Not even the tiny dog standing alone at the edge of the water, a trail of impossibly small paw prints following in his wake.
“Is that whole thing frosting—all the way up to there?” Claire’s voice was hushed.
The crowd pressed in around the end of the table where Libby’s birthday cake was set down—and what a cake it was. White-tipped blue frosting surged against yellow beach in a wavy line across the top, a line that meandered with such artistry that white frosting lapped at the feet of some of the seated people. A bucket was caught in a tongue of blue, and seemed on the verge of being pulled under. And splashing in the vivid sea which covered half of the cake’s round, sugared top were one, two … no … three dolphins.
In the middle of this stage was the thing that drew all of their attention: a huge wave cresting above the dog, which looked as if it was about to crash over him in a great flurry of cake and frosting.
Libby eyed the white dog and wondered if she should rescue him. Standing by himself he looked lost and even a little sad. She reached over and touched the tip of her finger to his head. Her eyes opened wide with surprise.
Libby instantly pulled her hand away and jumped back. She frowned. How strange! She could have sworn she felt the little plastic dog wiggle beneath her finger.
But the dog remained still, his feet set firmly in the top of the cake. Feeling a little sheepish, she replaced her finger and stroked the dog along the length of his back. It must have been her imagination. Yes, that was it. She probably pushed too hard against him.
Casually allowing her hand to fall, she scooped up some of the loose sugar and icing and stuck her fingers in her mouth.
“I bet there’s something inside that wave, holding it up. Icing can’t stay up like that by itself. It’s way too mushy.”
Claire looked up from her inspection of the cake, and caught Libby with a mouthful of sugar. She grinned.
“I know how we can find out,” said Claire. She winked at the crowd. “With this skewer!” She snatched a slender pick of wood off the tablecloth.
The cluster of girls tightened around Libby.
“And they’re all in the other room!”
“I don’t know—” Libby hesitated, looking around worriedly. “Can’t we wait till it’s cut?”
“Lib-bee. We’re not punching a hole in the cake. The skewer is really thin. And look, it’s all soft right here. See? That’s where you could do it. Even if it leaves a mark, we can fix it. No one will ever know.”
Taking advantage of the fact that her parents had gone to get plates, Libby wormed the wood skewer into a corner where the curve was beginning to droop, angled it up, and pushed. The wave was indeed all made of icing, from the top of the ridge right down to where it flattened into the electric blue sea. Somehow, she’d also managed to get the tip of her finger in. She was starting to pull it back when a loud, none-too-pleased “Olivia!” resulted in a speedy extraction of her hand, and a medium-to-small amount of new curvature in the crest of hardening sugar.
An hour later her hand was still sticky. No matter how hard she rubbed at them, the fore and middle fingers of her right hand glued themselves together and only unsealed when she stuck them in her mouth. Libby grimaced.
Icing tasted better when it came with cake.
She twisted in her seat, her gaze wandering again to the pile of unopened presents lying tumbled beside her on the backseat of the car. It was too bad that she had to wait until they were home before she could open any of them. Libby reached down, her fingers traveling over the nearest package. Pressing here and there, she tried to see if she could figure out what was hiding under the patterned wrap. She caught sight of her stepmother’s eyes in the rearview mirror and withdrew her hand. And there were her gummy fingers again, vexingly zippering themselves shut. Libby slouched in her seat.
Just then, she remembered the dog. She sat forward, and tapped her father on the shoulder.
“Dad, where is it? The dog? The one from the cake. Did you keep it?”
“Yes,” he replied. “It’s next to you, in the cake box along with what’s left of your cake.”
Libby pried up the lid of the box and picked the little dog out of the icing.
“Where did it come from?”
“I don’t remember … wait, I do—I found it at home this morning when I stopped by after the bakery, and thought I’d stick it on the cake. Isn’t it yours?”
Huh. Libby didn’t think she owned a little plastic dog. Maybe it belonged to Claire—she was always leaving her stuff at their house.
She flipped it over. Boy, did it ever need cleaning. Its belly and paws were crusted with dried frosting.
“Oh, Libby,” her dad began, glancing at her in the rearview mirror.
“Your godmother sent you a package.”
Ooh, another present! Libby looked up.
“I think it’s two boxes in one. I opened the outer box. The whole thing was a fortress of cardboard and packing tape. Seemed to me like it was something that could break and I wanted to make sure that hadn’t happened,” her father continued.
“Who’s my godmother?” asked Libby.
“Don’t you remember?” She saw his quick glance at her stepmother. “Your mother’s old high school friend. She lives in Argentina now.”
“Oh, right!” She grinned happily. “Cool! A present all the way from Argentina!”
Her brow furrowed again. “Where is Argentina again?”
“South America, silly.”
The clock on the dashboard was going on two that Saturday afternoon when Libby’s father turned the corner at Whipple Street and pulled into their driveway at the bottom of the cul-de-sac. Sticky fingers reached for the door handle.
“Libby, stop that! Don’t open any doors until the car’s done moving.” Her father shut the engine off.
Her father and stepmother were removing everything from the backseat, and after quickly checking to be certain that nothing was left in the car, she scooted ahead of them to the door.
“Oooh, look!” Libby came to an abrupt stop, causing her stepmother to run into her. A package wobbled on top of the load in her arms and slid off.
Her stepmother groaned.
“Oh, sorry!” Libby retrieved the fallen package and pointed again to a plain brown box propped against the base of the sidelight just inside the doorway. On its uppermost face was her name—Olivia Rose Johnson—artfully inked with extravagant initial letters, and a loop on the bottom of the J big enough to easily lasso the other letters in her name.
“Pretty writing!” said her stepmother.
“Yeah!” Libby moved aside to let her stepmother by. She bent down and traced the J with the little dog’s nose. Nestling the package into the open box she picked them up and backed into the living room.
Libby’s father took the boxes from her and set them on the floor, behind the small mountain of presents.
“We’ll do your godmother’s last,” he said as he walked into the kitchen to get a pencil and notepaper.
Libby plopped down on the carpet, and pushed the presents apart to make room. She placed the little dog on the floor by her side. And a curious thing happened: a tremor ran through the dog, starting at its nose and running down the length of its tail.
Suddenly, it came to life.
Planting its legs apart on the carpet, the dog shook itself, twice. The fur on its body now dry, it stiffened, its eyes searching the room. Its head returned to its customary position. The dog became still, its blank eyes once more looking off into the distance.
It was all over so quickly that had she seen the dog move, Libby would have wondered if she was dreaming. But she was talking to her stepmother and neither of them was aware that anything out of the ordinary had taken place.
Meantime, Libby’s father was examining the box from Argentina.
“I wonder what she sent you,” her father said, glancing at Libby. “Your godmother’s always given you money for your birthday, so this must be something special.”
Her stepmother stifled a yawn.
“Well, if it’s alright with Libby I’ll wait to find out. I have to get a nap before I do anything else,” she said.
“That’s OK! Dad and I are fine with opening them all by ourselves, right Dad?”
Libby dove for the biggest and brightest box.
Her father grinned. Shaking his head, he sat down on the sofa, notepad at the ready.
– – – – – – – – –
She had just shredded the covering on her twelfth or so package and was scraping at the taped flap of the box, when Libby realized her father was no longer fielding her squawks of distress as she fumbled to unwrap the presents.
“Daddy?” There was no reply.
Looking up, she saw that he was leaning back into the sofa with his eyes closed. The pencil had escaped his slack fingers. She looked down. That wasn’t any better: she’d gone through all of the packages and there was nothing left. The box she was holding was it—the absolute last present. Libby pulled a few pairs of colorful socks out of the box, unrolled them, and set them aside. She plunged both her arms into the paper and ribbon mound and fished about. But there was no denying it: she’d opened everything.
She started to call to her father again. At that very moment he lowered himself sideways and drew his legs up onto the sofa, settling into his nap, the soft wobble of his breathing giving way to a low snore.
And there it was, the mysterious box all the way from Argentina, hidden behind the cover of her father’s legs, its plain wrapper disappearing in a sea of torn gift wrap.
Libby reached under the sofa. She pulled the open flaps apart, removing wadded newspaper packed so tight that she had to work to get it all out. The second box was encased in bubble wrap. Libby peeled back the plastic, freeing the smaller box from its spongy cocoon. Lifting its lid, she saw a faint gleam beneath a pad of tissue. She placed the box on its side, and tipped the object out onto the carpet.
The largest snow globe she’d ever seen rolled forward and came to a stop. Libby cupped both hands around the glass sphere, but it was so big that her fingertips didn’t meet. The base was tall—taller than she’d ever seen on any snow globe—and made of dark wood rubbed smooth in places, as if it had been held many, many times.
The snow in the glass shifted and pooled lazily as she tilted it back and forth. A few fat flakes swirled upward, lost their momentum and drifted back down. In the center of the globe were two objects: a large tree with a wide, knobby trunk, and nestled into the snow a little way from the base of the tree, a doghouse, about a third as tall as the tree. There was a name plaque over the door of the house with nothing written on it. A small red ball lay on the white ground a short distance from the open doorway of the doghouse as though it had rolled out of the door while the dog was playing with it.
The girl’s open mouth formed a silent O.
But where was it?
Sure that the dog would come tumbling out of the house, Libby shook the snow globe. A blizzard of flakes poured onto the tree’s canopy and roof of the doghouse, and slid to the white ground below, almost but not quite covering the red ball.
She set the snow globe on the coffee table, sat back on her heels and looked at her father. He would not like to be awakened to play one of her new games, and neither would her stepmother … who always seemed busy anyway.
Libby got to her feet and picked up the snow globe. Perhaps the dog was stuck in the little house under all of that snow—a few shakes would probably work it loose, she thought. She tucked it under her arm, and picked her way across the paper-strewn landscape to her room, stepping carefully so as not to disturb anyone, happy that she wouldn’t have to think about cleaning up until much, much later when everyone was awake.
– – – – – – – – –
She never saw the square of folded parchment with her name on it that was stuck to her arm. It fell off and slipped unnoticed to the floor.
The little dog she placed on the floor earlier was standing where she’d set it, staring straight ahead. If she had remembered to look for it, Libby would have seen something that was remarkable: as the parchment fluttered downward, the dog’s small body glowed, and both dog and square of paper vanished from sight.