Dianna grabbed another cup of coffee for Henry, her favorite customer at Taco Bell. As always, he was sitting in his booth, typing gibberish into his laptop.
“What is it all that stuff you’re always typing?” She asked, setting the coffee down in front of him.
“Just a program I’m working on,” Henry answered before taking a sip.
“What would it do?”
“Well in the old world, a lot of information was transmitted by satellites, including navigational data. Basically this program, with the right device, would replace that. It would use radio signals to triangulate the users location anywhere in the country. Information could also be transmitted by radio alerting the user to any dangerous fae in the area, thus replacing the map system in use today, which is quite flawed.”
“Oh yeah, I know firsthand how much it sucks,” Dianna said. “On our way out here, me and my friends almost got eaten by these giant monster things, and then these other things, and one of them was replaced by a changefling, too.”
“That all happened in one trip?”
“That’s not even half of what happened.”
Henry was about to ask what the other more than half was, but before he could Dianna noticed one of her other tables trying to get her attention, and excused herself to see what they wanted.
A half hour later, after Henry paid his bill, he went up to Dianna before leaving.
“Do you need something to go, Henry?” She asked him.
“No. I just wanted to ask you something before I left.”
“What?” She replied, her brow crinkling.
“Would you like to go out sometime?”
Dianna’s heart sunk. She liked Henry. She really did. But she wasn’t sure if she wanted to date anyone just yet.
“I’m sorry, Henry, but I don’t think so. I mean, you’re great, but no.”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’ll see you later,” he said friendlily, turning to leave.
“Bye,” she called after him, wondering if she really would see him again or not.
True to his word, though, Henry did return the next day, as usual. He was just as friendly to Dianna as he’d always been, and he left her just as generous a tip as he always did.
Then, a week later, Henry asked Dianna out again. And again, Dianna declined. And just like the first time, nothing changed between them.
Then, a week after that, Henry asked her out for a third time. And again, she respectfully declined. Before he left, though, she had a question for him.
“Why do you keep asking, when I’ve already said no?”
“Because I think you’re special, and I really like you. And the chance that you’ll say yes is more than worth the risk that you’ll say no again.”
Dianna blushed, and looked away bashfully. And she didn’t entirely understand why, but she couldn’t help but smile at the thought of him liking her.
“Do me a favor, and ask me again the next time you’re here. Okay?” She said.
“Okay,” he said with a smile.
The next day he was there bright and early. And he asked her. And that time, she said yes, albeit with conditions. For with the memory of what Tyler did to her still fresh in her mind, she wasn’t ready to fully trust him just yet.
“I will go out with you,” she said. “But I’m ordering two of the most expensive things on the menu. And I’m not screwing you,” she informed him.
“Deal,” he said with a wide smile.
So they went out for dinner, and had a fantastic time, so much so that they went out again. And again. And again.
It was on their fourth date that Dianna finally decided to lower the walls she’d built around her heart, and let Henry in. She was honest about the heartbreak she’d so recently suffered. When she was done telling him what happened, Henry leaned forward, and took her hands in his own.
“I will never do anything like that to you,” he promised.
And Dianna knew that he was telling the truth.
That night, after Henry dropped her off back at home, Dianna went up to her room, crying joyful tears, and called Annelise.
When Annelise heard her crying, her claws came out.
“Did he hurt you? Because if he did I swear I will go out there and string him up by his-”
“I’m going to marry him, Annelise,” Dianna interrupted. “I am going to marry that man.”
Two years after that fourth date, Annelise and Athena stood by Dianna’s side as those words came true.
Three years after that, Henry’s program made them some of the wealthiest people on the west coast. None of that mattered to Dianna, though. Well, it mattered some to Dianna. But what mattered more was that she was with the man she loved, a man she wouldn’t give up for all the money in the world.
Athena eventually graduated at the top of her class at Cosmo Topper University. From there, she went on to get her Master’s degree in Fae Studies, and then began conducting her thesis work on changelings, which Dianna and Henry were generous enough to fund.
So, as she’d dreamed about for years, she traveled out to the abandoned town near New San Francisco in the hopes of finding and studying some changelings.
After setting up cameras around the ruins, she positioned her research assistant in the exact spot she’d been in when she was replaced. She even made a fire to fully recreate the original conditions. Then, from the safety of her command post, she watched, and waited.
The days passed with absolutely nothing happening. She had no idea why the changelings weren’t coming out, or what she was doing wrong.
Then one night, two weeks after her study began, she left the command post extremely frustrated. She was tired of sitting there with nothing happening. Every moment she was there they were spending more of Dianna and Henry’s money, and she loathed the thought of throwing it away for nothing. She had to find something. And she had to find it fast, or pull the plug on the whole operation.
It was with all of that in mind that she stepped into the trees and went for a walk. Other than the glaistig in the nearby pond, and the absent changelings, there were no other fae known to be in the area. So when she stepped into a small clearing and found herself faced with a fae she couldn’t identify, her jaw dropped in shock.
The fae in front of her was bipedal, with long, thin arms, legs, and neck, and a round body and head. It had a long, beak-like mouth, and pointy teeth. Most of it was covered in rough looking, reddish hair, though the crown of its head, and its back, and the outside portions of its arms and legs seemed to be made out of some kind of grey, cracked stone.
Upon seeing Athena, it crumpled down to the ground in such a way that it took on the appearance of nothing more than a rock in the middle of the clearing.
Once Athena’s initial shock wore off, she found her head swimming with questions. Had she learned about whatever that was? No, she would have remembered. What was it, then? She racked her brain, but had no idea. She was sure as hell going to find out, though.
“Hey little guy,” she said, slowly approaching it. “Or girl,” she added. “It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you. Please return the favor. So, what are you?”
The creature didn’t answer.
Eagerly, she felt in her pockets for something to take a picture of it, or record data about it. All she found was a notepad and pencil, which wasn’t great, but better than nothing.
For the next hour she took notes, and approximate measurements of the fae. She sketched it in rock form, and did her best to draw from her memory what it looked like in its normal form. She recorded everything she could about it, but eventually she ran out of stuff to say.
“I’m going to get some more equipment, and be right back. Just stay there, okay?” She said, patting its rocky top.
Hurriedly, she ran back to her command center and grabbed a camera, and all the other equipment she could carry. Then she sprinted back to where she’d left it, to find it gone.
“Perfect,” she moaned. “Please still be around.”
She looked for it for almost two hours, inspecting every boulder she came across, but in the end she found nothing.
“Okay, then. I guess it’s time to make a phone call,” she said, throwing in the towel on her futile search.
The nearest town, and phone, normally took a couple hours to get to. But an hour and a half later, after driving at highly unsafe velocities, she made it back. Then, she called Annelise.
“Hello,” Annelise said.
“Hi, it’s Athena,” she said. “Have you ever heard of a fae covered in red hair that disguises itself as a rock?”
“No. There are some that eat rocks, but I’ve never heard of any that become them. Why?”
“I just saw one.”
“What I just described.”
There was a short pause.
“Did you just discover a fae?” Annelise asked.
“I think I might have,” Athena replied, in shock.
“That’s amazing,” Annelise said. “Take lots of pictures of it. Or better yet, maybe I’ll come out and take some pictures of it.”
“Yeah, maybe. Look, I need to call my old professor now, if that’s alright. But we’ll talk soon.”
Athena did just what she said, and called her old professor. When she described what she’d come across, her professor confirmed that Athena had indeed discovered a new type of fae.
With that, her changeling research transformed into a quest to find the creature again. A week later, after scouring the forest every day, she finally did. Only that time, she had a camera. And luckily, she managed to get a picture of it before it turned into a rock.
When her findings were released they blew away the scientific community. She not only earned her doctorate because of it, but also award after award for her discovery of the rock monk, as she dubbed it by merit of its rocky crown.
Eventually she would go on to conduct groundbreaking, award winning research on changelings which rewrote all the textbooks. She was hailed as a visionary, and said to be unparalleled in her chosen field of study.
And every step of the way, at every recognition banquet, and award ceremony, Dianna and Annelise were there, applauding her with all the rest.
And every time Athena walked on stage to applause to speak, or accept another award, one thought ran through her head: man was she glad she didn’t study structural engineering.
Annelise was sitting in her room, quietly reading a book on the Seelie Court, when the phone next to her bed rang. Her mom and dad were out grocery shopping, which meant that unfortunately the task of answering it fell to her.
“Hello?” She sighed, picking up the receiver.
“Annelise, it’s Athena,” Athena said on the phone.
“Hey. How’s everything going at school?” She asked, laying back in bed to talk. She didn’t mind having her reading interrupted for Athena.
“Everything’s great. Something happened at class today that I have to tell you about, though.”
“So we were learning about dryads today,” Athena began, “and all the pictures of them in our books were just illustrations. There were no photos. So I asked why that was, and my professor told me that dryads are very sensitive to that kind of thing. They can sense when someone is looking at them, and that person’s intent. Because of that, no one has ever managed to actually take a photo of one of them outside of their tree.”
“But I did,” Annelise pointed out.
“Yeah, I told my professor that. I’m not sure if she believed me, but she still wants to see the pictures you took, if you’re willing.”
“Cool. When should I come get you, then?”
“I’m free pretty much all the time now. So whenever you want.”
“Okay. I’ll get you tomorrow, then.”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”
With that, they hung up.
Annelise sat there for a minute, in shock. Someone had to be pulling her leg, right? Someone had to be messing with her. How could she be the first one to capture a photo of a dryad? What were the odds? No, there had to be a mistake. She couldn’t be the first.
But the next day, after Athena picked her up and the two friends met with Athena’s professor, Professor Carson, it was confirmed. Annelise was the first person ever to take a picture of a dryad.
Professor Carson was so blown away by that fact, as well as the other pictures Annelise took, that she asked Athena and Annelise to present them to the rest of her classes the following day. They both, of course, agreed to.
All through their two different presentations the next day, Athena’s classmates were in complete and utter awe of her and Annelise and everything they’d seen, and done, and gone through.
Later that day, when the presentations were over and they were packing up to leave, Professor Carson had one thing to say to Annelise.
“Young lady,” she began to her, “I don’t know what you’re doing right now, or what’s on your plate, but those pictures and your stories behind them are very special. They’re absolutely amazing. And that’s not just something I’m saying. I really mean it. I’m very grateful to you for sharing them with me, and my classes, but if you want my opinion, I think they need to be shared with the world too, because you have a very, very special gift.”
“Thank you,” Annelise responded, taken aback.
“You’re very welcome,” Professor Carson replied.
And like that, Annelise knew what she was meant to do with her life. She knew how she could make a living traveling, and having adventures.
When she ran into Xander a few minutes later, she planted a kiss on his lips before they even had the chance to say hello.
“Oh, get a room,” Athena remarked, shaking her head.
“What was that for?” Xander asked when they broke it.
“I know what I’m going to do with my life.”
“Because of the presentations?”
“And you. You were right. It turns out I did know what I was supposed to do all along.”
With that, she kissed him again.
Almost as soon as she made it home, Annelise began writing down everything that happened during their road trip. She wrote every detail she could remember of every single happening. It took her almost a year to finish it all, but soon enough, it was done.
Annelise’s book, which included all of her stories and pictures, was a resounding success. Those involved in the study of fae were almost unable to believe that her stories were true. And the younger readers’ imaginations went wild as they read it and imagined all the adventures they might have with the fae one day too.
Propelled by her success, Annelise would go on to travel across the country many more times, and even go to Europe, Africa, and Asia. She took many more groundbreaking photos, and saw many more amazing things that she didn’t get pictures of. For Annelise’s intentions always remained pure, the way they had been during that first road trip. She wanted to see the fae, to experience them, first and foremost. And if she got pictures of them as well then it was an added bonus.
And throughout all of her journeys, and all of their lives, Athena, Annelise, and Dianna never lost touch. Indeed, Annelise and Dianna often tagged along on Athena’s research trips, and Athena and Dianna were often passengers on Annelise’s cross country journeys as well.
So Annelise’s life was full of love, and sisterhood, and happiness. But never more happiness than when, five years after they found each other on the beach after the Seelie Lights, Annelise and Xander were married there.
So the three friends lived their dreams and lives full of love and joy. And while they had many more adventures over the years, that first journey together, after graduation, forever had a special place in their hearts. And while at times they still wished that they could go back to those days, when it was just the three of them against the world, they also couldn’t wait to find out what the future had in store for them yet.
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