The drive passed slowly, and silently. None of them were in much of a mood to talk. Well, Percy was. He desperately wanted to speak to Annelise on Xander’s behalf. But he couldn’t without provoking the terrible wrath of Athena, so he remained silent.
Athena, meanwhile, didn’t really understand what was going on with Annelise. Yes, she knew that Annelise had liked Xander, but that was all, last she knew. Had things between them progressed? And if so, how far had they gone? She was eager to find out, but didn’t want to get into it with Percy there.
After an hour and a half of driving, they came across a small gas station that had a pay phone. Staying true to her word, Athena stopped there.
“I should probably call my dad to let him know we’ll be there soon,” Dianna said simply.
“Okay. Let’s go then,” Athena called back to Percy.
Annelise stayed in the car as Athena, Dianna, and Percy got out and walked to the gas station.
Dianna went straight to the phone to call her dad. While she was talking, Athena bought a road map of New San Francisco and Percy waited by the doors outside.
By the time Athena was done and stepped back outside, Dianna had finished on the phone and returned to the van, leaving her and Percy alone. By that time her anger had cooled, so she walked with him to the pay phone.
“Are you going to be alright here?” She asked.
“Yeah. I know this place well enough,” he answered.
“Alright. I’ll leave you to it then,” Athena said, turning back to the van.
“Athena?” Percy said after her.
“What?” She asked, facing him again.
“I’m sorry for everything that happened,” he said sincerely.
“None of it is your fault.”
“I know. But still, I’m sorry.”
“No, thank you. And Athena?” He asked, deciding to risk it.
“Tyler is a liar. But Xander isn’t. He’s nothing like Tyler.”
“Well the end result was the same,” Athena snapped, starting to get angry again.
“But the intent wasn’t. Please make sure Annelise knows that.”
“Whatever,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Without another word, Athena got back into the van, and drove away.
When they were out of sight, Percy used the pay phone to call a tow truck.
“Now, I guess I wait,” he said to himself when he hung up, sitting down on the curb.
Back in the van, meanwhile, Athena was determined to get down to the bottom of everything that happened. They still had about an hour before they made it to New San Francisco, and Dianna’s dad and step-mom’s house, and she wanted to get it all out before then.
“So what exactly was going on between you and Xander?” She asked Annelise.
“I don’t really feel like talking about it,” Annelise answered.
“I didn’t feel like talking about it either, but I did,” Dianna pointed out.
“You liked him, right?” Athena asked.
“Yeah,” Annelise said, knowing that it would be best to just get it all out in the open so they wouldn’t keep bugging her about it. “I liked him a lot. And he told me he liked me. He told me that he thought I was like no one he’d ever met before. He told me that he never felt the way he felt about me before. And I believed him. I thought that that was why the glaistig didn’t get him, because he liked me, but it was a lie. He cares about whoever his girlfriend is. Not me.”
“What are you talking about, a glaistig? When was there a glaistig?” Athena asked.
“Yesterday Dianna, Xander, and I saw one. It was while you and Percy were most likely being replaced by the changelings.”
“I see,” Athena said.
“At least you guys didn’t do anything,” Dianna remarked.
When Annelise didn’t respond in the affirmative, Athena got a bad feeling.
“Nothing happened between you two, right?” She asked.
“We kissed yesterday, after he told me he liked me, because I believed him,” Annelise revealed.
“While we were yelling at you guys, huh?” Athena asked.
“Yeah,” Annelise confirmed.
“At least that’s as far as it went,” Dianna said.
“I guess so,” Annelise agreed. “Still, it was a big deal to me, and now…and now…” she said, struggling to choke out the rest.
“We know. And I’m sorry for what happened to both of you guys,” Athena said to her friends. “And Percy is sorry about what happened too. He was still sticking up for Xander, though.”
“So there wasn’t anything going on between you two?” Dianna asked.
“Of course not. Why would you even think that?”
“Well you guys were talking more, so I wasn’t sure if your feelings had changed,” Dianna said.
“No, they haven’t. They definitely haven’t,” Athena reiterated. “So that’s it? Everything is out in the open now?”
“Yeah,” Annelise said.
“Yeah, for me too,” Dianna said.
“Good,” Athena nodded.
With that, the three friends fell silent again.
“So what happened while I was gone?” Xander asked Tyler about a half hour after the others left.
“Everything just went to hell, man,” Tyler answered. “So last night while we were driving, Dianna was practically trying to jump my bones right there, but I was like, ‘hey, let’s wait’. So then, when we stopped, we went into the forest and she basically ripped my clothes off, and we hooked up. Everything was good, you know? It was fun. So then we got up this morning, and I told her that it was good and fun. And she just freaked out. Like I don’t know if she was pms-ing, or what, but she totally lost it. She stormed off, and started crying, and I followed her like, ‘what’s going on? Why are you freaking out?’ But she ignored me and just kept going. Then we got back, and she was crying, so Athena and Annelise went to see what was going on with her. I was glad, you know, like I thought maybe they’d figure out what the problem was and she’d get back to normal. But that didn’t happen. Dianna told them that I, like, pressured her to sleep with me, or something crazy like that. So then Annelise and Athena came over and started to yell at me. So I tried to tell them what happened, but they wouldn’t let me. And then Percy started yelling, and came over too. I don’t even know why that little douche was mad at me. So they were all just screaming at me, and like, I didn’t even do anything.”
“So how did they find out about Melissa?” Xander asked.
“Percy said something about her while they were all going after me,” Tyler said. “He said that you’d been dating for years, and that it was serious, and then Annelise started crying too.”
“How’d that even come up?”
“I don’t remember, man. Everyone was yelling and the whole thing was just insane. He just let it slip, and then that made everything even worse.”
Xander looked Tyler in the eye, trying to figure out how much of the truth he was telling, if there was any truth in his tale at all. But Tyler’s face betrayed no indications one way or the other. Even so, Tyler’s story didn’t seem entirely kosher to Xander. Still, he was facing hours alone with Tyler until Percy got back, so he decided not to push it just yet. He’d wait, and get Percy’s version of what happened, and figure it all out from there.
About an hour after leaving the gas station, the girls finally rolled into New San Francisco.
New San Francisco was the largest of the modern human settlements in the United States. With a population of nearly a quarter of a million people, it was the largest manufacturing hub in the country, and also the post-Atlata Silicon Valley. Everything from toys, to computers, to cars, to televisions, radios, and even the kind of camera Annelise had, were built in its factories and then shipped to the other cities around the country. Nearly every new technology was developed in that single city. Because of that, it was a hotbed for inventors and investors alike. With a booming economy, and an increasing population, it was the closest thing to a pre-Atlata big city that that new society had.
Still, it was very different from the old metropolitan areas. Rather than having skyscrapers stretching into the sky, New San Francisco had smaller buildings stretching out over a vast expanse of land. The tallest building in the city, in fact, was only ten stories tall. So, while it stretched out from the mountains, to the ocean, and while it was absolutely enormous, it didn’t have the same impact that a Chicago had. And other than being bigger than Sunnyville in terms of population and surface area, it didn’t feel all that different.
“Do you know where they live?” Athena asked Dianna as they rolled down a wide, four lane street in the center of town.
“On Henzial Road. They said it was off the main road heading into town, a few miles down on the left,” Dianna answered. “They’re number 1609.”
“Okay. I’ll be looking out. Are you ready to see your dad, and meet your step mom?”
“No. But there isn’t really a choice,” Dianna answered miserably.
“Well whatever happens, we’re with you.”
“We absolutely are,” Annelise agreed.
After fifteen minutes on the main road, passing stores, and restaurants, and factories, they came to Henzial Road and Athena turned onto it. It led southwest away from the road they’d been on at a 45 degree angle, into a residential area.
“Can’t we just keep driving?” Dianna asked nervously.
“Now without an amphibious car. There isn’t much land left before the ocean,” Athena answered.
“It’ll be alright,” Annelise assured her.
“I sure hope so,” Dianna said.
A few minutes later they came to number 1609, a two story house made out of red brick, with a large yard. It looked very nice and well kept.
“I guess I’ll just pull in the driveway, then,” Athena said, parking the van behind a 2010’s model Mercedes Benz. “You dad has a nice car,” she remarked, turning off the engine.
“Yeah,” Dianna said simply.
Before the girls could even make a move to grab their bags, Dianna’s father, William, and her step mother walked out of the house and to the van. Dianna’s father was tall, with dark hair, which was speckled with gray, a beard of the same colors, and thick, black plastic rimmed glasses. Dianna’s step mother, meanwhile, was about five inches shorter than her husband, and looked about ten years younger. She had curly black hair, a pretty face, and smooth, brown skin.
“I guess we should do this,” Dianna said, staring at the pair.
“Come on. We’ve got you,” Athena encouraged.
Dianna nodded, and with that they opened the doors and stepped outside to greet their hosts.
At the sight of his daughter, who he hadn’t seen for going on a decade, William smiled, tears filling his eyes. They’d talked on the phone many times since he and her mother got divorced and he moved, but that was a poor replacement to actually seeing his daughter.
“Hi honey,” he told her, his voice cracking slightly.
“Hi dad,” Dianna responded. “You’ve gotten old,” she blurted out, not sure what else to say.
“And you haven’t changed a bit, I see,” he laughed, pulling her into a tight hug. “You’re taller, and older, but you’re still you. And I’ve missed you every day.”
“I’ve missed you too,” Dianna said.
“And this is my wife, Cassandra,” he said, introducing them.
“Hi Dianna,” Cassandra said nervously. “I’m so glad to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Good stuff,” William interjected.
“Always good, yeah,” she agreed.
“It’s good to meet you too,” Dianna replied.
“I can’t wait to get to know you. And, wow, are you beautiful. You really are,” Cassandra said nervously. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be weird. I’m just really nervous, and I really want you to like me because I really hope that we can be friends, because from everything your dad told me you sound really special.”
In response, Dianna pulled her into a hug, tears in her eyes once again.
While they were having their moment, William said hello to Athena and Annelise.
“Hi, you two,” he said, giving them quick hugs. “The last time I saw you guys you were so small, and now here you are, having driven yourselves across the country. Have you been taking care of yourselves?”
“And Dianna,” Athena said.
“Good. Thanks for that. Now, should we get you guys settled in?”
“Yeah,” Dianna said, breaking the hug between her and Cassandra.
Quickly, Athena and Annelise introduced themselves to Cassandra. Then they all grabbed the girls’ luggage, and walked inside.
As expected, the house was large, with a wide open floor plan between the living, dining, and kitchen area. The stone walls, covered in pictures and paintings, were welcoming and cozy, making the three girls feel instantly at home.
William and Cassandra led them upstairs, to one of the spare bedrooms. It was relatively bare, with only a bed, small table, and a couple of chairs, but it did have its own bathroom.
“There’s another spare room down the hall, if you guys need more room,” Cassandra told them.
“We should be fine here, right guys?” Dianna said.
“Yeah,” Athena said.
“We should be,” Annelise nodded.
“Okay. We definitely want to take you girls out to dinner sometime too, so you can tell us about everything you did on your way here,” Cassandra said.
“It doesn’t have to be tonight, though,” William added.
“Oh, of course not. We know you’re probably tired, and worn out, and you have the Seelie Lights tonight. So it can definitely wait,” Cassandra said.
“Thank you both for letting us stay here,” Athena said.
“You’re very welcome,” Cassandra replied.
“Well, we should let you get settled, then,” William said.
“Yes, of course. Make yourselves at home.”
“Okay,” Dianna said.
With that, Cassandra and William turned to leave.
“I’m really glad to have met you too, Cassandra,” Dianna said before they left. “And I hope we can be friends too.”
To that, Cassandra smiled, and then she and her husband left.
“Would it alright if I get a shower first?” Dianna asked her friends.
“Yeah, go ahead,” Athena said.
“It’s fine with me,” Annelise added.
“Thanks,” she said.
She grabbed her toiletries bag and a change of clothes before stepping into the bathroom, and closing the door.
Two hours later, when they’d all been cleansed of the filth of their journey, and especially that morning, they all snuggled up in bed together. It was still early in the day, but they were all tired. And with everything that had happened to them already, it was comforting to be close to each other. So, just like they did when they were little girls sleeping over at each others houses, they fell asleep lying close to each other.