"Edith!" Gru's scowling face underlined his intention to finally do something about this quirk his middle daughter maintained about hair accessories. "It's time you removed your head apparel!" Battles sporadically surfaced about Edith's ever-present hat, one constant in her wardrobe since the girls first arrived at Gru's home. Now that he'd provided them with plenty of new pretty clothes, being one to spoil the little creatures who'd changed and uplifted his dark life (though not one to admit it) and brought them into a loving although admittedly unorthodox home, he thought she might at least consent to leave off the old, knitted creation sometimes.
But no, there she sat at the miniature tea table with her sisters, Kevin the minion, and himself crouching on a tiny chair, his knees at his ears. The offending hat crowned a brand new, dress-up princess outfit of sparkly purple and shimmering green netting. Edith's jaw clenched and jutted forward. The hat slipped halfway over her eyes as her eyebrows lowered in a silent challenge.
"I like my hat!" she growled, putting her hands to the fuzzy tassels and holding it down as though suspecting he might try to pull it off by force. The thought had occurred to him.
Gru glared at her in frustration as Margo and Agnes looked interestedly back and forth from one contestant to the other. Kevin shrank down in his seat.
"You'll never get her to take it off," Margo commented in a superior voice. "Miss Hattie couldn't. And if she couldn't, I don't think you will either."
"Maybe I should resort to PUNISHment!" he threatened, egged on to desperate measures by Margo's unintentional comparison of himself and the insufferable Miss Hattie. He might have been a villain, but that woman was truly despicable!
Edith smiled a grim smile. She could deal with punishment. They'd seen plenty of that at Miss Hattie's Home for Girls. She was more familiar with the inside of a cardboard box than any other resident. No one was going to take her beloved hat by force! Her hands pulled it down so far, her eyes nearly disappeared from view. "Good luck!" she yelled defiantly.
He stood up suddenly, tipping the tiny seat over and pointing down the hall emphatically. "That's it! Go to your room!"
Kevin gasped and nearly dropped his china cup. His lower lip trembled, then he covered his single eye with his pudgy hands and peeked out between his fingers.
Edith stood and, with as much dignity as her seven-year-old frame could muster, stalked away, hands still grasping the hat ties, chin held high. Gru watched her go, his body and face slowly relaxing as he realized he'd lost another battle. He secretly admired her tenacity, but it was becoming more and more annoying that she refused to comply with his demands about the strange thing she kept over her hair.
"Clink!" Agnes reached over and knocked her little teacup against his, forgotten in his grasp, and looked up at him with her adorable face. He tore his thoughtful gaze away from Edith's retreating figure and smiled down at her.
"Ok, ok, time to go get a bath," he told her as he watched her drain the imaginary drink from her cup. "Kevin, the tea party is over. Take Agnes for her bubble bath!" Kevin scooted away with Agnes as Margo observed the scene. She was finally feeling that she belonged here; that this was really her home now. Mr. Gru had set about proving his devotion to them in many ways, but the simple routine of daily life was the most comforting of all. She frowned suddenly, thinking of Edith's defiance. Why should it matter if she wanted to keep wearing that silly beanie, she wondered in defense of her sister. Then again, why the heck didn't she just take the darn thing off? She sighed, thinking of how it all began, then noticed Mr. Gru was looking at her.
"Margo, I would like to speak with you," he requested, not unkindly but with gravity. She knew what was coming. Following him to the kitchen, she climbed on a stool and resolutely braced herself for the questions.
"Can you explain to me," he began slowly, pacing between the cupboard and the sink with his fingertips to the bridge of his nose. "Why your sister insists on wearing that disgusting piece of knotted yarns which is apparently glued to her grubby head?" He pointed at his own bald head for emphasis, his eyebrows raised.
"No." The way he put the question got her back up, making her reluctant to tell him anything. She crossed her arms. Edith's head wasn't grubby. Well, maybe a little. It was hard to get her hair washed really well without taking the hat off. She was sure some of the soap and water got through though. She stared at him impassively.
Gru frowned at her and sighed. He understood her loyalty, but he needed more information in order to gain the upper hand in this war of wits, and he was sure she could provide at least a few insights. An idea of how to gain her assistance suddenly presented itself to his conscious thoughts. He turned to the cupboard behind him and glanced at her over his shoulder.
"Would you like some… hot chocolate?" he asked with deceptive mildness.
Margo knew this trick. He was going to try to win her over by giving her something she liked. Well, she wasn't that gullible. At least, she was pretty sure that's how that word was used.
"No thanks. I shouldn't have chocolate before bed," she replied. "YOU told me that."
He winced as the jab hit home, then relaxed again. "Weeeell, just this once. You are becoming more mature now. Almost 11! Maybe you'll even be able to start staying up an extra half hour later, hmmm?" He was pulling out the big guns now. Margo's eyes lit up before she could check the reaction, and he knew he'd pressed the right button.
"Well, ok. Maybe one cup wouldn't hurt. Are you having some too?"
That was Margo's weakness, he realized. She wanted to be taken seriously; treated like a grown-up although she was just a little girl. Well, little was a relative term, but she was little to him.
"Oh yes, of course!" he purred, taking down two mugs and preparing the hot chocolate himself. Actually this wasn't so bad. It was nice to talk to Margo. She was actually quite an intelligent child, although she tended to have an annoying tendency to be able to get him to do whatever she wanted.
As they sipped the warm drinks through a generous layer of melting miniature marshmallows, Gru tried to determine what would be the best way to approach the subject of Edith's hat again.
"Why don't you just ask me why she wears it?" Margo suddenly suggested.
"What?" In his surprise he was unaware of the white melted mustache on his top lip that remained after he quickly pulled away from his mug.
"You know. Edith's hat. You want to know why she wears it, right?"
"Yes, but I asked you that at first!"
"I know." She shrugged. "But you also called her 'grubby'."
Note to self, he thought, do not use derogatory adjectives about the gurls. "I see. Well," he tried to lick the now cooled and sticky white goo from his lip, then grabbed a napkin. "Sorry about that. I was very… frustrated."
"Yeah, she can do that to you." Margo sighed in imitation of the grownups she'd seen talking about their children. "I don't know what to do with her sometimes."
"All right, Margo," he asked without pretense. "Why does she wear it? That… hat."
"I don't know," she admitted, watching with a small amount of satisfaction as a look of utter frustration crossed his features. Then she added, "But I know when she started wearing it."
He waited for her to explain and crossed his arms.
"When she was five, she did something she thought Miss Hattie would kill her for." She paused for effect. "She cut her own hair." Margo recalled finding Edith in the broom closet, a look of panic on her face. She had realized too late that the beautiful hairstyle she admired on Margo's dolly was not so easy to achieve with dull school scissors on her own human head. Tiny pieces of very short hair sticking out from her scalp jostled with long strands hanging limply. The bangs were nonexistent from trying to make them even, and the back was more crooked than jack o'lantern teeth. Together they agreed to put a hat on it and hope Miss Hattie wouldn't notice. Sadly, although she noticed Edith began unceasingly wearing the hat, she didn't care. It wasn't until much later she made a few attempts to get her to remove it, but by that time it had become a staple of Edith's daily attire.
Gru snorted to himself. Cut her own hair, was that all? In two years it certainly would have grown out again. He said as much.
"Yeah, I know," Margo explained. "And I tried over and over to get her to take it off so we could fix it. I was going to try to straighten it up myself. But she wouldn't take the hat off anymore."
He stared off into space as he pondered this strange predicament. It wasn't much to go on, but now he could confront Edith about why she wore her headgear and reassure her that her hair could now be restored to normalcy. His plan was destroyed when Margo demanded he not give her away.
"What do you mean?" he glared.
"You can't tell her I told you about cutting her hair! She'll never forgive me!" The promises of hot chocolate, grown-up conversation, and late bedtimes lost their attraction as she realized how hurt Edith might be at having her secret betrayed. She looked at him pleadingly. Gru rolled his eyes and waved his hand. This would make things more difficult, but he wasn't a sneaky mastermind for nothing.
"Yes, yes, o-kay! I will not say anything about your slip of the tongue," he reassured her. He was rewarded with a quick hug from his eldest daughter. He smiled despite himself.
"Well, I better get to bed. Thanks for letting me stay up!" Margo got down from her seat and trotted away to her bedroom.
Now, he pondered putting his fingertips together at his grinning lips, how shall I make my next move?