Min and I went jogging about three or four times a week. Although I really liked running on my own too, with Min it was even more fun. She was maybe a little faster and could have run a bit longer than I, but she always matched my pace and didn’t seem to mind. That also left her some breath for conversation, and I could just listen and throw in an occasional comment. The best part, however, was that we tended to spontaneously find new routes to run in the town. There were so many places I hadn’t even realised existed in Sunset Valley, from the unpleasant, like landfills, to the pretty, like the ancient stone circle near the edge of the town. Sunset Valley was starting to feel more and more like home. And sometimes, like one late spring day, the trips would turn up something really interesting.
“So, how’s your report for school going?” asked Min.
“It’s going. It’s just about birds, and it’s easy to find info on owls and whatever. I’m not a big fan of birds, though.”
“Oh? What’s wrong with birds?”
“I don’t know, they’re just not all that fun.”
“I think they’re cool. I’d love to be able to fly all over the place.”
“What? You wouldn’t like it?”
“Well, sure. But I’m pretty happy on the ground too.”
“You think the ability to fly would be counted as cheating in soccer? Or badminton?”
“Darn,” Min grinned.
“Do you want to go to the library and finish the reports together?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure. I’ve got time the day after tomorrow,” Min said, “But enough about school stuff. Wanna go to the waterfall?”
I glanced at her.
“There’s a waterfall in Sunset Valley?”
“Yeah, sure. It’s been there always. Longer than the town. Not many people go there, though. It’s just sort of there.”
“An awesome natural place with likely no people around? Sign me up!”
Min smiled again.
“I knew you’d like it.”
And I indeed did. It took almost an hour of running to get there, and by then my legs were feeling appropriately tired and I was feeling great. The waterfall was gorgeous, bigger than I’d imagined. I listened to its impressive rush and looked up at the top where the water came down like something from another world. I closed my eyes and walked close enough to feel droplets of misty water on my face.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” Min said, “Well, I probably don’t even need to ask.”
“No,” I said, “You don’t.”
We sat down at some rocks to take a break before our inevitable run back to our homes. It was nice to just stop for a while, to relax with the sound of the waterfall as background music.
“We definitely need to come here more often,” I said, idly kicking the grass under my feet and drawing circles into the ground, “This is even better than trying to spy on the science lab.”
“Really?” asked Min, “Because dad told me that they got some new weird fish in there.”
She thought about it for a moment. I kicked the dirt I’d dug from beneath the grass with my shoe. To be fair, spying on the science projects got pretty boring after a while, cool fish or no.
“Although,” Min went on, “Maybe we shouldn’t push it too much. Dad would be in so much trouble if the people at the lab found out his daughter was loitering near their secret backyard.”
Oh, right. There was that too. Mr. Han was really nice, and even though Patrick had a thing or two to say about the Landgraab Industries Science Facility Mr. Han worked in, it would still suck if Mr. Han lost his job.
“I think this beats fish anyway,” I said and kicked the dirt again. Then I suddenly stopped, not because I remembered that Patrick would seriously reprimand me if he knew I was being mean to grass, but because my shoe struck something hard and sharp that was buried just a couple of inches under the soil, “Wait, what’s that?”
“A rock? No, wait, it looks way too… geometric.”
My curiosity immediately spiked and I was on my knees in the grass.
“Well, let’s see what it is, then!”
Min rolled her eyes.
“Really? Birds and fish are boring but cubes in the dirt aren’t?”
“Exactly. You don’t have to help me if you don’t want to.”
“Hey, I’m so helping! I wanna know what it is too!”
We dug until our hands were aching and our fingernails would take days to get clean. The thing was bigger than I’d thought, but not actually huge. It was stuck in such an angle that we had to shovel a lot of bigger stones and what felt like tons of dirt out of the way. But finally it was out, and I brushed as much dust off of the lid of a beautifully carved wooden box as I could.
“Whoa, that’s nice!” Min said excitedly as soon as I got a hand-painted picture of a swan unearthed from the dust, “What’s in it?”
I didn’t waste any time lifting the box from the hole we’d dug and putting it on the nearest big rock. The box really was pretty, and for a while I just savoured the promise of secrets and mysteries it could hold. Who knew how long it had been there? Why had someone wanted to bury it? And what was in it? That last one was easy to answer, at least. I opened the small latch holding the box closed and lifted the lid.
“Letters,” I said, “A whole pile of them.”
Min’s excited smile grew even wider.
“Awesome! What do they say? No, wait. We probably shouldn’t.”
My hand had already been tugging at the corner of the topmost envelope, but I stopped it there.
“What do you mean?” I said, “If someone didn’t want to keep them secret, they wouldn’t have thrown them away.”
“Yeah, but the fact that the box was buried underground might be a sign of secrecy. Besides, the secrecy of correspondence is sacred! You have no idea how seriously dad takes it!”
I sighed, my fingers hovering over the letters longingly.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said. Darn. Then, my mood brightened with a new idea, “But wouldn’t it be okay to find out who they belong to? I mean, there’s names and addresses here and everything. Okay, it’s all faded, but we’ll figure it out.”
Min thought about it.
“I guess that’s fair. Although… don’t you think that if someone buried a bunch of stuff here, they wouldn’t want them to show up on their doorstep?”
I looked at the fine pink ribbon that the letters were neatly tied with. If someone really wanted them gone, would they have taken such a great care of them? Besides, I had to know something about this. It was a mystery right out of a story, but one that I could actually solve in real life instead of just trying to figure out plot twists in advance.
“Look,” I said, “we have no idea who buried these and why. Who knows, maybe they were stolen! We’d be doing a good deed!”
“There’s really no convincing you otherwise, is there?” Min asked.
She smiled again.
“Well, yeah, it’s alright, I guess. Even if it is just to sate your curiosity. I’ll just pretend this is a totally selfless deed and be cool with it.”
“Deal!” I grinned, “Let’s take a better look at these when we get indoors.”
We ran back home a bit slower, because now we had to carry a wooden box with letters with us. Or more like I had to carry them. It had been my idea, after all. We said a quick ‘hi’ to Patrick, and then climbed upstairs into my room.
“Okay, let’s see what we have here…” I glanced at Min, “Don’t worry, I’m not opening them.”
“Yeah, I trust you,” Min said. She was trying to appear cool and collected, but I could see she was just as curious as I was. Or at least almost.
I put on my reading light and squinted to make sense of the name that was written on the topmost envelope. The ink was so faded that I could barely see it. But there were imprints that formed a curly name, like distant memories left by an old pen. I wondered if the owner of the letters would mind if I used a bit of Rem’s charcoal on one of the envelopes to see the name better. That could be a last resort. The name was there, and I could almost see it.
“It starts with an ‘S’. Sa… Sandra? No, that’s not it. Sabrina? Why did people write so curly in the old days?”
“I think the last name looks like Bel… Belchange?” Min said slowly, “That sounds kind of French. I don’t know any French people who live here.”
“How about descendants of some? Hey!” I jumped up from my chair in excitement, “we could check out the town records!”
“Don’t you need a permission for that?” Min asked.
“Yeah, but we could get one. Say it’s for genealogy studies. That’s all the rage nowadays according to mum.”
“Isn’t that lying to the authorities?”
“It’s a harmless lie. To the authorities.”
Min rolled her eyes.
“Still, that’s where I draw the line. I’m not taking this that seriously. Besides, shouldn’t you ask your mum first? Doesn’t she know pretty much everything that’s going on in the town?”
“Alright. If you want to be boring.”
“I’m just being sensible. Besides, I’m kind of too busy to go snooping around in dusty archives. The soccer season is on right now.”
“I know, I know. Still, isn’t this interesting?”
“Yeah. It is. Just don’t overdo it.”
“And just remember that they can belong to someone who’s already dead, too.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I looked at the letters again. They were almost whispering to me. Secrets. Mysteries. I wanted to know more about them. And I wasn’t sure if my and Min’s definitions of overdoing curiosity were the same.
I didn’t have time to ask mum about the letters until the next day, when she had gone out early to take care of some things and then skipped back indoors while the rest of us were eating breakfast. She was bursting with excitement and could barely stand still.
“Ohmygoshyouwillneverbelievethis!” she squealed, and the rest of us exchanged questioning looks.
“What is it, honey?” Patrick asked when mum had settled a bit.
“You know the Sunset Smile -award the town council hands away every year for someone who does good work for the community?” mum asked breathlessly.
“Yes,” said Patrick, “What does that- wait, you won it?”
“Yes!” mum said with barely contained glee. She started bouncing on her heels again, “I got a call about it two days ago and today it’s confirmed! They said my blog and my articles about the town have really brought out new interesting insights about Sunset Valley to everyone and even made people more interested in the town in the social media! You have no idea how hard it was for me to keep this a secret all this time!”
“We can guess, mum,” I said, “So they awarded you for the free publicity you give the town.”
“I’m pretty sure the Landgraabs had something to do with it,” Patrick said, “They take advantage of anything that’s free to them and good for business.”
He cast one look at mum’s suddenly cold expression and quickly smiled at her.
“I mean, that’s amazing, honey! I don’t care what their reasons are, because they’ve really picked the right person for the award.”
“Yeah, congrats mum. If anyone deserves some recognition for their work, it’s you,” I said.
“I heard someone say your words were like butterflies in their stomachs, and like postcards,” added Rem, “Well, not exactly with those words but that’s what they seemed to think. They were kind of… flowery.”
Mum gave us all a tiny bow.
“Aww, thank you so much! I just… I’m so happy about this!”
She quickly made her way to Merrill, who was trying to figure out why randomly hitting his xylophone didn’t produce proper music, and swept him into her arms.
“Did you hear that too, sweetie? Mummy just won her first award ever! I’m getting a plaque and everything!”
“Mummy winning!” said Merrill.
“That’s right! Mummy won!”
As I listened to mum and Merrill’s combined giggling, I figured I wouldn’t get a good answer from mum before she was a bit down from her victory high. By afternoon mum had calmed down with a cup of hot cocoa and was relaxing on her bed with a good book, so I deemed that a good time to strike.
“Hey, mum,” I said.
“Hey,” said mum, “What’s up?”
“I have a Sunset Valley -related question. Now that you’re an awarded expert on it.”
“Only kind of. Okay, shoot.”
I bit my lip and, with a silent sigh of wistfulness, showed mum the letters that had before this been a secret I’d liked keeping.
“Min and I found these near the waterfall,” I explained when mum leaned over to take a better look at them, “We’ve deciphered that they’re probably for someone named Sadie or Sabrina or something Belchange. Are there many French people here?”
Mum adjusted her glasses.
“Hmm… well, there was a small wave of French speaking immigrants who came here around forty years ago. Wow, you found these?”
“Yeah, they were buried in a box.”
Mum looked at me with excitement and curiosity.
“Ooh, a real life mystery!” she said.
“I know, right?”
Mum studied the letters even closer.
“These are remarkably well preserved, but they look pretty old too. Hmm… well, I know a Bellechance who lives here. Sabine. She’s around seventy years old.”
Sabine Bellechance? That made sense. It also sounded vaguely familiar.
“Who is she?”
“The old lady who lives in that old house,” mum said.
“The witch,” said Rem’s voice from the door.
I started, and then turned my head to see Rem’s innocent smile.
“Were you eavesdropping on us?” I snapped.
Rem shrugged his bony shoulders.
“No. I just walked by when you mentioned Miss Bellechance.”
“It’s not very nice to call people witches,” mum said with a frown.
“I know,” Rem said, “But that’s what people call her. She’s not really a witch, though. Just lonely. She bought cookies from me a couple of times when I was in the boy scouts. She has a sad smile.”
Ah, so that’s how I’d heard of her. The old witch lady who lived in a ramshackle little house near the edge of town. Everyone knew her. Or at least of her. I suppose every town needed to have a witch or someone to attach mysterious rumours to. I guessed she was really only a harmless old woman who didn’t like to come out of her house because a lot of old folks just were like that.
“So these letters do belong to someone who’s still alive,” I said out loud, “Just when I thought this couldn’t get any better!”
“What letters?” asked Rem with a hint of laughter in his voice, “Did you steal someone’s mail?”
I grabbed a pillow from mum and Patrick’s bed and smacked Rem with it.
“Of course I didn’t! I found them fair and square.”
“Now, kids. Stop throwing things. I just cleaned the floor,” said mum, but her heart wasn’t really in it. She was smiling as well.
I told Min about Sabine Bellechance as soon as we met in the library, where we’d agreed to finish up our school reports on animals. To my surprise she wasn’t nearly as excited as I’d thought she would be.
“The witch?” she said, “Those are her letters?”
“Yeah, most likely,” I said, “You do know she’s not really a witch, though?”
Min shrugged her shoulders.
“Hey, the world can be really strange sometimes.”
I thought about my stepbrother and couldn’t argue with Min’s words.
“But no,” Min said after a while, “I don’t think she’s a witch. I just think she’s kind of scary.”
“Why?” I asked, “She’s just a harmless old lady.”
“She almost never comes out of that crappy house she lives in,” Min explained, “And when she does, she always has this… unapproachable air about her. I know that sounds mean, but that’s just how it is.”
I picked out a book on owls and Min grabbed something about sea mammals, and we sat down on comfy armchairs in one quiet corner. I liked the library. It was quiet and spacey and had a good collection. Right now its usually calm atmosphere didn’t put me in the mood for reading, though. My thoughts were in the letters I still hadn’t opened, and in the witch lady who locked herself up in her house. Maybe that was where the rumours had come from. Loners were usually considered freaks in one way or another. I didn’t like that way of thinking. I mean, I was kind of a loner, and I was pretty normal, right?
“So you don’t want to come with me?” I asked, “I mean, we found the letters together; we should finish this together too.”
Min let out a sigh.
“Look, I’m still not even sure we should return them. What if she threw them away? What if she just gets mad at us or we dig some old trauma back up?”
True. Buried things could just as easily cause pain as they could cause joy. I knew she kind of had a point, but my point felt sharper to my own brain.
“Well, what if we don’t?” I said, “If we do make her feel bad, we apologise and she doesn’t have to see the letters. But what if she really misses them? Or if she’s never read them at all? We don’t know.”
Min’s resolve was wavering. I could see it.
“We should take that risk,” I said, “What if we really make her happy?”
Slowly Min’s face melted into her gentle smile that I found really pretty.
“Oh, fine. I’m in.”
We planned to visit the mysterious witch’s house the next week. I could hardly wait, and the letters were almost burning with anticipation of getting back home.
I spent my free time – the little time I had between school, sports, and earning money by babysitting and helping Patrick with his gardening – making sure there were no other Bellechances or similarly named people in Sunset Valley. According to what I could find on the internet – though I had a feeling it wasn’t the most reliable source with this kind of thing – there wasn’t. Of course, the letters could be older than we thought, and belong to someone who was already dead, just like Min had suggested. I didn’t want to think about that possibility too much, though.
I didn’t know why I was so obsessed with them. Or I did know, at least kind of. They were a mystery, and I was curious. And it was an approachable secret that probably didn’t involve too much danger. They were something I wasn’t allowed to read, but with a chance I could somehow circumvent that. And there was something so sad about lost letters that had been hidden near the waterfall. Thinking about it made my resolve to help them find their way home even stronger. It had to be the right thing to do, right? I didn’t want to think I was just selfish and wanted to know the secret behind them. I knew what I wanted to be, and what I didn’t want. I was a good person, and not some childish snoop who didn’t respect other people’s buried secrets.
Mum officially got her award the next weekend, and we celebrated it by dressing up and going out to eat in the fanciest restaurant in Sunset Valley. Mum was beaming and I could almost imagine her lifting up from the ground and flying up into the sky with the power of sheer happiness.
And I was super happy for mum, too. She really deserved something for all the near-obsessive writing and interviewing she had done in the recent years. She hung the plaque right under her school diploma near her bed, and I could sometimes catch her admiring it and doing tiny victory dances. It was silly, but it was what my mum was like, so it was mostly just adorable.
And finally we were making our way towards the admittedly rather unattractive-looking house of Sabine Bellechance. It was situated in swampy terrain that reminded me of Twinbrook, and not in a good way, and even the mailbox was rusty.
Suddenly the idea of going there and starting a conversation with a total stranger – a witch – about things she had possibly buried to forget didn’t feel so great after all. Min nudged my arm.
“Well, here we are,” she said in a tense voice.
“Yep. We sure are,” I replied.
“Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet now!”
“Me? No, of course not!” I looked the house up and down again. I could imagine the second floor crashing down on us once we got in, “Let’s go quickly before I change my mind.”
I rang the doorbell only to find it broken, and then took a few deep breaths and knocked on the door. My hand was shaking a bit, and I told myself it was probably just because I was still a bit nervous about talking to strangers. And I also realised that I had no idea how to start talking about the box in a way that it would sound natural and not invasive. The box felt too heavy in my pocket, and I imagined for a moment that it would pull me through the ground. Then the door opened and a surly pair of eyes looked at us behind thick glasses, and I actually hoped the box would indeed push me into the ground.
“Yes?” the witch said in a slightly high-pitched, but at the same time oddly rough voice, “What do you want?”
“Uh…” I said, and it wasn’t even a real word and I felt my cheeks burning. Min nudged me again, “Are you Sabine Bellechance?”
“Yes,” said Sabine Bellechance in an irritated tone, “What do you kids want?”
I didn’t mean to be rude. I really didn’t. But the recent years had apparently wired my brain to automatically respond to rudeness with some kind of snide comment.
“Well, some friendliness would be nice, for starters.”
I heard Min slapping her hand to her face in a very long-suffering facepalm. Miss Sabine Bellechance frowned and I saw the door start moving closed again.
“Wait!” I said, grabbing the door handle on the outside, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to be rude! I… we have something to ask you.”
Miss Bellechance sighed, and it sounded like she was trying to expel years’ worth of annoyances and kids on her lawn out in that sigh.
“What?” she asked.
I bit my lip and then dropped all possible strategies to be natural and not invasive.
“We found some letters near the waterfall. We think they have your name on it.”
“We didn’t read any of them,” Min said quickly, and I glared at her. Now Miss Bellechance was totally going to think we did read them.
Miss Bellechance didn’t seem to have much incentive to start nagging about the secrecy of correspondence, though. As soon as I’d mentioned the letters, I saw the lines on her face smoothing out considerably, and her mouth opened in shock.
“You… what? You… and you just… took it?”
“I told you this was a bad idea,” Min whispered.
“We’re sorry,” I said, “We just… well, I thought that you could have… lost them?”
Miss Bellechance was still reeling from the news. I had no idea if that was a good or a bad thing, but it seemed to be leaning more on the bad side. Damn. Come on, box! Drag me under! Now!
“Were they in a box?” Miss Bellechance finally asked, “With a swan on it?”
Her voice had softened just a bit. I hoped that was a good sign.
“Yes,” I said, “So they do belong to you?”
Miss Bellechance let out another decade-long sigh.
“Yes. They do. I… do you have them with you?”
I took the box out of my pocket without any further ceremonies. I showed it to Miss Bellechance, who seemed to be holding her breath. I hoped she wouldn’t keel over out of sheer… whatever state she was in.
“It’s right here,” I said.
Miss Bellechance extended her hand, but then stopped as if the box had been a very scared kitten that might jump into a frenzy if she moved too fast. She herself seemed to be in fight-or-flight mode too, and her clouded eyes had become almost impossibly wide. Finally she snagged the box from my hands and cracked the lid just a bit ajar. Then she lowered it slowly and managed a hint of a smile.
“I… thank you,” she said, “This… I don’t know what to say, really.”
“So I take it finding those was a good thing?” I dared to ask, “Is… everything alright?”
Miss Bellechance nodded slowly.
“Yes. I believe so. I don’t have much to pay you for this, but…”
“We didn’t do it for money,” I said immediately, “Just… well, curiosity, to be honest.”
Miss Bellechance actually chuckled faintly.
“Alright, then. So how about some creamy cinnamon rolls and Sim Cola?”
Min and I exchanged glances. Taking food from strangers was fine when it was you who surprised them with a visit and not the other way around, right? Besides, Min’s eyes had immediately sparked at the mention of cinnamon rolls. She had quite the sweet tooth, but I guess she could afford to have one with her athletic lifestyle.
“That would be nice,” said Min when I didn’t speak up, “Thank you!”
And so we stepped into the house of the local witch.
The inside of the house was nothing like the outside. Instead of the peeling wallpapers and rotten floorboards I had been expecting there were antiques and spotless corners. The place was neat and very elegantly decorated, with old bookshelves filled with novels and encyclopaedias – and no trace of spell books or preserved lizard parts in sight – and the kitchen smelled like freshly baked goods. Miss Bellechance quickly stacked some of said freshly baked goods onto an awesome cat tray and pulled three glass bottles of Sim Cola from her fridge. She seemed to have an entire six pack of those things, and I wondered if many old people were such fans of soda.
We sat down on clean white couches and Miss Bellechance laid the tray on an old trunk that served as a coffee table. Very cool. In fact, everything about the inside of the old house was classy in a kind of sophisticated way. I felt a bit out of place in my bright colour scheme that Rem had once described – with a great deal of artistic admiration, mind you – as madness. I hoped Miss Bellechance wouldn’t mind, though.
Miss Bellechance took her own seat near the box she had set on the table earlier, gently as if handling something fragile. And maybe she was. The box was sturdy for its size, and the letters were remarkably well preserved, but maybe the things they contained weren’t so sturdy and stable.
She looked at the box for a long while, and then she smiled a withered smile.
“So, what were your names?” she asked with the kind of awkward air that came from not talking to people very much, “I am Sabine Bellechance, but you knew that already. You can call me Sabine. People usually find that easier to pronounce.”
“I’m Marilynn Farley,” I said, “But you can call me Lynn. This is Min Han.”
“Farley?” Sabine repeated, “That sounds a bit familiar.”
“You may have heard of my mum. She writes a blog that’s pretty famous around here. I think she was on the paper because she just got an award for it.”
“Ah, yes,” Sabine nodded, “Margaret Farley. That’s right. Good. Then you aren’t someone I have just forgotten. It tends to happen at my age.”
“Oh no, we’ve never met,” I said quickly, “But you did apparently meet my stepbrother, though. His name’s Rem. He’s pretty hard to forget. Red hair. Pointy ears.”
“Oh, he’s your brother?” Sabine asked, “Yes, I remember him. He was with the boy scouts. He’s such a nice lad.”
“Yeah. He is. Nicer than my other brother. He’s like two, though, so I guess I shouldn’t be comparing yet.”
“No, you shouldn’t,” Sabine smiled, and I had a feeling I was going to like the old lady. There was a good attitude behind the worn-out face and general world-weariness that lingered around her like the dusty smell around old books.
“So, uh,” I glanced at the box over the yet untouched cola bottles and mostly untouched cinnamon and cream rolls. Min had already snagged one and was now busy both chowing it down and complimenting Sabine for the taste. I knew I shouldn’t pry, but the box was still as much a mystery as before. There was a story in it, I knew. In the letters and in how they were buried. I wanted to know it, like I always wanted to know when there was an interesting story in my reach. The problem here was that a big part of me knew that this story wasn’t for me. I’d done my part in it and delivered the lost letters.
Yeah, that was what the reasonable side of me was saying in my head over and over, but my curiosity was just homing in on the box of letters and demanding to know more.
“So, can I ask who those letters were from?” I managed to say, “I mean, it’s not every day we find stuff like this buried underground.”
Sabine smiled a bit, but the smile was very thin, like a film someone could easily punch through with a few carelessly chosen words.
“They are from my son. And that’s… all you need to know.”
It probably was. It wasn’t all I wanted to know, though.
Stop that! You’ve violated an old lady’s privacy enough already!
I reluctantly tore my eyes from the box, and they fell on the surprisingly nice, arched windows that were mostly covered with blinds. Through the blinds I could catch a glimpse of an overgrown backyard, and some kind of invasive light bulb went blink in my head.
“Oh, hey, are those azaleas?” I asked and stood up briefly to peer outside, “Nice.”
“Glad someone likes it,” Sabine said, “I don’t have enough money or leg strength to do any gardening anymore, so the old flower bushes are all covered up in weeds. But you didn’t come here to listen what you’re going to have to give up when you get old, were you?”
“I’ve been doing some gardening for my stepdad,” I said quickly before I could back out with my plan, “I could clean up your yard too, for a few simoleons. I’m saving up money… for the future.”
I wasn’t sure what kind of opinion Sabine had about tattoos, so I left out that part of my savings plan. Elderly people were usually less understanding about the desire to stick needles into one’s skin to get permanent pictures on one’s body. Sabine looked at me calculatingly, as if she had known why I really wanted to do an old lady such a favour. That I was just curious and hoped she would tell me about the letters if we got to know each other better. And maybe she really did know. A part of me felt horrible. Another part argued that I would still be doing a favour to someone, even if I was being a bit selfish about it.
“Well, alright,” Sabine said after an almost uncomfortable moment, “Just be warned, though, I really can’t afford to pay much more than a few simoleons. And I want to talk with your parents so that they won’t accuse me of using child labour.”
“Yes!” I blurted out a bit more excitedly than I probably should have, “I mean, yes, that’s fine. I’m sure they won’t mind. And I won’t mind either. About the pay, I mean.”
“Yeah, real smooth,” I heard Min mutter under her breath.
I had a feeling she too knew how obsessed with the letters I’d become.
She stayed quiet about it until we were safely outside the house, thankfully enough.
“Wow, I can’t believe you,” she said in an almost annoyed tone.
“What?” I asked, but then dropped the innocent act when Min raised her eyebrows, “Okay, okay, I know I’m horrible! But… Look, I’m not going to ask her about them. If she wants to tell me, she can…”
“Which likely won’t happen.”
“…but if she doesn’t, all that happens is that I help a nice person with her garden and get some more tattoo money. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“You know, Lynn, you have this gift of rationalising slightly bad things into good things. I’m not sure if that’s awesome or… awesome in the other meaning of the word.”
“Hey, I’m a good person,” I said defensively, “Right?”
“Hey, don’t take it too seriously. Of course you are. We’re all a little selfish sometimes.”
“So you’re not mad I dragged you in there?”
“Why would I be? It was a good thing in the end. And now we know a bit more of Sunset Valley’s very own witch.”
We laughed, and walked home together. Something heavy that I hadn’t noticed before fell from my chest. The curiosity stayed, though, like a very persistent itch.
When I got home, there was a car in front of it. I was definitely not an expert on cars, but even I could tell that the car was expensive enough to belong to some of the upper class families in Sunset Valley. At first I wasn’t actually all that surprised. Like I said, mum had by now acquainted herself with almost everyone here. But then I realised there was something very familiar about the car. Then I saw the permafrowning face of Carla Faroffington’s father. Now that was unexpected. I stopped a good way away from the front door, hoping this had nothing to do with me. I had steered clear of Carla lately, so this had to be something else. I hoped.
I looked at the woman standing next to Carla’s dad. She looked a lot like the airhead trophy wives on TV, but I knew that Sindy Faroffington was more like a substantial, very active trophy wife. She seemed to be everywhere where some kind of sports event needed organising, and she also worked very actively in several charity foundations. She even had a probably important job in the Faroffingtons’ enterprise that sold some design furniture too expensive and nice for our family – which was good because then I didn’t need to make any effort to boycott them out of some rather childish spite.
“Okay, so you’ll be there, then,” Sindy was saying to mum, who smiled to her like she smiled to pretty much everyone.
“Of course. I’ll get a babysitter for Merrill, and we can come.”
“Oh, I’m sure your husband can watch the little one,” said Carla’s dad, whose name was Maxim if I remembered correctly, “If you can find no one else, that is.”
There was a clear disdain in his tone, and I figured it had a lot to do with the fact that Maxim Faroffington didn’t much care for Patrick. Possibly because Patrick was just a school teacher, and not an award-winning journalist like mum. I would have liked to point out that Patrick was a school teacher in a school that taught Maxim’s kids, but that would have meant that I’d have to talk to the man who had probably shaped – however unintentionally – Carla into the bitchy little princess she was. So I just waited until the two were done talking and hoped mum wouldn’t invite them inside for tea. She didn’t, and I doubt they would have said yes anyway. They drove away in their too expensive car, and I was free to get home.
“What did they want?” I asked as soon as I got inside.
“Oh, hi honey,” said mum, “Mr. and Mrs. Faroffington? They invited us to a party. It’s something they throw every six months and invite all sorts of important people there.”
“Oh,” I said, “How are we important? I mean, in their eyes? Is it because you won the award?”
“Probably,” said mum and tried to act nonchalant, but I could see she was super excited and flattered about it. She might not have been the biggest fan of the Faroffingtons either, but she liked them well enough. I had to tip my hat to her ability to be friendly with everyone.
“So, we’re going there?” I asked, “All of us?”
“Yes. I hope so, at least. I mean, you don’t have to if you really don’t want to, but I’m sure it’s nice for their kids to have some guests their own age there too.”
I would have wanted to say that I’d never be on Carla’s guest list, and I didn’t know Carla’s brother Michel that well either. I hadn’t spoken to him after the ladybug incident, and I figured he didn’t even want to see me after I’d talked to him just to get help for pranking his sister. Still, mum was so excited that I didn’t have the heart to say no.
“Great,” I said, “I guess we’ll be there, then.”
I hoped nothing would go too wrong with that.
The Fair Folk.
Mythical Creatures and the Science of Them.
“Sindy? Sindy Faroffington?”
“What? Who are you?”
“Oh, come on, don’t you remember me? It’s me, Vivian Kenson!”
“You know, from college! I can’t believe you’ve forgotten me!”
“I… uh… V… Viv? Oh my goodness, it is you! For a second I didn’t even remember your name. I’m so sorry!”
“Oh, that’s fine. We’ve all been busy. How are you?”
“I’m doing great. I’ve had my hands full with arranging one of our dinner parties. Again.”
“Yes, I’ve heard that you’ve really moved up in life. Congrats! And hey, looks like I’m lucky too. I just got here and I’m already meeting old friends!”
“Oh, I’ve just got to hear what you’ve been up to, Viv. I feel so bad for neglecting you!”
“Well, friends come and go. I understand. And now there’s a good chance for us to catch up. But of course, if you’re busy, I understand that too. You know, party and all.”
“Well, you could come to the party too! We have plenty of room, and… and no high society guest is more important than old friends!”
“Really? You’re inviting me? Aww, thank you so much!”
“So you’ll be there? It’s on Saturday night, in two weeks. The dress code is formal. Maxim – my husband – is very strict about that.”
“Don’t worry. I promise I’ll put on my best dress.”
Author’s Note: Happy holidays everyone! I finally got this in order, and look, more subplots! That’s life for you, it just throws things your way.
I like writing Villia because she’s so ambiguous, but I promise we’ll actually soon get to see why she’s really doing what she is. And also maybe more about what she is and how her powers work. So stay tuned!