The next morning, as soon as Dianna and Athena were awake and capable of forming and vocalizing intelligent thoughts, Annelise shoved her camera in their faces to show them the pictures from the night before.
“See what you missed?” She asked them.
“Wow, that’s really beautiful,” Athena remarked, clicking through the pictures.
“It’s gorgeous,” Dianna agreed, looking at them from over Athena’s shoulder.
“And you guys missed it,” Annelise stated. She wasn’t normally the type to strive to make others jealous, but in that case she thought that a healthy dose of jealousy was due from her friends. “And what did you miss it for? Sleep!” She said, throwing her hands up.
“Yeah, that would have been cool to see in person,” Athena said simply.
“So cool,” Dianna echoed.
“That’s it? You missed out on one of the most beautiful sights in the world, and that’s it? I thought you’d be more envious.”
“I was really tired last night,” Athena said with a shrug.
“And it’s early,” Dianna added. “Wait a minute, who is that with you?”
“Xander. He came out to see it. Unlike you two, he knew that it was too good to miss.”
Athena and Dianna exchanged surprised looks, their eyebrows raised.
“Xander,” they both said at once, before bursting into laughter.
“Annie has a boyfriend!” Dianna teased.
“It’s not like that!” Annelise contended. “He’s just a friend. A guy who is also my friend.”
“Sure,” Athena said skeptically.
“Well unlike you two, he was actually there.”
“I bet he was,” Dianna remarked, before she and Dianna broke into laughter again.
“That doesn’t even make any sense!” Annelise said. “And who are you to tease me about Xander?” She added to Dianna. “You’ve had, like, fifteen boyfriends over the years.”
“Okay, #1: that number is a little high,” Dianna began.
“It’s pretty accurate how I remember it,” Athena interjected.
“I’m not the issue here. Annie is,” Dianna reminded Athena, before turning back to Annelise. “You’ve just never had a boyfriend before and that makes it tease worthy. That’s how the rules work. It’ll be the same thing when Athy gets a boyfriend. So comparing you and me is like comparing apples and grapes.”
“It’s apples and oranges,” Athena corrected.
“You can’t correct me on a saying I just made up,” Dianna argued.
“Of course I can’t. How crazy of me,” Athena said, shaking her head.
“For the last time, Xander is not my boyfriend. He’s just my friend who is also a boy. That’s it. Now I’m eating breakfast, and ignoring you two for the next week,” Annelise declared.
With the source of their amusement tapping out, Athena and Dianna grabbed some food too. Silence fell, other than the sounds of chewing and swallowing, until there was a knock on the van door. Annelise looked up, hoping for her sake that it was Tyler or Percy. But it wasn’t. It was Xander.
“Hi Xander,” Dianna said a little too enthusiastically when she opened the door.
“Hi Dianna,” he replied, unsure of why he’d recieved such a welcome. “I just came to tell you guys that we’re packed up and ready to go whenever you are.”
“Okay, we shouldn’t be too much longer,” Annelise told him.
“How were the sprites last night?” Athena asked.
“They were great. Indescribably beautiful. You guys should have checked it out.”
“Yeah, but three is a crowd and four is, well, an even bigger crowd,” Dianna said.
“Right, yeah,” he nodded, still not sure why they were acting like that. “I’m going to go back to the car now,” he said, quickly turning and walking away.
“You guys don’t have to creep him out every time you see him now, you know,” Annelise said to her friends.
“Oh Annie, of course we do,” Dianna disagreed.
“Those are just the rules,” Athena said with a shrug.
To that, Annelise rolled her eyes.
Mercifully, they finished breakfast and got underway a few minutes later.
Like the day before, Athena insisted on driving while they were still towing the guys, but Dianna and Annelise switched seats.
To Annelise’s relief, her friends quieted down and stopped teasing her once they got underway. The drive to Dawndale was going to take a couple hours, but thankfully it didn’t require much of a diversion from the highway.
Just before lunch time, they arrived.
As expected, Dawndale was small. The main section of town, with the shops, restaurants, and businesses, was scarcely five blocks long. The rest of the town was made up of mainly residential areas.
“What’s the chance that this town is actually full of homicidal cannibals that want to sacrifice us to their weirdo corn god?” Dianna asked her friends lightly.
“Please stop talking about cannibals,” Athena replied. “We need to look for a garage. But even if it is, we have a van that runs and three guys in a car that doesn’t behind us. So we’ll be alright,” Athena jested back.
As they slowly rolled down the street, which was full of people walking to and fro, the residents smiled and waved at them happily.
“Well they’re friendly. That’s good,” Annelise said, waving back.
“Let’s hope they’re as friendly here,” Athena said, pulling over in front of ‘Greg’s Great Garage’. “So let’s dump these guys and get out of here.”
“Be nice,” Annelise told her.
“Yeah. Especially to Tyler,” Dianna added. “Seriously, he’s so hot. Did Xander ever say if he mentioned me?” She asked Annelise.
“No. Tyler did call you hot yesterday, when I got the map, though.”
“And you didn’t tell me?” Dianna asked incredulously.
“It was in passing!”
“Like you’d know! You just got into your first relationship last night!”
“For the last time, Xander and I are just friends!”
“Both of you shut up!” Athena yelled. “Yeah, now I’m doing it,” she added to Annelise. “Let’s get this done already.”
Without any more delay or words, they got out of the van and Xander, Percy, and Tyler got out of their car and unhooked the tow cable.
“Thanks for bringing us here,” Percy said to the girls.
“We’re glad to have been able to help,” Annelise replied.
“Hopefully they’ll be able to help,” Tyler said.
“I’m sure they will be,” Dianna said.
“Well we should get going, then,” Athena said eagerly, taking a step back, towards the van.
“We don’t have to go yet, do we?” Dianna asked.
“Yeah, we should stay at least until we know what the situation is,” Annelise added.
“Fine,” Athena gave in with a sigh. “We’re getting lunch somewhere, though. Let us know what’s going on whenever you know,” she said to the boys tersely.
“Will do,” Xander said.
With that, the guys turned and stepped into the garage, leaving the girls outside.
“So are we going to lunch right now?” Annelise asked, deciding to follow Athena’s lead.
“Can’t we find a place to get cleaned up, first? It’s been way too long since I’ve had a shower,” Dianna said.
“Yeah, Dianna. There was that truck stop just outside of town. They’ll have showers there. And we could refuel the van while we’re at it, too,” Athena replied.
Pleased by the thought of taking a shower for the first time since Alexandria, the girls piled back into the van and headed over to the truck stop.
They were pleasantly surprised by the conditions of the showers there. They expected them, quite frankly, to be gross. But they were actually very well cared for and clean. When they were finished cleaning themselves up they topped off the van’s fuel tank, Athena bought a new map, and they headed back into town to get some lunch.
Happily, a few minutes later they came across a small deli called ‘Louis’ Lunch Place’. There was a decal of a short man with black hair and a bushy mustache on the window. He had overly large blue eyes, a comically tall chef’s hat, and was holding a plate with a sandwich on it.
“This place looks friendly,” Annelise said, opening the door for her friends.
So it was. The tables were covered in red and white checkered tablecloths, with bright, red upholstered chairs around them, and booths running along edge of the room. The walls were made of a dark red brick, and were covered with old pictures of what must have been Louis’ family. Across from the front door was the counter, with the menu hanging above it.
“How are you ladies today?” A woman behind the counter with shoulder length brown hair and a welcoming smile asked them.
“We’re good, thank you,” Annelise answered.
“I’m Sandra. I’ll be the one serving you today. Let me know whenever you’re ready to order.”
“Thanks,” Athena replied.
The menu was entirely made up of sandwiches. There was Louis’ Lunch Special, which had roast beef, turkey, provolone cheese, and mustard. Then there was Sandra’s Super Salami, which, of course, had salami, as well as pepperoni, pepper jack cheese, with a light vinaigrette. Every item on the menu was named after a person. And each item listed was comprised of only meat, cheese, and condiments.
“There aren’t any veggies?” Athena asked Sandra.
“They’re listed here,” Sandra answered, pointing to a tiny card sitting on the counter. “Louis, the owner, isn’t a big fan of veggies. It was pretty difficult to get him to offer any at all.”
“I like him already,” Annelise remarked. She hated it when restaurants crowded their food with too many vegetables, inevitably forcing her to ask for it without most, if not all of them. So Louis’ Lunch Place was a pleasant change.
A minute later all of them, even Dianna, who was notoriously indecisive at restaurants, had ordered. Annelise and Dianna had both ordered Louis’ Lunch Special exactly as it came, while Athena had ordered a plain Jane turkey sandwich, and had loaded it up with vegetables.
“Goody-two-shoes,” Dianna teased when she was done ordering. “Our parents aren’t here, you know. We can actually eat good stuff.”
“I am,” Athena contended. “My sandwich is going to be better tasting, and healthier than either of yours.”
“I’m pretty sure it won’t be better tasting,” Dianna said.
“It definitely won’t be,” Annelise agreed.
“How do you guys know each other?” Sandra asked them, overhearing their conversation and amused by it. “The way you guys talk, it’s like you’re sisters.”
“We basically are. We’ve been friends pretty much our entire lives,” Athena answered.
“That really is nice. And you can sit wherever you want. I’ll bring your food out to you when it’s ready.”
“Thank you,” Dianna said.
The three of them scarcely all agreed about anything, but one thing they were all in agreement on was the superiority of booths to tables. And as the dining room was nearly completely devoid of people, they had their pick of places to sit and chose a booth along the left wall.
For the first time since entering Louis’, Annelise realized that there was a little girl sitting at the last table by the counter, by herself. She was playing with two winged, fairy dolls that appeared to be homemade, and a half picked over sandwich was sitting on the table in front of her. She looked to be six or seven, with blonde hair, which was in pigtails.
“Hi there,” Annelise said, waving at the girl. “I like your dolls.”
“Thank you,” the girl called back shyly.
“That’s my daughter, Bridgette,” Sandra said. “She loves everything that has to do with the fae. That’s why I made her those dolls,” she said, finishing their sandwiches and bringing them over.
“I’ve always loved the fae too,” Annelise told Bridgette.
“Love is an understatement,” Athena said.
“Obsessed is more like it,” Dianna said. “Look out, Bridgette, or Annie may try to steal one of your dolls.”
“I would never do that. I have too much respect for another fae lover to even think of it,” Annelise assured the girl.
Bridgette, however, only laughed, knowing that Dianna was joking.
“Actually, I have some pictures of fairies on my camera, if you’re interested in looking at them, and it’s okay with your mom,” Annelise offered.
Bridgette’s face lit up, and she looked at her mother.
“Of course you can,” Sandra told her. “I’m quite interested too, if you don’t mind,” she added to Annelise.
“Not at all,” Annelise replied, before taking a bite of her sandwich.
Sandra and Bridgette pulled some chairs up, and Annelise put her camera on the table so they could see the screen. Then, holding her sandwich with one hand as she munched on it, she used her other hand to flip through the pictures, thankfully remembering to skip the troll corpses, and bird giving mother and baby gnome. Both Bridgette and Sandra looked at the pictures in wonder.
“You actually saw all that?” Sandra asked when they’d come to the end, barely able to believe it.
“Yeah,” Annelise confirmed.
“That’s amazing,” Sandra said.
“It was,” Annelise nodded.
“Some of it was terrifying too, to be completely honest,” Athena added.
“And there was one really, really gross moment,” Dianna said, thinking of the lovemaking trolls.
Both Athena and Annelise knew exactly what she was referring to, and shuddered at the memory.
“Still, it’s been worth it so far,” Annelise said.
“So you’re all just traveling around then?” Sandra asked.
“Well we just graduated, so we decided to go on a celebratory-” Athena began, before being cut off by Dianna yelling:
“To New San Francisco,” Athena finished as Bridgette giggled at Dianna’s outburst.
“We’re actually from Sunnyville,” Annelise said.
“That sounds like a lot of fun,” Sandra stated.
“I wish I could do that,” Bridgette said.
“Maybe you will, one day,” Annelise replied with a shrug.
“Maybe about twenty years after you graduate I’ll let you,” Sandra joked. “Or maybe I’ll go with you. I’ve been stuck here so long, it would be nice to get out and actually see the world.”
“And it will be the best thing you’ll ever do,” Annelise said.
“It’s definitely been the best for us,” Athena said with a nod.
“Without a doubt,” Dianna agreed.
“I’d want to see one of the…the dyads,” Bridgette said.
“Dryad,” Athena corrected her, though with a softness that was never present when she corrected Dianna.
“Yeah. She looks really pretty,” Bridgette said.
“She is,” Annelise told her. “And you know, if you want, I could give you a picture of her.”
“Really?” Bridgette asked breathlessly.
“Yeah. My camera can print pictures. And then you can look at her whenever you want, until you go see her for real. How’s that sound?”
“It sounds great,” Bridgette answered.
Smiling, Annelise clicked over to the picture of the dryad, and hit the print button. Slowly, a three by four picture printed out of a slot in the side of the camera. When it was done, Annelise handed the picture to Bridgette.
“Thank you,” Bridgette said, staring at the picture as if unable to believe that it was really hers.
“Now come on, honey, let’s let them finish their lunch,” Sandra said, taking her daughter’s hand and leading her back to her table.
Ten minutes later when the girls were done eating they stood up to leave, making sure to leave Sandra a very generous tip.
“Are you all leaving, then?” Sandra asked.
“Yeah. Everything was great. Thank you so much,” Athena replied.
“It was great having you ladies here. You’re all just absolutely wonderful.”
“Thanks,” Dianna said.
“Would you mind if I got a picture of you both before we go?” Annelise asked Sandra.
“Really? I mean, it’s not like we’re fairies or anything,” Sandra said.
“Still, you’re both pretty special,” Annelise responded.
“Okay, sure. Come on, baby,” Sandra said to Bridgette, who came bounding over.
Sandra squatted down next to her daughter, and both of them smiled widely. Then Annelise took the picture, and showed them how it had turned out. When she was done, Bridgette tugged on her jeans.
“Yeah?” Annelise asked her.
“Ms. Greenfeather wants to go with you, so she can see other fairies too,” Bridgette said, holding out one of her dolls for Annelise to take.
“Are you sure?” Annelise asked, taken aback.
“Yeah. You should have her,” Bridgette said.
Annelise glanced up at Sandra, who nodded.
“Thank you so much, Bridgette,” Annelise said, taking Ms. Greenfeather before pulling Bridgette into a hug.
“You’re welcome,” Bridgette said.
When Annelise broke the hug, Bridgette went and embraced both Athena, and Dianna as well.
“Bye, guys,” she said.
Athena and Dianna told Bridgette goodbye too, and then Sandra.
“Take care,” Sandra said to them.
“You too,” Annelise said.
With that, the three friends stepped outside, waving goodbye to their new friends as they walked back to the van.
“That was a great lunch,” Athena said simply.
“Yes, it was,” Dianna agreed.
“It was the best,” Annelise said.
Without another word, they got into the van, and headed back to the garage.
As soon as the shop was within sight, they saw the guys outside of it, leaning against their car.
“Is that a good sign, or a bad one?” Dianna asked.
“Hopefully good,” Athena answered.
When the girls parked, got out, and everyone exchanged the obligatory ’hey’s, they got down to business.
“So what did they say?” Athena asked.
“We’re screwed,” Tyler answered.
“They’d have to replace the entire engine, which they say would take a week, if they even had another engine. Which they don’t. So they’d have to order one, which would take at least a week and a half to get here,” Xander explained.
“So yeah, we’re screwed,” Percy said.
“Jeese,” Annelise said, shaking her head.
“That really sucks,” Dianna said to Tyler. Well, she was staring at him, at least.
“Yeah, it does,” Tyler agreed.
“Sorry, guys,” Athena said.
Silence fell for a minute, until Athena clapped her hands at her sides and broke it.
“Well, I guess we should get going, right guys?” She asked Dianna and Annelise.
“What?” Dianna and Annelise asked at once, shocked.
“Yeah, we should go,” Athena said. “Good luck guys. Oh yeah, this is yours too,” she said, handing Xander their map back.
“Thanks,” Xander said as she turned, and went back into the van.
“I guess we’re going, then,” Annelise said, even though she hated the thought of leaving the guys stranded there while they could still help. “Sorry,” she added.
“It’s alright. We understand,” Xander assured her. “Who’s your new friend, by the way?” He asked, pointing to Annelise’s new doll, which she was still holding.
“Ms. Greenfeather. She was a gift from a new friend,” Annelise explained.
“Well you two take care of each other.”
“We will,” Annelise said with a smile. “Bye Percy,” she said, moving on to him.
“Bye Annelise,” he responded.
She was about to tell Tyler a quick goodbye as well, but Dianna was taking up all of his attention. She’d wrapped him in a tight hug, which he was returning. When she broke it, she only had one thing to say.
“Bye,” she said weepily.
“Bye,” he responded, just as sadly.
With that, Dianna and Annelise turned and headed back to the van.
“I’m going to let Athena have it,” Dianna whispered to Annelise.
“Don’t. Just don’t say anything at all,” Annelise advised.
“Just trust me, okay? Not a word.”
“Okay,” Dianna accepted with a shrug.
“Ready to go, then?” Athena asked when Dianna and Annelise were in.
Her friends, however, remained silent.
“Seriously, guys?” Athena said, starting the engine.
Again, only silence.
“Whatever,” she said, shifting the van into gear and pulling away. “At least we told them goodbye, which is more than they did the other day.”
“We’ve already done more than enough, you know,” she argued with her friends’ silence. “We saved their lives. We towed them here. That’s more than what most would have done. And it’s nice here. Spending a couple weeks in this town wouldn’t be so bad.”
“This road trip is supposed to be about us, for us,” she continued. “This is supposed to be our time to have fun and spend time with each other. I mean…I mean…” She said again.
And like that, Athena joined her friends in silence as she wrestled with her thoughts and conscience. Her internal grappling continued until she made it to the end of town. Then, she let out a sigh.
“Fine,” she gave in, doing a u-turn. “Fine,” she said again.
“Thank you Athy, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Dianna shrieked, overjoyed.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Annelise said.
“I know,” Athena replied. “I just hope we don’t end up regretting this.”
“Of course we won’t,” Dianna said resolutely.
“It’ll be great,” Annelise said as they approached the garage again.
“I hope so. You guys stay in here. I’ll take care of this,” Athena said, pulling over and getting out of the van.
All three of the boys were confused as to why they’d returned, but before they could ask, Athena began speaking.
“Let’s get some things straight,” she began, “this road trip my friends and I are on is supposed to be fun, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t. That means we’re going to stop where, when, and for however long Dianna, Annelise, and I want. You will help out with driving, fuel, food, and whatever else we need. You can accept those terms, or not accept a tow from us. Got it?”
Xander, Percy, and Tyler all nodded, thus accepting the terms.
“Good. Now hook your car back up, and let’s get going,” Athena ordered, before heading back to the van.
“Was it just me, or was that kind of hot?” Tyler asked when Athena was out of earshot.
In response, Xander and Percy merely glared at him.
“What?” He asked.
“Just shut up and help us,” Percy said, getting the tow rope from the back of the van.
In seemingly no time at all, the car was connected to the van again. Then, with the guys relieved that they weren’t going to be stranded there after all, and Dianna and Annelise happy that they weren’t as well, they drove away, back towards the highway.
“Are you guys happy now?” Athena asked her friends.
“Yes,” Dianna answered simply.
“Thank you again Athena,” Annelise said.
“Yeah, yeah. I just hope we don’t regret this,” Athena replied.
So a peaceful silence fell in the van. The same couldn’t be said for the car, however.
“So you and Annelise seem pretty close,” Percy said to Xander.
“Not really. I mean she’s nice and really cool, but I barely know her,” Xander said with a shrug.
“You did spend the night with her last night.”
“It was hardly spending the night,” Xander corrected. “We sat together to see the sprites, and then we went to bed far, far away from each other. And why is this coming up now? You didn’t care about it this morning.”
“We didn’t think we were going to be spending who knows how many days with them this morning,” Percy replied. “I’m just trying to look out for you. I don’t want you doing anything that might get you in trouble when we get home.”
“I’m not going to, because we’re just friends,” Xander assured him. “Nothing is going to happen between us.”
“This seems like a good time to warn you guys that something is probably going to happen between me and Dianna,” Tyler chimed in.
“Please be nice to her,” Percy implored.
“I’m not going to be mean to her. I’m a gentleman.”
“No you’re not,” Xander dissented.
“You’re definitely not,” Percy agreed.
“Whatever. I like her, I guess. And she’s hot. So there’s no need to worry about me.”
“I don’t worry about you. I’ve learned by now that you’re going to do whatever you’re going to do, no matter what anyone says or does to convince you otherwise,” Percy said. “I just worry about the people that the things you do effect.”
“I’m not going to do anything bad!” Tyler contended.
“You better not, because they’re being great to us,” Xander told him.
“I know. I’m not going to do anything to screw that up.”
In response, Xander and Percy exchanged a quick look. They heard Tyler’s words, but they weren’t quite sure they believed them. As Percy said, though, Tyler was going to do what Tyler was going to do. All they could do about it was hope and pray that whatever that was wouldn’t bite them in the end.