Eve woke up in a cold sweat.
The room was dark and humid. As she sat straight up, clutching at her throat, she couldn’t help sliding her gaze over the familiar furniture and drab walls. The same wardrobe and bedside table stared back, unimpressed with the vigilant one-act. The morning sun peeked through the blinds of the window, the wooden floorboards beneath soaking up the puddles of light. It could only have just been a few moments since daybreak. Meaning it was early in the morning, even for her. As she looked around the room, she realized she was searching for something. Something that was not there.
Him. She had seen him again. In her dream, he’d been there. She was sure of it. Standing there, sword and shield in hand, looking as if he would gut her on sight. The fear she had felt upon seeing him had felt so real this time . . . Cradling her head in my hands, Eve tried taking a few deep breaths to calm down. Remind herself that no one was in the room. It was just her. Just. Her.
The bedroom door suddenly creaked open. She flinched, irrationally fearful of whoever would appear behind the threshold. Praying it wasn’t . . .
As the door swung open, the warm glow of candlelight washed the room anew, driving out the shadows and the darkness. The last remnants of Him. And, behind the candle, a familiar face emerged.
Bear. It was just Bear.
“Hello, lovely,” she whispered, her husky voice soothing and sweet.
The tiny fae woman crept a few inches past the door, placing the candle and its tray on top of the nightstand. Her ivory robes fluttered around her, the silk sliding easily against the floorboards. Her feet, bare and tawny, did not make a whisper of a sound as she crossed over to my bedside, settling into the furs as easily as a cat would.
Bear reached for Eve’s hand, clasping it in both of her palms. “I made you a pot of tea. It’s waiting for you in the kitchen, whenever you’re ready.”
Eve breathed a little laugh, staring down at her aunt’s perfectly-kept fingernails. Oval and pristine, as always.
“How did you know?” She asked, softly.
Her aunt smiled, nudging Eve’s shoulder with her own. “That you were awake or about the nightmare?”
Of course. Nudging her back, Eve said, “Both.”
The bed creaked loudly as Bear patted her hand and stood up. Eve silently watched her as she crossed to the window and pulled the curtains wide open, so that the sun could filter in all the more, bathing her in the morning light. The rays caught the amber in her dark, luminous hair and the diamonds glistening silver around her neck.
During moments like these, her aunt did not appear as a woman at all but as a goddess. A divine figure hailing down from the heavens. Eve wanted to tell her such things, but her aunt would surely think she was just poking fun at her.
“Come,” Bear suddenly announced, spinning back around, towards the bed. “Let’s go get you some tea. And a little food would do you some good, too.”
By the time the pair made it to the kitchen, the pot had nearly boiled over. It whistled too-loud, a shrieking tin monstrosity on the stove. Her aunt deposited Eve at the tiny kitchen table before marching to the pot, whispering profanities to it.
“Bloody hell, I could’ve sworn I’d taken this damn thing off the heater.” She shoved the pot to the side, silencing its cries. She raided the cabinets next, pulling out mugs and crackers and the like. The kitchen erupted into a symphony of cabinet doors banging shut and muffled cursing.
A faint smile tugged at Eve’s lips, but she made sure not to laugh at the familiar sight. As skilled as Bear was, cooking had never been her strong suit. “Auntie,” Eve said. “If you want, I can—”
Another cabinet door slammed shut. “Don’t even think about saying what you’re going to say.”
She couldn’t help it: she laughed.
Over the rim of a flour jar, her aunt shot her a scowl. But not even the stacks of tin containers in her arms could hide the smile that played about the corners of her lips.
As dutiful as a barmaid, Bear began setting plates and cups down on the table, moving quick and nimble. The plates clattered, the forks and spoons rattled, and the rickety table groaned with the extra weight. Eve found herself grateful for the noise, the laughter. It was almost enough to make her forget about the dream.
“Eat up, baby.” Bear shoved a slice of buttered toast under her nose, holding it out as a dog owner would a treat. “It sounds like you’ve got quite the day ahead of you.”
With a mumbled thanks, Eve took the toast, setting it down on the plate. It did nothing to stop her aunt from piling up a small mountain of fruit and burnt eggs on the plate next. As the pile of food quickly grew, Eve asked, “What do you mean? I’ll probably just be in the gardens. Like . . . every day.”
Bear harrumphed. “Well, your boyfriend told me yesterday that you all were going on a big hike down to the lake. He said he had a surprise for you, for your birthday next week. Whatever he’s planning, he can’t do it in the rain. And rain it will all next week. ”
Blushing, she kept her eyes fixed firmly on her plate, twirling the fork around the edges of the charred food. “He’s not my boyfriend, Auntie.”
Her aunt waved off her words, chuckling. “Uh-huh. You should try letting him know that. Damn boy trails after you like a puppy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Eve shook her head, finally taking a bite of the toast. It predictably crumbled to ashes in her mouth. Swallowing hard, she took a minute to look behind them at Bear’s workspace. Since the cottage was so small, the kitchen and workroom merged together. But Eve didn’t mind. Besides Bear’s cauldron in the middle of the room, her workspace consisted of various hanging plants: Monks Feet, Dragons Breath, Black Bark, Moonflowers, and the like. Jars shoved into shelves, full of herbs and other, more unique substances. She also kept an array of tools, most of which Eve had never really asked about. Syringes, scales, hammers, tubes, and so on. If she did not know her aunt so well, she would have thought the room the brainchild of a madwoman.
“How’s, uh, that coming along?” Eve pointed at the cauldron. The lid trembled every couple of minutes, stone banging against stone. Whatever simmered beneath it appeared to be quite testy this morning.
Bear shot a glance in the cauldron’s direction before rolling her eyes. Wisps of smoke drifted up from the mug in her hands as she took a sip, saying, “It would be coming along much faster if I were a real warlock. The spells are tricky enough for them as is. For us, it’s almost impossible.” She put her mug down and winked. “Almost.”
Eve nodded, her attention drawn to the windows. Outside the cottage, the hills, green and grassy in the distance, rolled along the horizon like waves in the sea. Summer had begun to dwindle down, with autumn creeping closer with every passing day. Beyond the hills, the forest lay a couple of miles north, where the rest of Bear’s kind lived. The Fae.
“Do you think we’ll be able to leave by winter?” She asked, almost unconsciously.
The sound of cutlery scraping against the plate paused. A moment of chewing, then— “I don’t know. Definitely by the spring, though. Anyhow, it might be wise to wait out the snow. It’ll be easier to travel if we’re not bogged down by the ice and winds.”
Nodding some more, Eve popped a few pomegranate seeds into her mouth. Tried to savor the sourness. To not think about the coming months. About having to tell Michael that they would be departing once Bear’s spells and charms were ready. Eve could already imagine how his boyish face would fall, how his shoulders would droop. How else could you react when your best friend told you they were going to leave? Maybe forever?
“What if—” Eve started to ask, then stopped. Staring down at the floorboards, she tried to get her mouth to wrap around the shape of the question. She could feel Bear patiently waiting beside her, but she couldn’t figure out how to say it. To ask The Question.
She shot her aunt an apologetic glance. “Sorry. Nevermind.”
The mug thunked as it was set on the table. With a small frown, Bear reached across the table and took Eve’s hands into her perfect ones. “Evangelina,” she whispered. “We are going to find your parents. And the rest of your family. I’ve told you since you were little that we would. I am so close to figuring out where they are. I just . . . I just need a little more time. That’s all.” She squeezed. “And then we are going to find them. Together.”
The conviction in her eyes was undoubtable. She meant it.
Eve had never known her aunt to make a promise she couldn’t keep. And Eve believed her. She believed that her aunt would find them. Bear would find her family. They would all be reunited once more.
Of that, Eve was sure.