Ehl1.8 sisterly love

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Aranel makes her bid to get into private school, while Anariel grows into childhood, the adults scheme, and the three musketeers do their own thing once more.

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Ehl1.8 sisterly love

  1. 1. The Elven Heritage Legacy chapter 1.8: Sisterly Love<br />2 days only, between Ana’s child birthday and the interlude (will contain Lydia’s child birthday as well, but not Orion’s)<br />
  2. 2. Though the days downtown were dreary in the extreme, Midina never noticed. For one thing, having two toddlers in the house while looking for a job at the same time was exhausting, and she rarely set foot beyond the front door.<br />Despite this, however, the off-white walls that contained her days had never been brighter. Whether it was because at any moment, the phone was likely to ring, with Eluisa or Chalimyra on the other end, or because Orion had just begun to talk, she couldn’t have said. <br />That wasn’t to say that she didn’t look forward greatly to the times that the children were asleep and she and Makir were alone. She greatly enjoyed being his muse, and she had never felt more loved than when he would paint with her in the room.<br />She just wished that she were able to stay awake for more of it.<br />
  3. 3. “Good morning, Muse,” Makir said, taking her hand.<br />“That’s funny – it was afternoon when I fell asleep,” she replied.<br />“Okay, good afternoon then,” he amended. “There are more comfortable places than the couch, you know.”<br />Midina shrugged. “I separated the twin terrors so they wouldn’t keep waking each other up halfway through their naps. Are they still asleep?”<br />“If they weren’t we would have heard by now,” he replied wryly.<br />She rolled her eyes at him, then took a deep breath and said, “Good. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”<br />
  4. 4. Half a hamburger later, she wasn’t certain why she was nervous. She’d never had trouble discussing – well, hinting at – this before. Not with anyone. Usually guys were more than ready to take hints that weren’t even there. It wasn’t like he wasn’t interested in her either… no, a kiss like that couldn’t be faked.<br />And it wasn’t as if she wasn’t grateful for what she had, she reminded herself firmly, she just needed to know whether or not it was always going to stay this way.<br />He was looking at her from across the table, she knew. But he wasn’t going to ask her what she had wanted to talk to him about, even if the toddlers woke up and they ran out of time. No, he would wait until she was ready to tell him.<br />
  5. 5. Strangely enough, it was that thought which gave her the confidence to begin.<br />“So, I was just thinking… okay, I’ve been thinking for a while… about why it is that we’ve never – oh, you know.”<br />“Know…?”<br />“Made the wacky-eyed purple hearts,” she said quickly. Even though she had no idea why it was called that. “I mean, you’re an artist and I’m your muse, I understand that, but it isn’t as if you’ve made a vow to live as a monk or something.”<br />Surprisingly, he dropped his eyes to the table. “I wanted to,” he said softly, “But…”<br />“But what?” She didn’t have his patience.<br />
  6. 6. “But I didn’t feel like it was fair to put any pressure on you about it. I mean… well, I didn’t know if you were ready.”<br />For a long moment, Midina blinked at her hamburger. It wasn’t just the onions. She had thought of everything but that. Even though she thought she knew him so well, she hadn’t known this. He would always wait for her, even if he had to keep waiting for the end of time.<br />“Midi… say something,” he said softly, “are you ready? The fact that you asked tells me maybe, but I need to know for sure.”<br />“Yes,” she replied, “I am very ready.”<br />“Mama! I’m up, Mama!” Lydia called from the bedroom, signaling the end of her nap. There was only time for the two of them to exchange a brilliant smile before Orion joined in.<br />
  7. 7. The fact that it was snowing during the spring further north in Lake Valley deterred no one from having an excess amount of fun. As usual, Achenar could be found running about through the snow with Elirand and Calla. Aranel often disappeared over to the Greenleaf household, or into her room to plot how best to get into private school. <br />But the best news of all, at least in the eyes of Haldir and Viridia, was the fact that Viridia’s eyes were green once again.<br />
  8. 8. Things at the Elvensong household were perfect. <br />Well, almost.<br />“Cheer up, Sunflower,” Haldir advised his wife, catching her staring at Anariel playing with her toys once again.<br />She couldn’t tell him why she had been staring at their youngest child – to fix the image of her last infant in her mind forever, before she grew up – so she gave him a tentative smile instead.<br />“See?” he continued, leaning in to give her a kiss, “Your eyes are even greener when you smile.<br />
  9. 9. Despite herself, she laughed. He hadn’t called her Sunflower in a long time: she’d almost forgotten how sweet and cheesy it had been so long ago, before they were married.<br />Then I had Aranel, she reminded herself, and Achenar, and I started teaching… I guess life just got in the way.<br />“Would you care for a dance, O Sunflower queen?”<br />“Of course, my cabbage-harvesting knight.”<br />Both of them resolutely ignored the gagging noises coming from Aranel and her easel.<br />“Mom. Dad. I’m right here.”<br />
  10. 10. “Are we embarrassing you, sweetheart?” Viridia called across the room as her oldest daughter’s complaining grew louder.<br />The answer was a very loud “Yes.”<br />“Shall we embarrass her some more?” Haldir asked with a wink as Viridia spun him.<br />“Someday you’ll understand, dear,” Viridia said to Aranel. “One of these days you’ll find a nice boy, and then…”<br />“After college,” Haldir put in quickly, “You can find a nice boy after college. A nice elf boy.”<br />“And then you’ll understand,” Viridia finished.<br />“Like that’s going to happen,” Aranel said to her easel.<br />
  11. 11. Outside, it appeared that the snow would soon be melting. Achenar and the twins were sopping wet at the elbows and knees, but the sun was shining and they weren’t cold. It was warmer at Elirand and Calla’s house, but since it was the last day before Anariel’s birthday, Achenar had agreed to stay home that afternoon.<br />“Take a picture of us!” Calla called out to Elirand, before grabbing Achenar for a hug.<br />“You take a picture,” Elirand grumbled, “Can we do something fun, now? This is boring.”<br />“We already had a snowball fight,” Achenar replied, gesturing to everyone’s dripping clothes, “what else do you want to do?”<br />“We could play tag,” Calla replied, poking him, “You’re it!”<br />Aranel was just in time to spot the three of them running off as she exited through the front door and departed down the street to Nymea’s house, looking for a refuge from her parents’ embarrassing antics.<br />
  12. 12. Aranel was still thinking about her embarrassing parents, and how carefree her little brother’s life was as she walked down the road to Nymea’s house.<br />She turned into their front walk and had to conclude that while her parents might be embarrassing, Nymea’s were downright strange.<br />“Dig deeper,” Nymea’s mother instructed her husband in a huff, “There has to be something down there besides rocks and bones. And try not to hit a water main, this time.”<br />Antoin, who was drenched with perspiration and liquid of unknown origins, made a face.<br />“At least I haven’t been finding useless identical treasure maps,” he panted back.<br />
  13. 13. Aranel managed to sneak into the kitchen without either one noticing her, where she was immediately dragged upstairs by Nymea, still wearing her private school uniform. Aranel was somewhat disappointed to learn that the uniform included a skirt.<br />“Out, brat,” Nymea snapped at her sister, who was planted firmly in the middle of their bedroom, playing with a toy horse.<br />Resentfully, the little girl got off the floor and headed towards the toy chest.<br />
  14. 14. “You are so disgustingly lucky that your sister’s only a baby,” Nymea complained to Aranel as Idalese purposefully dragged out the process of opening the toy chest and placing her horse carefully back in. “Sharing a room with a baby sister is terrible. She’s a lazy little crybaby and she snores.”<br />“Do not,” Idalese muttered under her breath as she pushed past Aranel and left through the doorway. If there had been a door to slam, she would have slammed it.<br />
  15. 15. “Now, what was I saying?” Nymea asked her once they were alone. <br />“You’d finished, actually,” Aranel replied, “And I was about to tell you that you’re invited to the party tomorrow – it’s my sister’s kid birthday, but mom always lets us invite our own friends.”<br />Nymea raised a skeptical eyebrow, “A little kid party?”<br />“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Aranel’s enthusiasm bowled right over her friend’s studied indifference, “If nothing else, we get to hang out the whole time, and there’ll be cake. Plus, mom and dad bought this cool new game called ‘don’t wake the llama,’ so we can try that out.”<br />
  16. 16. “Why does that sound like a game for babies?” Nymea asked, but before Aranel could protest that it really looked kinda cool, she continued. “Anyhow, that’s so not the point. Any progress in getting your stick-in-the-mud parents to let you go to private school?”<br />“Well, some. As in, my mom did some asking around at work and says the school’s respectable, whatever that means. But they also said that there was an interview process to get in, and they still haven’t decided what to do about that.”<br />
  17. 17. “Well, you’re going to have to hurry it up if you don’t want to be behind,” Nymea replied.<br />“I did. I told my dad it would help me and Achenar get scholarships and everything – now he wants me to go, and they’ve signed up for the interview, but it’s not until after my sister’s birthday.”<br />“That’s awfully late…” Nymea drawled pensively.<br />“Tell me about it.”<br />“It’s so late, in fact, that you might not get in… unless your interview goes really well.”<br />
  18. 18. “What?” the concept of not being accepted into private school had never occurred to Aranel.<br />“That’s just the way it is,” she said with a shrug, “Too many people wanting to enroll, and not enough space for them.”<br />“But – how can I make sure that my interview goes well? Nymea, help! I have to get in!”<br />“I thought you’d never ask,” Nymea replied, her face suddenly spread with a smile, “Of course I’ll help you? What are friends for?”<br /> * * *<br />
  19. 19. The entire house was quiet as Achenar made his way over to his sister’s room. Frost still covered the melting old pile of snow in the yard, but the air smelled of spring.<br />“Ara?” he asked from the door, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.<br />Aranel turned around quickly. “What are you doing up, squirt?”<br />“Homework,” he made a face, “It’s fractions, and I thought I could get it done before bed, so I told mom it was done so I could play with Calla and ‘Enar longer… and it’s hard.”<br />“Oh, all right,” she replied, with a shrug, “I’ll help.”<br />“Thank you! You’re the best!”<br />“Tell me something I don’t know.”<br />
  20. 20. “Just remember that in order for explorers to find Twikki Island, they had to know already that the world was round so they weren’t going to go sailing off the edge of it if they didn’t keep the coast in sight. And that all of this exploration stuff happened because sims got sick of walking or riding all the way to Takimezu over land – sailing was way easier.”<br />“What about the sharks?” Achenar asked.<br />“Oh, you mean the ones that followed Magellan’s ship around?”<br />“Yeah, those ones.”<br />
  21. 21. “Oh, they followed him around because they were waiting for someone tasty to get thrown overboard,” she explained airily. “Like a little elf boy!”<br />Achenar didn’t see her coming, and squeaked in alarm when she started tickling him. Then, he started laughing – she stopped when he started to hiccup.<br />“Go to bed, shrimp,” she said, “your fractions are done, and you’ve already got a page and a half of a history essay that’s not due for another two days. I’m not giving you any more answers tonight.”<br />Though it was hard to take him seriously while he hiccupped, he nodded solemnly.<br />“Good night, Ara,” he said as she headed towards the door, “Love you.”<br />She paused for a second. “Love you too, squirt.”<br /> * * *<br />
  22. 22. “You’ll be able to make it home in time for Lydia’s birthday party on Thursday?” Midina asked. Despite the fact that the headboard was digging into the back of her head, she was otherwise too comfortable to move. Normally she was exhausted after a full day of two toddlers running about the house, but today… today was different.<br />“Of course.” Makir didn’t seem inclined to move either, even though she knew his elbow was trapped between the headboard and her back. <br />“Eluisa called,” she said now, into the silence, “she and Chalimyra are coming. Talon – Chali’s husband – isn’t. He’s staying to watch the kids.” At least, that was what Eluisa had told her. She wondered how much that fact owed to Eluisa’s interference.<br />“You have very good friends,” he replied.<br />
  23. 23. “I know,” she replied. And she did, even including all doubts, uncertainties and fears. <br />“You’re lucky to have them.”<br />“I know that, too,” she said, then extracted herself, though not without some regret, from his embrace so that she could look him in the eyes. “I’m lucky to have you, too,” she added, softly.<br />“I love you,” he said simply.<br />She nodded. “That’s why.”<br />
  24. 24. She was going to add, “I love you too,” but the kiss had already started, regardless of who had started it, and she wasn’t ready for it to end. She was ready for it to go on, stretching across time, forever.<br />
  25. 25. She was more than ready.<br /> * * *<br />
  26. 26. Ginger Newson was as tired as a ninety-year old woman. They’d only been living in the trailer for two days, and already the place was ankle-deep in discarded bottles, important legal papers, and children’s toys. She really ought to rescue those papers, and put them with the others in the shoebox in her closet – the papers that explained, in close-set bleak black letters, the terms of their adoptive mother’s will.<br />“Any luck?” Gavin asked as she sat down.<br />She shook her head. “The district Judge will begin reviewing the case on Tuesday.”<br />Gavin swore quietly, “The department of social work will already have gotten to him, then. Why can’t they just leave us alone?”<br />
  27. 27. “What do you want me to do, Gavin?” Ginger asked in exasperation, “We’ve been through the city archives twice already – mom was an orphan like us, she didn’t have any next-of-kin. And we have to be back in school on Monday, or we’ll fail the semester. And the minute that anyone’s grades go down or the department of social work finds any evidence that we aren’t responsible enough to care for our own brothers and sisters, they’ll get taken away from us.”<br />“I know, I know,” Gavin replied. “You don’t have to snap at me, Ginger.”<br />
  28. 28. Ginger sighed. “I’m sorry. I was really hoping that we could get our hearing in this week… until mom’s trust fund starts paying us...”<br />Gavin knew full well the words that hung unsaid between them. Even if they kept the custody of their younger siblings, how were they ever going to have enough money to provide for them? Their mom had left them everything, but under city law they could only have a small, monthly support payment until one of them turned eighteen, or went to college.<br />Ginger watched Gabriella and Georgia trying to play patty-cake on the floor. How had their mom done it all? She’d taken care of all six of them, had a job, kept the house clean, cooked dinner… and Ginger was worn out just from calling city hall and trying to unpack.<br />
  29. 29. “I’d say ‘a penny for your thoughts’ but that would imply that I actually had a penny to spend.”<br />Ginger shook her head at her brother’s lame attempt to make her smile. We took so much for granted, even though we’d come from having so little. “I was just thinking about how we’re going to get by,” she admitted quietly.<br />“Hey, don’t worry,” Gavin said, far more lightheartedly than he felt, “I’m sixteen. I’ll get a job. Once the toddlers age up you can get something that works one to three, when they’re still in school. We’ll be fine.”<br />Neither Georgia nor Garrett would even remember their mother by then.<br />There was far more bravado than confidence in Gavin’s voice when he said “We’ll be eighteen before you know it.”<br /> * * *<br />
  30. 30. By five o’clock, the front room was packed with sims. Even Rose and Jason Greenman had managed to come, and the volume of their chatter was overwhelming. Viridia was pleased to see that the two Greenmans walked in holding hands – no matter what had changed since the shift, or what problems that they now faced, at least they could meet them together – but didn’t get the chance to talk to them at first. Anariel was being unusually fussy, almost as if she didn’t like the party.<br />The toddler was tired, Viridia decided, and there was no denying that the party was very loud. She’d be fine after she transitioned.<br />
  31. 31. Meanwhile, Aranel had already singled out the one person she needed to talk to.<br />“Okay, Nymea – I have a plan,” she said, as soon as she dragged her friend out of the crowd. “You said the headmaster likes artsy stuff, right? I’m going to show him my paintings – once he knows that I’m great at art, he’s sure to let me in.”<br />Aranel thought she saw Nymea’s eyebrows and mouth twitch before Nymea replied. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Nymea said quickly, “I think he only likes professional art – not amateur stuff. Not that your stuff isn’t probably pretty good,” she amended, seeing her friend frown, “It’s just that if you do show him, it’s going to look like you’re bragging.”<br />Aranel’s face fell. “Darn it, Nymea - how picky is this guy?”<br />“Very,” Nymea replied.<br />
  32. 32. “Perfect.”<br />“Hey, cheer up.” Nymea said, “He’s a sucker for a home-cooked meal, so if you convince your mom to make something special, you can probably get brownie points. Meanwhile, just give him a tour of the house. Your place is plenty big enough.”<br />“They’re still building, though.”<br />“Okay – keep the part that they’re not working on spotlessly clean, and then apologize for the mess before hand.”<br />Aranel thought it over – it might just work. “Thanks, Nymea,” she said, relieved. “You think of everything.” <br />
  33. 33. “Of course I do,” Nymea replied, “And I knew that you needed my advice, so I came to your little sister’s little party to help out, even though I could’ve gone clubbing with the other girls from school.”<br />“Clubbing?” Aranel was pretty much certain that the image in her head of beating something wildly with a stick had nothing to do with Nymea’s idea of fun.<br />Nymea smacked a hand to her forehead dramatically, “I forgot – you’ve been going to public school. See, all the cool kids at the academy go downtown to dance and pick up dates a lot.”<br />“Oh.” Aranel had never been downtown. She was surprised, and mildly impressed, that Nymea had.<br />“Tell you what,” Nymea leaned in closer, “If you’re up for it, we could go later tonight, so you could get used to it. Obviously, we can’t have you seen in that dress by anyone from school, but I know a club that none of the school kids go to – it’s pretty much the same as the other ones, just the dj’s not as good.”<br />Aranel looked around the room. Downtown. With no parents. Her mother would be furious. Downtown.<br />“Can I get back to you on that?”<br />“Sure, take your time.”<br />
  34. 34. Hastily, Aranel turned their talk back to other things, but she needn’t have worried. Both of her parents were quite occupied, Nymea’s brother was no where in sight, and the little kids who might have tattled on them were all playing outside, since the snow had finally melted.<br />However, the two teens were not the only people having a secretive conversation. Eluisa had finally gotten Chalimyra out of the crowd.<br />“You do remember who else has a birthday soon, don’t you?” she asked her co-conspirator.<br />Chali did, indeed remember. “You mean Midina’s daughter Lydia.”<br />
  35. 35. “Tomorrow,” Eluisa confirmed.<br />Chalimyra thought about the implications of that. Midina had been pregnant with Lydia when Chali’s twins were toddlers. It didn’t seem that long ago, yet the twins and Achenar were going to be teenagers very soon.<br />“Are you asking me if I want to come?” she kept her voice low.<br />Eluisa nodded.<br />“Of course,” Chalimyra decided, “We can’t let the poor kid have a birthday without a proper party, can we?”<br />
  36. 36. Before anyone realized it, the entire assembly was packed into the brand new kitchen and dining room for cake. The scent of food was barely covering the scent of fresh paint, though the windows had been open all day in an effort to dissipate it. Both Nymea’s parents had finally managed to arrive, and Aranel even spotted some people she didn’t yet know. To her dismay, it was too crowded for her to reach the vaguely familiar woman with leaves for hair, or the redhead who she was certain she hadn’t seen before. It was also too crowded for her to go over and stand with Nymea, so she had to make do with standing near the cake with the rest of her family.<br />
  37. 37. Anariel clung tightly to the collar of her father’s shirt as the surrounding guests cheered her on. She could hardly see her mother behind one of the strange people, and everyone was too loud. But big brother was right there by the round white thing, so that was good. Her sister was there too, cheering, which she hoped was good. Maybe now her sister would start paying attention to her, since daddy said she was going to get big. But she didn’t like the strangers, and she definitely didn’t like the look of the trembling, bright hot things on the white round thing.<br />And where was her mama?<br />
  38. 38. “Blow out the candles now, Ana,” Haldir said, tipping her forward. She grabbed at his sleeve, not wanting to get any closer to the floor or the white thing on the plate, and squirmed.<br />“Don’t wanna,” she whispered, but no one heard her over all the cheering and noise.<br />“Come on, blow them out,” Haldir was a patient man, but he was finding it difficult to keep from dropping his squirming daughter, and wanted to get on with this before she slipped out of his hands.<br />“No!” <br />Her daddy could hear that at least, because he replied, "Do you want me to do it?”<br />
  39. 39. “Yes.”<br />Anariel stopped squirming, and he quickly blew out the four candles. She clung to his neck and looked at all the strangers, wide eyed.<br />“Good job, Ana!” Achenar said, and she was happy that her big brother was happy. He always talked to her, not like her big sister – her mom and dad talked to her too, but she didn’t know any of the other people here. She hadn’t seen them before, and they were all too loud and scary. She could see their faces from where she perched, and all of them were staring at her.<br />How was she supposed to know if they were nice or not? <br />
  40. 40. “Daddy?” She said in a small voice, after Haldir put her down on the floor again, “Want up. Done now?”<br />Haldir only smiled at her. “Just wait a moment, Ana,” Viridia said from over on the other side of the table, in the crowd.<br />Anariel looked up at her, and caught sight of the small motes of light drifting about her. She didn’t have time to wonder what to do with them before they all brightened and began to swirl about. A quick glance up at her family showed her that everyone was cheering again, and then with a sudden flash of light she was lifted off of her feet.<br />
  41. 41. The first thing she noticed when her feet touched the ground once more was her brother cheering for her. She shot him a smile over her shoulder, before suddenly realizing how far down the ground was now – and how much longer her arms and fingers were. Her hair was much loner too.<br />Then, she noticed that her mother had stepped forward and was cutting the cake. And that she’d transitioned into her pajamas.<br />
  42. 42. Achenar stepped forward and gave her a big hug. “Happy birthday, Sis,” he said. <br />“If you want to go get changed, your new dress is in the bureau,” Viridia told her, when Achenar let go and melted back towards the crowd. Ana looked down at her yellow pajamas and the pinching elastic that held the hems of the sleeves and pants tight to her ankles and wrists.<br />“Okay,” she replied, before hurrying off to change her clothes, hoping that there would still be cake left when she returned.<br />
  43. 43. They saved a piece for her, and she took it out to the table in the living room to eat it, since the seats next to her parents, brother and sister were full. It was easy to pretend that she knew everyone there if she didn’t talk to any of the strange people. So she ate her cake quickly, in silence, and then watched as groups started to break off of the crowd in the dining room and drift off to other activities. Ara left quite quickly with a girl with brown hair and mean, frowny eyebrows. Anariel didn’t follow her. She wanted to play with Achenar, but Achenar came through the doorway surrounded by two other children, one on either side, and proceeded down into the foyer. <br />She watched them as her mother came out to clean up the plates.<br />
  44. 44. “Mama, who’s them?” Anariel asked, stretching in her seat to see over the wall to where her brother was playing darts with two other children.<br />“Who are they,” Viridia corrected absently, laying out the platters of salad for those who were still hungry after their large slices of birthday cake. “They’re two of your brother’s friends, Calla and Elirand.”<br />“Oh.”<br />“Their parents are also good friends of your father and I,” Viridia continued.<br />“Mama, I want one.”<br />“A friend? There will be plenty when you go to school tomorrow, but for now, try talking to the children who are already here.”<br />
  45. 45. “Um, hi, I guess,” Ana mumbled, unsure of how to begin.<br />“Who are you?” the girl in the pink asked, then, without pause, added, “I’m Gabriella Newson. And I liked your cake – I haven’t had cake in a really long time, but I liked the sprinkles on yours. Your mom even gave me the piece with the flower on it – I hope you didn’t want it.”<br />“I.. ‘s okay,” Ana replied, a little overwhelmed, “I got the piece with my name on it.”<br />“Good,” Gabriella said, before launching into another train of thought. “How do you not get lost in a house this big?”<br />
  46. 46. “I, um, I…” <br />“Are you the princess? I heard at school today that there was a legacy princess who was going to be in our grade. I don’t know why you’d be wearing a dress like that if you weren’t a princess. I mean, it’s a cool dress – I like it, I wish there was money to get me a dress like that, just for dress-up, but Ginger says we have to be really careful with the money. I like Ginger, mostly, but she shouldn’t be telling me what to do – that’s mom’s job, except she’s dead, but Ginger shouldn’t be telling me what to do anyway. I really wish I was a princess like you – then no one could tell me what to do.”<br />Under this flood of information, Anariel began to panic. She wasn’t sure why she suddenly wanted to run away, but she did, whispering “sorry” as she disappeared in search of someone she already knew.<br />
  47. 47. “May I have this plate?”<br />Ana looked up, fork halfway to her mouth, petrified. She’d been sitting at the living room table once again, picking at a plate of salad and hoping that the other kids at school tomorrow wouldn’t be scary like Gabriella. Now that she was faced with another new person, she nearly panicked again.<br />“Yeah, I guess,” she finally managed. The boy facing her was so tall – she wondered if he could touch the ceiling. She didn’t know him either, but he smiled at her and took his plate of salad and ate standing up. She wondered how he balanced the plate.<br />
  48. 48. “How do you do that?” she blurted before she could stop herself.<br />He paused, “Do what?”<br />“Hold the plate up in one hand and eat with the other, at the same time? How come nothing falls?”<br />He considered it for a moment. “You mean, how come nothing falls off the plate?” she nodded. “The secret is, you’ve got to hold it in the middle so it stays steady. Then, instead of scooping your food out towards the edge with your fork, scoop it into the middle.”<br />“Oh,” she said. Then, after a beat, she added in a smaller voice, “I just wanted to know, because I thought eating like that would make a mess.”<br />
  49. 49. He stopped and looked down at her again. “You like to keep things neat too, don’t you?”<br />“Yeah – I don’t mind cleaning up, because it makes things look nicer, but I’d rather not make a mess, either.”<br />“Me too,” he replied. “My name’s Rean Greenleaf, by the way. And I already know you’re Anariel, the birthday girl.”<br />She nodded, tongue-tied again. There was a moment of silence before she felt the need to say something.<br />“Are you Ara’s friend?” she asked.<br />He shrugged. “Well, my sister Nymea’s the one who’s really friends with your sister. But I know your brother too, even though I’m quite a bit older than him.”<br />
  50. 50. Anariel and Rean talked for a little while longer, and the conversation left Ana feeling slightly more certain of herself. Rean was a good listener – he asked questions and really paid attention to the answers. And if she started to get too shy, he was ready to talk aimlessly about anything until she got comfortable with the subject again, and he even let her ask questions too. Anariel even stopped glancing over at her brother and his friends, wishing that Achenar would come over and save her from having to talk to a stranger. <br />Eventually, however, the party broke up and she was sent to bed. But he gave her a friendly wave before he went. She was just happy that someone like him – a cool teenager, way too old to be talking to her – would take the time to be friendly.<br />
  51. 51. Other people in the family were far less happy, however.<br />“Why does she have to share my room?” Aranel demanded of her father. “Why can’t she just stay in the nursery?”<br />“The nursery’s being rebuilt next, now that no one needs it,” Haldir explained patiently, “And it’s not as if she’s a total stranger – she is your sister.”<br />“How am I ever going to get any privacy with the squirt in my room?” Her voice was rising.<br />Haldir sighed. “Ara, regardless of what you say, she is sharing your room because we don’t have any other place to put her.”<br />“There’s the hallway.”<br />
  52. 52. Haldir shot her a look. “Aranel. You will share your room with your sister, and that’s final.”<br />“But Dad –”<br />“But nothing. If she distracts you from your homework, we can move your desk out into the skilling room. If you want a screen, we can get you one tomorrow. But you are sharing a room for the time being, and I don’t want you to make this a big deal. She’s perfectly willing to share with you.”<br />“Because she’s a clingy little copy-cat,” Aranel muttered under her breath. Haldir either didn’t hear or pretended not to as she stalked towards her room.<br />
  53. 53. Anariel was sitting on the bed, staring at the painting hanging on the wall.<br />“Did you make that, sissy?” She asked, wide-eyed with wonder.<br />“Yes,” Aranel replied shortly, “And that’s my bed you’re sitting on. Yours is over there.” She pointed across the room, and then, when Ana didn’t budge, she clarified, “That means get off, midget.”<br />Anariel jumped down. She looked between Ara and the wrinkle she’d made in her big sister’s bedding twice before she darted out a hand and yanked the coverlet straight.<br />“It’s going to be fun sharing a room, isn’t it?” she asked hopefully.<br />
  54. 54. In Aranel’s opinion, it was going to be anything but. <br />“I’m getting my homework,” she said, “you’re supposed to go to bed.”<br />“Oh, okay,” Anariel agreed quickly. She was already in her pajamas. “Good night, then.”<br />Ara didn’t respond, collecting all her books off the table and attempting to gather her pens into one hand. She had her back turned on her little sister the whole time.<br />“Is homework hard?” Ana asked, tentatively, as her sister opened the door.<br />“Extremely,” Aranel replied tersely, before shutting the door behind her.<br />
  55. 55.
  56. 56. Instead of studying, however, Aranel headed straight for the phone and dialed Nymea. It rang a couple times, even though she knew that Nymea and her brother must have gotten home already, and she had time to think about it.<br />She didn’t feel like pouring out her troubles, even though Nymea, also forced to live in the same room as her horrible slug of a little sister, would likely be sympathetic to her plight. No, she just wanted to do something – for once – that was new, and exciting. <br />“Hey, Nymea? Is that offer of sneaking out downtown still good?”<br />There was silence on the other end for a moment. Then Nymea whispered “When do your parents usually go to sleep?”<br />
  57. 57. After telling her parents that she was going to stay up “just a little while longer” to study for a scholarship, which she only needed a couple more points of logic to achieve, Aranel quietly slipped out the door at the agreed-upon time, being careful not to let it slam behind her. She left the light in the kitchen on, so that if her parents woke up they would think that she had just left to use the bathroom or something.<br />As she crept down the creaky stairs, she felt like a cat-burglar. Or better yet, a criminal mastermind.<br />
  58. 58. She stopped dead when she saw the car. It wasn’t the fact that there was a car – even though she’d never known anyone whose family actually owned a car – but the fact that Nymea was driving it. Even though, now that she thought about it, they were both now legal to drive. Where had Nymea gotten a car?<br />Nymea honked, a short sharp burst, and Aranel surged forward across the front yard in a panic, terrified that her parents would wake up and find out.<br />
  59. 59. “What are you doing?” she hissed, as she slammed the door behind her, “Do you seriously want to get caught? If my parents find out, they’re gonna kill me!”<br />She was irritated to find out that Nymea was laughing. “Man, you public school kids are such lamers,” she smirked, “Do you honestly think that this car sounds any different from any other one? Another car horn’s not going to wake anyone up.”<br />“Nymea, the rest of the neighborhood is dead quiet,” Aranel replied tightly, trying to keep a reign on her temper.<br />“Ooooh, guilty conscience?” Nymea teased, “Now buckle up, or we won’t get to the City until the clubs close. While you’re at it, lighten up a little. What’s the worst that could happen?”<br />
  60. 60. Ana wakes up<br />Anariel awoke, sniffling. There were tall purple monsters in her dreams, and they’d changed her mommy’s eyes – it hadn’t even been her own mommy anymore, just someone who looked like her. And her sister hadn’t believed her – or was it that her sister had been taken by the monsters and they’d left a fake sister as well? She couldn’t quite remember, except for the shivery nail-clipping sound of the monsters as they walked.<br />For a few minutes, she was too afraid to move, but then she discovered that she needed the bathroom, so she sat up, rubbing her eyes. <br />
  61. 61. “Ara?” she whispered, wondering whether or not she could risk waking her cranky big sister up.<br />There was silence for a moment in the cold grey moonlight – until she opened her eyes fully, and realized that Aranel was gone.<br />
  62. 62. “Mommy Daddy Daddy Mommy Daddy Mommy Mommy!”<br />She could hear her parents waking up, either from her scream or the sound of her running feet, but she didn’t wait for them to get themselves out of bed – she launched herself on top of it, continuing to yell.<br />
  63. 63. It was Viridia who eventually got herself and her daughter extracted from the bedclothes and settled in the center of the bedroom floor.<br />“Did you have a bad dream, sweetie?”<br />“Mommy, the purple monsters have Ara!” Anariel blurted, on the verge of tears, “They’ve taken her and they’re going to put a bad fake Ara here instead, and I’m never ever gonna see her again…”<br />“Honey, they’re just a dream – they can’t actually hurt Ara,” Viridia explained soothingly, “Besides, your daddy and I are here – even if they were real, they couldn’t do anything.”<br />“But she’s gone!” Ana protested, “I woke up and her bed was empty, an she’s gone!”<br />Her parents exchanged a look, and Haldir immediately left the room to investigate.<br />
  64. 64.
  65. 65. “What,” Aranel hissed, mimicking Nymea’s arrogant voice, “Is the worst thing that could happen?”<br />“This your house?” the police officer asked her.<br />“Yeah,” she replied grudgingly, “Look, officer…”<br />“Careful with your hand in the door,” the cop warned her. She rolled her eyes.<br />“I really didn’t know that curfew was at midnight,” she tried again, lamely.<br />“You wouldn’t believe how many teenagers don’t know that,” the cop replied, conversationally.<br />
  66. 66. “Yeah, whatever,” Aranel grumbled, deflated. She should have hopped in the car with Nymea when she had a chance – instead of talking to that one guy she recognized from her own high school. Not that he hadn’t cut and run as soon as the cops passed by. But no – no one had told Aranel that they were going to be doing anything wrong. <br />“Stupid law,” she said under her breath, as she slunk towards the house behind the officer. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to go out, if she felt like it? And why shouldn’t she be allowed to stay after midnight, especially since it took nearly forty-five minutes to get downtown to begin with? Well, more like thirty-five: Nymea had a bit of a heavy right foot.<br />
  67. 67. At the very least, she consoled herself, her parents hadn’t caught her. That would have been far worse.<br />“Well, it certainly seems that you’ve made a new friend.” Aranel winced as her first her mother’s voice and then her figure detached themselves from the living room shadows. <br />The cop looked between mother and daughter for a long moment, and chuckled. “I really should finish my beat,” she said to no one in particular.<br />“Of course,” Viridia replied.<br />“Normally, the first time is a warning… but I’m pretty sure you have it handled.”<br />
  68. 68. Viridia barely waited for the officer to exit the door before she started in on her daughter.<br />“What,” she said tersely, “Were you thinking?”<br />“Umm…” somehow ‘I had to get out of this pit,’ suddenly didn’t seem like a very good answer.<br />“Leaving the house. Alone. At night,” Viridia got no further before her temper, stretched rubber-band thin, broke. “No one even knew where you’d gone! Anything at all could have happened to you, and you, young lady, didn’t even stop to think about the danger!”<br />
  69. 69. “Mom,” Aranel interrupted quickly, attempting to stem the tide of maternal fury as quickly as possible, “I was just in some of the clubs downtown – it wasn’t dangerous at all, there’s lots of people there – everyone always says they’re really safe…”<br />Her mother gasped, and Ara realized that she’d made a mistake somewhere.<br />“And precisely what were you doing downtown?” she asked, her voice iron-hard?”<br />“Um… dancing. Kind of. Mostly talking to people – not strangers though,” she added, seeing the look on Viridia’s face, “Other kids. Teenagers. And I wasn’t alone, either – I went with some friends.” Hopefully, Viridia wouldn’t pursue that line of questioning – ever since elementary school, Aranel had known that no one likes a sneak.<br />
  70. 70. “Well,” Viridia replied, making a supreme effort at self-control, “Your so-called friends are at least as thoughtless and irresponsible as you, and you can inform them that you have been grounded. So you won’t be going anywhere with them in the foreseeable future, during the afternoon or after dark, with or without your father’s and my permission.”<br />“Mom!”<br />“And I don’t want you going to anyone’s house from the bus, either,” Viridia continued, driving the final nail into the coffin as Haldir emerged from the dining room. Aranel looked towards her dad for support, and all she got was a set mouth and an accusing stare. <br />
  71. 71. Without further argument, she slunk to her bedroom, feeling like she might just stay in there until college.<br />She’d forgotten that the room was no longer purely hers.<br />“Ara!” chirped a childish voice as soon as she turned on the light, “You’re back!” Anariel barreled into her little sister’s legs, chattering all the while, “The purple monsters didn’t eat you!”<br />“There are no purple monsters, stupid,” she snapped tiredly.<br />“But I had a dream that the purple monsters came and stole you away!” Anariel exclaimed, “They stole you away and you were gone and they were going to give us a fake sister! Then I woke up and you were gone and I knew that they really had taken you, so I got mommy and daddy -”<br />
  72. 72. “You what?” Aranel snarled, finally having caught on to what must have happened. “You stupid, disgusting little tattling sneak!”<br />“But the monsters –”<br />“There are no monsters, you idiot,” Aranel snapped, “Just sneaky tattle-tale little sisters who ruin everything! If you could just keep your stupid dreams to yourself, maybe I could make some friends and actually have a life!” Ana’s lip was trembling, but Aranel didn’t care. “Just go away,” she finished venomously, “I don’t want to have to see a sneaky little brat like you.”<br />
  73. 73. She slammed down on her own bed, too angry to care about her sister’s sniffling sobs on the other side of the room.<br />Anariel was too overwhelmed to say anything, sniffling and curled by her pillow, but inside her head she was repeating the same two words, over and over, until they lost all meaning.<br />I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m…<br /> * * *<br />
  74. 74. The amount of parties that they’d had in the apartment’s tiny front room might have been relatively small, but already they were becoming comfortably routine. As always, Makir watched Midina’s face light up when she saw her two best friends. He always watched them talk for a while before anyone remembered that he was there, part of him wishing that she had been able to stay with them, part of him fiercely, defiantly, secretly glad that she hadn’t.<br />It was the part of him that he usually tried to ignore. When he had first seen her, terrified and sad, he had thought she was beautiful – and wondered how much more beautiful she would be when she was happy. But now, he knew that despite the brightness of her eyes, there was still the shadow of all that had been broken. How selfish was it for him to be glad of that?<br />
  75. 75. Once, passing through a gallery on his way home from work, in the days when he lived in the darkest part of the city, he had seen a painting of a beautiful woman, seated in a beautiful chair in a beautiful room. Everything about her, everything about the room had been perfect, and he had remained unmoved. There was more art in the ragged blue flowers that he had grown inside a broken piece of concrete pipe beside his door, the only beautiful thing in a dreary existence.<br />But Midina wasn’t a flower. She was at once more permanent and more fragile, and he couldn’t help but worry about her – especially when she tried to hide that she’d been up early in the morning, emptying her dinner into their toilet for the second day in a row. Even now, she looked tired.<br />
  76. 76. Despite everything, she smiled. And in the grey kitchen with its peeling walls, inside the tiny apartment, the birthday song blared, off-tune, through three kazoos, as Lydia waved at her mother’s friends, and prepared to sprout up into childhood like an incongruously beautiful weed. She sang her own birthday song along with them, insisted on blowing out the candles on her own, despite not being quite able to do it the first few times.<br />Nevertheless, it didn’t take long before the four brief flames were extinguished.<br />
  77. 77. “Wow! That tickled,” Lydia announced, the moment her feet touched the ground again, “does that happen every time?”<br />Midina laughed, “You’re going to have to wait for your next birthday to find out,” she told her daughter.<br />“Nah, I’ll just ask Orion about it after he ages up. That’s sooner, anyway,” the child decided. Then she looked down at her pajamas. “Okay, pajamas aren’t party clothes,” she decided. <br />“We got you some clothes for your birthday,” Midina explained, “they’re in the bedroom dresser.”<br />“Really? Great!” Lydia replied, bounding off towards the door. “Aunty Elu, Aunty Chali, make sure they save me some cake, okay?”<br />
  78. 78. “It seems like we eat a lot of cake around here,” Eluisa joked as they sat down with their own slices, having cut out the piece with Lydia’s name on it and put it on a plate for her.<br />“After Orion ages up, there aren’t going to be many parties for a long time,” Midina replied, “So eat up.”<br />She was playing with her cake, though – scraping off the frosting before she ate it. Makir watched her, perplexed – usually, she couldn’t resist sweet things. He took a bite. There was nothing wrong with the frosting.<br />Looking up, he met Eluisa’s eyes. Knowing that he wasn’t the only one who noticed, he was able to relax a little, and pick the thread of the conversation back up.<br />
  79. 79. “It’s about my turn to have the party, actually,” Eluisa was saying. “I want to have Lydia come up to my cottage for a while in a few days, if it’s all right with the two of you.” She looked at Makir as well as Midina as she said it, something that Makir was deeply grateful for. <br />“Of course,” Midina said, without having to think about it. <br />“You should come up for a bit too,” Eluisa said, obviously extending the invitation mostly to Midina, “The flowers are really beautiful.”<br />Midina’s face was only sad for a moment before she shook her head, “I still haven’t been able to find a job, Elu,” she said quietly, “Maybe if you’ll take Lydia for a day I’ll be able to go to the Labor Agency again.”<br />
  80. 80. At that point, Lydia came out of the bedroom, the cause of her lateness obvious in the tangled knots that she’d tied her shoelaces into. Before anyone could try to help her, she’d made a beeline for the cake.<br />“Wow! That’s the big one,” she said, happily hopping down off her stepping stool and looking for a seat at the table, “Thanks for saving it.”<br />Chalimyra laughed. “How could we not? It had your name on it.”<br />“So, it’s like a birthday present?”<br />“No, but my present for you isn’t one I can give you tonight,” Eluisa replied, “How would you like to spend a day at my house?”<br />“Really?” Lydia beamed, “Mama, Makir, can I go?”<br />“Yes.” <br />
  81. 81. Lydia scarfed her cake so fast that she had to be told three times to slow down, and then scampered off to the beaten-up couch in the living room, next to the nearly-finished portrait of her mother, to talk to her ‘auntie Elu.’<br />“You live by the lake?” she asked in astonishment, “That’s really cool! What’s it like?”<br />“The lake? Well, it’s very, very big. And wet. And on calm days, it looks like an enormous sheet of silver just stretching out into the distance. The water’s a little cold, though.”<br />The child shrugged. “I don’t mind.”<br />
  82. 82. Before Lydia could continue her interrogation, Makir called everyone into the kitchen. Lydia skipped in with Eluisa on her heels, then spotted Makir and her mother holding hands, and decided that it was going to be boring. However, a glance at both Eluisa and Chalimyra showed that they were busy pretending not to stare at what was going on. They were both smiling as if they had a secret. Makir was smiling too.<br />The only people in the room who didn’t know the secret were Midina, and Lydia herself.<br />“I have something to tell everyone,” Midina began, as the same time as Makir said:<br />“I have a question for you.” They both stopped awkwardly for a moment.<br />“No, you first,” Midina said.<br />
  83. 83. Makir took a deep breath and dropped to one knee. “Midina,” he began, “I’ve loved you for a long time. You’ve been my muse for years, and have never once failed to inspire me. Everything about you is amazing, and you don’t even know it. Every day, I wake up and think that I love you more now than I ever have before.<br />
  84. 84. “What would you say if I told you that there could be no greater gift than spending the rest of my life with my muse?”<br />
  85. 85. “Then I’d say yes!” Midina blurted out, throwing her arms around him. <br />Lydia looked over at her two “aunties,” who were beaming, smug as a pair of cats with a canary each. Her auntie Chali reached up with two fingers to wipe the corners of her eyes, happy but crying. Lydia sighed. Eventually, someone would explain to her what exactly was going on – she hoped. Or she could just ask someone.<br />“Auntie Elu, why…?”<br />“Your mom and Makir are going to have a wedding,” Eluisa explained.<br />A wedding sounded like fun. “Can I be in it?” Lydia wanted to know.<br />“You’d have to ask your mom about that.” Eluisa had a feeling, however, that Midina would say yes. Nevertheless, for the rest of the evening Lydia grilled her about weddings, as well as about her cottage on the beach.<br />
  86. 86. Meanwhile, Chalimyra had taken up the attention of Orion. Eluisa had always been Lydia’s favorite ‘auntie,’ and while Chalimyra didn’t mind that, she was very happy now that Orion had learned her name.<br />Standing in the doorway with the apartment light spilling into the street behind them, he leaned close to her ear. “Like you bestest, auntie Chali,” he whispered.<br />“You’re going to break some hearts when you’re older,” she said with a laugh, bouncing him up and down.<br />“Me fix them?” he asked, anxiously.<br />“Of course,” she said absently, watching the headlights of cars scything across the sides of the blank-eyed buildings facing them across the street.<br />
  87. 87. She put him down, and he eventually persuaded his older sister to play with him, even though it was obvious that she’d rather continue interrogating Eluisa about the cottage by the lake. <br />Midina and Makir were somewhere in the bathroom or the bedroom – Chali poked her head into the kitchen and didn’t see them. Midina had looked tired, earlier – the endless round of toddlers, birthdays, and dead-end job searching had to be getting to her, Chalimyra reasoned. Still, she couldn’t help but feel a little sad as she watched the children play with the activity table she’d gotten them for Orion’s birthday. She could be Orion’s auntie, try and give them the toys and things that they didn’t have, but what she really wanted was to give them a nicer place to live. The sirens in the distance – and the fact that the siblings didn’t even pay any attention to them – kept reminding her that this was no place for children.<br />
  88. 88. Chalimyra and Eluisa didn’t leave until after Lydia had fallen asleep on the couch. Then, they said their goodbyes to Midina and Makir, Orion having been put to bed hours ago, and departed into the night. Chalimyra wouldn’t have left, except for the fact that she had to go to work the next morning, and lawyers couldn’t be late to court. Besides, she didn’t have the heart to remove Lydia from the couch, and there was obviously no room anywhere else.<br />Lydia dreamed of the sun shining on sparkling waters.<br /> * * *<br />
  89. 89. Anariel trailed slowly after her brother and his friend, alternating trying to listen to their conversation and sneaking glances at the boy who was tagging along behind her. Her mom had explained that his parents were friends, but she thought she’d rather take her chances with her brother’s friends. Calla smiled at her a lot, but she didn’t seem to want to play with her. Elirand usually ignored her, but she didn’t think that was because he was mean like her sister.<br />“… Just have to get into private school,” Achenar was saying, up ahead, “… otherwise… be alone…”<br />Anariel cringed a little. It was certainly a big deal, whatever was going on, but no one was going to tell her about it.<br />
  90. 90. Pretty much everyone had reached the beach before she did, and plunged into the water, so she dawdled on the sand. She really did want to swim, but… Which would be worse, to be alone on the beach, or to be swimming all alone?<br />She was saved from having to decide by Calla.<br />“Hurry up, we’re going to start playing Marco Polo!” the dark-haired girl called. Ana didn’t dare wait and question whether or not the invitation had even been meant for her – she spun into her swimsuit immediately and jumped in, disregarding the cold waves.<br />
  91. 91. She turned out to be pretty bad at Marco Polo, since she spent all her time swimming as close to Achenar as she could manage, and trying to avoid Aranel and the strange boy. There were a few close calls when she got some water in her eyes, and mistook him for Elirand, but she managed to avoid Aranel entirely. Not that Aranel had said more than a handful of words to her in the last couple of days.<br />Her eyes stung again as she remembered that Aranel never had anything nice to say to her. She hoped it was the lake water – unless the lake water was dangerous or something – because she didn’t want to cry in front of anyone.<br />
  92. 92. She forced herself to concentrate on swimming, even after the game of Marco Polo dissolved. She’d been “it” at least seven times, and everyone else was getting tired of it. Ana didn’t like the game. When she closed her eyes and was swimming blind, she couldn’t tell if the others were still there, or if they’d finally given up and left her behind.<br />Whenever she didn’t have to keep her eyes closed, she tagged along after Calla if she couldn’t keep up with Achenar. There wasn’t a lot of serious talk while they were in the water, but she overheard a lot about “private school,” and the sudden, urgent need to get into it. School made her lonely, so she tried not to think about it much.<br />
  93. 93. Achenar, completely unaware of his youngest sister’s distress, had already formed a plan. It was perfect in its simplicity: Aranel would get him into private school, since she wanted it so badly, and the twins would beg and plead until their parents got them in as well. In fact, since he already knew when the headmaster was coming, he was certain they could pull it off without even going to different schools for a day.<br />The three of them, satisfied with their plan, grew tired of swimming eventually, and began to build sand castles and look for shells. <br />
  94. 94. Eluisa’s plan however, was not looking quite so rosy. It wasn’t that it was being thwarted, so much as the fact that good manners prevented her from getting it started in the present company. And she’d only had the time to fill Chalimyra in on a little part of it before Viridia and Rose had joined them for a game of ‘don’t wake the Llama,’ so she was just going to have to rely on Chali to pick up on it as they went along.<br />All of this was contributing to Eluisa’s straws being very wobbly indeed.<br />
  95. 95. Even the gossip that would normally have diverted her was hard to focus on.<br />“… And both Zebrina and Genlisea have green skin,” Rose was saying, “Though I don’t know where they got the black eyes. Jason says he has a whole new appreciation of what I went through giving birth to Briar, Azalea, and the twins. Of course, Daisy loves all four of them, but she’s especially curious about the alien babies. She wants to know if they’re ‘like her.’” Rose sighed. Viridia and Chali looked at her with sympathy, and in Viridia’s case, perfect understanding. Eluisa managed to feign an interested noise.<br />
  96. 96. “I can’t believe that you have four babies in one house,” Chalimyra said in disbelief.<br />“I know. A set of twins from each of us, both on the same day...” Rose shook her head, “Even though Zebrina and Genlisea aren’t really mine, I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything.”<br />“Of course not,” Viridia replied, placing her straw absently on the top. It rocked, then stuck between two of it’s neighbors. “Oh! I thought I was going to loose for sure.” Then, she returned to the conversation. “Could it possibly have been the cheesecake?”<br />“I don’t know about that,” Rose said, checking the clock, “But I really do have to leave: it’s almost seven. It’s been great catching up with all of you, though.”<br />“Of course – any time,” Chalimyra replied, and Eluisa echoed her sentiments automatically.<br />
  97. 97. As soon as Rose had collected Briar and left, the sun set and the three elves found themselves playing in the dark. Eluisa let it go on for a while before she brought up the first part of her plan. <br />“I’ve been thinking,” she said to Viridia, “I’ve been promising the kids that they can spend a day at my house and roast marshmallows for a long time now. There’s a day of teacher conferences coming up soon, and I could have them over then.”<br />“Aranel’s grounded,” Viridia reminded her.<br />“Well, Achenar and the twins at least, then,” Eluisa replied quickly.<br />“The twins can go,” Chalimyra put in with a shrug, “Jumping on beds aside, they’ve been pretty good this week.”<br />Viridia sighed. “I’m not promising Aranel anything,” she said. “If she’s good, she can go, but at the very least Achenar can go.”<br />Eluisa wasn’t sure if Viridia’s kids could possibly be as happy about that as she was.<br /> * * *<br />
  98. 98. Being grounded, Aranel found out very quickly, sucked. Sometimes she could convince Nymea to come over so that they could go over their plan to get Ara into private school once more – Aranel knew that her mom was a firm believer in hospitality, and wouldn’t have turned Nymea away – but sometimes wasn’t often enough. The only other people that she saw were at school. Yes, she had people to sit with now, but she could hardly stand to sit there, thinking that she could be in school with Nymea instead. She couldn’t wait.<br />Nymea had gotten off lucky – not only had the cops not seen her, her parents hadn’t even woken up and caught her. Then again, Nymea didn’t have a sneaky baby sister. Idalese apparently slept like a log.<br />“Welcome to our house,” she said politely as soon as the headmaster stepped out of his car. She had made certain that she would be the one to greet him, and her mother, preoccupied with cooking dinner, had allowed it.<br />
  99. 99. Every single moment, while she was giving him the tour of the house, she was going over the plans she’d hatched with Nymea in her head. Extensive house tour – check. Sneaking in little comments about how much she was looking forward to going to the school, check. No bragging, though. She gave one of her more recent paintings a wistful look as she passed by, but she knew better than to bring it up.<br />“An excellently decorated living room!” the headmaster cheered. Aranel didn’t think that there was anything that special about it, but she let him think what he wanted.<br />
  100. 100. The hardest part was dinner. The headmaster continued to ramble on about a wide range of subjects, and Aranel had to grit her teeth at times to keep from blurting out that no, elves had nothing to do with genies, aliens or vampires, and that if he made another joke about how she must be disappointed that archery wasn’t offered in the gym classes at the Academy, she was going to pull his ponytail out by the roots.<br />Aranel got through it all by squeezing her eyes shut and reminding herself that she’d never have to deal with the headmaster again after she made it into the school. Viridia fielded his conversation with such patience that, if she wasn’t still mad about being grounded, Aranel would have admired her for it. <br />
  101. 101. Fortunately, the headmaster excused himself at eight, saying that he couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Aranel wondered how many times a week he stuffed himself at families’ houses – and where he managed to put it all. <br />“Thank you,” he said once more, with a pompousness that he no doubt believed was fitting to his station.<br />Aranel couldn’t stand the tension any more. “So?” she demanded, before remembering to try and make it polite, “I mean, did I get in, sir?”<br />He smiled. “Yes, young lady,” he replied, “you and your siblings have been accepted to the Academy.”<br />
  102. 102. “Sweet!” Aranel couldn’t help thrusting her fist into the air in celebration. <br />“Indeed. Now, I really must be off –”<br />It took him another three minutes, however, to express his thanks to her parents (and vice versa) and to finally say goodbye. All Aranel could think of was the fact that she would finally be in private school with her best friend. The two of them would take the student population by storm – they’d be the most popular girls in school. Once Aranel finally got there, she’d meet all the right people and things would finally get started. And everyone would finally like her best.<br />She smiled – but as the headmaster walked out into the twilight, a thought struck her – she’d be leaving all the people who she’d come to know at public school behind.<br />Would this change truly be worth it?<br /> * * *<br />
  103. 103. General Cabaret scene<br />The throbbing techno beat that careened off the ceiling was at odds with the supposed cabaret singer, who looked more like she should be crooning country. After a quick glance, which told him that her face and figure were unfamiliar, Leod dismissed her. A look of irritation crossed his face – he had to stop double checking every time he saw a damn blonde. Besides, that whore was too conceited to come and work with all the other slutty bitches. No, she thought she was too good for this. With a bitter sneer, he remembered the fear in her face. She could rot, for all he cared, but the two-timing wench had not only had the audacity to betray him, but to steal away what was rightfully his – and if he couldn’t keep his dignity, then he should at least be able to keep his heir.<br />
  104. 104. He didn’t even notice the whore sauntering up to him until she ran her fingers along the back of his neck. He whirled around, meeting her inviting smile with a furious scowl, and shoved her backwards without a second thought. She stumbled back a few steps in her heels, then turned and left in search of friendlier clients.<br />
  105. 105. With a satisfied smirk, he headed deep into the misty, technicolor recesses of the lounge, passing gyrating bodies and a great quantity of bare female skin. He sneered at them all as he passed, but couldn’t stop himself from double checking every blonde, then moving on quickly before the harlots could seize their chance to try and seduce him. All those tramps were the same, with their painted faces and their false promises.<br />He was so intent on ignoring them that he almost passed over the familiar figure sprawled provocatively on one of the light displays.<br />
  106. 106. “Come to relieve my boredom, sugar?” she asked seductively, with a sigh that made her thin white top strain. Leod watched intently, shivering with loathing. “You know you wanna.”<br />They’re all the same. “I want information,” he replied tersely, “so you can save your deceitful whiles.”<br />“Mmm…” she replied, leaning her head back against the glowing cubes, “You’re sure it’s information, and not… instruction?”<br />“The information you gave me before was useless,” he snarled, “I know you held something back.”<br />
  107. 107. “What’s it worth to you?” she asked, sitting up with an exaggerated slowness. Leod could see the shadows of her body through her shirt.<br />“The same as last time,” he spat, grudgingly, “but you’re going to have to tell me somewhere private.”<br />“Oh.” She arched an eyebrow.<br />“I meant outside,” he snapped back. Shameless Harlot.<br />She stretched lazily, infuriating him, and brushed closely past as she led him out the back door. <br />
  108. 108. She leaned back against the wall in the alleyway with a superior smirk on her face. Leod hated that smirk, assuming that she knew more than he did – that she knew what he wanted, that she had some sort of power over him. She had no right to be smug with him – she owed him.<br />He stepped closer and put a hand on the wall on either side of her. <br />“The same thing as before,” he said, slowly and clearly, “All the information you have on the blonde elven whore.”<br />“Still obsessed with some dumb blonde?” she asked playfully, leaning close. “What’s so special about her?” He fought to keep his expression neutral when she pressed her body forward against him, her fingertips resting on his lower thigh. “There’s so many other fish in the sea, sugar. Curious fish. Now, I wonder if it’s true what they don’t wear –”<br />
  109. 109. The rest of her sentence was cut off as he slammed her against the wall, trapping the fingers that had curled themselves under the hem of his kilt.<br />“I appreciate your enthusiasm,” she said once she’d gasped enough air back into her lungs, “but the timing –”<br />“Shut up.” After a few minutes of complete silence, he eased himself away from the wall. She raised her adventurous hand into view, but said nothing. The plunging neckline of her shirt was crooked.<br />“All the information. No seduction,” he ordered her.<br />
  110. 110. “I gave you all of it last time,” she said quietly. “I haven’t learned anything new since.”<br />“Liar,” he whispered in her ear, and smiled in triumph at the fear that started creeping into her face as he pressed closer. Now she knew who was in charge.<br />“It’s the truth – she lives in the trailer park, the unit with the blue door, and she works at the diner on South Bend. If she doesn’t want to talk to you, that’s your problem.”<br />“Lived,” he corrected tersely. Her eyes widened. “You’re of no further use to me,” he said, and watched her fingers shake. “You owe me,” he added ominously.<br />
  111. 111. “Wait – you said you would pay –”<br />“Your just desserts, you whore,” he said, seizing her by the shoulders and waist and shoving her towards the ground.<br />
  112. 112. “Admit it,” he snarled, “You knew she’d leave.” He enjoyed the quick flutter of her breathing beneath him as she struggled to think of a safe answer. “For all I know, you tipped her off.”<br />She gave a weak chuckle, “Couldn’t have paid me enough – aaah –”<br />He’d pressed her against the ground with his full weight, grinding her right arm, trapped underneath her, against the pavement.<br />“Do you seriously think anyone will care if you scream?” She shook her head a little. “Then don’t.”<br />“I just remembered,” she blurted quickly, “I know something about a different elf girl – she was looking for the same blonde.”<br />
  113. 113. “Is that so?” he asked, leaning closer.<br />“I swear –” she whispered, “And that’s all I know – I’ve told you everything else, so please –”<br />He smiled viciously. “Good girl. I knew I could count on you to deliver. Keep your eyes peeled from now on.”<br />He could feel her sigh of relief as he leaned in and gave her what he was certain she wanted. The hypocrite’s lips were unresponsive. In fact, she didn’t move until long after he’d retreated down the alleyway.<br /> * * *<br />
  114. 114. Dark, isn’t it? Of course, Leod is a jerkwad. But he’s certainly not gone.<br />No more birthdays for a chapter or so now, I hope. Certainly not such drama-filled parties as I’ve been having lately. <br />And updating so soon after the last is actually a personal record with me – haven’t gotten it out in under a month since the first two chapters, and I waited to post the first until I had most of the second written. Hopefully this marks the start of a productive new year for me.<br />Gratuitous party shot is gratuitous. And the fact that Talon and Chali chose to stand so close together still strikes me as adorable. Also, freaking work outfits – I didn’t notice until now that Chali’s outfit changes during the party scene.<br />
  115. 115. This has been such a long time coming, it’s hardly funny. Midina and Makir were the first couple in my legacy that anyone shipped, so I want to go back and give a wave to the early days shippers from Midina’s interlude. Anticlimactic much? You betcha… but she did roll the want to get married to him, so I had to do it.<br />Other historic milestones – I have a Makir/Midina baby in the oven. And while I didn’t show much of their day-to-day life in this episode, Lydia’s doing quite well, thank you. Childhood is the height of her cuteness, so you’re going to be seeing some gratuitous Lydia and Orion shots in the picspam. Orion already has fans! I know, I’m slightly confused about that too, as he’s still a tot in my game, but go Orion!<br />
  116. 116. Aww, look – Anariel has her own personal raincloud! (Actually a split-second beach glitch – I do love my beaches, and their glitches.)<br />Yeah, Viridia was going to get one pensive child at least. The fact that she’s 7/4/10/8/6, and thus is tied with Calla for the least outgoing points of the whole generation so far (and she has the most neat points, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at the others) only reinforced that idea. Don’t you worry – she’ll perk up. (With some very sneaky help…) But being just too young to be included in the main group of friends or cousins is hard.<br />Also, it’s not like she doesn’t have things to worry about, she just tends to magnify them. I love her, though. ;)<br />
  117. 117. And next time on the Elven Heritage Legacy, we shall have the second official interlude. Friends will be made, tensions will rise, marshmallows will be consumed either by children or by fire, and back-story will solidify into an identifiable substance. Also, Scribbles will shoot crowd scenes until she pulls her hair out, wish she’d never gone into this much depth, and give you some gratuitous castle shots. Scribbles will also stop referring to herself in the third person… I hope.<br />I doubt I’ll be able to even play this lot for real again until spring semester. *Sigh*<br />In all seriousness, my story has begun to take some dark turns, so hold onto your mouse – you have been warned.<br />
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