Well, I did find out immediately what was going on with my ride. I'd only made it a few feet into the Great Hallway when I saw Paolo (the chef from the Kitchens Beyond the Break Room) coming toward me with a large silver tray laid with a tea service. Paolo was meant to be my traveling companion for the trip, so I had no idea why he was instead delivering tea to someone here on the first floor of the Library, but he immediately began to explain.
"I'm so sorry that you've been waiting. This tea is for us. Let's go out on the balcony."
He ushered me back through the Formal Entry Room and out the glass doors to the edge of the balcony, where there were a pair of marble benches and a table. He pulled a thick fur blanket out of a bag he'd been carrying across his shoulder and spread it out on the bench and over the balcony wall adjacent, and gestured for me to sit down.
As we were having tea together, Paolo explained that the delay had been caused by the temporary failure to locate the girl I was supposed to observe this morning. "Sometimes we can't find someone for a while, and it's a much swifter process to travel to someone when you know where she is. When you don't know...it can be slow...a waste of time."
My friend the kitchen elf (looking dapper as always) was telling me that he would no longer be able to join me today (due to the advanced hour), but was going to return to the Kitchens to prepare me some edible treats for the road, when he saw Santa coming up the path toward the Library's front steps, which were just below the balcony. He pointed. "Talk to Santa." And then he stole away, back through the patio doors and into the building.
Santa called out to me that he was coming up. As I waited for him, I looked back at the tea tray rather guiltily -- in the thought that I might not be able to offer him anything, though there was still half a pot of very warm tea -- and was both surprised and relieved to notice that Paolo had brought a third cup. There wasn't a saucer to go with it, but that was perfect anyway as Santa actually sees no use for saucers, having once rounded up as many as he could find to use for a skeet shooting session. I welcomed Santa as he sat down, and poured him some tea.
"I apologize for today's late start," he said. "But this is sometimes the way it goes."
"It's all right. Paolo explained to me what was going on." I did, however, still have unanswered questions about how I was supposed to approach this girl I was going to see, this girl with no known language skills...I hadn't been very well briefed, so I also said, "I do have some questions about my work on this journey."
Santa bent his head to the side while observing me. "Well, let me ask you this: what is your earliest memory of true comfort? Do you have one? Tell me."
I thought for a few seconds, and immediately a memory came flooding back with stunning clarity. I was surprised, but I started talking. "I do, actually. When I was four years old I was alone on the couch at my Dad's house, watching television. It was evening. I remember feeling extremely and perfectly comfortable in my position on the couch. It was a feeling more complete than anything I'd ever experienced before. I was wearing a pair of pale yellow slippers with a tiny embroidered flower on each toe. I remember thinking that the only thing I would ever change about the situation was the brightness of the overhead light. I wanted to turn it off, but I knew that if I moved, I would jeopardize the absolute perfection of my bodily arrangement at that moment, and I was hesitant to do it. So after a few moments of thought, I called out to my father, who was upstairs, to ask him to turn off the light for me. I remember that in those few moments of thought before opening my mouth, I was thinking, 'please Dad...if you ever do any one thing for me, anything at all, please let it be this.' But he called back, 'No, sweetie...you can do that yourself.' He meant that he trusted I was big enough to accomplish that myself. I never for a second thought of NOT turning off the light. I had to get up and do it myself. But before I got up, I swore to myself that I would 'remember this moment forever', and relaxed into the couch while gazing at my yellow slippers. That image is forever burned into my mind!"
Santa smiled a broad, genuinely warm, happy smile. "Perfect. That memory will help you on this trip."