Most Lolliltians hate to be alone, but I prefer it. Sitting under a tree, sucking in the fresh air and listening to the birdies tweet strengthens my soul somehow. That is if you believe in souls. I do. I sort of think that everyone has an inner part to themselves. It’s who they are, and it’s that curious side of the being that makes each of us individual and special.
Not that I think of myself as special. . .unless being in the way and annoying is special. My fur is more like long hair and often gets clumpy, and instead of being five feet high, I’m only four on my tippy toes. Most of the time, I feel like an inconvenience. I’m slower than other Lolliltians and often make mistakes in my work. I don’t set out to make mistakes. It just happens. And ironically, when I try my hardest to NOT make a mistake, I usually make a bigger one than when I’m not trying at all. I’ve just learned to accept it. So maybe that should make the story I’m about to tell you seem obvious, but I’m still reeling from it and amazed by the wonder of it all. Maybe you can see how amazing it all is too.
It started long ago when I moved from my home in the hollowed out tree that sits off of Ruby Road. We call it Ruby Road cause the dirt is a deep red and sparkles in the sunlight. I moved to the village in the middle of the big wood.
I moved cause that was what I was supposed to do. I didn’t really want to live in the village. I like to be alone, remember? But I did it, and once I got there I found a place with Marvel. He had this amazing shop. He did the best carvings in the whole forest. Each piece of furniture carried with it hours and hours of labor, sweat and sometimes blood. That was usually my fault. I’m quite clumsy with a carving splice, but Marvel kept me on anyway despite the many cuts I caused him.
He said I was important to him, but I was sure that wasn’t true. He could find a replacement for me any day he wanted to. I’m pretty sure he kept me cause I worked quietly and listened to his stories and didn’t ask much from him. It was a fair arrangement. I got a place to live, food to eat, and a small sense of being helpful, and he got me to listen to him and help him and just be there whenever the work required another set of paws. It worked.
But I guess there was a part of it that didn’t work. It kind of left me a little empty. A Lollilt needs to be wanted evidently. So despite my love for being alone, I can’t deny there’s a part of me that longs to be wanted, desired, interesting to another Lollilt and necessary. I didn’t feel necessary, not really. Marvel would tell me he needed me, that he appreciated me, but I didn’t believe him. I guess I didn’t believe him cause I never really felt like he knew me or wanted to know me. He could argue with that cause he can tell you all kinds of things about me. I’m not sure why I felt the way I did, but that’s where I was. It still takes a lot of effort for me to feel really wanted.
I started showing up and just doing my work with Marvel. He didn’t seem to notice a difference, I guess. He had a lot of big orders, and it was stuff I couldn’t exactly help him with, unless he wanted to keep a nurse nearby. I’m not actually that good at working with wood. My passion lies with mixing foods and creating special dishes to eat. I love to roam the woods and find new foods. It’s the one thing I think I can actually do well. But I don’t do that. Marvel keeps me busy with little stuff in the shop. He doesn’t even know I can cook. I never told him.
The big order of chairs overwhelmed Marvel so much he hired another worker who was more skilled than me. The new guy, Stutter, came from a whole different village way on the other side of the forest. He had great stories to tell about his adventures. And I loved to listen to him. I’d heard most of Marvel’s stories two or three times, so it was kind of refreshing to hear about the waterfall in between the Cedar Village and ours, and the caves that tunneled their way through the mountain, and about the scary Tootlevies who made their home in the caves. Stutter knew all this stuff, and he seemed to like to tell me his stories. And he complimented me, even though I made the same mistakes with him that I had made with Marvel. Somehow Stutter made me feel special, like he knew me.
And that’s how things were when the Big Divide happened. Marvel was working in the shop, expecting me to show up and fulfill my commitment, and I was on my way there when Stutter caught up with me.
“The Tootlevies are coming.” He was out of breath and serious. His words didn’t make sense. The Tootlevies lived in the caves, didn’t like sunlight, and had never come to our village. He had to be mistaken, but he assured me he wasn’t. And he asked me to leave the village with him.
Leaving the village wasn’t something I’d ever really considered. Even though I had grown unhappy with my work in the shop, leaving Marvel to do his work alone seemed mean. And I don’t know, there was something connecting me to that shop guy. . .something besides being in his employ. So I hesitated and told Stutter I didn’t think I could leave at least not without Marvel. As a matter of fact, it seemed we should warn the whole village about the Tootlevies, but Stutter said that was a bad idea. It would cause a panic. It would be better for them to hear about it when the warning horn blew, and then they could run off to the woods to hide. I guessed that made sense, so I didn’t argue anymore.
Stutter told me he knew I wasn’t happy here and that he would take care of me, that he would appreciate me the way Marvel didn’t. He had something to do first, but would wait for me at the edge of woods near the Willaframca River. He instructed me to go into work and to act normally. That wasn’t easy. I didn’t think I could pull off such a huge deception, but he assured me that it would be best for everyone, and I believed him.
Marvel hardly said two words to me when I got there. He was busy carving out the chairs. After a while when Stutter still hadn’t shown up to work, Marvel asked me if I knew where he was. I hesitated, and I guess he sensed something was up cause he didn’t let it drop. After the third barrage of questions, I told him the truth, all of it.
It took Marvel about one minute to process what I had said, and then he started giving me strict orders. “Go from door to door and warn the others that they need to huddle together to fight off the Tootlevies” I tried to tell him that might cause a panic. Shouldn’t everyone run to the woods and hide? Fighting really wasn’t in our nature. But Marvel didn’t listen. He grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to go to the left. He would go to the right, and we would meet back here when we were done. I did as he said and didn’t argue.
When I got back, he was waiting on me. He had two suitcases, one for me and one for him. “After we help the others fight the Tootlevies off, we’re leaving.” He spoke matter of factly, as if I would have no questions. But I did have questions. Where? Why? In the calmest of voices, he explained to me that this wasn’t the first time the Tootlevies had marked a village, and that when they come they would capture as many Lilliltians as they could and take them back to the caves to be their slaves. The Tootlevies would wait in the forest for Lilliltians to run out into the woods to hide, and then they would capture them. If we were successful today in fighting them off, they would come again. Once a village is marked they wouldn’t give up. Persistence is their sword, and trickery is their trap. Everyone would need to move on and start over.
“I should go with Stutter then. . .” If I were to start over somewhere else, then it should be with someone who would appreciate me and actually would want me there by his side. I was surprised how Marvel’s expression changed when I mentioned leaving him. I hadn’t thought he’d really care. But he did care evidently. Tears streamed down his strong face, and he dropped his suitcase at his large fluffy feet.
“Cori Talle” He hardly ever called me by name. It made me feel important to hear him say it. “Don’t you know how much I love you?” I wagged my head like a pup. With tears still trickling down his face, he bent down to look me in the eye. “I don’t want to go on without you. You’re my partner in all things.”
Just then Stutter came into view. He stood at the edge of the village, a sure smile spread across his face, and he lifted his muscular arm in the air motioning for me to come to him. And there I stood, a choice in front of me. What would you have done? How could I know what was best? My life so far had been marked with poor choices, mistakes, and me not really being me. I came to the village because that’s what Lillilts do. I stayed with Marvel because I thought I had nothing else. The only one who’d ever made me feel the least bit interesting or wanted beckoned me to follow him. And even though Stutter hadn’t been around to see me cry my eyes out during the Spring Scattaway Dance or felt the pain of me missing the mark yet again with the splicer, he did seem to know me.
Remember that deep part of me I mentioned earlier? Well, I think my soul whispered to my brain. It translated the feelings in my heart to the thoughts in my mind, and I knew. I knew that out of these two Lilliltians only one could love me the way I longed to be loved. Only one really knew me. Only one had stayed by my side and never let go. And I grabbed Marvel’s hand, picked up my suitcase and fought by his side until it was safe to find a place to start over.
Some people would say I made a mistake. But those people don’t know Marvel the way I do. He’s strong and right and sees things. He loves me. He knows me, and he loves me. He’s stuck with me, and when I thought I meant nothing to him, he was there, quietly there, hoping I would love him and accept him and be there when he needed me.
Where are we now? Well, our whole lives have changed. I found out things about Marvel I never knew. He doesn’t just carve chairs, but he’s an artist of the best kind. And although he likes making furniture, his real love is building incredible huts. And he loves my cooking. And I’ve become quite good. Together we started a little place for people to stay when they need to get away. He’s designed the most amazing hut, and I cook for the travelers. We’re a team, best friends. And I know what I mean to him, and he knows how I love him so.
Stutter disappeared into the forest that day, and never returned. As it turns out he had come under the employ of the Tootlevies, and they had paid him to find the best villages to mark. Some of his stories had been true, but a lot of it wasn’t. And I had thought he was a friend, that he cared. But he had only tried to pull me away to ease his own loneliness. When he saw the change of heart in my eyes that day, he turned on me. A scowl replaced his smile, and he shook his shaggy head and turned away in disgust. It makes me sad really. There could have been so much more, such a better way.
I still like to be alone, and Marvel lets me sit by the river til the sun sets, and then he comes to me, wraps me in his strong arms and whispers in my ear. And my heart still flutters at the sound of his voice. It’s a sweet familiarity that has threaded itself into my being. And now somehow I am completely me and forever combined with one other. It is weird and wonderful, and I’m strangely pleased to not be totally alone.