Modern Day; November 26th; Cleveland, Ohio; Melissa
I was very unhappy when Beth shook me awake on Thanksgiving morning. First of all, it was seven thirty in the morning and I was not accustomed to getting up so early when it was a school day. Second of all, I had stayed up late the night before double checking all of my scholarship applications before submitting them.
“Come on, Melissa! You have to help me and Amber start getting ready!”
“For what?” I said sarcastically, pulling my pillow over my face.
“Thanksgiving dinner, silly.”
By “dinner,” of course, she meant late lunch. Amber’s family was coming to our house this year and they liked to show up around two o’clock and expect dinner soon afterwards. They were the rudest people and Amber and I both hated putting up with them. Innocent little Beth didn’t know what to expect, so we had to keep warning her of their horribleness in order to prepare her for the unpleasant evening that was sure to come.
I stumbled downstairs in my pajamas behind Beth and started peeling the apples for the pie. I couldn’t stop yawning, which was to be expected. Amber poured us all some strong coffee and we powered through. Amber was peeling sweet potatoes for her sweet potato casserole and Beth was mixing ingredients for the pie crust. Together, we made an incredible team. To distract myself from my exhaustion, I pictured a fictional scenario in which Amber had abilities like Beth and I and the three of us were a trio like the Powerpuff Girls or the Three Musketeers. It was amusing, but it, combined with the coffee, kept me awake.
“Melissa, what’s your first choice college?” Beth asked me as we worked.
“Ugh. You really want to talk about college this early in the morning?”
“Amber and I have been awake for an hour already. You have no excuse.”
I rubbed my eyes and said, “I was up late doing responsible things.”
“I know, Sweetie.” Amber came over and rubbed my back. “I’m proud of you.”
“Strangeton is my number one.”
“I’ve never even heard of it,” Beth said.
“It’s in Cincinnati,” I said, as if divulging its location would tell Beth everything she needed to know about it.”
“It’s really lovely,” said Amber. “When we visited it back in the beginning of October, Melissa just fell in love. It’s a really old campus with lots of really interesting looking buildings. All you have to do is walk on campus and you can feel the history.”
“Amber, it sounds like you love it more than I do.”
“I just love colleges. My four years at Cleveland State were the best years of my life.”
She smiled off into space nostalgically, but then her smile vanished and I knew she was thinking of my father. I was always tempted to ask about him, but I didn’t want to bring her pain.
“What did you study?” Beth asked curiously.
“Psychology. You might ask what I wanted with a degree in psychology if I wanted to open a diner all along. It was because I didn’t think I could really do it. Open a diner. My parents expected me to have a proper career – whatever that was in their minds. I was interested in psychology, so it satisfied all three of us. Business was my minor because I didn’t want to give up my dream that easily. I got so lucky after college. I found a place that had cheap rent and was the perfect size. A couple friends started it up with me and between the three of us, we were in business soon after. Chris was the one that cooked, Megan waited tables, and I handled the business side of things. It was challenging, especially when I was trying to raise Melissa at the same time. She spent a lot of time at the diner growing up, didn’t you?”
She smiled at me and I grinned, remembering a time when I was a tiny little red haired kid confusing people’s thoughts with the words they had spoken. It took a while before Amber and I finally started realizing what was happening; that I could hear more than the average person.
“Melissa, do you want to work in the diner business too?”
I started laughing. I couldn’t help it.
“Not at all! I actually have no idea what I’m going to do or even what I’m going to study.”
“If you don’t know what you’re going to study, how did you decide that Strangeton is your number one?”
It was a good question, but I still felt myself getting annoyed at Beth. I didn’t feel like answering questions, especially when I knew I would be asked again when the family arrived.
“I just really liked it when I was on campus there. Also, it’s the cheapest of all the places I’ve applied to and that’s immediately an attractive characteristic to me. Of course you know we’re not extremely well off.”
“You’re better off than I have ever been.”
“What about you, Beth?” I said, desperate to get the focus off of me. I didn’t like talking about myself. “What are your plans for the future? I feel like I should know that about you, since we’re going to be sisters soon.”
“I don’t want to go to college.”
Amber looked up from her potatoes and said, “Why not?”
“I just don’t feel like it’s the right place for me. I’ve never done very well in school.”
“Then what do you plan to do once you graduate high school?”
“I have no idea. I’m completely clueless and it terrifies me.”
“Oh, don’t be terrified! A lot of people your age are going through the same thing. Like Melissa!”
“I finished peeling the apples,” I said. “Can I go back to bed now?”
Amber laughed and said, “Not so fast! We have a lot of work to do before the family shows up. If you want to make yourself useful, I guess you can go take a shower. I can’t have you being all smelly when everyone gets here.”
“You’re absolutely right,” I said with a grimace. “Remember the last time the family came, two years ago, when Grandma pointed out that my hair was really oily in front of the entire family?”
Beth shook her head.
“My mother can be godawful when she wants to be,” said Amber. “I’m glad we don’t see them very often.”
“Why don’t you?”
“My parents don’t approve of me. They haven’t since I ‘entered my bohemian phase,’” she said, using air quotes. “My mother is always trying to point out everything about me that is less than perfect. My father just sees me as a wasted sperm, pretty much. I don’t think my parents should have reproduced at all. They were never really helpful or very loving at all. But you can tell that they love my older brother, Peter. He’s a real estate agent and he has a perfect family and a perfect life. At least, in the eyes of my parents.”
“I love you just the way you are, Amber,” I said, going to hug her.
“Oh, Sweetie,” she said as she put her arms around me.
I pretended not to see the tears in her eyes.
“Why do you even invite them over at all, then?” Beth asked.
“Oh, my mother invited herself. Everyone else just volunteered to come, but how could I turn them down? They’re family. I’m kind of stuck with them.”
“That must mean they love you, then, if they want to come.”
“No. My mother just wants to come and check up on me and see what else I’m doing wrong in my life. It’s purely for her own benefit. She enjoys sneering at me.”
“I’m sorry. I know what it feels like to have family that doesn’t appreciate you.”
“But now you have a new family and we appreciate you.”
Beth smiled. Amber pulled both of us into a tight hug and I felt a glimmer of hope. Maybe everything would turn out to be just fine with the three of us.
“Ugh,” said Beth. “Melissa, you do smell bad.”
That made all three of us laugh. I went up to take a shower while Beth finished making the dough for the pie crust and Amber began preparing the turkey for its stay in the oven. My shower was long and enjoyable. I didn’t rush myself because I knew we didn’t have that much more to do to prepare for our feast.
I walked into my room in my towel and went to my dresser to pick out my clothes. I had just opened my underwear drawer when something caught my eye. I looked up and saw my teleportic Icelandic volcanic rock sitting on top of the dresser. I always put it there when I wasn’t using it to make sure that I wouldn’t lose it. It was the most sacred of all my possessions—not only because it took me to a faraway place, but also because it reminded me of who I really was and who I had the potential to become. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with my life yet, but I knew that I wanted to make a difference in the world.
While the pie baked in the oven, Beth and I dusted and vacuumed the entire downstairs and Amber made sure there was a clean tablecloth on the dining room table and clean towels in the downstairs bathroom. We lived an ordinary, slightly unclean, life, but today we wanted to impress. At exactly two o’clock, the doorbell rang and three things happened in response: I groaned, Beth gasped, and Amber dropped something in the kitchen that shattered.
“I’m fine! It was just a plate!” Amber shouted to us.
“I’ll get the door,” said Beth.
“Oh God, why would you want to do that?” I said, stepping in front to take her place.
My grandma was standing just outside the door, thin and short with a cloud of gray hair just as obnoxious as she was. She didn’t smile when she saw me, but pushed past me into the house. My grandpa, who had been standing behind her, followed her inside without saying anything.
“Nice to see you again, Melissa,” Grandma said without looking at me as she walked into the kitchen.
“Do come in,” I said to the empty front hall.
I could hear Grandma yammering at Amber in the kitchen already and I looked up at the ceiling. This was going to be a long evening. Beth and I braved the kitchen and struggled to explain why Beth was there to begin with.
“What do you mean you’re adopting her?” Grandma said in her nasally voice.
“It makes perfect sense,” Amber said. I was surprised at how calm she sounded. I wondered how long that would last. “She needs someone right now and we were already in her life.”
Grandpa leaned against the kitchen sink without saying a word. He followed our conversation with his narrowed eyes, looking like he was judging us all like usual. Uncle Peter, Aunt Violet, my twelve-year-old cousin Jillian, my twenty-year-old cousin Davis, and Davis’s girlfriend Marianne showed up a few minutes later and we were all packed into the kitchen awkwardly catching up until Amber raised her voice to say that the food was ready and that we should all move out into the dining room.
Dinner was an event. Beth and I sat across from each other on purpose so that we could make faces at each other when things were getting especially horrible. Grandma wouldn’t stop criticizing everything about the meal. She said that the turkey was too hot, the mashed sweet potatoes were too sweet, and the green bean casserole looked like vomit. Grandpa didn’t say anything during the entire meal, but watched us all silently, as before. Davis didn’t say much either, but his girlfriend insisted on talking about him whenever she got a chance to say anything. Jillian would occasionally comment, but it was obvious that she thought she had better places to be. She probably did.
Things didn’t get really interesting until the doorbell rang fifteen minutes into the meal. I jumped up to get to the door, eager to get away from everyone for even just a minute. It was Felix and he was holding a foil covered pan in his hands. His spiky hair was neater than usual and he wore a blue button-down shirt. He looked like a proper gentleman.
“Well, don’t you look spiffy!” I said, looking him up and down. “You look like you’re on your way to a date.”
Not that I have a lot of experience with going on dates.
“I just thought I would stop by,” Felix said. He looked nervously over my shoulder. “I didn’t know that you guys would have company. Maybe I should come back another time.”
He started to turn away, but I grabbed his arm.
“No! Please stay. Things are less than interesting.”
“Alright.” He smiled. “We just had a lot of potatoes left over in… You know where and I thought I would bring some by.”
“Excellent!” Grandma ran up behind me and snatched the pan out of Felix’s hands. “Just what we needed! Proper potatoes!”
“I’m sorry,” I mouthed to Felix in response to his surprised expression.
He shrugged and we joined everyone at the table. I introduced him as a family friend. Beth was beaming and I saw her and Felix exchange friendly waves.
“Why aren’t you with your family this Thanksgiving, son?” Uncle Peter asked.
“Oh, er, I forgot it was Thanksgiving,” said Felix.
Grandma gasped and said, “You forgot?”
“He’s not American, Grandma,” I said impatiently.
“He’s not? Where are you from, then?”
“I’m from Iceland, ma’am,” Felix said quietly with a little nod.
“Aha! I thought I heard a funky accent!”
“Iceland? Where’s that?” said Marianne, sitting up in her chair. “Antarctica?”
“Actually, Iceland is its own country. It’s near Finland.”
I thought I was going to explode with laughter. Felix looked like he was having trouble containing himself too. Felix, Beth, and I looked at each other in amusement. I was worried that my family would keep questioning Felix about Iceland, but they lost interest in him almost immediately and returned to the subject of Amber’s shortcomings and Davis’s many skills.
“He joined a bowling league last week and I couldn’t be prouder!”
“Goodness, Amber, look at those dirty fingernails! I hope you washed your hands before you handled the food.”
I didn’t know how, but Felix seemed to be enjoying himself. Every time I looked over, he was smiling at something. When I looked at Beth, she was smiling too.
They’re both idiots. They need to get together soon.
After we ate all the pie and ice cream, I motioned for Felix and Beth to follow me upstairs.
“Excuse us. I just have something to show Felix and Beth,” I said, but the family wasn’t listening to me anyways.
I knew Amber would kill me later for leaving her alone with them, but it was worth it to avoid hearing Grandma’s nasally voice nagging everyone for the rest of the night.
“Isn’t this rude?” Felix asked once I had shut my bedroom door behind us.
We sat on the floor as I said, “Yes, but they’re all extremely rude too. Amber and I didn’t even invite them this year. They invited themselves. If that’s not rude, then I’m a cat.”
“How do you get away with calling your mother Amber? My parents would have killed me if I had done that.”
“I’ve never heard you talk about your family before,” Beth said, looking at him curiously.
“That’s because I haven’t seen them in a very long time. They both died when I was young. They were killed by elf haters.”
Beth took his hand, looking saddened. I walked to my dresser. Absentmindedly, I ran a finger over the surface of the teleportic Icelandic volcanic rock that sat there.
As I looked at my reflection in the mirror over the dresser, I said, “Elf haters?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, they do exist. There are few humans who know about us, but sometimes it becomes difficult to hide and some find out. They’re not always happy. It scares them that we can do things they cannot. I can understand why they get scared, but I wish we lived in a world where people didn’t react to unknown things with violence. My parents were wonderful people. They were loving and kind to every creature they came across. They taught Scott and I to love and to cherish everyone we encountered. Scott always had more difficulty than I did, but that’s just part of his personality. He’s still very angry about what happened those years ago. He has every right to be. The way I see it, we should put ourselves in the shoes of those who persecute us. Then we can know what we must do to align ourselves with them.”
“Why do people hate?” I said. Beth and Felix looked up at me. “Because people are afraid. They’re afraid for themselves and for their families. For their friends. They’re afraid of the unknown because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t know what elves are capable of. If we could just let them know that they’re safe and that we mean them no harm…”
“If only it were that easy,” said Felix.
“I don’t understand Lady Catherine,” Beth said, looking up at me. “From what you told me, she wants to kill every elf because she thinks that humans are superior. Even if they are—though, I must say, I disagree with her about that—why can’t elves and humans live in harmony? What’s so wrong with that?”
“If you ask me, nothing,” I said. “But I think she might be insane. I think anyone who has the will to kill someone has to be insane. It’s an abominable thing to do.”
I wish I had never found out about any of this. I wish I could just be normal. If I was normal, I wouldn’t have to worry about death and life and everything. Finding out that I’m an elf has shifted aside the veil between things we should know and things we shouldn’t have to know. My life would be much simpler if I didn’t know about elves. I could fade into the background with everyone else.
I related to what Beth was thinking so much, but there was one thing that stuck with me more.
“Half elf?” I said under my breath.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to hear it or not, but she had.
“Aren’t you a half elf?” I said.
Beth frowned. Felix looked between us, confused. I could tell he thought he was missing something and he was right about that.
“Were you reading my mind?”
I bowed my head, ashamed.
“Yes. I’m sorry. Sometimes it just happens. I’ll try to never do that again.”
“Please do. But about that…I’m not a half elf. I went back to my old house the other day to get all the important documents my father had filed away. You know, my birth certificate and my Social Security card. Things like that. I found something else filed away with them that I had never seen before. It was a letter from my mother, Annabelle Slovensky. She’s a famous ballerina, so you may have heard her name before. Anyways, she wrote me this letter saying how sorry she was that she had to leave me. She also said that she and my father had been keeping a secret from me for years. They’re both elves. Both of them. My mother is especially gifted with dancing, and that’s her ability. My father apparently has an amazing ability to draw what he sees exactly as it appears. I remember him drawing when I was very little, but he stopped after my mother left. I never would have guessed that he was just as special as she was. She said they were trying to keep me safe by not telling me.”
Felix and I were silent in shock. So Beth and I were not as similar as I had thought. I wondered what she was feeling right now, but I didn’t dare read her mind again. She probably felt like more of an outcast because she wasn’t human at all. I was glad that she had found us before she found the letter, though. It would have been more of a shock to her otherwise.
“You know what this means, don’t you, Melissa?” Felix said. “It means that you really are the only known half elf. It means that you’re in more danger than we thought.”