“So… what do you really want to do with all this… knowledge about fairies?”
“Well, first of all I want to prove that we aren’t crazy. I mean… this all is still difficult to believe, even for me.”
“I know. But it’s easier than to think I’m insane.”
“I can imagine. I’m so sorry about what you’ve been through.”
“Thank you, Dr. Hillstrandt, but I don’t need apologies anymore. I just want my son back.”
“I understand. And I want to give him back to you. To right this terrible wrong.”
“That’s… too kind. I never thought I… I’m sorry, it’s still difficult to wrap my head around this. That someone finally listens.”
“I’m sorry, Donna. I promise I’ll do my best to help. Maybe it’s time for everyone to listen.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you think it would be good for everyone to know that these child-stealing fairies are real? Think of the ways it would change what we know about this world! Another sentient, humanoid species! And if they have stayed hidden this long, who knows what other things they have done?”
“I… I suppose that’s something to think about.”
“There’s no need to suppose. I’m sure your child isn’t the only one who has been taken by these fairies.”
“…That’s a horrible thought.”
“The world can be a terrible place. And it has so many secrets. We need to get to the bottom of at least some of them.”
“So what can we do?”
“We need to find a fairy and talk to it. Ask questions.”
“I don’t think they’ll cooperate.”
“Then we have to find a way to make them. Humanely, of course. And we need to be prepared to defend ourselves. I’ve been doing some reading, and after checking the medical records of this… creature your son was replaced with, I think I already have some ideas…”
The grief still stung, sometimes, but I felt like it was getting better all the time. Thank all the possible gods for friends and family, who were there to help me through it all. Min and mum and Patrick especially seemed to know all the right things to say. And Rem was no slouch either, even though he seemed a bit glum himself. I knew he was probably thinking about the fair folk and the problems we had with them.
I really hoped we would get back to dealing with that. Now that my own grief was more manageable, I could again focus on the fact that I didn’t want to see my brother so upset.
I told mum and Patrick that we should call Kielo and Alvar here again. To try to reschedule the meeting that had been cancelled because of Sabine’s death.
“I’m fine now. I think it’s about time we stopped sulking too much because of Sabine and focused on Rem.”
Mum and Patrick smiled at me.
“You don’t have to stop sulking until you really feel like it,” Patrick said, “But I’m glad you’re getting better.”
“You’ve grown so much, Lynn,” mum added, “I’m so glad to see it. And we’ll make it through this all; I know it.”
The next morning, Patrick and mum were calling Kielo. I felt a spark of hope about it all.
I also started writing again. The words flowed as if they needed to make up for lost time. My thoughts snapped back to their places – if thoughts could really have places – and the grief became even more manageable when I wrote, when I tried to wrap my head around past events and remember the good times. And maybe most importantly at this point, when I could put Sabine’s passing into words. I kept jumping around so I could hit all the events that I felt the strongest, but I was still forming a coherent story about our life, one that almost reached present day already.
“I think it’s great that you’re writing again,” mum said when she stopped by my door. She’d probably been drawn to my room by the sound of my furious typing, “It helps me deal with a lot of things too.”
“It still hurts,” I said, “But writing does help.”
“I know,” mum said gently, “It’s been difficult to see you like this. I’m glad you’re getting better.”
I wondered if the others had had a hard time seeing me so down too. Maybe. Maybe the others weren’t really grieving for Sabine, but just upset about me being so sad. I suppose that made sense – Sabine hadn’t meant much to anyone in this town.
But maybe I had made her matter more just by being her friend and connecting her to other people by proxy. Maybe I had made people remember her, if only through my own grief. It was a realisation that made me pause. I had made an impact, managed to help someone who deserved better than what she had got towards the end of her life.
I smiled at mum.
“Thank you. For being there.”
“Always,” mum smiled.
I looked at my computer screen. Life was going on. And I could look back at the bad things and find good in them. I knew I was really healing.
“It’s kinda weird,” I said to Michel one evening, when I had accepted his invitation to go to a bar for a couple of beers and a chat, “Happiness can be so sneaky. It’s all hidden, but then it just jumps at you sometimes. And then it’s gone again.”
Michel looked mildly amused. Or then worried. Maybe both. I wasn’t sure.
“I hope the happiness sticks around for a bit longer than you make it sound.”
“Maybe sometimes,” I said and smiled. I was feeling relaxed and had one of those moments when happiness had snuck up on me. The pub we were in was the same we’d been to on my eighteenth birthday, and I still really liked the cosy atmosphere. I hadn’t really become a regular yet, as drinking – or partying for that matter – wasn’t really my thing, but I’d been there from time to time, usually with Michel.
Some of the people there had become quite familiar with us, and a couple of people waved at us again. They were a small group of friends that had once mistaken Michel and I for a couple. It had been so weird, and it had made Michel more than a bit awkward. I had mostly been just bemused. I mean, just because we were a guy and a girl people assumed we had to be together? Stupid. Right? I had to frown. I’d always been just friends with the guys in my life, and I’d never even thought of them as anything else. Was it I who was stupid or weird, then? Was I supposed to feel something else for guys now that I was already eighteen? I’d only thought about things like this in passing, mostly as a vague fantasy of holding someone’s hand. Someone blurry and without a defined shape, but usually with somewhat soft features and an aura of safety around her. Them. Whatever.
Damn it, this is not the time!
Life was difficult enough already without trying to figure that part out. I decided I wasn’t going to ask those questions now, and instead focused on the Irish music blaring from the speakers and let it steer my thoughts back to happiness.
Despite the sometimes nosy patrons, the pub was a nice place. But at this moment I knew my happiness had less to do with the comfortable pub and more with healing. I knew I had healed before, and then gone downhill again. But now I could stop and really appreciate the healing process. It wasn’t about erasing the hurts. It was just about dealing with them better. It was about getting to control one’s life again.
“I think now’s a bit of a longer happy moment. Maybe.”
“That’s good to hear. I think that life has ups and downs, and it’s time for an up for you.”
“I think so too. How about you? Things still going good?”
“Sure. My parents are already trying to book an apartment for me near La Fiesta Tech even though it’s not even sure if I got in. It’s kind of weird to have them pay so much attention to me.”
“There’s some really cool apartments there, though. It would be awesome to live in one of them.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll get in.”
“Thanks to your help.”
“Me? Yeah, right. All I did was read stuff out loud to you and try to ask you questions about things I had no idea about.”
“And it helped.”
“If you say so.”
“You give yourself too little credit. You should really work on that.”
“I am. Baby steps, man.”
It was oddly comforting to be able to talk so lightly for a change.
“So… university. It’ll be a big change. I kind of wish I was at that point too. High school is kind of… directionless.”
“From what I’ve heard, uni means tons of work and crazy deadlines. Even worse than high school. Then again, it might feel crazy only if one spends all the time drinking and partying.”
“Yeah, no thanks. A couple of beers is fine, but the kind of crazy parties you see on TV? Way too loud and way too drunk.”
“I don’t think it needs to be like that. It can be fun too. You’re not a very good rebellious teen, you know that?”
I knew Michel said it as a joke. And I didn’t care enough about my teenager image to be offended anyway.
“I know. But at least I have tattoos. That I got under parental supervision, but still.”
“Yeah, that is cool. They suit you. You thinking about getting more?”
I shrugged. I had been thinking about it, actually. A little bit. But now that my scars were mostly covered – aside from my face, and I was not about to get a facial tattoo – I wasn’t sure if mum and Patrick would be okay with me getting more. Maybe they would be. They’d been cool about it so far.
“It would be nice to get something just because,” I said.
“My parents would kill me if I got a tattoo,” Michel said, “I’m about to move out and they still act as if I’m ten. When they pay attention to me. Usually they’re just focused on Carla.”
He was quiet for a moment. Then he added a very genuine:
“Your parents are so cool.”
I had to admit that they were. Thanks to them, Rem and I had managed to grow up pretty decent even in the middle of all the drama and trauma. I hoped our parents could stay awesome even now when we were in some kind of crossroads, one that could either make our family grow or be plunged into yet another drama.
I decided that for that moment, I didn’t need to think about that either. We were making it work.
“Well, you’re cool too, Michel,” I said in order to take my mind off the worries.
Michel raised a brow, but then he smiled.
“Here’s to coolness, then.”
He grabbed his empty beer glass in order to clink it against mine. Which was also on the table. The gesture was endearingly dorky.
While we waited for the day of Kielo and Alvar’s visit, I thought even more about healing and memories. I thought about my writing and how it would keep our memories safe and – maybe – make them matter to other people too just by being there. Not that I planned to show that writing to anyone. I also thought about my talk with Michel and how he had asked about my tattoos. I traced my tattoos with my fingers, felt the uneven scars underneath them. Maybe now that I was becoming a real adult, I could finally take control of the past or at least prove to myself that it wouldn’t control me. That all the fear of Laketon and the Fair Folk was something we could deal with. And I could make yet another mark that carried our memories.
It sounded like a nice idea. One that had pushed me out of my room and to find Rem, who was sitting at our dinner table.
“Hey, Rem,” I said, “You think you could help me design a new tattoo?”
“Sure,” Rem replied, “If you help me with what mum asked me to do.”
Rem grimaced a bit.
“She asked me to cut Merry’s hair. It’s starting to look like a pile of hay, and mum said it needs to look neater for Mer’s kindergarten’s spring concert. And dad said it’s still better to cut hair at home when Mer is so little. He still hasn’t found any hairdressers that are organic enough for his tastes. But anyway, I’m not that great at styling hair.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said and looked meaningfully at his mop of red hair that seemed to become more unruly the older he got.
“Hey, I like it this way now. Anyway, you’re good with hair-styling stuff. So maybe you can cut Mer’s hair, and I can then design your tattoo. Or at least help with it.”
“Great. Go for it,” Rem pointed at Mer, who was playing with his xylophone that never seemed to get old for him, “Mum said it’s better to use the old high chair because he can’t sit still.”
“Oh, crap,” I sighed, “He hates the high chair.”
“So you want him to hate me too now?”
“Better you than me,” Rem stuck his tongue out at me.
I smacked him lightly in the arm.
“Okay, fine! I’ll take the fall for you, you evil brat.”
I kicked the high chair to a place with more light and then looked down at Merrill, who looked up at me.
“Mum said my hair needs cut,” Mer said, “You cut it? Can I have colour too?”
“Maybe some other time. But now I’ll just see what I can do to make your hair look neater. You’ll get a big boy haircut, how’s that sound?”
Mer nodded enthusiastically and let me pick him up.
“But no baby chair!”
“Sorry, but you keep squirming otherwise. I can’t put scissors anywhere near your head if you don’t sit still.”
Merrill’s bottom lip started jutting out threateningly.
“But I eat on big boy chair now!”
“I know. But this is a special occasion. Let’s pretend it’s a barber chair. A special barber chair for big boy haircuts.”
Mer thought about it for a moment. Then he nodded and let me set him into the chair. He was still small enough to fit in it with no problem, but soon that would change. He was growing so quickly. Soon we’d have real trouble keeping up with him. Then again, mum and Patrick had managed with the two of us before, so I figured we’d be fine.
Merrill settled into the chair without a fuss like he had promised. For about three seconds. Then he started squirming.
“No! I don’t like chair!”
“Mer! You promised!”
“If you don’t stop being a baby, then I’ll cut heart-shaped bald spots all over your head!”
Merrill suddenly went completely still, his brown eyes looking at me warily. I heard Rem laugh.
“Threats? That’s some quality parenting.”
“I’m not a parent. I’m the mean big sister.”
“I know. You’re a total tyrant. So what kind of tattoo do you want?”
I started carefully cutting and combing Merrill’s hair. Thankfully he had taken my threat seriously enough to stay still when the scissors got close to his head.
“I was thinking of something big. On my back. A… well, this may sound weird, but I was thinking of a phoenix.”
I was aware that Rem was staring at me.
“Seriously?” he asked.
“Yeah. I mean, why not?”
“Because you used to hate it when I called you that.”
“That was then. Now I… I actually think it sounds cool. Like a way to show that we’re healing. That we’ll make things better for us. And that the past is what it is and even when it sucks, we can work with it.”
Now it was Rem’s turn to watch me with wide eyes.
“Wow. That’s… really awesome.”
“So you’ll do it?”
“Heck yes, I will! I can’t wait to start!”
I snipped a few more strands from Mer’s head and then put the scissors away. Rem smiled.
“You’re really good at that! If writing won’t work out, then you could start cutting people’s hair.”
I took a step back and looked critically at my handiwork. It really wasn’t half bad, I had to admit. Much neater than before, at least.
“What, you think writing wouldn’t work out?” I asked, putting my hand to my chest in mock-hurt. Rem laughed again.
“No, I think it’ll work perfectly. But it’s good to have backup plans.”
“I suppose. Okay, Mer. You can move again.”
Merrill immediately started jumping up and down as much as he could.
“Whatsitlooklike? Whatsitlook? No hearts?”
“No. No hearts.”
“You look like a big boy, Mer,” Rem said, “It really suits you.”
Merrill’s eyes shone when I helped him down from the chair, and he wanted to get right back into my arms so we could check his new hair in the mirror together. And maybe my eyes shone too. Sometimes I felt like I was doing something right. And I wasn’t talking about just cutting hair.
The next weekend Kielo and Alvar finally arrived. Kielo was sporting an awesome patchwork jacket, and Alvar seemed to have grabbed some old university clothes from a lost and found bin. Or from someone’s clothesline. I wasn’t sure which. They suited him surprisingly well, in any case, even though I had a hard time imagining him in a university. After the obligatory, somewhat hesitant greetings, Kielo walked straight to Rem to talk, and Alvar and Patrick exchanged some awkward words at the hall. I couldn’t quite catch what they were saying, but I felt it wasn’t a conversation I was supposed to overhear anyway.
Merrill, however, didn’t yet have enough social awareness to stay away from his rarely seen extra big brother figure.
“Alvar! Alvar here!” he squealed, pronouncing Alvar’s name carefully and running into his arms.
“Hey there, kid!” Alvar laughed and then looked at Patrick with an apologetic look on his face, “We had some important things to talk about, right? We should… maybe get to it.”
Oh, this was going to be awkward.
At least that was what I thought at first. But all in all, it turned out to be fairly painless. Sure, at first there was an awfully tense silence after the adults were seated and we teens (and Mer) stood near the couches, wary as if waiting for a war to break out.
Finally Kielo shifted nervously and cleared her throat.
“Okay… so, now that we’re all here, I think one more apology is in order. So for what it’s worth… I’m very sorry about all this.”
There was another silence, but then mum and Patrick seemed to relax a little bit.
“Well, I’m sorry about how I reacted too,” Patrick said, “But you do get that this is a… threatening situation for us, right?”
“Yes,” Kielo said, “But it’s threatening for us too. We haven’t really reached out to people like this before. We’ve been very secretive so far because that’s just… it’s for the best.”
She raised her hand before anyone could protest.
“Trust me. You may not think it’s a big deal, but we’re a very tiny minority. We’ve been having all kinds of difficulties with people in the past. So now we’re hidden and that’s final. Sure, I wouldn’t be opposed to us being a bit more open, but the others are still more afraid. It’s not going to change just like that.”
“I suppose not,” mum said, “And really, looking at people… it’s sadly safe to assume that your people wouldn’t have it easy. But… was all that you did really necessary?”
“I don’t know,” Kielo said, “Maybe, or maybe not. Donna was acting hostile. I just wanted to defend myself and Alvar. The better question is… should we have gone to her at all? In retrospect, that was the bad idea.”
“She deserves to know,” Patrick said quietly.
Kielo looked tired all of a sudden. Her shoulder slumped.
“Maybe you’re right. But sometimes… getting what we deserve and what we need may not… may not be the best thing that can happen to us. It can just cause more hurt.”
For a while, no one knew what to say. I was wondering if the adults were even expecting us to join in on the conversation. I looked at Rem and Alvar, who were both listening with what looked like a mix of worry and anticipation.
“I don’t want us to fight,” Rem said and looked almost pleadingly at the others, “I want us to be family.”
“Me too,” Alvar chimed in.
“I really don’t want a fight either,” Kielo said, ”We’re not bad people. We just have… different views on some things.”
“To put it mildly,” mum said, “We still can’t really accept what you did to Donna.”
Kielo put her hands up.
“Sure, I get it. I didn’t like it either. And sure, you can hate me all you want for that. I just…” she looked at Alvar, “I don’t want Alvar to suffer because of this. He has never done anything to deserve being hated by his… his real parents.”
Alvar looked uncomfortable. Merrill, who was still in his arms, shifted and looked at us questioningly.
“Why hate Alvar?”
“Maybe someone should take Merry upstairs to play. This is probably not a conversation he needs to hear.”
“Sure,” Kielo said, “But first we have a suggestion the kid will want to hear too.”
She straightened her back and bit her lip.
“This is something Lumi or the Matriarch didn’t like, but I managed to get a permission for it after a lot of negotiating. We haven’t been very welcoming to you. We’ve just taken Rem away for a while and made you needlessly afraid. We’ve kept Alvar for ourselves, even though both you and Alvar would love to know each other better.”
“We definitely would,” Patrick said, and Alvar beamed at him.
“I really want to spend time with you too,” he said a bit shyly. Kielo nodded.
“So that’s why we figured that – as long as it’s okay with you – Alvar could stay here with you over the weekend. So that you could get to know each other better. And as a gesture to show that we’re not all about taking things away.”
Yet another silence fell. This time it was a stunned one. So far the fair folk hadn’t really been this… accommodating or trusting. Just letting Kielo and Alvar visit us had seemed like a difficult thing to deal with for some of them. I looked between the people in the room. What Kielo had just said sounded… good. Almost too good. I think we’d all been expecting arguments and awkwardness, and maybe apologies at best. But not this kind of a peace offering. Finally, Rem broke the silence by clapping his hands.
“That would be so awesome! Alvar can sleep in my room! There’s a spare bunk! And we could go out and see the town together! And-“
“Slow down, son,” Patrick said, but I could see that even he was excited about the idea. Patrick looked at Alvar, “Was this your idea?”
“I… yeah. Would it be okay?”
Patrick and mum glanced at each other. Then they smiled.
“It would be lovely,” Patrick said, “But we still need to talk first. A lot.”
“Of course,” Kielo said.
I caught Alvar’s overjoyed expression and couldn’t help smiling. Merrill voiced all of our thoughts by waving his small fists in the air and letting out a joyous:
“Yay! Alvar stay!”
Well, it was the simple version, at least.
At some point mum and Patrick shooed us “kids” upstairs to look after Merrill. I was a bit annoyed by it. I mean, we were practically adults! At least I was. If they wanted Merry out of the way, we could have just opened a cartoon episode or two on my laptop and let him watch it while we discussed complex family issues. But nope, they wanted us all out. So we stood upstairs and watched Merry play while we tried to listen in on the talk downstairs.
“I’m sure dad and mum will tell us what they talked about afterwards,” Rem said optimistically.
“But it would still be nice to be included,” I said, “This kind of concerns us all!”
“I think they know what we think about this.”
“I don’t think they do. Heck, I don’t even know what I think about this!”
“You at least think it’s great to have Alvar here, right?” Rem asked and nodded towards Alvar, who had picked up Merry’s bear Ninni and was making funny voices through it. Merry squealed with delight.
“Yeah, I do. I guess. He’s cool.”
“Thanks,” Alvar glanced at me, “And I think it would be great to see this town! I haven’t seen much of human places. Aunt Kielo said I can explore as long as I don’t tell people where I’m from.”
“We’ll show you around!” Rem said, “Right?”
I was quiet for a moment. I hated to be a buzzkill, but someone had to point out the obvious:
“You guys know this isn’t settled just like this, right?”
Alvar stood up with the bear, and Merry’s eyes darkened dangerously.
“Yeah. Of course it isn’t. But… we’re trying. That has to be enough for now.”
He was right. Hadn’t I just recently been all about healing? I had to try to nurture my almost non-existent optimistic side a bit more.
“Yeah. It is. It’s great to have you here. And… I’m sorry. For flipping out back in the forest.”
“It’s okay,” Alvar said, even though his eyes said it wasn’t, “I… I guess I deserved it.”
But he didn’t. Kielo was right. Alvar didn’t deserve any of the crap that had come out of the clash of the adults. And neither did Rem. They were just two kids who hadn’t chosen to become changelings and something for people to fight over.
Merrill shattered my melancholic thoughts by starting to demand quite loudly that Alvar had to keep making funny bear noises.
“Get used to that,” I said, “Mer’s a demanding little brat.”
“I’M NO BRAT!” Mer screamed back.
Alvar just laughed.
“You know what? I think I’ll manage.”
After a few hours of intense talks, and maybe a few arguments, mum, Patrick, and Kielo were done. They parted almost as friends, or at least with less tension between them. And it became evident that yes, Alvar was really going to stay for the weekend. Kielo stopped at our porch and smiled at Alvar.
“You be good here, then,” she said. Alvar rolled his eyes, and Kielo turned to mum and Patrick for one last serious look, “I trust you.”
It was quite a statement to make at people who clearly didn’t fully trust her. Kielo waved her hand in an almost carefree manner. And then she was walking away. I had to admit that I was still in disbelief about how it all had went.
I looked at Alvar, who suddenly looked a bit lost. And then at mum and Patrick, to whom the situation finally seemed to fully sink in. Patrick’s smile looked a bit forced when he excused himself and went into the bathroom. If the others heard the muffled crying, they didn’t show it.
Mum cleared her throat.
“Well, let’s set up a bed for you, Alvar. Welcome to the Monsoon-Farley home. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay.”
Author’s Note: Whew, it’s been way too long since the last update! But it’s done now! And now I think I have a bit more direction with this story again, so I might be able to write this a bit more actively. I hope. Thank you all for your patience again! And I hope I didn’t disappoint after such a long wait.
Have a lovely time!