The blood drew him over. He was a ways into the woods. An injured or dead animal wouldn't be shocking. A coyote could be waiting for him up ahead. Curiosity got the better of him. He wanted to see where the trail of red would lead him.
He followed it over to some shrubs beneath a cliff. Carefully, he pulled the leaves back. Rather than fur, he saw bruised, bare skin. His heart pounded. He looked to the chest and watched with deep focus. At first, he thought his eyes were deceiving him, but the person beneath him was breathing. For how much longer, he didn't know. He was terrified to find out.
"Are you okay?" He asked. He didn't know what he should say. After he spoke, he felt stupid. The person before him was covered in blood and bruises, barely breathing, and stripped naked. Whatever happened, this person was not okay.
The person on the ground opened their eyes. Golden like the sun, he could see them clearly in the dark evening. They stood out sharply against the stranger's white hair. Wearily, the person spoke in a deep voice. "Are you taking me back?"
"Back where?" He asked.
"You're not with them?"
"Who? I'm not with anyone. I live down that way." He pointed to the path he'd walked earlier. "Is someone after you?"
"Yes." The person tried to get up, but couldn't.
He moved through the bushes and helped the stranger sit up. "Come with me. I have a first aid kit at my house. Hold on."
"Leave me here. They might hurt you." The stranger's eyes were heavy. "Maybe they won't. You're like them."
"What does that mean?" He asked. As he helped the stranger up, his hand brushed against something. Thin and waxy, it reminded him of dragonfly wings. He looked over at the person's back. Tattered remnants of iridescent wings flexed underneath the pressure of his palm. A green tint matched with the young ferns growing up around them. Rather than question how such a being came to be, his mind went in another direction. "Did someone cut off your wings?"
"I ripped them off." The stranger said.
"Why would…ah, we can talk about that later. I need to get you inside." He helped the stranger stand up. He caught a full view of the person. Other than the small parts of the wings left, the stranger looked entirely ordinary, though very pretty compared to most. They walked together toward the path. "Sorry, I don't have anything I can give you to cover up with right now, but this place is pretty isolated. I don't think anyone will see you."
Overhead, the dark, cloudy sky rumbled. He prayed to the rain to hold off a little longer. The stranger struggled to stay awake. The two of them stumbled every so often as the stranger nodded off.
"I'm sorry…" The stranger said.
"It's alright. Just a little more."
They made it back to his house just before the rain came down. He let the stranger rest on his bed while he searched for the first aid kit. When he returned to the room, the stranger was asleep. He cleaned up every cut as gently as he could.
Next came a matter of clothing. He didn't know anything about fairies, outside of what he saw in children's books and movies. He didn't know for certain this person was even a fairy at all. Since he knew nothing about whatever the stranger was, he went off of what he'd do for a human instead. The person appeared to be physically male. At least, the person's body looked identical to his own as far as he could tell. So, he chose clothes from his own dresser to put on the stranger. 'It's fine. If I'm wrong, I can just get clothes from Mom's closet.'
He dressed the stranger in his softest pajama pants and a light, loose undershirt. He feared even the clothes might hurt the stranger further. After that, he went to the kitchen and filled a glass of water. Then, he returned to the bedroom and placed it on the nightstand. It was getting late now. The clock struck ten. He was supposed to call his mom around this time.
Both of his parents were away on long business trips. His mother would be back at the beginning of August and his father in September. It had been like this for some years. He usually spent May through July alone. Right now, it was midway through June. He had a month and a half to go before seeing either of them again. The months apart used to not bother him so much. When he was twelve and they left him alone like this for the first time, he was ecstatic. His younger self thought of all the hours he could stay up and all the junk food he could eat. Now that he was sixteen, soon to be seventeen in the fall, the summer felt longer. He didn't care about staying up late. It made it difficult to adjust back to a regular sleeping schedule in fall. Too much junk food made him sick easily. Lounging around in front of the TV got boring. He spent his time cleaning, studying, and finding excuses to go into town.
In February, he finally found a window of time for one of his parents to take him to get his driver's license. Looking for a car was put off for now. He doubted they'd be there when he eventually got one. Now that he had a license, he was given permission to use his mom's car while they were away. He even got the privilege of driving his mom to the airport when she left first. Last summer, he borrowed her car then too, but he didn't tell them. It was quicker and safer than riding his bike down those long, winding roads in a storm, he rationalized to himself. Mostly, he wanted to get into town faster.
He picked up the cordless phone from the kitchen and dialed the number she left for him. It rang five times before she picked up.
"Hello?" She answered.
"Hey, Mom. I'm just checking in." He said.
"Oh, hey. Everything go okay today?" She asked.
He thought about the stranger. "Yeah. I went to the store today to pick up some groceries. How was your day?"
"Very busy. We had another meeting today about the budget. Oh, that reminds me. I got a call from your Dad earlier." She said. He could hear her typing. "There were some unexpected delays. He's probably going to be there until October."
"Oh." He sighed. "What happened?"
"Shipping issues. And someone discovered a major flaw in their plan. They're having to start over with…Oh, sorry. My boss is calling me. I gotta go. I'll talk to you about it tomorrow." She said.
"Okay. Goodnight, Mom."
"Night." She hung up on him.
He put the phone down. The house was dead silent. He could feel it stretching into the coming months. In that quiet place, he repeated his parents' words to him about it. They were both promoted a few years ago, and that came with more responsibilities and more money. All this time away would keep them comfortable financially. It paid for all the books and clothes he now had so many more of than as a child, and he could eat out whenever he wanted. It would help pay for his college and his car. He was grateful for that, but he couldn't shake how empty the house was.
He returned to his room and made a cot to sleep on the floor. The stranger was still asleep. He turned in for the night and forgot his dreams in the morning.
When he woke, it was gray out. A light drizzle was all that remained of the big storm from yesterday night. He prepared breakfast for himself and called his father at the usual time. No one picked up, so he left a message that he was fine and wished him luck with fixing the plan. He chose to eat in his room for once, checking on the stranger while he ate.
Around ten, the stranger finally woke.
"Morning. How are you feeling? Do you need anything?" He asked the stranger.
The stranger turned over to face him. "You didn't hand me over to them."
"I don't know who 'them' is, but I won't. Do you want some water?" He asked.
The stranger nodded.
He handed the stranger a glass of water. "Do you need help sitting up?"
The stranger sat up and drank. "Thank you. Um, could…could I have some food too?"
"Of course. Um…what do you eat? Is this okay?" He showed the stranger the other plate he prepared.
"I can't eat the meat, but I can eat the rest." The stranger took it.
"Oh, no meat. Okay. Let me get you some more of the salad and fruit." He ran to the kitchen and got a second plate ready. When he got back, he thought of more questions to ask. "Here's more if you're hungry. Hey, are there things you can't drink too? Is milk okay?"
The stranger nodded. "I can drink and eat most things, just not meat or alcohol. Actually, I really like milk and honey in tea."
"Really? I'll get some tea from the store later." He pulled up the chair from his desk to sit beside the bed. "Um…so…are you a fairy?"
"Yes." The stranger touched the borrowed clothes. "Are these yours?"
"Yeah, sorry if it's not what you're used to wearing. I didn't know what I should put on you." He laughed awkwardly. "I, um, I mean, I wasn't even sure if you're a boy or a girl or what, or if that means anything to you. I don't know how fairies work."
"I'm a boy." The fairy laughed. "Our bodies are pretty similar to humans. But you're right to not assume. If I were stronger, I could change my body to whatever I wanted anyway. Unicorns are like that too."
"Wait, are unicorns real too? What about dragons?" His eyes lit up. He didn't know why, but hearing about these sorts of creatures stirred something nostalgic in him. He hadn't thought about dragons at all since he was small and learning to read from Serendipity books. He'd drag a stack of them out onto the back porch and flip through the pretty pictures of magical and woodland creatures, hoping he might run into something unforgettable one day. That kind of daydreaming disappeared from him about halfway through elementary school. His third grade self wouldn't believe he'd encounter a real fairy one day.
The fairy smiled. "Dragons are real, but there's a lot less of them than there used to be. There's a lot less of all of us. Do you have an interest in us?"
"Ah, well…not particularly. I told you I don't really know much, but I know what you are. It's…I dunno. I never thought I'd meet one of you. I didn't think you were real." Without thinking, he was smiling too. Then, he remembered something. "Oh, your wings…you lost them. What happened? You said someone was after you."
The fairy glanced back at what wasn't there anymore. "Many of us prefer humans think we aren't real, because some of you are very cruel. I was wandering around a human town, watching people go about their day. My mother warned me about getting too close, but I usually kept myself hidden. That day, someone caught me. They knocked me out. When I came to, I was in some strange, cold place on a metal table. My hands and legs were strapped down and my wings were pinned. They gave me something and I couldn't move. I couldn't do any magic."
"Do you know who it was?" He asked.
"No, but I know I wasn't in this area. They transported me somewhere far from home during a trip. All the people around me had different accents in the new place. Where am I?" The fairy asked.
"You're in Georgia, in the United States. Where were you before?"
"I don't know. I don't really know the names of human places well. My mother says they change too much to keep in memory. But…I saw the same flag a few times…I think I could draw it." The fairy said.
He went over to his desk and grabbed a pen and a notebook. "Here."
The fairy drew a picture. "It was something like this. Do you know this?"
He looked at it. "I think that's the United Kingdom."
"United Kingdom, United States…so those are two different places?" The fairy asked.
"Yeah, their names are different."
"But it sounds the same. Isn't a group of united regions effectively a kingdom?"
"No, we don't have a royal family. They do. We have a president. We have an election every four years to pick a new one." He explained. "But the two countries aren't completely unconnected either. There's a lot of history. Ah, but back to what you were saying. So, some people brought you here. Then what happened?"
"They hurt me more. Once I was brought here, they started their experiments. They would cut me and take my blood and do all sorts of strange things to my body. They kept giving me whatever poison they were giving me over there so I couldn't move much. One day, I overheard they were going to do an experiment to see if fairies were immortal. They were going to start by cutting off different parts of my body, then lastly, my head. That night, I knew I had to find a way to escape. I used what little strength I had left to get out of my restraints, but I had to rip my wings off to get free." The fairy said. He looked away. "I escaped the building and ran into the woods. The poison wore off, but I couldn't do magic anymore. And because I couldn't do magic, I couldn't heal myself either. I got weaker and then fell from that cliff you found me under."
"Do you need your wings to do magic?" He asked.
"Not forever, but I lost them so recently. Magic is channeled through the entire body. I'm not accustomed to doing it without my wings. It'd take me at least a year to get used to the loss of them before I'll be able to do magic again, unless my wings are restored." The fairy explained.
"But I thought you could change your form to whatever you wanted? Why are your wings so important?"
"It's one thing when I'm taking another form, but if I'm starting from this body, I need my wings. If I were in another form and lost a leg, I'd be trapped in that form for a while too." The fairy said.
"Oh, so it has to do with being used to whatever body your currently in, and your not used to not having your wings when you're like this. I think I get it." He said, but he wasn't really sure he understood at all. He reasoned at the very least it made some kind of sense to the fairy. "Can you get them fixed?"
The fairy nodded. "My mother can heal me, but I don't have enough energy right now for her to sense where I am. If I can manage to heal enough, she should be able to find me and take me home."
"So we just have to make sure you rest and recover until then. Then your mom can fix your wings and take you home."
"Is it really alright if I stay here? I don't want to put you in danger." The fairy said.
He smiled warmly. "Don't worry about it. They can't come after me if no one knows you're here."
"What about your family?"
"Out of town. Won't be back for over a month. It's only me. So long as you stay in the house and don't go out front, no one will know you're here at all. My nearest neighbors can't see into my backyard because of all the trees between us." He said. "Oh, um, what should I call you? What's your name?"
"I'm sorry. I can't tell you my name. We don't do that with people we're not close to." The fairy said.
"When you know someone's name, you have greater power over them. When you speak it, even greater."
"Then is there a name you'd like me to call you? I need some name to call you." He said.
"Lenne. You can use that name." The fairy said. "What about you? What's your name?"
"Elis." He said.
"Elis. I met a deer woman once who was raised by a human man with that name. That human cared for her when she was injured too. Perhaps your name is good for healers." Lenne looked over himself. "You bandaged me up."
"I was worried you might die if I didn't do something." Elis said. He tried to picture what a "deer woman" might be. His mind conjured images of a deer walking around on its hind legs and of a human woman with deer aspects about her. He'd never heard of anything like that, but he assumed they might be similar to creatures like satyrs or fauns. When he did read those books with fantasy creatures in them as a child, he was never particularly interested in beings like that. He preferred dragons back then, which served as a precursor to his dinosaur phase in later elementary school and his interest in bird conservation in middle school, now that he thought back on it. When he was beginning to lose interest in magical things, he held onto dragons the longest. They seemed to his younger self the most "possible" to exist. Now that a fairy was resting in his bed, he found that hilarious.
"Thank you. It might not have killed me, but if they'd found me so injured, I wouldn't be able to escape. They'd definitely kill me eventually." Lenne pulled the blankets back and tried to stand up from the bed. He struggled and had to use the headboard to balance himself. "My legs are really weak right now."
Elis stood up and helped him. "Do you want to go somewhere? Did you need to use the bathroom?"
Lenne breathed heavy and slow. "Actually, I'd like a bath, if that's alright. Could you prepare one for me?"
"Sure." Elis lead him down the hall to the bathroom. Lenne sat down on the edge of the bathtub while Elis got the water ready. While they waited on the tub to fill up, Elis helped Lenne undress.
"I'm sorry you're having to do this. I'm so weak right now…" Lenne apologized. His hands shook as he gripped onto the sides of the bathtub for balance.
"Don't worry about it. If I could take you to a doctor, I would, but we can't let anyone find out you're here. I'm all there is for now. I'll have to help you with your bandages anyway." Elis noted that the bruises he saw yesterday looked worse today. He noticed more cuts along Lenne's legs and arms. The ones on his legs were especially deep. At his wrists and ankles, he saw marks from where the straps used to be. Those cuts were deep too. Elis couldn't imagine how painful what Lenne endured must have been. 'Why would someone, after seeing a being so rare and beautiful, think to capture them to cut open? What kind of sick person would do that?'
Another disturbing thought came to Elis after that. If Lenne was very weak when he escaped, he couldn't have run very far from wherever he was being held captive at. The people who did this to Lenne had to live close to Elis. Some of those people might be people he knew and saw in town. They could be someone at his school's parents. He really could be in danger if someone found Lenne at his home. Elis would need to be careful to make sure Lenne was never seen by anyone.
After undressing him and removing the bandages, Elis helped Lenne into the tub. Lenne lowered himself into the rising water. He unplugged the drain.
"What're you doing?" Elis asked.
Lenne turned on the shower. "Ah, if you don't mind, I prefer to bathe like this, with it half full and the water coming down. I usually wash off in the waterfall at the river near my home."
"Oh. Okay." Elis's dark, terrifying thoughts were derailed by Lenne's actions. He watched the fairy play in the bath as the shower water came down above the now wingless being. It did make him think of playing under a waterfall. He'd done something like that once when he was really young, on a vacation somewhere he couldn't quite remember. The way Lenne sat and played with the water sparked other memories to come forward. Without thinking, he smiled and thought. 'I have a Brian Froud painting happening in my bathroom.'
That was a name he hadn't thought of in a very long time. It was something nearly forgotten until that moment, much like those Serendipity books he used to take outside with him and read in the sun. When he was in early elementary school, he had two books by that artist. One was a pop-up book and the other a little more mature. He used to flip through them constantly all through first grade. By third grade, they were lost somewhere in his room. By fifth, he had mostly forgotten he ever had them. The important things of his early childhood, so intense and constant, rapidly faded around eight and evaporated like mist by sixth grade when his attention turned to pretending to be more grown-up than every other child doing the same. The memories came flooding back, full of sunshine and summer. He couldn't recall why he let go of those things. Perhaps, he thought, there was no reason at all. After all, in sixth grade, he was so certain he would be an ornithologist and asked for book after book about birds. Right now, he was studying about computers, though he didn't have one yet. He felt certain, until a moment ago, that he was going to pursue some type of job involving them. It so seemed important to him.
Suddenly, the world was a little unstable. He could already see his older self staring off in some unknown direction. Doubt hovered over his days of planning for college. Maybe this was just how the world was, he thought. He would always be changing, no matter how certain he thought he was in any given moment.
However, he couldn't shake that feeling of sunshine on his back. Those nearly forgotten days felt, somehow, a little warmer than all the other days slipping away from him. He couldn't quite sort out why.
"Is something wrong? Am I using too much water?" Lenne asked.
Elis shook his head. "Sorry. I was lost in thought. Do you need anything else?"
"No, thank you."
"Okay. When you're done, call for me. I need to put on new bandages. I'll go get you some clothes to wear." Elis walked over to the door.
"Alright. Thank you again." Lenne held his hands up to the water and let it run over his fingers.
Elis's eyes lingered on him for a while, catching the vibrant green on Lenne's back shimmering in the sunlight coming in through the window. He glanced over. 'Huh. The storm's finally passed over.'
Elis closed the bathroom door. He walked down the hallway. His mind wandered through those paths in his early childhood again, the ones he happened to be walking when he found Lenne yesterday. Since last summer, he started going on walks through the woods to alleviate his boredom. He knew the paths well because he used to play out in the woods as a young child. His mother would tell him not to wander too far off, but he didn't listen. When he started going down those old trails again, he didn't think much on what he used to do out there. The memories came through now. He climbed trees and played games of pretend. The forest floor held his treasures and friends he imagined. But no one was really there with him. There really weren't many people his own age in this area, especially in his neighborhood and the surrounding ones. It'd always been mostly elderly people coming to retire near the forest, eager to forget the rest of the world. He kept himself occupied with the hopes that someone unseen was out there in the forest. Then, he wasn't alone. He was surrounded, at least in his mind.
From later elementary school through his ninth year of high school, he spent most of his time going to other people's houses and school events and sports games. He was on the basketball team in middle school and through tenth grade. When basketball season was over, he spent more time going to other people's games and dances in middle school and ninth grade. His schools were small ones, but it was better than being home. Once his parents started taking long business trips out of town during the summer months, he started to hate summer vacation. He couldn't really go anywhere for most of it. Now, he had his mom's car he could drive, but it didn't matter anymore.
Last summer was the longest summer he'd lived. His friends were going on vacations and doing summer camps and sports training. Nobody called him. Nobody had time for him. In those months between ninth and tenth grade, they all grew apart and had new friends. He started the year with no one, and gained no one by the end. He was too busy staring at all the people who used to be so important to him laughing with people they hated a year ago. Elis was bitter throughout the school year. He nearly quit the basketball team. Three of his friends that always played on the team with him in middle school and ninth grade decided not to play anymore last school year. At this point, he didn't care about them. They were never really that close anyway. He was friends with those people because he didn't want to be alone in a quiet room. His bitterness about all of that effected his dating life too. He had short relationships here and there, but in tenth grade, he couldn't get himself to care about asking out any girl. He was so withdrawn no one asked him out either.
As his mind wandered from those childhood summer days to the recent past, he wanted to run away from those memories to the present. Regret slowed him. He could've tried to reach out to everyone, but he didn't.
'Why am I thinking about that now? I have things to do.'
Elis opened up the door to his room. He picked out some clothes for Lenne to wear. He grabbed the first aid kit and put it on the bed. Lenne called him soon after. He brought the fairy back to his room and put fresh bandages on him, then helped him dress. Lenne lay back down.
"I'm sorry…I'm still very tired. Is it alright if I go back to sleep?" Lenne asked.
"Go ahead. You should rest, with all those injuries you've got. I'm gonna go to the store soon. Is there anything you want me to pick up for you?" Elis asked. He put his shoes on and grabbed his wallet.
"Mm…I don't really need anything. I liked what you gave me earlier. Some bread might be nice." Lenne's voice was soft. His eyes were half closed.
"Bread? What kind?"
"Doesn't matter to me." Lenne soon fell back asleep.
"Sleep well." Elis left the room. He stopped in the kitchen first. Elis wanted to make Lenne tea with honey and milk. He hadn't made tea in a very long time. There wasn't any in the house, nor any honey either. He checked for the teapot and the kettle. The kettle was stashed away behind a pile of pots and pans and the teapot was overhead, resting in a pile of cobwebs on top of the cabinets as a forgotten decoration. He'd need to clean them both when he got back to use them. He sighed heavily.
Elis drove down to the grocery store in town. There was only one, though he heard a Walmart was being built on the outskirts of town. He hadn't been in one before, but he knew a lot of his classmates were excited about it. The older people in town seemed less enthused.
In the store, Elis was surprised by how many types of tea there were. The last time he drank any was in middle school, when he had a cold. That was chamomile tea, he was certain of that. The only other tea he had tried before was half and half sun tea during the summer months when he was in early elementary school. He had a phase of making it a lot after his grandmother showed him how. What sort of tea did Lenne like, he wondered. The cheapest option would be to buy sweet tea blends, but he doubted the fairy from across the sea would want cold tea like that. He looked at the English breakfast tea. Lenne had been caught in the United Kingdom. Did that mean he was from there? How far had he traveled to go people watching? If he was from there, that didn't mean he liked things humans in that area liked either. Uncertain at every decision, Elis grabbed lots of variety packs and cheaper teas.
He ran into another problem when he arrived at the honey. He looked closely at the labels. Wildflower, clover, spicy, jars with honeycomb. There were nearly as many options for honey as for tea. He only remembered his mother buying the store brand version that came in a bear shaped container. What was appropriate to give to a fairy? He had no idea, but he was already spending a lot on tea. He went with the little bear container. At the very least, he thought it tasted good.
Elis grabbed a loaf of French bread, some rolls, and a small cake. Fruits and salads were thrown in too. If his mom asked him about the receipts he left for her to review when she got back, he could say he was experimenting with food. 'I doubt she'll care. She only looks over the numbers.'
As he headed toward the cashier, a display caught his eye. He saw a glass teapot and a kettle on sale. There were mugs on sale nearby. He liked how they looked much more than the ones at home. Those went into the cart too. He felt a little guilty about buying something that he technically had at home, but he rationalized to himself that he could keep these for himself when he moved out. These weren't meant for decoration and sick days.
When he got home, he checked on Lenne first thing. Lenne was still sleeping. Elis went to the kitchen to make some tea. He chose one of the black teas. He rinsed the mugs and the fruit while he waited on the kettle, then made another fruit salad for them to split and cut a piece of cake for each of them. Once the water was ready, he poured it over the teabags in the glass teapot. He watched the color of the water gradually change inside it. 'Huh. It's kind of pretty.'
Elis realized he forgot to ask how much honey and milk Lenne liked in his tea. He made his own cup first, and then copied what he did with the other one. 'I hope this isn't too sweet for him.'
Once everything was ready, he searched for the breakfast tray. It was rarely used, much like the kettle and the teapot. His mother bought it at the mall one county over during the holiday season. There were originally two, but the second one was lost entirely. She had a bunch of plans for what they would do with them, but he could only recall it being brought out when he was sick a few times when he was really young.
Elis eventually found it in a closet. It had poinsettias in the corner. He had forgotten about that. It looked pretty tacky, but it was sturdy and more than big enough for everything he needed to carry. Given how large it was, he doubted the manufacturer of those trays ever intended anyone to use them for anything but decoration. He carried their food on the tray back to his room.
'Is it right for me to give him this cheap stuff? He's a fairy.'
He thought to himself. 'But what else can I give him? This is all that's around here.'
Lenne woke when Elis opened the door. He looked at the teapot and teacups on the tray, and smiled. "You made tea!"
"I hope it's okay. I've never really made tea like this before." Elis said, lowering his head. He set up the tray on the bed for Lenne and sat beside him.
"I'm sure it's fine." Lenne brought the cup to his mouth and took a sip. He smiled again. "It's good. Thank you."
"Do you really like tea?" Elis asked.
Lenne nodded. "It's my favorite drink."
"How are you feeling?"
"My body hurts, but I'm less tired at least." Lenne said. "I've never had to heal this much before, and I don't have any herbs with me. I wish I could use some of your human medicine."
Lenne shook his head. "Most of your medicine would make me sick. I don't really know why. Mother says our bodies are different enough that a lot of it won't work even though we look the same."
"Huh. I guess that makes sense. It's not like all humans can take all human medicine either." Elis thought on what Lenne said. He had an idea. "Herbs…wait, aspirin originally was made from a tree. I wonder if you can have that. Do you know?"
"I'm not sure. I can sense if something will make me sick. Can you bring it to me?"
"How can you do that?" Elis asked.
"It's a spell my mother put on me. Even if I can't do magic, I can still use this. That's how I knew right away they'd put poison in my body after they knocked me out. I could feel it." Lenne explained.
"I have an idea." Elis got up from the bed. He ran to the bathroom and grabbed several bottles out of the medicine cabinet. He went into his parents' room and got more. Elis rushed back to the room and put the various bottles, boxes, and tubes onto the bed. "This is all the medicine in the house. If you can tell if it'll hurt you, why don't we go through each one and see if you can take any of them."
Lenne picked up each item. He made two piles on the bed. One pile was much bigger than the other. When he was done, he said to Elis. "Alright. I've finished."
"Oh, which ones can you take?"
Lenne pointed to the smaller pile. "All of these won't hurt me."
Elis looked through the bottles. In his haste, he didn't think about what he'd actually brought out. Three of the items were in tubes, one for ringworm, one for athlete's foot, and one was for his mother for something more private. He blushed at that one, not wanting to think about that. Curious, he wondered what the ingredients were to keep mental note of for when he went to the store next. To his surprise, all three had the same active ingredient. 'Wait…this is all the same medicine…what?'
He looked over the bottles. His mother's medicine for menstrual cramps was in the mix. Elis thought that medicine was only for women. He read the label, then looked at the pain killer Lenne put aside. 'These two are the same thing too…My parents are just buying multiples of the same things…Did they not read any of this?!'
The other items before him were similarly doubled or tripled. He counted between all the items in the pile that there were really only five different active ingredients, but the advertising on them were slightly different. He noticed the medicine for cramps only mentioned cramps on the label, but the generic painkiller's label mentioned multiples types of pain, including cramps. Elis thought about all the tea he bought earlier in the day and wondered how much of it was mostly the same things with a different box art.
He put those thoughts aside and wrote down the ingredients in the medicines Lenne decided were safe. Elis opened the generic painkiller and handed Lenne two pills. "This is probably what you should take right now. I don't think these others will help in this situation."
"Thank you, Doctor." Lenne said. He took the pills without hesitation.
"Doctor…haha, I guess we kinda did just do an allergy test for you." Elis laughed. "Looks like we didn't have aspirin in this house, but you can take ibuprofen and we've got plenty of that."
"Hmm…when will it start to work? I don't feel anything."
"Human medicine doesn't usually work that fast. Give it some time." Elis said. "Our version of healing spells is slow, but usually pretty safe."
"Herbs work slowly too. I'm just really spoiled by my mother. She's a really good healer. Her magic is near instant. She rarely needs to use herbs at all." Lenne ate some of the fruit salad.
"So is your mom like, a doctor for fairies?" Elis asked.
"You could say that. It's her specialty. She treats more than fairies. Dragons, nymphs, mermaids, she can treat anyone. What does your mother do?" Lenne asked.
"My mother…um, she's a business woman. She spends a lot of time managing things for people. That's what my dad does too, but his position at his company is higher up. I don't think anything they do really…would be something you have an equivalent to. You don't have offices with cubicles and teleconferences and board meetings, right?"
"Tele-what? Cubes? Meetings with boards? I don't think I understand."
Elis shrugged. "Her company sells fridges and freezers. My dad's company sells electronics. He's mostly involved with phones. I actually don't know that much about what they exactly do at their companies, other than they go to a lot of meetings and they take a lot of work home with them. They're very busy. If they hadn't met and married right after college, I doubt either of them would have ever gotten married."
"So, their business is in things for the home." Lenne finished off his tea.
"Sort of, yeah." Elis sat closer to Lenne. "You haven't mentioned your dad. What does he do?"
"Um, I don't really know him." Lenne said. "He and my mother stopped seeing each other before I was born. I've heard that he's settled down by the sea somewhere and spends his days fishing."
"Oh. You don't seem upset about him."
"I've never met him. I'm not really mad at him about it. My mother's relationships don't last very long anyway. She's a bit…much sometimes. But she's always been a good mother to me. I'm sure she's scared right now." Lenne lowered his voice. "I don't know how long I've been missing. She might think I'm dead."
"You'll see her again." Elis said.
"I hope so."
"I'm sure you will." Elis finally ate some of his own food. "Hey, can I ask you something else? How old are you? You look about my age."
"I'm seventeen. I'll be eighteen next spring." Lenne said.
"So, you're older than me. I thought you were a little younger than me since you're shorter. I'm sixteen. I'll be seventeen this year." Elis said.
"Oh, when's your birthday?"
"First of October."
"Mine's in April. The sixteenth." Lenne said. He counted on his fingers. "You're about…half a year younger than me."
"Yeah, I think that's right." Elis double checked the math. "Do you go to school?"
"Ah, no. There are schools, but my mother has someone come to teach me at home. Where we live is really far from the nearest school and I didn't want to live far away. If you live past a certain distance, they require you to live in a dorm. I don't think our schools are quite like yours though." Lenne stretched. "You have people assigned by similar ages, right?"
"We have grade levels. I'm about to start my junior year, eleventh grade. I only have twelfth grade after that, then I graduate from public education and can go to college if I want." Elis explained. "How does it work for you?"
"We can start at any age…age is sort of meaningless for us. Childhood is a really short part of our life. After about thirty, we age much slower than humans. You can complete all your lessons at a school, but there's no 'graduation'. School is just for learning things. Most of my lessons at home were about reading, writing, math, and things like that. And my mother gave me lessons on magic and healing after my regular lessons. I've heard humans are really focused on education. You have to do so much more work than we do. All of you learn advanced maths and multiple sciences, right? That's why you don't need magic. You bend the laws of the universe with machines and chemistry and math instead of using only your body. It's really fascinating." Lenne's eyes lit up.
"Uh, I guess we do have a lot of stuff we have to study. I'm in pre-Calculus right now. What math did you have to go up to?"
"Haha, I only learned basic Algebra. I don't think I need more than that for what I want to do."
"Are you going to do the same thing as your mom?"
Lenne nodded. "I'm pretty good at it, but it'll be another two hundred years before I'm good enough to work on my own."
"Two…two hundred years?! How long do you live?!"
"Thousands, if I'm lucky." Lenne said. "But I can be killed. I can't live without my brain or my heart. That's why I was willing to rip my wings off. If they had cut off my head…"
Lenne's body shook. Elis put his hand on Lenne's shoulder. "Don't worry. I won't let them find you and do that. Is this…are we the reason there aren't many of your kind left?"
"Humans used to kill us frequently. Some called us monsters and devils. Some thought our bodies would give them special power. Some wanted to see how our bodies worked. And some killed us to keep us as trophies. We stay hidden because of that, but my mother said it didn't always used to be that way." Lenne looked down at the bandages on his arms. "I know most humans wouldn't hurt me. I've gone people watching in secret for years, and I've been seen by a few people before. The first person who saw me was an old lady. She was so sweet. She cried and told me not to be afraid, then she gave me some bread. Another person was a little girl who wanted to play with me. An old man told me to go back home, because not everyone can be trusted. I wasn't afraid of any of those people, and I'm not afraid of you. But I should've been more careful."
"It's not your fault. Nobody should hurt anyone." Elis said. He lowered his head. "I'm sorry those people hurt you, and I'm sorry I've been asking you so many questions. You've barely been awake and all I've done is be selfish."
"No, I like answering your questions. You've answered mine too." Lenne rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry…I think I need to go back to sleep again."
"That's okay. You need a lot of rest to heal. I'll move this for you." Elis cleared off the bed as Lenne lay back down. "I've got homework to do over the summer anyway. I'll be at my desk right there. Just call my name if you need anything."
"Thank you for helping me." Lenne said. "I'll repay you one day."
"You don't need to do that." Elis watched him go back to sleep. Lenne was so very weak. He feared Lenne might not recover from his injuries.
Lenne slept most of the day, only waking for brief moments to attend to physical needs. He barely ate anything later in the day. Elis went back out to the store for a second trip. He bought more bandages, vegetable broths and soups, and painkillers. If Lenne was struggling to eat, he hoped the soups would be easier for him. He didn't know much about how a fairy's body functioned, but he knew one truth about life on earth. Nothing survives long without water. The soups would keep him hydrated at the very least.
For the next week, Lenne spent most of his time in bed. His bruises got darker at first. Elis was terrified when he woke one morning to see Lenne's chest and back had dark spots all over. He assumed they were the result of the fall from the cliff. They gradually changed color over the week. He worried less the lighter they got. Lenne mostly ate soup and drank tea. In the few hours he was awake, he and Elis talked about their own lives.
Elis learned Lenne lived in a cottage with his mother. People came to their cottage for treatments. Lenne's teacher was another fairy who worked as a traveling teacher for the surrounding area. He didn't have many friends, as most around him were much older than him. As Lenne told him before, childhood didn't matter much to their kind. Lenne was on the cusp of adulthood in most human societies, but he wouldn't be seen as a capable adult for at least two hundred years. He could leave his mother's home by his current age, but it was common for many to stay with their parents for a few hundred years or so if they were involved in serious study. Since he was learning to be a healer from his mother, he would likely stay at her side for two to four hundred years mastering techniques and studying.
He couldn't fathom that amount of time passing. Four hundred years ago, the country he was living in wasn't formed yet. Telephones and cars didn't exist. Those were the days before modern medicine, before people began to understand DNA, before the theory of evolution, and before humans landing on the moon. Lenne said human medicine worked slower than what they could do, but, he thought, if it took centuries for fairies to learn those skills, then human medicine was actually quite fast. No human had that kind of time to give away. Doctors and researchers already gave up so much time of their lives as is simply learning. For what they could do with such short live spans, humans were quite accomplished.
Lenne compared humans to a flame jumping from candle to candle with their knowledge. One lights the next before it goes out.
"But some of our kind are quite stubborn. We've lost knowledge of a lot of things because some wouldn't share their wisdom. Humans would do best to not imitate that foolishness." Lenne said to him about that.
Elis didn't know much about the world. He was only sixteen, but he knew not all humans were so willing to pass on knowledge. Censorship, historical revisionism, and destruction of information was a reality throughout human history. On that thought, he wondered what they had lost entirely, or where they might have been now if an event here and there had been only slightly different.
Another thought came to him. What would he pass on? To whom? As he studied his books on computers, he considered that might be it. One day, some years from now, he may be showing someone younger how to work those ever advancing machines. That could be his part in that passing flame, if that was what he was doing years from now. He was much less certain about that than he was at the start of the summer. Sitting in a room with someone who could grow older than the trees, he felt the briefness of his own existence, and that of his parents'. Next year would be his last summer before turning eighteen. That was the last time he'd have as a child to spend those free months with his parents before going off to college in the fall. They likely wouldn't be there for him then. He doubted he could convince them to take time away. They were burning down their own candles while he wasted his time waiting on them to notice him there alone in that house. That time wasn't coming, and he couldn't get back the empty days of summers past.
They would not fill that loneliness in him. He had to accept that and let them live with their own regrets. He needed to shift from his learned stillness to moving again in the world. Whether they were there or not, he needed to learn to make himself happy, but he didn't know how.
Weeks passed and Lenne improved. He was able to move about on his own and stay awake longer. Elis spent a lot of his time cooking and getting things for Lenne. Lenne helped him clean around the house once he was able. Elis wondered what the fairy thought of him. For someone who could live thousands of years, what did this moment mean to him? Would the memory of these days be like that of a butterfly landing on his hand or a passing breeze, brief and easily forgotten? Elis didn't expect Lenne to remember him centuries from now, but Elis knew he would never forget this summer no matter how many decades he lived.
One sunny day, when the wind was warm and the sky cloudless, Elis and Lenne hung up the laundry in the backyard. Elis didn't do it often. He only did it during the summer months sometimes. His parents thought it was a waste of time, but he found it fun. They sat out on the back porch afterwards. Since he was in a nostalgic mood, he made sun tea for the first time in years. He'd even bought an ice cream machine to complete his childhood memory. They used to have one years ago, but it broke and never got replaced. Elis made them strawberry ice cream. They shared the tea and ate homemade ice cream together, enjoying the warm sun and the smell of fresh laundry.
"What kind of tea is this? I've never had this before. It tastes like there's lemon in it." Lenne said.
"It's sun tea. I made it half with lemonade. That's how I used to like it when I was a little kid." Elis said. He took a sip. "It's not quite like the tea you're used to. This is sweet tea. Most people around here drink their tea cold and sweet like this, but a lot of people just put the pitcher in the fridge instead of sitting out like this. This is more for summertime."
"Do you think you could make this again for me?" Lenne asked. "I liked the ice cream too. Maybe next time we could use a different fruit."
"Sure. Have you ever had pineapple?"
Lenne shook his head. "No, what's that? I've never heard of apples that grow on pine trees."
"Haha, it's not really an apple. The name doesn't really make sense. It's a yellow fruit. I'll get one from the store tomorrow." Elis looked over at Lenne. Since he was moving about more now, Lenne switched from pants to shorts when they were outside. The bruises and cuts on his legs and arms were mostly gone now, but Lenne still needed lots of rest and sometimes couldn't stand for very long. The deepest cuts on Lenne's legs were healing much slower than the rest of his body. "How are you feeling?"
"Mm…My chest hurts some, and my legs, but I'm mostly alright now. I think another couple of weeks and I'll be healed enough for my mother to sense me." Lenne swung his legs back and forth over the side of the porch.
"Then you can go home." Elis said. His heart hurt. He wanted to be happy for Lenne. He was glad he was getting better. But that meant this little diversion would come to an end. The house would be empty again soon.
"Is something wrong?" Lenne asked.
Elis shook his head. "It's nothing. I was thinking…"
Lenne's eyes widened. He moved toward the door and stayed down.
"What's wrong?" Elis whispered.
"Someone's in the driveway." Lenne whispered back.
Elis listened. He heard someone park a car. He wasn't expecting any deliveries from the postman or any other visitors. Elis ran to the gate of the fence at the side of the house and went toward the front yard. A police car was sitting beside his mother's. Elis's heart raced.
'What are these people doing here?'
Elis thought quickly. He made his presence known to the officers to distract them. "Um, can I help you?"
One of the officers approached him. "Yes, we're looking for someone. Are your parents home right now?"
"No, they're both at work. I can give you their numbers, if you need to talk to them." Elis offered.
"What time will either of them be back?" The other officer asked.
"They're away on business right now. It'll be a few days, but you can talk to them on the phone around…"
The first officer cut him off. "Business trip out of town, aye? How old are you, young man?"
"I'm si-seventeen. I'm old enough to be left alone for a few days." He fudged his age slightly to sound a little more mature, along with the truth about the length of their trips. "The lady next door knows I'm by myself. She checks up on me."
"Is that so?" The second officer asked, not remotely interested. "You get me your parents' numbers, alright. We're looking for someone, and we need to ask everyone in town."
"Is there a criminal on the loose or something?" Elis asked.
"There's been a kidnapping. You need to be careful right now if you're really alone. This boy has been missing for weeks now. Have you seen anyone like this?" The first officer handed him a paper. It had a picture of Lenne on it, but with a made up name underneath.
Elis took the picture. "No, I don't think I have. There aren't that many people my age in this area. I'm pretty sure I'd notice someone new. Do you know what the kidnapper looks like?"
"Not much detail on him. We know he's about six foot, white, with dark hair and was last seen driving a red pick-up truck heading through this city. That's all we've got for now. Have you seen anything or anyone suspicious lately?" The first officer asked.
Elis pretended to be shocked and concerned at the nonsense story. He shook his head. "No, I can't really think of anything, but I haven't gone into town much except to get groceries. Who should I call if I see something?"
The first officer wrote down a number and names onto a sheet of notepad paper and handed it to Elis. "Call here and ask for us if you see or hear anything about this. Tell your parents and friends too."
"Okay. I will." Elis folded up the paper and the missing person poster. "Oh, did you still want my parents' numbers?"
"Yes." The first officer said.
"Hold on. It's on the fridge. I'll copy it down for you." Elis ran inside and went to the kitchen. He quickly copied down the information. As he ran back toward the front door, it opened.
The officers let themselves in.
"Um…is there something else you need?" Elis asked. "I have the information…"
The officers ignored Elis at first. They walked around the house.
"We're just going to check that he's not here." One of them said.
"But…my parents aren't home. I'm not supposed to let anyone in the house…" Elis said. His heartbeat rang in his ears. 'What do I do?'
"You don't need to worry about that. We're police. Your parents shouldn't have a problem with us being here, unless they have something to hide." The second officer said as he moved into the kitchen.
The other officer went down the hall to where the bedrooms and bathrooms were. Elis stood in place, not wanting to look suspicious. He hoped Lenne had found a good hiding place. The officers opened up every door, cabinet, and closet, then both went through the back door and checked the backyard. Elis followed them outside to see what they were doing.
"What are you looking for?" Elis asked.
They didn't answer him. One of the officers noticed the two bowls and two glasses on the porch. He looked back at Elis. "You said you were alone right now? Who's the other bowl for?"
"My grandmother." Elis blurted out.
"Where is she?" The officer asked.
"She's not here anymore. She passed away." Elis lied. Both his grandmothers were alive. His paternal grandmother was living comfortably in Florida near a tourist spot and his maternal grandmother was in a nursing home. "Sometimes, I set out some food and a drink for her when I'm alone because I miss her. I know it's weird, but it's just something I do when I get sad about her passing away."
The officer narrowed his eyes. "Is that so?"
"Yes." Elis kept a straight face. 'You're criticizing my fake story, but you came to me with a fake one first.'
The other officer came back to the porch. "No one else is here. Let's go."
The two policemen walked passed Elis without another word. He tried to give them the paper with his parents' information on it, but they didn't seem to care about that anymore. He watched them from the front door as they drove off. Once he was certain they weren't coming back, he went to the porch.
"Lenne?" Elis listened for his voice.
The outdoor freezer opened. Lenne rose out of it. "They're finally gone."
"You hid in the freezer?!"
"I didn't think they'd search there. Looks like I was right." Lenne grinned. "But, um, could you help me out of here. My legs are numb."
Elis rushed off. He helped him out. "And you were barefoot too! We need to get you in the sun."
He took Lenne into the yard, in between the rows of clothes and sheets. They sat there together on the grass.
"You're really not going to turn me over?" Lenne asked.
"No, of course not." Elis answered. "But we'll have to be extra careful. Whoever those people were are still looking for you. I don't know how much the police know. They told me you were kidnapped."
"Do you think they'll come back again?"
"I don't know. I hope not." Elis unfolded the missing poster. "Look what they gave me."
Lenne ripped the paper up. "They took that picture right before they transported me here. I couldn't move. I couldn't even blink because of how much poison they gave me."
"But you can move now." Elis said. He smiled. "You ate two bowls of ice cream without any help."
Lenne's mood shifted away from fear and anger. He laughed and smiled back. "Is that too much?"
"Nah, we have plenty left, and we can make more." Elis said. "Let's eat here. It's even warmer than the porch."
They finished off the ice cream in no time. Full, they both rested down on the grass. Elis looked up at the trees and sky above them. The sunny day was shifting to dark and cloudy quickly. Old pines swayed in the strong wind. He worried the breeze might carry his pants and pillowcases away somewhere into the woods. The pins held them down better than he expected.
"Looks like a storm might be coming soon." Elis said.
"Tonight. It's going to be a thunderstorm." Lenne stared at the passing clouds, then closed his eyes.
"How can you tell?"
"I can feel it in the air, but the trees are talking about it too." Lenne said.
"Not like you do. They talk through their roots and with scents. They're excited about the storm. It's going to be a lot of rain." Lenne said. He opened his eyes and pointed to one at the edge of the property. "That one's worried though. The plant growing on it has nearly killed it. What kind of ivy is that? It's so aggressive."
"Uh…I don't think it's ivy. I'm pretty sure that's kudzu. It's all over the place." Elis said. "Nothing much kills it."
"Oh. Well, then I think it'll kill that tree in the end if the storm doesn't. But that's what the tree is most worried about. The wind from the storm."
"Do you think it might hit the house coming down?" Elis asked.
"Don't think so. No, it'll probably fall the other way, into the woods." Lenne stood up. "The wind's only going to get worse from now until sunset. We should take the clothes in."
The boys gathered up everything and folded it. They carried the baskets inside. Around sunset, it started to rain and by ten, it was pouring. Elis briefly spoke with his mother on the phone. As much as he wanted to talk to her more, and she wasn't busy for once, he didn't want to stay on the phone with the lightning going on outside.
Lenne sat by the window near the back door. He watched the rain coming down in the backyard. Elis noticed. He turned the back porch light on so Lenne could see better. Elis pulled up a chair.
"It's peaceful." He said.
Lenne leaned against the glass. "It rains a lot here."
"This time of the year, yeah." Elis cracked open the window some to let in more sound. "July's the rainiest month here. Rainstorms in July are more frequent than sunny days some years. The month's almost over though. August won't be quite as wet, but it'll still rain a good bit."
"My mother always says rain is good for sleeping."
"My mom says that too." Elis closed his eyes and listened. "She used to."
In his mind, he traveled several years back to some summer before he started middle school. He was watching the rain from the back door then too. He couldn't quite remember what book was in his hand, but he recalled the cutesy pink sea creature tucked away on the inside before the story began. The little creature greeted him at the beginning of many of his books. That night, he stood there watching the wind bend the trees at terrifying angles. His mother told him to go to sleep and not to worry about the trees. He was afraid he wouldn't be able to, but she told him the rain would make it easier. He didn't believe her, but he fell asleep shortly after he finally went to bed. The book rested beside him on the blankets, cover open. He hadn't gotten past the pink creature at the start that night before drifting off.
Elis opened his eyes. Lenne was staring at him. When their eyes locked, Lenne looked surprised for a moment, and slightly embarrassed. His chest and back lit up with a green light, flickering twice. Lenne's face turned red.
"What was that?" Elis asked.
Lenne turned his face to the side and put his hands to his face to hide the red. He laughed nervously. "Ah, sometimes, um, that happens. If my heart skips a beat, my body flashes like that. If I had my wings, they would've lit up too, much brighter. When you looked at me so suddenly, it scared me for a second."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."
"No, you didn't do anything. I was just startled. I thought you'd fallen asleep."
"Do all fairies do that?" Elis asked.
"No, only some. My mother doesn't, but she told me my father does. It depends on your wings. Hers glow whenever she wants them to, but they don't flicker like that either." Lenne looked over his shoulder. "They're mostly gone right now, but my wings weren't entirely detached from me. You saw. There's still some left connected to my back. My wings are what's causing that to happen."
"Oh. Can you control it at all?"
Lenne shook his head. "It's like breathing. It happens whether I want it to or not. It's inconvenient sometimes. If I get too scared and I want to hide, if I can't calm myself, I'll light up. When those people captured me, I had some time I could've done magic…I could've flown or turned invisible, but my body froze and my heart stopped. I lit up brightly and did nothing. I don't know why."
"I read about that. All animals do that when they panic. You either fight, run, or freeze. I don't think you can really control that response either." Elis said. He saw shame in Lenne's eyes. "One time, when I was younger, there was a tornado warning. I was playing outside at a park when the sirens went off. Around here, tornadoes don't usually do much damage or they pass over us, so I ignored it. But this time was different. Ten minutes after the siren, I saw it in the distance coming our way. My mom was yelling at me to run, but my legs wouldn't move. She had to pick me up and carry me to the park bathroom. We hid in a stall until it was over. I remember the roof came down over us, but the stall walls held up. Once it was over, I still wouldn't move. I was too scared. She had to carry me out of the bathroom too."
"But you were a little kid, right?"
"Not that little. I was twelve then. That was almost five years ago." Elis laughed under his breath. "Don't know how she carried me like that. I was nearly the same size as her then. But I read that can happen too. In life or death situations, sometimes you can become stronger."
"Really?" Lenne put his hand to the glass. "I wish I'd become stronger then."
"Don't think about it." Elis got up. "I'm sleepy. Let's go to bed."
"Could we have tea first? Hot tea, if that's alright."
"Sure. I'll make some."
After a cup of tea, they both turned in for the night. The rain came down heavy as the wind shook the house. Elis looked up at Lenne from the cot on the floor. The fairy slept peacefully. Lenne seemed so calm and cheery when they talked, but he knew Lenne must've endured many horrifying things when he was captured. Earlier, he let a little of that fear show. Elis's stomach turned thinking about the amount of pain and terror Lenne felt then. Many of the cuts on Lenne's body had faded to scars. The bruises were mostly gone now. But Elis doubted the cuts across Lenne's consciousness from those days had healed.
Another week passed. The police didn't return, but Elis saw missing posters for Lenne put up around town. He ripped down the ones he saw. Lenne continued to recover. Though he couldn't do it for long, Lenne was able to run again. They had short races in the backyard between the clotheslines. Elis let Lenne win often. Mostly, he wanted to keep Lenne moving to help him recover faster.
Elis studied less. He spent all his time with Lenne, or going to the store. Occasionally, he saw one of his former friends in town, back from a trip or some other event, but he paid them no mind. They weren't in his thoughts anymore. The short calls to his parents were becoming less painful. After all, he thought, once he was an adult and on his own, he wouldn't see them as often anyway. He would enjoy the moments they spent together, but he couldn't wait in place for people who were too busy being somewhere else. It was easier to think these things with Lenne there. Elis told himself he could keep up these feelings once Lenne left, but a part of him doubted that. He might return to exactly as he was at the beginning of last school year.
One night, Lenne and Elis stayed out late after Elis's mother couldn't talk for long again. The air was humid and hot, so hot they had spent a chunk of the earlier part of the day napping on the porch in a spot shaded from the sun. At night, the sky was clear and the yard as brightly lit as the distance stars above them. They played among the fireflies games Elis hadn't played since he was a child. For the longest time, they played hide-and-seek. He felt childish doing it at first, then he forgot about that and focused on trying to sneak up on where Lenne might be and surprise him to make his body reveal his location.
"You're cheating!" Lenne complained, his body glowing and flickering a bright green.
"It's a strategy." Elis laughed.
"A strategy only you can use. That's not fair!" Even in the dark, Lenne's red face was easy to see.
Elis put his hand to his chin. "Hold on. I have an idea how we can make it a little more fair. Wait here."
He ran back into the house. He searched through the mess of shoes at the bottom of his closet. "Come on. Where are you?"
Near the very back corner of one side, he found them. They were shoes his mother bought for him before she left to wear when he went on walks at night so he could be seen by people driving by, but he didn't really like them. The line his were from were for sports and meant for adults, but the more popular version of those kind of shoes were worn by elementary and middle school kids. He'd worn them only once to show her they fit, then tossed them in the back of the closet to be forgotten.
Elis put the shoes on. "Please work."
He ran back outside to Lenne, his shoes flashing red with every hit to the ground. Elis caught his breath when he reached Lenne. "There. Now we'll be even."
"What're those?" Lenne asked.
"Light up shoes. There's LED lights inside the bottom part. And whenever I make a step…" Elis stomped his foot down to demonstrate. "They light up. I can't turn it on or off. If I move while I'm supposed to be hiding, they'll light up."
"Oh, I didn't think humans would want to make themselves light up." Lenne knelt down and looked at the shoes.
"Yeah…light decorations are really popular, especially around the holidays." Elis said. "In December, a lot of people put long strings of lights around their houses. We call them Christmas lights because that's what we put them up for, but they're also called fairy lights."
Lenne smiled. "Really?"
"Yeah." Elis said. "Hey…um, do you celebrate Christmas?"
"No. But it's popular with humans, right?"
"A lot of people, but not everyone." Elis leaned down and tightened his shoes more. "What do you celebrate around that time of the year?"
"We celebrate the coming of winter. Most of our celebrations are very seasonal." Lenne stood back up.
Elis got up. "Huh, I see. So, you ready?"
"Who's turn was it?" Lenne asked.
"It's my turn to hide." Elis ran ahead toward the trees, his shoes flickering brighter than the fireflies around them. "Start counting!"
They played for a few more hours. There was a familiar scent in the air that took Elis back to some other time. He couldn't quite date it, beyond it being summer then too. He had some friends over for the weekend. They had ice cream and played in the dark. One of his friends brought several boxes of sparklers over that the boy's parents had bought in Alabama to sneak back over the state line for the Fourth of July. There were plenty left over. By the end of the night the boxes were all empty.
He wished he could get them and some fireworks, but he wasn't old enough to buy any in the nearby states that allowed it. Even if he could, he didn't need any attention being drawn to his house. The police might still be looking for Lenne, and fireworks were illegal here. As infrequently as that law was enforced, he couldn't risk that right now.
More than the sparkling lights, he wanted to capture the feeling of that summer. Elis wasn't friends with the boy who brought the sparklers by the following year. He moved away. He hadn't thought about that boy much since then, not even in the semester after he first moved. Elis hadn't thought much about his reaction then either. They exchanged phone numbers, but he never once called the boy and that boy didn't call him. No one heard from him again, and everyone moved on. Just like that, their constant connection was broken, like a line disconnected. Was it like that for his old friends?
He had no excuse to not reach out. They weren't separated by physical distance once school started back up. He placed all the blame on them, but he was the one that went away. When they were in each other's space once more, they all mutually kept their distance, drifting in different directions. As time moved on, their selves that shared that summer were vanishing and being replaced with a new self. If he reconnected to them now, they wouldn't share the same moments from then, just as he didn't reach for those books from his early childhood. If he met those old pages again, they wouldn't spark magic in him anymore either, he thought. Where was he to go from here?
This moment now would soon become a memory too, another summer that would eventually only exist in his mind. He may never see Lenne again after the coming weeks.
He would have to make peace with that. At the very least, he would make sure not to forget these days. Surely, he could never forget something so special as to meet a real fairy. That wasn't like books or sports or school friends. Those were ordinary things. He definitely wouldn't forget about Lenne.
Still, one day, Lenne wouldn't be here with him. No matter how fondly he may look back on these moments, they would end. He shifted his mind from the past to the present. He needed to stop wandering back there. If he let his mind stay drifting, he'd miss out on a thought he could have reserved for Lenne instead.
His mind emptied of thoughts, good and bad, about the past. He didn't think about anything but finding Lenne's flickering light in the darkness and hiding his own imitation of that brightness.
Around one, the boys rested on the porch. Their eyes turned to the stars above. They laughed and talked about trivial things, both half asleep. Favorite things, embarrassing memories, the weather. The pauses between their words grew until no one said anything. Elis rolled over on the wooden boards and closed his heavy eyes. Before he knew it, he was dreaming.
In his sleep, Elis was still talking to Lenne. 'Did you have fun?'
'We should do this again tomorrow.'
Lenne said to him.
'I want to.'
Elis said. He rolled back over to face Lenne. He asked. 'You're going to leave soon, aren't you?'
Lenne sat up. A bright green glowed from behind him. Though folded down, Elis could see what they were, wings. 'For a while. I'm sure my mother is worried.'
'I'll never see you again, will I?'
Elis sat up.
'Did you want to?'
'I don't want you to go.'
Lenne stood up and walked to the edge of the porch. 'I'll be back. I promise.'
In a flash, Lenne was gone. Elis waited in the darkness, alone. The fireflies vanished one by one, then the cicadas and frogs stopped singing. Clouds rolled in to cover the stars and the moon.
Elis called out hopelessly to no one. 'Hello?'
He stood there in the dark, quiet space until his heart couldn't take it anymore. He woke to the sun shining down on him.
"Lenne?" Elis sat up. He looked around.
Lenne was sitting on the edge of the porch, his legs dangling over the side. "You're finally awake. Do you want to have breakfast?"
Elis stretched. He stood up. "Sure. Let me make something."
"I'll help you."
They went to the kitchen to prepare something to eat. Elis made strawberry pancakes while Lenne prepared tea. They ate out on the porch. Elis did his best to try and forget his dream.
"I'm going to the store later. Did you want me to get you anything?" Elis asked.
Lenne shook his head. He cut the pancakes on his plate. "You know, if you want to spend some time with someone else, I don't mind being alone."
"What? What're you talking about?"
"Since I've been here, you haven't really gone anywhere but the store. I'm not getting in the way of you seeing your friends, am I? I don't mind being by myself for a while." Lenne said.
"Oh, that." Elis looked down. "I don't really have any friends right now. We sort of...grew apart. So, you don't need to worry about that. I'd much rather spent time with you than hang around in town."
"None?" Lenne glanced over at him. "I'm the same, right now."
"Did something happen?"
Lenne shook his head again. "Our paths have diverged. They have different interests than me now. Some of them are off far from our old home training or going to a school. Now, it's just me there as the only young person. Actually, the reason I was going out and people watching...was because I was lonely. I was content with my friends going off to do whatever they were interested in, because I had someone else. But then that ended too."
"Yeah." Lenne picked at his food. "It wasn't a long relationship. We'd been dating almost a year, but I thought...I thought it was going to last a lot longer than that."
"Why'd you break up?" Elis asked.
"Training started. Suddenly, we were going to be hundreds of miles apart, focusing on completely different things. It just wasn't going to work." Lenne said. "I missed having anyone my age to talk to. So, I'd sneak over to where humans live and watch the people my age hang around town. Sometimes, I thought about disguising myself and walking out there with them to find new friends. But I don't know enough about humans to be convincing beyond appearance."
"What're you going to do when you go home? You'll be alone again." Elis said.
"I don't know yet." Lenne said. He laughed awkwardly and nudged Elis. "Enough about that. What about you? So, I guess you're single too, huh?"
Elis blushed. He looked away. "Yeah. I haven't had a girlfriend since ninth grade."
"Nobody you like around here?"
"I don't know. Haven't really been great at making connections with anyone in some years now. I don't gain anyone, I only lose." Elis rested his head against his palm.
"But there's still a lot of people around here, right? Is there something stopping you?"
"I don't know. It's like...I'm stuck in place, and everyone else is running forward." Elis took a sip of his tea.
"It sounds to me like your thoughts are so stuck on what was, you're not moving on to anything else." Lenne leaned back some. "Are you spending all your time at home all year long?"
"I was playing basketball at school."
"Are you going to do that this year?"
"I don't know. I was thinking about quitting."
Elis could feel Lenne's eyes on him. Lenne reached over and touch his hand. "I don't think you should. Or at least, if you don't want to do that anymore, you should do something else in town."
"If you don't have to be alone, and you're lonely, you won't be happy staying here. Maybe you can make some new friends. Maybe try to get to know someone you haven't really talked to much before." Lenne suggested. "Do you still like basketball?"
"I dunno. I'm pretty good at it though." Elis unconsciously smiled. "I don't want to play football, I know that. Or baseball, ugh."
"At the very least, it'll keep your mind busy." Lenne laughed. "So, um, what is basketball? That's a sport, right?"
"Yeah." Elis's face lit up. "I have a basketball goal up front...Oh, but we can't let you be seen. Hmm...I think there's some tapes someone's mom did of games from middle school. I could show you that."
"VHS tape." Elis got up, plate and drink in hand. "Let's eat in the living room. I'll put it on the TV."
Lenne followed him into the house and sat on the sofa. Elis opened up the hallway closet and looked for the box of recorded tapes. He found one of the tapes. The label was a little smudged, but he was able to make out the date written on it. He returned to the living room and rewound the tape.
"This one's from when I was in 8th grade." Elis said. Once the tape was done rewinding, he hit play.
Lenne watched attentively from the couch. "Oh, it's a team sport."
"Yeah. See these colors? That's the team I'm on. These guys are from one of the other middle schools nearby." Elis pointed to each side.
"What's a middle school?"
"Uh, we have three levels of schools. Elementary, middle, and high school. Middle school is grades six through eight. I'm in high school now, which goes up to twelfth grade."
"Oh, you said something about grades before. You're starting...eleventh?"
Lenne put his food on the table. He sat closer to the TV to get a better view. Lenne pointed to one of the children. "Is that you?"
"Haha, yeah..." Elis cringed at his younger self. "That haircut was so stupid."
"Looks like you're not the only one with it."
"Everybody had it for about a year. Maybe." Elis sighed at himself. "Wasn't very long, however long it was."
"You look like you're having fun." Lenne said. "I wish you could show me in person."
"Yeah, but I can't move the basketball goal to the backyard."
"Is it stuck in place?"
Elis crossed his arms. "No, it can be moved, but there's nowhere I can put it in the backyard where I can actually play. The ground's not right. It's gotta be upfront."
"Oh, I see." Lenne's shoulder's sunk. "If I could do magic, I could just disguise myself and play with you."
"Maybe one day you can." Elis said. He paused the video. "You're almost healed now. You're going to leave soon, aren't you?"
Lenne went quiet for a moment. "It might be soon."
"Will that be the end of this?"
"Did you want to see me again?"
"Yeah." Elis looked to the back door. "It's alright, if you can't come back here again. I understand. But I'll miss you."
Out of the corner of his eyes, Elis saw a bright green flash reflected in the TV screen. He looked over at Lenne.
"Something wrong?" Elis asked.
Lenne shook his head. "No, I thought I heard something outside, but it's nothing."
"Are you not coming back?"
"I can." Lenne said. "I'll have to convince my mom first though."
"Do you think you can?"
"Probably. I'll just have to be more careful when I come to visit you."
"How long would it take you to get here?" Elis asked.
"Not long. I can travel much faster than a human, if I can use magic." Lenne said.
"Really? Then...couldn't you visit the people who traveled far from your home too?"
"I could." Lenne rubbed his arm. "But it's not just the distance. They're in other worlds now, busy doing things I'm not part of. Even if I traveled to see all those people every day, we were going to be out of each other's lives eventually. I let them go when I realized that."
"So, what about me? Am I not in some other world too?"
Lenne shook his head. "No, we're in the same one. I think you already knew that too."
Elis wanted to believe him. He wanted to believe so much that once Lenne left to go home, he would show up again some other day and they could laugh under the moonlight and play in the darkness. He wasn't able to convince himself then that if he went to the store that Lenne would be there once he came back. Everyone always drifted away from him. His parents, his friends, his girlfriends. Everyone was moving around him, and he stayed in place. The confidence he had started to develop in himself that he should start moving forward too was dwindling away again and Lenne was right there in front of him.
Lenne would be leaving soon, and he couldn't stop that.
Elis went to the store shortly after the tape ended. He had fun with Lenne throughout the rest of the week. During those seven days, his father failed to answer the phone six out of seven of those, and his mother two out of seven. In town, he saw the school supplies lists were put up in the grocery store. Elis went ahead and bought his school supplies for the coming year. By the end of the week, all of Lenne's bruises were gone and his cuts either faded or turned to scars. He didn't have trouble getting around anymore, nor did he need to sleep those long hours.
A week from their last game in the dark, they stayed up late again. Elis put on the same shoes. They played for an hour before it stopped. There was a stranger in the backyard.
At first, Elis thought it might've been Lenne, because of how bright the light was. But this light didn't flicker like Lenne's and it was gold instead of green. With shimmering wings like a butterfly's, a woman stood in the middle of the yard. Her clothes were silky and white. On her feet were golden sandals that laced up to her knees. A gold diadem sat on her head, matching with the metal belt around her waist and the necklaces and bracelets adorning her. Green gems along her jewelry and belt sparkled in the dark from the brightness she cast off. Her hair, long and braided, was the same shade as Lenne's, a snowy white.
Lenne rushed past Elis to her. "Mother!"
She opened her arms to him.
The mother and son held tightly to each other. She placed her hand on his cheek. "I've found you. Where did you go?"
"Some humans trapped me...I lost my wings. I couldn't do any magic to reach you." Lenne said.
Elis watched them. Lenne looked back. He waved over to Elis to come closer. Cautiously, Elis approached.
"Mother, this human kept me safe while I healed." Lenne said to his mother.
"Oh, did he?" She said. The woman, who was much taller than the average human woman, was on eye level with Elis. Elis himself was quite tall. The fairy woman's eyes were gold and fierce. He felt like he was looking into the eyes of a tiger ready to rip him apart if he made the wrong move. Before saying anything to Elis, she put her hands on Lenne's shoulder.
From her fingertips, white light enveloped his body. Within seconds, a bright flash went off. When the light cleared, Lenne's clothes had changed. He was now wearing a short, white tunic that stopped just above his knees. He had a golden belt around his waist, similar to his mother's. His hair was now in a high ponytail. A golden band decorated his forehead, less complex than his mother's diadem. He wore nothing on his feet nor his legs beneath where the tunic ended. On his back, folded green wings rested. Lenne opened them up.
They were beautiful, more beautiful than the wings of any butterfly, moth, or dragonfly Elis had ever seen. Elis felt sick at the thought of those wings being pinned down to a table, and Lenne, in desperation, ripping them off to free himself.
Lenne's mother addressed Elis now. "Child, you have kept my son safe. For your kindness, I will grant you one request. What would you like as your reward?"
"Ah, I wasn't...expecting a reward." Elis said, nervous. "If...if it's alright, ma'am, may I see your son again sometimes?"
"That's all? I could give you immortality or gift you with magic powers." She said.
"I don't...I don't know if I'd want that." Elis said. "I wanted to show him how to play basketball sometime."
"Basketball?" She laughed. "You're certainly still a child. Very well. When I've determined he is ready, he can come play with you again."
"Thank you, ma'am." Elis said, bowing slightly.
"Are you ready?" She asked Lenne.
Lenne nodded his head. He turned to Elis. "I'm going home now. Thank you for taking care of me."
"It's nothing." Elis said. "Stay safe."
"I will. Goodbye."
A white light formed around Lenne and his mother. Then, it vanished. Elis was alone in the backyard. He waited for a few minutes to see if they would return. The silence outside was unnerving. Elis went back inside and tried to sleep.
Another week passed. Elis did his best to keep himself busy. He practiced basketball out in the front yard. Since last school year's basketball season ended, he hadn't actually picked up his basketball since. He was embarrassed by how much work he needed to put back into getting to where he was then.
He finished off his summer homework, studied, practiced, and cleaned. Elis tried to keep up hope. He wanted to follow through on the things he talked about with Lenne. He replayed his memories with Lenne over and over in his head, letting the warm of those summer days wash over him. Yet, whenever he was still for a moment, the emptiness rushed back in. Somehow, he felt more lonely than last year.
Exactly one week after Lenne left, Elis's mother called him first at their usual time. They went through the typical "how are you" and "I'm fine" and vague descriptions of their days. Elis noticed under those words that his mother's tone was different than normal.
"Hey Mom, is something wrong?" Elis asked.
"Well, there are...some things we need to talk about tonight." She said. She paused before continuing. "Something's come up here. I won't be able to make it home until late October."
"Oh, I see. I'm sorry. Something went wrong?" He asked.
"Yeah, we've got some internal issues to fix."
"If they need you, then they need you. I'm almost seventeen now. I'll be able to manage on my own until then." He said.
"Are you sure?"
"It's just a little longer than last time. I'll be fine." He said. "So, I guess I'll see you and Dad in October."
"About that..." She went quiet again. "Your Dad won't be back until November."
"Oh, well, that's alright. I..."
"Um, there's something else too. He won't be around much after that." His mother said.
Elis had a strange feeling in his gut. "Did he get another promotion?"
"No, um...we should discuss this when I get home."
"Mom, you can tell me now. Did something happen?"
"Your dad and I have decided to get a divorce."
"I'm sorry, Elis. These last few years have been really hard on our relationship. We've decided it would be better for both of us to separate. He's going to be moving up north where their main headquarters are at the beginning of next year." She said. Her voice was soft and unlike her usual self. He could hear a tiredness in her. Elis knew she must be tired all the time, but she always kept it well hidden.
"Where...where are we going to live?" Elis asked.
"I'm keeping the house for now. I was going to sell it after you graduate high school." She said. "We talked it over. Neither of us wanted to have you move in your junior or senior year, and my travel for work is going to be a lot closer to here starting in spring."
"Where will you be going?"
"We're going to be doing more business in Atlanta now. So, I won't be going very far. Just a two hour drive. If anything comes up at home, I can drive back that day. No more planes and car rentals." She tried to sound happy and calm. Her voice wavered. "I'm sorry, Elis. We were going to wait until you finished school, but..."
"It's alright. We'll manage somehow." Elis felt his eyes watering. "I don't want you to be unhappy."
"I'm sorry." He heard her crying on the other end of the line.
"You...you don't need to apologize." Elis heard his own voice change. He took a deep breath. He didn't want her to hear him cry. Elis wiped the tears from his face. "You know...I wanted to go to college in Atlanta. Maybe we could move there, and I wouldn't have to get a dorm."
"Did you want to stay with me while you're at college?" She asked. "I thought you'd want to get out right away."
"Nah, I'm fine with it. It'll be cheaper anyway. And I'll have my own bathroom. I was thinking, I'd rather stay home with you a little while, and maybe get an apartment once I'm ready to be on my own. If that's okay with you." Elis said. The tears kept falling. "Lately, we haven't...gotten to spend much time together."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"I'm not mad at you, or anything. I know you had to work a lot. But I missed when we'd go to the park and stuff. I was thinking, if I stayed a few more years with you into college...we could spend some more time together while I got used to Atlanta." Elis wiped his face off again. "Do...do you think I'll get to see Dad much after this winter?"
"I don't know. I don't think he'll be able to visit you that much. It might only be for the holidays." She said.
"Okay." Elis admitted to her something he didn't want to say. "You know, this summer, he missed most of my calls. I know you two are both busy, and sometimes you don't get a chance to talk to me, but...he missed nearly all of them. It's been like that since you both started working away from home over the summer. I think I knew on some level he'd be the one who wouldn't come back one day."
"I'm sorry, Elis. He does love you."
Elis felt the urge to say "I know he does". It's what was expected of him to say, but he didn't want to say it. "It's alright. I'll be fine. You're coming home in October then?"
"I'll be back October 26th." She said. "We can celebrate your birthday then. We'll go out to eat somewhere nice."
"Can we eat out in Atlanta? Maybe we could look around some." He said.
"That's a good idea." She said. "I'm sorry I'm going to miss the real date, but I couldn't get them to let me come back any earlier than that."
"What if something comes up again?"
"I already told them I have to come back after that date."
"Okay. I'll see you then." He said.
"Did you get your school stuff yet?"
"Uh huh. Got everything recently. I guess I could use some new clothes though. Is it okay if I buy some?" Elis asked.
"You buy whatever you want, just let me know what it is."
"I will." Elis took another deep breath. "Do you want me to pick you up on the day you come back?"
"If you can, that'd be nice. I'll let you know what time it is once I buy my ticket."
Unlike their usual calls, this one lasted an hour. They discussed plans for the future. As much as it pained him to hear his parents were getting divorced, for the first time in years, he had his mother's full attention. When the call ended at eleven, he turned in. Elis tried to sleep, but the tears he'd tried so hard to push back and control earlier all came out. Since the house was empty, he didn't hide his voice now.
Alone in that place, he often thought to himself that neither of his parents would be present for his high school graduation, much less his college one, or his wedding, if he ever had one. Now, he knew for certain his father likely would miss all of those events, but his mother might be there. He wanted to feel happy about that part, but his feelings over his father leaving his life were stronger. He cried himself to sleep.
The next day, he found it hard to keep up the stamina he had before. He didn't want to do anything. He forced himself to practice, but he felt nothing while he did it.
School started soon enough. The people who had drifted away from him last year and moved onto new friends were already with a new set of friends again. Those other friends also had new friends too. People he thought hated each other were dating. Other couples had broken up. He thought about talking to his old friends again, but he couldn't bring himself to care. Summer turned to fall. The weather got colder by the day. The time for basketball tryouts was drawing near. The closer that date got, the more he practiced at home. He wanted to make the team, and be able to show off to Lenne whenever he came back.
It'd been over a month now since he last saw Lenne. He stared out the window at the back porch and recalled the night they watched the rain together. It wasn't that long ago, but somehow, it felt like years had already passed. He hoped he'd seen that bright green light out there in the darkness, flickering like a sparkler, or that when he looked over, that boy would be sitting in front of the other window. No one was there.
Late into October, he was starting to give up that he'd ever see the fairy again. 'Were you ever planning on visiting me again, or were you just being nice to me?'
Elis sighed. It seemed that his new friend had also moved on from him. 'Still...I'm glad I got to meet you.'
He gave up that Lenne would come again. Elis wasn't sure if he'd ever have another friend or girlfriend, or what he'd be doing in ten or even five years from now. He had no direction in life at all. But he did meet a fairy. No matter where he went or who he met, that meeting was special. So special, he doubted anyone would ever believe him it happened. He was fine with that.
Elis never told anyone about the games he played in the forest as a child, alone and wishing for a secret companion hidden in the trees. After meeting Lenne, he wasn't so certain now that someone else couldn't have been watching and wanting to play with him too. The world felt like it had a little more beyond the things he was stuck dealing with right now.
Some nights, Elis stayed up and watched the stars from the porch. Before, he didn't pay them much attention. Now the space above him seemed bigger somehow. Something else unknown to him could be out there. Something strange could be lurking underneath the wooden boards he was sitting on. Someone could be hiding in the bushes in his yard, someone he didn't need to fear. And they might be gone before he knew it, but so would he be. This place that he had spent all of his life in would cease to be his home in two years. He'd leave it behind, to go off to Atlanta, a city that had always been somewhere both far and near. As dead as he had been feeling, he was starting to wonder if it was this place holding him down. Maybe there was nothing for him here. Maybe that was why he was stuck. He needed to move a much farther distance than the other people here to finally move forward.
And maybe, he didn't need to have it planned out where exactly that would be.
Lenne probably wasn't coming back, he thought, but there was no harm in pretending he might just as there was no harm in pretending someone might be secretly playing with him when he was a child. He kept on practicing while thinking about his future self in a city surrounded by another forest.
While in town one day to get groceries, bored, Elis went into the used bookstore on a whim. He looked through the children's books to see if some of those old books from when he was young were there. To his surprise, a few were. Elis opened up one of the books, one with a green dragon on it, to look for the little pink sea creature logo. He smiled at its big eyes greeting him on the inside of the book. Elis found one of the other books from his childhood, the pop-up book he used to love. He tossed several books in his basket, and wandered over to the adult fantasy books.
Elis wondered what Lenne would think of these books. Would he find them annoying? Funny? Elis hadn't bought any books to read for fun in a few years. Every book on his shelf was for educational purposes. Elis wasn't sure when or why that shift happened years ago. He tossed in a few books that had interesting covers and a local fantasy lit magazine into his basket with the children's books and checked out.
At home, Elis read through the children's books first. The pop-up book, he found to be cute, and could see why it entertained him as a child. It brought him warm feelings thinking back on when he did love that book, but it didn't entertain him now. The others, all graced by the little pink sea creature with green down its back, were sappy and sweet, a little bit preachy, but full of simple lessons and innocence. The dragon one had been his favorite as a child. He recalled that as he reread through the story. He had the book about the sea creature as well, one about a mouse, a yellow rabbit, and one about a unicorn. Now that he was older, though all the books were too childish for him, he preferred the one about the sea creature the most.
Elis put the books away on his shelf, not for rereading, but simply to look back on in the future. He tried reading through the adult books he bought. One was too boring for him. He didn't care about the excessive worldbuilding happening in the early chapters, nor any of the characters. Another had a different plot, but the same problems to him. He couldn't get into the other two after that either. The language was too old fashioned for him to understand what he was reading.
The last book he was able to read through. This one was about a unicorn who went on a long journey to find out if there were any other unicorns left. He finished that one in one sitting. It gave him the same feelings he had gotten when he was reading those children's books so many years ago, but the content in this story was the right maturity level for him.
That book was placed on his bookshelf next to the others that gave him that warm feeling. The ones he didn't enjoy were put back in the bag to be traded back to the used book store. That left the magazine. It was mostly short stories, with a few poems, pieces of art, and an essay on the genre near the front. Many of the stories didn't interest him, but he was able to get through all of them. One in particular he did like. He decided to keep the magazine for that story.
After going through everything he'd bought, Elis took the unicorn novel back off his shelf and flipped through it again. He glanced over the content in the magazine once more too.
'I think I could write these kinds of stories too.'
Elis thought. He flipped to the very back of the magazine, where information about submitting content was. He read through the requirements careful. For the fun of it, he wrote his own short story.
He wrote a story about a fairy and boy meeting in the woods.
The words came to him effortlessly. Soon, he was done with it. Elis read over what he'd written. He liked it, but he wasn't so certain the magazine would publish it. On a technical level, he had met the guidelines, however, it seemed most of the content in the magazine wouldn't quite fit with what he had written. He didn't think it was adult enough. It might be better rewritten as a children's story.
Elis laughed at himself that he was thinking at all about sending in a copy. 'I'm sure they'll reject it.'
He went to toss it in the trash, but couldn't get himself to. Elis left the pages on his desk. 'I'll figure out what to do with that later.'
Never in his life had he bothered with something like that before. He was supposed to be studying about computers. He needed to practice for the basketball tryouts. 'I'll probably be bored of this soon enough.'
Still, Elis thought, there was no harm in starting on another story tomorrow. He already had an idea.
After his nightly call with his mother, he got ready for bed. She'd be back in a few days. He wouldn't see his father again for another month. Elis wasn't sure anymore that he wanted to.
As he tossed and turned in bed, he thought about Lenne again and the future. Maybe he didn't want to do anything with computers. He remembered Lenne jokingly calling him "doctor" when he was taking care of Lenne. Elis let his mind wander over what that career would be like. He thought he had what it took to be good at it, if he really tried. Elis got a lot of satisfaction out of helping Lenne get better. He wasn't worried about long hours studying or anything like that. But once he was actually working, he'd be away from home for a long time if he worked in a hospital. That sort of job wasn't all happiness either. He wouldn't be able to stop certain things. Sometimes, no matter what is done, someone will die anyway. Elis quickly realized he didn't have the heart for that kind of job. He couldn't see himself being able to tell people bad news about their or their family member's health. Mentally, he scratched veterinarian off as a potential job as well.
Technology related jobs, he thought, would be far less painful. But the more he thought about that, the more he thought about his parents.
Elis pulled the sheets up. He gave up on sorting anything else out. The only thing he knew for sure is that he had no idea what he actually wanted.
When he let those thoughts go, all that remained was summer and Lenne.
'I know you're not coming back, but I wish I could see you again.'
Elis closed his eyes.
The room filled with a bright green light. Elis opened his eyes. He saw the light flickering on the walls. Then the light disappeared. He sat up and looked around, his heart racing.
A young man with blond hair was sitting at his desk. He was dressed in a sweater and jeans. Elis didn't recognize the person. The young man was looking at him.
"Who are you?" Elis asked.
"It's me." A light enveloped the young man. In a flash, Elis saw Lenne sitting there. He smiled at Elis and opened up his green wings. "It's my disguise so those bad people won't recognize me."
"I thought I'd never see you again." Elis's eyes lit up. He jumped out of bed.
"Sorry. My mom made me do a bunch of magic training before she'd allow me to visit you. She was worried about me getting caught again." Lenne explained.
"That's okay. I thought...I didn't think I'd see you again." Elis went over to him. He looked at the bright green wings. "Can I touch your wings?"
Lenne nodded. "Be gentle. They're as fragile as they look."
Elis touched them lightly. Green dust covered his hands. It looked like his palm was full of the night sky. "You didn't have to come back."
"I missed you." Lenne said. "I thought we could be friends."
"I missed you too." Elis said. "It's been so quiet here since you left."
"Aren't your parents supposed to be back by now?" Lenne asked.
"My mom will be soon, but my dad's not going to be around much longer." Elis said.
"Is he sick? Maybe I could help somehow."
Elis shook his head. "No, he's fine. My parents are getting divorced. He's planning on moving up north for work. They need him more there."
"It's okay. He's been away a lot more than my mom for a long time." Elis said. "Mom's not going to need to travel as much anymore though. Everything's moving to Atlanta at her company. I was thinking I was gonna go to college in Atlanta anyway."
Lenne put his hand to Elis's face. "You don't have to hide that you're sad."
"I'll be fine."
Lenne let it go. He took something out from a bag he had at his side. It was a necklace with a key at the end of it. "I brought you a present."
"What is it?" Elis asked.
Lenne put the necklace on Elis. He held up the key at the end. It shimmered in the darkness, glittering gold in the stray moonbeams that escaped passed Elis's curtains. At the top of the key, there was an orb. It was iridescent and appeared to have a liquid swirling inside it. The colors and motion reminded Elis of bubbles floating on a sunny day. The outer texture, however, was very hard, like glass.
"If you say my name, I'll hear you. You'll know I heard you because it'll change." Lenne said.
"Lenne." Elis said to try it out. He waited, but the necklace didn't change. "Nothing happened."
Lenne laughed. "That's not my real name."
"Oh, that's right." Elis said. "But I don't know your real name."
"Not yet." He leaned forward and whispered a name to Elis. The fairy leaned back and grinned. "Now you do."
Elis's eyes widened. "I thought you weren't supposed to tell me that."
"It's alright. We're friends. I know you won't use it to hurt me." He said. "Try now."
Elis said the fairy's real name. The orb filled with darkness and specks of glowing green. Elis thought it looked like a tiny galaxy inside a bubble. As the key lit up, the fairy did too. His green light flickered and bounced off the walls. Elis saw that the fairy's eyes had turned a bright green too.
"You're glowing." Elis said.
"I connected its magic to my heart. My heart connects to my wings." The fairy said.
"What if I call you and this puts you in danger?"
"It won't." The fairy assured him. He smiled. "I know it won't."
The light of the key and the fairy's light both faded.
"How often can I call you? How will you get here?" Elis asked.
"I can get here in seconds now that I can do magic again." The fairy got up from the chair. "Call me whenever you want. If I can't come to you, I'll send you a message."
The fairy took out another necklace, one hidden under his clothes. It was identical to the one he gave Elis. The fairy held up the necklace. It turned green. Elis's hands flickered the way the fairy's wings did, glowing from the specks on his palms.
He heard the fairy's voice in his head. 'Can you hear me?'
'Yes. Can you hear me too?'
Elis asked back.
'So long as you concentrate and have the key on you.'
The fairy replied.
"Why are my hands glowing?" Elis asked aloud.
"You touched my wings. It's reacting to the magic, because it came from me." The fairy explained.
"Since I touched them...I'm not going to start glowing from now on too, am I?"
"No. It'll be like that until you wash your hands." The fairy laughed.
"Thank you." Elis said. "I'm glad you came back."
"I'm sorry it took me so long. I have a lot to tell you about." The fairy said.
"Me too." Elis tucked the necklace underneath his shirt. "Can you stay over tonight? It's Friday. I don't have school for the next two days and I'm picking my mom up on Monday at the airport."
"Uh huh. I just have to let my mother know."
Elis asked. "Hey, since you can disguise yourself, is it okay if I introduce you to my mom?"
The fairy's body lit up again, his green light flickering three times. "Your mom? Ah...so long as you don't tell her what I am."
"Sorry, would that be too scary for you?"
"No, no. Not at all." The fairy said.
"But you lit up just now. If you don't want to..."
"That wasn't about that." The fairy said.
"What was it then?"
"Ah, don't worry about it." The fairy changed the subject. "It's really nice out tonight. Do you think we could go out to the backyard?"
"Oh, sure." Elis said. He went to his closet to get something that had been abandoned since he last saw Lenne, his light up shoes. "I guess I should bring these."
The two boys went to the backyard and played together in the dark. There were no fireflies now to join them, and the cicadas were gone. The air wasn't as warm as those previous nights, but neither of them minded. Together, there was plenty enough noise and light to fill that space. They chased each other in the night for a while before resting on the porch and telling each other about every day in those weeks between.