched smiling teeth. They waved to their adoring fans. He bowed regally, and she curtsied clumsily a little off balance. “Rose? What an atrocious name! And why do you get to be Charming?”

          “Hey, I just saved our lives.”

          “And what’s wrong with being honest?”

          “Much harder to stay alive that way,” he said and Felicity had to agree.

          “Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for!” continued the host.

          “Oh, great, there’s more?” Felicity muttered. Reggie laughed.

          “Sir Phillip will serenade his lady love with an impromptu romantic song!” The jester handed him a mandolin.

Reginald recoiled in horror. The last thing he wanted to do was sing a romantic song to Felicity of all people! But a good spy never blew his cover no matter how embarrassingly awkward things became. Instead of running off stage screaming like he wanted to, he smiled and accepted. Felicity sat on a stool with her legs crossed unladylike and her hands folded neatly over her knees. It had been drilled into Felicity since birth that a lady may cross her ankles but she may never cross her legs. That old fashioned rule died in her mindset a long time ago.

Reginald knelt down before her. She gulped at his smile as she remembered the moment at the party when Smith was on his knees declaring his undying love for her. If she didn’t want a repeat of that moment, and truly she didn’t, then why was her heart beating so fast?

Reginald tuned and adjusted the strings slightly. He hummed a note to compare. 

“You just happen to play the mandolin?” Felicity said. He nodded. “Oh, great,” she muttered. “Even better!”

He smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t get too mushy. I’ll keep it real.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Even so, Felicity’s heart leapt in her chest. Her heart was pounding so hard she was afraid everyone in the audience could hear it. A feeling she never had when Smith sang to her.

“Other people walk through life where you prefer to skip. And other people watch their step where you most likely trip,” Reginald began. His voice was pleasant, not pirate perfect mind you, but still far too pleasant to Felicity’s ears. “Sure, your hair is not perfect, and there’sーwhat’s that on your clothes?”

She gasped in mock offense. True though, her frizzy red hair constantly tumbled out of her bonnet and her gowns were always slathered in mud. “How dare you? Is that any way to impress your lady?” The audience chuckled.

 “Yeah, you’re kinda talkative,” Reginald continued.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Gwen muttered at the back of the crowd.

 “With freckles on your nose,” Reggie sang. She giggled as his finger tapped her nose. Then his eyes met hers and grew very serious as he went back to strumming, “But you’re you… You’re you, and that’s what makes me smile. You’re you… You’re you. So stay that way awhile.”

This time her gasp was genuine, not for the benefit of comic relief. Smith  never made her feel like he loved her for her. He just cared about her ability to save his life. He loved her for what she could do for him not simply for being her. He didn’t admire her quirks of being herself, he was always trying to steady and refine her a bit. To hear this knight in shining armor say what she had longed to hear from Smith all those years and never did overwhelmed her. Tears welled in Felicity’s eyes and she began to sing, “Oh, Reggie, I—–”

“You don’t have to say a thing, I know the way you feel. Your face is like an open book; so honest, true, and real. Other people lie and cheat, when push may come to shove.” Felicity was the noble hero who never stooped to devious means even if she was backed in a deadly corner with no other way out. She relied on the fact good will always win, despite the personal risk. His mistake was using the word shove. He quickly racked his brain. What rhythmed with shove? Dove, glove, what else? And then the next line was out of his mouth before he could think of the consequences, “Your heart doesn’t work like that, so you’re the girl I love.”

Felicity’s eyes widened. The audience roared with pleasure. The host muttered, “Finally! It’s supposed to be a love song!”

“Oh, Logan!” Gwen shouted in a panic into her phone before her friend even had a chance to say hello. “We have a big problem!”

“What? It can’t be that bad——”

Gwen turned her video camera to the scene on stage so Logan could see the enforced love scene unfolding. “That knight isn’t Smith!”

Logan’s eyeballs grew three sizes larger. She let out a shrill cry. “Who, what, how?!”

“There she is!” A knight wearing nothing except his boxers and T-shirt spied Gwen at the other end of the field. “That’s the thief who stole my armor!”

“Ut-oh,” said Gwen.

“Gwen,” said Logan. “What is Felicity doing?!”

“I wish I knew. She’s been stranded in the woods for days with that guy and now they’re the romantic heroes of the Renaissance fair.”

“WHAT?! What about Smith? Her true love! Does Smith know? Don’t let that guy sweep her off her feet! A knight in shining armor, really? You’ve got to be kidding me! Don’t let him finish that song——”

“Argh!” shouted the knight charging at Gwen sword in hand.

“Gotta run, angry knight whose armor I stole is after me. Bye!” Gwen abruptly hung up leaving Logan in a lurch.

******************************************************************

“Well, do something! Hello? Gwen! Did you just hang up on me?” Logan stared at the phone in her hands with a gaping mouth. “I can’t believe this!”

          “Can’t believe what?” said Nellie.

          “This!” Logan fumed gesturing to the device.  “The world is coming to an end!”

          “I’m sure it’s not that bad——”

          “Oh, yes it is! Or at least it is for Felicity and Smith so it might as well be for the rest of us!” She punched a number in her phone and listened as it rang.

          “Oh, brother,” muttered Nellie. “I think I’d better get started on that postcard to Samantha and I’ll be sure to mention how nutty you’re acting over a love life that was never yours!”

          “Ciao, this is Geovanni’s restaurant. Geovanni speaking, how may I help you?”

          “I need to talk to Smith right now!”

          “Hello to you too Logan.”

          “It’s an emergency!”

          Geovanni sighed. “Why can I never have a pleasant, civil conversation with you people? It’s always something—–”

          “Geovanni! There’s no time to waste! Smith is losing Felicity forever!”

          “Felicity has almost died so many times that I think she’ll manage to come out alright this time—–”

          “No!” Logan shouted so loud Geovanni held the phone away from his ear for a moment. “He’s not losing her through death; he’s losing her to another man!”

          “Oh?” Geovanni’s eyebrows shot up. He had a sneaking suspicion of who this other man may be. “Well, that’s a new one. Hang on, I’ll get him. Smith! Get in here, it’s something about Felicity.”

          There was some crackling over the line as Geovanni handed the phone to Smith. “Ciao, this is Smith. Logan, what’s going on? You know that if Felicity is in danger I’m the last person who could save her. Remember the last time I tried to help Felicity trap those bad guys in that dark alley? I ended up with a bloody nose, a concussion and trapped inside the net to be dragged off to jail with them!”

          Logan snorted. “That was unbelievably pathetic.”

          “My point exactly! So why are you calling me?”

          “Felicity isn’t in that kind of danger.”

          “She’s not?” said Smith. “Then what ……?”

          “She’s met another guy.”

          “Felicity is faithful. She would never—–”

          Logan said, “He’s a knight in shining armor singing a love song to her on a mandolin after he just won her hand in a jousting competition.”

          “Oh.” Smith swallowed hard. Smith had never fought for anything in his life and he couldn’t play the mandolin. He had always feared a day like this would come. A day when Felicity realized she wanted someone better than him, someone who could keep up with all her dangerous and reckless schemes and it was looking like today might be that day.

          Smith was about ready to crawl under his bed and die when Logan suddenly said, “Well, you have to do something!”

          “I do?”

          “Another man is stealing your woman and you’re going to let him? Wow. You are unbelievable! Aren’t you going to at least try? Snap out of it, buddy boy! Stake your claim on her heart!”

          “Oh,” said Smith dazed at the thought. “I suppose I could go there——-”

          “That’s my boy! Head on down to the airport in Rome and I’ll have one of my planes from my airport in Boston waiting for you. Call me when you get to Germany and we’ll talk strategy. We are not going to let that girl get away from us!”

******************************************************************

“You’re you… you-you, that’s how I hope you’ll stay. You’re you… you’re you. But anyway, that’s all I’ve got to say.” The last chord of Reginald’s song resounded throughout the stadium. Silence followed

******************************************************************

          Gwen was chased by the berserker knight all the way back to the castle. Once she was inside its walls she was invincible.  Too bad she never made it. The knight ambushed her at the gate, wrestling her to the ground and taking her armor piece by piece. “Thank you very much!” said the knight shoving his helmet over his head and walking back to the fair.

          “Gwen?” said Emily as she and Bitty walked up the path behind her.

          “How did the jousting competition go?” asked Bitty F.

          Gwen glared at her. “How do you think it went?” 

          With an exaggerated sigh, Samantha joined them. “Well, I failed on all fronts. I wasn’t

******************************************************************

          Felicity ran out of the jousting locker room with twenty six love struck knights racing after her all clambering for her attention. She ignored them as she hurried to reach King Arthur’s rock before it was too late. She skidded to a stop outside the sacred stone circle and her heart fell as she saw Reggie, or what used to be Reggie, frozen as a solid slab of bedrock. The sword was missing and Felicity knew Martha had succeeded in taking it. “Oh, Reggie!” Felicity wailed throwing her arms around his chiseled neck. “How do I change you back?”

          “True love’s kiss!” cried one of the knights. All the other knights who had been hoping to woo Felicity glared at him. He shrugged. “What? It worked for me!” 

          True love’s kiss. Of course, that’s the most powerful magic there is. But Felicity wasn’t willing to risk rejection again. What were the odds Reginald was her true love, that Felicity just happened to meet him a day after discovering the truth about Smith? She pulled a small vile out of her dress pocket. “I still have Logan’s potion although that may make no sense to you whatsoever,” she whispered to Reginald the statue. She dabbed a small drop on her handkerchief and pressed it to his lips. In a surge of blinding light the rock encasing Reggie burst into a thousand pieces leaving the transformed Reginald standing in bewilderment. Before she could stop herself, Felicity flung herself into his arms and kissed his cheek crying, “Oh, Reggie! I was so scared, what was I supposed to do without you?”

          Embarrassed by her gut reaction to this situation she suddenly tried to pull away. Reggie held her close wishing she had actually tried to kiss him instead of using the potion. Now they would never know for sure. He was about to speak when screams echoed across the jousting field. “Dragon!”

          “I don’t think that’s Samantha,” said Felicity as they began running over to Watchman’s Hill. She was right; the dragon everyone was screaming about was definitely not Samantha. This dragon was purple not red and much larger than Samantha is in dragon form. And this creature stank of dark magic.

          “Martha,” Felicity snarled. Martha held the sword in one talon as she glided over an army of medieval knights.

          “Where are they headed?” Reginald asked his eyes straining to see over the next crest in the horizon.

          “The castle!” Felicity shrieked. “My family!”

          “I know,” said Reggie. “Let’s go see if we can stop her!”

          Felicity stared up at him in wonder absolutely loving the word we. It’s wasn’t up to her alone to save the day this time, to either take the credit or burden the blame alone. If it had been Smith by her side right now then he would have fainted long ago and then she would have been responsible for his unconscious body.

          In her moment of private musing, Reggie had grabbed the halter of a fleeing horse. “Well, what are you waiting for?” To Felicity, he looked the part of a dashing hero prince every girl always dreams of. He was sitting on a white horse with his hand extending down to her beckoning her to him. She took it and swung her leg over to sit behind him and hold on tight.

*****************************************************************

          “We’re surrounded by that indestructible army of Martha’s with zero weapons! What do we do?!” cried Gwen near hysterics.

          Samantha just rolled her eyes at the sister who was supposedly good in a crisis and took charge of this undeniably clueless crew. “Babies take all the bathtubs and fill them with boiling water or any other hot liquid.”

          “But we’re babies! How are we going to lift it!” whined Bitty F.

          Samantha shot her an icy glare. “Just do it. You still have magic.”

******************************************************************

******************************************************************

                     Reggie swiftly raised his gun pointing it directly at Felicity’s heart. Whimpering, Felicity buried her face in her hands discovering what fear, the thing she had so often scoffed at, really meant. A single tear made its way down her dirty battered cheek washing away a grease stain as a ferocious pain ripped through her heart shattering it in two. Betrayal. It was an emotion she had never felt before and never wanted to experience again. Felicity was never one to back down from a challenge but now in her darkest hour she couldn’t even conjure the will to fight. So maybe this is what it’s like, Felicity thought bitterly to herself, to die at the hands of someone you love.

******************************************************************

          Reggie spun around dismantling his opponent in one fell swoop. His eyes searched the crowd of warriors. “Where is Felicity?” he shouted. His question was answered when he spies her in the tower window.

******************************************************************

          Felicity had seen Martha sneak off and couldn’t resist following her. Why would the main leader creep off in the heat of battle? It gave Felicity an uneasy feeling that she didn’t like one bit. Yet she was going to find out what her evil adopted sister was up to before Martha managed to hurt a single member of this family.

          Martha’s head darted this way and that

          The door behind Felicity clanged shut. She could hear the deadbolt locking her in with a madwoman.

          “Ha, ha, ha, trapped like a rat! I can’t believe you fell for it!”

          Felicity let out a curse. She couldn’t believe it either. “What do you want, Martha?”

          Martha grinned. “I think you know what I want.”

          “So you’re my assassin now?” Felicity said her heart breaking as she thought of Reginald’s betrayal only moments ago.

I wonder if my prince will come for me or if I’ll have to rescue myself again, she thought before closing her eyes and falling into the depths of enchanted sleep.

******************************************************************

          Felicity was a beautiful girl, he’d give her that, but she was an even rarer type of beauty for she wasn’t like most girls. She came from a time period when women were considered property and nothing more. She was brave enough to fight for more and she got it. She was ready to dive into the belly of the beast She had the gift of a bright future.

          He hoped his kiss would make her come alive again. Partly for selfish reasons and partly for the sake of the world. This flame wasn’t supposed to go out yet in so short a time. Martha was right. If someone did actually manage to kill Felicity then

          “Then kiss me,” begged Smith. Instead of leaping into his arms like any good girlfriend should, Felicity made the fatal mistake of wincing.

To Be Continued. . . . .