We didn’t talk much on our way back to Twinbrook. Rem sat at the window seat with his cheek plastered to the glass. At some points I thought he was trying to somehow phase through the window and onto the road. But maybe that was just me being morbid. He wasn’t crying anymore, but I could tell he was far from being over it. And again I couldn’t blame him.
As for me, I was mostly angry. At everything. At whoever had screwed over the Monsoon family. At Donna for making Rem so upset. At myself for not being able to comfort my brother better. And at life for always turning out to be full of crap just when I was starting to see silver linings in too many places.
It was pretty late when we got back; our return bus from Willowglade was the last one for the day. Luckily Grandma Brandi and Grandpa Lórccan weren’t too overprotective and just seemed happy that we’d come back before midnight. They asked about Rem’s quietness and tried to comfort him even when Rem insisted – quite unconvincingly – that he was fine. I had a feeling that if I hadn’t been with him, he would be running in a forest somewhere to be sad in peace. But I’d made sure he wouldn’t wander off. This trip had already made things darker. I didn’t want to add any physical damage or danger to it as well.
Rem buried himself into his sleeping bag almost as soon as we’d got something to eat. Grandma and Grandpa found it odd and worrying, but they were also experienced enough to know when someone just wanted their space. So they went to bed as well, and left me sitting on the floor, unable to sleep.
I hadn’t thought about changeling stories for a long time. I’d read a few, and I remembered picking some up specifically for research when Rem had had some vague doubts about being one. Now it seemed that it really was the case. Or then Donna Brooke was just really delusional. I didn’t know which possibility was sadder.
Was it possible that Rem had never been Patrick’s? Was Donna and Patrick’s real son still out there somewhere? Or was he dead and gone? At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if the hospital had really somehow planned everything and then used the switched baby for an occult ritual or something.
Rem curled up tighter in his sleeping bag. I could only see a bunch of his unruly red hair. I thought about our childhood and remembered how I’d insisted that Rem was a pixie.
Back then it had been wonder mixed with apprehension.
Now I just hated being right.
Things really didn’t work out quite like in the fairytales. Life had more nuances and less neatly tied loose ends. Life had less straightforward morals and too many moving pieces.
And as for happy endings… well, one could always hope.
When I finally fell asleep, it was to visions of a pixie boy running through murky forests, afraid and miserable.
The next morning Rem was gone when I woke up. Grandpa Lórccan said that Rem had left early to meet some of his friends. According to him Rem had seemed to be in a better mood than yesterday, but he’d still insisted that Rem should call in a couple of hours.
“What happened yesterday anyway?” he wondered out loud, “Do you know anything about it?”
I managed a half-hearted shrug.
“Some of his reunions weren’t as heartfelt as he’d thought, I guess.”
I knew there was no use staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s place. Rem was gone and he’d be back when he wanted. Besides, I wanted to trust him even a little bit.
Okay, so right now I couldn’t. I called him.
“Rem?” I asked as soon as he answered, “You okay?”
There was a long silence at the other end. It didn’t ease my mind at all.
“I’m fine”, he finally, finally said, “Don’t worry. I just needed to clear my head for a bit.”
“Where are you?”
“No, really. Where are you?”
“Near the beach. Don’t worry. I’ll be back before you know it. You go see your friends. Have fun.”
I tried to hear something off about his voice. He was melancholic, yes, but not… devastated. There was only a hint of the darkness in his tone, and he was speaking openly enough.
“I’ll trust you not to do anything stupid, okay?” I said, “I’ll call you soon.”
He hung up before I could say anything more. I sighed. It was going to be a long day.
“Hey, Lynn? You okay? You look pretty depressed.”
I looked up at Jace, a big part of me regretting that I’d agreed to meet with my friends today. I was probably lousy company at the moment. I hadn’t been excited about the walk in the town and the jokes and ice cream at the park, nor was I getting into the picnic near the beach either.
“I’m fine,” I said, “Sorry. It’s just… Rem was pretty down yesterday. I think he still is. I kind of feel guilty for having fun when someone close to me is feeling so bad.”
Jace smiled at me.
“Aww, you’re so sweet. And uh… it sucks that your brother’s feeling down. What’s wrong with him?”
I really, really considered telling them the truth. Bree leaned forward in her seat, curiosity mixing with worry. Jace had put his hand on my shoulder. They were here for me. And we’d been apart for too long. I used to be able to tell them everything. But now… no. This was between me, Rem, and whatever skeletons there were in the Monsoon family closet. I sighed.
“I’m not sure. I’m kind of worried.”
“Yeah, I bet,” said Bree, “Hey, if you want to postpone this, I’m okay with it. I have to leave a bit earlier anyway because of my violin lesson, so…”
I considered it for a second. But then I shook my head.
“No, I really should try to have fun. We have so little time together anyway.”
“Well then, I won’t hold it against you if you and Jace find something fun to do together while I’m gone.”
She winked, and Jace grabbed my now empty paper plate and threw it at her. I frowned.
“Is this another inside thing again?”
Bree giggled, but then she became dead serious again.
“No, really. You still don’t get it?”
“Ugh! You guys suck! Jace, give me your plate, I want to throw stuff at Bree too.”
Jace obliged, and the picnic escalated into a minor food fight. And even I managed to enjoy myself for a while.
Bree left for her violin lesson an hour later, and Jace and I were left alone. I called Rem just in case, but he said he was still doing fine and had actually ran into Mr. Bob and was having a chat with him. I chose to believe him, and hung up with a relieved, weary sigh. Jace put his hand on my shoulder again.
“This thing is really bothering you, huh?” he said.
“Yeah,” I admitted, “But I think he’s a bit better now. He’s with your uncle.”
“Oh, well then he’s going to be fine. Uncle Bob is the best at comforting people.”
“Yeah. He’s pretty good. You’re not actually that bad either right now.”
Jace chuckled, and his cheeks turned a bit red.
“You know, one of the best things about you is that you’re so caring underneath all that snark.”
I raised a brow.
“Where did that come from?”
“From my opinions?” Jace said and smiled awkwardly, “Hey, you still wanna do something together?”
It was still light out. And who knew when I’d have time to be carefree with old friends like this again? Rem was in good hands. Besides, he’d told me to have fun and not to worry about him. So I tried.
“Yeah, sure. I’d love to.”
Jace took me back to the park, where he proudly presented a rollerblading rink that had been set up this summer.
I wasn’t very good at skating, and I was even worse when the skates had little wheels on them, but it was still fun. And Jace was having so much fun too. He skated in circles around me and cracked bad jokes until I was laughing at the sheer awfulness of the humour.
He even tried to teach me how to do pirouettes, which he insisted was just spinning if it was done by two people. Maybe that was true. Or maybe the word pirouette just had an uncool ring to it in his ears. It was fun, nonetheless…
…if occasionally a bit painful.
It was getting dark when we finally left the park – after another round of ice cream and sitting by the park’s fountain – and we ended up on one of Twinbrook’s many shorelines. It was beautiful there, and nicely calm. I breathed in deep.
“Thanks,” I said, “For today. It was probably just what I needed.”
“No problem,” Jace replied, “Look, if you want to talk about what’s been going on… I mean… you and your brother aren’t in trouble, right?”
I shook my head and hoped that was true.
“No, just… bad reunions.”
I smiled and hoped it was convincing.
“We’ll sort this out. Don’t worry.”
I rubbed my arms. It was getting a bit cold despite it being summer. Twinbrook was never the warmest of places.
“But you know…” I said, hesitating only for a moment before deciding I really needed to get at least something off my chest, “I’m just afraid that we’ll go back to being… well, I just… You remember how we were like after Laketon… and the fire…”
“Yeah, I do. But this isn’t like that, is it?” Jace asked worriedly.
“No. Nothing like that. But it’s… it’s pretty bad. Rem’s especially kind of rattled. I’m sorry. I promised him I wouldn’t start spreading the details around. It’s… difficult.”
“I just want us all to be happy. But it feels like all the time everything’s so close to just falling apart. Even after all these years.”
My breath hitched. Odd. I hadn’t realised I was feeling that bad. Jace put his arms around me, and I relaxed just a little bit. I hugged him back, hoping the hug would just squeeze all the bad feelings out of me and the world. It didn’t work. Or maybe it did, a little bit.
“Thank you,” I whispered, “And sorry. I didn’t want to drag you into this angst-fest.”
“Hey, it’s nothing. I’m just glad I can help.”
I pulled away, but Jace’s hands caught mine on the way. Jace had a weird look on his face. One I dimly remembered seeing many times before.
“And…” he trailed off again, an awkward smile getting in the way of his real happy face, “I’m really glad we could spend time together. Even if it was with all this worrying.”
“Yeah,” I said, “It was really nice. I’ve missed you.”
The look on Jace’s face reminded me a bit of the look I’d seen in cheesy films between the male and female lead who were destined to be together simply because they the male and female lead. But that couldn’t be right… could it?
“Me too,” Jace said, “Missed you, I mean. Look, this is probably not the best time, but it kind of needs to be said, and Bree’s really bugging me about it, and I’m bugging myself about it…”
“Jace,” I said, “Remember to breathe.”
“Right. Sorry. Just… Lynn, Ireallylikeyou.”
I stared blankly at Jace. This was getting to an awkward territory, big time.
“Uh, yeah? I know. Wait, how do you mean ‘like’, exactly?”
Jace was still holding my hands. I looked questioningly in his eyes, feeling some kind of uncomfortable tension that I hadn’t really registered before.
And then Jace kissed me.
It was a quick peck on the lips, and what I could – with knowledge derived from dozens of books – describe as “chaste”. Not that I was really describing anything at the moment, because my mind was too busy flatlining until it finally formed a single, clear thought:
What. The. FUCK?
I shoved Jace away from me.
“What the hell are you doing?!” I said, and it came out as a rather shrill shout.
Jace looked shocked, and disappointed, and possibly a little bit heartbroken. I wasn’t sure, but I was too confused and uncomfortable to care at the moment.
“Sorry!” Jace managed to squeak out, “I’m sorry! I thought you… I wanted to cheer you up and… I thought this was a… a moment!”
“What moment?” I snapped.
“You know… a… romantic one. You were giving all these signals, and…”
“I… you… uh… so… you don’t like me?” Jace asked.
“What? No!” I realised my voice was still a bit too loud. I forced myself to calm down, and cleared my throat, “Just… what… I…”
I trailed off, not finding the right words. Jace still got the message.
“Oh…” he blushed even more furiously, “I’m such an idiot.”
He bit his lip, and reached out with his hand. I stiffened, but he just touched my arm like he had when he had been just friend-Jace and not getting-signals-that-didn’t-exist-Jace.
“Hey,” he said softly, “I’m… I’m really sorry. I messed up.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I did too. Signals. Whatever. Look, Jace, you’re one of my best friends, and I really like you. But I don’t…”
My mouth was speaking out words that I hadn’t needed to really think about before that much.
“Uh… we can still be friends?” I said, and cursed mentally immediately after. Wasn’t that on the list of things not to say in a situation like this?
Jace did manage a very forced smile, though.
“Yeah. Sure we can. I… maybe we should both just go home. This is super awkward.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked, “I really am sorry.”
“I’ll be fine. Yeah. Let’s talk more later, okay?”
Jace was walking away before I could even properly start talking again.
I stood alone on the familiar concrete tiles. The night air blew a chilly gust of wind through my hoodie. I tried to put my thoughts in order about this, but they just kept getting messier and messier. I wasn’t sure just how bad of a knot Jace and I had just added to the tangle of our lives, but I did know two things: that this was the inside thing Bree had kept winking at me for, and that this meant new worries and sorrows to people around me, and to me as well.
I was still trying to organise my thoughts when I walked back to Grandpa and Grandma’s place. Grandma and Grandpa told me that Rem hadn’t come back yet, and they smiled faux-carefree smiles that were betrayed by the fact that they had managed to burn the dinner a little bit. Not that I could focus enough to even properly taste anything anyway. I was too busy feeling too many other things at once. Grandma and Grandpa asked about my quietness, but I just grunted in reply. They didn’t ask again. Maybe it was again that life experience telling them that I didn’t want to talk to them right now.
I wanted to talk to mum, most of all. I could usually tell her everything. I wanted to talk to Jace too, but at the same time I really didn’t.
I also wanted to talk to Rem. A faint memory of Rem talking about princes so many years ago flickered in my mind. Had that clairvoyant little bugger known that this would happen?
As if on cue, the door cracked open. Rem stood there, giving a sheepish smile in greeting.
“Hi. I’m sorry I’m so late. I ran into my old teacher. We talked a bit about… things. About sadness and families.”
“Did it help?” Grandma Brandi simply asked. No other questions. No scolding. Just her smile that had seen quite a few things already.
Rem smiled and nodded.
“A little bit.”
He sat down and took a plateful of half-burned casserole. He caught my eyes with a clear wish to talk to me. I inclined my head questioningly, but Rem then glanced at Grandma and Grandpa. The message was clear again: not around the others. I sighed and moved my food around on my plate. My thoughts stubbornly returned to the tangle that was Jace Herring.
I tried talking to Rem after dinner, but he just kept shaking his head until it was bedtime. I really wished he wasn’t being difficult like this, but I had to play along. I couldn’t exactly talk to someone who was stubbornly escaping into dreams.
At first I doubted I could get any sleep, but it actually didn’t take a whole lot of time for my racing thoughts to settle down enough so I could fall into the familiar, relaxing darkness.
At least in dreams I could…
“Aw, crap. Rem!”
Rem stepped out of the flower bushes, a sheepish smile on his face.
“Sorry,” he said, “But this time it was intentional. This way it’s easier to talk without Grandma and Grandpa hearing us.”
I crossed my arms, vaguely noting the smooth texture of skin where the uneven scars should have been. This was definitely a dream all right. Not that the fairy forest that spread all around us could have been anything else.
“All right,” I sighed, “If you really want to go for the dramatic. What have you been doing today? Do you have any idea how worried I was in the morning?”
Rem took a deep breath.
“Okay, I know I left without saying a word in the morning, but everything’s fine. I even answered the phone all the time, didn’t I? I know you told mum and dad you’d watch me, but I just really needed to be alone for a while.”
He tried to smile diplomatically.
“Besides, you had fun with Bree and Jace, right?”
“Fun. Yeah, sure,” I said in a perfectly deadpan tone, “For the most part. Look, I don’t want to start a lecture about… anything. What did you want to talk about?”
“I have another plan,” Rem said, and his smile flickered “Come on, let’s walk.”
His walking was more like running. He almost disappeared into the midst of giant mushrooms and spiralling trees before I caught up with him again. I tried my best to focus on his voice even though the dreamscape seemed to change with almost every step. It was an unholy amalgamation of Rem’s previous fairy forests and Twinbrook this time. I didn’t know if it was my own day seeping into the dream or if Rem just wanted some familiarity around us. Or maybe he couldn’t control it either.
“I’ve getting flashes of this place all my life,” Rem said, “At first it was all sketchy and I didn’t know what it really was like. Then it started to become clearer.”
We got to Twinbrook’s swamp in just a few steps. Rem stopped for a while.
“Lately it’s become sharp,” Rem went on, “Almost painful. Today I went as far into the swamp as I dared, but I knew I wouldn’t find it alone.”
“Find what?” I asked.
Rem glanced at me.
“Where I came from, of course.”
“Oh that place”, I said wearily, “You know, it would be easier if you said things right away and didn’t replace everything with pronouns.”
“Sorry,” Rem said sheepishly.
I felt grass under my feet. In dreams even I didn’t wear shoes, it seemed. The air was again fake-cold. It just felt refreshing but lacked everything else that I could associate with coldness.
“So what was your plan?” I asked. Rem seemed really unfocused here. Like he had trouble grasping his thoughts.
“What?” he asked, “Oh, right. Plan… Sorry, this is difficult. It’s getting harder to keep this place together. It’s your dream and my dream and memory and I can’t make sense of it.”
“That makes the two of us.”
Rem chuckled. Then he became serious again.
“Hey, I’m sorry about what happened with Jace. If you want to talk about it-“
“Waitwaitwaitwait,” I cut him off, “So you knew that would happen? Why the heck didn’t you tell me?”
Rem raised his arms defensively.
“I didn’t know! I just… saw some things. You know… when I was little. The many princes and all that. The first suitor always fails.”
“That’s not helpful!”
“I know. It’s all blurry and messy. I just knew that something would happen, but nothing… bad I guess. And then Jace called Mr. Bob when I was still there and I knew…”
He took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry. This… we can talk about this later if you want.”
I crossed my arms again.
“Yes. Definitely later. Or never. I think mum is better for this kind of stuff than you are. No offence.”
Rem looked unfocusedly at the little swamp pond in front of us. The old, rotten train tracks above it were howling, as if trains were still going over them.
“The plan?” I said impatiently when Rem didn’t seem to be able to grasp the situation, “What was your plan?”
Rem’s head snapped up.
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
We took another step and were in a different place again. The fairy forest was back, and in the distance a small window was shining with light like a beacon. Rem smiled at it.
“It took me years to find my way here. Now… now I can almost get to where they want me to go.”
He reached out with his hand and it pressed against solid fog.
“Almost,” he repeated, “I think this is as close to a memory as I can get. But I know it’s real. Maybe not all mine, even, because I had to be really little when I was here. But it’s somewhere around here… near Twinbrook.”
The window seemed to taunt us. The stars above blanketed the sky and us with their warm glow.
“I know I can’t find it,” he said again, “But they want to find me. So I’m letting them do that now. We’re here, closer to them.”
He looked at me.
“Will you… come with me to let them find me?”
“Rem, right now you’re not making any sense. But yeah, I told you I’d help you. And I will.”
“Thank you. Then… I’ll leave tomorrow morning again. Just… go out too, and don’t make Grandma and Grandpa worried. Wait for my call.”
“Okay. Deal. Now could you please stop with all these special effects? They’re clearly messing with your head.”
Rem actually laughed. It rang in the air and some of it was caught in the stars.
“You’re right. Let’s go back. Just… run until the swamp ends. You know how to get out.”
Then he was gone.
I looked at the fairy window in the distance one more time and started running.
The next morning Rem was gone like he had told me. It was pretty easy for me to excuse myself from the house after Bree called me around midday and wanted to meet me at Café Pistachio. I had a bad feeling about that, because I was certain Jace had told her about the fiasco last night. I was really not looking forward to sorting that out with anyone yet. Heck, I hadn’t even had time to sort out my thoughts about it. But Bree pretty much jumped at me once I got to the café. She had already started her shift, and her overly cutesy dress and retro ponytail kind of comically clashed with her outraged expression. It almost made me feel less anxious about this all. Almost, but not enough.
“What happened?!” she snapped as a greeting, “I called Jace this morning and he was just… I don’t even know. Disappointed and baffled! What did you do?”
I raised my hands defensively.
“Hey, he kissed me without warning! Told me I’d been sending some ‘signals’.”
“No I wasn’t! What signals are you even-“ I forced myself to take a deep breath, “Look, it was a disaster. We both misread the situation, and I hope we can just get past this and move on, okay?”
Bree stared at me incredulously with her pretty, big eyes. I sighed.
“I’m really sorry I upset him. I’ll call him once I’ve got this sorted out better, okay?”
Bree’s expression finally softened a bit.
“But… It’s just… I’ve been shipping you guys since we were twelve!”
Bree rolled her eyes.
“You know, shipping. It’s when-“
“I know what that means! But I just… Jace and I, really?”
“It was pretty obvious on Jace’s part at least,” Bree said.
“No it wasn’t.”
“Okay, so it wasn’t for you,” Bree smiled, “Hey, sorry for snapping at you. I know you and your brother are going through some issues even without any relationship drama from here.”
“Hey, you didn’t know, I-“
My cell phone rang. Thank goodness.
“Oh, sorry, I’ve got to get this.”
I quickly put the phone to my ear.
“Rem? Where are you?”
“Come to the Community Gardens right away. They found me.”
“That still kind of makes no sense but okay. Don’t go anywhere.”
I turned to Bree and smiled.
“Hey, family needs me. Sorry.”
“Yeah. No problem. If you need any help, you know you can call me.”
“I do. I’ll get back to this… Jace thing later.”
“Yeah, you will.”
Well, that was only marginally less awkward than yesterday.
I was actually relieved to get away from Bree. An unusual feeling, but all things considered I figured it was totally understandable.
I jogged to the Community Gardens, which was a ridiculously pretty garden with free vegetables and fruit for everyone who was active enough to go pick them. Patrick had loved to take us there occasionally when we’d been little. I remembered him saying once or twice that he’d gone there to teach Rem how to walk back before he’d met mum and when Rem had still been a tiny toddler. Not a bad place to learn at all.
I walked through the gate to the almost overwhelming mix of flowers and fruit. Rem was waiting for me near the centre of it all. I hastened my steps, but stopped dead on my tracks when I realised who it was that had found Rem.
In retrospect, I probably should have seen it coming. Knowing that didn’t make me feel any less angry, though.
“Hello, Lynn. Rem insisted that we waited for you.”
I clenched my fists and quietly snarled at the woman who had caused us all so much grief.
Author’s Note: LET YOUR EYES MELT AT THE SIGHT OF MY POOR ROMANCE WRITING SKILLS! Mwahahwahahaa! Ahem, but seriously, the kiss wasn’t supposed to be anything but awkward and it was supposed to come right out of left field for Lynn. So yeah. That happened.
It took me a while to get this flowing and to make this not awful. Then I realised I could do another dream scene and that helped me be happy with this so here we go! The first mystery of this story is close to finally being resolved. Doesn’t mean we’re even close to being done with the actual story, though.
I hope at least some of you enjoyed this. As always, feedback and talking with me is always welcome!