I watch Annabelle move through the admiring crowd and make my way towards her, where she is leaning against the bar, flirting with the bartender.
“There you are,” she says, reaching for my hand, pulling me closer to the bar.
“This is Lana, my friend I was telling you about,” Annabelle says to the bartender.
“Well hello there little lady,” the bartender says with a thick accent that I immediately recognize from my homeland.
“Today is a special day indeed, it’s not every day we’re graced by the presence of faerie folk.” His eyes roam my body before winking.
Staring at him, I concentrate and am finally able to see through his illusion. His body transforms into a troll, an Earth Elemental from Aleiwen. My faerie light must be weaker than I thought if I can’t see through the illusions of other Elementals.
A warmth rises to my cheeks and I offer a small smile.
“Whatcha drinking, darlin’?” he asks with a wide grin.
“She’ll have a Dragon’s Breath,” Annabelle giggles.
“What?” I shake my head and wipe my clammy palms on my jeans. Annabelle’s motto is YOLO. Tonight is going to be a long night.
The bartender places two frosty mugs filled with a golden liquid and topped with a thick head of foam in front of us. Annabelle doesn’t hesitate; she tips the mug up, drinking it in one long sip, licking the foam from her lips when she’s done.
“Don’t be shy, drink up!” She pushes my mug closer, in her typical persuasive siren way.
My lips tingle as the golden liquid washes down my throat, my head becomes foggy and I blink several times to regain focus. Annabelle giggles and takes another sip from her refilled mug.
Someone bumps into me from behind, and I cringe at the sound of glass shattering on the concrete floor at my feet.
Looking down at the mess my forehead crinkles. “Oh no!”
Glancing up, I see the bartender smiling and already pouring me a new mug.
“Excuse me miss,” a deep voice says over my shoulder.
Turning around to look at the man that knocked into me, spilling my drink, I gasp as our eyes meet. The familiarity of his sparkling sapphire eyes is eerie, but I know we have never met. I would remember this creature–half of his face is severely burned, leaving little to no flesh, the other half is diced up and covered in scar tissue, and his nose has been cut off, exposing the bone.
“Lana,” Annabelle whispers and nudges my shoulder, “it’s not polite to stare.”
My heart quivers and a deep blush rises to my cheeks. Biting my lower lip, I force a smile.
“Milady,” the creature says with a slight bow. “I am terribly sorry, please forgive me.”
Sliding off the bar stool, I curtsey and then turn my back to face a smirking Annabelle. She loops her arm through mine and pulls me to the floor. I steal a glance back, but the man with sapphire eyes is gone.
We find a high-top table near the railing, so we can look down on the dance floor. As I sip on my newly poured Dragon Brew, I stare off into the crowd below. Studying the other Earth Elementals, I realized that I am the only Faerie. Way to keep a low profile, Lana! Facepalm.
“Do you think there is a reason other Faeries aren’t here?” I ask Annabelle.
Her nose scrunches up and she sips on her drink.
“Nah, they just don’t know how fun this place is.” Her eyes twinkles as she speaks.
“So, that creature that bumped into me–”
“His name is Cole, he’s a regular here. He usually hangs out with the mortals though. He’s a total creeper, and he won’t stop staring at you,” Annabelle says nonchalantly, slurping the remainder of her drink.
I glance over my shoulder and agree with Annabelle. His sapphire eyes are fixed on me. As our eyes meet, his lips curl into a surprisingly handsome smile.
“He creeps me out,” I say, turning my focus back to the dance floor, trying to ignore the strange stirring of emotions that are building.
Hey ladies,” a silky voice says behind us. Turning around, a mortal man is stepping closer to Annabelle.
“Hello there handsome,” Annabelle’s enchanting voice says as she licks her lips.
“Would you care to dance?” He extends his hand to Annabelle. Not one to ever say no, Annabelle spares me a sideways glance as she takes his hand and leads him to the dance floor.
“What are you doing here?” a deep voice whispers into my ear, causing me to jump and I stumble backward against the cold metal railing. A hand reaches out to steady me, crossing deep into my comfort zone. As I look up in annoyance, our eyes meet and the creep, Cole, grins.
“Excuse me?” I ask in my haughty, princess tone.
My pulse quickens as I notice his slender and twisted fingers are still resting on my arm, invading my personal space. I stare into his inquisitive eyes so that I don’t have to look at his repulsive face.
“Princess you shouldn’t be here,” he says. “Not on a night like tonight.”
My eyes widen and I ask, “Are you threatening me?”
“No,” he says as he let’s go of my arm. With his long, yellow nails, he tucks a piece of my hair behind my ear. “just trying to protect you and keep you safe.”
I flinch at his touch. “How do you know who I am?”
“All Earth Elementals know our princess,” he says with a soft grin. Rubbing my clammy palms on my jeans, I offer a small smile and look anywhere but at him.
“Oh, you’re an Earth Elemental?” I ask, blushing for not recognizing one of my own.
His posture straightens and he drops his arm to his side. Rolling his shoulders back he leans his hips against the railing and watches the dancers below.
“Yes, my name is Cole. I once lived in Aleiwen,” he says looking over the railing, with sorrowful eyes.
I look at him through my rose colored glasses–a gift my father always praised me for, I am able to see the best in things. I instantly notice that his short, thick jet black hair glistens with purples undertones when the strobe light catches it–a telltale faerie trait. But his hunchback is a characteristic of a troll, and as I study his hands and arms they remind me of a goblin. Who is this mysterious creature and what happened to him?
“You’re staring again,” Cole says with a knowing smile.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” I say, this time in honesty.
He laughs under his breath. “What are you looking at, the Beast? Do I frighten you?”
The music slows down and the beating speakers quiet. Our eyes lock and I take a step closer to him and take my first real look.
“Your eyes remind me of someone I knew a long time ago,” I tell him, my heart slowly softens as memories rush back.
His grip tightens on the railing, turning his hairy knuckles white.
“Who?” he whispers.
“A dear friend.” Not having spoken of Nicholas for years, I’m not sure why now my heart decided to confide in this stranger, but it feels good.
“He died, fourteen years ago tonight.” I turn my head away from Cole to stop my tears.
“We need never be ashamed of our tears,” he says, drying my tear stained cheek. “Given the choice between the experience of pain and nothing, I would choose pain.” His eyes soften and a gentle grin appears on his face.
I arch my eyebrows and twitch my lips, “Dickens and Faulkner.”
“You’re surprised?” He says with a coy grin. “What surprises you more, that I read–”
“Oh no, I didn’t mean to offend you,” I say, tripping over my words. “I am surprised though. There just aren’t many people in this world that are well read, much less quote the classics these days.”
I turn my attention back to the dance floor and from the corner of my eye, I notice him watching me with an intense stare. A heat rises up my neck.
“Why aren’t you out there?” Cole asks pointing to the dance floor.
“I don’t dance.” I shrug.
“I’ve never heard of a Faerie that doesn’t dance,” he counters.
“And do you know many Faeries?” I ask.
“Enough to know you can dance,” he says with a smirk as if daring me.
I cross my arms over my chest. “I didn’t say I couldn’t dance. I said I don’t dance.”
“Fair enough,” he raises his hand in mock surrender, “but would you like to?”
My eyebrows raise, “What, here, now?”
“Yes my princess, it will be fun,” Cole says, and I know he is taunting me.
“Please don’t call me that.” I look down at my feet and fiddle with the hem of my shirt.
Without giving me a chance to say no, he grabs my hand and pulls me onto the dance floor.
A sharp inhale of breath rushes through my lungs as his rough, scaly hands grip my hips, pulling me closer to his hairy and disfigured body. Wincing, I glance away and his grip loosens as we begin to sway to the music.
It pains my heart to look at Cole, knowing he was once from my Kingdom. It is no longer his disfigurement that strains my heart, but rather the torture he must have endured.
“Is this thing bothering you?”
Turning toward the voice, a merman and water goblin are standing next to us, looking between Cole and me.
“No,” I say defiantly, yet stepping out of Cole’s arms.
“Dude, what happened to your face?” The water goblin asks.
“Man, you are the ugliest mutant mix I’ve ever seen,” the merman says.
“Nah man, seriously, he’s gotta be a mixed breed gone wrong,” the water goblin replies to his friend as if Cole isn't standing there.
“Oh yeah, his mom’s a troll and his dad’s a goblin!” the merman keeps up the running commentary.
“Knock it off and leave him alone,” I say, reaching back out to Cole, closing the distance between us.
“How can you touch that hideous thing?” the merman sneers.
Just as the tension heats up, Annabelle dances her way over and pulls me away from Cole and into the crowded dance floor. Cole’s eyes follow me as the mass of bodies engulfs us, and my heart flutters at the ferocity of his stare.