Oboe hadn’t slept. She was too excited to wake up and go to work. Sitting in her tree, she waited for the sun to finish rising so she could go to the Ranger Deputy office without waking Theo up this time. If she wasn’t careful she’d get on his nerves and then he would have to fire her, and then she’d be all alone again, and then she’d die of loneliness without ever having fulfilled a purpose with her sad and worthless life. That would suck. It was important to be careful.
She squeezed the tree branch under her and thought about all the other ways she could mess up. Theo could have her banished for spilling coffee on paperwork, or thrown in the dungeon for talking too much. She took a deep breath and reminded herself Theo wasn’t like that. It was scary when she told him he was wrong about the Tall Man but afterwards he thanked her for doing it. Theo was good.
She dropped onto the grass. The sun was taking forever to come up. Antsy, she tried to think of the sorts of things she did before Theo came to the Whirlwood. She was already stewing in anxiety, so that was out. It was too cold to swim. The only other thing she was good at was wandering around aimlessly. There was plenty of time to forage for food, though she wasn’t really hungry. Maybe she could bring something for Theo to eat instead. Humans liked meat best, right? It was hard to catch animals in the Whirlwood who couldn’t talk, though.
Something else she spent a lot of time doing was trying to make friends, but that never went well. Other creatures always got cold and distant the moment they realized what she was. That’s why it was nice being around Theo. Other creatures had to talk to her then. She wished they would just do that all the time.
At least she had Thistle. Thistle was a good best friend, but he hadn’t been home the past few days. Maybe he needed space. He got grumpy when she visited too much.
Oboe looked up, and realized the sun was up. She had spent so much time wondering what to do that it was almost time for the office to open. Giddiness welled up inside her. If she took her time walking there, she would arrive just in time to start work.
Sprinting the whole way, she wondered what kind of adventures they would have today. Would they stop a militant Red Cap uprising? Help squirrels fill out pages of paperwork? Fight some trolls, just because? She burst through the front door of the cottage, too excited to find out.
“I’m here!” Oboe said, out of breath. “I’m ready to start working!!”
Theo stared at her. He was wearing his bed clothes, sitting with a book on his lap, in the middle of sipping some coffee. He set the mug down.
“Uh, good morning Oboe,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
She blinked. “Huh? What do you mean? The sun is over the trees! That means the office is open and it’s time to help all the Whirlwood creatures!”
He slipped a bookmark into the volume he was reading and gave her a sheepish smile. “You do know that it’s our day off, don’t you?”
Oboe stood there, dumbstruck. “What?”
“There’s no work today. You can relax.”
“What??” This was a catastrophe. “Then what am I supposed to do all day?”
“Whatever you like,” Theo said.
All the anxiety Oboe felt that morning came rushing back. She could not imagine anything more boring and awful than spending the day by herself. “If I can do whatever I want, can’t I just work here instead?”
Theo raised an eyebrow. “That’s not how it works. Everyone needs time to rest, it’s mandated by the state.”
Oboe didn’t want to rest. She wanted to help Theo do important things. This job made her feel better about herself than anything before in her life. “If I can’t work, can I at least hang out here with you?”
Theo made a face, and Oboe’s heart sank. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like time to catch up on my reading. I’m sure there are plenty of other creatures you can spend time with.”
She stopped herself from saying something. There had to be a way for her to avoid another lonely day off. “Are you sure we can’t just work anyway?”
“Unless there’s an emergency, there’s no reason for us to do anything but take it easy.”
There was hope after all. “How do we know there’s not an emergency?? Did you check the mailbox?”
“I haven’t finished my coffee yet,” he said. “Besides, it would have to be a big deal for a letter to be delivered on the day of rest.”
“Emergencies are a big deal!” Oboe said. “We should check right now!”
With a reluctant sigh, Theo took another swig of his coffee and got up. “Fine, if it will satisfy you. But if there isn’t anything, you need to leave so I can finish my book.”
Theo checked to make sure all of his buttons were looped correctly, before padding out into the yard. Oboe scrambled to get to the mailbox first, but it was locked. There was a slot for courier birds to fit letters through and a cover to keep the rain out. She waited, watching Theo take his time to undo the lock. He reached in and pulled out a bright red envelope with the governor’s office.
“Oh no,” he said.
Oboe was bouncing on her hooves. It was a miracle.