Belle came back with a bowl piled high with vanilla ice cream, a generous crown of chocolate sauce, and a topping of coloured hundreds and thousands. A spoonful had already been dug out of the side of the dessert, and Belle held a smeared spoon in her other hand. She plonked herself down in the seat opposite Alyssa, and repeated, "You sure you don't want some? It's good."
"I'm fine." Alyssa said.
"Well, okay. As long as you say so. I don't mind making more, if you want."
"It's fine," Alyssa said again, "Now get back to the story. Please?"
"Hmm. Okay. Where was I?" Belle paused, "Oh right. Well, the worries - with or without the dolls - have been around forever,"
"I think we got that bit." Alyssa pointed out.
"Yeah, I guess so. Well, the point is that the worries have been gathering for a long time. Just building up and building up. People have been releasing worries since time began, and they all end up in the same place - behind the mirror. I guess what happens then is like a ... distilling process ... of sorts."
Alysa frowned, "This sounds pretty far out there to me," she said dubiously.
"What? And the idea of a bunch of worries collecting behind a mirror and having a chat to you every so often doesn't? Wait for it Alyssa, let me explain."
"Okay, go on."
"Right, well, the worries collect up into a big bunch, and then - somehow, I'm not sure how - they distill them down into something that's not so much a worry as a ... well, a mild annoyance, I guess. Then these are sent out again and - this is where it gets kind of interesting, Liss - they get sent back to the other side of the mirror, our side of the mirror."
"And what then? We all just wander around, bumping into mild annoyances? This is crazy, Belle. I mean, the whole thing is crazy, but this is so far out there, it's just ... no, this doesn't make sense. Sorry, Belle, but I just can't believe that."
At that moment, Rudolph's head perked up under the table, and he gave a little bark. Belle heard it next, a car pulling into the driveway. Soon, ALyssa and Luke heard doors slamming, and voices drifting in from the dark. Mandy and Jamie were home.
Mandy fairly floated into the house, her face tanned and her hair free. She graced everyone, uncluding Rudolph a radiant smile, and then went into the bedroom to set down the overnight bag she was carrying. Jamie followed her, looking relaxed and happy, despite his pink sunburnt ears, and carrying the rest of the gear. He said a cheery hello to everyone, and shook Luke's hand. When the bags were dropped, and Mandy and Jamie had made it back into the dining room, they both dropped into chairs with visible relief after the hours of driving. Belle offered ice cream, but no one took her up on the offer. Alyssa didn't bother asking, she just went and put the kettle on. By the time she arrived back in the dining room, with mugs for everyone, Mandy had already launched into an excited account of everythignt hat had happened on the trip.
When the story ahd been told, and the coffee drunk, and Mandy had promised - again - that she would upload the photos to the computer tomorrow for them, Jamie asked what they ahd been up to while they were away. Alyysa glanced at Belle and watched in shock as Belle said, "Well, it's funny you should ask, actually,"
Mandy raised an eyebrow, and then followed it with a hand, palm out in a stop sign, "If this is about worry dolls, I'm not interested right now."
"Mum ..." Belle said ominously.
"Well, I'm just not. I'll talk to you about it tomorrow if it's that important. But not right now."
Belle knew better than to push Mandy once she got that tone of voice on, so she dropped the subject. Alyssa felt relieved, even though she knew it was ony postponing the inevitable.
"Well, I should get home, I guess. My goldfish haven't been fed all weekend." Luke pushed out his chair, and stood to go. He gave Alyssa a chaste kiss on the cheek, and rech over to shake Jamie's hand again, "Welcome back, I'm glad you had a good time." he said politely, and with that, he was gone. Moments later, the sound of his car starting drifted to them and then even that was gone. Alyssa frowned.
"Did he just say that he had to feed his goldfish?" Belle pointed out disengenously.
"Yeah, I believe he did." Alyssa mumbled. "He doesn't even own any goldfish."
Mandy and Jamie made their excuses and ambled off to bed shortly after Luke's suspicious exit, and Belle and Alyssa tackled the mountain of washing up that had been left all weekend. Alyssa washed, and Belle dried. Alyssa took the opportunity to pick up from where she had left off when Mandy and Jamie arrived home.
"HOw have you come with this idea, then, Belle?" she asked.
"The idea that these worries are ... what was the word you used? Distilled. The worries are distilled into what was it?"
"Yeah, minor annoyances. Where'd this idea come from?"
Belle shrugged, "Same place they all come from. What I get from the one is more than just the conversation. When I work out a little bit of the puzzle, like the hosts, then I can understand a little bit more - like the distilling."
Alyssa paused with her hands dangling in the sink, soap dripping from her fingertips, "Okay, so, presuming that I believe that these worries get distilled into ..."
"Minor annoyances." Belle interjected.
"... get distilled into minor annoyances, what happens to them then?"
"Well," Belle started slowly, "that's where the host comes in. They get pushed back out to the host."
"But I thought that the host was where the worries were coming from."
"Ah, no, you're wrong there. The worries come from everywhere, all around, all the time, everyone, everwhere. They're constant. That's why I said distilled, because they don't just reduce in emotion, they reduce in size, in quantity, as well."
"Okay, so these distilled worries get pushed back out the host. Is that all the host is good for?"
"Pretty much. You see, the one can't process the emotional energy that comes from the worries. The worries themselves stay, sort of like creatures of some sort, the idea of them never really leaves. But the emotional energy gets drawn out of them, and sent back out to the host. The host can process that energy, and send it back out into the world." Belle paused and thought for a second before adding,"Kind of like trees and photo ... what is it?"
"Photosynthesis." Alyssa said vaguely, she was still trying to work through the idea of distilling.
"Photosynthesis, yeah. The way the trees go through that process, and release oxygen back into the air, that's kind of like the worries. Because the worries - and the one - can't handle all that emotional energy, they put it back out into the world, to be recycled."
"Hmmmm. Well it makes a certain amount of sense," Alussa grudgingly admitted, "I still think it's pretty far fetched though. And what has it got to do with us anyway?"
"I don't think it's us," Belle said, her voice low, "I think it's Mum. I think she's the host."
"The host of what?" a voice send behind them. Alyssa dropped the plate she was washing back into the water, and a tidal wave of grotty washing up water slopped over the front of her t shirt, "Mum!" she said in surprise.
"Yeah, Mum," Mandy said dryly. She walked the rest of the way into the kitchen and pressed the button on the kettle. The silence that had descended was suddenly filled by the sound of the water heating in the jug. Mandy reached up to get a mug, and then dropped a teabag into it. "So, are you going to tell me what I'm hosting, then, or not?"
"I, uh ..." stammered Alyssa, "We were ... ummm. Belle?"
"We were talking about the worry dolls." Belle said in her usual blunt fashion.
"Oh my, not the worry dolls again." Mandy sighed, "I went on holidays to try and get away from this, and I found it's all you two have been thinking about all weekend. Don't you have better things to do with your time?"
"Mum," Belle interjected, "I think you need to listen to this though ..."
"No." Mandy interupted, "No, I don't need to listen to you, you two need to listen to me for a ..."
"Mum!" Belle yelled suddenly, "Mum. This is important. We can make the dolls go away. Do you hear me? We can make them go away. But we can't do it without you, so you need to listen to us." she dropped her voice again, "You need to trust us, and stop trying to run away from this situation."
Mandy, taken by surprise, dropped her voice slightly too, but hers was menacing, not conforting, "Belle, Alyssa, I love you both, but we need to stop talking about this. It's going to send me around the twist. It very nearly has already. Jamie and I were talking about it ..."
"It won't go away on it's own, Mum, it'll keep getting worse." Belle said queitly.
"Belle's right, Mum. It's not going to get better. I've seen the dolls, I've seen what they do to Belle, and I've seen what tey do to you. But I've been beyond the mirror too, and I know that we can make it go away. But you need to listen to Belle. She has the answers, and she can make it happen."
Mandy got the look of wildlife caught in headlights, and suddenly her defences dropped. Her shoulders sagged, and the lines around her eyes reappeared underneath her fresh tan, "Okay." she said finally, "I'm going to make a cup of tea, and then we're going to sit down at the table. You will both then have an hour to make me believe that what you're saying is true. Am I understood?"
Both girls nodded mutely, and both wondered how they were ever going to convince their mother that what they said was true, they hardly believed it themselves.