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XXIX. Hot Cocoa

 

Saguaro had grown up familiar with the name “Nessarose.” Although her mother had not talked about her often, Nessarose was nonetheless the only family member about whom she’d been told anything. Once, she had asked her mother if she still missed her. Elphaba had smiled sadly and murmured, “All the time.”

 

She’d imagined her aunt as the perfect younger sister, who was shy and sweet and always wore pink dresses with matching ribbons in her hair. Saguaro had once read a book about a family with three sisters, in which the youngest sister, who was by far the kindest, had also died young. She’d decided that Nessarose had been exactly like the sister in this book. Maybe she’d even had the same lovely singing voice. 

 

Saguaro had always known that her parents’ secrets were complicated. When it came to her aunt, however, Saguaro had not anticipated the complexity of her relationship with her mother. She’d naively assumed that her mother did not talk about Auntie Nessa because she missed her.

 

Psudina had tried to fill her in on the Nessarose-Boq portion of the story, though there were some considerable gaps since she hadn’t been there at the time. Still, Saguaro mulled over what she did know.

 

Her mother had finally visited her sister. While there, her mother had enchanted Nessarose’s shoes, which enabled Nessa to walk on her own for the first time in her life. Nessarose had been exhilarated and hoped that her newfound mobility would help Boq see her as a viable romantic partner. Boq, however, told Nessa that now that she could walk on her own and no longer needed him, he was going to finally make his feelings known to Glinda.

 

Of course, Nessarose had become enraged. Nessarose had attempted to enchant Boq, so that he would fall in love with her instead of Glinda. She pronounced the spell incorrectly, and Boq’s heart began to shrink. Boq blacked out and when he awoke, he discovered that he had been turned to tin. Nessarose then blamed this on her sister.

 

Saguaro could fill in the blanks a little. She was sure that at first, Nessarose had still been angry at her mother, but she agreed with Psudina that her mother would have only missed her father’s funeral if she had not known about it. She was also certain that her mother had turned Boq tin in an attempt to save his life. Psudina suspected this too, although Boq had initially believed that Elphaba’s reasons were malicious.

 

Saguaro knew that none of this really changed anything. Her mother missed her sister, even though Nessarose had been demanding and immature at times. Still, Saguaro was unable to stop herself from asking her next question.

 

Nessarose was far from perfect, and yet, her mother had loved and cared for her. So why had she been so averse to the idea of a child of her own? 

 

 

 

Without Boq, Glinda felt an overwhelming void. The entire next day, Glinda kept glancing at the door to her office, half-expecting Boq to come in and tell her that he had been joking. He never appeared.

 

At dinner, Gabryel, who had been told that Boq was taking an impromptu vacation, sighed. “I miss Boq,” he said. “He would have loved to have seen my new pen.”

 

To commemorate Grygoro McGregor’s letter (and to apologize for being so out-of-touch during Gabryel’s life at St. Ozma’s), Glinda had given Gabryel a special fountain pen. She’d planned to give it to him for his next birthday, but she had decided that this occasion was more fitting.

 

Psudina smiled sadly. Though Glinda had been more explicit with her than she had been with Gabryel, Glinda had not told Psudina the real reason Boq had left. Still, she could tell that her aunt understood more than she was letting on.

 

Saguaro said nothing. Boq had not talked to her once since she’d arrived, and Glinda could tell that Saguaro was wary of Boq because of his past as a witch hunter. Glinda could not blame her.

 

“You can show it to Boq as soon as he gets back,” said Glinda. She saw that this would also have the advantage of delaying her inevitable conversation with Boq.

 

She turned to Saguaro, who was attempting to make her mashed potatoes into a volcano. While Saguaro was clearly too old to be playing with her food, she had begun to do so when the subject turned to Boq. Glinda felt as though she was being given a rare glimpse into Saguaro’s life as a little girl. She had a feeling that Elphaba and Fiyero had chastised young Saguaro for countless mashed potato volcanoes.

 

“Crowsie, I was thinking that the two of us could do something special tonight. Since my engagement ball is tomorrow and I’ll be very busy, I’m afraid that I won’t have much time to spend with you. My mother’s train is arriving early tomorrow morning, and as we’re going to wait until after the ball to tell her about you, it will also be more difficult to see you during the day.” They had decided that it would be best to wait until the chaos of the ball subsided before springing Saguaro on Gadonna.

 

“That sounds like fun,” said Saguaro. “Do you have any ideas about what we can do?”

 

Glinda smiled. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

 

An hour later, Saguaro and Glinda lay on Glinda’s bed, eating the fairy-cakes they’d bought at the bakery near Lanetta’s shop. Both were clad in their nightgowns, and an extra bed was made up for that night’s sleepover.

 

“This is almost worth not fitting into my dress tomorrow,” Glinda said, taking a final bite of her vanilla fairy-cake with pink frosting. “As it is, I’ll have to squeeze.”

 

Saguaro licked some icing off her fingers. “You’ll be fine. Just have a smaller breakfast or something.”

 

Glinda shook her head. She doubted that Saguaro, who was as bony as her mother, had ever had to worry about gaining too much weight.

 

As she watched Saguaro polish off a second fairy-cake (double chocolate adorned with green swirls), she considered the reason she had asked Saguaro to sleep over. Elphaba and she had had some of their most intimate conversations at night, and she hoped that this setting would help Saguaro finally open up to her.

 

Glinda tried to help Saguaro along by mentioning Elphaba. While brushing Saguaro’s hair, she asked Saguaro if Elphaba had also brushed her hair when she was younger. Though Saguaro affirmed this, she quickly changed the subject and asked Glinda about her curlers. When Glinda tried to return to the subject by mentioning how Elphaba had sometimes brushed Nessarose’s hair, Saguaro started talking about how tangled her own hair got during humid weather.

 

At that moment, Glinda realized that she would need to be more direct in her approach.

 

She waited until she had finished Saguaro’s hair before starting.

 

She stretched out on her bed and forced a sigh. “I’m so stressified about the ball tomorrow. I can’t believe it’s almost here.”

 

Saguaro looked uncomfortable. “Are you sure you’re okay with me sleeping over?”

 

Glinda suppressed a smile. Saguaro was reacting exactly the way she’d hoped.

 

“Of course I am, Crowsie! I wouldn’t have asked you here if I weren’t. No, in fact you’re already making things better. You’re the perfect distraction.”

 

“Then are you sure there isn’t anything I can do?”

 

Glinda pretended to think it over. “Well, now that you mention it, there is one thing. I’ve told you so many stories about your mother, but you’ve barely told me anything about her. Would you mind sharing an Elphie story from your childhood? I would so love to hear one.”

 

She was surprised when she saw Saguaro’s expression. Saguaro was sitting erect and narrowing her eyes at her. Though she had expected this reaction, she was surprised that Saguaro had caught on so soon.

 

“What is it, Crowsie?” Glinda said, playing innocent. “Did I do something wrong?”

 

“You know exactly what you did, Glinda,” Saguaro said quietly.

 

Glinda was tempted to protest, but she was distracted by how much Saguaro sounded like her mother. Elphaba’s voice became softer when she was serious, too.

 

“All right, you caught me. But Saguaro, you have to look at this from my perspective. You mentioned that your mother didn’t want you, but you clam up whenever I ask about her. I’m very worried about you. I’m only trying to help.”

 

Saguaro crossed her arms. “Didn’t it occur to you that there’s a reason I haven’t told you?”

 

“I’m sure there is. But Saguaro, the longer you hold it inside, the more you’re going to tear yourself up.” She thought of what Boq had said about not letting Saguaro’s secret become her own. “Think about your parents. Don’t you think they would have been happier if they’d been honest with you about their lives in Oz?”

 

As soon as Glinda looked at Saguaro, she wished she could snatch back her words. Saguaro looked even angrier than before, but that was not what concerned her. There was underlying pain in Saguaro’s expression, as well.

 

When Saguaro spoke, her voice was trembling. “My secret is nothing like theirs, and I’m nothing like them! I would never lie to my daughter for her entire life. I wouldn’t spend sixteen years pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I wouldn’t just-” She broke off and looked away, as though her statement was too painful to finish.

 

“You wouldn’t just what?” said Glinda gently.

 

Saguaro looked down at her hands. When she spoke, her voice was so soft that Glinda had to strain to hear her.

 

“I would never just give up.”

 

****

 

As she held the sobbing Saguaro, Glinda remembered a time when Elphaba had comforted her. It had been shortly before their trip to see the Wizard, and Madame Morrible had made a disparaging comment about Galinda’s powers during a sorcery seminar. While Morrible had criticized Galinda several times before, something about that time hit her hard. Galinda burst into tears as soon as Madame Morrible was out of sight.

 

Despite her reputation as Morrible’s favorite, Elphie had been quick to comfort her. “Don’t listen to her, Galinda,” she had told her. “Madame Morrible may be a very talented sorceress, but she shouldn’t underestimate you. I know how much you want this. Someday, you’ll show her…”

 

All these years later, Glinda could still feel the warmth of her best friend’s embrace.

 

“You have no idea what my household was like for the last year,” Saguaro said, a tear running down her cheek. “I had to get away! Mom and Dad were always fighting, and they never spent any time together. When Psudina told me how they fell in love, it hurt to listen. They loved each other so much then, and now they can barely look at each other.”

 

Elphaba’s voice shouted in Glinda’s head. “I know it may be difficult for that blissful, blonde brain of yours to comprehend that someone like him could actually choose someone like me! But it’s happened. It’s real. And you can wave that ridiculous wand all you want, but you can’t change it! He doesn’t belong to you. He never loved you. He loves me!”

 

“The worst part is that I know it’s my fault.” Saguaro wiped away a tear. “Most of their fights have been over whether or not to tell me about their pasts. It’s no wonder my mother was unsure about having a child. I’ve ruined everything.” Her voice trembled. “If they hadn’t had me, then maybe they wouldn’t be so unhappy.”

 

This final statement brought Glinda back from her memories. “Saguaro, no-” she said, but Saguaro did not appear to hear her. She collapsed into a fresh fit of sobs, and Glinda hugged her closer.

 

She had noticed many similarities between Elphaba and Saguaro since Saguaro’s arrival. They were both stubborn, opinionated, introverted, and had the same determination to make sense of the world around them. Their life experiences were also similar. Each had been scorned because of the way they looked, but had maintained a sense of optimism. Still, Glinda had never been as shaken by their similarities. This had been Elphaba’s biggest secret, for Oz’s sake! How could she have let her daughter feel the same way?

 

Ignoring Saguaro’s confusion, Glinda stood up and walked over to her closet. She reached behind her hats until she found what she was looking for.

 

Saguaro blinked when Glinda returned with the green elixir bottle. The cork was missing, but it had otherwise aged well. It was just as vivid a green as it had been the first time Glinda had seen it, so many years ago.

 

“This was your mother’s,” Glinda said, settling into the seat next to Saguaro. “It had belonged to her mother, your grandmother, and it was the only item your mother had of hers. Elphie used to sleep with it under her pillow.”

 

Saguaro hesitated before touching the bottle. When she finally placed her fingers on the rim, her touch was gentle. Glinda was reminded of how tenderly Elphaba had handled the bottle.

 

For the first time, Glinda was grateful that the Wizard had not taken the bottle with him. For a while, she had found it too painful to look at, but she now understood why fate had entrusted her with it. The bottle did not belong to the Wizard, Glinda, or even Elphaba anymore, but to someone else entirely.

 

After touching the bottle, Saguaro seemed to shudder. “I’ll be right back,” she said and rushed out of the room. She came back holding something in her hand.

 

“I found this under my pillow when I was staying at Camp Gabryel.” Saguaro opened her hand to reveal a cork with bright green lettering. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I was staying in the room my mom used to sleep in.” She motioned towards the bottle. “It belonged to this, didn’t it?”

 

Glinda could not speak. In thin cursive writing, the cork read, Green Miracle Elixir.

 

Saguaro accepted her silence as affirmation. She took the bottle from Glinda and placed the cork in it. It fit perfectly.

 

“I can’t believe you found that,” Glinda said, finally finding her voice. “When I found the bottle without a cork, I assumed that it had been lost for good.”

 

Saguaro shrugged. “I’m just glad I took it with me. I was confused about why the Witch of the West slept with a cork under her pillow, but after I found out about my mother, I guess I forgot. I can’t believe she used to sleep with a bottle.”

 

“I was surprised myself. I first noticed before your mother and I became friends, and I had no idea why she slept with it. But when I finally asked her and she admitted that it belonged to her mother, I got more of an answer than I was expecting. Do you know what she said?”

 

Saguaro shook her head.

 

“She told me that when her mother was carrying your auntie Nessa, her father made her chew milk flowers so that the new baby wouldn’t come out green. But that made Nessa come too soon, and her legs were tangled. And as you know, your grandmother never woke up. Elphaba confided that she felt responsible for both her sister’s disability and her mother’s death.”

 

“But that’s ridiculous,” Saguaro said, frowning. “Psudina told me about my grandfather Frex, and he doesn’t sound like a very nice person. It was the milk flowers’ fault, not my mom’s. He shouldn’t have blamed my mother for something that wasn’t her fault.”

 

“I know that, and I’m sure Frex did too, deep down. But do you know what?”

 

“What?”

 

“Your mother shouldn’t have blamed herself for her mother’s death, and you shouldn’t blame yourself for the way your parents are fighting, either. It’s their problem, not yours. They love you, Saguaro. And despite what’s going on right now, I know they don’t blame it on you. You’re the most important thing in their lives.”

 

“You don’t know that,” Saguaro whispered. “I mean, you didn’t even know that I existed until a week ago. And before that, you didn’t know my parents were still alive. Besides, I told you how my mom never wanted me.”

 

“True. But I do know that if your parents had never fought and you had never run away, I might never have had the opportunity to know you. I might not be able to peek into your parents’ minds, but I can tell you this. I love you, Saguaro. I’m so glad I found you in my closet. I may have been a little surprised at the time-”

 

“A little?” Saguaro interrupted.

 

Glinda chuckled. “Perhaps more than a little. It isn’t every day that one finds their supposedly dead best friend’s daughter in their closet, after all! But as I was saying, I’ve grown to love you and not just because of whom your parents are. When you’re in pain, I hurt, too. At the very least, please try to forgive yourself for my sake.”

 

Saguaro did not respond, so Glinda decided to give her another push. “Don’t you have any good memories of your parents from your childhood? Perhaps sharing one will help.”

 

Saguaro fiddled with the cork on the bottle. “Well, there was this one time when Dad and I were swimming in the Nonestic Ocean. I wanted to go to the sandbar, where the water is shallower, but on the way there, I got scared, since you have to get through deeper water to get there. So Dad put me on his shoulders. He promised me that he wouldn’t let go of me and said that we could go back to shore if I wanted to. But I told him I was okay, and we got to the sandbar, and when we were there, Dad hugged me and told me he was proud of me. He said that most people would have gone back and that real courage is facing one’s fears. I think of that whenever I feel the most afraid.”

 

Glinda smiled. Psudina had told her about Saguaro’s reaction when she learned the truth about the Fyre stories, and she was glad to see Saguaro softening towards her father.

 

“What about you and your mother?” she asked. “Don’t you have any good memories of her?”

 

Saguaro was quiet for a long time. She clenched the bottle tighter.

 

“Sometimes, she used to sing me lullabies before I went to sleep,” she said finally. She hugged the bottle to her chest. “And whenever I had a hard day at school, like when my classmates teased me, she’d surprise me by bringing me hot cocoa in bed.”

 

Glinda let out a breath she had not realized she’d been holding. She could not express how grateful she was to hear this.

 

“Well, I can’t help with the lullaby, but I think I have some hot cocoa. Would you like me to bring you some?”

 

“Really?”

 

“Of course.” She patted Saguaro’s shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

 

As she prepared Saguaro’s drink, Glinda reflected on Saguaro’s explanation about her mother not wanting her. Glinda would give anything to be in Elphaba’s position. Being a mother was difficult, but Elphaba had Fiyero. Why didn’t she realize how lucky she was?

 

On her way back to the bedroom, she was startled to hear singing. She peeked into the room to find Saguaro cradling the green bottle and crooning a lullaby. She closed her eyes. The song was from a mother to her child, talking about the wonderful future the child would have someday. She promised adventures and trips to far away places, where her child would be accepted and her ideals would be appreciated. Though Saguaro’s voice was not extraordinary-it was soft and breathy, and she was clearly not confident with her singing-Glinda had never heard such a beautiful song. Strangely, this made Glinda feel even sadder.

 

Glinda waited until Saguaro was finished before entering the room. “That was lovely, Crowsie.” She handed Saguaro the cup of hot cocoa and a spoon. “Is that one of the songs your mother sang to you?”

 

Saguaro took the spoon and began stirring her cocoa. “It was my favorite. I used to pretend that the place she was talking about was Oz.”

 

Both were quiet for a few moments. Glinda found herself wondering what kind of place Elphaba had imagined while she sang. Elphaba, better than anyone, understood that utopias don’t exist. She knew firsthand about the imperfections of Oz, and even though she had been accepted in Cascadia, the Cascadians had refused to accept her daughter. Had Saguaro and Elphaba ever talked about the far off lands mentioned in the song? Or had this been yet another unspoken conversation between them?

 

“Glinda?”

 

“Yes, Crowsie?” said Glinda, startled back into reality.

 

“I was just thinking about something.” Saguaro gave her cocoa another stir. “I really like spending time with you, but are you sure Gabryel’s okay with this? You haven’t spent much time with him lately.”

 

Glinda covered up her surprise at this abrupt change of topic. “Oh, don’t worry about Gabryel. He’s fine. He’s very easy going.”

 

“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want him to feel left out. I’m sure you missed him a lot when he was away at boarding school.”

 

“Don’t worry, Crowsie. Gabry knows how much I love him. And I’ve very much enjoyed the time we’ve spent together.” She felt self-conscious about her next words, but forced them out. “As a matter of fact, I can’t tell you how close I feel to you. I’ve always wanted a daughter, you know; I have since the time I was very young. And if I did have a daughter, I think I’d want her to be exactly like you.”

 

She expected Saguaro to appreciate the depth of the compliment she was giving her, but instead, Saguaro laughed. “I doubt your daughter would be anything like me. The two of us are nothing alike.” She brought the mug to her lips and took her first sip. “Mm, this is really good. Thank you.”

 

“You know, Crowsie, I meant that as a compliment,” said Glinda, trying to shake off her disappointment at Saguaro’s nonchalant reaction. “I’ve always been so much better with girls.”

 

******

 

At around two in the morning, Glinda was awoken by Saguaro’s voice. “Mom,” she kept whispering. “Mom.”

 

Glinda sat up. But when she glanced over at her, she discovered that Saguaro was still sleeping.

 

Saguaro murmured again and turned over so that she was lying on her stomach. She reached under her pillow and grabbed something. When Glinda looked closer, she realized that Saguaro was holding the green bottle. The bottle must have given Saguaro the comfort she was looking for, because she fell silent.

 

Glinda stood up and walked to Saguaro’s bed. “Goodnight, Crowsie,” she said, leaning down to kiss Saguaro on her head. Saguaro responded by tightening her grip on the bottle. She kissed Saguaro again and returned to her own bed.

 

It wasn’t until she felt a tear rolling down her cheek that Glinda realized she was crying.

 

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