But on certain nights, when the moon's light is just right, you might turn a corner and see it there before you, in your own town. Lit from within, lit by a warmth that reminds you of home. That calls your name, the one they called you when you were little. Before the cracks and the tiny bruises that every heart must eventually collect.
"Mrs. Humphries is always there for me. You see, her sister passed away around the same time mine did. Ever since, she's brought me such happiness. Isn't it funny how a doll can do that? And the best thing is, they'll never leave you. So. What's your doll's story?"
Meemie holds out one withered hand, eyes bright, and steps back just a bit, into the shadows. The air seems close, of a sudden, and hot. The torches gutter, though there is no wind, and a skittering in the dark places reminds Gaby that she should be home soon. But not without Princess Valerie, and besides: Here under the warm earth, cupped in the bosom of Screamin' Meemie's Dolls & Preemies, doesn't she feel safe? Couldn't she tell the story that beats within her chest? She takes the woman's hand, and looks down into the blank, white eyes of Mrs. Humphries. They turn; they twist like jewels, suddenly, in the firelight. She speaks as they whirl.
"Her name is Princess Valerie. She's a princess. But she wasn't always one. ["Really?" Meemie gasps... Or was it Mrs. Humphries?] When she was born, there was a mix-up and she was given to the wrong family. Nobody knew for a long time. But then one day, she finally found her way home. From that day on, Princess Valerie never left the palace. Her real mother kept her hidden away so no one would take her. And they were never separated... Ever again."
The torches flare into brilliance, suddenly, with the sound of a mighty wind, and Gaby is blinded for a moment. But then, as she breathes and opens her eyes, she finds herself back in the closet with Princess Valerie. Good as new. Lying in a bed of soft velvet. Was it all a dream? she asks herself. How did I get home? And most vividly, Will she ever be allowed to see Mrs. Humphries again?
Gaby's dreams tonight will not be of Princess Valerie, nor of poor lost Grace, nor of own her dear children. She will dream of Mrs. Humphries, far beneath the city. Her broomstick tail, jutting out beneath her pinafore, tapping out our time. Her jewel-bright eyes, turning ever faster. The secrets she can tell, once you know just how to listen. The things that she can make you do.