Just Once - Page 11

While this should have been good news to Art, in actuality, it only perplexed him more. He looked around in confusion. “I don't think we landed in anything,” he began, “and the only thing I smell is . . . um . . . y--”

Even befuddled as he was, Art managed to shut his mouth before he actually said the word “you.” A distant part of his brain identified the scent tickling his nose as jasmine and vanilla, but that part, like the rest of his brain, was doing its best to retreat rapidly away from him before he embarrassed it any further. To make matters worse, the girl was still looking at him, and she was clearly expecting some kind of coherent answer.

So as a parting favor, Art's brain threw him a bone.

“Um . . .?” he hesitantly ventured. “Do you mean the chigger spray on my boots and pants?”

“What's a . . . 'chigger?'” the girl asked with a tilt of her head that Art couldn't describe as anything other than “adorable.”

Art snorted before he could stop himself, but managed, with difficulty, to keep himself from laughing. “You really aren't from around here, are you?” he asked rhetorically.

“No,” the girl admitted.

“Well . . .” he said ruefully. “You'll find out soon enough, um . . .” Art's words faltered as he realized he wanted to use her name here, but that he didn't know it.

Somehow the girl seemed to divine his difficulty. “Annika,” she supplied with a smile.

“You'll find out soon enough, Annika,” Art continued. “And you'll need to check yourself for ticks too as soon as you get back inside.”

“I shall do so,” Annika gravely assured him. “Thank you . . .” She trailed off, politely prompting him with her eyes.

It took Art three moments too many to get the hint, and then another three moments too many to remember his own name. “Arthur!” he came perilously close to shouting. “My name is Arthur!”

“A pleasure to meet you, Arthur,” Annika said, her strict sense of propriety and decorum prevented her from laughing, but couldn't prevent her smile from getting even brighter. Then, full of innocent intent, she asked, “And how do I check myself for ticks?”

Page 11

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