"Are you sure about this?" Once-ler asked Norma, as he piled the small assortment of odds and ends he had accumulated during his hospital stay into the backseat of her car.
"Absolutely!" Norma confirmed enthusiastically, as she buckled Pipsqueak in the seat beside his things and slipped into the driver's seat. "Since you spent the last two days trying to sneak out of your room, not to mention what you were like when you first came in, I know you can't be trusted on your own. So it's far better to watch you than to have you come back a week from now in even worse shape."
"But I can't pay you-I mean not properly I
"Since you've been complaining about over-cooked vegetables and under cooked meat I know you can cook."
"Well yes, but-"
"Then it's settled. I do my job in exchange for a free room, and all the pancakes I can eat. Besides this'll give me an excuse to get away from my mother and her 'advice' for a while, and that's worth more than all the money on Earth."
"Okay then, but don't you think you mother might have a point with her advice?"
Norma laughed loudly, her eyes bright and happy.
"Oh, please! She can't even run her own life I'm not letting her run mine!"
"Oh." He really should have done that with his own mother come to think of it.
They stopped at the market and bought several bags worth of food. Once-ler offered Norma one the bag of marshmallows they had bought, but she shook her head.
"I only like those when I put them in baking."
Once-ler shrugged. "More for us then," he said, handing the bag to Pipsqueak who began devouring them with glee as the car turned out to the road that led outside of town where he lived.
"Norma, I should warn that my place won't be very tidy I was busy when I got sick."
Norma just rolled her eyes she parked the car and they began unloading it
"I lived with three total slobs for roommates in college. How bad could it possibly be?"
Norma regretted her words as they opened the front door. The house was nothing short of a disaster zone. The floor was covered in dirt and muddy paw-prints. There were at least a dozen swani swans and bar-ba-loots sleeping all over everything, not to mention hummingi-fish in the kitchen, and random stacks of books and boxes around counters and furniture.
"I can see we have a lot of work to do."
Oh god he looked horrible!
Norma was downstairs dealing with the mess and had left him take care of himself. He had his first real shower in what felt like a year and now he was currently staring at his reflection in the mirror. Norma had let him go out in public like this!? His face unshaven and his hair uneven and getting long enough to brush his shoulders.
Disgusted with his appearance he spent nearly the next hour neatly trimming the hair back to a respectable length and then he broke out the shaving cream. Slowly he shaved the mass of black off his face, until he stopped looking like his old neighbour Mr. Grinch.
He decided to keep the moustache though, it looked rather nice.
Getting dressed he went downstairs, where Norma was glaring at him while sweeping the floor, and out the back door.
"Take it easy on yourself out there!"
"I will, I promise!" he called back.
He went out to his hastily made garden expecting to find nothing but wilting saplings if there was anything still living at all. Instead he found tall straight trees that were nearly as tall as he was already. It looked like the little guys had survived just fine while he was away. Even the grickle grass hadn't moved that far in. Still the work was far from over. Going to the side of the house he filled the watering can and got back to it.
As he watered the trees he noticed several smaller ones, newer ones, growing among the bigger trees and they had the proper colours of the old Truffula trees. Was it possible that he had
? Once-ler shook his head. Of course it wasn't, these were from seeds that were already in the ground and just waiting to sprout it couldn't possible anything else. Once-ler didn't dare let himself hope for the miracle of the Lorax's return just yet. Until he turned around to go and put the watering can away, and saw him standing, just watching him, on the rock formation he had left.
The Lorax smiled "Don't tell me I'm that easy to forget. I am the Lorax, guardian of the forest. I speak for the-"
He didn't get to finish as the Once-ler tackled him to the ground and hugged him hard.
"Yeah, you remember," he said, hugging him back.
"I thought I'd dreamed all that."
"I kind of wish you had. Don't you ever scare me like that again, Kid."
Once-ler nodded, and kept a tight grip on the Lorax, as if he would float away if didn't.
"You saved my life again."
"Yeah, well it wasn't a big deal. Other people did the saving, I just told them you needed help."
"It is a big deal," he whispered, as he remembered that night by the river so long ago. As he was reminded of the promise he'd made and broken. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
The Lorax shifted himself and looked his friend in the eye.
"You done good, Beanpole, you done good."
Once-ler set his friend down on the ground and his eyes drifted behind his tiny garden, looking out at the barren valley beyond.
"But there's still so much to do."
The Lorax nodded.
"But you don't have to do it alone anymore, Beanpole."
Standing there the Lorax took his first good look at his friend. He could stand to put on weight still, but his skin was pink again and he could breathe easily. Then he looked at his face fully and laughed.
"By the way, nice moustache."
"Thanks, I think."
Another voice interrupted their banter.
"By take it easy I didn't mean sit in the dirt."
They looked over to where Norma was standing on the front steps tapping her foot.
"Woah, Beanpole, look what you brought home!"
Once-ler sighed, so much for the idea of rest and a quiet recovery.
"Moustache, this is Norma. Norma, this is my, annoying, friend the Lorax."
"Nice to meet you again."
"Pleasure's all mine, miss."
"I'll set another place at the table, if I can find any more dishes the fish aren't using that is."
She went back inside and Once-ler turned to the Lorax with a quizzical expression.
"You met her before?"
"Yeah, when you went to the hospital. She cleans up nice."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"Just that you've got yourself a nice girl and she's nice looking too, Beanpole."
"Okay for your information she's a woman, and I don't have anything. She's just my nurse. She wanted to stay with me to make sure I take care of myself and that's all."
The Lorax hummed knowingly.
"You let all your nurses use your aprons?"
Once-ler rolled his eyes.
"Keep this up, Moustache, and you're going to talk yourself right out of any pancakes for a week."
The Lorax chuckled and they went inside.
"Did you have any trouble with the other trees?" Once-ler asked the Lorax.
"No, I was fine."
"Other trees?" Norma asked.
The Lorax made his way over to the door by the kitchen. Onc-ler motioned for Norma to follow and they took her down to the basement with them.
Once-ler stared wide at the room. Not only were the saplings he had been nurturing still there, but there were at least three whole new rows of them too, with proper tuff colours and white bark.
"Wow! You really did do just fine."
The Lorax shrugged. "If I can't grow trees, Beanpole, then I deserve to have my title revoked."
Norma stared at it all in awe.
"You did all this?!"
Once-ler ran one hand through his hair awkwardly to avoid looking at her. "Well I set it up so it could run on its own for a while, and obviously he kept it going, but
yeah I did."
"This is so wonderful I could just
Instead of saying it she just did it, she kissed him. Once-ler went stiff in shock before he happily returned the kiss.
Norma broke it first. She stepped back, her face bright red, and pushed her hair behind one ear.
"Yes, well these trees won't plant themselves. Let's get to work shall we?"
Still blushing like mad she moved closer to the rows of trees, and the Lorax gave Once-ler a side eyed glance.
"Just a nurse huh?" he asked.
Once-ler glared at him.
"We were excited," he said defensively, "it means nothing."