I woke suddenly from a deep, satisfied slumber to find Willow still pillowed on my stomach, her arms wrapped around my upper legs. The quilt I had weakly pulled over us before drifting off to sleep still covered most of Willow, though it had pooled around her hips. My eyes were drawn to the smooth white skin of her back. My hands followed and languidly stroked Willow's soft skin there. Feeling my touch in her sleep, Willow burrowed further into my body and murmured against the skin of my stomach. A large smile overtook my face and I sighed contentedly.
I watched Willow for a few more minutes, satisfied to enjoy her breathing and the occasional nose twitch. With an inward groan I rolled my head to the right, noticing the light beginning to peek through Willow's curtains. I craned my neck further back to the right to read the clock on the bedside table. It was almost 6 o'clock; my normal time to rise. I moved my head back to observe Willow. I allowed myself a few more minutes to enjoy her unguarded face before shifting out from under her body to begin getting up.
"What doing Tara?" Willow mumbled almost incoherently from where her face now lay pillowed on the middle of the bed. Her eyes were still firmly closed, but her brows were furrowed in concentration. I leaned over and softly kissed her cheek, then her wrinkled brow.
"It's time to wake up baby. The sun will be up soon and it's already 6 o'clock".
"Too early. Chickens not up yet... even".
Willow's garbled English, coupled with the adorable delivery, made me beam with tenderness. I stroked her red hair slowly a few times before hearing sounds in the hall. Someone was up and moving about, perhaps lighting lanterns. I leaned down again and whispered by Willow's ear.
"You sleep love, I will see you later."
"Hummmalright. Love you." Willow slurred back.
Just as I was beginning to rise to leave through the secret door, a loud knock sounded on Willow's door. I bolted upright, more scared by Willow suddenly flying up to a standing position than by the rapping on her door.
"Oh my god," we both hissed at almost the same moment.
Willow's wild eyes flew to mine. We were both frozen with indecision and fear. The knock sounded again.
"Willow, get your lazy behind out of bed!" Anne's sharp voice pierced through the thick door as if she were in the room with us.
Willow stood, completely naked and stock still with panic. I acted quickly. Like divine intervention, I spied a large robe hung on a hook near the door. I tip toed over to it and brought it back to Willow. Draping it around her and feeding her arms through it, I began to coach her in a whisper.
"Willow, I think the door will make too much noise if I go through with Anne in the hall. I'll hide under the bed until you finish talking to her. Now tell her you're up and will be right to the door."
Willow stared at me, fluxomed and bewildered.
"Do it!" I hissed, holding her eyes with mine.
"I'm up! Be there! One moment!" Willow yelled in spurts towards the door.
"Good girl. I'm going to hide." My words sounding more assured then I felt.
Willow nodded and watched me dawn my shift quickly, then scramble under the bed, pulling my dress and petticoats with me. I lay on my side, as still as possible, mostly shielded by the quilt falling on either side of the bed. I saw part of Willow's feet move hesitantly towards the door, and then heard her open the door slowly. With a rush of fabric, Anne glided into the room, huffing with indignance at having been kept waiting.
"For god sakes Willow, I was standing out there forever. For a teacher you certainly have an awful time with mornings. And my gosh, this room looks like a cyclone hit it. Have you been having nightmares? The sheets are tossed all over the place!"
As she spoke Anne had moved closer to the bed, grasping a corner of the quilt in her hand and shaking it for emphasis. I held my breath, fearful that she would discover me. When she strode away, presumably to flounce down on the chair in the corner, I slowly let my breath out.
"What do you need Anne, I would have been down to breakfast in a little while." Willow finally spoke. Her voice was thin and strained. Willow then sat on the bed, facing the chair that I assumed Anne sat in.
"I needed to speak with you privately first. I went into my office early this morning to pick up some papers I needed to go over at breakfast. The place was ransacked."
"Broken into?" Willow wondered in a confused voice.
"Well I assume so, but the lock wasn't damaged and nor was the door."
"Ransacked? It was totally tumbled?" Willow asked again.
"Well I may have exaggerated," Anne conceded "but my papers were out of place and some of the drawers had been riffled through. I can just tell these things."
"Was anything missing?" Willow questioned, shifting on the bed to tuck her feet underneath her body.
"I don't know," Anne sighed "Not that I can tell. You know most of the things in that office are your father's or brother's... god rest their soul." Anne's voice ended in a wisp and a tremble.
"Do you think it could have been one of the girls? They're a wiley bunch this year. Agatha managed to glue all my notes together while I was reading in the library and I didn't even notice until I got up to leave. You know, I think there is something sinister about that one-"
"Willow, she's twelve!"
"Oh, as if we weren't devilish at twelve Anne."
"Good point. Well I just wanted to tell you. I will ask around and see if any of the girls knows anything. Would you do the same?"
"Of course." Willow agreed sagely.
"And Tara," I froze in sheer terror, "Yes, I know you're under the bed. Can you do the same?"
After several interminably long moments of the tensest silence known in my lifetime, I answered.
"Y-yes," a squeak of panic spewed forth from my mouth.
"Good. Well I will leave you both to get decent then. Tara, please come see me in the Library before breakfast."
I heard no response from Willow, who I assumed was still perched on the bed. I did hear Anne rise, though it was hard with the pounding in my ears. I watched her small boot encased feet walk across the carpet, and I heard the door open and close quickly. I did not move for what felt like eons. Suddenly, Willow's head appeared upside down over the side of the bed, her eyes wide and dilated.
"Tara, are you alright?"
I didn't respond initially. The shock of having been so casually discovered by Anne had rendered me mute.
"Tara, did she break you? Oh my god you've gone into physical shock!"
At Willow's outlandish declaration, I burst out laughing, the tension flying from my chest in a loud set of giggles. The absurdity of it all washed over me and I could not stop laughing. Moisture gathered in my eyes and I pounded lightly on the wood floor with balled up fists.
"Oh Tara, she made you dumb. That's alright; I'll take care of you sweetie."
Willow's chivalrous gesture of care only made me laugh harder, as she continued to stare at me with worry and love in her eyes.