Modern Day; October 25th; Germany; Lady Catherine
It was hard for me to resist a good lager, especially when it was delivered to me by a handsome German man.
“Here you go,” he said in a thick accent as he slammed down the drink in front of me.
“Thank you,” I said with a sleepy smile.
I was tired out of my mind, but I needed to drink. I needed to disappear for a while. I took the glass and drank deeply, closing my eyes as the alcohol burned my throat in a satisfying way. When I returned the empty glass to its position on the bar in front of me, the bartender was staring at me.
“Isn’t it a little early to be drinking like that?”
“It’s late enough where I come from.”
“Fair enough.” He finished making a drink for someone else at the bar and then returned to me. “Where’s that?”
“Let’s just say Iceland. It’s close enough. I’m running away from there.”
“I’ll say you succeeded. Why are you running away?”
“You don’t want to know, trust me. I’m not exactly proud of it, but I had to do something in order to secure my future.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“I like you,” I said, and I heard my words slur. “Do I seem drunk to you?”
“Absolutely. That was your third drink in the past hour, so I’m not shocked.”
“Do you think you could help me find a place to stay? I’m feeling awfully tired.”
“I think I could do that. There is a little pub across the way with rooms on the upper story. The innkeeper is also the bartender, so you can ask him for details.”
“Thank you very much.” I slid some euros over to him and slid off my stool a bit unsteadily. “Have a nice day.”
Somehow I made it across the street and into the pub. It took me a while to get my room because I couldn’t resist purchasing a drink while I was talking to the innkeeper. I had to practically crawl down the hallway to my room because it was easier than walking into walls by accident.
Getting the door unlocked was my next obstacle, but I mastered it around the thirtieth try. I struggled to climb into bed and then fell back against the pillows with a groan. I knew that there were things I needed to be doing, but I just needed to not do them for a few days and just get pissed. I closed my eyes and pulled one of the pillows into my arms, burying my head in its plushness. It was a comfort to me because I was imagining that instead of a pillow it was a tall, dark-haired, Icelandic man with whom I had fallen in love many years ago.
Did I make the right choice? What’s better? Being forever alone and saving the race of humans from unnecessary suffering or having things stay the way they were and getting to live my life with someone I loved very much, even if he didn’t have free will?
As soon as I had done it, I had questioned myself. I still hadn’t stopped questioning myself, either. I was already so lonely without him. I wasn’t used to being away from him for so long and I realized now how much I had enjoyed spending time with him.
What have I done?
I fell asleep then and the next time I woke up, I had no idea how I’d gotten there.
“Trust me, he knows what he’s talking about,” Willow said to me as we walked through the Underground.
After I had told him about my episode at school on Monday, he had been insistent that we go see Adam and talk to him about my little fiery problem. I was eager for any advice someone could give me, but I was nervous. As soon as we stepped into Adam’s office, though, I knew I was being silly. He was just so friendly. Why had I ever felt nervous?
“Melissa! Willow! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
He gave a little bow which made both of us smile. Willow didn’t speak, but looked at me, and I realized that I probably needed to solve my own problems.
“I don’t really know how to explain it, but I’ve been having these weird episodes,” I said slowly, watching him for any reaction. “I keep… Accidentally setting things on fire. With my mind.”
“Well. That is a problem.”
His eyes were round, I was glad to see. I had been worried he wouldn’t take me seriously, which was of course a silly concern. He was an elf. He was used to the abnormal. I just wasn’t used to being able to talk about strange things about me to people who might understand.
“Why don’t you both take a seat?” He walked around the room, looking up at his bookshelves as if searching for something. He finally plucked a book down that was just within his reach and brought it back to his desk, sitting down across from us. “Alright. Tell me about these experiences.”
He began to flip through the book while I spoke.
“It starts out as a weird feeling. I get all warm inside, and then the fire appears. It doesn’t always burn things up. Sometimes it’s just… There. I think I can control whether or not it burns things. I can also make the fire go away after it appears, but I have trouble stopping it from appearing in the first place.”
“So you have very little control over this.”
“Yes. And I want to fix that problem. Also, do you have any idea how this could happen in the first place? I’m used to being abnormal. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember, but I feel like there should be a reason for it.”
“Are you talking about your eyes? Because they’re not that abnormal,” Willow said.
I remembered that I hadn’t told him about the mind reading and my heart beat faster. If I told him now, what if he didn’t understand why I had waited? I didn’t want him to think he couldn’t trust me, but it was best to be honest…
“It’s not just about my eyes. I never told you this, but I’ve had an ability ever since I was very young. I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to scare you away or anything.”
“Scare me away? You could never do that. Even if you told me you strongly believe you’re a cat, I would stay with you.”
I laughed and Adam raised an eyebrow, saying, “A cat?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Well, it’s not as strange as me believing that I’m a cat, I guess. But the reason why I didn’t tell you was because… I can read minds. Not all the time and not everyone, but sometimes I hear thoughts and they’re not mine.”
Willow was completely shocked and even Adam looked up from his book for a minute.
“Yes. I can’t really control it at all, though. I mean, it just happens randomly. But I never listened to your thoughts or Cierra’s.”
“Why not? I think it would be cool if you read my mind.”
I stared at him in disbelief. I had thought he would be angry that I hadn’t told him such an important thing about myself.
“Yeah! Then you would know what I’m thinking. Can you read my mind right now?”
“I can try.”
I closed my eyes and tried to focus. I let down the barriers of my mind to let other thoughts in, something I had been practicing ever since I was little.
… So beautiful… I just want to hold her in my arms forever… Love… Coffee… Most beautiful woman in the world… Red hair… Calculus… Dinner later… Must not think about that… Want it to be a surprise… Kissing… Melissa… The smell of her hair… When she told me she loved me last weekend… Lord Darylis… Death…
I gasped and withdrew.
“I’m sorry,” he said, messing with his hair. “I can’t help thinking about him.”
“Don’t apologize. Neither can I…”
“I feel like I missed something,” Adam said.
“That’s because she read my mind,” said Willow triumphantly.
“You really can?” Adam looked extremely excited about something. “Read minds?”
“Since I was two. At least, that’s what I’ve been told.”
“You can read minds and control fire?”
“Well, I’m not sure if I can control it, really. But yes.”
“That’s incredible.” He flipped through the table of contents and slid his finger down the page until he found what he wanted. Then he turned hurriedly to a page and said, “I have never had a reason to look this up before, but I am intrigued. It seems you are more special than you know, Melissa.”
I was trying not to freak out, but my heart was hammering in my chest like a drum.
“Yes. You are definitely an elf.”
My heart jumped and I suddenly felt like everything had fallen into place and everything had fallen apart at the same time.
“What?” Willow and I said at the same time.
All three of us were sitting on the edges of our chairs now. Adam was bent over, pouring over his book excitedly.
“This is incredible… This is incredible.”
“You have to tell me more than that,” I said. “You can’t just say that and not explain.”
“Hold on.” He finished reading the page and then looked up, willing to give us his attention at last. “This is incredible.”
“I know. You keep saying that. What’s incredible?”
“I have never met someone like you before, Melissa. You are truly unique. Your mother is human, is that right?”
“What about your father? Is he an elf?”
I found myself realizing something and I stared off into space, suddenly alarmed at how much I didn’t know about myself.
“I… I don’t know. I never met him.”
“I would say he probably is, then. That explains a lot. You’re not an elf. Melissa, you’re half elf.”
“I am?” I didn’t know what to think or to say. “I’m not fully human?”
“No, you’re not!” He laughed and sounded almost like a maniac because of how cheerful he was. “This is incredible!”
“I can’t believe it…” I looked at Willow, who was staring at me with wide, brown eyes. “I have more in common with you than I thought.”
He smiled and said, “This is…”
“Incredible?” I suggested.
He left his chair and came over to kiss me. It was nice, but when he pulled away I was embarrassed because Adam was right in front of us. Luckily, Adam didn’t even seem to notice, as he was back to looking over his book.
“The more you told me, the more I suspected you were special. I’ve never known a human to have an ability before, so I knew you had to be linked to the elves somehow. And the fact that you have two abilities, well, that pretty much guaranteed that. Elves with two abilities are few and far between. Felix is probably the only one I know. He can heal and he has telekinesis. You might want to talk to him if you want to know how he handles having two abilities.”
“Alright. I will.”
My mind was spinning.
“About controlling your ability…I suggest you do a lot of practice in a safe place. Maybe outside where there aren’t a lot of people. It’s going to be frustrating and uncomfortable at first, but over time you will get used to it. Every elf has been through this at some point in their life and I can tell you it was not easy for me.”
“But I thought that your ability was just a perfect memory! How is that comparable to being able to set things on fire?”
Willow smiled and put his head in his hands and I knew he was amused by my bluntness.
“That’s a very good point, but it was still difficult. My classmates started to realize that something was up with me because I never got a wrong answer. I remembered everything word for word from the textbooks and my teachers started to think that I was cheating. I was accused of cheating several times before I started to realize that I had to make mistakes on purpose to appear normal to humans.”
“That’s why Adam has been a mentor to me as long as I’ve known him,” said Willow. “I have to deal with the same problem. It’s not easy, knowing every answer.”
“I can understand that, as ridiculous as it sounds,” I said.
“You have to focus a lot,” Adam said. “When you’re practicing, concentrate with the part of your mind that you usually use when you use your ability. Just imagine what you want to happen and focus with all of your mind. Sometimes you have to imagine that there is a simpler way of controlling your ability. For instance, with your fire ability, I would imagine that there is a lever in your mind that, when pulled, fuels – no pun intended – the fire.”
I frowned. His words made me realize how difficult it was going to be.
“That sounds very psychological.”
“It is! Definitely. Psychology is a huge part of it.”
My frown deepened.
“What book are you referencing there?”
I pointed at the book he had open in front of him and he flipped to the cover to check the title.
“A Study of the Human Mind by H. Baker. It’s a very good reference book, but it’s one of the only ones that has any information about the development of the elves and how their minds work. There’s just a very small section here in this chapter about other species.”
“Aren’t there any books about elves?”
“Sadly, no, despite the large number of them on this earth. It’s surprising, I know.”
I felt something strange inside as Willow and I left the Underground after thanking Adam profusely for his advice. I had never had this feeling inside, but it seemed to me that my soul had stirred. Adam’s words had excited me so much and I wanted to explore all the things he had told me.
“You’re going to love this place,” Willow said as we drove down the streets of downtown Cleveland in his used car.
He parallel parked on a busy street and we scrambled out of the car – I didn’t give him a chance to open the door for me. I looked around to see where we were and recognized the street immediately.
“Are you taking me to –?” I looked up at the place Willow was looking towards and found exactly what I was looking for: a sign that read Fanucce’s. “Yes! I love this place!”
“You’ve been here before?”
His face fell slightly.
“Yes! Don’t look so sad, Willow. I’m thrilled. Amber and I rarely go out to eat because we’re so busy working at the diner and Amber loves to cook at home when she’s not working. It’s great to do something different.”
We got a table to ourselves in the back of the restaurant – a tiny Italian place packed with families and a couple other people on dates. It wasn’t the quietest of places, but Willow and I could hear each other, so I didn’t mind the noise very much.
“So,” I said after we had taken our coats off.
“So. The second date.”
He looked so hopeful that I couldn’t help myself and started laughing.
“I’m sorry. That was just so cute, the way you said that. I don’t think you realize how cute you are.”
“I really don’t. But neither do you, so we’re even.”
A waiter came and took our drink order and we returned to staring at each other in the cheesiest way.
“What?” I said when his lips twitched.
“You have the most beautiful smile.”
I laid my head on the table.
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
“Why do you react that way? You were supposed to say thanks and blush and feel better about yourself, but instead you look like the world just ended.”
“That’s because it did for me. Why do you have to be so great all the time? Even when things are really crappy you’re always… Willow.”
“Now it’s my turn to blush.” We laughed. “But really. What the fuck am I supposed to do now that my sister is the Leader of the Underground and my father is dead? I feel like I should be crying, but I just can’t.”
Normally I would have begged him to stop talking about it like I had been doing all week, but this time it was different. This time it was clear that both of us needed to talk out the situation to make ourselves feel better.
“Everyone reacts to disasters in different ways. I don’t know what to do with myself either. I feel like I have to keep living my life, but I want to help so badly.”
“There’s nothing you can do, Melissa. Except…” I raised my eyebrows expectantly. “You have to make sure that you stay away from Lady Catherine.”
“One, why are you still calling her Lady Catherine when she’s no longer a Lady? Two, I was totally planning on going after the crazy psychopath murderer.”
He shook his head at me.
“You never cease to amuse me. I call her Lady Catherine because Catherine just seems wrong and I can’t call her mother. Catherine just seems too ordinary and we can’t forget how much power she really has over people. And the reason why you need stay away from her is because you would likely be one of her targets if she found out you’re half elf.”
“Why do you say that?”
“She hates elves and loves humans. If she found out that an elf and a human had procreated, she would be bent on preventing similar unions from happening. She doesn’t want to encourage the breeding of more elves and if humans started mating with elves, that would complicate things even more. You would be at the top of her hit list if she knew.”
“That’s kind of a scary thing to think about – being at the top of her hit list. Did you see the fury in her eyes when she…? Of course you did. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He reached across the table and took my hand. I resisted the urge to smile at how nice it was when our skin was touching. “You need to get it out. I know you’re just as traumatized as I am.”
“But that wasn’t my father.”
He rolled his eyes and said, “Lord Darylis wasn’t my father. He was just some guy that I had seen around and was expected to show respect to. I felt no bond with him. As you heard, he never even knew my name. He barely even cared that I existed.”
I squeezed his hand, not knowing what to say.
“I’m so sorry. That’s something we have in common. No father.”
“But at least you know something about your father now. You told me your mum never talks about him, but now you know that he was an elf. That’s something, at least.”
“You’re right.” I sat up and propped my elbows up on the edge of the table. “I wish I knew who my father was. I mean, I love Amber more than words, but sometimes I wonder.”
The waiter came back with two Pepsis.
“Are you ready to order?”
“Um, no,” I said, realizing that I hadn’t even glanced at the menu.
When the waiter left, Willow started laughing and opened his menu.
“I guess we were a little bit busy talking to think about food…”
“I didn’t think that was possible.”
“You don’t want an appetizer, do you?”
“Not especially, but as you said before, you’re the one paying.”
“That’s true. In that case, I won’t bother. What are you in the mood for, Melissa? Are you thinking pasta or antipasto?”
I giggled at his impeccable Italian accent.
“When will you stop surprising me with your endless charm?”
“Never, probably.” He laughed. “Aha! The pesto penne!”
“Yes, that’s amazing. I’ve had it before. I think I’m going to get chicken parmigiana.”
He flashed me a silly smile and the waiter returned to take our orders and our menus.
“Thank God that’s over,” Willow said. “I hate deciding.”
“That’s funny, considering you’re a problem solver. Shouldn’t it be easier for you to solve the problem of what to eat?”
“I wish! My ability doesn’t work for everything, though. It’s more for the logistical type of thing. Like, it occurred to me that taking you to see Adam would solve some of your problems. I don’t always know why something solves a problem. I just get this feeling inside that I should do something.”
“I know exactly what you’re talking about! Sometimes I get this feeling when I’m around you…” Willow smiled, expecting me to say something sappy, and I let him stay satisfied for a minute. “But then I realize that it’s just the fact that my fire ability has a mind of its own and wants to set everything on fire.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head disbelievingly.
“You’re awful. I actually believed you were going to say something nice.”
“I say lots of nice things. How many nice things do you need to hear every day?”
“It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. For instance, hearing you say three words last weekend was enough for the whole month we’ve been together.”
“Oh, that,” I said, but my heart beat quickened. I’d forgotten that I had said that. “You know, the funny thing is that it didn’t even occur to me what I was saying when I said it. It just seemed like a natural response, so I didn’t even hesitate.”
I had never seen Willow smile bigger than he did then.
“It’s good that you didn’t hesitate. That means you really meant it, just like I really meant it. I’ve never met anyone like you, Melissa.”
“Of course you haven’t. Half elves are rare.”
“You know what I mean. I’m really glad that I met you.”
“I’m glad that I met you too. Life was so amazingly boring before I met you, I realize now. I literally had zero friends and I never did anything but schoolwork and work at the diner. You gave me a life. At least, you made me realize that I could get a life.”
“And you got the hang of Calculus! I’m so proud of you for that.”
I rolled my eyes and said, “Did you really just bring up math? On our second date? I mean, I know you’re good with numbers, but that doesn’t mean that I want to talk about math at the dinner table. On a date.”
He laughed and leaned back, his eyes shining with happiness.
“I really can’t believe this is only our second date. It feels like we’ve been doing this sort of thing for ages. I’m so comfortable with you already.”
“That’s because we were friends first.” He nodded. “Speaking of friends first, I have a little bit of gossip to share with you.”
“Beth cornered me the other day and asked me if I could get her in contact with Felix because she wanted to hang out with him again. She said she thinks he’s cool.”
Willow’s eyebrows went up.
“I bet she likes him.”
“Ha ha, yeah! The girl’s got it bad. The two definitely seem like they go together, right?”
“I would agree with that assessment. They seemed to click when we saw them together.”
“The only problem is that she is in denial. She insists that she doesn’t like him and that they couldn’t be together anyways because of the age difference.”
“I can understand where she’s coming from, but I think that if you like someone who likes you back, you should go for it.”
“That’s exactly what I think! I really want to get the two of them together, but I haven’t thought of a way yet.”
“Luckily,” he started, looking excited, “that’s a problem that I can solve! In December, there is a celebration in the Underground that we have every year. You could call it a Christmas dance.”
“That’s perfect! All we have to do is get them to dance with each other.”
“Something tells me that won’t be a problem,” he said with a wink.