Mama says, “Never let Rabbits into the garden, Aril, or they’ll eat up everything.”
This makes working in the garden troublesome, because there is almost always a Rabbit sitting just on the other side of the fence. The fence isn’t nothing fancy, just old dry timber trussed up with wire.
But Rabbits won’t come in unless they’re invited. No one would invite them, except they have their ways of smoothing things over with the folks around here. For one thing, you’d hardly know them from any old Person, except for the long ears perched atop their heads, all covered with velvety fur and turning this way and that to listen for things. They dress nice, too. They can be real charming. That’s how folks around here get their gardens et up.
This Rabbit at the fence is talking to me the whole time I’m out in the garden. Lots of different Rabbits visit the garden, try their luck. Today it’s Picket. Picket’s around a lot. When Rabbits have been sneaking around the fence at night, I can tell them apart by their shoeprints. Picket’s pretty big for a Rabbit. He’s as tall as me. Seems to me he don’t need no more garden food. He’s wearing a purple waistcoat today, maybe satin with a diamond pattern quilted in. It looks brand new and very costly.
There’s a nice breeze blowing the sting off the sunshine. Robins are singing their challenge-songs in the woods. Crickets are humming their daily devotions out in the fields. And then comes Picket’s shy little voice, just sitting on top of the breeze like he don’t mean to be no imposition.
“Please, Miss, I promise I won’t eat much. Just a leaf or two. Maybe a flower. I am a Rabbit, after all. I eat so very little, you would hardly notice anything missing.”
I don’t even look at him. I just look down at the rich, dark soil I’m patting down around the Potatoes. Their pretty five-pointed flowers wave a soft scent under my nose. “You may be one Rabbit, but the trouble is there’s more of you. If you all et a leaf or two, there’d be no leaves left.”
“Do the leaves matter?” Picket says. “It’s the flowers that are so pleasant and colorful, like the ones on your hat that bring out your eyes so well.”
“Don’t you try flattering me, Mister Picket!” I snap at him, catching his eyes now so he knows I mean it. “I’ll tell the whole village and all the other Rabbits what a rascal you are, and you’ll be chased right out of the valley.”
Picket shrinks back with my dressing-down, with his ears all flat.
I shouldn’t have called him “Mister”. Addressing them like a gentleman or a lady makes them get all important, makes them bold and harder to shoo away. Mama taught me my manners too good.
“And besides,” I add, “it’s the leaves what catch the sunlight and make the flowers grow, so of course they matter.”
I stand up and stretch my back, and wipe my grimy hands on my apron. I have to attend to the Carrots next, and they’re near to the fence. I don’t want to go near the fence, but I tell myself to march right on over and ignore that Rabbit.
I haul my basket over to the stand of flowers that look like ladies’ lacy handkerchiefs. While I’m digging in the soil with my trowel, sure enough, Picket hops over in the funny way Rabbits do and stares at me through the fence. His ears have perked up again, and I can see him smiling out of the corner of my eye. Insults and scoldings never keep them down for long.
“I meant no harm,” Picket says. His voice is sweet like the flowers smell. “You know a lot about leaves and flowers. You must know how to care for them very well.”
“‘Course I do,” I say. “My mama taught me everything. She knows veggies and flowers, what they need to grow and be happy, and how to talk to them.”
“They must love you both very much,” says Picket. “In fact, they must grow so abundantly that surely you have extra produce and discards and orts and such...”
“And you don’t get any.”
I glare at him from under the brim of my hat. He’s got big dark blue eyes, and his eyebrows are turned up, and he smiles into those cute little cheeks of his. Even though he’s as tall as me, I can’t tell how old he is—fourteen, like me, or younger or older, you just can’t tell. Rabbits all got baby faces. His dark brown hair is smooth as silk and picks up the sunlight like a glossy flower.
Sometimes I wish I could just talk to Picket, like a regular Person. He isn’t such a bad Rabbit. I think we could be friends, except all he does when he comes by is try to persuade me to let him into the garden. It’s wearisome.
“Don’t you have something to eat out in the woods?” I say. “What do you do when you can’t sweet-talk your way into somebody’s garden?”
“Oh, there’s food out in the woods,” says Picket. He gets a dreamy look in his eyes. “But nothing tastes quite like garden food.”
“Why don’t you Rabbits grow your own gardens?” I say. The idea sprouts fresh leaves just as soon as it’s out of my mouth. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? “That’s it, Picket. You just need to grow your own gardens, and then you won’t need to bother no more People-folk for their gardens.”
“That’s just the trouble, you see,” says Picket, all full of pity for himself. “I’m afraid we don’t speak Vegetable, and so nothing will grow for us. Nothing but Rabbit Grass, of course, but it’s so very fickle.”
“I ain’t never heard of no Rabbit Grass,” I say, peering at him sideways.
And then Picket gasps and throws his hands over his mouth. His eyes are round as saucepans. “Oh dear... We’re not supposed to talk about our Rabbit Grass.” He leans forward and puts his nose through the fence. “I’ll share some with you if you keep it a secret.”
Well this was something new. “Never thought I’d see the day a Rabbit tried to give me food. What’s it taste like?”
“Oh, it’s scrumptious. The leaves are juicy and crisp, and have just the tiniest hint of heat. The roots are meaty and toothsome, with almost a nutty-sweet flavor. But like I say, it’s a very fickle plant. It don’t talk much, except to other vegetables.”
I purse my lips while I think. I remember the old saying about teaching a man to fish.
“I’ll tell you what, Picket,” I say as I dig around some Carrots and tug one out of the dirt. The Carrot gives a yawn. “Take this here Carrot plant and stick it in the ground next to your Rabbit Grass. It’s still a bit sleepy, but they like to jaw once they get going.”
Picket’s eyes are nearly sparkling as he reaches through the fence with wiggly grasping fingers. He snatches the plant out of my hands faster than I could have changed my mind. His eagerness makes me a little nervous—Mama will be sore if she knows I’m handing out our plants to Rabbits—but I know I’m doing the right thing. Once the Rabbits get their own gardens growing, they won’t bother us People no more. And Mama and I might just be the first People in the whole valley to grow Rabbit Grass. If it’s as good as Picket says, it might become a big hit at market.
“Now don’t go eating up that plant before you can get it in the ground,” I warn him. “I won’t give you another.”
“You can be sure I’ll go straight home and plant it,” Picket says, hugging the dirt-covered Carrot to his new waistcoat. “And I’ll be sure to bring you some Rabbit Grass just as soon as it’s grown up a bit. Thank you, Aril. You’re my favorite girl in the valley.”
“Get outta here, you fool Rabbit,” I chide. He scampers off into the woods.
I ask Mama what Rabbit Grass is. She hasn’t heard of it no more than I have, and she lays into Picket (even though he isn’t there) for telling such tall tales. I don’t tell Mama that I let Picket have a whole Carrot plant, or else she would’ve chewed me out, too. I don’t need no chewing out. I know better now. I’m gonna get Picket back real good.
The next day Mama sends me out to the garden, Picket is standing there at the fence with a big old smile puffing up his cheeks. Today his waistcoat is light green-blue with a floral pattern, and he’s got a pinky-purple bowtie. The two look awful together.
“Well howdy, Picket,” I say, all friendly. “How’s your garden growing?”
“Very well, so far,” he says in his meek little voice.
“Well that’s grand,” I say. “But you know what, I been thinking about your garden. It kept me up last night. I’m worried for your Rabbit Grass.”
“Oh, are you?” Picket says, a bit surprised. He thinks he’s got me fooled.
“I am,” I say. I’ve got a bundle wrapped up in a paisley kerchief tucked away in the big pocket of my apron. I take it out real careful, with both hands, and hand it over the fence to Picket. “This is for you to plant next to the Rabbit Grass and the Carrot. It’s a real clever sort of a plant, and if you talk to it enough, it’ll learn how to talk your talk. And then it can tell you what the plants underground are saying.”
“Oh... Oh my,” says Picket with a funny smile. “That is extremely kind of you. Not that I would ever dream of it, but could I eat this plant? If I had a mind to?”
“Oh, sure,” I say off the top of my head. “The berries will talk until they’ve ripened, and then they get all restless looking for someone to eat them. They’re sweet and tart, and all covered in juicy pods that burst in your mouth.”
“It sounds wonderful!” says Picket with his eyes all a-sparkle. “I’m so honored that you would deign to give a poor Rabbit like me such a generous gift.”
“Don’t be a toady, Picket,” I say. “It’s unbecoming of a handsome Rabbit like you.”
He shrugs and gives a little laugh. Two can play at his game.
“But Picket,” I say, letting all the smile drain out of my face. “I gotta tell you something real important.”
“Do go on.” Picket holds the bundle under one arm and leans on the fence with the other, and waits on me with a sly grin. He can’t tell who’s tricking who. Rabbits love tricking folks more than anything else. So long as he thinks he’s fooled me, I might have a chance to fool him.
“You mustn’t open that bundle until you’re home,” I say.
“Well, it’s... It’s real important,” I say. Drat. This fibbing business is harder than Picket makes it look. He’s a professional fibber. But I know he’s curious. Rabbit-curious. “I don’t dare tell you what happens if you unwrap it in the middle of the forest. It’s real shy. It don’t like being unswaddled all higgledy-piggledy. You gotta give it respect.”
“Oh, I will be sure to do so,” says Picket with a knowing smile. “I’ll go home straight away to plant it. You really are the most wonderful girl in the whole valley.”
“That sweet-talk business don’t work on me,” I tell him.
He turns and runs into the woods. I shoot a big, satisfied grin at his back and scoop up my basket to get to work on the garden. I listen closely to the sounds of the woods while I’m crouched down. A Chickadee is singing to his sweetie somewhere.
And then I hear it. A high-pitched wail comes sailing out of the woods. I step up onto the fence and gaze through the Trees.
Here comes Picket, chasing after a little critter with a walnut shell nose and a curly green shoot for a tail, squealing and skittering just out of Picket’s grasp. Picket makes a dive for it and misses.
“Ha! I got you back real good!” I shout to Picket. “Couldn’t stop yourself from peeking before you got home, huh? Don’t bother trying to catch it anyhow. It’s just Pigweed. There ain’t no plant like the one I told you about, just like there ain’t no Rabbit Grass like you told me about!”
Picket is sitting up where he fell down, just staring at me with great big eyes and his mouth open and clutching the paisley kerchief to his chest. It’s hard to make out in the dappled sunshine, but I think he’s all flushed from embarrassment. I almost feel a little bad for tricking him, he looks so stunned. But then I remind myself I was only doing him a turn like he did me, so I set back to work on the garden with the sunlight leaning on my back.
Picket don’t come back for a long time. I wonder if he’s vexed with my trick, but that would be awful hypocritical of him. I’m surprised to find I miss him a little, but if he can’t take what he dishes out, then good riddance to him, I say.
Just as I’m ready to give up seeing Picket ever again, I see him in his usual spot just beyond the fence. Except he’s sitting down and staring at his worn patent leather shoes.
I come up to the fence and try him. “Is that you, Picket?”
His head snaps up like he never noticed me coming—which is pretty odd for a fellow with such long ears. He leaps up and cries, “Aril! Good morning!” but his little voice cracks under some kind of strain.
He’s smiling, but he’s pale, and he’s got dark circles under his eyes. Did my trick really upset him that bad?
“Good morning,” I say. “You don’t look so good.”
“Don’t I?” he says. He fidgets with his dirt-smudged white collar.
“Look, Picket, I do feel bad for tricking you, but when you do somebody a turn—”
“What? Oh, heavens, I’m not upset about that,” he says. “In fact, it was a very clever trick, and you are a very clever girl.” Some color returns to his ghostly face. “So clever that I thought you might be able to give me some advice.”
I’m powerful confused now. “Well sure, Picket, if I can.”
“What kinds of plants do People give each other when they’re not feeling well?” Picket asks. His face is just as pale as before. His eyes are stuck on me, desperate.
“That depends,” I tell him. “Ginger’s good for a wobbly stomach, and chewing on Cloves will numb a toothache...”
“What about a fever? Does anything fix that?”
“Echinacea plants are good for that sort of thing.” I point out the tall pink and purple flowers in one corner of the garden. “The ones with the black, spiny middle. You can dry the flowers, leaves and roots to make a tea.”
Picket’s ears droop. “How long do they take to dry?” he asks meekly.
“If you need some now, we’ve got some dried in the house,” I say. “Do you want a bag of it?”
Picket nods. His voice is quieter than ever: “Yes, please.”
I get a Butterfly-flutter of worry that I’m falling for another trick, but Picket just looks so ghastly that I can’t help believing him. And besides, if he only meant to eat the plant, he wouldn’t ask for the parts already dried. I run into the house and grab a net-bag of dried plant parts, searching around all the while to make sure I don’t get caught.
Picket takes the bag in his hands. The dried bits crunch under his fingers. “Thank you,” he murmurs, and runs off before I can much wonder what he’s all about.
Next time I see Picket, it’s the middle of the night.
A light rapping at my window pulls me out of a deep sleep. I’m all dozy yet, unsteady on my feet. I rub my bleary eyes and look out. Picket’s looking back at me with that haunted look in his big dark eyes.
I unlatch my window and slide it up. “Land sakes, Picket, do you know what time it is?”
“I know,” he says. “I’m so very sorry, but if the others had seen me, they might have tried to stop me. I need your help.”
I cover my mouth while I yawn. “Didn’t the Echinacea tea work?”
“A bit, for a little while, but...” Picket trails off. “I would appreciate it more than anything if you came to the Warren on the night of the full moon.”
I look up at the sky, dressed for the evening in deep blue velvet all covered in shining sequins. The moon would be full in a few days.
“Why the full moon?”
“It will make traveling through the woods safer for you,” says Picket. “Also... We Rabbits say that miracles happen on the night of a full moon. Do you know how to get to the Warren? There’s a fallen-down Tree with three Mushrooms living on it...”
“And then the signs point it out from there, don’t they?” I finish.
“That’s right,” says Picket. “So you’ll come?”
“I reckon I will,” I say. “Though I’m not sure why you’d trust me after I tricked you.”
“Oh, well, that,” Picket stammers. He looks at me from under his eyebrows, and his poor moon-pale face turns pinkish. “You must understand that Rabbits have a great deal of respect for good and proper tricks, and yours was exceptional. I can’t stop thinking about it. We Rabbits might trick each other ten or twenty times if we have a... you know, a... a fancy for one another.”
Oh shucks. I had Rabbit-flirted with Picket without even knowing it. What had I got myself into?
“I want to help,” I say, “but I don’t know if I’ll be able, on account of I don’t know what the trouble is.”
“I know you can help,” Picket says. “You’re the only one who can help; who’s willing to help. Here...” His hand disappears inside his waistcoat, then he reaches a flower up to me at the window. It’s the prettiest little flower, sort of like a Saxifrage, with white petals all speckled with gold, long stamens, and a pair of pink buds in the middle that look like Picket’s ears.
“Wear that when you come to the Warren, in case you get stopped,” Picket advises.
“I’ll keep it in water till then,” I say.
Picket bounds off into the night.
The moon is a big old lantern lighting my way through the woods. The night birds are singing a beautiful chorus from up in the Trees, passing verses back and forth to one another, harmonizing and chanting rounds, making the woods feel like an enchanted place from a storybook. The Wolves whistle their short ditties, a secret code, somewhere far away. Some Wolves say they feel a kinship with People, but kinship don’t stick when you’re hungry. I walk a little faster.
The deeper I go, the farther away the voices fade. I pass the fallen-down Tree and tip my hat. “‘Evening, Mushrooms.”
They give me back a funny grumble, which is their way of saying hello.
Glowing Lichen grows all smattered on the Tree trunks and lights up the signposts hammered into the ground, pointing the way to the Warren. The path is a zigzag, and I notice I’m crossing back and forth along my own tracks. Of course the way to the Warren would be confusing and tricky.
I get a start when two figures hop out of the Trees on either side of the path. Lucky thing the moon is out, so I can see their long ears.
“What are you?” says one, and “What do you want?” says the other.
“I’m a Person, and I was invited,” I tell them. I take the pretty little flower from inside my wool-lined coat and hold it out for them to see.
They come close and look at the flower, give it a sniff. Brown eyes share a look.
“Alright,” says one. “You can pass,” says the other. They leap up into the Trees on either side of the path. After a mighty rustling of leaves, I can’t see nor hear either one of them.
I’m glad to walk into the shelter of a big glade, surrounded by enormous Trees with their roots tiptoeing above-ground, like they mean to get up and dance at any moment.
There are Rabbits all around, sitting on Tree roots and Tree branches or else lying on the soft Grass that covers the bowl of the glade. Big saucepan eyes stare at me from every dark corner. Rabbits freeze and chatter stops when I walk past.
I finally spot Picket as he’s dashing out from the shade of a Tree root and he flings himself at me.
“You’re here!” he cries. His hug fixes my arms to my sides.
“Get off, you fool Rabbit,” I chide him. “A gentleman don’t just go embracing a lady like that.”
“I’m sorry,” says Picket. He lets go and starts fidgeting with his shirt cuffs. “I’m just so happy... Quick, you must come with me!”
And just like that, he grabs up my hand and starts dragging me along behind him, out between the Trees surrounding the glade and down another path. The Mushrooms and Lichen out here glow extra bright, with a light blue color I haven’t never seen them glow before. The mirror-smooth surface of a big old pond reflects the funny light back, and everything looks dreamy and strange. It’s like the whole pond is in a cave: The heads of the enormous Trees block out the sky completely, except for a hole in the middle where the moonlight streams down like a waterfall.
“Are you gonna tell me what I’m here for or not?” I say.
We’re stopped at the edge of the pond. Picket just hangs his head.
“It’s my mother,” he whispers. “She’s... very sick.”
“Oh,” I say, guilty for snapping at him now. I squeeze his hand. “I’m sorry, Picket.”
I hear Picket breathe in, and he points out to the middle of the pond. “See that lone Tree out there? Under its roots is the only place that Rabbit Grass grows.”
“There ain’t no such thing as Rabbit Grass!” I cry, yanking my hand out of his. Have I been hornswoggled again?
“There is,” insists Picket. “That part was true. Everything else I said about it was a lie. Well, except that it’s very fickle. That’s true, too.”
“So, how do we get across?” I say with my hands on my hips. There’s no boat that I can see.
“There are safe places to step. I know where they are.” Picket kneels down and peers at me from over his shoulder. “I’ll carry you.”
I climb onto his back. He smells like fresh earth after a rain, and like nutmeg. He stands up with no trouble and leaps out onto the pond. His foot splashes on a shallow knoll or a rock, whatever’s under the water. He jumps from spot to spot, fleet as a Flea, even with me on his back. I know Rabbits are good jumpers, but I never would have guessed just how good.
“What makes it so fickle?” I ask him.
“It refuses to come out of the ground,” Picket says. “It might be telling us what it wants in order to oblige, but we can’t understand what it’s saying. Likewise, we can’t tell it what we want.”
“And Rabbit Grass must be a powerful cure,” I guess. “That’s why you need it for your mother.”
“Yes,” says Picket. “We have stories about Rabbit Grass we’re told as wee kits. You can make a soup out of it, fresh, and it will cure anything. That might be a slight exaggeration—you know us Rabbits.”
“I surely do.”
“But I still believe it has some power, being so rare and fickle, and having so many stories about it. Don’t you think?”
“‘In every lie there’s a seed of truth,’” I quote. “That’s what us People say.”
The lone Tree is growing on an island in the middle of the pond. Its bare roots make a trellis all around. Picket crawls into the small grotto under the Tree’s trunk. I tuck my skirts up over my knees and crawl in after him.
We have to crouch in the grotto. There’s that blue Lichen all over the underside of the Tree, lighting up the smooth pad of Grass and the single shrub growing up right in the middle. The long, pointed leaves start spring-green at the bottom and turn rusty red on the way up.
Picket takes hold of the base of the leaves and pulls till his face is all screwed up. The leaves slip out of his hands and he falls onto his back.
“Easy now,” I say.
“That’s what always happens,” Picket says sadly, picking himself up. “It just won’t come out.”
“Let’s have a listen,” I say, and I get right down so as my chin’s level with the top of the root. Picket gets down, too, with both ears turned towards the Rabbit Grass.
There’s a sound not quite like a sound, in my ear closest to the leaves. It reminds me of Picket’s scream when the Pigweed got away on him.
“It didn’t like you tugging on it,” I report.
“I’m sorry, Rabbit Grass,” Picket moans. “If I only knew what you wanted. My mother is sick, and I think you can help. Please?”
The Rabbit Grass stops wailing. Its leaves shiver in a way so smallish you’d barely notice. “It’s listening. Tell it more about your mother.”
“Will it understand?”
“Plants will pick up what you’re feeling. Plants don’t need the meaning of the words, just the words and the feelings under them.”
“Um, my mother is very important to me, Rabbit Grass,” Picket says. “She loves me and my brothers and sisters, and we love her, too. She’s so tricky and clever, and very funny, but then she got sick and now she can’t tell jokes or play tricks anymore. Her fever is a vicious one, and some Rabbits who catch it... don’t make it, you see. But I’ve heard that Rabbit Grass will cool it, if only you’ll let me boil you in a soup. I know I wouldn’t want to be boiled in a soup, but maybe plants enjoy that sort of thing. I don’t know. I just want my mother to get well. I don’t want her to die.”
Tears glimmer in Picket’s eyes and spill down his cheeks, wetting the soil. I blink back tears welling up in my own eyes.
Then, I feel a vibration in the dirt. The roots are trembling with excitement—as excited as plants ever get, being so slow and thoughtful—digging up to get at the soil where Picket’s tears wet it.
“That’s it, Picket,” I say. “It just wants to be watered by your tears.”
“That’s rather cruel,” Picket says with a sniff, wiping his eyes with his hand and then rubbing the tears into the soil.
“I reckon it is a bit,” I say. “But if you’re crying, that means something is really wrong, and maybe the Rabbit Grass don’t want to be bothered unless there’s a real crisis. Try pulling it up now.”
Picket sits up and takes hold of the leaves with both hands. The root comes right up out of the ground.
Picket gives a yelp of joy. “It worked! You did it!”
“We both did it,” I say. I reach into my coat and take out my penknife. “Now we got to replant a bit of the root, so the Rabbit Grass don’t all disappear in one pot of soup.”
Picket hands me the plant. The root is all knobbly and gnarled, like Ginger. I cut off a knob and bury it in the soil.
Picket carries his wet shoes back to the glade. He leaves them outside a door set into the tiptoeing roots of an enormous Tree. He knocks on the door, then lets himself in. The doorway is wide and squat, so he slides down feet-first. He turns and helps me down into the cellar-ish house.
Picket’s ears just clear the wispy roots hanging from the ceiling. It’s a very cozy little house, with oil lamps burning warm gold. There are stuffed pallets in one corner and a stove in the other, with a chimney snaking out through the spaces in the roots.
Two brown-haired Rabbits are crouched next to a pallet, where a third Rabbit is lying down. I can hear her labored breathing.
The two brown-haired Rabbits look up, first at Picket, then at me, then at the flower still sticking out of my coat.
Picket holds up the Rabbit Grass and says solemnly, “I’ve got it. We’ll take care of Mother. You two go out and play.”
I see the lips on the two brown-haired Rabbits move, but I can’t hear what they’re saying. Their velvety ears twitch.
“Don’t whisper in front of company,” Picket chides them.
The two Rabbits looked abashed. They hop up into the doorway, peering at me and the flower all the while.
“Good luck, Picket,” says one in a voice even littler than Picket’s, and they close the door behind them.
Picket stokes a fire under the stove and pours some water from a jug into a pot.
I crouch down by the Rabbit asleep on the pallet. She’s got to be Picket’s mother. Her hair is white, and so are her eyebrows and eyelashes. She’s got the same round cheeks and pointed chin as most other Rabbits, but there’s crinkles around her eyes. I don’t think she’s very old, but she’s lived a lot. Her skin would have been tanned like mine from the sun, but now she looks ashen with fever. There’s a dish of water with a wet cloth by her head. I take up the cloth and start to dab her forehead with it.
Picket is quiet by the stove. The only sounds are from the fire and the chuckling pot, and from the chop of a knife. I can smell nice soup smells, and a mix of herbs and spices pinches at my nose. Pretty soon, Picket’s got a bowl of brothy soup full of hunks of the Rabbit Grass root, leaves chopped up all tiny, and specks of spices.
“Let’s sit her up,” says Picket.
Picket holds her while I stack up cloth and fluff and whatnot behind her head. Then Picket takes a wooden spoon, carved by hand, and gets his mother to wake up a bit and try the soup. Her eyes are bright pink but glazy. When she turns her head to look at me, she must notice my round Person ears, because her eyes twitch with confusion and worry.
“Don’t worry, Mother,” says Picket. “Aril is here to help.”
Picket dips the spoon in the soup and cools it with his breath, then holds it up to his mother’s lips. She takes some soup, slow at first, but right before my eyes, she seems to wake up a little more, and even gains the strength to chew up some Rabbit Grass root. Her forehead breaks out in sweat, which I dab away.
“That... might be enough for now, dear,” says Picket’s mother. She sounds weary, but judging by the glistening in Picket’s eyes, I’d say she hadn’t spoken in a long time.
“Alright,” says Picket. “There’s plenty more when you want it.”
She turns to look at me again. She considers me for a moment, and then the flower in my coat. She smiles.
“Lapinium,” she says dreamily. “The same flower your father gave me.”
Picket turns pink right up to his ears. “You must still be feverish, Mother. You should go back to sleep.”
Picket’s mother laughs a little, then closes her eyes and falls into a peaceful doze, her breathing quiet and regular.
Picket gives my foot a boost to help me climb back in my room through the window. I land just as quiet as I can so as not to wake Mama.
“Thank you,” Picket says at my window. “I can’t really... You don’t know... know what this...”
“I got an inkling,” I say. “But don’t mention it, Picket. Really, don’t mention it. Mama will be sore if she knows I been running around all hours of the night.”
“I won’t say a word,” says Picket. He looks at me from under his eyebrows again. He’s becoming more clear under the lightening sky. “I suppose it wouldn’t be right of me to keep showing up at your fence...”
“Hogwash,” I say. “Don’t you miss a single day, Mister Picket. I still mustn’t let you into the garden, though.” Picket’s ears drop just a tiny bit. “Mama would never let me hear the end of it if I did. But I’d like it if you came to the fence every day, and we could talk, and I could even teach you how to talk to plants.”
“Then I really could grow my own garden,” says Picket.
“Maybe I could sneak you some seeds, just to get you started.”
The stars are starting to fade in the sky, but Picket’s eyes are all alight. He’s looking up at me, edging closer, like he’s fixing to kiss me. He does look awful sweet right now, and he smells like nutmeg and ginger. He isn’t such a bad Rabbit. I lean down and give him a kiss on his cute little cheek.
Then we look at each other. Picket gets a shy smile on his face. “Are you sure you haven’t snuck me any seeds already?”
“Seeds of the truth,” says Picket. “Remember how you told me I was a handsome Rabbit? Was there a seed of truth in that lie?”
“I don’t think it’s proper to go discussing such matters so early in the morning,” I say, and I add just before I shut my window, “And who says it was a lie?”