Pyro

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Chapter 14

Modern Day; November 9th; Cleveland, Ohio; Beth

Even four mornings later, it was a surprise to me when I woke up in a soft, warm bed in the guest room of the Curran house. And once again, I felt like crying immediately. Amber and Melissa’s kindness had been overwhelming and I still couldn’t believe how lucky I had been. If Felix hadn’t been there for me, I might have suffered more than just a simple head wound. And he had healed that, it seemed! Whenever I replayed that evening in my head, it was still unclear to me how he had done it. It was obviously supernatural or some kind of magic, but I wasn’t sure yet if I believed it, whatever it was.

Everything about Felix seemed unbelievable to me. He was just too good to be true. I had to smile to myself whenever I thought of him because he made me so happy, though those happy feelings were usually laced with confusion.

I sat up in bed and looked around me. The small room was painted yellow and seemed even more yellow because of the sunlight coming in through the window that looked out on the front of the house. It was flanked with blue floral curtains that put me in the mind of someone’s grandmother’s house. It was comforting, even though I didn’t remember my grandparents. Beside the queen-size bed, there was a simple nightstand with a lamp on it and a cell phone that Amber had bought me. She insisted that I needed the means to call her if I ever needed anything. Her generosity had been so overwhelming that I didn’t know what to do, so I just said thank you over and over again. The room was warm because it was starting to grow colder outside and Amber had turned on the heat. In my father’s house, we couldn’t afford to use air-conditioning or heat, so I had almost always been uncomfortable under that roof.

On Friday, I had gotten up and started getting ready for school, but Amber had forbidden me from going.

“After all you’ve been through, you need a day of rest. You need a break from school,” she had said.

I couldn’t find the strength in me to argue, so I had stayed home according to her wishes. Now that it was Monday, though, I knew my break had to be over. I didn’t want to fall too far behind. I stretched and squealed a little at the good feeling before getting up and getting dressed. Melissa had given me some of her old clothes that didn’t quite fit her. Since I was smaller than her, they ended up being the perfect size for me. I pulled on a Rolling Stones shirt and a pair of jeans and went to the bathroom to look at myself in the mirror. As I pulled my hair up into a ponytail, I realized that I didn’t even look like myself anymore. My past self would never have worn a band T-shirt. Usually I wore plain shirts or blouses to school with a sweater if I could find one. It was a minor change, but still strange to me. Nothing else about my appearance had changed other than my wardrobe, but I thought I looked completely different. I didn’t look haggard like I used to and I didn’t look sickly anymore. I actually looked happy, which I hadn’t been in a very long time.

I grabbed my bag and went downstairs, but was stopped by Amber at the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she said.

“School?”

“Not yet, you aren’t. You need to eat something! Now that I’m the one taking care of you, I want to make sure I do a good job of it.”

“I don’t usually have breakfast.”

“That explains why you’re so skinny! Did your father ever feed you?”

“… Sometimes.”

“Goodness. Well, come on. I made some eggs and sausage.”

I followed her into the kitchen and was given a plate by Melissa, who was standing over the stove. She nodded at me when I thanked her and the three of us sat down at the table.

“I already ate,” Melissa said when I asked. “How did you sleep, Beth?”

“Great. Better than ever before. Thank you guys so much for everything. You really didn’t have to do all this for me.”

“I think we did,” said Amber. “You’re our neighbor and we love you. We want what’s best for you. I’ve watched you grow up, but I never knew all the things you were going through.”

“Sometimes you don’t know important things about people. I guess it’s the person’s fault for not telling anyone,” I said, thinking of Felix and his strange ability.

“I really wish you had told someone.”

“I did. I told Felix. I’m glad I did because he’s the reason I’m still alive.”

“That Felix. You both talk about him so much. Maybe we should have him over for dinner sometime. I need to thank him for all he’s done.”

“How about tonight?” Melissa said with a smile.

“Tonight? Don’t you think that’s a little soon?” They both looked at me questioningly and I realized that there was alarm in my voice. “I mean, it’s short notice.”

“He won’t mind,” said Melissa.

“Doesn’t he work the night shift?”

“Not always.”

I saw Melissa frown, but I didn’t know why. As we talked about our plans for dinner, I started feeling nervous. The last time I had seen Felix was Thursday night when he and I had stood on the porch of the Curran house together. I wondered what I should say to him after all that had happened. I really needed to thank him but I didn’t know how.

“You can invite Willow and Cierra too, if you want,” Amber said to Melissa.

Melissa was grinning from ear to ear when we left the house.

“You really like him, don’t you?” I said.

She looked over at me in surprise.

“What?”

“Willow. I can tell by the way you look at each other. There’s something special there.”

“Well, yeah. We’re going out.”

I stared ahead, thinking about Felix again. I wanted to deny it, but I knew that every time I looked at Felix there was some kind of connection between us. It was as if our souls recognized each other. I would never tell that to another person, though. It even sounded ridiculous in my head when I thought about it.

The rest of the day was as surreal as I thought it would be. Everything that happened in my classes seemed so trivial to me now that I had been so close to death. Because I had no doubt that if Felix hadn’t been there, my father would have killed me. I really needed to thank Felix properly. The whole day, I rehearsed what I would say to him in my head, but it changed every time. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the words quite right.

When the school day was over, I was thoroughly exhausted and stressed out because I realized that I still didn’t know what I was going to say to Felix and the time was running out. At five o’clock, I heard his familiar voice in the front hall, along with Cierra’s and Willow’s. I had to stop in the upstairs hallway to catch my breath and calm myself down before going down the stairs. Felix’s face brightened so much when he saw me that I felt twisted up inside, as if someone was tying knots in my intestines.

“Beth. It’s so good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you too,” I said, thinking what an understatement that was.

“You look really excellent.” He held his arms out to me and I fell into them with relief, even though it was a little awkward. I liked having his arms around me, I found. “You look happy.”

“I am,” I said with a smile. “Amber and Melissa have been taking good care of me.”

I turned to smile at Amber, who stood in the doorway to the kitchen. She shrugged modestly, but I could tell by the look on Felix’s face that he believed me. Melissa came running down the stairs then and engulfed Felix in a hug that made me feel strange for having hugged him so awkwardly.

“Hey, Felix. How’s it going?” she asked.

“Not too terrible. I’m hanging in there. How are you?”

“Eh. School’s kicking my ass.”

“I seriously doubt that.”

My stomach muscles tightened as I listened to their exchange. After greeting the others, I walked into the kitchen and got the plates and silverware out to set the table. Dinner was ready and the kitchen smelled wonderful. Amber had made some kind of glorious casserole that involved noodles, homemade meat sauce, cheese, and sour cream. I licked my lips when she brought out two pans and sent them on the table alongside a freshly washed salad and hot bread straight from the oven. Melissa fetched everyone’s drinks and then we were sitting down alongside each other. Willow and Melissa sat across from each other, Cierra and Amber sat across from each other, and Felix and I sat across from each other. I was thankful to not be sitting next to Felix, but then I realized that it would be hard for me to not look into his blue eyes every time I looked up from my plate. His eyes were so distracting to me.

“Thank you so much for taking Beth in,” Felix said to Amber.

“Of course. It’s been a pleasure.”

“I really appreciate it,” I said.

“You’re so quiet lately, Beth. What’s up?” Melissa said.

I tried to ignore the meaningful look she gave me, but could feel myself blushing. I made eye contact with Felix for a second and felt even more embarrassed even though no one could possibly know what I was thinking, except for maybe Melissa. Lately she seemed to know exactly what I was feeling, which unnerved me.

“This is a great change for me, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by everything that’s been happening.”

“And you have a right to be,” Amber said. “You’re much too young to have to go through unfortunate things like this.”

“I’m so glad everything is resolving itself, though,” said Cierra.

“There can never be a happy ending to this,” I said before I could stop myself. “My father is in jail and I will probably never see him again. I don’t really want to see him ever again. I still love him just like I still love my mother, deep down, but I never want to see her again either. I’m happy that I’m never going to see my parents again and I feel like a horrible person because of it.”

“We know exactly how you feel,” Willow said, putting his fork down and giving me a severe look. “It feels wrong, but your parents deserve every feeling that you have towards them. They put you through unnecessary pain. Why should you have to deal with that?”

I gave him a little smile because his words had moved me. I felt like I might cry there at the dinner table.

“Our parents are gone too,” Cierra said.

I bowed my head as the room continued to fill with everyone’s sympathy. I was tearing up and I couldn’t stop myself now. I could feel myself start to shake with the sobs that were coming. Without daring to speak – I didn’t trust myself to do that – I pushed back my chair and walked out of the house. I pulled the front door shut behind me and sat down on the front step just before the floodgates opened. There was no retrieving me from the abyss now. I cried heartily into my arms. Water leaked all over my sweatshirt, but I didn’t care about the growing damp spot under my face. I needed to get these terrible emotions out of my system so that I could go back inside and face my new friends without making a fool of myself.

I heard the front door creak open and flinched in embarrassment, curling even deeper into my turtle shell. I didn’t want whoever it was to see me like this, with my blotchy red face and swollen eyes. He or she put their arm around me and pulled me closer to them.

“Shh. It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.”

Of course it was Felix.

I didn’t know what to say to him, so it was convenient that I couldn’t muster any English words through my broken sobs. He began to rub his hand up and down my back comfortingly and I started to cry even harder. My whole body was shaking like a leaf and I felt like I was having some sort of conniption. Several minutes later, when I was still having this strange feeling of extreme lack of self-control, I pulled back from him.

“What is it?” he said, looking into my gross face.

“Felix –!” I gasped. “I can’t – stop – crying!”

“I’m not surprised, after what happened last week. This is a natural response.”

“No –! I actually – can’t – stop!”

I stared at him as I continued to cry helplessly. I tried to take a deep breath to calm myself down, but it didn’t do a thing. I was still crying as much as I had been before without relenting. Something had to be wrong with me. A normal person had the ability to stop crying. It wasn’t supposed to be a hard thing to do. I reached out and grabbed Felix’s shoulder, squeezing it tightly as I grew even more frustrated. He flinched and pulled out of my grip when I hurt him.

“Beth, what’s going on?!” He was starting to look frightened now. I was glad to see this, since I was frightened too. “Are you seriously saying that you can’t stop crying?”

“– Yes!” I said, choking.

He started rubbing my back again, looking extremely concerned.

“We can figure this out. I’m sure we can. Maybe we should take you to the hospital? I have no idea.”

“No! It’s not – something – that – doctors – could understand. I – can just – tell.”

It didn’t feel like there was something wrong with my tear ducts or my hormones. It felt like there was something broken inside of me.

I cringed when the front door opened again and Melissa sat down on the other side of me.

“Beth! What’s the matter?”

She looked surprised to see that I was crying so heavily. I was too.

“She says she can’t stop crying,” Felix said.

She opened her mouth to say something, but then Felix raised his eyebrows at her and her face softened in understanding. I wondered what the two of them knew that I didn’t.

“What’s – wrong – with me?”

“I have a hunch,” said Felix.

“It might sound silly to you now, but this could be supernatural,” Melissa said.

I thought about this for a minute before saying, “It doesn’t sound – silly – to me. After what – Felix did.”

“What did you do?”

“I healed her.”

“You what?! Why would you do that without telling her everything first?”

“Because she was hurt, Melissa! I care more about helping people than I do about keeping a secret that I think shouldn’t have to be a secret. In my opinion, it should be common knowledge that there are people like us in the world.”

“If you keep talking like that, you are going to make things worse!”

I looked between them, confused.

“What things? What – do you mean? What – secret?”

Felix looked deep into my eyes with his blue ones. It looked like he was searching for something in my eyes and I was tempted to look away from his stare.

“I know that you noticed what happened last week and there is an explanation for it. Beth, you have to believe me when I say that I’m not human. I’m an elf. I know it’s a lot to take in, but –”

“What?!”

“I knew you would react this way. It’s not easy to explain, which is why I’m having difficulty… Elves are a lot like humans, but we have special abilities and immortality.”

“Immortality?” Melissa said with a frown.

“We can’t die from old age. It would have to be from sickness or… Other means.”

“Like if someone stabbed you.”

“Exactly.”

They exchanged another meaningful look, but my head was spinning in circles so much that I didn’t have time to process everything that made them look secretive.

“You’re… Not human?” I said.

“No. I’m not.” He looked at me with such hope in that moment, desperate for me to say something that would show that I didn’t mind, that I felt like crying even harder. “Is that okay with you?”

“Of course – it’s okay.” But instead of me crying even harder, I stopped crying. It was like my tear ducts had dried up and I was so thankful that the torrential rain had stopped. “It’s just weird.”

He laughed in relief and took my face in his hands, wiping away my old tears with his thumbs. It was such a nice gesture and I found myself wishing that he would kiss me then.

I need to stop this nonsense. He’s twenty-three years old and I’m almost seventeen. This can’t happen.

“Thank God,” Melissa said, noticing that I had stopped crying.

“I don’t know how or why that happened,” I said.

Felix was still holding my face and I needed to say something.

“Has anything like this happened to you before?” he asked me.

“Never.”

“What did it feel like?” said Melissa. “Did it feel like there was some kind of force in your mind that was at work and that you couldn’t control it all?”

“That’s exactly what it felt like.”

I wondered how she could possibly know that. Felix finally let go of my face. I was both saddened and relieved by this.

“Fuck.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

Felix and Melissa looked at each other again. I wished they would stop doing that and tell me why they were so concerned.

“Were either of your parents… Especially gifted?”

“My father’s the most boring person I know, but my mother is a famous ballerina. You’ve probably seen her on TV or something. She left us so that she could pursue her career and she was extremely fortunate after leaving us behind.”

I sounded bitter, but I had every right to be.

“How good is your mother, exactly? Would you say her skills are almost… Supernatural?”

“That’s a good way to describe it,” I said, thinking of the last program I had watched of her. “Wait a minute. What are you saying?”

“There’s a possibility that you could be half elf. Like me.”

I stared at Melissa. Surely, she had to be joking. Surely, this had to be some kind of huge joke that Felix was also in on.

“Just because I couldn’t stop crying? What kind of proof is that?”

“It’s not proof. It’s a possibility. But from what you’ve told me, it sounds like you’re going through what I’ve gone through in the past month.”

“You’ve been crying a lot too?”

“No, but I’ve been setting things on fire by accident. With my mind. It’s all the same kind of thing.”

“I… Don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything at all,” said Felix. “It’s a lot to take in. We should probably go back and finish our dinner or the others will wonder what happened to us.”

“But don’t talk about everything at the table,” Melissa said. “Amber doesn’t know about the elf thing.”

I turned and gaped at her.

“You’re not fully human and your own mother doesn’t even know?”

She shrugged, saying, “See? You’re not the only one with issues.”

Germany; Lady Catherine

After days had passed, I finally began to get tired of getting pissed alone and sleeping with complete strangers just to keep myself from feeling alone. None of this was helping me through the grieving process. It just made me feel worse and worse. So I set my vices behind me and got up in the morning, ready to start working towards my goals again. I needed to act like the leader I was. It was a great duty my mother had laid upon my shoulders before her death and I still felt compelled to carry out her wishes, as they had become my own.

It was a miracle that I still remembered everything she had told me before her passing. I walked the streets of Cologne in my sweater and slacks, hands stuffed into my pockets for warmth. I shuddered against the wind and looked around at the people I was passing. They were all so beautiful and innocent – each and every one of them. It sickened me. I envied them for their ignorance of true pain and separation.

I caught a cab and took it out of town to a little park that was surprisingly empty of tourists. The cabbie looked confused when I seemed overly satisfied at being dropped off there, but that was because he was an ignorant human. Blissfully ignorant.

I walked fast even though there was no obvious reason for me to hurry. But the way that I saw it, now that Darylis was dead and I was completely alone in the world, I had no reason to delay. I finally found what my mother had described to me: a wooden park bench that appeared ordinary at first glance. When I took a step closer, I saw that it had a special symbol on it: a hawk flying over a castle. I traced the symbol with my finger and then sat on the bench. Closing my eyes, I whispered the German word for enter. Then I opened my eyes again and gasped.

Before me, across the path, stood a massive stone castle that looked to be straight out of the Middle Ages. It was a large version of the symbol on the bench, but it still startled me. Even though I had been around it all my life, magic could still shock me sometimes. I walked slowly towards the heavy wooden doors, intimidated suddenly. I didn’t know exactly what laid beyond those doors and I wondered if I still had the courage I had had when I was younger.

After I knocked, I only had to wait a minute before the great doors swung open in front of me. I took a step back and found myself looking into the brown eyes of a young elf with shoulder length dark hair and a chiseled jaw. His heavy brow folded quizzically at the sight of me and I bowed my head, giving him respect he didn’t deserve.

“Good afternoon, sir,” I said formally. “I wonder if I could have a word with your leader.”

“That depends who’s asking.”

“Catherine Caldridge. Lady Catherine of the Underground in Parcia. I am in urgent need of assistance.”

As soon as he knew who I was, the guard looked embarrassed and stood up straight.

“Of course. My apologies, my lady. Right this way.”

I followed him down a cold hallway and into a throne room that was very similar to the throne room in the Underground. My stomach clenched at the familiarity of it all and I found myself feeling slightly sick as I came face to face with the Leader, Lord Hans. He was a very tall man with neatly combed blonde hair and a clever brown suit. He looked so formal that I almost felt like laughing at the memory of Darylis and his loosened dress shirts. Something told me I would be making comparisons for the rest of my life.

“Welcome, Lady Catherine. How may I be of service to you?”

I summoned all of my charm and sweetness and said in the most innocent of voices, “I need your protection and hospitality. My elves have turned against me and cast me out of their Underground for no reason. They persecute me and I have nowhere else to go.”

Lord Hans looked surprised at this revelation, but before he could question me, I sidled up to him and kissed his lips gently. Taking a step back, I saw that his eyes had glazed over already.

“Of course you are welcome here. Pick any room you would like and it will be yours for as long as you like.”

I smiled and kissed him again, this time with tongue.

“How about yours?”

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