Pyro

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Chapter 19

Modern Day; December 31st; Cleveland, Ohio; Melissa

Christmas with Beth was weird. I had never spent Christmas with anyone other than Amber. Even the extended family stayed away in December. Everything about it felt foreign to me. There was an extra stocking on the mantelpiece, an extra glass of eggnog I needed to pour on Christmas Eve, and a much longer process of unwrapping gifts on Christmas Day. Even though it felt like a bulldozer had driven right through my life and messed everything up beyond the point of recognition, I loved Beth deeply. She really had become like a sister to me.

After the Christmas party in Parcia when Beth had gotten sick, I felt like I needed to take care of her. As someone who knew what it felt like to develop a special ability, I knew that what she was going through was much worse, since she clearly had more than one ability. According to Adam, elves with more than one ability were very rare. Felix was one of few others that he knew personally. That was perfect, I thought. That Felix and Beth were both unique on the subject of abilities.

It was strange to me that it wasn’t very long ago that I had thought Beth was a human from whom I had to keep my secrets, but it turned out that she had secrets to keep too. As she worked to gain control over her abilities during Christmas break, I helped her cover up the strange accidents that kept on happening.

“Why are you looking at me like that, Melissa?” Beth said, looking up at me from the mixing bowl she had in front of her.

Right now, we were baking our New Year’s Eve feast that was a tradition for Amber and me. One of the good things about Beth moving in was that we had an excuse to increase the number of dishes we were going to have.

“Oh, sorry. I was just thinking.”

“That’s a big surprise. You’re always thinking about something.”

Amber smiled fondly at me. She was standing over the kitchen table, rolling out dough for the pepperoni roll we were making. It was true that I spent a lot of time in my own head. For most of my childhood, I spent all of my time with Amber and myself. Whenever I wasn’t talking to Amber, I usually was thinking over something important by myself.

“Melissa is a very thoughtful girl,” said Amber. “It’s one of the things I love about her.”

“I was just wondering… Why don’t you want to go to college, Beth? I mean, I know you aren’t really a school person, but you have so much potential, in my opinion. You have so many talents and I think you could go far.”

Beth looked surprised to hear that I thought so.

“Why do you say that? I don’t think I have any talents.”

“Really? You don’t think you have any abilities?” I said, raising my eyebrows at her meaningfully.

“Oh!” The spoon slipped out of Beth’s hand as she realized what I was insinuating. “Well, maybe I do. But I don’t know what I could do with my abilities. Actually… There was something I noticed a couple weeks ago. When I was dancing with Felix, actually.”

“You’re in love with him?” I guessed.

She gave me a death glare.

“No. I realized that I actually really enjoy dancing. I hadn’t done it much before, but when I was dancing with Felix… I don’t know. It felt so natural. Nothing has ever come to me so naturally before. It must mean something.”

“It probably does,” Amber said with a smile. “I know that feeling. I felt it whenever I was with your father, Melissa.”

She stared off into the distance as if watching her memories on an invisible screen. I looked at her in surprise. She didn’t mention my father very much. I knew that it made her sad.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Beth. “My mother is a dancer. She’s kind of famous, but I don’t want anything to do with her.”

While Beth was talking, I got a strange feeling. It was like there was something I needed to do that I was forgetting about. I stared absentmindedly at the bottom corner of one of the kitchen cabinets while sorting through my thoughts. I was sure it was something important.

“Melissa?” I looked up and my heart jumped because both Amber and Beth was staring at me. Clearly I had missed something. “You must have a story in your head or something. You’ve been more thoughtful this semester than I think you’ve ever been.”

I stared at Amber.

“No. I just have a lot going on…”

Beth raised her eyebrows at me.

Oh shit.

“Amber… I have to tell you something.” My palms were beginning to sweat already. “I really should have told you this a long time ago.”

“Well, what is it?”

She set her rolling pin aside and looked at me expectantly.

“Can we go upstairs to talk about this?”

“Why?” She frowned. “Why can’t we talk about it here? As you can see, I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

“I know, but you might need to sit down. And I have to show you some things too. This really can’t wait any longer.”

“You’re starting to scare me. Just give me a minute and let me put this in the oven.”

I helped her arrange the pepperoni on the large piece of dough and then she carefully rolled it up before sliding it into the oven on a pan. She washed her hands and turned to me.

“Okay. Let’s go upstairs.”

Beth and I exchanged looks of panic and then I ran up the stairs with Amber behind me. I hurried down the hall to my room and picked up the small rock on top of my dresser, holding it out to Amber.

“It all starts with this rock,” I said.

As nervous as I was, I felt very confident that this was going to go well. Amber had always been so supportive of me. Why would that change now?

“That’s a very strange looking rock. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Neither had I until the beginning of the school year. When I found it, I ended up learning a lot about myself and the world in general. There’s a lot out there that we don’t know about. This is probably going to shock you.”

I motioned for her to sit down on my bed and after she had done so, I proceeded to tell her everything. I told her about the episodes I had had and everything I had found out after discovering Parcia and all the secrets of the elves. Her eyebrows kept moving farther and farther up her forehead the more I talked, but she was very patient and didn’t interrupt. I couldn’t believe this was finally happening and how easy it felt, now that everything was spilling out of my mouth. The more I said, the more energetic I felt. My voice grew louder and more urgent as I rushed to get the truth out as fast as possible. When I finally finished telling Amber about Parcia and Willow and Cierra, she was sitting up straight with her hands folded in her lap, her lips parted slightly in surprise.

“Wow. You sure have had a busy semester.”

I stared.

“Is that all you have to say? I mean, I know it’s a lot to take in, but it’s the truth.”

“I believe you, Melissa. After eighteen years, it’s become apparent to me that you are very special. First the mind reading… I’m not surprised that you have another… ability. Frankly, I’m amazed. It’s astounding to me that you can control fire. I didn’t think that was possible! I didn’t think any of this was possible!” She shook her head, and I could’ve sworn there were tears in her eyes. “It’s all so amazing. But why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I don’t know.” Now I could feel tears growing in my own eyes. “I think I was afraid to admit to myself that none of this has been a dream. It’s my life now. I’ve always felt abnormal compared to other people. But now there’s proof that I’m different. I’m not even human. About that… Was my father…?”

Amber shook her head adamantly.

“No! No, he was normal. I mean, to me he was extraordinary.”

Tears were trailing down her cheeks now and I wrapped my arms around her. We held each other for what felt like forever. Everything was changing, but at least we had each other. Beth appeared in the doorway to my room as if to remind us that she was going through a lot of change too.

“Did you tell her about me?”

“I told her about us,” I said as I pulled out of Amber’s arms.

Amber wiped her red and wet cheeks and smiled up at Beth. Beth held her hand out to Amber and she took it, looking between us.

“Look at my two beautiful, talented daughters. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Somehow, I suspected that wasn’t the truth. I knew that Amber wanted more than the life she had now, but she didn’t want to affect me with her prolonged sadness, so she kept it to herself and put on a happy face all the time. It hurt me to see her hurting and she knew it.

“Sometime we should take Amber to Parcia,” Beth said to me.

“How about tonight?”

Amber looked as curious as a child as she stood up and straightened her apron. I couldn’t help but laugh at her enthusiasm. After all, it was rather fantastic that there was a whole other country that existed.

It was challenging for us to return to our menial work in the kitchen after having such an important discussion. It felt surreal, as if we were moving from one world to another. While everything cooked in the oven, we worked on making fruit salad and coleslaw. Amber’s coleslaw recipe was unique and tasted better than any other coleslaw I had ever tasted. She refused to share what the special ingredient was, but I always tried to guess as she made it.

To kill time until dinner, the three of us sat down and watched some of the Twilight Zone marathon that was on TV. It was a kind of tradition for me and Amber every New Year’s. Introducing Beth to our traditions was rather exciting for me, to my surprise. Finally, I had someone to share everything with.

“Melissa,” Amber said after we finished eating, “When are you going to take me to Parcia?”

Beth and I exchanged glances and then I stood up and collected our plates to take into the kitchen.

“As soon as I’m done doing the dishes, Amber.”

My heart was beating rapidly as I let the soap and water flow freely over the dishes. My life was about to change a lot. It was strange enough discovering this new life on my own and even stranger when Beth discovered it too. But once Amber had been to Parcia, nothing would ever be the same again. It occurred to me that maybe that was why I hadn’t told her everything sooner. I wanted to hold on to my normal life for as long as I could.

“Alright.” I walked slowly into the living room. “Let’s go.”

A minute later, we were all standing around the teleportic Icelandic volcanic rock. I swallowed and held out my hand for Amber’s. Amber took Beth’s hand so that we made a chain. I picked up the rock with my eyes closed and everything began to spin as it usually did. As it was happening, it occurred to me that I should have warned Amber to close her eyes, as it was her first time teleporting and she wouldn’t know about the typical nausea.

“Oh, shit,” I heard her say.

She sounded startled and I squeezed her hand to comfort her a little. We were almost there. I could feel it. And then my feet hit the ground. I slowly opened my eyes and saw Amber do the same. She was a very smart woman, so I wasn’t surprised that she had caught on. She turned around and craned her neck, gazing about her with a wild curiosity. I wondered if I had looked like that the first time I was in Parcia.

“This is it,” I said.

Beth beamed and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

I suddenly felt a surge of annoyance that Beth was acting like Parcia was something special to her. I had been here first and it had a special place in my heart. It wasn’t like Parcia belonged to me, but in that moment, I felt like it did.

“Let me show you the Underground. It’s the capital of Parcia. It’s also where Willow and Cierra live.”

Amber opened her mouth.

“This is where you’ve been going every time you say you’re going to hang out with Willow and Cierra. I have to say I can’t blame you for going off a lot. This place is amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t even know it existed before now.”

“Not many people know.”

“It’s like a place you might read about in a book. It doesn’t even feel real.” Amber walked over to the great willow tree and stretched out her hand to touch its trunk. “Wow.”

I took her hand and pulled her towards the entrance to the Underground.

“This is the Underground.”

Amber turned her head left and right to look at the floor and the walls and the fiery torches that made up the hallways of the Underground. I was so glad to finally be showing her a place that meant a lot to me. Amber had always been my best friend and I had always shared everything with her. It felt strange that she hadn’t seen Parcia before now. I wondered what was wrong with me for not having shown her before. It was selfish of me and very stupid.

“It’s beautiful. It reminds me of a castle or something, except it’s underground. Is it underground so that the elves are hidden from humans?”

“Yes. Though humans don’t usually come to Parcia. It’s unavoidable that some humans know about elves, though. Everyone in Iceland and some other nearby countries believe, but the elves like to keep their distance. They’re private creatures.”

“Are you calling us creatures?” Beth said with a laugh.

“Sort of. Sorry. Sometimes I forget. It’s new to me too.”

“After seventeen years of believing you’re human and not knowing that elves even exist, that’s perfectly normal,” said Amber.

I nodded and we walked into Ruoka Hall, which was surprisingly empty.

“This is Ruoka Hall, where everyone eats. It’s usually full. I can’t imagine where everyone might be.”

“Um,” said Beth, “I can. It’s December 31st, New Year’s Eve. I bet there’s a party going on somewhere. We should just follow the noise.”

“You’re right! They’re probably having a party in one of the larger meeting rooms.”

“Meeting rooms?”

Amber looked very excited.

Following the noise ended up being the most obvious thing to do. After walking for a few minutes, we could hear music being played loudly somewhere nearby and the sounds of laughter and talking. I didn’t love large parties, so my heart flipped over a couple times in anticipation of a chaotic mess of people. It wasn’t as chaotic as I imagined, though.

In the meeting room, there were golden streamers and silver balloons hanging from the walls and ceiling. There were potted plants in every corner that were draped with tinsel and yellow lights. Music was playing, but I couldn’t find the source of it when I looked around the room. The majority of the elves were gathered in the middle of the room, dancing together with wide smiles. Tables were set up around the perimeter, laden with food. I gazed at the assortment of exotic dishes, but I was so full from our overindulgence that nothing appealed to me. Everyone was dressed to the nines in long dresses and tuxedos and I suddenly felt as out of place as a garden vegetable in the middle of a table of delicacies.

“Wow. Maybe we should have changed out of our jeans,” Amber said, as if she had read my mind. I almost laughed at the irony. “It doesn’t look as if anyone notices, though.”

“Melissa!” someone screamed at me.

I almost jumped out of my skin in surprise, but it was just Cierra who had been trying to get my attention. She looked lovely in a sparkly silver dress with a matching set of combs in her silky brown hair. I smiled and embraced my best friend. I hadn’t been seeing her very often, except at school, so I was instantly filled with happiness.

“Hi, Cierra!” I said. “I’ve missed you.”

“I know,” she said, and there was a hint of sadness in her voice. “I’ve missed you too. And you brought your mum!” She turned, finally noticing Amber and Beth standing there. “Hello, Mrs. Curran! Welcome to Parcia!”

“Thank you, Cierra! You look beautiful in that dress.”

Cierra hugged Amber and then Beth. I looked over Cierra’s shoulder and saw Willow dancing silly with Felix and Scott in the crowd of people. Miraculously, he happened to look over and make eye contact with me. My heart fluttered and I couldn’t help but smile at his silent greeting. I gestured for him to come over to us and he made his way through the crowd to us.

“Hello, Mrs. Curran,” he said politely before kissing me on the cheek. He winked at me and said, “I see you finally spilled the beans.”

“Well, I only had a few hours left before my promise would have been broken.”

He laughed and Felix came over to say hi to us. I noticed during the exchange that Beth looked like she was having a hard time knowing what to do or say. She seemed to be chewing on the inside of her cheek nervously. I reached over and patted her on the arm in support.

“I certainly wasn’t planning on going to a big New Year’s Eve party when I woke up this morning, but you don’t always get what you expect from a day,” said Amber. “This looks like a very fun party. I think I’d like to go dance!”

Amber wouldn’t exactly strike anyone as a party animal, but before I could count to five, she was on the dance floor and shaking her groove thing along to the music. A heavy beat was being played from somewhere. I still couldn’t find the speakers. Cierra, Willow, Scott, Felix, Beth, and I were all dancing in a circle and I felt high on life. Even though I had had a heavy meal not too long ago, my stomach felt light now. My whole body felt light, as if I could do anything.

I was sweating in my black T-shirt and jeans, but I didn’t care. I whipped my hair and closed my eyes as I lost myself in the music. I wasn’t good at dancing by any definition, but that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. Beth and Felix were dancing together now, holding each other and shaking their heads rhythmically. They didn’t smile, but it was clear from the way they moved their bodies that they were really into it. I grabbed onto Willow and he gave me a twirl that didn’t fit with the music at all and made me start laughing at him. He shrugged and started dancing a little jig that made him look like a child. But I loved it. I loved him. I kept looking over to make sure Amber was having a good time and she always had a smile on her face, so I was satisfied.

Willow tilted his head down and kissed me and then we were dancing and kissing and dancing and kissing as the mood struck us. I pulled him closer and wrapped my arms around his back and we moved to the music as a unit. I could smell him and me and all I could hear was the music. Strobe lights were flashing along to the music now and they made everything more exciting. I glanced over at Amber again and saw that she was no longer smiling.

I frowned in concern and followed her gaze across the room because she seemed to be looking at something. It was like she had seen something that she didn’t like. Surrounded by elves with special abilities, I guessed that one of them had used their ability and it had shocked her, but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary when I looked around the room. She started walking in the direction of her gaze and I pulled away from Willow to follow her. I could feel him following behind me. I had to find out what had changed her demeanor.

I reached out mentally for her thoughts and found them quickly.

It can’t be. I must have imagined him. Why would he be here? He can’t be here. It’s not possible. I’m being silly. But I must know if it was him…

Who could she be talking about? I was suddenly so curious to find out what she had seen that I lost all interest in the party that was around me and started to push through the crowd. She was walking towards one of the tables and I hurried to catch up to her, but when I reached her she had already stopped to talk to one of the elves. The strobe lights were so distracting that I had to squint to see who it was.

It was Adam.

“It’s you,” she said loudly over the music. The way her voice wavered, I could tell she was trying not to cry. “I haven’t seen you for so long… I can’t believe it’s you.”

“Amber,” he said, staring at her in disbelief.

I don’t understand. How could he know her? How can they know each other? He lives in Parcia and she lives in Cleveland, Ohio. It doesn’t make any sense.

But then I remembered that he was American and that he hadn’t always lived in Parcia. I remembered him telling me that he was originally from Louisville, Kentucky and that he had gone to Cleveland for college. Cleveland. And he was probably in his mid-30s. And he had gone to college in Cleveland. And right after college he had moved to the Underground to be with other elves.

All of a sudden, things did make sense. All of a sudden, I felt myself going lightheaded. I reached for Willow behind me and grabbed his arm in a death grip. I heard him gasp and my fingernails dug into his skin.

“Melissa! What’s up?!”

I don’t understand. I don’t understand. This can’t be happening. This cannot be happening. It can’t be true. I can’t believe this didn’t occur to me before. I’m such an idiot. What was I thinking? I clearly wasn’t thinking! It should have been obvious from the beginning! There were so many possible connections and I didn’t connect the dots.

Amber turned around and saw me behind her. Tears were streaming down her face and I reached out to take her hand as she said to me, “Melissa. Melissa, this is your father.”

I looked into the eyes of the man I had become friends with. The man I had grown to trust. The man I had started to think of as a father figure anyways.

… And then I started to cry.

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