Chapter 30: Peace Offering

“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.”

He smiled.

“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.”

“What’s that?”

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.”

“Sure!”

“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.”

“Yup.”

“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?”

I laughed.

“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!”

I facepalmed.

“Mer! You promised!”

“No!”

“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?”

Mum frowned.

“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?”

“Sure.”

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!

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Chapter 29: Grief and Closure

It was weird how tears could sneak up on a person and surprise them. One minute I was fine, and the next my eyes were burning and my breath was hitching. It kept happening even weeks after I’d found Sabine Bellechance dying on her floor. And during the day of her funeral, the tears were definitely still there.

It was difficult to even remember what had happened after my possibly hallucinated meeting with the goddess of death and after Sabine had stopped breathing. I vaguely remember being surrounded by paramedics and people who were asking questions. I again wasn’t sure if I’d managed to answer any of them. Then the paramedics had found the body. I think that had been when Rem and mum had arrived. Rem had rushed straight to me and hugged me.

“She’s gone?” he’d asked quietly, and I’d managed a nod. He’d hugged me tighter, “I’m sorry.”

How long ago had that been? On the funeral day, it had only been a couple of weeks. Back then, the image of Sabine lying on the floor hadn’t yet been completely rinsed out of my retinas even by all the tears.

Sometimes I realise it’s still there, even when it has already faded quite a bit.

I looked in the mirror for the millionth time and adjusted my hair so that it covered my scars even better. My eyes were lined with mascara that would hopefully withstand all the tears that would no doubt fall, and my new black coat felt foreign on me. It was weird; usually I felt very comfortable in black. Then again, usually my friend hadn’t just died.

I suppressed a sob and turned away from the mirror. Patrick was already calling for me, telling me that we had to be going. I sighed and refused to cry in our bathroom. I had a feeling I’d be doing plenty of crying in the chapel anyway.

I stepped out of the bathroom and saw the sad faces of my family – and the rather confusedly glum face of Merrill, who wasn’t quite sure about what was going on. Rem smiled weakly at me, looking somewhat off because he was dressed so neatly and wearing shoes of all things. The last time he’d been wearing a suit had been at Faroffingtons’, where he’d freaked out. That too seemed like such a long time ago.

“Okay, you ready?” mum asked gently, as if I’d break if someone was being too loud.

I nodded, and together we got in the car and towards the final official goodbyes to Sabine.

The funeral chapel was built in modern Peteran style and looked very grey and white. The only spots of colour were the slightly blue-tinted windows and textiles, and the dark red velvet cloth that covered the small table where an urn rested. The place was empty aside from the staff when we arrived. It seemed that nobody besides us cared enough about the witch of Sunset Valley to lay her to rest. I thought about Sabine’s words about her friends and family having passed before her. I thought about Félix, even though I had no idea what he’d been like. I had already known that aside from my visits, Sabine had been lonely. But there, in the chapel, looking at the urn that now housed her cremated body, the weight of her loneliness really crashed down on me.

Mum, as if knowing what I was thinking at that moment, looked at me from her seat.

“You meant a lot to her,” she said quietly, but I heard it anyway.

I couldn’t find my voice, so I just nodded again.

The funeral was a quiet and short, but beautiful ceremony. I cried my eyes out, and so did mum. Merrill cried too, mostly because he was confused that his family was so upset about the metal jar in a strange little house. I remember some sweet words and music, but mostly I just remember the grief. It muddled all the words I heard and made the music laced with tears and empty sorrow. It was the first time I’d had to really face the death of someone I cared about. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I realised. Some part of me had thought that seeing the gunman and Villia die violently – hell, I was the one who had killed the gunman – would have desensitised me enough that I could be as cool and collected as one could be about death. But I’d been wrong. I felt weak and lost and hollow, and like my brain couldn’t really even begin to process Sabine being gone.

She’d been my friend. One minute she’d been there, and then next she was on the floor, looking more like a deflated doll than a human being. And now she was ashes in a box. It was just so… wrong.

The woman in front of us finally closed the book of prayer she had been reading mostly meaningless niceties from and then gently ushered us outside. It was getting dark, and the air was chilly for Sunset Valley standards. I thought about the last time I’d been out in the falling dark and stubborn chill and couldn’t help crying again. Sabine’s future gravestone got my tears all over it, but I was too much of a wreck to care.

“Hey,” said a quiet voice.

I wiped my eyes and turned to look at Min, who stood awkwardly a bit farther away, looking very pretty in her white funeral dress. She looked sadly at the gravestone and then at us.

“Um… sorry I’m late. I… wasn’t sure if I should even come here. I mean, I wasn’t really invited…”

“No one was,” Patrick said quietly, “It’s good to see you.”

Min nodded slowly. I walked over to her and wiped my eyes again. I realised that my mascara wasn’t quite as tearproof as the store had advertised. I smiled at Min and chuckled maybe a bit hysterically through my tears. Mostly because I realised again that Min really had been closer to Sabine than almost anyone else in the town. Just because she had visited her maybe two times in her life.

I must have looked so insensitive and rude, laughing at a funeral. But grief didn’t really play by any logical rules. I hugged Min tightly out of both gratitude and grief.

“Thanks for coming,” I said hoarsely, “I don’t think she’d have wanted to be alone.”

The following days went in a fog. A very empty, heavy fog that tasted like cardboard and loss. I found myself unable to get up in so many mornings. I didn’t want to go to school – or anywhere else for that matter. Mum and Patrick had to practically drag me to therapy. For a while I even stopped writing. Meanwhile, the rest of our family fell into a quiet melancholy.

Patrick found solace in his garden, once again. Mum seemed to be even more obsessed with keeping the house clean than before. Rem painted a series of paintings and went outside for walks. Though often I saw that he had ended up sitting on the swing outside, looking limp and lifeless.

We all tried to find some peace by making sure at least Merrill was happy. Even I was more than glad to have heated arguments concerning bedtime with him. The meeting with Kielo and Alvar was cancelled for now, and the argument with the fairies was left to the background even though I knew it was still bothering us all. I would have been angrier at myself for making my family even more troubled, but back then I couldn’t find the energy for that.

My head just felt so full, yet also so hollow. Sabine was gone. I’d thought I knew that death meant. But now I realised I didn’t know anything. What had happened to her? Was she going to be okay? Was she going to be anymore at all? I wanted to think that she was in a better place. That she’d see her son and all the friends who had gone before her. But I couldn’t know for sure.

One of the worst things was to know how alone she had been. That after all this time of me visiting her, she had still shut me out, denying that she was sick and dying. That in the end, all I could do was watch her go.

When I managed to drag myself to school, I found myself staring blankly at maths problems and even books without really finding the energy to do anything with them. The death of a family member was usually put in a category of events that were called force majeure, a superior force. Circumstances that no one could foresee or avoid, something that made it acceptable not to fulfil a contract – or in this case, show up to school. But apparently they thought Sabine wasn’t close enough to count. And maybe she wasn’t, in the end. Her death weighed me down like a… well, a superior force, something I couldn’t possibly combat, but as the days went by, I could also feel a spark of energy. A death was something that stopped, made life skip a beat. I felt like I had stopped, but I also felt a determination to move. To not let myself freeze completely.

Still, it wasn’t easy. My family, Min and Michel, Bree and Jace tried to help me through it. They talked with me, and sometimes I talked back. But most of the time I wanted to be alone. To sort out my thoughts.

Those were the times when I usually gravitated towards either the graveyard or Sabine’s house.

The week after Sabine’s funeral was a rainy one. It felt like the sky had been saving all its rain for the end of the spring. The rains came and went in quick succession, in harsh yet short showers. The streets were almost flooded, and the sound of on/off rain was constant white noise in our lives. I thought it was poor timing; it would have been better for the rain to fall during the funeral and not afterwards.

I splashed my way to the graveyard, casting a hateful glance at the Grim Reaper statue near the gates. Who put a statue of a Grim Reaper in a graveyard? It was cool, sure, but a graveyard didn’t exactly need any more reminders that death was near.

I stood at Sabine’s grave, trying to hold back tears. I was at a loss about what to do there. Should I talk to her? Talking to a stone with ashes underneath felt stupid and too sentimental. The whole graveyard felt stupid to me, then. This wasn’t where the memories were. This was just culture and habits, lifeless stones and corpses under the ground.

I decided to settle for her house.

It was still unchanged. Apparently Sunset Valley had a really slow and impractical system when it came to dead people’s property if there were no heirs or testaments to be found. I even still had the keys to the house. No one had asked me to give them back, and a part of me wanted to keep them. Just in case… what? I didn’t know.

I checked Sabine’s garden and saw that it was still vibrant and neat. A few weeds were shyly pushing their way among the flower bushes, and I plucked them out. I didn’t know why I bothered, but it just felt right. Or then it was a part of denial.

It was the rain that woke me up again. It got around my umbrella and seeped through my clothes. I shivered and reluctantly left the old house. I glanced at it over my shoulder like I always did when I had to leave. I didn’t imagine Sabine stepping out of the house. I was too reasonable for that. Or at least I wanted to think I was. The house looked much more sinister than it had before.

After getting home I took a hot shower to warm myself up and tried to relax. If I had been smart, I would have started writing again, poured all my thoughts and grief into words. I knew even back then that it would have helped, but I was too tired to really follow through with the idea. So my head just kept buzzing as if some of the rain had snuck into my brain.

“Son of a bitch,” I muttered and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. I was tired, but I needed to move. To do something. I wanted to be alone but I felt like I would go crazy if I was. Before I knew it, my restless feet had taken me to Rem’s room.

He was drawing and looked mostly calm. There was a slight frown on his face, but it could have also been because he was drawing something that frowned. He had the tendency to unconsciously imitate the expressions of the things he drew or painted. Sometimes I found it funny. Now I wished I could.

“Hey,” I said, “Sorry to bother you. I just… wanted to talk.”

About what, I had no idea. At that moment I just hoped that some words – any words – would come.

Rem put his pencils down and straightened his back.

“Sure,” he said, “About Sabine?”

“I… yeah.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about her. Or you, more like,” he said, “How are you holding up?”

Everyone had asked me that at least once a day lately. I sighed.

“I’m… okay.”

“Sure you are. And I’m okay with our issues with the fair folk.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, fine. I feel like I’m stuck.”

“Grief is sticky.”

“That just sounds weird.”

“But it’s true.”

Yeah. It really was. Grief was like tar, sticky and heavy and difficult to wash away. Impossible, really. But maybe it would fade with time. I hoped so. It had worked before that.

“Do you wanna talk about Sabine?” Rem asked, yellow eyes studying me with compassionate sadness.

“I just want… her to be okay,” I said, “And… well, for her to be back would be nice too. But mostly I wish she’s happy.”

“I think she is,” Rem said, “She had you, in the end. And now she maybe has all the people who have gone before her.”

It sounded reassuring, if I would have just let it reassure me. I sighed again.

“I saw her die,” I managed to say, “I was there when… when she went. And it all just… ended.”

“Yeah. I know. I’m sorry.”

“I guess I want… some kind of sign that it really was okay. That we can… that she was really ready to go.”

“She had already lived for long,” Rem said, “I-“

“Hey, what’s going on here?” asked Patrick, and I choked on my breath and tears that were about to fall again. Patrick was carrying Mer, who looked surprisingly calm considering it was his bedtime and he had no doubt would have wanted to play for at least hours more even though he was getting tired.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Patrick went on, “I have to put this little guy to sleep. Do you two want some hot chocolate?”

His eyes lingered on me, and I could feel his worry crash over me. I twisted my mouth into a smile.

“I… yeah. Sure.”

“I want hot chocolate too!” Mer said, and Patrick laughed.

“You already got a cup right before you brushed your teeth. Remember?”

“That was long ago!”

Rem laughed too. For a moment I too felt almost like I was ready to laugh again. To start moving. Almost.

The movement began a few days later. When the grief felt less like a knife and more like a series of needles in my chest. I decided to visit Sabine’s house again. I wasn’t sure why I tortured myself with it. Maybe it was some foolish hope that the pieces would somehow fall into place there. Or maybe it was just basic human masochism that made people seek out places that hurt them.

This time something pulled me inside the house. Maybe it was just the rain that still hadn’t left Sunset Valley alone; I didn’t want to shiver all the way home. And a part of me wanted to know if the house was still intact. If someone had already started emptying it. I put aside my umbrella and turned the key in the lock.

The house was dark and devoid of life. Sabine’s books gathered dust on the cute old shelves, and the fake flowers on her coffee table looked a bit dusty too. I tried not to look at the spot where Sabine had been when she had died. I hurried past it and then upstairs. I could almost hear Sabine playing contrabass, or snoring softly after a long day of battling whatever illness she had had.

I almost ran into the contrabass that stood in the middle of Sabine’s bedroom like an intruder. Sabine’s bed was neatly made and everything seemed to be in order. The place still hadn’t been emptied. I wondered when Sunset Valley’s officials would start with the house.

I sat down and listened to the rain that drummed the old roof. What was I doing here, really? Was I looking for something? Was I really so sentimental or desperate that I was hoping for Sabine to suddenly walk in?

The tears fell again. They were always so sneaky.

I cried for what felt like half an hour. It was like all the older relatives I hadn’t really had in my life had been distilled into Sabine. My biological grandparents who had never been around. Grandma Brandi and Grandma Lórccan, who were awesome but who were back in Twinbrook and would probably also soon get sick and pass on. The thought made me cry even harder.

The rain kept hitting the roof even when I forced myself to get up. I tried to wipe my tears, and my eyes fell on Sabine’s letters that were still neatly piled onto the edge of her desk. They were what had started all this. Well, started my friendship with Sabine. Without them, Sabine would have probably died all alone.

I almost brushed the edge of one of the faded envelopes with my fingertips, but froze when I saw a piece of paper sticking out from behind a stack of wooden, decorative boxes. I frowned, and my curiosity took over.

I took the folded paper into my hand and stared at what was written on it.

To Marilynn Farley

-anyone else: hands off!

I smiled and laughed a teary laugh. I opened the note.

Lynn,

Thank you for sticking with me. You made this old lady smile so much more than she otherwise would have in the last years of her life.

Also if I’m dead when you find this, then get rid of my letters so that the bureaucrats won’t get their hands on them.

Love,

Sabine

I chuckled. Then I laughed. I laughed until my throat was raw and I was smiling from ear to ear. It was a grief-laugh that didn’t make any sense, but it was also a happy one. When I finally got my wits about me again, I took out my phone and made a call.

“Min? I need you here. At Sabine’s.”

Min came running through the rain in ten minutes.

“What the heck is going on here?” she said as soon as she reached me. She was out of breath, so she must have really been sprinting all the way here.

I sat on Sabine’s porch, the pile of letters next to me. I had managed to wipe my tears away, though I still must have looked like a panda bear. I bit my lip and looked at Min.

“Thanks for coming,” I said, “You’re awesome.”

I told her about the note and about Sabine’s last request. I nodded towards the letters.

“So I… I figured you should be there too,” I managed to say even though my voice started to waver again, “You were there when we found these, after all. And I… I don’t want to do this alone.”

Min was quiet for a moment. And then she nodded like the awesome friend she was.

“Okay. Let’s do it. I know just the place. Though we need to wait ‘till the rain stops.”

And that was it; no questions, no “why were you in her house”s. Just Min being there for me. We sat on the porch until the shower was over again and the sky cleared as if nothing had happened. Then we started moving.

Min’s “just the place” was a good one. An empty beach far out of the town centre. There were no swimmers around, and the whole beach looked so empty and clean. Almost like a fresh patch of half-done world that might someday be filled. It was peaceful and bright in the sunlight.

The only thing there to spoil the beach’s natural state was a fire pit and a couple of folding chairs around it. It was perfect.

I was one of those people who always carried around a lighter even though I didn’t smoke. Twinbrook’s wet, chilly winters had been quick to freeze bike locks, so having fire handy was a habit almost everyone there shared. It had stuck even after we had moved to the sunny and warm Valley. I set the letters onto the firewood and lit them. We sat down and watched the paper curling up and blackening. Something in my chest shifted, like my life wanted to really start moving again. The grief-tar was still on my shoulders, but something had changed.

“You know, I’m still curious about what was in those letters,” Min said, snapping me out of my thoughts.

“Well, they’re gone now.”

“Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t have looked anyway.”

Min smiled at me.

“You did a good thing. I’m sure Sabine’s happy, wherever she is.”

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

“Thanks for letting me be there,” Min added, “Are you okay?”

I nodded again.

“I will be,” I whispered, “I think this was just what I needed.”

“You never know where the closure’s hiding. Where the healing starts, I mean,” Min said, “After my mum died, I… I was so broken until I started wearing mum’s hair accessories. I wore them for months before I finally stopped, and I realised that I felt better. It was… it’s impossible to heal from it, but I think it at least started there.”

She smiled.

“And once it starts, it’ll get easier. At least it did for me.”

I felt so pathetic, then. Here I was being so broken about an old lady I had known for a couple of years, while Min had had to deal with much more devastating losses.

She seemed to sense my thoughts, because she poked me in the shoulder.

“Hey, don’t start comparing losses here! This isn’t a competition. Of course you have the right to grieve!”

I managed to smile.

“Thanks, Min. You’re awesome.”

We left the fire to fade and got up. I knew we should be going home before our folks got too worried. Before we left, Min hugged me, and I hugged her back. In that moment, I felt my life getting unstuck again. The pain remained, but I knew it would get easier. And I could believe that – wherever she was – Sabine really was happy.

Author’s Note: So I thought that I’d have plenty of time to write SimLit during Easter Break. Ha. Funny. Yeah, no. I’ve been super busy and I feel like all my schoolwork is again crashing down on me. But at some point I had to take a little break from working so I wouldn’t go insane and wrote a bit. Or in this story’s case, edited an already written chapter. So it’s something, at least.

I hope you guys enjoy and have a lovely spring!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Smiles and Tears

NEXT Chapter: Peace Offering

Unique Blogger Award (again)

unique

Oh, wow, I was again nominated by the Unique Blogger award (my previous post on it here, and another one here). This time the nomination came from the lovely Simsophonique. Thank you so much again!

So here’s what this award requires:

  1. Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.
  2. Answer the questions.
  3. In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate  8-13 people for the same award.
  4. Ask them 3 questions.

And here are Simsophonique’s questions:

  1. How your main character(s) was (were) born and why did you choose them?
    Usually my main characters just eventually start pretty spontaneously forming and I start developing them in my mind. Some, such as Rem from Fey and Tad from Tango, have had “predecessors” in some of my other stories, but I’ve made them into their own characters. As for why… well, I just write about characters I want to write, and who fits the story I have in mind.
  2. Will/Was you main characters have a new look or makeovers (soon)? If yes, why?
    Lynn is about to grow into a young adult, so I’m sure she will change her style a little bit. Her friends might too. Also I need to age up and restyle some of my Tango characters for my Letters -side story, so they’ll have makeovers in that save too.
  3. If you don’t play with your simself, what character(s) are (is) closed to your personality? What does he/she bring in your story ? What are their parts?
    Tad from Tango, in many ways. Also both Lynn and Rem have a lot of me in them. I’m an introverted, socially awkward, artsy nature lover who likes books and writing. I’ve pretty much sprinkled little bits of my personality into many of my main characters. I think having some familiar traits helps me really get into writing the characters, though I do sometimes want to challenge myself by writing characters who are totally different from me, such as Amelia from Tango or Sonny from Forget-Me-Not.
  4. Do you want to collab with other simlit authors? If yes, in which stories do you want to see your characters ? For people who already collabed, are you open to see your characters in a story that is different or opposite than your own story or of your own genre preferences?
    I did agree to a crossover with raerei for her awesome Ghost of a Chance -story, and it was a very fun and lovely experience. And yeah, I’m open for more collaboration when the stories are fitting and feel natural.  I think I’d like to see my characters either in stories that fit them or then in random, jokingly done cameo appearances. I think there are ways to make even quite opposite stories work, when the cooperation between the authors is done right.

And no nominations at this moment. Sorry. Right now I don’t feel like a chain letter person, even though the chain letter in question has a lovely idea. But check my previous award posts for nominations and stuff:
Liebster Award
Animal Award
Sunshine Blogger -Award
The Versatile Blogger -Award

Have a lovely day you all!

Chapter 28: Smiles and Tears

I was afraid that we were losing Rem again. He was probably spiralling back towards depression, and we all knew that it was mostly because his mind was in so much turmoil over our complicated family situation. Our parents felt awful about it, I knew, but they also didn’t want to risk letting Rem go back. They didn’t even seem to want to try mending fences with the fairies. Or then they wanted to, but didn’t know how to go about it.

Alvar and Kielo had visited only once after the argument. The visit was brief and tense, with a lot of clipped words and strained smiles. When they left, Alvar was nearly in tears and Rem locked himself in his room. Patrick looked devastated and mum tried her best to support him even as she too fought tears. Merrill was left among depressed and confused people, his eyes wide and going from one person to another until Patrick finally took him in his arms and hugged him tight. We didn’t even try to pretend that things were okay. None of us really knew what to do.

I lay in my bed that night, awake even as the clock struck four a.m. It was going to be a school day tomorrow, and I knew I’d be a zombie if I didn’t get any sleep. But my mind was too full of thoughts and problems to fall asleep. Sometimes I got up to write, but even that didn’t make me feel better. We were a mess. Again. Why couldn’t our lives ever stay fixed?

Maybe that was just how lives went; ups and downs and all that. Some had more downs than ups. I tried to figure out if we were just always going downhill or if we had enough happiness to balance it out. Maybe we did. But that was again one of those moments when I found it hard to see anything in a positive light. Maybe even us staying together as a family and loving each other was bad because that just made us feel like we always had too much to lose.

No, I decided then and would always decide. Us being a family couldn’t be a mistake. Loving and caring for others had to have something good in it. Always. Even when it backfired.

We just had to figure this out. We had to decide whether we could trust the fair folk or not. And we needed to decide what to do about Donna. She had suffered a lot and probably deserved none of it. Sure, she had acted horribly towards Rem back when we’d gone to see her, but I could understand her lashing out. I wasn’t a mum, but I could imagine that being one and then losing one’s child and no one doing anything about it was so awful that I didn’t even have the words for it. And I had a feeling that Donna had even less words for her pain; it was too close and too horrible.

I curled up in my bed, staring at the slivers of starlight that speared my window. The night was too beautiful for depression, I decided, and then frowned at the patch of night sky I could see. Why couldn’t the night be more fitting for the mood? It was an incredibly childish thought, I knew. But sometimes being childish and thinking silly thoughts was all I could do.

I dragged myself over to Sabine’s place the next day after school even though I – just as I’d predicted – felt like a zombie. We made some salad together and I managed to eat it even though I didn’t feel like eating. The salad was tasty and fresh, but it slid down my zombified throat like papier-mâché.

“Well, what’s the matter?” Sabine asked when we had sat down in her living room after dinner, “You look like your gears got stuck.”

I blinked.

“What?”

“Like you have too many things on your mind. Things that don’t fit together.”

I raised a brow.

“Wow. That’s a pretty good way to describe it,” I sighed, “I didn’t get much sleep. Family issues.”

“Ah,” Sabine nodded, “Those usually cut the deepest.”

There was a faraway look in her eyes, and I knew she was thinking about her own family issues. About Félix.

“What would you do if a group of people you want as a part of your family kept doing things that made you question whether they can be trusted or not?” I asked, trying to be vague or at least sound like I wasn’t talking about magical things.

Sabine frowned.

“I think trust is very important. Why would you want untrustworthy people in your family? Are they related by blood?”

“Sort of,” I said, “And they’ve been really helpful and I know they want us to be family too. And thanks to them my brother is dealing with his life much better. But… it’s… complicated.”

“Family matters often are,” Sabine said, “These things these people have done… are they very bad?”

I wanted to say yes. Because they were. But on the other hand, the ones who had made the worst mistakes had been Taru and Villia, and they were both dead. And Kielo… she had wiped Donna’s memories, yes, but I could actually believe that she had done so in self-defence. But the threat of them again doing something harmful was still there. I had come to realise that the stories about the weird morality of fairies had quite a bit of truth in them. Sure, they didn’t seem quite as twisted or fey as the fair folk in a lot of the stories, but there was still something… off about them. I hated thinking like that. It made me feel prejudiced. But the fair folk had sort of brought our doubts upon themselves by doing such awful and stupid things.

“I don’t know,” I finally said, “They’ve mostly just kept things from us. And told lies. But then again, they’ve also been protecting themselves because they’re a bit afraid. And I don’t want to disrespect that, but I also don’t want our family to get in trouble or broken.”

I shook my head.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to dump this all on you.”

“I don’t mind you sharing your worries,” Sabine said, “I feel like I’ve been dumping my fair share of worries on you too.”

She smiled.

“Well, you may not think I’ve said that much, but compared to decades of keeping everything to myself, it’s a lot. As for your problem, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any readymade answers for you.”

“It’s okay,” I said quickly.

Sabine smiled, the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth making her face look surprisingly more alive.

“But I can tell you this: if you ever get a feeling that you will regret deciding something, then you should think very hard before you actually decide. And problems usually don’t go away unless you try to solve them. Even if it requires facing things and people that are painful.”

Her smiled became sad and almost bitter.

“I wish I’d have taken that advice so many years ago. Now it’s too late.”

I nodded silently. I didn’t really know what to say.

“So how’s the rest of your family taking this all?” Sabine asked.

“Not that well,” I said, “Rem’s especially pretty depressed. And my mum and dad are also… conflicted. We’re all torn.”

“Then I’d say you should figure things out,” Sabine said. She was sometimes so blunt that she sounded rude, but I really appreciated her direct comments. At least with her I didn’t need to dig out the true meaning behind her words.

“I know,” I said, “Thanks, Sabine.”

“You’re welcome. Giving a bit of advice is the least I can do when you waste all this time helping me.”

“It’s not wasting time if I like it,” I said for the nth time. Sabine let out a short, dry laugh.

“Maybe we shouldn’t start this old argument again.”

I nodded and we fell into a comfortable silence. I let my mind wander and looked out the windows. Spring was already here. It was always so fast in Sunset Valley. Something akin to winter shifting to blooming flowers in the blink of an eye.

“It’s really nice outside,” I said.

“Yes, it is.”

“When was the last time you got out of here?” I had to ask, “Other than to buy groceries?”

Sabine shrugged.

“I don’t remember.”

She looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“What? Are you planning on dragging an old woman out there into the world? Like that would somehow solve something?”

I looked out the window again.

“No. I’m not that idealistic,” I said, “But I might still drag you out someday. Because it would be fun for you too. A little change of pace.”

Sabine smiled and shook her head.

“I’m too old for changes of pace.”

“No one’s too old for that.”

“You just said you’re not that idealistic,” Sabine almost laughed, “Well, I’ll think about it.”

Even though Sabine’s words or almost-smile didn’t make my or my family’s problems disappear, they did make me feel a little better.


I think I managed to keep my mood pretty good for the next few days, by focusing on school and friends and sometimes talking with mum.

At the moment mum was the most level-headed of us about this matter. She was worried and maybe even scared, sure, but she wasn’t as livid as Patrick seemed to be, or as depressed as Rem.

“We just need some time to think,” she kept saying, “But we’re not going to just leave things hanging for too long.”

She glanced towards the yard, where Patrick was tending to his vegetable garden with a very preoccupied look on his face. He didn’t even seem to notice that it was raining.

“I really hope we can get this settled. Patrick wants Alvar to visit again. But it’s… complicated.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Tell me about it.”

Mum smiled.

“You know, I’ve been thinking that maybe we should try to invite them over. To talk to them.”

She frowned a bit.

“And I’ve been thinking about Donna as well… I don’t know her, and from what I’ve heard, she has done and said some unpleasant things to Patrick and Rem. But I understand her a little bit. One’s children being taken… it’s like being ripped apart.”

I nodded silently.

“I’ve been contemplating on calling her after all,” mum said, “Or letting Patrick call her. Maybe it’ll be a disaster, but I do think she deserves to know.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, “But Donna was… I can believe she lashed out at Kielo. I… the fair folk may be ambiguous, but I think that a lot of them are trying.”

Mum sighed.

“I think so too. In this world… it’s sometimes difficult to do the right thing.”

She was definitely right about that.


The night after my conversation with mum, I woke up to muffled, distressed noises coming from Rem and Mer’s room. I fumbled for my cell phone in the dark and checked the time. Too early. Way too early. I buried my head into the pillow, but the noises continued. It was like Rem was shouting in fear or pain but trying not to be too loud.

Oh, hell.

Was he having Boogeyman nightmares again? I hoped not. That would probably mean that our lives weren’t getting easier any time soon.

I got up from the bed and walked across the eerily silent corridor to the boys’ room. I cracked the door open and my eyes immediately fell on Rem. He had thrown off in his covers and was tossing and turning in his sleep. His face was twisted up into a grimace and he was muttering unintelligible words and occasionally almost shouting. His hands clutched his pillow almost convulsively.

I sighed. I glanced at Mer, who was sleeping soundly and didn’t seem to be disturbed by his brother’s nightmares. Well, at least that meant that Rem really had got better at keeping some of his powers in check; he kept his dreams to himself now. I sneaked across the room and let my hand hover over Rem’s shoulder. Man, this was awkward. I’d never been natural about shaking people awake.

“Rem?” I whispered, “Rem? Wake up. It’s just a dream.”

No effect. I pressed my mouth into a thin line and then grabbed my brother’s hand and shook him.

All of a sudden we were in a white, empty room that had been decorated by a painter who was really into abstract expressionism. I squeezed my eyes shut so that I wouldn’t scream and wake the others. Rem’s eyes snapped open, and for a moment I could’ve sworn his pupils were gone again. Dark shadows surrounded us, and we both held our breath.

Then Rem finally relaxed, and we were back in Rem and Merrill’s room.

I let go of the hand I had been clutching and slumped onto the floor. Somewhere near me, Rem was breathing heavily, almost choking on air.

It took us several moments to calm down.

I couldn’t believe Merrill was still fast asleep right next to us.

“Wh-what the hell was that?” I finally managed to choke out. I looked up at Rem, whose haunted eyes almost glowed in the dark.

“I…” Rem said quietly, “I don’t know. Vision? They haven’t been this strong since…”

He sighed.

“They pretty much stopped after I started training with Lumi.”

A headache was building up behind my eyeballs. I leaned my back against the ladder of Rem’s bunk bed.

“We really have to take care of this all,” I said, “Maybe your powers are going haywire again when no one’s teaching you. Maybe even because you’re so messed up about that whole argument with the… your other family.”

Rem tucked his knees under his chin, hugging his legs and looking miserable.

“Maybe,” he whispered, “I’m sorry I woke you. And freaked you out.”

“Meh, I’m used to your weirdness.”

Rem managed to almost smile.

“Thanks. And thanks for waking me up.”

“Could you make any sense about your nightmare?”

Rem shrugged.

“Not really. I was just really scared. And I smelled antiseptic. Or dreamed I smelled that. It could’ve also been a flashback of the hospital from after I got shot. Maybe it wasn’t a vision at all.”

“I think I saw shadows when I was pulled into it,” I said, “Didn’t that mean death?”

Rem nodded.

“Yeah. But my visions have all been tangled together lately. I’m trying to sort them out. It’s like… when I get upset, they get more confusing. And now that I know where I come from… the confusion isn’t so… I don’t know…”

“Focused on one thing?” I suggested.

“Yeah.”

I ran a hand over my face. I was suddenly sleepy again. The white room and darkness flashed on my retinas, and I shook my head.

“Can you get back to sleep?” I asked, “Because that would be awesome. It’s way too early to be awake.”

“I can try. Thanks again, Lynn.”

“No problem.”

When I crashed back into my bed, I was worried for a moment that I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. But I think I was out pretty quickly after settling back under the covers. My dreams were restless and sketchy and had a dark figure stalking someone. I didn’t know whom.

I figured it was Rem’s influence making me see things again. It was worrying and annoying, but I was fairly sure it would pass. It had passed in a few days before. I was prepared for about a week of weird visions at the corner of my eye now that Rem was older and probably more powerful.

I could handle it. A few dark shadows and maybe a messed up dream or two were nothing at this point.

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was seeing Sabine two days later.

Sure, visiting her had been planned and there was nothing odd about that. I had agreed to help her clean the house again, and she was expecting me after school. I threw my backpack over my shoulder after a rather long school day and was glad I didn’t have homework for tomorrow. I could take my time at Sabine’s place. Clean up the place and maybe have some Sim Cola and a chat with Sabine. I rang the doorbell, and Sabine opened the door.

There was a shadow person standing behind her.

I almost screamed, but then I remembered Rem and the aftereffects of him pulling me into his vision. Sabine frowned.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I quickly shook my head and smiled. The smile was probably fake as hell but it was the best I could do at the moment.

“Nothing. I just thought I saw something… weird.”

“It’s just my face,” Sabine said, and I had to laugh. I blinked furiously while I laughed, and the dark shadow flickered in and out of existence until I was convinced it wasn’t there. Sabine let me in and I started cleaning. I pretended I scrubbed the shadows out too.

I again thought about Sabine’s fading health and Rem’s ominous words about her and the darkness. Now I saw it too. But Rem had told me he’d just seen sparks on darkness before. Maybe she had got worse. Or maybe I was losing it, overthinking things that could have been just random afterimages that meant nothing. I thought about what Rem had said about the shadows referring to death. To a goddess named Tuonetar, as the fairies called her.

I stayed with Sabine until it was getting dark and Sabine finally ushered me out.

“Your parents will get worried if you get stuck here for too long,” she said.

I stopped at the front door and hesitated for a moment before I said.

“Sabine, are you okay?”

Sabine sighed.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Yes! I am!”

“Right. Sorry.”

I bit my lip.

“Well, um… bye, then. I’ll see you later.”

“Sure.”

When I got home, I almost expected mum to ask where I’d been. I usually didn’t stay at Sabine’s for this long. But mum was talking on the phone and didn’t seem too worried about me.

She just waved her hand when I got inside and nodded at the phone to indicate she couldn’t talk. Then she turned her focus back to whoever was on the other end of the call.

“Yes. That would be great. I’ll see you later.”

She put the phone away. I had made it to the stairs, but mum called me back.

“Lynn.”

I turned. I had celebrated too soon.

“I was at Sabine’s,” I said, “I helped her clean her house.”

“Yeah, you told me you’d go to her after school,” mum said, “That’s not what I wanted to talk about. I just called Kielo.”

I raised a brow.

“Really? Their phone still works?”

“Apparently.”

“Huh, I could have bet that Kielo had taken it apart out of curiosity ages ago. So… what did you say to her?”

“I asked her and Alvar to come visit us again,” mum said, “To talk. They agreed to come in about two weeks. Apparently spring is busy for them… I think they’re maybe avoiding this whole thing too, but at least they didn’t completely say no to talking.”

“Oh. That’s good. Rem’s really messed up because of this.”

“He is,” mum nodded, “And Patrick isn’t doing so well either. He cries sometimes. Cries. That’s not right.”

It definitely wasn’t.

“Do Rem or Patrick know?” I asked.

“Patrick is at a parent-teacher conference. I’ll tell him when he gets back. Rem knows. He’s upstairs, doing homework, I think.”

“Okay,” I smiled, “Let’s hope this goes well.”

Mum nodded.

“However it goes, it’s better than doing nothing.”

“Definitely.”

Maybe things would get better again. Maybe. I hoped so.


I decided that I should do something to make things better too. Our family’s problems felt like something I couldn’t fix on my own, so I turned my attention to Sabine. Sure, I couldn’t fix her problems either, and she didn’t even seem to want my help about some things, but I wanted to do something that would maybe make her less… shadowy. I had asked Rem about Sabine and shadows and he had said that Sabine was indeed sick, but that she was also not doing a whole lot of living either.

“That whole house feels dead,” he said, “Maybe she’s been there for too long so the shadows are even worse than they’d be if she just went out a bit more. Maybe then Tuonetar would leave her alone.”

I wished he’d stop talking about death like it was an actual person. Soon I’d be imagining that too. Then I thought about Sabine for a moment and I had to agree with her house feeling dead.

Sabine’s garden may have looked much neater now, and the house was lovelier inside than it looked from the outside, but it was still a very quiet and sad home. It was beautiful too, but beautiful like frozen, dead flowers were.

I figured it was time to make a plan.

After some contemplation and spending some of my hard-earned cash, my plan was ready and I made my way to Sabine’s house dressed in somewhat presentable clothes. Telling mum about my plan had had the benefit of mum being all too happy to pitch in, so I could afford a really nice-looking vest that went well together with my black, ruffled skirt. I rang Sabine’s doorbell, and she answered quickly enough.

Bonsoir,” I greeted.

“Well, don’t you look fancy,” Sabine replied, “I like the vest.”

“Thanks!” I beamed at her, “You should get dressed up too, because I’ve got tickets to Sunset Valley’s symphony orchestra’s concert.”

Sabine looked at me as if I’d spontaneously sprouted deer horns.

“What?”

I took the tickets out of my skirt’s hidden pocket and waved them at her.

“I’m going to get you out of the house. Idealism or not, the weather’s awesome and you like classical music. I think today they’re actually also playing songs from some film soundtracks.”

Sabine stared at me blankly. All my previous confidence and enthusiasm about my plan started to fade away. I was suddenly sure that Sabine would say no. That she didn’t even want out of her shadow house and her memories. Her safe bubble where people didn’t think of her as a witch.

But then, after a moment of silence, she actually smiled.

“Oh, okay then. Let me go change into something fancier than these old rags.”

I almost let out a whoop of victory, but felt that would have been a bit too uncool.

Around five o’clock we were standing in front of the city hall, where the concert hall was also located. I’d always thought it was a neat way to give a nicer image to a usually very dull building filled with offices and bureaucracy. I smiled at Sabine, who looked much less dead and much more… well, radiant in an old formal dress and with her hair up even more neatly than usually. She was leaning quite heavily on her cane, but she managed to keep her back almost straight. She looked up at the city hall and then shook her head.

“Well, I guess we should go in, then. I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

“You’ll love it,” I assured her, feeling the confidence returning. I helped Sabine up the stairs and we walked into the world of light and music.

Sabine had liked it. I’d sneaked glances at her face during the concert, and her slightly bitter, tough exterior had melted away into smiles. She had closed her eyes at several points, her fingers quietly following some of the melodies as if she was playing some invisible instrument. I was so happy that I almost forgot to follow the concert. But it was good. I wasn’t usually that into symphony orchestras, but I liked good music and seeing people who were skilled at something using their skills. So it was definitely something I could get behind. And Sabine’s excitement kind of got me enthusiastic about it all too. So when the last notes were played, I wanted more.

We walked outside and ended up sitting at a fountain in the central park that was situated across from the city hall. Sabine took several deep breaths as if she had forgotten what fresh air smelled like. She smiled at me.

“Well, you were right,” she said, “It was a very nice change to the old routines.”

“I thought so,” I said.

“I hope you didn’t waste too much money on this. Those tickets aren’t cheap.”

“Hey, it’s my money. I earned it and I do what I want with it.”

Sabine sighed. She stood up and turned her back on me, walked up to one of the small ponds in the park, again breathing in deep.

I followed her to a skinny tree and heard frogs croaking drowsily somewhere near the lily pads in the pond. It was one of those perfectly picturesque Sunset Valley spring nights. The sun had set, but its warm, pink traces were still in the air. Spring flowers smelled sweet and were shining even in the falling dark. A cold breeze ruffled the grass and would have been a bit more pleasant if I’d remembered to pack some kind of jacket. My sleeveless top and vest weren’t doing anything against the cooling night.

But I didn’t care much about the cold at that moment. I was more worried about what I’d said wrong to Sabine now. She seemed tense, leaning to her cane and looking very fragile again despite her elegant clothes and proud air. A queen of a forgotten kingdom, who had spent too much time locked up in a tower.

“Thank you,” Sabine finally said, “For arranging all this. And I’m sorry that I haven’t been very appreciative of everything you’ve done for me.”

I didn’t say anything. I think Sabine knew that I knew that she really did appreciate what I did. And it wasn’t like I was just being altruistic; Sabine was a friend I liked spending time with.

“It’s just… confusing,” Sabine went on, looking into the distance, “To have someone who cares again. I don’t think I’ve had friends in years. Everyone else is already gone.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Oh, don’t be. That’s the natural way of life. We’re here for a while, and then we go… Some too early, and some maybe too late.”

She looked at me and smiled, and it was like years had vanished from her face in that moment.

“But really, Lynn. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Sabine’s smile lingered in the night even as we started walking back to my car and towards our homes.

I convinced myself then that everything would be alright. Kielo and Alvar would visit soon, and we could talk things through. That would hopefully make Rem and Patrick and everyone happier again. And it would make our family feel less tangled. I visited Sabine and spent some time with my other friends too, and school days went by as we waited for more pieces to fall into place.

It was all going to be alright, I dared to say.

And that was of course when the lingering shadows in my mind made my alarm bells ring one evening.

I couldn’t explain it. I got a bad feeling soon after school and dropped my homework and went to Rem’s room.

“Rem? You know that thing you do that makes you have premonitions?”

“Of course,” Rem said.

“I think the bit you accidentally transferred into me is acting up. I think something’s wrong.”

Rem looked at me with wide eyes.

“With Sabine?” he asked, “You’ve been worried about her, right?”

Pieces did fall into place, then. But not in the way I wanted.

“Oh, shit,” I said, “I have to go.”

I spun around and ran to our car and then sped towards Sabine’s home. As I drove, rain started ominously drumming against the car roof. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I had to be there. I thought about the shadows and cursed them in my mind. Sabine was more alive now. She had to be alright! She had to.

I parked the car clumsily when I reached Sabine’s waterlogged house and ran to the front door. No one answered when I rang the doorbell or knocked, and that made me worried. Sabine was never out of the house alone.

She had given me the keys to her place about a year ago, when I’d started helping her more and more. I fumbled with them for a moment before I got the door open with shaky hands.

“Sabine?” I said as soon as I stepped inside, “Are you okay?”

The house was silent except for the TV, where a cheesy cooking show was in full swing. I almost had time to think that I’d been silly and that Sabine was probably just taking a nap.

And that was when I saw her.

She hadn’t even been in good enough condition to change out of her nightgown or put her hair up. It was so weird to see her so… ungroomed. Or it would have been if I hadn’t been too preoccupied with the fact that she was lying face-down on the floor.

“Sabine!”

I froze for a mind-numbing second before I got my body to move. I crouched down next to Sabine’s unmoving form and shook her. She was probably having some kind of stroke. She was still breathing, but her limbs were stiff and her eyes were unfocused.

“Sabine? Sabine? Sabine!”

I realised I was just repeating her name like a mantra, like it would somehow help anything. I mentally shook myself.

Stupid! She needs an ambulance!

I scrambled back to my feet and called the emergency number. My voice was shaking and I was probably whining hysterically for most of the call – I don’t really remember. But the voice on the other end was calm and knew what they were doing, so they must have got the right answers out of me.

“The ambulance will be there shortly. Can you wait there with her?”

“Of course!” I almost shouted, “I’m not going anywhere. Just hurry, please!”

“We will, of course. Thank you for your help. You can now hang up.”

I stared at Sabine’s slack face when I ended the call. Apparently there wasn’t much I could do. Sabine was already on her side, so I just adjusted her a bit so that she was able to breathe for sure. Then I backed against the front door of the small house and slid down. I hugged my knees and tried to take deep breaths.

“It’s okay, Sabine,” I said to her, or maybe more to myself, “Help is on its way. You’ll be on your feet in no time. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”

I pressed my back against the door and tried to listen to the sirens that were no doubt on their way.

You’ll be okay. You have to be.

The calm voice on the phone had told me it would take a few minutes for the ambulance to get there. To me, it felt like eternities. The clock on the wall kept ticking, and Sabine kept breathing too slowly. The seconds seemed to stretch on forever. Shadows were gathering around me again, shaping themselves into people.

Get out, shadows! You’re so not wanted here!

They were the last thing I wanted to see. The echoes of Rem’s power had helped me get to Sabine in time, and that was awesome, but right now I didn’t want to see anything I didn’t need to. All I wanted to see was help arriving right on time.

“It’s fine… it’s just fine…” I whispered to myself, “You’ll be fine, Sabine. You’ll be-“

The shadows moved and solidified.

All of a sudden I realised I was looking at a pair of mismatched trainers and long, skinny legs. The legs were walking towards Sabine. I blinked.

…the hell?

I looked up and saw a woman. She definitely didn’t look like a paramedic.

Besides, the sirens were still in the distance. I could already hear them, but they were still on their way.

“Hey!” I managed to shout, “What the hell are you doing here?”

The woman halted and turned to look at me. My breath caught in my throat when my eyes fell on her pretty but somehow not-quite-right face and her too pale, moonlit eyes.

“Well, this is unexpected,” she said, her voice coming from somewhere far away.

I would have screamed, but I was too scared, too paralyzed to do anything for a moment.

I knew who she was.

“Please, don’t-“ I choked out, but the woman shook her head and turned back towards Sabine.

Then she was gone.

I never did figure out if she had been real. If I’d just been seeing things in my panic or if it was Rem’s powers letting me see what was normally hidden. At that moment, I was sure I’d been imagining her.

But then I forgot all about her for a long while, because I realised that Sabine had stopped breathing.

I had to get away. Nausea and terror and panic drove out all coherent thoughts, and before I knew it I was running.

I didn’t make it farther than the porch. My legs failed me, collapsed like a cheap folding chair. The sirens were closer now, but I already knew they were too late.

I started sobbing uncontrollably.

Author’s Note: I’m sorry guys! It took me way too long to get this out! I’ve been spinning this chapter around and around in my head and trying to make it work because… well, death. It’s tricky and heavy to write. And when I finally started writing this chapter, I was suddenly swarmed by so much schoolwork and other stuff that I barely had any time or energy to really sit down and finish this. So I’ve had to sit on this for days so I can edit it little by little. But it’s here now. It’s done. And I’m super tired.

So yeah… um… well, I hope you enjoyed even though there’s character death. And even though I may not be at my best because I’m really worn out because of all the stress and work. Maybe things’ll get a bit less busy soon. I hope.

Also yes, Tuonetar who may or may not have been there might prove that this story happens in a universe that’s not exactly the same as my Tango -universe, but somewhat close to it? I do think it’s a different universe, because the magic rules are different and there’s not as many supernaturals. Also no, she was totally not needed there but this whole scene was stuck in my head like this for so long that I had to keep it this way.

I’ll see you later and try to get some updates done when I have time and energy. Thanks for your patience, people!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Clash

NEXT Chapter: Grief and Closure

Chapter 27: Clash

Despite the metaphorical keys of life now being in my metaphorical pocket, little changed at first. That was alright, though. I was mostly content with what I had at the moment. I called my friends in Twinbrook regularly, I went to school and met my local friends there. I read and wrote and ran and worked for Sabine, who was again her own, closed-off self. I started cooking for her sometimes. Her fingers had got clumsier with knives, even though they could still glide through contrabass and guitar strings and probably piano keys too without a problem. She complimented me on my average-at-best cooking skills and sometimes gave me tips on how to use spices better or how to make the best fried rice ever.

I tried not to ask about her condition, even as the spring went on and she kept looking frail. I knew she didn’t want me to. Heck, she even kept saying that out loud to me.

“It’s not the job of the young ones to fret about the old,” she said for the millionth time.

I didn’t know what I could’ve said to that that wouldn’t just make her irritated. So once I just asked:

“Could you teach me a few words of French?” instead.

She smiled really brightly then. After that, I started to learn French. Mostly because I could see how happy talking about her roots made Sabine. It was interesting too. I liked it.

When the grass was turning green and the leaves slowly started to show signs of budding on trees again despite the air still being rather chilly for Sunset Valley, Sabine seemed to become more energised. She could go for longer walks again, though still only with her walking stick. She didn’t seem to need so many naps, and she was more talkative again.

The change was more than welcome, and for a while I was happy to stop worrying about her and focus on other things. Like studies and life and our family. But there was still a small voice inside my head that kept reminding me that something was indeed wrong with Sabine. The worry popped into my head at random, when I was reading or cooking or being alone, when I was just relaxed enough to let my mind wander. I tried my best to stop it, to find distractions. At least sometimes it was easy. Like whenever Alvar and Kielo visited again.

They wanted Rem to leave with them again, but they were nice enough to stop for tea and a chat. I saw that Patrick was trying his best to be natural, even though I knew he was still bothered by the whole mess our family was in. By what Rem had said to him about the fair folk maybe wanting Rem away from us.

“So, what do you think will be in store for our son this time?” he asked amicably, but I noticed the way he stressed the “our son” -part. If Kielo noticed it too, she didn’t show it.

“I don’t know the specifics,” she said, “Something about more accurate visions, I think. That’s what Lumi said anyway.”

“I’ll go with him this time,” said Patrick. Kielo frowned.

“I uh… I don’t know if that’s…”

“Why not?” Patrick said sharply.

“I mean…” Kielo stammered, “Oh, sure. You can come. Of course you can.”

Mum frowned.

“Why would it be a problem?” she asked. Kielo shook her head and looked really awkward.

“It’s just… we don’t like outsiders in our place. You know that. But you… I mean, you guys are fine.”

She looked at me.

“How about the rest of you?”

I was about to say no thanks, but then I thought about magic and my lingering worries of Sabine, and about our family, and then I nodded.

“Okay.”

Mum hesitated, but then decided not to protest and instead put a slightly forced smile on her face.

“Alright. Looks like Mer and I will keep the house standing. But do come back soon.”

Kielo smiled.

“We’ll return them all again in time.”

Mum nodded. There was unusual hardness in her eyes. The kind that said “you’d better”. Kielo definitely noticed that. Alvar laughed nervously.

“Well, this is nice,” he said, “We should definitely come here more often.”

I glanced at him warningly. He didn’t look back.

We left for Twinbrook in the next bus, and the ride was tenser than it should have been. There wasn’t much small talk, which was usually fine by me, but this time the silence felt uncomfortable.

At least I wasn’t worrying about Sabine now. And as soon as I thought about that, I started to worry about her again. Of course. I turned to Kielo, who was staring out the window.

“Hey?” I said, “Can I ask you something? I was wondering how you guys heal when you get hurt or sick.”

“Sure,” Kielo said, “It’s not that different from you guys. Just less chemicals and more herbs. And we’re usually more resistant to diseases. Usually, but we have our limits, as you know.”

She looked around us, at the sleepy and bored passengers.

“Maybe we should talk about this later, though,” she said.

The silence returned.

It took us a few hours to get to the fairy forest again. At least now I roughly knew where it was, so the way didn’t feel endless.

The place looked the same as before. There was barely any snow, even though it still stubbornly lingered in Twinbrook. The fairy lights kept the place lit up with their airy glow, and the tree trunk/honey comb houses stretched towards the sky. Patrick looked around in wonder, as he had the previous time he had visited. I couldn’t help a feeling of wonder creeping in either. I wasn’t sure if it was my own feeling or if there was something in the air.

The little fairy kids, Kuura and Halla, came to greet us and wanted to show us their new treehouse. Patrick’s tense expression softened, and he said yes.

“Meanwhile, I’ll go take Rem to Lumi,” Kielo said, “Alvar, you can take care of them, right?”

“Sure,” said Alvar, “C’mon, da- I mean, Patrick, and Lynn.”

“Wait,” said Patrick, turning away from the kids, “Can we see Rem’s lessons?”

Kielo frowned.

“I’ll have to ask Lumi. She usually wants no distractions.”

“It’s fine, dad,” Rem said, “It’s mostly boring to watch. I just meditate and sometimes try to do some magic. And even the magic part isn’t that formidable.”

“I still want to be a part of this, son,” Patrick said, and Rem sighed.

“Okay. Kielo, go ask Lumi. I’ll… I’ll wait here with the others.”

Kielo looked at Patrick for a long while, but then she turned and disappeared among the curly trees and the flower bushes.

Kuura  grabbed my hand.

“Hey, Lynn! It’s great that you’re here!” she chirped, “You wanna see the treehouse? Alvar built it for us!”

“Okay, okay,” I said, “But we have to wait for Kielo first.”

“Nah, Aunt Kielo will find us,” Alvar shrugged, “It’s fine.”

“Oh… well, if you say so.”

Kuura and Halla led us to a large tree where there indeed sat a pretty treehouse. Patrick looked up at it and I saw pride in his eyes when he glanced at Alvar.

“You built this by yourself?”

Alvar shuffled his feet.

“Yeah. Well, most of it. Kuura and Halla and Marras – she’s at her herbalism lesson right now, I think – helped a bit. And Aunt Kielo too. Hey, check this out! This is the coolest thing here!”

He circled around the tree and showed us a heap of junk that actually looked a lot like…

“Wow,” said Rem, “Is that a real radio station?”

“Yup,” Alvar said, “Aunt Kielo found some antennas and started putting this together. She’s been sneaking around among humans a lot to figure out what to do.”

“Is it going to play any stations?” I asked and gave the dials a few experimental twists.

“Probably not really. It could be risky. We know a little bit about radio waves, and Aunt Kielo is worried that someone could track them here.”

He smiled.

“But it looks nice, and as long as she could get it working, it’s enough. Right?”

“We can even play with it!” said Halla, whose head was poking out of one of the treehouse’s windows, “It’s great!”

“Yeah, it sure looks like it!” said Rem, excitement shining in his eyes.

I fiddled with the buttons for a moment longer, but the radio station stayed quiet. Still, it was excitingly surreal to see such a large piece of our technology here in the depths of the technologically very backwards fairy forest.

“Oh, you already showed that,” said Kielo, startling almost all of us by appearing from some of the bushes. She looked at Patrick and then at Rem, smiling. I saw some sort of relief in her eyes and guessed that she hadn’t got herself into trouble by bringing Patrick here.

“Lumi said you can accompany Rem to his lesson,” she said.

“Thank you,” said Patrick. I could see that he was nervous. His shoulders tensed, something they almost never did.

Kielo glanced at me.

“I have to ask Alvar to take care of you, Lynn,” she said and then turned to Alvar, “She was curious about our healthcare. Maybe you can teach her the basics.”

Alvar nodded.

“Sure! I’m sure we’ll be fine!”

Kielo smiled at him and then escorted Rem and Patrick back towards the village centre. Alvar stretched his arms and then put his hands to his hips.

“So, healing, huh? It’s not all that special, really.”

“I’d still like to see what you guys do,” I said. I didn’t know what use it would be for me or Sabine. Because as much as I liked to pretend that I’d let Sabine take care of her own possible illnesses because she so insisted, I still wanted to do something about it. Alvar shrugged.

“Okay. Well, we’d best get to it, then.”

He circled around the tree where Kuura and Halla were playing and looked up, shading his eyes with his hand.

“Hey, Halla! Kuura! You want to go with me and Lynn to check out our gold fruit trees?”

His only response was a muffled giggle, some whispering, and then…

…a bucket of water that was dumped on him. Alvar shrieked and jumped like he’d been assaulted by a swarm of ants.

“HEY!

I clapped my hand over my mouth, mostly to stifle the mix of a shout and laughter that threatened to escape. Alvar wiped his face and then glared at the treehouse.

“Oh yeah, very funny. Ha ha. Okay, fine, I’ll go with Lynn alone, then! You two play nice while I’m gone!”

“We will!” Kuura and Halla said in unison, and Alvar shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, right. Come on, Lynn.”

He led me along the river and talked like a tour guide at some kind of health museum while we walked:

“The fair folk is naturally resilient to many illnesses, but sometimes some viruses can strike them really badly. We have our own healers – led by a shaman – who take care of the sick and injured. So I guess it’s kind of like what you guys have. Just with less… sterile white rooms.”

He stopped at one of the particularly large trees. He pointed upwards at its magenta leaves and golden fruit.

“That’s gold fruit. It’s a real superfood. It’s used both in our food and as an ingredient in most of our medicine. It’s really effective with healing most of the fair folk’s ailments. The fair folk used to search for sites where this tree grew and usually built their villages around them. Nowadays they’re more focused on hiding, so they carry some saplings to the appropriate site.”

“Does that miracle fruit heal just fairies?” I asked.

“It’s less effective on humans,” Alvar said, “But we also have our own versions of antibiotics and stuff nowadays.”

“How do they treat you?”

“Pretty much like another fairy,” Alvar said and then paused before adding, “Well, I think our scouts have stolen some medical books from humans after I came here.”

I looked up at the tree.

“So it’s not like in the stories,” I said, feeling more than a little disappointed, “There’s no magical cures that can fix everything.”

“At least not around here,” Alvar said. He frowned, “Is someone you know sick? Is it one of you guys? Is that why father seems so sad?”

“Oh, no… that’s not it,” I said, “He and Rem have been a bit on edge because they’re afraid that the fairies are gonna steal Rem from us.”

I chuckled nervously, trying my best to act optimistically dumb. I couldn’t keep my smile up for long, though.

“But that’s just… they wouldn’t really do that, right?”

“Actually, they might,” Alvar said, “Not without Rem or his family’s consent, of course. They’ve learned their lesson.”

He frowned again.

“Well, at least I hope so. I’m sure Kielo won’t allow it, at least.”

He sighed.

“I hope this doesn’t get out of hand, though. This whole thing. I just… I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I like you guys. I’m not asking to butt into your lives or anything, but… It’s nice, spending time with you.”

He crossed his arms over his soaked sweater. His shoulders tensed too, and I could tell he was sad.

“I’d like us to be family… or at least something close to it. So that… so that we could keep being honest instead of hiding from everyone.”

“I’d like that too,” I said.

Alvar stood silent for a moment, tense and nervous. Then he spoke very haltingly:

“Can you… can you keep a secret?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Kielo and I went to see my real mum after the… after the incident.”

I frowned.

“I thought you said it’s better you didn’t. That she’d probably flip out – which I totally agree with, by the way.”

“Um… yeah. Well, we did go, and…” Alvar shifted nervously, “She flipped out.”

“Ouch.”

“She almost attacked Kielo,” Alvar went on, “I was afraid she was either going to kill her or have some kind of stroke. So we… Kielo wiped her memories of that evening.”

I stared at him.

“Seriously?”

Alvar nodded.

“Neither of us was happy about it, but it had to be done. To protect us.”

Something cold settled into my stomach. I stared at Alvar’s back and thought about them trying to patch things up with Donna and then just magicking away her memories. Sure, Donna had seem a bit unstable and I could imagine her not listening to reason, but… she was Alvar’s mother and they just mind-wiped her like it was nothing?

“So yeah, I really hope this works out with you guys,” Alvar said.

I shuddered. I wanted to say something, to yell at Alvar and call them out on what they had done, but the words got caught in my lungs.

They were still there when I marched through the village to find Kielo, Patrick and Rem. Lumi was with them, and she looked at me angrily when I stomped into view. Alvar caught up with me, looking very worried.

“Lynn? Wait, I-“

“What did you do to Donna?” I hissed, glaring at Kielo.

Kielo blinked at me and then looked at Alvar with a stern frown on her face. Alvar sighed.

“You said you could keep a secret.”

“Not about this!” I snapped, “You wiped Donna’s memories because your meeting with her didn’t go according to your plan?! I thought you guys had got better than this!”

Kielo shook her head.

“It wasn’t like that, Lynn. It was self-defence. She would have tried to take Alvar away from me. She was this close to attacking me when he said no!”

Patrick stared at me, and then at Kielo with a horrified look on his face. Rem was trying to look everywhere except at the others.

“Kielo… you hurt Donna?” Patrick said very quietly.

“She’s perfectly fine!” Kielo snapped, “She just doesn’t remember me or Alvar visiting her!”

“So you erased her memories of her meeting the son she has been missing all this time?” Patrick raised his voice, “Do you know how hard it was for her? Thinking her son was gone? We thought something had snapped in her, but she…”

His eyes suddenly widened.

“Oh, gods… she was right all this time.”

“Dad…” Rem said in a very small voice, “You couldn’t have known. Even I didn’t know, and I’m supposed to see the future… I’m supposed to be these people.”

“You are not staying here, son,” Patrick said, and then glared at Lumi and Kielo, “Or are you going to erase our memories too?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Lumi said coldly, her icy eyes darkening, “We have to stay hidden. It’s the only way we can be sure we’re safe. We’ve seen what happens if we go out there. We’re also not going to just let people do whatever they want to us! So we don’t go around mind-wiping people without good reasons. What Kielo did was perfectly acceptable in that situation.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“But we’d prefer not to harm anyone,” Kielo cut in before Lumi could continue, “And we don’t want you gone or… forgetting us. Rem is free to choose whatever he wants regarding all this.”

She sent a sharp glance Lumi’s way. Lumi ignored it and kept looking coldly at us.

“How bad would it really be if some people found out?” I had to ask, “I mean, sure, people can be ignorant and stupid and they do lots of bad things, but…”

“So do we?” Lumi guessed, “Was that what you were going to say?”

I bit my lip. Yeah, that had been pretty much it, but they didn’t need to know that.

“Calm down, everyone,” a serene voice spoke from behind me, “What is the meaning of this argument in the middle of such a lovely day?”

I spun around to face the peace-and-love-preaching voice and saw Matriarch Milia, who managed to look majestic wherever she went. She was wearing a long lace gown that looked like plants had decided to grow around her into the shape of a designer dress. Her eyes were still too green.

“We are not here to make enemies out of you or rip families apart,” said the matriarch as if she had been listening in on our argument. To be fair it wasn’t that hard considering the volume of our voices and the small size of the village, “But we also wish that you wouldn’t presume to know our situation enough to start thinking you could arrange our lives better than us.”

She looked at Patrick and smiled again.

“Hello, Mr… Patrick Monsoon-Farley, was it? I hear your son is shaping up to be quite a promising shaman.”

“I… thank you,” Patrick muttered, all his previous fight gone. I suppose forest queens who wore design plants would make any treehugger quite impressed.

“We appreciate you staying quiet about us,” said the matriarch, “We like this place, and we wouldn’t want to leave.”

She looked at Rem.

“And in return, we’re doing our best to help Taru’s… and your son.”

“Dad, Lynn… could we maybe talk about this later?” Rem said, clearly super uncomfortable about the whole thing, “I mean… I was about to go meditate, so…”

“I don’t think this is the best time for that,” Lumi sighed, “Maybe we should call it a day. Just go. All of you.”

She looked at us with narrowed eyes and then pushed past us towards the matriarch’s palace/gazebo. Matriarch Milia shook her head and smiled like an amused mother watching her kids do something endearingly dumb.

“Well, I’m sorry about all this… perhaps it’s indeed better that you come back later.”

“But I…” Rem started, but then sighed, “I’m sorry too.”

Matriarch Milia nodded.

“I’m looking forward to seeing more of your progress. And you all.”

She smiled too sweetly at us.

“You’re all welcome here in the future as well.”

I realised that I could only breathe freely when we were out of the village. Patrick shook his head.

“Wow. That was… much less pleasant than before.”

Rem was fuming, though. He clenched and unclenched his fists and his eyes seemed to go from honey-yellow to almost dark brown. Kielo walked us to the edge of the swamp and didn’t say a word. Her eyes had darkened too. I idly noticed again how similar Rem and Kielo’s eyes were, even though Kielo was now in her fairy form.

Kielo almost didn’t want to leave us, but Rem kept apologising until she apologised too and disappeared into the bushes. Then Rem turned to us.

“Why would you do that?” he asked.

“They just confessed they attacked Donna,” Patrick said defensively, “I don’t know if-“

“Well, I’m not happy about that either!” Rem snapped, “But… I believe them when they said they had no choice. They don’t want to be found and Donna… she wasn’t all right in the head.”

“And why do you think that is?” I had to ask, “Maybe because her baby was stolen.”

Rem blanched, and I knew I shouldn’t have said it. Sometimes I could be the most tactless person ever.

“Rem, I-“

“I never said it was a good thing!” Rem shouted, “I hate what they did, and I hate myself for making that happen!”

Patrick and I had frozen in shock. Rem sighed.

“I know they might want me to stay, no matter what they say, but that’s normal, isn’t it? I mean, I’m one of them too! I just… I want us to stay together, no matter what happens. I don’t want us and them being mad at each other.”

There was an awkward silence, because none of us knew what to say. Patrick reached out with his hand, but Rem stepped back, away from him. The silence grew so much heavier in that one movement.

Finally Rem put his hand to his head and sighed again.

“Let’s go home. My feet are freezing.”

To say that the evening was tense would be an understatement. Patrick and Rem tried their best to explain everything to mum without starting to yell at each other. And when mum heard what had happened, she almost flipped out too. At some point Patrick even contemplated calling Donna and asking if she was alright. And then Rem really did start yelling at him. I sat on a vacant couch with Merrill trying to crawl over my shoulder and tried my best to not get too involved in the argument. I had a feeling that my voice would just make things more cacophonic.

“You can’t call her! We can’t tell her about-“

“She deserves to know!” Patrick snapped before Rem could even finish his sentence.

“Maybe, but I believe the fair folk when they said they had no choice! The damage had already been done ages ago!”

“What would you even say to Donna, Patrick?” mum asked, trying to sound calmer than she was, “It could just make things worse.”

“I… I know, but I can’t just… and what about the fairies? Can we just let them keep doing this? They’ve always been so ambiguous, and now…” Patrick sighed, “I don’t know anymore.”

“They’re family,” Rem said quietly, and I imagined he kept repeating that phrase so that he’d eventually believe it, “And Alvar’s there too. I don’t like this either, but I don’t want us to start fighting without at least trying to understand.”

“And I hope you understand that we worry about you,” mum said, “This whole arrangement has been tricky from the start, and now-“

“I know it’s tricky!”

“I don’t think we should contact them in a while. Or let you stay there until we get this sorted out,” Patrick said.

“WHAT? But I want to learn…!”

Merrill looked at me questioningly.

“Why fight?” he asked, his voice almost shaky, “They never fight!”

I nodded and stood up, lifting Merrill up with me.

“I know, Merry,” I said, “Maybe we should go upstairs for a while. I’ll read to you.”

“But why they fight?”

“They’re just a bit upset right now because of some things that Alvar’s family said,” I tried my best to make it sound like a convincing explanation, “It’ll be fine.”

Merrill stared at me still, eyes wide. Mum glanced at me and nodded as if in thanks. I took Mer upstairs and we found his favourite book and sat down to read. I tried my best to close my ears off from the sounds coming from downstairs and tried to immerse myself in the world of Jimmy Sprocket.

I read until my voice was about to give out and Merrill was getting sleepy. I helped him out of his clothes and into his pyjamas and carried him to bed. The arguing downstairs had finally quieted somewhat.

“See?” I said and tried to smile convincingly, “They stopped arguing. It’s fine.”

Merrill gripped my hand.

“Is someone trying to take Rem away?”

I cursed the whole situation in my mind.

“No, Merry,” I said, “We’ll stay together.”

I hoped I was right.

“They said about forgetting,” Mer said, “I never forget my family.”

“I know. Me neither,” I said, “Don’t worry. We’re safe here.”

For now, it was still okay to lie because the lies weren’t too bad.

“Good night,” I said.

“’Night.”

I walked out of Rem and Mer’s room and saw that mum was waiting for me.

“How was it?” I asked, “I tried to keep Merry occupied.”

“You did great,” mum said and smiled. She looked sad even through the smile, “We agreed to sleep on it and think about it more tomorrow.”

She sighed.

”We can’t really jump to conclusions, but we can’t just let this go either.”

“Yeah,” I said, my voice thick.

Mum spread her arms. I hugged her and could almost feel safe.

“We’ll figure things out,” she said, “And no one’s ever going to break us apart.”

I nodded against her shoulder.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I should have showered and gone to bed hours ago, but I just couldn’t. I knew it would be no use anyway. I didn’t know what to think about any of this. A part of me agreed with Patrick that the fair folk was again doing something too questionable to just let go. And maybe our whole arrangement of trying to keep friendly ties to the people who had ruined several human lives out of selfishness really was stupid to begin with, as I’d sometimes already feared. But I also wanted to let Rem have his biological family, his teachers and the abilities and ties that belonged to him.

So far we had just let the fair folk do as they pleased and keep us on our toes, however. They kept saying that they listened to us and that we were free to do what we wanted, but it didn’t feel that way. If they could just easily wipe our memories with magic whenever they wanted, they could basically take Rem away and make us forget. They were stronger than us if they really wanted to be.

I shuddered at the thought. I thought about all the things we’d been through as a family. To think that all that could be just… wiped away was… I couldn’t even properly think it. It just couldn’t happen.

And I wanted to believe that it wouldn’t. Because a part of me really wanted to trust the fair folk, especially Kielo and Alvar and Kuura and Halla. And yet…

I looked at my computer and thought about all the stories I’d written throughout my life. I thought of the notebooks where I’d written my thoughts and even handled some of the events that had happened to us. They were stories that would never be published; stories hidden in notes and hard drives. If I kept backing them up, they would be there to help my memory for years and years to come. Maybe longer than I lived.

I slowly opened my computer.

I wanted to trust them.

But on the other hand, I wanted to be prepared and feel better about all of this.

So I thought about it for a long while and then started typing:

It all started with the wedding. Or maybe much earlier. Maybe it started when mum met Patrick Monsoon. Or maybe it started when my mum and the dad I have no memory of decided they didn’t want to see each other anymore. Heck, maybe it started when my so-called brother was born – even though I didn’t even know him when that happened and I had no way of knowing he would somehow slink into my life…

It was unpolished and probably not very good. But what did it matter? No one besides me would read it anyway.

Author’s Note: Clumsy meta moment ahoy? Or something like that. Hi guys, it’s been a while. I’ve had a lot of schoolwork and I’ve been working on my other stories. I like to keep this one at a leisurely pace because I feel like I need to digest these chapters in my head a lot before I start writing. So bear with me.

Also did you know I started a new story as well?! It’s an Ambrosia Challenge -story done with The Sims 4 and it’s called Forget-Me-Not! If you haven’t checked it out already, then maybe do that if you’re interested. There will be ghosts and revenge and all sorts of stuff going on there! I’ll try to keep my story updates somewhat balanced between all the three stories I have now.

I hope you enjoy and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Eighteen

NEXT Chapter: Smiles and Tears

Chapter 26: Eighteen

*Beep beep beep*

*Beep beep beep*

“Hello?”

“Wait… what? Who is this?”

“Oh? I… Look, doctor, I don’t… I…”

“I… I don’t know. I just… Really?”

“Look, I have to think about this. Uh-huh. Okay, thank you…”

*click*

“Donna, I… hey, what’s wrong?”

“I just… nothing. Just worried. Thinking about… kids.”

“Oh…

“I know I keep doing it and I should already get over it, but I…”

“Hey, hey. Come here.”

“It’ll be alright.”


I was feeling a bit surreal. Not melty-clock surreal, but just… a bit floaty and weird. Tomorrow I’d turn eighteen years old. I’d be an adult. And we’d celebrate this milestone with friends, family, cake and candles. And after that I could visit a local bar and have a drink legally for the first time in my life. It wasn’t something I waited for the most, but it was a rite of passage I wanted to try. It wouldn’t be anything too special, really. I wasn’t expecting to somehow become different overnight. I wouldn’t twirl around and turn more mature or be suddenly taken more seriously… okay, well, I might be taken more seriously by some, but not in a way that would matter. But there was still something almost magical about it all.

Besides, Bree and Jace would visit. That was definitely awesome. They’d promised to arrive soon after my school day ended, and I’d promised to be there to meet them. And so had Min, who had jumped at the chance to see Jace when she’d heard that he was coming to town.

So in the afternoon we stood in the rapidly melting snow – the proper winter days in Sunset Valley didn’t last long, if even that – and watched the yellow bus appear from behind a corner, and we greeted and hugged our Twinbrook friends and Bree teased Jace and Min for letting their hugs and kisses last a bit longer than necessary.

“Get a room, you two,” she said with a playful grin on her face, “Oh, who am I kidding? You guys are adorable!”

“Aaaand there goes the mood,” Jace rolled his eyes, and then smiled at me, “Hey, Lynn! It’s been way too long again!”

He hugged me briefly, maybe a bit too quickly, and I wondered if he was afraid he’d make Min jealous. Or maybe he was just remembering that disastrous kiss from almost two years ago. Bree and Min exchanged quick fist pumps and then the greetings turned into conversation. Mostly about the birthday party.

“This is gonna be great!” Bree gushed, “I love birthdays; they’re a great excuse to travel all the way here to spend time with friends!”

“You don’t need excuses for that,” I said.

“I know. But I’m soooo busy all the time! My violin teacher is determined to bury me under a mountain of sheet music! And I have so much schoolwork it’s crazy!”

She smiled.

“But let’s forget about all that! Now we’ll celebrate and have fun!”

She caught me in a one-armed hug and practically led me, Jace, Min, and a bunch of luggage towards our house.

We had a system for the few times Bree and Jace visited us overnight. Jace got the spare bunk in Rem’s room and Bree put up a sleeping bag in my room. We’d watch films and play video games and eat snacks. Sometimes Rem might join us, but for the most part he let me have my friends. He usually disappeared to either play with Merrill or to draw or paint. Today he and Patrick were in the kitchen, where Patrick was trying to teach him how to bake good cookies for my birthday party. Mum took care of Merrill this time, so Bree, Jace and I could just focus on spending time together. Min came to our place with us too, and we laughed together at some comedy about robots for an hour and a half and then played some fighting games together. We chatted and asked each other how we were doing. You know, typical friend stuff. I let myself relax and stop worrying. If I had to think about the future, I only had to think about how much fun tomorrow would be. I didn’t want to think about studies or family issues, so instead I let myself laugh at Jace’s silly jokes and cheer when Bree beat an especially even fight during our game.

“Oh, come on!” Jace whined after the match, “I would have so beat this one if you guys stopped spamming such cheap moves.”

“Oh, get over it,” Min smacked him lightly in the arm, “Bree was being awesome and you know it.”

Bree smiled with fake smugness.

“Yup. It’s not my fault you suck at this.”

“Okay, that’s it! I demand a rematch!”

“Oh, you’re on!” Bree smirked, “Prepare to be crushed!”

She was indeed being awesome.

The night seemed to come way too quickly that day. Min had to leave before her dad got worried, and mum told us to start getting to bed around eleven o’clock. Usually we could stay up later, but this time we needed to get ready for the guests tomorrow so we couldn’t sleep all the way to noon. So Bree and I trudged upstairs and brushed our teeth. After we’d put on our pyjamas, I flopped onto my bed. Bree sat down onto the floor next to her sleeping bag and smiled up at me.

“You tired yet?” she asked.

“A little bit,” I said, “But not too much. Wanna talk?”

“That’s what sleepovers are for, right?”

I smiled.

“Yeah.”

Bree was quiet for a moment. The faint light coming from my reading lamp accented the pretty curve of her cheek.

“You know,” she said in an oddly sombre tone, “I really wish you’d still be in Twinbrook. It was much more fun with you around.”

“Really?” I asked, “Don’t you have dozens of other friends?”

“Well, yeah, but not friend-friends like you. I mean, there’s Jace, and a couple of others, but still… I’ve been thinking… would it be possible for us to go to university together? I mean, you’re going, right?”

I frowned.

“Really? I mean… yeah. I’m going, but I haven’t thought about the place yet. You know I’d like to write… maybe go to journalism like mum, or just study Simlish and literature.”

“I’ve thought about Sim State University,” Bree said, “I want to study international politics there. Maybe become a researcher or start working in an embassy or something. I checked, and they have awesome literature studies there too. Journalism as well. And it’s not too far away. Just a three-hour drive from here. Two and a half if we take the train. You could still visit this place, and I could visit Twinbrook. Even that’s just a five-hour drive away from Sim State.”

“Five hours is a long time.”

“Not too long, really. It could be way longer, considering how big this country alone is.”

I hummed thoughtfully. It sounded good. Almost too good. I’d love to study with Bree. Maybe Jace or Min could come too. We could maybe put our money together and rent an actual apartment instead of staying in a dorm… I noticed that my mind was already brewing all sorts of ideas and plans.

“That does sound great,” I finally said, “I’d love to study with you.”

“Great! Let’s work on that, then!” Bree smiled, “It’s pretty tough to get in to Sim State, though. So we both have to study a lot. I’ve asked Jace too, and he’s trying to get a scholarship by continuing to be a sports star. And I think you’ll get in without any trouble.”

“My grades are pretty average, really,” I said.

“But you’re smart! I know you can do it.”

I leaned my head on the bed and looked at Bree. I had the sudden urge to reach out and hold her hand. I didn’t, though. I just smiled at her.

“Thanks, Bree,” I said, “You’re awesome.”


The morning of my birthday dawned crisp and with a snowfall that I knew wouldn’t last. During the first years we’d been living in Sunset Valley, the shortness and sometimes an almost complete lack of winter had surprised me, but for a summer person the long summers had quickly become a welcome routine. Still, there was still something odd about my previously winter birthdays becoming spring birthdays. Sometimes I felt like the human mind got caught up in the most trivial things.

I got up early, put on some clothes I really liked and went downstairs only to be greeted with birthday hugs and a present from my family, who’d apparently made a point of getting up even earlier than me.

The guests arrived in the evening. Min and Michel came over, followed soon by Grandma and Grandpa, who gave me a couple of books I’d wanted for a while.

“You sure you still got room in your bookshelf?” Rem asked jokingly, and I rolled my eyes at him.

“I’ll make room.”

“Uh-huh. Soon it’s going to explode.”

Rem suddenly fell silent and his ears twitched, and then the doorbell rang. I walked up to it, wondering who it could be. Everyone that was supposed to be here was already present. I froze when I realised that behind the door stood… Sabine?

She looked tired, but she had actually made it all the way to our house. I was stunned for a moment, but then she smiled her small, almost unnoticeable smile, and I knew she was really there.

“I was invited by Mr. Monsoon-Farley,” Sabine said as an explanation, “I thought coming here would be the least I can do, considering all you’ve done to help me.”

She smiled again.

“So, eighteen years old. That’s a milestone right there. Happy birthday.”

I couldn’t have even guessed beforehand how happy Sabine being there made me. It was an unexpected thing that just seemed to complete the day. In a slightly grumpy, quiet way.

Sabine didn’t take off her winter clothes or start singing any birthday songs and didn’t even try the cake, but she chatted with people, especially with mum and Patrick, and seemed to enjoy herself. She didn’t seem to get too creeped out when Rem at one point stopped to stare at her with wide eyes for almost a whole minute until I punched him in the arm so he would stop.

She even joined the others when they started a semi-joking clapping and cheering session – started by Michel – when I blew out the candles on my cake.

She left way before the others, though, and I knew why. She got tired very easily, and often took naps even when I was visiting her. She grabbed her sleek cane and leaned to it.

“Well, this was nice,” she said, “Thank you for letting an old lady crash your party, and thank your father again for inviting me.”

“I will,” I said, “And I’ll be at your place tomorrow to help with the groceries again.”

Sabine nodded.

“Well, don’t let me keep you from the festivities,” she sighed and looked around, her eyes shining as if seeing something from the past, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to any kind of party.”

She said it so wistfully. For a moment I thought I could see a bit of the pains and the sadness she kept hidden from everyone. Then the moment was gone and she waved me goodbye and then she was gone too.

“She seems cool. But lonely.”

I started and looked at Bree, who had come to stand behind me. She looked at the door where Sabine had just gone through.

“So, she was your boss, right?”

“Sort of,” I said.

“She’s the town witch,” Michel piped in, “Or so they say. I’ve never really seen her before much, really. She didn’t seem too witchy to me.”

“She’s not a witch,” Rem said, “But she is… never mind.”

I narrowed my eyes. The others looked at Rem oddly, but he was already going back to the living room and left Bree, Michel and I into the hall. I shrugged my shoulders.

“You guys should know by now that he tends to say weird things.”

“I heard that, Lynn!”

“Freedom of speech, little brother,” I said theatrically.

“Mum hates it when people abuse that!”

“Yes, I do,” said mum, who had been sitting at the kitchen table and talking with Grandpa Lórccan, “Even as a joke.”

“Yeah… that was a bad one, wasn’t it?” I sighed, and then laughed. It felt really easy to laugh that day.

I was even smiling when the party was over and Bree and Jace had been escorted to the bus that would take them back to Twinbrook. I was going to bed when I noticed Rem trying to get my attention by creepily standing at the door to his room and waving at me.

“What?” I asked, “If you wanna talk, you can just say so.”

Rem sighed.

“I know… I just… Sabine… she’s sick, isn’t she?”

I shook my head and felt a frown creasing my face.

“I don’t know. She hasn’t told me. Then again, she doesn’t tell me much. She is tired often, though. But she’s old, and that’s what happens when you’re old.”

A thought suddenly occurred to me and made everything feel much more ominous.

“You saw stuff again, didn’t you?”

Rem hesitated for a moment, but then nodded.

“Not much,” he said, “I just know she’s sick. There’s little shadows around her sometimes. Like sparks, but made of darkness. I wish I could make sense of it better.”

I wrapped my arms around myself.

“Go to bed,” I then said, sounding a little harsher than I’d intended, “That’s… not something you should be seeing, or thinking about. She seems fine now.”

“I know,” Rem said apologetically, “I’m sorry.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. All the happiness was gone already.

“It’s okay. I mean, you can’t help it. Besides, maybe I can help her if she really is sick. I’ll ask her tomorrow.”

Rem’s face brightened a little.

“Okay,” he said, sounding awfully young again. He slipped into his room, and I tried my best to get some sleep.


After I’d helped Sabine with her groceries the next day, we sat down again in her living room and watched some rather old film about a growing up and time travel. This one I knew about, and liked quite a lot. I pretended to focus on watching, but I kept turning Rem’s words around and around in my head. Then I kept thinking about Sabine’s frequent naps and the fact that she couldn’t walk long distances properly anymore.

She looked worn, but then again, she’d looked that way for as long as I’d known her. Which to be fair wasn’t for very long. But there was still this… strength about her. Like she was a rock that would get worn but not broken.

Finally, I had to ask:

“Hey, Sabine? Are you feeling alright?”

“Hm?” Sabine looked at me as if she had been way too lost into the world of the film for a moment, “Why do you ask? I feel fine… for my age.”

“It’s just that…” I sighed, “You seem to be more tired than before. And I was just wondering…”

Sabine’s face suddenly gained this deeply sad and weary expression. I’d seen glimpses of it before, but I could only now really see it.

“Lynn,” she said very seriously, “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Yes, I do!” I snapped, suddenly feeling angry. Sabine looked at me, shocked. I probably hadn’t raised my voice in front of her before. We both fell silent, looking at each other for a long while, the film on TV forgotten. Then Sabine smiled very weakly.

“I’m just old, Lynn,” she said, “I’ve seen a lot and I’ve lived for a long time. I can handle a lot life throws my way.”

She paused, looking into the past.

“But one thing I don’t want to deal with is bad blood with people I care about.”

“There’s no bad blood between us,” I said at once, “I just want to help you.”

Sabine nodded.

“I know. But you’re already helping enough. And I take good care of myself. But thank you, really. For being here, and for putting up with me.”

I frowned, but didn’t know what to say. Sabine sighed as if trying to expel a very persistent sorrow she knew would never go away.

“Those letters you found…” she said slowly, as if each word pained her, “They were from my son.”

I stared at her, my lungs forgetting what they were supposed to do for a moment. I’d almost forgotten about the letters. I didn’t even care about them anymore. But now…

“Your son?” I repeated.

Sabine nodded.

“It was a long time ago. He was a soldier. And we… we argued not long before he left to…”

She trailed off and couldn’t finish the sentence. I could put the pieces together well enough despite that and felt something turn hollow in my stomach.

“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say.

Sabine didn’t say anything. She didn’t even look like she was waiting for me to continue the conversation either. She had just wanted to share that and nothing more. I still had to ask at least an innocent:

“What was his name?”

Sabine looked like she didn’t want to answer even that, but then she smiled fondly at some memory.

“Félix,” she said.

I put my hand on her shoulder for a little while. Sabine smiled again.

“You know what? I think I’d like to play some music now.”

“Oh? I… go ahead.”

I knew it was just her changing the subject, but I let her. I supposed it was her business, after all. We didn’t talk at all for the rest of my visit. I followed her upstairs and listened to her play for almost an hour before she started feeling tired. She went to bed, and in no time she was asleep.

I didn’t want to leave her, but I knew there wasn’t much I could do. So I left. I had promised to meet with Michel at a local pub named The Little Corner for my first proper drink anyway. I made a mental note to visit Sabine even more than before, and then I headed for the pub. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be in the partying mood, though.

I walked to The Little Corner, and Michel was waiting for me there. He grinned and waved and I managed a half-smile back.

“Okay, Lynn. You ready for the rite of passage?”

“I sure am,” I said. Michel frowned at my lack of enthusiasm, but then he ushered me inside.

I had to admit that the feeling of stepping into the building and knowing I was an actual customer was pretty awesome. Sure, I’d been to bars before, but only during the day and mum had been pretty strict about not drinking before eighteen. Sure, I’d tasted beer, but found it didn’t taste anything special, and I’d always been shy and introverted enough to never really get the appeal of partying or gathering together for some secret alcohol-tasting. But now it was different. It was legal and now I was actually curious about it.

The Little Corner was a small pub that tried very hard – and in some ways even succeeded – to be Irish. It smelled like varnish and spilled beer, but it was still pretty welcoming. It had nice green walls and a warm wooden floor, and a friendly young man named Gage Briody behind the bar. Michel led me to the bar and then nodded towards the drink menu on the wall.

“The first one is on me. Happy birthday.”

I looked at the names. They were mostly beer labels followed by some cocktails and some stronger stuff. I thought about it for a while and then ended up ordering a beer from the tap and some kind of mild cherry and lemon flavoured cocktail. Michel ordered a stout in a large glass. He raised his glass and waited until I’d also got a glass in my hand.

“Here’s to being awesome. And not dying yet.”

“Oh, come on. I’m not nearly old enough to start thinking of birthdays as just ‘not dying’,” I said.

Then I thought back to my past. To the fires and the gunshots and thought that maybe I was old enough. Or at least I had seen enough. Sometimes life was twisted that way.

The beer was kind of bitter and I wasn’t a fan of it, but the cherry-lemon drink was delicious. None of it was enough to make me feel anything other than slightly more cheerful and light of feet. Soon Michel and I were laughing and I was jokingly quizzing him on his upcoming entrance exams.

“You’ve got to remember this even when drunk,” I giggled.

“Hey, this isn’t even close to being drunk!” Michel said.

“Well, then you suck because you can’t remember it even when sober!”

“Ouch. Touché.

I laughed again, this time a bit louder. I looked at the half-empty glasses in front of me and thought about how arbitrary a line eighteen was. But the line had to be somewhere, and even though it wasn’t really magical, it still felt different. I was now officially in charge of my life. I knew I wasn’t completely ready for that, but I also felt like I’d now been handed the keys to so many places. In that moment I could imagine that I had power to get through our obstacles and to shape my life into anything I wanted, family problems and future troubles be damned.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me, Mrs. Brooke. I’m Doctor Brian Hillstrandt.”

“Pleased to meet you… though I’m also surprised, as you can guess.”

“Of course. I have been thinking about this a lot. About calling you. After your outburst here at the hospital-“

“I’m sorry about that. That was completely uncalled for. I… I don’t know what came over me.”

“I think you do. I called you here because I think you are onto something.”

“What?”

“I think we should sit down first.”

“You talked about fairies, didn’t you, Mrs. Brooke? Don’t worry; I made sure no one can listen in on us. Well, didn’t you?”

“I… maybe. I don’t remember…”

“Ah, yes. You did spend some time at the psych ward after that… medication can do that, as can the heat of the moment.”

“What is this about, Mr. Hillstrandt? On the phone you said it had something to do with… with my son. Nathaniel.”

“Yes. I am simply trying to make sense of something. A curious incident that happened after a family was brought here after a shootout at the beach.”

“It was in the news. Yes.”

“The family of Monsoon-Farley.”

“I… what? Isn’t that confidential?”

“Yes. It is. And I trust you not to tell anyone. But this could be more important than any of that. I checked the records. I’ve done my research. You were married to Mr. Monsoon, weren’t you?”

“Yes. But-“

“And you blamed the hospital for stealing your firstborn baby soon after the birth.”

“That case was closed ages ago. No one thinks it was true.”

“But you do, don’t you? Someone, or something took your child away from you.”

“I…”

“I called you here because I need your help, Donna. You and I could perhaps uncover this together.”

“How? Even I think it sounds insane.”

“Yes, it does. But I believe you. Because I saw one of them.”

“You did? You saw a fairy?”

“Yes. A woman was killed in the incident I mentioned earlier. Her body was… it wasn’t human. The strange thing was that no one else seemed to remember it at all. There are no records of the woman even being in our morgue or being taken away by the police. I seem to be the only one who remembers anything amiss at all. So imagine my surprise when you walked in… claiming that someone had stolen your child. And when it turned out that you were connected to this family.”

“So what do you say, Donna? Do you want to help me? Who knows, together we could perhaps even find your son, if he’s still alive.”

“I…”

“Yes. I’d love to help you.”

Author’s Note: Well, I’d say there’s at least SOME plot going on… Also I’m trying not to do a retread of the first story arc’s plot even though I feel like I kind of am… Except not. I don’t know.

Also Lynn is growing! I have to age her up for reals soon! I based the drinking age of SimNation to the one we have in Finland (and in many other countries).

What else… uh… well, it’s been a while. I was doing NaNo throughout November (and I won! Yay!), and I was also a part of our university theatre’s scrip writing -team, so I put my SimLit somewhat on hold for that time. As for December… I’ve had a lot of schoolwork and other stuff. But I figured I’d get this out before Christmas so yay?

Also this story will be on Book Club in The Sims Forums from 2- 8 January, so if you feel like discussing it, then drop by there then. 🙂

Freezer Bunny Book Club Selection

I hope you enjoyed and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: The Princess and the Pixie

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Chapter 25: The Princess and the Pixie

I wasn’t completely sure what was going on inside Rem’s head, but I knew that the shaman-thing was still bothering him a lot. He seemed absent-minded and sombre. He was avoiding Patrick and spending a lot of time alone. I knew he was avoiding dad because he didn’t want to talk to him about what the fairies had suggested. He didn’t want to break our family, and I really appreciated that. But I also didn’t want him to break himself while doing his part in keeping us together.

I tried to talk to him one evening when we were doing homework together. Rem had been mostly quiet and kept frowning at his notebook. He had erased his writing so many times and so violently that there was a hole in the page. That was very unlike him. Usually he treated paper – and anything else that could be drawn on – with almost reverent care.

“Telling Patrick doesn’t mean that it’s somehow decided,” I said after thinking intently on what to say.

Rem chewed his lip and didn’t answer.

“Didn’t we already agree that running away from things and pretending they don’t exist is a terrible idea? You were the one who said that, remember?”

Rem sighed.

“I just have a really bad feeling about all that. And I… in a way I want to help them. But I really don’t want to leave. So I’m afraid that dad will just stop me from going anymore, or then worry himself sick over it all.”

“Oh come on! Patrick wouldn’t make you cut ties to Alvar just like that! He wants to be a part of his life too!”

Rem tapped his pencil against his head, a contemplative expression on his face.

“I was thinking that I’d figure out what I want first, and then talk to dad. But I’m not sure I can do that fast enough.”

“Well, yeah, figuring out one’s future at age fifteen isn’t going to just happen in a few days! That’s why we talk to other people.”

“I get it,” Rem said, “It just isn’t easy.”

“I can imagine,” I said, my voice getting surprisingly gentle, “But… we’re not going to stay here forever. We’re going to get lives of our own. Grow up, you know. And dad knows that too.”

I smiled.

“I mean, you’re not going to disappear right away. Think about it as a career option!”

Okay, so I knew that it wasn’t that simple. But at least my words made Rem laugh – albeit weakly.

“Thanks, Lynn. Really. I’ll talk to dad soon.”

A week passed, and he still hadn’t talked.

I could have said something about it, even rat out the fairies and their shaman plans to mum and Patrick. But I adamantly decided that this was something my stubborn brother had to do on his own. He at least had to man up enough to talk to his own dad for crying out loud! And it seemed like he tried, sometimes, but then he always backed down and settled for sadly observing a moment of our daily lives as if he needed to memorise it as well as he could.

Meanwhile, Patrick seemed to know that something was wrong. Or then he just had his own issues with Rem being so awkward and quiet – which was totally understandable. He slyly tried to get Rem to open up. Usually he was very good at it. He spent time with us like he always did, but now he seemed to use a lot of that time to lead his conversations with Rem to worries and Rem’s other family. He talked about it while teaching Rem how to cook, and he managed to even work it into their idle chatter during the chess matches Patrick had recently got a habit of challenging us into. And Rem always kept his answers vague and smiled and said nothing was wrong.

It was annoying, really.

I guess Rem hadn’t been kidding when he’d said he wanted to get his own thoughts sorted out about it first. He seemed to be seriously thinking what he’d want to be when he grew up, at least. His uncertainty about the future surprised me; I’d always figured that Rem would become an artist. I mean, his lifelong passion for painting certainly made it seem that way. But apparently he didn’t think it was that obvious. So he experimented; he signed up to his school’s afterschool shop class and started bringing home small wooden sculptures and butter knives and other random things he made there. He read lots of books, most of which focused on different fields of science on nature and plants. He went camping again after a long break from it. He even made new friends. It was certainly a healthier way for a teenager to try to find themselves than clandestine underage drinking, I supposed. Maybe that was why mum and Patrick didn’t complain and happily paid any fees Rem’s new activities required.

I guessed I too should just let him try new things and find himself, even though I figured randomly getting new hobbies wasn’t going to be the sure-fire way to self-discovery. At least not in a short enough time. I was getting worried about Patrick; he was so obviously waiting for Rem to talk, even though waiting was making him sick with worry.

I hoped that seeing Alvar would help things, because then Patrick could get closer to his biological son and the life that was trying share Rem with us. And Patrick did seem happy when Alvar and Kielo visited.

He talked with them, asked questions, and even taught Alvar to cook with our stove – Alvar was much better at it than Rem. But after they were gone, Patrick would go back to quiet melancholy he tried his best to mask.

One day I caught snippets of a conversation through the door of my parents’ bedroom. I knew I should have already grown out of eavesdropping, but I really hadn’t. I stopped and heard tears in my stepfather’s voice. Really. Tears. Patrick almost never cried.

“It feels like we’re family with people we know nothing about. My son was taken from me, and now this… this stranger occasionally shows up and I try to connect him to the baby I saw for a few moments before he… how could they take him away back then?”

“They gave you Rem,” said mum’s voice. She sounded so gentle and quiet, as if Patrick had suddenly turned into glass and would break apart if she spoke any louder. I had to strain my ears to hear her.

“I know…” Patrick said, “I’m immensely glad about that. But I… sometimes I almost
wish that this never happened. That we didn’t know about Alvar…”

“Don’t say that. You love him too.”

“Yeah… but I never have time to get to know him before he’s whisked away again. And now Rem’s slipping away too.”

“No, he’s not. The kids are just at that age when they have to find out what they really want. You know that.”

I backed away from the door at that point. It was what I’d been fearing, but also what I hadn’t even considered before.

Maybe we’d been naïve to think that we could invite a pixie family into our lives and expect it to be all sunshine and whimsy. Well, we hadn’t really thought that, actually. We’d known it would be tricky. Because what else could one expect when both of our families were so complicated? Still, a part of me had thought that things would have calmed down by now. That the fair folk would finally play nice. I shook my head at that thought. Sometimes, when I started blaming the fair folk too much, I had to remind myself that they too were grieving so many losses and lamenting so many troubles.

In the end I decided to stop losing sleep over it and to just watch how things would develop. After all, things could be – and had been – much worse and much more confusing. Besides, I had things in my own life I wanted to think about too. Like turning eighteen years old. That magical birthday was just a few weeks away. Soon I’d be an adult in the eyes of SimNation’s law. That meant more freedom, less adults watching me – at least in theory, though I doubted things would really change that radically in just a few weeks – and of course, more responsibility.

What excited me the most about the whole thing was that then I’d be free to get more tattoos in pretty much any tattoo place I wanted. Though the vegan place, Bridgeport CMYK, where I’d got my first tattoo – and the second one, which I’d managed to get about a year ago to cover more of my scars – was good enough to become my regular place. But even the people at CMYK had insisted that I waited until I was eighteen before I got more. I could see their point, really. The flowers on my arm had felt like a good idea back then, and I still mostly liked them, but I also had a feeling that I might want something else once I was a bit more certain about what kind of a person I’d grow up into.

I mean, I’d already grown so much, but sometimes I had moments of clarity when I knew that this wasn’t the final result. That I’d always be building myself. In some ways I was fine with that. There were plenty of things I’d like to change about how I saw the world and myself, but I hadn’t yet found out what I’d like to change them into. But when I thought about the things I actually liked about myself – which weren’t very numerous – I felt afraid. Afraid that I’d change so that those things would be lost or warped. Maybe a few years from now I wouldn’t enjoy writing or books, and I’d be missing a piece of myself. Maybe I wouldn’t be friends with the people I was friends with now. Maybe the silly moments I could sometimes find a special kind of happiness in wouldn’t make me feel anything anymore.

When those thoughts got too bad, I usually talked with Michel. He was going through a transition in his life too. He was already nineteen – almost twenty – and he had graduated from high school almost a year ago. He had spent the past year travelling to other countries, and then sending applications to universities he wanted to attend. He seemed to be so okay with being him despite clearly knowing that his life was about to change so much. It made me feel at ease, most of the time. And he was great company, even though he had somehow managed to rope me into helping him study for his entrance exams. He wanted to earn his money by building cyborgs, so he was applying for bioengineering and robotics programmes all the way in places like La Fiesta Tech, a university I had only vaguely heard of before this. Apparently it was close to Strangetown, a place that was rumoured to be inhabited by hidden aliens.

I chuckled at those rumours, but also realised that I didn’t completely dismiss them. Compared to hidden fairy villages, a hidden alien community was… well, just as likely, really.

Michel’s upcoming exams forced me to read a lot of tiny text that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me because it was about advanced technological things I knew nothing about. But Michel seemed to be okay with that. He kept saying that I was good at quizzing him on the stuff because I was a fast reader and actually understood more than I thought I did. All I knew was that it was nice to help a friend, and nice to get reminders that people could take directions in life.

And it was definitely nice to take a break to play video games after an intense studying session too.

“Man, you’ve had days to practise this game while I’ve been gone and I still keep kicking your ass!”

“Hey, I’ve been studying!” Michel grinned at my friendly barb, “Some people have more important things in their life than video games.”

“Like being a sci-fi geek?” I said, “Because you’re totally trying to get into studying sci-fi stuff that’s just a bit less fi and more sci.”

“I know. Awesome, right? Also I just blew your head up.”

I returned my focus on the screen too late and watched Michel’s character taunt my character’s now headless body.

“Hey! I was distracted.”

“You’re the one who started talking.”

I opened my mouth to fire a sharp retort, but I was interrupted when Michel’s door swung open and Carla walked in. She was dressed even more fancily than usual, in an admittedly pretty Chinese-style dress.

“Michel!” she said in a somewhat whiny voice, “Did you take my phone charger again-“

She suddenly fell silent when she realised her brother wasn’t alone. Her eyes fell on me, and she gaped at me as if I wasn’t a regular guest at her house nowadays.

“Oh, hi,” she said tensely. She had mostly stopped bullying others as the years had passed, but I couldn’t say that we really liked each other yet. She was still kind of a bitch and definitely too much of a snob for my tastes, and I was too much of a loser in her eyes.

“Hi,” I said, and then turned to Michel, “Another match?”

“Sure,” Michel looked at Carla, “I don’t know about your charger. Maybe mum used it and left it at our gym.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Carla said, “You know what, enjoy your game. I’ve got to be somewhere.”

“Going on a date?” Michel guessed.

“No!” Carla snapped, “Just out… to eat. With my usual friends.”

She spun around as if she didn’t want to talk about it. I got a distinct feeling she was hiding something from her brother.

“Well, enjoy your murder simulator, I’m off,” she said and hurried out of the room.

“This is a fighting game, you know!” Michel shouted after her.

“Whatever!”

Michel looked at his closing door for a while, and then shrugged.

“She’s so totally going on a date. Who’s she with nowadays anyway? That Mark-guy is ancient history, right? Then was that brief time with that Kevin-fella. But I think she told me she’s single now, like… three weeks ago. You hear any gossip about that?”

“No”, I said, “I don’t really care about that stuff.”

And I would have continued not to care about it if we hadn’t heard Carla and Michel’s mother loudly welcoming a guest, and the guest answering in a voice that was so familiar it made me jump right up from my seat and hurry out of the room to see what was going on.

I made my way across the Faroffingtons’ third floor and then froze at the top of the stairs. In the kitchen below us stood three people. One was Sindy Faroffington, behind whom stood a very nervous-looking Carla.

“Mum, we should really be going already…” she muttered, but her mum was ignoring her.

The third person, the one Sindy was talking to, was-

“Rem?” I managed to cough out.

Rem looked up and waved cheerfully. He was still dressed in his winter clothes, and his cheeks were red from biking through the snow.

“Hey, Lynn! Fancy seeing you here!”

My mouth hung open in shock. Sindy beamed at everyone in the room.

“Okay, Carla, Rem, get in the car. The Bistro is going to be really busy if we wait for too long.”

Michel burst into laughter. Carla buried her face into her hands.

“This is so frickin’ embarrassing!”

I still couldn’t say anything. My brother was going on a date with Carla? Just hearing they were sort of friends was shocking. But dating? There were so many things wrong with that.

First of all, Rem was only fifteen – okay, almost sixteen but still. Secondly, my protective big sister instincts stated that Rem didn’t date. Thirdly, Carla. Fourthly, what the hell was going on?

Michel was still laughing. I realised that Rem, Carla, and Sindy had already left the kitchen and probably the house altogether.

“Oh man, this is so funny! My sis is dating the weird hippie-kid!”

“Hey, that’s my weird hippie brother you’re talking about!” I said, finally getting my vocal cords to work again.

“I know! That’s even weirder!”

I narrowed my eyes.

“Since you find this so amusing, you probably won’t mind helping me.”

Michel managed to calm down, and he cleared his throat.

“Helping you with what?” he frowned.

“Finding out where they’re going.”

Now Michel was completely serious, and I could see disbelief sneaking on his face.

“What? You’re going to stalk them on their date?”

When he put it like that, it all sounded really wrong. But not as wrong as Carla and Rem going on a date. It was just… I could smell a disaster miles away from a setup like that! Sure, Carla wasn’t as bad as she had been when we’d been twelve, but she was still too preoccupied with being perfectly what others expected her to be that she didn’t even want to admit she was friends with Rem. They’d been having talks in secret, as Rem had sometimes told me, and the whole setup bothered Rem to no end, yet he still kept doing it because he was too sweet to stop helping someone talk about their problems. It sounded like a very lousy friendship. So how could this possibly work? I took a deep breath and then answered Michel’s question with a simple:

“Yes.”

By using our detective skills – and mostly by remembering that Sindy had mentioned a Bistro – we figured out that Rem and Carla were going to the Bistro Bretagne. It was located close enough to the Faroffington’s house that we dared to brave the winter cold in our sweaters. At least if we were discovered and had to make a hasty retreat, we didn’t have to stop to grab our coats.

I hadn’t been to the Bistro before. It looked pretty nice from the outside, and the inside wasn’t too bad either. Though the painting of a couple in front of a very Parisian landscape was a bit tacky and ill-placed in my opinion. Michel and I took a table at the corner and tried to be as discreet as possible. The staff wouldn’t let us just sit in the restaurant without ordering anything, so Michel ordered a coffee with some kind of caramel foam and a complicated name. The waiter raised his brows, but didn’t comment on it. Maybe he just didn’t like people using a restaurant as a café.

“Okay, there they are,” Michel said and nodded towards the table where my brother and his sister were talking, “And we’re at the perfect vantage point for your silly soap opera-level scheme.”

“Whoa, whoa, hey!” I raised my arms and sputtered incoherently while trying to think of a witty answer, “I… this… it’s not soap opera -level!”

Okay, so I couldn’t think of a witty anything right now, apparently. Michel’s mouth quirked into a lopsided smile.

“Suuuure. Look, I get you’re being an overprotective big sister, but… seriously?”

I looked at Michel’s annoyingly amused expression. Hey, Rem was too young to date like this, and Carla was too old for him. Not to mention she was still mostly a bitch, and- Okay, sure, I was being overprotective, but considering what our lives had been like so far, it was just rational and sensible, right? I tried reminding myself that Michel didn’t know everything about our lives, but he did know that we’d gone through a lot. I had told him about the fire and my crazy stepdad because that was something that could be found out by reading some old news on the web. But fairies, changelings, fragile psyches and tangled families… he didn’t know about any of that, and I wasn’t about to tell him either. And now that I sat here, I started to think that even all of what had happened really wasn’t enough to warrant this… well, stalking. I started feeling silly, for the most part. But I still had one card that made me feel less stupid, so I played it:

“Carla turns eighteen in like… how many months? And Rem’s still barely sixteen!”

Michel’s face scrunched up.

“Oh yeah, that’s a thing. But seriously, I’m pretty sure this won’t last even that long. Carla switches boyfriends almost as often as she changes shoes.”

He was exaggerating a bit – even I knew that – and his words didn’t make me feel any better.

“Although,” Michel went on, “I’ve got to admit that she seems to be happy now.”

I looked at Carla as well, and I realised that there was something really weird about her. Weird only because I hadn’t associated it with Carla until now.

She was smiling, and it wasn’t the forced, fake, or sarcastic kind of smile I’d seen on her face before. Her smile was… she actually looked pretty.

Okay, so maybe my be-friends-with-everyone -brother could make even our high school’s bitchy princess’s heart melt. Still, it didn’t make it much less iffy.

“I have to talk to him about this,” I muttered.

“Oh, sure, you do. And I’m pretty sure your parents have to too,” Michel leaned to the table, “I’m just surprised you didn’t do it right away. You’re usually smarter than this.”

I frowned at him, but then I got something else to think about when Carla turned her head and saw us.

What the hell are you two doing here?!

Michel was suddenly up.

“Uh-oh. Busted.”

Before I could say anything, Michel was running, and I bolted after him before my mind could catch up with what was going on.

We raced out the door – and I was thankful Michel had paid for his coffee when it had arrived, because otherwise we’d be in so much trouble right now. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about how weird and suspicious we must have looked, sprinting out of a restaurant as fast as we could and without proper winter clothes.

We stopped to catch our breath at the Bistro’s snow-covered terrace. Michel started laughing so hard he almost doubled over.

“Why the hell did we do that?” he managed to wheeze out between frostbitten, breathless bouts of laughter.

“You’re the one who ran!” I said.

“But you’re the one who wanted to come here!”

I was quiet for a moment. Michel grinned.

“But hey, the coffee was good.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Michel chuckled.

“C’mon, let’s go back to my place and get you some coffee too. We’re freezing out here without our coats.”

I couldn’t help smiling back at him.

I managed to corner Rem the next day after school, when mum and Patrick were still at work and Merrill was in kindergarten. We sat down in the living room, and Rem was talking before I could even really make my case:

“This is about Carla, right?”

I sighed.

“I guess that’s pretty obvious.”

“You were spying on us at the Bistro,” Rem crossed his arms, “That was… weird.”

My cheeks felt warm.

“Okay, so it wasn’t one of my best ideas, but I was worried! Carla’s way too old for you, and you’re-“

“We’re not dating.”

I narrowed my eyes.

“Then what was it?”

It was Rem’s turn to blush. He fidgeted in his seat and twisted his fingers together. I noted the stiffness of his right shoulder. It had sometimes been acting up ever since he’d been shot there. Thankfully he could still paint – I couldn’t possibly imagine Rem without a paintbrush in hand, and I had a feeling he couldn’t either despite claiming he didn’t know what he wanted out of life.

“She asked me out,” he admitted, “She said she liked me… because I’ve been nice to her and listened to her all these years.”

“Oh yeah… so you decided to go from secret friend-dates to secret… date-dates?”

Rem was quiet again. I knew he didn’t really want to talk about this, but I also knew I was probably the only one who could have any chance of getting the truth out of him at the moment. So I waited. And waited. And waited until Rem finally muttered:

“Just to… try it out. Dating, I mean. We weren’t going to… do anything. Just talk, but more officially. I told her… I told her that if she wanted to go out with me, we shouldn’t hide it. She told her mum, so I figured it was alright…”

He fiddled with the hem of his autumn-coloured sweater and then added hastily:

“I did tell her that it would be just a sort of trial run. For the… dating. I wasn’t going to give her the wrong impression.”

I stared at my brother.

“You used Carla Faroffington to ‘try out’ dating and got her to even go out in public with a tree hugger two years younger than her… voluntarily?”

Rem blinked.

“Uh… yeah?”

“Wow, that’s pretty badass.”

“Thanks?”

I smiled, and then switched myself back into serious-mode.

“But really, we have to talk about this. You’re not going to keep this a secret from mum and dad, are you?”

“No! Well… I’m going to tell them eventually. It’s just… a part of trying to figure out what I want.”

“Rem…” I sighed.

Rem closed his eyes.

“Fine, I’ll tell them. And I’ll talk to Carla too. We’ll… get this sorted out.”

It was the best I could get out of him before he claimed he had a lot of homework to do and left me alone in the living room.

I figured I’d give him a few days to “sort it out”. But no more than that.

So I reluctantly let the matter rest.

Unfortunately some other people didn’t.

Apparently someone at our school had found out about Carla and Rem’s short, amicable date at the Bistro, and this being high school during social media age, rumours started to fly almost instantly. It seemed that even Princess Carla wasn’t immune to mean words and gossip if she just gave enough fuel for it.

It was definitely an odd sight: Carla sitting a bit forlorn on the couch in the school’s hallway, with only her eternally devoted supporter Mina Jones for company, and with a group of other students whispering behind their backs.

“Wow,” I said to Min, who was glaring angrily at the rumour mill that was spinning in front of us, “I never thought I’d feel sorry for Carla.”

I paused for a thoughtful moment.

“It does help that they’re also making fun of my brother.”

Min grunted.

“It’s getting nasty pretty fast,” she said, “At least for a stupid little thing like that!”

“That’s high school for you, I guess. Makes you think how boring our lives are when this is something that warrants so much gossip.”

“Should we do something?”

“Like what? Learn hacking so we can destroy their Simbook accounts?”

“We could tell some of the teachers.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, maybe this’ll die down soon so we don’t have to contribute to the drama.”

I could always hope.

It didn’t happen.

A few days later the rumours were still going, and they were getting worse. It was getting pretty systematic, really. I’d thought that this kind of thing had mostly died down at the early years of high school, but here we were; almost adults and dealing with nasty psychological bullying.

At the head of it was Lisa Bunch, who was a bit less influential, but just as much of a bitch as Carla was – maybe even worse now that Carla had mellowed out a bit. I caught her openly making fun of Carla and her “scruffy jailbait fairy -boyfriend” and calling Carla a bunch of really unflattering names.

I didn’t know if it was just my memories of being bullied, or if it was because of Rem or because I just wanted to show Carla that I was a better person than her. Or maybe I even wanted bury the hatchet and maybe take steps to end the nowadays very passive-aggressive not-war between us. Whatever it was, something made me go up to Lisa Bunch and stand up for the person I’d never really liked.

“Hey, cut it out!” I snapped, “Isn’t that getting really frickin’ old?”

Lisa blinked a few times before she realised that the quiet bookworm from Carla’s class was now standing in front of her. She frowned at me.

“Why do you care?” she said.

I crossed my arms.

“Well, first of all, because what you’re going is really pathetic, and second of all, the ‘scruffy jailbait fairy’ is my brother!”

Lisa snorted, her face twisting into an angry scowl. I glanced at Carla, and I wasn’t sure what I‘d expected to see. Probably not the odd mixture of disbelief, worry, and disgust that was on her face right now.

Maybe she was worried that she’d now be labelled as the loser who had been defended by a bigger loser. But hey, it wasn’t really her I was defending, right? I stepped towards Lisa.

“So back off!” I said, “Or I’ll tell everyone you’ve been cyber-bullying and harassing a lot of people in your sad free time.”

“Yeah! And she’s not the only one who’ll tell!” Min yelled from behind me – I could always trust her to have my back, “You want to keep being a bitch? Then get ready to face us!”

Okay, so that was maybe needlessly dramatic. And my threats really weren’t all that impressive. But they seemed to do the job. Or then Lisa just figured she didn’t want to risk getting in too much trouble – because at this point we knew there would be trouble. I could already hear our maths teacher coming through the door to her classroom, asking what was wrong.

Lisa took that moment to flip her hair angrily and storm off the scene, muttering something that I couldn’t make sense of, but that I probably didn’t even want to hear.

Carla looked at me one more time, and then she too walked away a bit too quickly. Mina Jones followed her like a puppy. The rest of the students that had gathered to follow the scene scattered now that the drama was over. Soon only Min and I stood in the hallway, and I heard our maths teacher, Miss Rodrigues, berating Lisa and others in a gently chastising tone as if they were ten-year-olds.

Min let out a whoop of joy.

“Aaw, yeah! We showed her! That was awesome! I didn’t think you’d really do it!”

I managed an unsure smile in return.

“Me neither… I’m not sure it was even worth it.”

“Oh, trust me,” Min gave me one of her amazingly beautiful smiles, “I’m sure it was.”

That afternoon Min and I went outside to wait for the bus despite the snowy, cold weather. Sunset Valley’s winters were usually pretty mild, but this year it had been snowing like crazy. Sure, the snow was usually sticky and soggy because it didn’t get cold enough, but it was still snow. Patrick blamed global warming again.

Min and I chatted together about normal things like afterschool activities and homework when I heard footsteps approaching us through the snow. It was unexpected because no one else usually braved the snowdrifts just so they could sit on the bench outside at this hour. I looked up and saw none other than Carla Faroffington. She was dressed in her winter coat and had an odd expression on her face. Like she was forcing herself to sniff a decaying salmon.

“So…” she said slowly, “I just wanted to say… thanks. For standing up for me.”

I blinked. Many times. Min had to be the one to speak:

“Yeah, sure. No problem. And no hard feelings. You didn’t get in trouble, right? We heard Miss Rodrigues telling you and Lisa off for yelling in the hallways.”

“Whatever,” Carla scoffed, “I land on my feet.”

That was all she said. Then she turned around and swiftly walked back inside. I stared after her for a long, baffled moment.

“Should we somehow take note of this time?” I finally asked, “As the moment Carla was actually genuinely trying to be nice?”

Min chuckled.

“Told you it was worth it.”

I rolled my eyes at her, but she had just crossed her legs and stared nonchalantly into the wintry sky. I smiled.

“Okay, fine. I guess it was.”

I told Rem about the incident after school. He seemed upset.

“I never wanted that to happen,” he said, as if he needed to clarify something like that, “I just… she wanted to go out with me, and I wanted to know if that was what I wanted. I didn’t…”

“That’s high school for you,” I repeated the words I’d said to Min the other day, “At least in the beginning. You should be prepared for it.”

“I’ll try,” Rem frowned at the walls, “It’s stupid. We weren’t even dating. I told Carla that the dinner was nice… She really can be nice too if she just feels safe enough. But I don’t like her that way.”

I hummed.

“You have no idea how much drama you just spared yourself and our family by saying that.”

“I think I do… maybe,” Rem smiled, “Alright, I get it. I’ll tell dad about the shaman-thing, and I’ll try my best to figure myself out in ways that don’t hurt others… even accidentally.”

“Good luck with that,” I said, “So… if you learned something, I’d say it was maybe worth it?”

“I think so too.”

And that night it occurred to me that maybe it had been worth it for Carla too. I remembered her smile at the restaurant, and her genuine gratitude at school, and I figured that even small moments of decency counted for something.

The next evening it was cold enough for mum and Patrick to take us skating at a nearby pond. The ice on it had finally become thick, and we could try to forget our worries while we skated across the ice and the setting sun dyed the sky pink. Merrill giggled when Patrick tossed him around in the snow, and Rem laughed when he asked me to race him across the pond.

It was another moment of decency and clarity in the confusing and uncertain world.

As was the moment afterwards, when we drove home past Sunset Valley’s beach and I watched the lighthouse’s spinning light and realised once again that our hometown was beautiful.

We got home and mum started making hot tea for all of us – well, except for Merrill, who had hot cocoa instead. We sat down around the dining table with our warm mugs, and Merrill excitedly clambered onto the “big boy chair” to drink his cocoa, and we all stopped to enjoy the moment and us as a family. That was when Rem decided to say:

“Dad, there’s something I want to talk about.”

I worried that it would break our family moment. But Patrick just nodded and calmly finished his tea and then climbed upstairs into his and mum’s room to talk with Rem.

“Do you know what that’s about?” mum asked when she was putting our cups away into the dishwasher and I was tasked with keeping Merrill distracted so he wouldn’t want to disturb his dad and big brother’s talk.

I did know, but at that moment I didn’t want to talk about it. I was feeling tired after the skating, and warm after the tea. Too happy and pleasantly sluggish to start thinking about family drama. I pretended I didn’t know anything, made Merrill laugh by tickling his sides and handed him over to mum. I then excused myself, went upstairs and grabbed a book to read.

I didn’t eavesdrop on Rem and Patrick’s father-son talk, as much as I wanted to. I lingered outside our bedrooms and waited for Rem to get back.

The door opened about an hour later, and Rem walked out with a peaceful smile on his face.

“How’d it go?” I asked.

Rem shrugged.

“Dad wasn’t happy I’d kept it a secret.”

He sat down and grabbed a toy robot Merrill had left on the floor. He started pretending the robot was a futuristic pizza delivery boy, and moved it to and fro in front of him.

“But all in all, it went well,” he said, “Dad isn’t that angry. He said he’d do whatever he could to help. He just needs some time to think.”

“See? I told you so.”

“Mm-hmm… I still don’t know what to do, though.”

I watched him play with the robot and thought about how much of a kid he still was. I hoped he didn’t even need to know yet. Not for a few years, at least.

Author’s Note: I realised after doing the school –photoshoot that I’d used Lisa Bunch as an extra in a chapter where Lynn was still a kid, so she shouldn’t be the same age as Lynn. Buuuut I never mentioned her name or showed her face so it was totally another blonde teenager with the same outfit. Yeah. *shifty eyes*

Also yay for long chapters with lots of nothing going on. :/ Except for character development I guess. I hope it’s not too disappointing considering I most likely won’t be updating in November because NaNoWriMo.

I changed the restaurant’s name because why not. Making the interior for it was pretty fun! But man, I don’t know… I should probably actually do something plot-related here. I just keep thinking that the plot I have planned is sort of a rehash of arc 1… but I’ll think of something different.

Anyway, I hope you find something to enjoy about this, and have a lovely time!

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NEXT Chapter: Eighteen

Chapter 24: Family Ties

I’d formed a new routine when winter had started. Every Saturday I woke up so early that the others were still asleep. I quickly shovelled down a hastily made omelette, brushed my teeth, got dressed and tried to fade out my scars with makeup before I headed out. The morning air was frosty and stung my nostrils in that peppery way chilly air tended to do.

I trudged through the freshly fallen snow and got into our car, driving through a by now familiar route towards the local witch’s house. Sabine was of course still not a witch. I mean, that would be silly because the only real magic was fairies who used their powers to hide and switch up babies. In all seriousness, I wouldn’t be surprised anymore if there was a whole world of all sorts of magical creatures out there. But Sabine Bellechance wasn’t one of them. She was just an old woman who had a lot of compassion and wisdom underneath her bitter and aloof shell.

I’d worked on her garden until it was cleaned up, and then proceeded to maintain it. But when the winter rolled in, I of course wasn’t needed. Not until this year, when Sabine had asked me to help with her groceries and cleaning too. I hadn’t needed to think about it much; I’d said yes almost immediately. Not just because it meant more money. I’d done it mostly because I really liked Sabine.

She was getting older. I noticed it from the way her walking had got slower and of course from the fact that she needed a cane to walk long distances now. But despite that, she kept her back as straight as she could and insisted on walking to the store with me. She looked very snazzy in her sleek coat and her awesome purple bowler hat. She didn’t even seem to mind the cold or the people who occasionally stared at her with suspicion because of the witch-rumours.

“Oh, they need to have their gossip,” she said nonchalantly when we were making our way to the EverFresh Delights Supermarket and a couple of people had started whispering when we’d passed by, “It makes life feel more interesting than it really is here.”

“I guess…” I said, “It’s not nice, though.”

“Well, no. It’s not. But then again, I don’t care enough to let it hurt me.”

She kept her head high, and I secretly wished that I too could grow old as gracefully as she did. Sure, she came off as rather cold sometimes, but maybe it was the coldness that had preserved something important in her soul. Maybe. Whatever it was, it seemed to work for her.

But I had a feeling she didn’t think it would work for anyone else. Especially for me. She talked about it several times when we got back to her house and took a moment to sit down and chat. She especially talked about how people shouldn’t be so apathetic and let life pass them by.

“I don’t mean to point fingers, especially at you,” she said today after I’d helped her with cleaning the house and we’d gone outside to sit in the beautiful snowy afternoon, “I mean, I don’t know everything that has happened to you, but from what I’ve heard, you’ve been taking steps to live a life the way you want despite all the hardships.”

She smiled.

“Although, you’re also spending time with an old woman like me.”

“Maybe that’s also a part of the life I want,” I replied, idly poking the frozen plastic daffodils on Sabine’s garden table, “I like talking to you.”

“And I’m glad about that. But I also think I’m not the most uplifting company.”

“I’m not uplifting either.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Sabine smiled, “You see a lot of beauty in the world. I read the short story you sent to that contest. You know, the one that got published on the web.”

“Really?” I blushed, “You didn’t tell me that.”

“It wasn’t too long ago. I liked it. Dark but beautiful. I especially liked the bit about the two worlds.”

I smiled shyly.

“Thanks.”

Sabine returned my smile with her own.

“Just don’t let life get you down. It did that once, and I never really got over it.”

I pondered her words when I finally started to drive back home. Sometimes I spent the entire day at Sabine’s, and this was one of those days, but I was still almost surprised to see how dark it had got. I wondered if Sabine thought that I spent time with her out of pity. Because it felt like she really had no one in her life other than me now. She at least seemed to think that her presence made my depression worse or something. It didn’t, really. I really felt like we could become good friends once she finally accepted that I did enjoy spending time with her and respected her despite – or partly because – of the slightly sour, mysterious aura that surrounded her.

I tried to remember when the last time I’d thought about the letters we’d dug up with Min had been. I was still way too curious about them, but I knew enough not to pry. It was Sabine’s secret, and a big part of me had already accepted that she didn’t want to talk about it. I convinced myself that after all this wondering, the actual answers would just be anticlimactic anyway.

When I got back home I was met with a happy greeting from Rem. He and Merrill had braved the cold weather – which to be fair had got considerably less cold during the day – and got out to build a snowman. The snow had become just sticky enough once the weather had warmed up a bit, and Rem had already rolled up most of the snowman while Merrill occasionally took a break from eating snow to pat the snowman’s sides where he could reach them.

“You wanna help us?” Rem asked excitedly, “I think we’re going for a traditional touch with this one!”

I thought about wasted time I could instead waste on reading or surfing on the internet. Then I thought about silly cheerful things that made the blanket over my mind thin.

“Sure. Why not.”

“No man snowman!” Merrill sang in response and punched the snowman’s side with his small fist.

“Merry, what have I told about mistreating other people’s work?”

“It’s bad?”

“Exactly. Don’t worry, you can still stick the carrot-nose on no-man-snowman’s face, okay?”

I grinned at my brothers and joined them.

“Kielo and Alvar are going to visit tomorrow,” Rem said once the snowman was done and he had flopped onto his back into the snow.

“Really?” I asked and picked up Merrill, who was starting to complain about the cold, “They got their phones finally working again?”

“Nah. I saw them. I’m really trying to see little things so I can then maybe see the more important things without messing them up.”

Rem moved his arms and legs to make a snow angel – or a snow fairy – and didn’t seem to care that the sticky snow was quickly soaking his jacket.

“Sometimes it’s easy…” he said, “Seeing… but a lot of the times I still don’t get it.”

“Are you going back to Twinbrook again, then?” I asked, “For some more lessons?”

“Probably, yeah. Maybe tomorrow for a quick visit. I asked mum and dad and they said it was fine as long as I was back before the night.”

I remembered a time when mum and Patrick had been really uncertain to let their son go alone to study with fairies, but things had changed. It had taken a lot of visits from Kielo, and she’d even had to show mum and Patrick the forest until they’d been happy. She’d been a bit hesitant to do it, but in the end she had agreed. Now it almost felt like a devastating family secret had become a hobby of sorts. Like evening classes about wonky magic.

“You wanna come with us?” Rem asked, “Kuura especially has been asking about you a lot.”

I shrugged.

“Maybe later. I’ve still got some schoolwork I want to do.”

“I wanna go!” Merril suddenly said.

Rem smiled.

“Sorry, Merry. Not until you’re older.”

Merrill scrunched up his nose and then turned to whisper into my ear:

“Rem is stupidhead.”

“Hey! I heard that!”

I laughed. There really was a lot of sense in not letting life get to me. Sometimes I thought that I already had, but then I found these little moments when I felt light and happy. That was when I knew that I wasn’t a completely lost cause yet.

Sure enough, Kielo managed to call us that night with her cell phone, which she had excitedly figured out about six months ago, but which kept breaking because she tended to experiment with it too eagerly. She and Alvar arrived early in the next morning after they got permission to take Rem away for a day. They looked almost convincing in their winter clothes, though I was pretty sure the clothes had been either scavenged or stolen from somewhere. They kicked their shoes off as soon as they got in, but they didn’t even have time to take off their coats before Patrick was there, hugging his biological son and welcoming them to the house.

“I guess we should visit more often and not just come here to take Rem away every once in a while,” Alvar said, and then seemed to realise how wrong his words sounded in light of what had happened all those years ago, when the fair folk really had just tried to take him away, “…sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Patrick, “But yes, you should visit more often!”

They shed their winter clothes, and then it was time for more hugs. It had become a ritual whenever Alvar visited. Lots of hugs and pleasantries followed by Rem often leaving for the day and then returning at night. This time was no different.

“Hey there, little guy!” Alvar said as soon as he got a hold of Merrill and lifted him high into the air, “You’re growing so fast! I don’t think I’ll be able to toss you around like this much longer. Soon you’ll be wrestling all your siblings to the ground!”

Merrill giggled and flailed his arms wildly. He’d really got attached to his half-brother, and seemed to always remember him even after a longer break from seeing him. That was quite remarkable for a pretty self-absorbed three-year-old. Rem and Alvar had also developed this very natural sort of camaraderie that made me smile. Though I had a feeling it wasn’t without its tensions. They were simply very good at hiding their problems. Or then I was just being pessimistic again.

We traded news about our respective lives, and mum and Patrick asked slightly stern questions about what Rem would be doing among the fair folk this time, like they always did. Usually the anwer was more of the same: practising. Rem had been very eager to learn how to control his fairy magic powers, and he really had made good progress with it during his visits.

“I think Lumi has planned some focus training or something,” Kielo explained this time when Patrick asked her about it, “You know, practising the… doing what you want to do with magic stuff. I’m not really good at the academic terms for magic, you know. I can barely pull off my glamour.”

“I think it looks fine,” I said, “Especially the fauxhawk.”

“The what?” Kielo frowned.

“Your haircut.”

“Oh, is that what you call it? Cool!”

“I just hope there’ll be some time to do stuff together too,” Rem told Alvar, who was trying his best to chat with him while holding a wiggling Merrill, “We can maybe try to finish building that treehouse for the kids.”

“Yeah!” Alvar laughed and then winced when Merrill tugged his dreadlocks a bit too hard, “Kuura, Halla and Marras have been pestering me about getting it done for weeks now!”

“It sounds like things are really going well for you,” I said, “You know, despite the pestering kids.”

Kielo smiled.

“We always pull through.”

“Is the winter rough for you, though?” asked Patrick, “It’s much colder than last year. Don’t you do a lot of gathering and farming?”

“Oh, our winters are always really mild,” Kielo said, “It’s a part of having magic hiding us; it also gives us pretty good shields against the frost and snow.”

“I love the snow here, though,” Alvar said, “I wish we had more of it in the forest. It’s so beautiful.”

“And fun, right?” Rem added, “If it were a bit warmer, we could build snowmen and have snowball fights again!”

“Well, maybe next time.”

“Right…” Rem glanced at the clock on his cell phone, “Hey, I think we should be leaving already. I’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Exactly. Remember to get back in the ten o’clock bus,” mum said for the fifteenth time that weekend. Rem nodded and dashed upstairs to cram his backpack full of essentials like muesli bars, sketchbooks and pens.

They were always gone so quickly. We had a quick chat that didn’t tell anyone much about anything, and then dad was standing on the porch, waving goodbye to an excited Rem and our new-ish relatives. He always smiled after them until they were gone. Then he stood on the porch a bit too long and his expression changed to a forlorn one.

I had a feeling I knew what he was thinking. He was maybe afraid that someday Rem wouldn’t come back. That Rem would want to stay among his people instead of us. I knew that was a totally irrational fear. Rem had chosen us long ago, and I doubted a few visits were going to change that.

Especially considering that the visits were like attending school on weekends. Rem had told us in detail how it all usually played out. It involved quick hellos to the other fairy villagers, and maybe some time to spend with Alvar and Kielo before Rem had to go see the Matriarch’s adviser Lumi, who was the resident magic expert and healer. She always had a magic lesson planned for Rem, and she was stern and demanding.

Usually it began with her leaving Rem to meditate by the river for an hour while she was finishing up her chores for the day. After that came the actual teaching. Sometimes she taught illusions and magic that the fair folk could do. It was apparently essential to survival.

“If you can’t master it, you could be killed, or kill someone else with an ill-timed magic surge!” was what she’d said. Her motivational speeches were usually more on the terrifying side.

Sometimes she tried her best to teach Rem how to control his gift of clairvoyance. Because Rem’s mum had been the only actual clairvoyant in the village, there was no one there who could properly teach him that anymore. But Lumi was apparently doing pretty well with what she knew. She explained the importance of focus and of not getting lost into the visions, which I recalled had been what had killed Rem’s mum. She also told Rem about the most common symbols in visions.

I had thought that Rem’s visions were just personal things, just his way of getting glimpses of something he then usually interpreted through fairytales. But apparently there were some universal details in weird psychic powers too. Rem had once excitedly told me about what some of the things he saw could mean. About how animals often represented people and how a stormy weather in visions usually meant that something bad was about to happen.

I was especially fascinated and horrified by his description of the shadowy, silhouetted figure that was apparently an omen of death. The fair folk, influenced by their matriarchal society, had at some point decided that it was female despite not having enough characteristics to tell for sure. They had named her Tuonetar, who was apparently a benevolent if morbid figure in the fair folk’s mythology. The death goddess or something. Someone who ferried the souls of the dead to the beyond.

It had all been interesting, sure, but all I could think about when I heard the description was the black figure I had seen in my dreams after the fire. Rem had mused that it must have been because he had linked his dreams with mine, and because he had seen death. My near-death, probably. The mere thought made me feel dizzy. I also remembered the shadowy figures we’d sometimes been surrounded with back when we’d been little. Maybe Rem had been seeing them a lot and then just accidentally made me see them too. He had been so close to death when he had been born, after all. It was unnerving to say the least.

I wondered what his lessons would be like today. Maybe more of the same. Or maybe he’d be learning about fairy dreams this time. About how he had been able to link his dreams with me sometimes. Before this, Rem had done all those things mostly without knowing what he’d been doing. Now he had the chance to actually learn it.

It was hard work, definitely, and Rem often returned half-asleep and with a headache that made Patrick regret his decision to let his son go on fairy field trips even more. But the next morning he’d again be happy and jumping around like he always was. And he was always so excited about finally learning how to control the visions and powers that had previously manifested as confusing fairytale-esque metaphors. So I figured it was just good for him.

But while Rem was away, I spent the day mostly writing and doing schoolwork and helping mum and Patrick around the house. And because of that I had plenty of time to catch glimpses of Patrick’s worried face and quiet moments of regret.

In those moments I really hoped that he was worrying for nothing. And I also hoped I could have said something to make him feel better. But I could never come up with anything convincing.

But Rem came back, like he always did. He was tired and went straight to bed, and the next day he was skipping through the snow into the school bus as if nothing weird had happened. And Patrick could sigh in relief and our week could properly start. Happy. Safe. And normal for us.

After school I came home to find Rem outside on our swing set. That wasn’t anything new, really. However, he wasn’t really swinging, but instead just sitting and staring wistfully into space. He was even ignoring the awesome igloo Patrick had built for us while trying to think happy thoughts before Rem came back from Twinbrook.

“Hey, you okay?” I said.

Rem looked up at me and smiled weakly.

“Hi. It was a long day.”

“You were home long before I was.”

“Yeah…” Rem leaned his forehead against one of the swing’s chains, “Yesterday… Lumi told me that I was making a lot progress. That I wasn’t completely hopeless with magic anymore.”

He fell silent for a while, and blinked a few stray snowflakes from his eyelashes. I slowly sat on the other swing and waited.

“She told me that I might be ready to start officially becoming a shaman… their new clairvoyant.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Really? Already?”

“That’s what I wondered too,” Rem pursed his lips, deep in thought, “She did say it would mean a pretty long process of studying and practise and rituals and all… but… I still don’t know. I think they just want someone who can see the future into their village again. And I think…”

He hesitated, and I dared to finish his sentence with what Patrick was secretly fearing:

“That they want to make you stay?”

Rem nodded.

“I think they want me to feel like I have to,” he said, “They’re being nice about it, though.”

“Well, what do you really want?” I asked, “Would you want to become their shaman? I have to admit it would look awesome on a résumé.”

Rem laughed, but the laugh was clipped and not natural like it usually was.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, really,” he said, “I don’t think I even have to know yet. But I… I do know that I want to stay here. But I want us all to be happy. Them too. My other family, I mean.”

I nodded slowly.

“I think that sounds like a plan. We should be able to work with that somehow. And don’t worry; we’ll all make sure no one will break us apart again. Not even if they’re being nice about it.”

Rem laughed again, this time sounding much more like himself. He kicked the ground with his feet and quickly worked up speed as he swung back and forth, back and forth. His smile lingered in the air amidst the snowflakes.

“You’re right,” he said, “At least I want to think that.”

I watched my brother trying to reach the sky and thought about how far we’d come. I wasn’t sure if I could keep my spontaneous promise of us staying together no matter what. In fact, my pessimistic, usually overpowering side said it was unlikely. But I forced myself to silence it, and closed my eyes and let the lazy snowflakes fall on my face.

Even if it was unlikely, I’d definitely do everything I could to keep us all together and safe.

“No… no…”

“Nathaniel…”

“It was all a lie… You… YOU ALL KEEP LYING TO ME!”

“Please, ma’am. Calm down. What is-?”

“IT WAS REAL! YOU CAN’T CLAIM HE WASN’T HERE! THE FAIRIES TOOK HIM!”

“…They took my son…”

Author’s Note: Yeah, this is another sort of set-up chapter. I could have merged this and the previous one together but ehh… I wanted to get something out sooner so the previous interlude-thing was born. So… setting up possible conflicts and other things and desperately trying to make sense of the very random shadow-people comment in the prologue that really went nowhere because I changed my mind about the nature of the story quite a bit in the beginning. That’s what I get for not planning ahead enough!

But let’s talk about something more positive now… uh… I love how cute everyone looks in their winter hats! Yeah! And winter in general looks gorgeous. I could just take endless screenshots of the snowy scenery!

Also, Tuonetar is a death goddess in old Finnish mythology, though not exactly what I described the fair folk’s version of her being like. I figured that since I’ve used gratuitous Finnish to name every fairy in the story, it stands to reason that their gods/spirit guide-creatures also have Finnish names. I apologise for cramming my native culture down your throats… or then I’m not, because I figure I’ve done it mostly tastefully so far. Feel free to complain if it’s too much.

I’ve been having some trouble with loading some of my Fey saves. I think it’s because the saves are getting too big. I’ve been trying to clean them up and so far I’ve managed to at least get them working. Let’s hope I can keep things functional. So far my TS3 has been very kind to me so we can hope it will keep doing that.

I hope you enjoy! I’ll start working on the next chapter as soon as I have time and energy. Right now I’m pretty busy with school and all. Have a lovely time you all!

PREVIOUS Chapter: One And a Half Years

NEXT Chapter: The Princess and the Pixie

Chapter 23: One And a Half Years

Excerpts from Simbook, one year after what the Monsoon-Farley family has dubbed simply “The Incident”:


Lynn Farley
14 July
Finally getting on a plane towards Shang Simla. It’s been way too much waiting.

Margaret Farley
Remember to be careful!

Rem Monsoon
😀 Mum’s thinking you’ll try to bungee jump off the plane.

 Lynn Farley
😛


Lynn Farley
14 July


The accommodations could definitely be worse. It’s really close to the centre, and the building is super cool! Also the picture I took is proof that we survived the flight, with just some numbed muscles and major jet lag.

Jace Herring
The place is awesome. I’m calling the fancy bunk!

Lynn Farley
Jace, I’m right next to you. You can just turn your head and talk to me. 😛


Lynn Farley
15 July


Went for a walk in the centre. It’s really beautiful. Behind Bree and I you can see the Halls of the Lost Army.

Rem Monsoon
Nice! Can you take lots of pictures on pretty scenery? I wanna paint EVERYTHING there.

Margaret Farley
hi lynaöaflk paskxliw llkasöd.

Margaret Farley
Sorry. Merry wanted to say hi too. He can almost type already!

Lynn Farley
Mum, there are such things as delete and backspace…

Bree Vasquez
😀


Lynn Farley
16 July


Got to visit the famous Scholar’s Garden. It really is as peaceful as the websites claim.

Min Han
Not pictured: Michel falling into the pond.

Michel Faroffington
Hey! 😡

 Jace Herring
lol


Lynn Farley
18 July








Okay, here’s some scenery pics. Shang Simla is amazing.

Rem Monsoon
Yay, thanks!


 Lynn Farley
19 July
The time to get back home is getting closer, but there’s still plenty of time to do stuff. Today was a shopping day, but I’m hoping we’ll get to see the terracotta army later.


Lynn Farley
19 July


Aaaw, yeah!

Rem Monsoon
Did they look like they might wanna come to life and attack people?

Lynn Farley
Stop watching so many movies.

Rem Monsoon
Been raiding your bookshelf, actually. 😛

Lynn Farley
As long as you don’t destroy anything…


Lynn Farley
July 20


One of the last times we visited the centre. I’ll be missing this place later.

Min Han
Me too. It’s been amazing.


It really had been.

I sighed wistfully and logged out from Simbook and from my trip down memory lane. It’d been over half a year since we’d visited China. I’d been wanting to get out, to explore the world, and I’d asked my closest friends to go with me. After some planning and meeting up together several times, Jace, Bree, Michel, and Min had all said yes. And then, a year of working between studies and saving up every Simoleon I made had done it. Barely. To be honest, we couldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been for Michel being rich and helping us all. I hadn’t been a fan of the idea of him paying a bit more than the rest of us, but he didn’t seem to mind. Neither had Mrs. Faroffington, who had volunteered as our chaperone and then stayed out of our way as much as she could to have a holiday of her own. We’d had so much fun, and I felt like it had helped my depression more than a year of therapy and pills could. Not that it had magically cured it; it was still there, a blanket on my mind, but not as suffocating as before.

After that, it had been back to the everyday life. But even that hadn’t felt that bad. Things had changed, and I’d say the changes were for the better.

We’d done some renovating in the house, making the cold white walls a bit warmer with some wood panelling and brown paint. Mum and Patrick had loved fixing up the house, and Rem had always been the first to wake up to paint the walls. I’d loved carrying around the new stone tiles that were then put over the kitchen walls, and just helping things come together. Merrill had loved trying to paint everything in sight until we took the paints away from his reach. Oh boy, had he screamed.

Despite his occasional primadonna antics being mostly unchanged, Merrill had grown. He was talking a lot more, and his walking was much better. He could even draw, write some of the alphabets, and do something resembling very basic maths. And when he played his xylophone, it almost seemed like he knew what he was doing. Not that it made the sounds of him violently pummelling the notes out of the xylophone any less cringe-worthy.

Mum had enrolled on an online university course on computing and media to make her blog better. She had even bought a dorky university shirt and liked to walk around in it like she was the queen of the world. She seemed to worry a bit less too. I liked that. And she liked her studies, especially because studying and working mostly from home meant that she could still spend a lot of time with Merrill. She kept talking about how fast he grew, and how soon they’d all miss these days when Merrill was cute and little instead of cute and slightly less little. I suppose that made sense.

Patrick was… well, Patrick. I don’t know if even the apocalypse could change him. He still liked hugging trees and making responsible consumer choices. He spent most of his free time in the garden, until frost attacked it and he had to let it fall dormant for the rest of the year. Then he moved back indoors to be himself. He still loved teaching and kept his mostly calm, warm nature intact even when paying therapy bills and seeing me sit in my room with a blank expression on my face. But now, when I did the blank staring much less, I noticed that he smiled a little more.

Rem was also still his own, kind of childish and definitely creative self. He’d been shaken by everything that had happened, sure, but he seemed to get over it much better this time. I’m sure that seeing his other family helped a lot too. Sometimes Alvar would visit us, and sometimes Rem would take the bus to Twinbrook and then walk beyond that. It made him less confused, at least, and I think he was slowly finding his identity. I’m sure the doubts about him not being Patrick’s kid had kept it on shaky grounds. Sometimes it was weird how having one’s fears confirmed actually made things easier. But only sometimes.

I could say that I was annoyed or embarrassed by my brother’s childish antics whenever he tried to cheer me up or just felt like being an idiot…

…but I had to admit that I’d learned to love that. Probably way before we’d started to become closer as siblings.

I think that one of the best things about facing all that awfulness in the past was that the smaller hurts felt… well, smaller. I could face difficult things with more bravery because I’d already been so scared and broken and yet managed to get over it. Almost.

Maybe that was why I was having a peaceful nostalgia moment instead of worrying about the upcoming spring that would surely be hell for anyone my age who wanted to have a future.

The pushy society dictated that I should already start to worry about graduating high school, even though this was only my second-to-last year. Not to mention how I was about to become eighteen years old. Almost an adult, legally responsible enough to be held fully responsible for screwing up. And Rem was on his way to high school now. I figured I should at some point start to mentally prepare for studying overloads and shattered dreams.

But not right now. Right now I was happy to just look out the window, at the gentle snowfall that had finally covered Sunset Valley after a too-long, dark autumn. The New Year was upon us, and Snowflake Day was already enough in the past for us to have eaten most of the festive food. I felt like I should go for a jog. I’d been eating way too much in the last few days.

I thought about it for a while, and then called Min and asked her if she wanted to challenge her lungs with the frosty air. She said yes, as long as she could first finish the video call she was having with… someone.

I had a feeling I knew who she was calling, even though she didn’t say it. Even I hadn’t missed the looks Min and Jace had given each other when we’d been in Shang Simla. And Bree had been gushing about the two endlessly after the trip. It was oddly cute, I suppose.

I stood up from my chair and didn’t make it far until Rem almost ran into me.

“Hey, Lynn! I was just practising in my room!” he said excitedly, “Look what I can do now!”

He lifted his hands, and light started to form between them. He scrunched up his forehead, and the light turned into a flower.

“See?” he said, “Look how precise my illusions are now!”

I smiled.

“Yeah, it’s awesome.”

Rem beamed back at me.

“Thanks!”

Then he ran downstairs, probably to either paint or to go outside and frolic in the snow. I realised I was still smiling. Yup, things had definitely turned out for the better in the last year and a half.

I tried my best to ignore the feel of a phantom gun in my hand and walked downstairs after my brother.

Author’s Note: Yay for a short interlude-ish thing that probably shows that I don’t use Facebook or the actual Simbook or anything like that… and it also shows my unwillingness to use chatspeak, since all the characters are surprisingly eloquent in their “Simbook-comments”.

For this story I now have a bunch of events that are out of order and kind of disjointed and I’m trying to weave them together into a logical plot-like thing. So I’m not sure how long it’ll take for this arc to really get going, but I’ll do my best to not leave you hanging for too long.

Have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Rebirth

NEXT Chapter: Family Ties

Chapter 22: Rebirth

I didn’t know how long I sat there in the emptiness. All I saw was blackness broken apart by an occasional flash to dead bodies. My breath was coming out in strangled gasps. After I realised I was still clutching the gun in my hands, I threw it away in frantic disgust, but I could still feel the cold metal like a phantom limb.

I faintly sensed someone moving next to me. First it was Rem, who curled up near me. Then it was Alvar, who scrambled to his feet and ran to Villia. Through the slimy darkness that obscured my vision, I saw him shaking her unmoving body and yelling her name in a heartbreakingly young voice. I barely heard through the loud thud-thud-thud of my heartbeat when Laketon of all people called for help on his phone. My hands were still shaking.

I had to…

I…

I k-

No.

Yes…

He would have killed us!

I…

I had to…

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, my voice shattering and tears I hadn’t noticed before spilling again. My throat was sore from my scream, but I didn’t care. I deserved all the discomfort I felt.

I’m a…

I k-

No!

I didn’t!

I…

I didn’t want to k-

Kill…

Murder.

I’m a murderer.

When that word finally formed in my mind, I felt my world shattering again.

I had killed someone.

I had…

My hands shook so badly that I had to clench them into fists and smash them into the sand to keep them still. I hit the sand again and again until it hurt. Then I stopped and would have screamed again if I had had a voice anymore. I sunk back into the darkness, let it into my mind and my lungs and my heart. Tears splashed on the sand in front of me.

When the sirens invaded my ears, I didn’t feel anything anymore.

I didn’t know what happened after that, other than that we were surrounded by all sorts of emergency personnel, and then later our parents, who had again had to suffer a shock because of us. They fussed around me after Rem had been carted away into an ambulance. I noted all of that through some kind of thick haze. Even the fact that Alvar sat next to me and cried or the shouts of surprised paramedics that discovered Villia’s body that had by then shed its disguise weren’t snapping me out of it. I was empty, or then I was just so full of shock and emotions that they couldn’t get through anymore. The people tried to ask me questions, but some other people ushered the questioning ones away. I didn’t even register who was asking what.

One of the paramedics gave me something. A pill, or maybe something to drink. Maybe both. I couldn’t remember. The blanket of darkness thickened and wrapped around me, turning from cold and suffocating into warm and almost comfortable. It weighed me down into a dreamless sleep.

I struggled awake in a warm bed and looked up at mum and Patrick’s faces. They were so worried and so relieved at the same time. I blinked up at them and managed to pry my dry mouth open:

“I… Did… What-?”

“Oh, thank goodness!” mum breathed, “Are you okay?”

No. I wasn’t. I struggled to sit up. The room was vaguely familiar. Maybe because hospital rooms always looked basically the same.

“Where…?” I trailed off. I didn’t even know what I was asking. Patrick interpreted it pretty well, though.

“Rem’s in surgery right now,” he said, “The doctors are optimistic about it. Still, he…” he swallowed, “He had a bullet in his shoulder…”

I pressed my mouth into a thin line. Mum gave both Patrick and I one-armed hugs.

“Everything’s going to be just fine,” she said quietly.

I buried my head into my hands and burst into tears.

I couldn’t remember what exactly happened. It all was a haze in my head, partly because of the shock and partly because of the medication they had to occasionally give me to calm me down. I remembered people introducing themselves to me, but their names slipped my mind almost as soon as they got there. I remembered people asking Alvar about Villia and about his family, even though Alvar was in a similar state of shock as I was, I think. I saw his blank face and how he curled up in a ball and couldn’t answer most of the questions directed at him. Sometimes I wanted to open my mouth and tell Patrick: “That’s your son! Go to him! Take care of him!” But I couldn’t. Not now. It definitely wasn’t the time nor the place.

I wasn’t sure how long it took for the worst of the chaos to pass. I wasn’t even sure how long Rem was in the operating theatre. It had to be less than what my mind stretched it into. I was in a fog, or in the same darkness I had tried to leave behind years ago.

I didn’t know if I could do that this time.

I was a murderer, after all.

When I managed to surface from the cold, dark thoughts for the first time to at least get some air, I was sitting on a white, modern chair and breathing in the scent of hospital. Mum, Patrick, and I were waiting outside of the room where Rem was slowly waking up in.

“Lynn?” said mum very quietly, “Are you awake?”

I blinked sleepily, realising that my brain was sluggish and relaxed at the moment. I nodded and watched numbly as Merrill played in a kids’ corner across the hall. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alvar sitting a few doors away from us. His clothes had got soaked with Villia’s blood when he had clung to her, and he was now wearing an old university hoodie and too big jeans from the hospital’s lost-and-found box. He looked so lost that I wanted to hug him. I really hoped someone would come looking for him.

“Lynn?” mum asked again.

“I wish I could be like Merrill,” I answered, although it wasn’t a real answer. I bit my lip, “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be,” said Patrick.

They had told me so many times already that what I’d done had been in self-defence. That all I was going to get for it was some therapy to help me get through it. According to them, Laketon of all people had been quick to tell the police that I was not a murderer. And then he had disappeared from our lives again.

I wondered idly where he was now.

I heard Alvar let out a quiet sob. The fog in me lifted just enough to let my heart ache for him again. Patrick looked at Alvar worriedly.

“Poor kid,” he said, “No one’s been picking him up.”

That’s your son. Go to him.

I stood up and excused myself for a while. I sat next to Alvar. He jumped slightly when he realised I was there.

“Hey,” I said quietly.

Alvar nodded, and then wrung his hands.

“Are you… how are you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said in a monotone, “I… I think they took Aunt Villia away… They shouldn’t see her like that. It’s against the rules.”

The ache in my heart got worse.

“I don’t think that matters right now,” I said.

“It always matters,” Alvar sniffed, “She… I don’t get it! She was always telling us about her adventures and how she got through all the tight spots. And I knew how awesome she was. I just…” his voice broke, “I always thought that she was invincible.”

I thought about her lying on the sand in a pool of blood. It had been so sudden. So… unceremonious that it made me sick. In a way I too had thought of Villia as a mighty force. And she had been that. The Tree Lady. The mystical schemer from the leafy shadows. But now… to be taken out like that… It wasn’t fair. And I couldn’t even imagine how Alvar felt. He’d already lost so much. And on top of that he was sitting right next to his long-lost biological dad and couldn’t even approach him.

“I’m so sorry,” I managed to say. We fell silent. Alvar sniffed a couple of times, and his tears made his eyes shimmer.

“Is… is anyone coming for you?” I asked after a while. Alvar shrugged.

“Aunt Kielo, maybe. I’m sure she’s worried about me, at least.”

He sighed.

“How did it go so wrong?” he asked, and I was sure he was asking that from the universe rather than me. But since universe remained cold and quiet, I answered for it:

“It was bad luck. Terribly, terribly bad luck.”

Alvar nodded.

“Is Rem going to be okay?” he asked.

“I think so.”

Alvar glanced at mum and Patrick again. His eyes lingered on Patrick’s face. His breath hitched, and he shook his head.

“Shit…” he muttered, “This… I don’t know how to deal with this.”

“Neither do I,” I hesitated before adding, “You should talk to him, though.”

“I know. But I… I’ll wait until Rem wakes up.”

I nodded. I saw mum and Patrick look at us worriedly, and stood up. The darkness threatened to push me to the floor.

“Hey,” Alvar said after me, “You’re a hero. Don’t… don’t be too hard on yourself.”

I froze. The darkness wavered, but became suffocating again.

“I… I’m not,” I said, “I’m not… anything.”

I hurried to sit next to mum again. Mum and Patrick looked at me questioningly.

“Have we met him?” Patrick asked, “I mean, it’s of course nice of you to talk to him. But it’s just that he… looks familiar.”

I hesitated before nodding.

“You’ve met him. Don’t be surprised if you don’t remember it properly, though. It was… a long time ago.”

It just made them more confused, but I wasn’t about to say more. We sat in silence, or maybe it was just me who was silent, until we were invited in to see the now awake Rem.

He looked terrible, but at least he was alive. For a while, there were no words. Just us lining up to give him very careful, teary hugs.

The next few days blurred together. I rested a lot, mostly because of the sedatives I’d been given. My waking hours were spent forcing myself to function and getting a lot of hugs that were slowly trying to chip away the blanket of dark around me.

At some point I was taken to a psychiatrist, who had a warmly decorated office and a very naturally friendly smile. I filled some forms and talked about my guilt and about me being a murderer. I don’t remember what I said. All I remember was the feeling of something having got stuck in my brain. Like the gears had slipped out of alignment and were struggling to move. Sometimes it repeated the murderer-mantra on a loop. Sometimes I was so tired I didn’t want to think anymore.

In the end the visits to the therapist did help, a little bit. It was still too early to say anything final about my recovery, but at least the feelings of being stuck let up somewhat already by the third visit. After that the thoughts started flowing again, and there were too many of them.

I cried a lot after that. Again. I cried because of what had happened. I cried for us and for Alvar and Villia. I cried because of secrets and mysteries and deadbeat dads. And then the tears stopped coming for a long while. I was all cried out. Mum was there most of the time, hugging me like I was a little kid – because I was – and I would often hug Merrill, who still probably only had a vague idea of what had happened.

In-between that we visited Rem as much as we could, and when we couldn’t visit him we asked the doctors for some updates on his condition. He was slowly recovering. He was as exhausted and sleepy as I was, and he barely spoke a word even when we were there with him. He looked at me with a very gentle look sometimes, though. As if to say “Stop doing that to yourself.” Alvar visited too sometimes. He looked so lost in his borrowed clothes and with a police officer with him. He was under police protection until someone would pick him up. The police sometimes asked me questions too. I tried to answer in ways that wouldn’t make me break down again.

It was maybe the fourth or the fifth day after the incident when Kielo showed up. She came in with a pair of police officers, who thankfully stayed back and let her bring Alvar to us without asking too many questions.

At first I didn’t recognise her. But then I saw the yellow eyes and the pointy ears and made the connection. She presented herself as Alvar’s aunt named Lilian Fern and wanted to speak to us. Mostly it was just to say: “Thank you.”

When she asked to see Rem, however, Patrick stepped forth.

“I’m sorry, miss,” he said, “But my son’s not feeling very well yet.”

His eyes added: and we don’t know you well enough.

The door to Rem’s room cracked open, however, and Rem peeked through.

“Dad…” he said in a scratchy voice, “They can come in. And… you and mum too.”

He shifted his feet and clung to the door handle.

“I’ve got something I really need to tell you.”

I looked at Rem with raised brows.

“Are you sure you can deal with this now?” I asked.

Rem nodded fiercely.

“It has to be now. Hiding… hiding things has just got us here. I’ll be fine.”

“Rem? What’s going on?” asked mum.

“It’s… it’s fine, mum,” Rem said, “Just… you really need to know this.”

I was left in the hallway with Merrill, then. When Kielo walked into Rem’s room, I noticed the air wavering around her, and I assumed she was doing it so possible outsiders wouldn’t hear what was going to be said in the room.

It didn’t stop people from seeing the doors fly open after half an hour, and Patrick’s quiet, trembling voice ordering Kielo and Alvar out.

Alvar looked blankly at the floor.

“Well, that went about as well as I feared,” managed to say.

Kielo patted him on the shoulder.

“Give him time,” she said, and then she looked up at me and smiled sadly.

“This is really going to take some explaining, isn’t it?” she said. She sighed, “This shouldn’t have gone this way at all…”

“No,” I said, “It shouldn’t have.”

I glanced at Alvar, who looked ready to cry.

“But I’m glad someone came for Alvar.”

Kielo smiled.

“Of course I did! When he didn’t come home, I started looking for him at once.”

She wrapped her arms around Alvar.

“We may be running out of family, but that just means we have to stick together even better.”

“Yeah,” I managed to say through the sorrow that was stuck in my throat, “I’m so sorry about all this.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Kielo said firmly, “None of it was.”

She had to know about the shooting. I gave her a faint smile. Maybe one day I could believe when people said that.

I wasn’t sure how long Rem, mum, and Patrick spent in the room, talking and explaining and occasionally yelling. It had to be hours. But finally Patrick opened the door again.

This time there were no words anymore. At least not many. Patrick hesitated for a moment, but then his eyes started to shimmer with unshed tears.

“Nathaniel?” he whispered.

Alvar nodded.

“If that’s what you used to call me, then yeah. But… I’m Alvar now.”

Patrick nodded and smiled through his tears.

“Yes. Alvar. Of course.”

Then they hugged. Father and son. For the first time in days I felt something warm in my chest. It was so close to happiness that I felt like we could maybe survive this set of traumas as well.

Together.

In the end, nothing changed.

Well, that wasn’t true. Because almost everything changed. Our perception of the world, to begin with. But in the end, Rem stayed a Monsoon and Alvar stayed an honorary member of the fair folk. What changed on the surface was the link that was probably the first friendly one between humans and the fair folk in centuries.

It was a tentative start, really. I was sure mum and Patrick weren’t yet fully ready to accept the fact that their sons were changelings and that magic and fairies existed. But when a couple of fairies were standing right in front of them, it was pretty hard not to believe it. And I saw some kind of enchantment in their eyes at times. Like they… loved the idea of magic on some yet unrealised level.  They were less thrilled about the being lied to and having a child stolen -side of things. But even with that… it went much smoother than I’d expected. Maybe they figured there had already been enough anger and abuse around us lately.

So they were friendly and ready to listen. And Alvar even got the permission to hold Merrill. He was so amazed, and his large hand curled around Merrill’s small one, and there was maybe a quiet connection between Merrill’s slightly muddled babbling and Alvar’s delighted, one-worded answers.

Even Kielo seemed to be overjoyed, and actually relaxed after that. She somehow managed to wrap all the people in the hospital around her finger during her short stay.

Maybe it was magic, maybe it was her charmingly sarcastic and slightly mischievous personality. Maybe both. All I knew was that the people in the hospital loved her and she made them smile. I think she even affected me a little. Or maybe my head was realising that it really needed some smiles. In the end, Alvar and Kielo left the hospital with a promise to keep contact, and a promise to return once things had calmed down a bit and once it was easier to really talk things through.

I had a feeling that the real reason why they left wasn’t really not wanting to intrude on an already chaotic situation for long. For soon after they had left, Villia’s body disappeared from the hospital’s morgue, and it caused a buzz for about a day until everyone just seemed to forget about her. All that was left were vague images of bodies that weren’t real after all. The only ones who remembered Villia in the hospital after that were Rem and I. Or at least that was what we concluded. Meanwhile, Kielo and Alvar quietly disappeared from Twinbrook as well, possibly walking into the mist of the swamp like a fading dream.

Rem started to recover rather quickly after that. And I kept going to therapy that turned from talks about guilt to talks about the future. I didn’t know what that had to do with the fact that I had just… killed a man… but it made me feel better, at least. I sat on a cream-coloured couch and slowly started to realise how long a journey I had ahead of me. There was a glimpse of the horizon I had always kept in sight and what had recently been obscured by guilt and depression.

The air around me became lighter again, and this time it wasn’t because of fairy magic.

Around the same time when Rem was about to be discharged, the police informed us that the redheaded woman they had arrested on the beach had talked. That they knew which criminal gang she and the other thug worked for. They told us that with the recent events backing them up, they could arrest the higher-ups of the gang in no time. I felt like I was free to breathe again. Like we were all free to breathe.

Rem got properly out of the hospital under police protection about two and a half weeks after the incident. Grandma and Grandpa were waiting for us with pie and some of our old Twinbrook friends. Bree and Jace greeted me with relieved smiles, and we gathered into a group hug. There had been a bit too many hugs in my life lately, but I realised I minded them much less than before.

Jace looked rather embarrassed when he talked to me, though, so I sighed and put my hand on his shoulder.

“Look, Jace,” I said, “I know things went weird between us, but I just shot a guy who tried to kill me and my family, so… let’s agree that an awkward kiss is like nothing and move on.”

Jace burst into a relieved laugh, and Bree beamed at me.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re taking this all really well.”

She narrowed her eyes after she’d said that, though.

“Well, you aren’t, really. Are you?”

My smile faded.

“I’m getting there,” I said to reassure her. And because I wanted to think that I really was.

We returned to Sunset Valley a couple of days later. Our home was waiting for us, and I realised just now how much I’d missed it. It wasn’t quite the same, of course, but it wasn’t as bad as when we’d gone through trauma before. I knew that we still had to follow the police case of the criminal gang for a while longer, and I knew that I’d still have to go to therapy, but at least it still felt like home.

The rest of the summer went quietly, like it wanted to slip out of our lives as quickly and unnoticed as possible. Given what had happened during it, I couldn’t really blame it.

Towards the end of the summer I received an email that said I’d actually won one of the writing contests I’d spammed my stories with. It was a decent amount of money. A couple of months ago I’d have been ecstatic. Now the darkness that – despite it being less thick than before – had settled in my head just allowed me to smile gently. I saved the money I’d earned and thought about my tattoos. But I also thought about horizons, and an idea tried to break through the darkness. I went to sleep that night with a buzzing in my mind.

“You want to leave,” Rem said one day when we sat on the porch. It had become a good place to talk. It had fresh air and a chance for Rem to trace the smooth, wooden steps with his bare feet.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“The fact that you want to. Don’t you?”

I thought about the horizons again.

“Just for a little while,” I said, “And not yet. I mean, I’m only just adjusting to taking the depression meds so I think I’ll wait for the worst to pass.”

“I think it’s a good idea.”

“Mm-hmm. I was thinking of saving up some more money and asking some of my friends if they’d want to travel abroad with me. I’ll be going to university or wherever I’m going in just a couple of years. This could be my last chance to actually see the world without too many other things messing it up.”

Rem nodded.

“Before this we were too afraid to go.”

“Yeah.”

Rem studied his hands.

“I was thinking of visiting Alvar and the others soon. I promised, after all. And I really want to learn to use my magic properly. Do you want to come with me?”

“I don’t think mum and dad will let you go yet. Twinbrook’s police is still hunting those criminals.”

Rem nodded quietly and then smiled at the slowly setting sun. It made his hair look like it was catching fire.

“Well, there’s still plenty of time.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Who knows what will happen.”

Who indeed? We sat in a comfortable silence, brother and sister. Because for the first time ever, there was nothing so-called about our bond as siblings.

I had to admit that I liked that.

The horizon turned pink, and I knew that soon it would be red like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Full of promise and mystery and hope. I smiled through the shadows.

“In the end, I think we’ll be alright,” Rem said as if he was reading my thoughts.

“Yeah,” I said, “In the end.”

The sun seemed to agree, or then it was just my imagination. Probably the imagination.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Alvar?”

“…Yes. I’m sure.”

“Alright. Then… I’ll be right behind you.”

“I know.”

“Hello?”

“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, but are you Donna Brooke?”

“Yes, I am, who… oh my gods!”

“Nathaniel?”

“You… you recognise me?”

“I… of course I do! You’re my son!”

“I’ve… I’ve missed you so much!”

“Mother… I’m sorry.”

“Shhh… It wasn’t your fault! You were just a baby. Those… howwhere have you been?”

“Um…”

“Go on, Alvar, that’s why we’re here, right? Closure.”

“Okay… well, it’s a bit of a long story…”

“Well, that didn’t go nearly as well as with father.”

“I was afraid this would happen. Villia told me that your mother was very obsessed with your loss.”

“I wish we didn’t have to… do all that, though.”

“I hoped so too. But… she… I hoped we could have trusted both of your parents with the truth. Don’t worry. She’ll wake up with no memory of this.”

“I guess… Sorry, mother.”

“Hey, cheer up! At least you have a dad now! And us! We’ll be perfectly okay.”

“Yeah. It’s better to be safe than… pursued by a grieving mother, I guess.”

“Exactly. Now, come on. Let’s go. I really want to get the hang of this cell phone -thing!”

“…Nathaniel…”

Author’s Note: Well, this is what I call the end of the first long story arc. Yay! It just took a bit over a year and over 100 000 words. 😀 But this is not the end of the story. I still have another story arc planned, and I have to tie together those subplots, like Lynn’s work as Sabine’s gardener and stuff. Also I think I should do something about Donna and the fair folk and… yeah, things will still happen. The arc I’ve planned should follow Lynn and Rem to adulthood, or at least young adulthood, but I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Thank you all who have stopped by to read, like, comment, or even just given this a passing glance. I really appreciate your support, and you guys are awesome!

Have a lovely time, and I’ll see you after a little break that I’ll take now because I need to plan the next story arc a bit better before I continue. In the meantime, stop by on my other story if you feel like it. I seem to have too many ideas for that too.

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