They were allowed to go home, up on the hill and the summer continued on. It was hard not to jump at a rustle of grass here or a twig snapping there, a jolt of fear that both the bear and the mice police had changed their minds and were going to take them back in for another trial.
And, when the days got too hot, burning like a fire, Celestine preferred to stay by the river, dipping her feet into the water and trying to forget the embers. Ernest wouldn't complain too much if she tracked water and tiny clumps of mud into the house, leaving slightly muddy, slippery footprints, only a few grumbles spilling from his mouth.
In his own gruff way he understood.
The cold air and bright leaves sung in autumn and the police had come one day. Celestine was standing behind Ernest when the door was answered, holding a broom as a makeshift weapon, but the bear at the door meant no harm or threatened arrest. He had said that the bear and mice societies had become to emerge in a new way, and perhaps Ernest and Celestine could come down to town to tell their story.
Their best clothes were worn and the next few days were spent being shuffled up and down, up and down, up and down. Celestine was only told to recite what had happened, and she had done so, even including the parts that would lose sympathy. There were a few pokes and prods going through the crowds as they went, some trying their own way of fixing whatever blemish on her clothes they could find. A bow astray, pull down your sleeves. It made Celestine bristle.
Once, after she had told the story in the middle of a farmer's market in the mice society, an old, old woman who might have seen the Big Bad Bear when she was a little girl, called out in a wailing voice that it was not fair for "society to try to break these poor misfits, dear outcasts."
Celestine had scrunched up her face at that. She didn't think of herself as an outcast or Ernest as a misfit. Celestine was Celestine and Ernest was Ernest.
Finally, finally they were able to go home again, and Celestine was glad to leave the scrutiny. She and Ernest spent time together afterwards finding apples.
Winter came down like a shadow in the night, the freezing snow pilling up deeply. Most of the days were spent doing household chores, Ernest cutting up old table cloths for new clothes for Celestine.
She would dance as he played the violin, and he would hold any pose for as long as needed for her next painting. He would tell her the stories he wasn't allowed to share when he was a child, and she would create paintings about them.
Sometimes, when it got especially cold, Celestine would wonder if she could face fire again. She had told this to Ernest once when she thought he was asleep. In the lingering of sleep he didn't understand what she meant. When it dawned on him he merely placed a paw on the top of her head and said that fire could be tamed.
His voice cracked from a night's worth of disuse and it made her laugh.
At last the snow melted away, leaving grass in its wake. Ernest and Celestine walked down to the river together, holding handmade fishing rods.
Fishing was much quieter than Celestine thought. Really, it seemed like Ernest fell asleep after twenty minutes of sitting against the tree. Celestine looked out at the end of her line and gripping the fishing rod tighter, determined.
It felt like hours passed by, but eventually the line of of the fishing rod was taut and Celestine pulled it upward. The fish swung out of the water, the hook caught in its mouth. Fearing that it would get away, Celestine jumped into the river and yanked the fish onto the land.
The commotion woke up Ernest and he saw the fish flopping on the ground, and Celestine trying to grab for it. He caught both of them, and cheered, holding the fish up like a trophy. He congratulated Celestine endlessly, and let the fish drop to the ground so he could toss her up in the air.
Laughing, happily out of breath, she called him papa. Ernest caught her, teetering on his tiptoes. He hugged her and let her step onto the ground.
He said that he and his daughter would need to catch more fish to have a grand feast. Celestine nodded and took up the fishing rod again.
When they caught enough fish Celestine was dry and there was no need for worry of watery, slightly muddy footprints.