The Summer Of Light

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Chapter 19

Annelise, Dianna, and Athena were on the largest hill in the area, which also happened to be the furthest one away from where Xander had been dropped off. From there, they had an unobstructed view of the beach below. Behind them and to their right was the forest.

“So when is this going to start?” Dianna asked as they lounged on the blanket they’d laid on the ground. Others were gathered near them, either sitting on lawn chairs or blankets, chatting amongst themselves. Fifty feet down the hill, a group of children were laughing and playing tag.

“It shouldn’t be too much longer. It’s going to be full on night soon,” Athena answered.

“They’re already gathering down below. See?” Annelise said, gazing down at the beach.

Sure enough, far below the figures of various fae could be seen. Creatures, both benign and dangerous, had come together in peace for that, their holiest night of the year. There were hulking ogres and trolls, armed with clubs to beat the earth. There were hundreds of thousands of tiny sprites just like those Annelise and Xander saw before, though now they were concealing their colors until their time to shine came. Off the shore, in the water, mermaids and sirens were treading water, ready to raise their voices in song. There were keshalyi, and green ladies, and gnomes, and fauns, and nearly every other type of fae imaginable. And last of all, came the members of the North American contingent of the Seelie Court, made up of tuatha de denann, tall, strong, warrior fae, whose powerful magic was the sole reason the Seelie Lights were possible. They normally wore ornate golden armor, and bore black steel weapons, but for that occasion they had forgone their war gear in favor of long, white robes, underneath purple and gold cloaks.

“You’re not taking pictures,” Dianna pointed out to Annelise.

“I don’t think this is the place for that,” Annelise replied. “That would be like snapping pictures during a church service.”

“What exactly is about to happen?” Dianna asked.

“Magic,” Annelise answered simply.

“They’re going to tell the tale of their legendary leader, Gwynad, and his love for the woman Angpetu,” Athena answered.

Dianna had no idea what that meant, but didn’t ask any more questions. For the feeling of expectation already permeated the air.

Finally, after waiting for what seemed like hours, the last traces of day faded away, bathing the entire area in nothing but the darkness of night.

At that moment, as if responding to a cue, the clouds covering the sky parted, revealing the vast expanse of stars behind them.

Then, the Seelie Lights began.

As one, the trolls and ogres smashed their clubs against the ground in a resounding BOOM. The shockwaves shook the earth, and reverberated through the bodies of everyone there. The pounding of the clubs continued at a steady, slow beat.

Then the mermaids and sirens raised their voices as one in a complex, unbelievably beautiful harmony. While the sirens’ voices were normally deadly to humans, by merit of the Seelie Court’s magic it was rendered safe for the onlookers to hear.

The music continued, swelling to a full, harmonious sound that far surpassed anything that any human orchestra or choir in the history of man was ever capable of producing.

Then, the entirety of the Seelie Court, every imposing, awe striking member, rose into the air. They were positioned in a circle, their arms stretched out to their neighbors and their heads raised to the sky. They went so high that it looked like they could reach up and snatch the stars from their resting places. That was close to what was about to happen next, but not quite right.

The music crescendoed with new power as the Seelie Court all raised their hands to the sky. And then, to the surprise of everyone there, stars began to move.

The fae constellations Gwynad and Angpetu came to life. The arms of Gwynad began to move, and he walked across the sky. Angpetu, meanwhile, bent down, as if picking something up off of the ground.

The music softened until, with the beginning of another bar of music, every sprite exploded into light and flew into the sky, leaving their unique strokes of color behind them. The flew into and around the living constellations, painting a picture with their streaks as if they were all being directed by the mind of some master artist. The green sprites clustered together, creating the grass under Gwynad and Angpetu’s feet. The browns created a forest of trees, while yet more greens formed the leaves. Whites, and yellows, and blues, and pinks, and reds arranged themselves among the greens making the grass, forming a field of flowers. An army of blues made the sky, yellows the sun, and other whites both the clouds, and the bodies of Gwynad and Angpetu in the gaps between the stars. Every sprite was its own brushstroke, every brushstroke was slightly different, and it all shifted in harmony and flowed together as the sprites flew in their designated spots.

The sight, the music, was all so beautiful that Annelise, Athena, and Dianna could barely contain their awe. And eventually, when they couldn’t anymore, the excess came flowing from their eyes in the form of tears.

With the opening scene having been established, the story began.

One day, long before magic became myth, and fae fantasies, when the world and its people were willing to accept the world for what it was, without having to graph or quantify it, Gwynad was out walking in the forests under his rule, reviewing his domain. It was then that he came across a beautiful Native American woman named Angpetu.

Gwynad, not used to coming across humans in his forest, hid behind a tree to see what she was doing. He smiled when he saw that she was picking flowers, and listened intently to the slow, sad song she was humming. Angpetu was far more beautiful than any woman he’d seen before, either fae or human. And immediately, he fell in love with her.

Tentatively, Gwynad stepped out from his hiding place and moved over to her swiftly and silently. Angpetu didn’t even notice him until he reached down and picked a large, white daisy.

Finally realizing that she wasn’t alone, and startled to see a fae suddenly standing next to her, Angpetu bounded away as fast as her legs could carry her. And Gwynad, wanting her to know that he meant her no harm, leapt after her.

The chase went on and on as Angpetu ran this way and that. But no matter what she did to try and escape, Gwynad followed her effortlessly.

At last, Angpetu could run no more. She stopped, her chest heaving with every breath. Gwynad, wisely, stopped a short distance away from her, trying to show her that he meant no harm. Slowly, he held his hand still holding the daisy out to her and let the flower go. Instead of falling to the ground, the daisy floated through the air towards her.

Cautiously, Angpetu stretched out her hand and took the flower. She examined it, and smelled it. And then, cupping the gift in her hands and pulling it close to her chest, she took a step towards Gwynad, and then another, and another, and another, until they were mere feet from each other, looking into each others eyes.

Then, once again, Angpetu leapt away from Gwynad. Only unlike before it wasn’t to get away from him. Instead, she was dancing.

Taking heart, Gwynad leapt after her. Soon, they were spinning, and dancing, and jumping together joyously. They danced until Angpetu grew weary and could dance no longer. And then, they kissed.

Only they weren’t alone. On the other side of the clearing, hiding behind a tree, was Chu’a, a man who also loved Angpetu.

Comprised entirely of black sprites, Chu’a stepped into the clearing, bearing a spear, and called out to the new lovers. Gwynad and Angpetu turned to him, and that was when Chu’a attacked. He lunged at Gwynad, thrusting his spear at him. Gwynad dodged the attack easily.

Chu’a attacked again, and again, determined to kill Gwynad. But no matter what Chu’a did, Gwynad evaded the weapon. The battle continued until, growing tired of the conflict, Gwynad struck Chu’a on the chest. That single blow was enough to send Chu’a to his knees in pain, though he was otherwise unhurt. With a wave of his hand, Gwynad ordered his defeated foe away.

Chu’a got to his feet and started walking away, and Gwynad turned to go back to his love. And it was then that Chu’a struck, only, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to hurt Gwynad, he didn’t attack him. No, that time, he threw his spear at Angpetu.

Without the agility and abilities of Gwynad, Angpetu wasn’t able to act fast enough to dodge the spear. Gwynad raised his hand in an attempt to deflect the spear with his magic, but he wasn’t quick enough either. The spear struck Angpetu and lodged in her stomach.

In a flash, Gwynad lunged at Chu’a and snapped his neck. Then he went to his dying love.

Holding Angpetu in his arms, Gwynad knew that she was close to death. And he wept. He wept not only because she was dying, but because he realized that their love had been doomed from the start. Angpetu was mortal, after all, and whether by Chu’a’s spear, or the dread passage of time, she had always been destined to die, and he would have always been doomed to live without her. For even he couldn’t make her an immortal like him, even if by some miracle he could save her life.

Gwynad wept as he never had before, his tears falling from his eyes and landing, shimmering, on the ground. And as he saw them, shining on the dark grass, he suddenly knew what to do. He couldn’t make her immortal, but he could make her something else. He could make them both something else.

Raising his left hand to the sky, still clutching Angpetu with his right, he let loose a mighty shout and uttered a spell the likes of which had never been cast before, or since. His powerful incantation filled the air, until both he and his dying love began to break apart. Where once had been skin, limbs, and torso, there was now only light. Where there had once been bodies, there was now only stars.

With one last shout from Gwynad, their stars shot into the sky, until they came to rest next to each other in the heavens. Now timeless, undying constellations, they were truly safe from every enemy, even mortality. They could live and love forever. And they have from that very day, even to today.

With the finishing of the tale, Gwynad and Angpetu returned to their places in the sky. The sprites descended back to the earth in a rain of color, and the Seelie Court slowly lowered themselves back down to the ground. The music diminished, until with one final boom, it ended as well.

But while the Seelie Lights were finished, their magic was still well at work. For all around the area, the hearts of those that had witnessed that glorious sight had been stirred. The sound of weeping filled the air as long suppressed dreams, and even unknown desires were brought to the surface for nearly everyone in that crowd, including Dianna and Athena. Epiphanies were suddenly as common as the grass.

“I don’t want to marry some rich, old guy,” Dianna wept. “I want to find someone who will love me.”

“And I don’t want to study structural engineering,” Athena cried. “I want to study something that will fill me with passion, even if it isn’t the smart thing to do.”

Annelise, meanwhile, heard her friends’ words, but had nothing to add to them. For while she had been moved by the beauty of the lights, the music, and the story it all told, they hadn’t awoken anything in her. She hadn’t had any epiphanies, no light bulb moments. She didn’t suddenly know what she wanted to do with her life. And she didn’t feel any less lost that she had before seeing the lights.

She’d had such high expectations seeing the lights. She’d been so certain, had such faith that she was going to have a moment like her friends had. She loved the fae more than either of them, after all. And she was the one that most desired an aha! moment. For that not to have happened, for her to be sitting there the same she'd been even before the lights, filled her with a stinging disappointment.

As she sat there, she realized that their trip had done absolutely nothing for her. No, in fact, she would have been better off if she’d just stayed at home. At least then she would have been spared the pain that day had brought her.

“I’m going for a walk,” she said through bitter tears as she got to her feet.

“We’ll come with you,” Athena said.

“Don’t. I just want to be left alone,” Annelise said simply, before turning and walking away.

“Do you think she’s alright?” Dianna asked Athena, watching Annelise move through and away from the crowd of people, towards the trees to their right.

“I don’t know Dianna,” Athena answered.

“Should we go after her?”

“I don’t think so. For once, I have the feeling she’ll be better off without us.”

Xander, meanwhile, was on the hill just adjacent to the one the girls were on, wiping tears from his cheeks. He’d intended to search for Annelise all through the lights, but when he saw their beauty, when he heard their music, he stopped right where he was and watched them, unable to help it.

Now that it was over, though, the time to recommence the search was upon him. He was about to turn and look for Annelise on the final hill, in the final crowd of people, but stopped abruptly. He suddenly had the feeling that he shouldn’t look there. Instead, as if being directed by an invisible hand, he turned and looked at the forest. Something deep inside of him was telling him that that was where he should look. But why would she be in there? That was madness. It made no sense. She would have been out in the open to see the lights, and now that they were over, she’d surely be with Athena and Dianna, her soul sisters. They’d be weeping and embracing each other. Of course she’d still be with them, not out on her own. The forest just didn’t make sense.

So, once again, he moved to go to the next, higher hill. He did, that is, until a thought popped into his head, almost as if someone were speaking to him telepathically.

‘If Annelise were in your position, what would she do?’ The voice in his head asked.

With that, Xander stopped. He knew the answer to that question. He knew it with his whole being. If Annelise were where he was now, she would go into the forest. She’d have faith in herself, and trust the feeling in her gut. She would go into the forest.

“But what if she isn’t there? What if I miss her?” He whispered to the air.

He wasn’t expecting an answer, but got one nonetheless. It was simple, and it came to him just as the question had.

‘If Annelise were where you are now, she’d have faith.’

And like that, Xander turned toward the trees. He was still afraid that he’d miss her, he was terrified by that thought, but still, he continued forward.

Annelise, meanwhile, far ahead of Xander and with no idea that she was, was filled with the strange feeling that she’d been in that forest before. She paused, looking around, trying to figure out why. And then, it came to her.

It was the very same forest she’d walked through in her dreams.

With that realization, she didn’t feel a surge of hope, or exhilaration, or excitement like she expected she would the day before. No, what she felt instead wasn’t joy, or hope. It was anger.

“Are you kidding me?” She growled. “Now? I find this stupid place now!” She yelled.

Filled with rage and frustration, she marched forward, looking for the beach. Part of her wanted to just turn around, reject her dream, and never think about it or any other again. But she didn’t. She continued forward.

That act, continuing forward, was fueled by the defiance suddenly burning inside of her. Something, somewhere, was playing her for a fool. Something, somewhere, was screwing with her. And she was sick of it. So she decided to see it through, to find that blasted beach. And she resolved that when she did, she’d give the thing messing with her a piece of her mind.

A few minutes later, after traveling far downhill, she arrived at the beach from her dreams. She stood there, looking at the moon reflected on the water, tasting the salt in the air, listening to the pounding of the waves. As she did, once again, tears filled her eyes and she wept.

What was the point of her dreams? What was the point? What had they ever done for her? Let her know that she was getting a goldfish for her birthday? Big deal. Warn her not to let Rupert Tuttle kiss her? Who cares. That was all nothing, stupid, absolutely worthless. And now here she was, standing on the beach from her dreams, the culmination of a long series of dreams, and nothing was there. Absolutely nothing. It was all meaningless.

It almost felt as if God was laughing at her, relishing the joke He’d played on her. ‘Haha, tricked you Annelise! You thought your dreams meant something? That was all a part of the joke! Isn’t it funny?’

Standing there, she felt like an utter fool. Everything she’d cared about, all her hopes, and dreams, had come to nothing, had come crashing down around her. Everything she’d spent her life believing in had been worthless. No, it was worse than worthless. For it had all hurt her more profoundly than anything else could. She’d hoped that seeing the Seelie Lights would give her wisdom and insight in how she was supposed to spend her life. And had they? No. She was probably the only witness to them that didn’t have some great, life changing epiphany.

She’d thought that her dreams meant something, too. She’d believed in them, and believed what they told her. But had they done anything useful for her? Had they warned her not to get close to Xander, because he was already with someone? No. Who really cares about dreams, anyway? No one. No one other than her, that is, the only girl in the world stupid enough to give the random firings of her sleeping brain the status of the word of God. And now here she stood, on that crappy little beach, the most useless prophetess to ever live.

And lastly, she’d believed in Xander. She believed him when he lied to her about how he felt about her. She’d believed his lies.

So now, there she stood, proven wrong on every count, an utter fool. And she vowed that she’d never let it happen again. She was done believing in dreams. She was done being a fool.

Overcome with anger, she seized a stone and threw it into the water with a shout. And then she threw another. It was a futile act, but it was all she could do to rage against everything that had led her to that point.

She picked up another rock and threw it into the ocean with another scream.

Xander, meanwhile, having nearly caught up to her and with no idea that he had, heard her shouts and headed towards them. He felt a surge of hope, believing it was Annelise, but why would she be shouting? And what was she doing there?

A moment later he came to the edge of the trees and saw her, standing on the beach. But while he was overjoyed to finally find her, he was troubled by how she was acting.

He was about to step towards her, about to make himself known, when something at his feet caught his eye. He glanced down to see a small, white daisy. His mind turning back to the lights, he smiled as he leaned down and picked the flower. Then he stepped forward, onto the beach.

“Annelise,” Xander said to her simply.

“Seriously?” Annelise yelled at the sky, recognizing Xander’s voice. “Why not, right? Why not screw with me some more?”

“What’s going on?” He asked, worried about her.

“You have some nerve to show up here and talk to me after what you did, you know,” Annelise replied, not even able to look at Xander.

“I’ve been looking for you. I came here to tell you the truth.”

“I already know the truth. I don’t need to hear your excuses and lies.”

“You only heard part of the truth. The part that came from Tyler. The part that best served his interests at the time.”

“Oh, so you weren’t already dating someone when you told me you really, really, really, really, really, really liked me?” She snapped.

“No, I was.”

“That’s all I need to know. Now go away and leave me alone.”

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said no, because that isn’t all you need to know. Just hear me out, and if at the end you want me to leave and never bother you again, I will.”

“Fine. Just say what you need to say, and then leave me alone.”

“Okay,” Xander said, glad that he was at least getting a small chance. “What Tyler said is partly true. Technically I was still dating a girl, Melissa, when I told you I liked you. But our relationship was dead. Not in name, or in the sense that we’d broken up, but in every other regard that matters. The last couple months I was in school we, like, talked on the phone once, for five minutes. And she lives and goes to school here, so we’d only see each other during the summer. That doesn’t excuse me not being up front with you from the start, and I know that. But I was going to tell you. The reason I was gone this morning when you got up is because I was trying to figure out how to tell you the truth. When I came back I was ready to do it, but by then it was too late.”

“That’s all really easy to say now that you’ve had an entire day to think up a story,” Annelise shot back, determined not to believe it, determined not to be a fool again.

“It’s the truth!” Xander insisted. “And so was it when I told you how I felt about you. Why else would I be here?”

“Because you aren’t done trying to use me yet. Because you’re not done screwing with me.”

“I would not have spent all this time marching around here if I didn’t care about you,” he retorted.

“And where is your precious Melissa now? Waiting at home for you to show up, while you’re here trying to turn me into the other woman?”

“I suspect she is at home now, because it’s getting late and she was probably ready to go home after driving me all the way here. Or she might be talking to her new boyfriend, Xavier, because while I was falling for you, she was falling for someone else, too.”

“And his name just happens to also start with an ‘X’?” Annelise asked skeptically.

“Yeah. That wasn’t lost on me and Melissa either.”

“Is there anything else?”

“No. That’s what happened. That’s the truth. And maybe it doesn’t change anything, maybe you’ve been hurt too badly to give me a second chance, but I promise you I will not let you down if you give me another. I would capture a pair of trolls and give them to you on leashes as pets if you’d give me another chance. I would swim across that ocean in front of us, or walk from this beach to Sunnyville if you would give me one more chance. And I may not have much, but I would give you everything I have for one more chance. Even my heart.”

With that, Xander fell silent. He’d said it all. The rest was up to Annelise.

Part of Annelise, a large part of her, wanted to believe him. She wanted to leap into his arms, kiss him as she had earlier, and act like nothing had happened between them. But she did everything she could to resist those desires. She would never be taken for a fool again.

Resolving that she wouldn’t give in no matter what, she slowly turned to face him for what she determined would be the last time.

As soon as she saw him, she noticed the daisy in his hand and was reminded of her dream. And like that, her resolve began to crack. Could it all, her entire series of dreams, have been meant for that moment? Could she have been right all along believing that her dreams did matter? Could Xander be telling the truth? Should she really believe him, and give him another chance?

No, she told herself, shaking her head. No to all of it. It was all just more manipulation. It was all just another part of the game that the source of her dreams was trying to play with her.

Right?

Of course that was right. Of course it was! Now was her chance to break free from her dreams, to reject them and their source. Now was the time to stay strong.

Determined not to back down, Annelise gave her answer to Xander’s speech.

“Okay. You’ve said your peace. Now leave me alone,” she said slowly, deliberately, forcing every word out.

“Okay,” Xander said, feeling like she’d punched him in the stomach. “I’m truly sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. And I wish you, and Athena, and Dianna nothing but the best, and happiness,” he finished.

With tears filling his eyes, Xander reached up to wipe them away with his right hand. The same hand he’d punched Tyler with.

Annelise noticed his bruised hand and immediately wondered what happened to it. It was a stupid question, though. Surely it didn’t matter.

She was about to let it go, about to let him turn and leave, when the same question popped into her head again, almost as if someone were speaking directly into her mind.

‘What happened to his hand?’

She tried to put it out of her mind, tried to force it down, when it came to her again, with even more power than before.

‘WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS HAND?’

“What happened to your hand?” She asked, more wanting the voice in her head to shut up and leave her alone than she was actually interested in the answer.

“I punched Tyler in the face when Percy told me what he did,” Xander answered simply and truthfully.

And like that, the walls Annelise had so hastily constructed around her heart were knocked down, and she believed him. Suddenly, she didn’t care if she was being a fool. She didn’t care about being strong and resistant. Gazing at his hands, one bruised, and the other holding the white daisy, all she wanted was to be with him again.

Slowly tears welled up in her eyes, until they came pouring down her cheeks once again.

“Xander,” she sobbed.

As one they bounded forward into each others arms. They embraced tightly, passionately. And when they were done embracing, they kissed.

In that moment the thought that Xander might be using her flew from Annelise’s head. All she knew was that she wanted to be with him. And then especially, when she needed him the most, here he was, the man that she’d fallen for.

“I’m so sorry,” she said when her lips were free to form words again. “I should have known. I should have given you a chance.”

“It’s alright. None of that matters now. All that matters is that we’re together.”

With that, they shared another kiss.

“What do you think is taking her so long?” Dianna asked Athena, glancing at the forest. Annelise had been gone for some time. Everyone else that had been in the area was gone, and she was starting to get worried.

“I don’t know,” Athena said, concerned as well. “Let’s give it a few more minutes. If she’s not back then, we’ll go looking for her. Alright?”

“Yeah,” Dianna nodded. “What do you think got to her? Why do you think she wanted to be alone?”

“I don’t know. It could be pain from this morning still, or maybe the lights upset her somehow.”

“Maybe. I don’t know why they would, though. She seemed to like them too.”

“Still, I can’t think of much else it could be.”

With that, they fell silent.

A few minutes passed with still no sign of Annelise. By then it was almost midnight, but still they did what Athena said, and waited.

A few more minutes passed. Just as Athena was about to declare that it was time to go looking for her, Annelise stepped out of the trees, hand in hand with Xander. In her other hand, was the white daisy.

“There she is,” Dianna said. “But who’s with her? Wait, is that…” She began, trailing off.

“Yeah, it’s him,” Athena said, a flame of anger igniting inside her.

Athena and Dianna stared at the newly restored couple as they approached. Seeing the angry looks on their faces, Xander became very nervous.

“I can just walk home,” he told Annelise, willing to do just about anything to avoid Athena and Dianna’s wrath.

“No. We can give you a ride,” Annelise dissented.

“Right now it seems more likely that they’ll kill me and throw me off a cliff.”

“I won’t let that happen. Don’t worry. I can handle them.”

“I hope you’re right,” Xander said.

A moment later they came to Athena and Dianna, who were now both standing.

“Why is he here?” Athena demanded.

“And why are you holding his hand?” Dianna added.

“Whoa, down girls. It’s okay,” Annelise said lightly.

“No, it’s really not,” Athena argued.

“He has a girlfriend. He even admitted it!” Dianna exclaimed.

“He doesn’t anymore,” Annelise shot back. “They broke up. Come to think of it, though, I guess he does have a girlfriend now,” she realized.

“You can’t be serious!” Athena yelled. “He broke your heart, and now, a few hours after he made you cry, you just forgive him and let him back in! That is not okay!”

“He didn’t technically make me cry. What Tyler said did. There was a seed of truth in it, but he twisted it for his own purposes. Xander told me the truth. The whole truth. And it was enough for me. So please, hear him out too, if only for my sake.”

Athena and Dianna crossed their arms but, for Annelise’s sake, decided to give him a chance.

“Go on then,” Athena ordered.

“And if we don’t like what you say we’re going to throw you off a cliff,” Dianna added.

“Okay,” Xander said, swallowing nervously.

Quickly, he explained the truth to them. He told them about Melissa, and their relationship, and why he’d been gone that morning. He told them about what Tyler told him took place, and then about what he did when Percy told him what really happened.

“Show them your hand,” Annelise told him.

Obeying, he raised it so they could see.

“You really punched him in the face?” Dianna asked.

“Yeah,” Xander answered with a nod.

That was enough for Dianna. Thanking him with everything she had, she wrapped him in a tight hug.

“I guess you’re not too bad, then,” she joked when they broke the embrace.

Xander smiled.

Athena, however, wasn’t quite sold yet. She’d need more proof before letting go of the memory of Annelise bawling her eyes out over him. But as her friends were willing to give him another chance, she decided to give him one too, albeit with a warning.

Pulling him into a close hug just like Dianna had, she proceeded to whisper into his ear, “If you hurt Annelise, just know that I am more than capable of killing you and getting rid of your body so no one will ever find you.”

“Noted,” Xander whispered back, more than a little terrified of her.

“Would you guys mind if we gave him a ride home?” Annelise asked.

“No,” Dianna answered.

“No, we can,” Athena said.

So, with that, they returned to the van.

With Annelise and Xander in the back seat, Athena driving, and Dianna up front, it almost felt like they were back on the road again, about to move on to the next stop on their trip. And for Xander, especially, it felt like coming home after a long absence, even though it had been less than a day.

As it turned out, Xander lived only a few blocks away from William and Cassandra, so it wasn’t too far out of their way to drop him off.

“See you guys,” he said to Athena and Dianna.

“Bye,” Dianna replied brightly, still relishing the thought of Tyler getting punched.

“I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of each other in the days ahead,” Athena said with a smirk.

Again, Xander was absolutely terrified of her.

Xander then stepped out of the van, and Annelise joined him so they could have a little privacy.

“Thank you for finding me,” she said. “I was not in a good place before you did.”

“I figured that, considering all the yelling. What exactly was that all about?”

“I’ll tell you later. Because I will be seeing you later,” Annelise said.

“Yeah you will,” Xander replied, overjoyed by that thought.

With that, they shared another quick kiss. Athena and Dianna’s hollers from inside the van were clearly audible to them, but they didn’t care.

“Goodnight Annelise,” Xander said with a chuckle.

“Goodnight Xander,” Annelise responded.

They exchanged one last smile at each other, before Xander turned and walked into his house, and Annelise got into the van.

“And they lived happily ever after,” Dianna teased.

“And they made out in front of her best friends, a lot,” Athena added.

“Shut up, both of you,” Annelise chuckled.

Athena and Dianna laughed as they drove away. A few minutes later they arrived at William and Cassandra’s house.

Both of their hosts were asleep, so the girls quietly stole up to their room and got ready for bed.

Annelise, however, found herself lying awake even after she could hear her friends asleep beside her, breathing slowly, deeply, and steadily.

Her mind was too full of everything that happened for her to go to sleep. She replayed the Seelie Lights in her head, and now, in the wake of Xander’s return, there was no twinge of disappointment. There was just beauty and awe. So what if she didn’t have an epiphany like her friends? She’d figure out her life eventually. In that, she had nothing but faith.

Beyond that, her thoughts were full of everything that had happened with Xander. Even though she’d stopped having faith, even though she’d felt like a fool, and like everything she’d believed in was worthless, her dreams hadn’t disappointed after all. And she thanked God for that. She thanked Him for snapping her out of her gloom. She thanked Him for the hope that had been kindled in her anew.

She tried to quiet her mind, but couldn’t stop thinking about Xander, and her dreams. She didn’t know what other dreams were on the other side of sleep waiting for her, but she didn’t feel like there was any way they could compare to her last one. Or her reality. Still, as she drifted off, she couldn’t wait to find out.

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