Finding Faith

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Chapter 8

Bzzz. Bzzz.

I groaned and rolled over, hugging my blanket up to my chin.

Bzzz. Bzzz.

Whoever was calling better have a great reason for it, otherwise they were going straight to Hell. Yeah, as you may have been able to tell, I really wasn’t the most patient person when it came to being woken up.

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz.

Christ! OK, fine. I would check my phone.

I opened one eye blearily and looked out across my room.

Still pitch black. Typical.

I flapped my hand around feebly as I tried to grab my phone, which was vibrating obnoxiously on my nightstand beside my bed. After maybe the fifth attempt, I managed to snatch it up and swiped the screen. I yawned, and mumbled, “Hello?”

Faith.”

I frowned in confusion. “Luce?”

Oh, thank God you picked up!” Her voice was frantic, like she was really panicking.

“You could have texted me,” I said dully. At least then I wouldn’t have been bothered by one aggravating continuous ringtone.

I did.” Now she had a hint of exasperation in her tone. “But you didn’t answer.

I squinted at my screen. 5 new texts from Goldie, otherwise known as Lucy James.

Oh. So she had.

“What is it, Lucy?” I sat up, pushing my hair back from falling over my eyes. I figured if I was going to keep having this conversation, I might as well get into a more comfortable position. I looked over at the clock. Wow, my sleep patterns were really off, thanks to the joys of Christmas break. It was only 7:00 PM, but to me it felt more like 5:00 AM. This was probably due to the fact that I had stayed up till 4:00 AM yesterday and slept until way past dinnertime.

Not that anyone really cared to begin with.

Merry Christmas to me.

The result, however, was that I was really, really jetlagged.

In my own time zone.

Go figure.

I could really use your help,” Lucy said, sounding as though she was about to inform me that the world was ending tomorrow.

“OK. What do you need help with?”

It’s a difficult situation.”

“Yeah, and it’d be easier to deal with if you would just get to the point.” I couldn’t help snarking at her. First she was all distressed, and now she was taking a hell of a long time to get around to what was really the problem here. It was starting to worry me, to be honest.

After all, Lucy was normally so focused on whatever needed to be done.

OK, OK. So I…” She took a deep breath, and I braced myself to hear the worst possible scenario. Maybe her dog had died. Maybe she was being shipped off to boarding school in Switzerland. Maybe she was eloping with Layla.

OK, so the last one was admittedly ridiculous, but my mind was too foggy to make sense at the moment. Besides, weirder things had happened. Hadn’t they?

The 2017 American presidency election, for one.

But honestly, that wasn’t so much weird as it had been horrifying.

“...I have to babysit my cousins.”

I was so startled by that I almost fell off the bed. “Seriously? That’s the big apocalyptic problem?”

It’s close enough,” She defended herself. I bit back a laugh. “How, exactly?”

You don’t know my cousins,” She explained. “They’re little demons. I swear, they’re not real human children, but actual minions from Jotunheim or something.

“And that’s what happens when you binge watch Marvel movies,” I concluded, noting her Thor reference. “They can’t be that bad.”

Alright, maybe not,” She admitted with a sigh. “But they get so excited, and I can barely handle one let alone the two of them together. Also their parents promised them ice cream, which they are eating right now.

“So what am I supposed to do about it?” I questioned her. I already guessed what she was about to ask, but hearing her so flustered about this was also kind of hilarious. I wanted to draw it out as long as possible.

I was...kind of hoping you’d help?”

“In what way, exactly?” I smirked, glad she couldn’t see my face from my end.

She must have noticed my teasing tone by this point, because she sounded more exasperated when she answered. “Babysitting.

“Really? You haven’t babysat these two troublemakers before or something?” That would have surprised me. I was pretty sure I’d heard Lucy mention something about looking after younger cousins back in elementary.

Well, yeah, I have, but I had help before...like my brother--” I couldn’t help noticing how she cut off at the end as soon as she mentioned her older brother.

I remembered what he looked like, but I couldn’t remember his name. It was something like Norbert...or Noah? I had only met him once or twice before he had left for university. All I remembered was that he seemed like a good guy. Tall, and looked quite a bit like Lucy’s father, but his hair was more blonde.

Lucy began talking again. “Yeah, so anyways...I could really use the help. Please?” She paused. ”Oh, unless you’re celebrating with your family right now, in which case just forget all that--”

"No, no.” I assured her. “I think...I think we’re all celebrated out.”

“Oh. OK, that’s good. I didn’t want to sound like a bad friend for dragging you out on Christmas. So can you help?”

I looked at the clock again. It was now 7:09. It was kind of great that it was Christmas break, so I didn’t really have to worry about waking up early, or having to go anywhere.

I figured no one would care if I abruptly left the house anyway, as long as I came back sooner or later. Preferably later.

Plus, it was Lucy James. And try as I might, I always would have trouble saying no to her when she asked for my help. Besides, most kids liked me, for some inexplicably strange reason.

I had no idea why. Maybe they thought I was funny. I did have some good stories about dragons eating princes.

Faith? Please?” Lucy asked again.

“I’m thinking…” I said slowly, hoping to irritate her. I didn’t want to come off as a pushover in any way.

Pretty please? With a cherry on top?”

“Hmm...not the best bargain I’ve heard.”

I’ll...give you a TARDIS? Cross both hearts and hope to die?

I couldn’t resist the way she made a direct Doctor Who reference like that.

“OK...maybe I could give you a couple hours of so of my precious time.” I cringed as soon as I said ‘precious time’. It was so ironic. There was nothing precious about any of my time alone.

Great!” Lucy sounded excited now on the other end. “Thank you so much!”

“Yeah, OK.” I said, trying to calm her down, even though my own heart was pounding at the thought of us at her house together, even if it was just to help look after her relatives.

“I’ll be over in 15 minutes.”

Thanks, Fay. Hey, be careful on the way over, OK? It’s dark.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, even though I knew she was just concerned. “That’s generally what happens during the winter, Luce. Thanks, I will. Bye.”

Bye.

And she hung up.

I rolled out of bed and walked over to turn the lights on in my room. I brushed my tangled hair out as best I could, and pulled on a pair of warm black jeans and a black bomber jacket over a baggy pale gray sweater. I looked around the room and grabbed my phone, my earbuds, and warm socks before leaving the room. I crept as quietly as I could down the stairs, but I wasn’t too worried, especially since I had had years of practice of not making a sound.

As I said before, no one would care if I left, but I sure as hell didn’t want to get criticized for something that wasn’t my fault before heading out.

I reached the end of the stairs and walked over the closet, pulling on my winter coat over my jacket. It was dimly lit down here, and I wasn’t sure whether or not anyone was actually home. Perhaps they had gone out when I was sleeping. That would have been a relief.

I was just pulling on my boots when a voice behind me said, “Where are you going?”

I started at the sudden noise, but forced myself to calm down and turn to whoever was speaking. “To a friend’s house, ma’am.” I answered calmly.

“And what made you think you could leave without asking permission?” Her mouth was etched in a hard line, and the creases around her eyes deepened with her constant frown.

I supposed she must have been pretty once, but her eyes were cold and distant and she held herself rigid and straight, even if she was a head or two shorter than I was.

It didn’t matter. I was still intimidated, even if I didn’t show it.

I resisted the urge to duck my head, to look away from the unbearably stern face. “She...needs a favour.”

“With what?”

“...School work. Studying. And she has family she has to take care of.”

“Are you lying to me?” She snapped, her voice rising harshly. I flinched as the sound carried through the hall. “No, ma’am.”

She stopped shouting, but her face remained coldly disappointed. “Very well.” She said finally. “Do not stay out past twelve. Set an alarm. Your time management skills are lacking enough already.” She added with a final jab.

It was more time than I was hoping for. I nodded my gratitude, and mumbled. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” With one more forbidding look, she turned on her heel and walked away. The sound of her footsteps on the wooden floor resounding harshly in an eerie echo.

That could have been a lot worse. I had gotten lucky, very lucky this time. I released a deep sigh of relief, turned to unlock the door, and stepped outside.

The walk over was not as cold as I had expected, but still enough to make me grateful for the three layers I was wearing, keeping me reasonably warm.

I put in my earbuds, letting music drown out whatever other noises there were out there tonight.

The secret side of me

I never let you see

I keep it caged, but I can’t control it

So stay away from me

The beast is ugly

I feel the rage

And I just can’t hold it

My breath fogged up in front of me, as I was lost in the sound of fast-paced music. Yeah, so maybe it wasn’t the safest thing to do, what with self-defense classes at school drilling into every girl’s head about a) walking alone at night, and b) not being able to hear if anyone is sneaking up on you to drag you helplessly into some dark street.

Hiding under the bed

In my body, in my head

Why won’t somebody come and save me from this?

Make it end!

At this thought, I pulled out one earbud, and turned the volume down significantly. There. Now if anyone was really going to jump me, at least I would probably be able to hear them.

Probably.

I feel it deep within,

It’s just beneath the skin

I must confess that I feel like a monster

I hate what I’ve become

The nightmare’s just begun

I must confess that I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster

I walked at an average pace, since I knew I promised I’d be at Lucy’s house sooner than later, but I slowed down every once in awhile to enjoy the quiet wind, the stillness of the streets.

My secret side I keep

Hid under lock and key

I keep it caged

But I can’t control it

There was a certain thrill to walking out there in the dark, with the pale silhouette of the frozen moon beaming above in the sky. It gave me a feeling I couldn’t quite explain. Excitement. Anticipation. Heading into the darkness of the unknown. Well, if the quiet streets of my neighbourhood counted as the unknown, I supposed.

’Cause if I let him out

He’ll tear me up

And break me down

Why won’t somebody come and save me from this?

Make it end!

I was surprised more people weren’t driving around, but it was Christmas now. People had finished with all their shopping and settling in with their families. They probably were like those families I’d seen in the movies, sitting close together in their warm houses, with presents underneath the tree. Content, loving. Peaceful.

The thought of that made my throat clench just a little.

Families that happy and close would never resemble anything anywhere close to what I was used to every year around this time.

I feel it deep within,

It’s just beneath the skin

I must confess that I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster

OK, enough with the wallowing in self-pity. It certainly didn’t help (even if it was satisfying) and it wasn’t a very attractive quality. Not that I was assuming anyone would find me that attractive to begin with.

It wants my soul, it wants my heart

No one can hear me scream

Maybe it’s just a dream

Or maybe it’s inside of me

Stop this monster!

OK, seriously. Focus. Focus on getting to Lucy’s house without getting kidnapped or worse.

I supposed it was a good thing my and Lucy’s homes were notorious for being in two of the safest adjoining areas in the entire neighbourhood.

Supposedly.

I’m gonna lose control

Here’s something radical

I must confess that I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster

I shoved my hands further into my pockets and started to walk a little faster.


Lucy’s house was lit from the inside, with a small lamp gleaming welcomingly on the front porch.

There was a string of beautiful Christmas lights across the front of her garage and a holly wreath on the window of the front door.

The lights were definitely the best feature, however. I wondered if Lucy had put them up herself. They were hung just right, gleaming blue and white stars and red and green bulbs glowing with a stunning radiance. She probably had. While she would have been overmodest about it, she had a surprisingly good eye for these sorts of things.

I walked up to the door to ring the bell.

Lucy answered right away, and as cliché as it sounded, I could have sworn my heart skipped a beat. Her hair shone under the warm lights of her house, making it look even more golden than ever before. She was wearing a soft green patterned Christmas sweater which I was sure to be making wisecracks about later that night. She was wearing a matching forest green headband and black leggings.

Gods, she was beautiful.

“Faith, hey!” She grinned, holding open the door wide for me. “Merry Christmas!” “Merry Christmas,” I replied, pulling out my other earbud. She urged me to come in, and closed the door behind me.

I removed my boots and pulled off my coat, handing it to Lucy to drape over a coat hanger in the closet. “So, where are the little ones in question?”

She shook her head, looking fearful. “They’re in the kitchen. Finishing their dessert.”

Oh. That explained the expression on her face. The twins must have been just eating that ice cream she had mentioned on the phone. God help us. I nodded, taking a deep breath. “Into battle, then?” She nodded back solemnly, looping my arm in hers. “Into battle.”

She led me into the kitchen where two children, both about 9 or 10 years old, were sitting at the counter, next to now empty bowls of what appeared to have been neapolitan ice cream.

The little boy was wearing a white collared shirt under a navy blue sweater and jeans. The little girl was wearing a green skirt and a sweater as well, but hers was bright and colourful with a big gold Christmas star and rainbow lights embroidered across the front.

Lucy cleared her throat, and the kids looked up immediately, both cracking identical bright grins.

“Hey, guys. This is my friend, Faith.”

The little boy looked at me curiously. “Is this the Faith you talk about all the time?”

Lucy gave him a beady-eyed look before beginning, “Look, I do not talk about her all the--”

“Yeah!” The little girl threw an arm into the air as if in triumph. “I knew it! I knew she had to bring her special friend over eventually!” She smirked at her brother. “You owe me a Ring Pop!”

“Shut it, Steph.” He scowled. “I do not!”

“Do too!” Steph stuck her tongue out at him.

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

“You’re lying!”

“No, you’re lying!”

“You’re a fibber, is what you are!”

“Yeah, well, you’re...a lying lizard!”

“That doesn’t even make sense!”

“Guys!” Lucy called out, clapping her hands together to get them to stop. “C’mon. You both just had ice cream and now you’re already talking about candy? You two are gonna blow up like balloons if you keep that up.” The two of them giggled at that.

“Now, calm down. I want to introduce you properly to Faith.” She gestured for me to step forward, and so I did, hesitantly.

“...Hi.” I said, bending down slightly to their level.

“Hi,” said the boy, and he stuck out his hand to shake mine in a very grown up manner. “My name is Timothy James.” I resisted the urge to crack up, just a little. He looked just a little over half my age and he was acting more mature than I could hope to.

I shook his hand gently. “Nice to meet you, Timothy.”

The little girl bounded forwards in front of her twin, who looked immediately disgruntled. “And I’M...Stephanie James! Pleasure to meet ya!” She bounced in front of me with an adorable grin, showing off silver braces.

I couldn’t help smiling at that. “Stephanie, huh? I knew a Stephanie at my old school.” Except that Stephanie had not been the nicest of people, and her friends had been even worse...

“Cool,” Steph answered brightly with no hesitation whatsoever. “I hope she liked her name as much as I do!” She punched her fists into the air like a cheerleader bearing pompoms. “Gimme an S-T-E-P-H! Go Steph!”

Timothy shook his head at her slowly.

Although the two of them looked so alike, with dark brown hair, big green eyes, and tans, but while Timothy seemed polite and mature, Steph seemed to run on excess goofiness and energy.

Such contrary siblings. And yet as I watched the two poke each other and start giggling crazily, I had the feeling like together, they somehow worked.

“OK, so what do you two monkeys want to do first?” Lucy put her hands on both of their heads, turning them to face her.

“Skydiving!” Steph shouted just as Timothy put his hand in the air and asked, “Mystery-solving?”

Lucy shook her head, suppressing a groan. I had a feeling this was a common occurrence.

“Well, we definitely can’t go skydiving. Sorry, Steph.” Steph pouted. “Aww....”

“So we can go mystery-solving?” Timothy asked eagerly.

Lucy hesitated, and I couldn’t really blame her. I was confused as to what exactly the ten year-old meant by “mystery-solving” anyway.

“Boring!” Steph answered for us. “Getting a magnifying glass and looking at dust specks for three hours is not fun!”

“It’s practice!” Timothy defended. “And we could always find something cool, you never know!”

Steph stuck out her tongue. “Nuh-uh!”

Just as Timothy opened his mouth to retort, I jumped in. “OK! Uh…”

The twins stared at me with identical blank faces.

I thought as quickly as possible. “...How about we play...hide and seek?”

Lame, Lin. Real lame. Hide and seek may have been fun when Lucy and I were little, but for these two hyperactive kids? Who knew?

I was regretting my decision when Steph punched her fist into the air again. “Sweet!” Timothy nodded as well, looking excited. “Sounds good!”

Huh. Lame, but not inaccurate. Not bad, Lin. Not bad.

Lucy flashed me a grateful look. “Yeah, sounds like a plan. So do you want to hide first, or--”

“Count to like fifty!” Steph shouted over her shoulder as she sprinted up the stairs, Timothy right behind her. “And then come find us!” He added before scrambling in pursuit.

I turned to Lucy, raising my eyebrows. “Are they always like this?”

She sighed, but the small smile on her face told me just how much she adored the two of them. “Pretty much.” She shook her head. “They’re a handful, but they definitely liven up wherever they go.”

“I can see that.” I said truthfully.

She gave me a crooked smile. “So, you want to count?”

I took a deep breath and began loudly, “One. Two. Three. Four. Five…”


After I was done, Lucy led me to the deathly quiet upstairs, where we searched each of the four bedrooms thoroughly before Lucy pointed me towards the last bedroom’s closet. It was just slightly open, and it looked as though someone had shoved their way past the door and closed it hurriedly behind them. Lucy put a finger to her lips and inched forwards, as I put my hand very slowly on the edge of the closet door. At a nod, I wrenched it open. “Found you!”

Nothing. No one there.

Then--

“HIYAAAA! GOTCHA!”

I swear to God, both of us jumped about a foot into the air at the sudden triumphant shriek.

Steph beamed and giggled crazily at our expressions. It was only then I realized that Lucy had grabbed my hand in the jump scare, her fingers tightly intertwined with mine. She looked at me, down at our hands, and quickly released my hand, stepping back. “Uh, sorry.”

I nodded mutely in reply, my face hot. I decided not to let her know how much I wished she wouldn’t have let go.

Steph continued to chortle. “That was so funny! You guys were like, ’Arghhhh!’” She pulled a goofy face, waggling her tongue, and spun around loopily in a circle. “Yeah, well,” Lucy said defensively. “You clearly didn’t get the point of the game, Steph. You’re not supposed to let the seeker find you.”

Steph stopped mid-laugh, looking disappointed. “Oh. Yeah.” She looked down. “That’s right.” She perked up again just a moment later however. “But it was still worth it!”

I sighed, and rolled my eyes as she started doing another celebratory dance, but I couldn’t help finding the whole thing just the slightest bit funny. Lucy’s younger cousin was so spontaneous and unpredictable, she actually kind of reminded me of my best friend Alex, in an endearing way.

“You going to tell us where your brother is?” Lucy asked Steph. She shook her head resolutely, her long brown hair flying. “Nope! Can’t!”

“Give us a hint?” I bent down to her. She looked me straight in the eyes, creased her eyebrows, and yelped...“Nope!”

I sighed and stood back up. “I guess we’ll have to do this the hard way, then.”

We went into the dark room straight ahead, where I had noticed Steph’s eyes flit to right before she had refused to tell us anything about her twin’s whereabouts.

It was eerie and still with all the lights shut off, and I tensed up, unsure if my heart could physically take another jump-scare. Maybe this hadn’t been such a stellar idea after all.

The door creaked loudly as Lucy pushed it open, which really didn’t help at all. She winced apologetically. “It’s a little rusty.”

No shit, I wanted to say, but just gritted my teeth and reached for the light switch, flipping it on. There. Now that the room was illuminated, it became that much less ominous, and I didn’t feel as strongly that some slasher murderer was going to jump out and kill us all.

I was not going down like some teenager in Scream. No freaking way.

“Timmy?” Lucy called out. At my confused expression, she whispered, “He hates being called that.” “Timothy…” I lowered my voice to a low, raspy whisper. “Timothy, there’s no escape.” Maybe he’d freak and run out of hiding. Or, far more likely, maybe he’d start laughing and we’d find him either way.

It was certainly having an effect on Steph. She kept giggling and pulling exaggerated zombie-like faces to go along with my creep voice, while Lucy looked like she was trying to resist laughing out loud. “Timothy…come out, come out...”

We walked further in, looking from side to side. The bedroom boasted a walk-in closet, and a large queen sized bed in the middle of the room, with a polished chest of drawers beside it. A big bookshelf with neatly stacked novels was pushed against the far wall.

I nodded to Lucy in the direction of the bed, Steph following after her older cousin as I headed towards the closet. I pushed through hangars of suits, shirts, and skirts, hoping to spy the little boy behind them, but there was nothing. I went through the closet twice, careful not to disturb any of the hanging items of clothing, but it was in vain.

Timothy seemed to be a slightly better player at this game than his energetic sister.

Timothy, the monsters are coming,” I rasped, backing out of the closet. “They know you’re here.” “They’re gonna steal your chess set,” Lucy croaked behind me. “And all your favourite pieces.

Sure enough, I could hear a faint cough, that sounded like someone trying to cover up what might have been a quiet laugh.

I turned, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

Timothy…” I changed my voice until it was a creepy squeak. “We’re gonna find you…”

Aha! I could hear the sound again, and this time it was definitely a covered-up laugh. But where in the world was it coming from?

“Your chess set is leaving now, Timothy…” I tried again. “It’s flying away…

“It’s not going to end like in Harry Potter, Tim.” Lucy sing-songed as Steph clapped her hands over her mouth, suppressing her giggles. “Voldy’s gonna get the Philosopher’s Stoneeeee…” She waved her hands around in circles, looking like a pleased lunatic. It was all I could do not to crack up right there and then.

There! I could hear a sharp laugh from the corner of the room. Right near the massive bookshelf.

I motioned to Lucy to the right, and headed towards the left. We edged slowly around the shelf, around which the area was now dead silent as if the hidden person had realized their grave mistake. I signalled, locking eyes with Lucy across the shelf. On three. I held up a finger. One. Two. Three-- “Gotcha!” Lucy shouted, lunging behind the shelf. There was a cry of surprise, then laughter as she emerged with a wriggling Timothy in tow.

“Almost-fooled-you!” He panted, as she hoisted him in the air like he weighed nothing. She shook her head. “By hiding behind a shelf in the middle of a room? Still, I gotta say, I’m impressed by the two of you.”

He huffed, and crossed his arms as she set him down, but ultimately looked very pleased with himself, as if he had come up with a truly ingenious hiding place.

“Not bad, Timothy.” I praised. “Not bad.”

He smiled widely while Steph tugged on my sleeve. “How’d I do, huh?”

I bent down, and gave her a crooked grin. “Very well. You two could have probably beaten me and your cousin when we were your age.”

She beamed at that, and skipped to her brother’s side.

“Doubt it,” Lucy huffed, bumping me with her shoulder. I scoffed. “Says the girl who couldn’t find someone with their legs dangling five inches in front of her.”

“It was dark!” She protested, looking scandalized at the mention of this previous failure. “And you were holding your breath so I couldn’t hear you!”

I laughed, recalling the incident in question, during which I had sat motionless on a top shelf in a closet in complete darkness and how Lucy fell over when she realized I was there. I patted her on the arm. “I know. It was hilarious.”

She still looked slightly disgruntled, but she leaned down to ask the kids what they wanted to do next.

“Bowling!”

“Chess!”

“Glitter party!”

“Battleship!”

“Ziplining!”

“Rubik’s Cubes!”

“Uh…” Lucy scratched her head. She turned to me. “Any suggestions?”

I shook my head, holding up my hands defensively. “Nope.” I grinned. “It’s your turn this time. Your call, Miss James.”

She sighed heavily. “OK…” She took a deep breath and turned back to the kids, who were know chasing each other in circles around the room.

“So...what do you want to do first?”


“It’s impossible,” I panted hard, swiping my bangs out of my eyes. “I can’t make it.”

Timothy gave me a hard look. “We have to!”

We had our backs to the wall, avoiding the crossfire. We were both breathing hard, tired from so much physical exertion. The enemy just wouldn’t stop their attack.

“Ready to give up?” Lucy called jeeringly from across the room. “Yeah!” Steph yelled, waving her weapon around. “You could never defeat the mighty power of Team Christmas Sweater!”

“You tell ’em, Steph!”

“We have to go out there,” Timothy said, looking fiercely determined. “We’ll show them!”

“Timothy--they have the upper hand,” I explained to him exasperatedly. “We were beaten before we even begun.”

“We can’t give up!” Timothy insisted stubbornly. “Not like this!” “We’ll never make it!”

“We have to at least try!” He declared again. Man, I thought Steph was the stubborn one, but this kid was proving me wrong.

He did have a point, though...

I sighed, pushing more hair back from my face. “...OK. Shall we?”

“Yeah!”

At a nod, we twisted back and jumped out from behind the makeshift pillow fort walls, and charged at the ‘fort’ opposite us across the room.

Timothy and I let loose a barrage of rubber Nerf darts just as Lucy and Steph popped into view from their fort, and started shooting back at us with resounding identical war cries.

“Foul villains! You shall not pass!” Lucy shouted in a deep voice.

“Thanks for that, Gandalf!” I called back, and aimed my next volley of darts at her.

Most of them she managed to avoid, but a few hit her arms, and she roared in mock fury. “You fiend!” She retaliated furiously with her own huge Nerf gun as I cackled out loud.

I dove to the side, landing in another pile of pillows we had carefully placed around the entire room earlier.

Meanwhile, Timothy and Steph were chasing each other. Steph was a faster shooter, but Timothy was much more precise, and was able to hit her with more darts. They ran around pillows, laughing and yelling challenges at each other…while Lucy loaded extra darts into her own gun. Uh-oh.

I jumped up as Lucy barrelled out from her hiding spot in the pillow fort and came at me, Nerf gun freshly reloaded and shooting rubber missiles of death in my direction.

Most of them hit me right away, even as I tried to follow Timothy and run around the pillows for minimum cover.

Lucy was fast though, and just as I turned to shoot her in the leg, shot me in the stomach with about 3 or 4 rounds at once. I collapsed dramatically, winded, and the next second she had her gun to my head. “You won’t escape now,” Lucy gloated.

“You’ll never get away with this,” I rasped as if we were in the confrontational ending of some horribly predictable movie. “Any last words?” She smirked widely as I lay on the floor, helpless.

I thought it over for a second. “....Timothy managed to detain Steph.”

Her expression immediately switched to confused. “That’s not even a cliché--”

Whatever she was about to say next turned into a yelp as Timothy came charging in with two guns--having stolen the other one from Steph, who was lying on a pillow some feet away, a hand thrown dramatically over her face as if she had fallen in battle. In reality, she probably had just given up and decided the pillows were a better substitute than sticking out this tiring Nerf battle.

Tim shot Lucy multiple times before she could retaliate, squawking and covering her face with her arms as he shouted, “JUSTICE!” and continued mercilessly.

I really liked this kid.

Eventually Timothy and Lucy ended in a drawn-out yet respectful draw, while Steph and I lay on the pillows and contemplated life (if life was all about the natural habitats of elves and dragons). The twins had just started reading the Hobbit, as it turned out.


The next hour or so was spent with a mix of an impromptu scavenger hunt (during which Lucy and I hid various stuffed animals around the house while the kids looked for them using verbal clues we gave them), watching The Avengers on TV, and dancing to a bunch of old songs on Lucy’s phone shuffle. I dozed off about halfway through The Avengers; I was so exhausted from running around entertaining the two energetic children.

Lucy practically lugged me around and put me on the sofa halfway through our second last dance. I had initially protested against dancing at all in the first place, but she had pulled me into it anyways, laughing and singing too loudly on purpose to the lyrics.

I had to admit, it was more fun than I’d had in awhile. But then again, I wasn’t really surprised. It seemed every time I hung out with Lucy I was sure to enjoy myself.

Before I knew it, it was time to put the kids to bed, which was no easy task.

Steph outright refused to sleep, and Timothy, even being the more agreeable one by far, was apparently quite a night owl himself and agreed with his sister. We had to literally chase the both of through hallways and up and down stairs until we could catch them and force them to go brush their teeth, change, and get to bed. It was only until I offered the promise of a cool new story that they reluctantly did what they were told, much faster than we would have thought possible.

As we waited for the twins to finish cleaning up, Lucy leaned against the doorway to the guest bedroom they were staying in while I sat cross-legged on the floor.

“Thanks, Fay.” Lucy said quietly. “Seriously, thank you. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get through this without having at least one breakdown if it weren’t for your help.”

I looked up at her and shrugged. “Sure. But I’m certain you would’ve been fine with or without my being here.” She chuckled, running a hand through her hair. “Yeah, I’m not so sure about that. Last year I didn’t have to babysit, and the year before that, well...I had help.”

“Your brother?” I guessed. She nodded slowly, a dark look crossing her face. “...Yeah.”

I could tell it was a sensitive subject, but I was intrigued. It seemed as if Lucy had had a falling out with him or something, which would have struck me as strange. From what I remembered, the two of them had seemed to get along really well as siblings.

“He’s in university now, right?” I asked hesitantly. She nodded, but her guarded expression didn’t change. “Mmhmm.”

“Uh...what’s he studying?” It was awkward and now I had the feeling I was sounding nosy, but I was genuinely curious by this point. What had happened that had made Lucy seem as though even mentioning her own brother’s name would be such a hardship?

“Mathematics.”

“Oh.” There wasn’t much else to say to that. “Cool.”

“Yeah. Yeah, it is.”

What followed was another long awkward pause, during which I asked myself why I had to be such a socially inept introvert. I wanted to ask her if she was alright, but couldn’t find the right words. Eventually, all I said was a slight, “I’m sorry.”

“What?” She shook her head as if getting back on track, looking a little startled. “No, it’s-it’s fine, what are you apologizing for?”

I shrugged, looked down at the floor between my feet. “...Because it sounds like you miss him.” I answered simply. She sighed, fidgeting with her long hair, twirling it around her fingers like she did when she was deep in thought. It made me want to wrap my arms around her, but I held myself back. That would probably just weird her out.

“Yeah. I do.” She said finally. “It’s been two years now, and it’s just been...kind of weird not having him here, you know?”

I nodded. I could understand missing someone you were used to seeing so often. Someone you missed having in your life. It was a feeling I had had to live with since the end of Grade 8.

“So do you still talk with him sometimes?”

She nodded slowly. “Yeah, we text every once in awhile, but I find e-mails are easier, since he’s usually so busy with school. But we do stay in contact.”

“That’s good.”

“Yeah, he’s happy there, I think,” She said, with a distant smile. “Even if we haven’t actually seen each other in so long, I can tell.”

“That sounds good,” I repeated, but it was completely genuine. I could tell she really did miss him quite a lot. She had a sad look on her face when she talked about him, as if there was something keeping them from being closer, besides school.

“Yes. But Faith--” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, but I don’t really want to talk about it any more. It’s nothing personal, but I just--” She made a vague gesture with her hands in frustration. “--It’s hard.” “I understand,” I said quietly, because I thought I really did. “But thank you for talking about it with me.”

She chuckled a bit. “Sometimes I think you’re the only person I can talk to about this sort of stuff.” I felt my cheeks go hot, and ducked my head.

“We’re ready for a story now!” Steph chirped, bounding over to us from out of the bathroom, Timothy not far behind. She was wearing adorable lilac pajamas decorated with what looked like koalas. Timothy’s were plain black but had Batman symbols on his shirt and pants.

Lucy raised an eyebrow at me. “Do you mind?” I supposed I had been the one to promise the twins a good tale. I shook my head, and we lead the kids into their bedroom, ready to tell them a story.

Steph bounced on the pillow on the twin bed on the right side of the room, opposite Timothy’s.

“What’s the story going to be about? Ooh!” She stopped bouncing, eyes huge with excitement. “Are there gonna be any unicorns?”

“Aren’t you a little old for unicorns?” Lucy asked.

Steph gasped as if Lucy had just broken some ancient taboo. “You’re never too old for unicorns!”

Unicorns? I was going to have to think that one over. I turned to Lucy. “Uh, how about you go first?”

She looked at me like she thought I was kidding. When she realized I wasn’t however, she shook her head and sat down at the edge of the bed, where the siblings were perched in anticipation.

“Once upon a time, in a land of sunshine and smiles, there lived a herd of unicorns…”

Lucy’s story detailed the adventure of a unicorn and a prince and their adventure to find the end of a rainbow along with bumping into various obstacles along the way. It was short, sweet, and the kids laughed at all the right parts. It was pretty much the equivalent of a simple children’s picture book, and gave me enough time to try and come up with my own unique story.

Steph nudged me as soon as Lucy’s story was finished. “Next story, next one!” “Please!” Timothy added as an afterthought.

I pushed Steph’s hand away gently before pulling up my knees onto the bed. I managed to think of a story that combined what I knew about the twins so far, in the short time I had known them. OK, here went nothing. I took a deep breath, and started, “Once, long ago, on a ship across the waves, there was a brave explorer who wanted to sail across the vast ocean…”

I went on to tell the story of the explorer, named Christopha (nice name, I know), who met dragons and water spirits, and solved clues she found on her ancient map to find the hidden island of Paradise. It may not have been entirely original, but the kids seemed to enjoy listening to every word, and were an extremely attentive audience. Even Lucy looked interested. I finished the story with Christopha celebrating having found the island with all her new beast friends, including unicorns, some of which may have shared names with the unicorns in Lucy’s story beforehand.

The kids clapped loudly when I finished, and I tried not to flush as Lucy joined in, looking sincerely impressed. “I knew you were good at writing, but I didn’t know you were such a good storyteller.” “I’m really not,” I protested, but she just smiled like she knew better. And she probably did. She turned to the kids. “OK, you monkeys. It’s time to settle down. Time to sleep!”

Thankfully, the kids went much more obediently than I had been expecting, crawling under the covers, Steph cradling a huge rainbow unicorn stuffie.

“Goodnight,” Lucy hugged each twin before pulling the blankets over their shoulders. “Goodnight,” I said, before turning to leave.

“Wait!” Timothy sat up in his bed quickly, before I could walk out of the room. “Can you come babysit again?” “Yeah!” Steph sat up too. “You’re really cool! I like you!” She turned to her cousin, a big braces-shining smile on her face. “And Lucy does too!”

Lucy and I both looked away awkwardly, but she smiled. “I’m sure you guys will see Faith again sometime soon. OK?”

The two thought this over for a minute or two. “OK!” And they settled back down under the bedcovers as we walked out. “Bye, Faith!” Steph called. “Bye, Faith! Merry Christmas!” Timothy waved. I turned and raised a hand. “Merry Christmas. It was great meeting you two.”

And I honestly meant it.

Faith really did have some pretty special relatives.

Lucy closed the door, and sighed heavily. “Oh, we made it through the night.” “Don’t be such a drama queen.” I chided. “You’re right,” She straightened and smirked widely at me. “That’s your job.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, shut up.”

“You know you like it.”

“I definitely do not.”

“Liar.”

We went back down the stairs. “So do you have to go?” Lucy asked, pushing her hair over one shoulder. I nodded, feeling regretful. “Yeah. I do.”

“Too bad.” She looked so disappointed, it made me feel even worse. Bad enough I would have to walk back to a cold house where no one cared if I came or went as long as I was doing what I was told. Bad enough I would have to say goodbye until next time. Bad enough I had to refuse Lucy James.

“But…” She bit her lip, raising one shoulder in a ‘maybe’ gesture. “...Do you maybe want to finish that dance?”

“What, do I owe you one?” I tilted my head, my heart beating faster.

The teasing smirk was back on her face now. “Yes, I believe you do. Not many people have the talent of falling asleep halfway through a break dance.”

I rolled my eyes. “You know I was asleep when you called me, right?”

She frowned slightly. “You were asleep?”

I groaned in exasperation, and stepped away from the door. “Alright, one last dance. But make it quick.”

“Why were you asleep so early?” Lucy pressed as we walked back to the living room.

I hesitated. I was not about to share the information that I had been stupid and stayed up way past decent hours feeling depressed and drinking caffeine until I thought my heart was going to explode. I certainly wasn’t going to share the additional information that my parents simply couldn’t be bothered to wake me up at normal times anyway even if I needed to.

It’s your own responsibility. If you get sick, it is your own fault. Stop lying around feeling sorry for your own lazy self.

I ended up shrugging, and muttering, “Movie marathon. You know how it is.”

She nodded, not entirely convinced, but didn’t ask any more about it afterwards.

“So are we going to jump around and scream more hits from the 2000’s?” I asked dryly. “Not sure I can bear more of that.”

She shook her head. “I was thinking of something a little more...classic.”

When she put on the song, I could have kissed her right then and there. The familiar melody played out as gentle and jazz-oriented as it had been when I had listened to it repeatedly back in Grade 8. It was the immortal ”Fly Me To The Moon" by absolute jazz sensation Frank Sinatra.

Fly me to the moon

Let me play among the stars

Let me see what spring is like, on Jupiter and Mars

“You remember?” I blurted, as Lucy put her hands on my waist, and guided my hands around her shoulders. “Of course I do,” She assured me, grinning. “You loved this song. You thought it was weird because it was so old, but you still sang it over and over again.”

In other words, hold my hand

In other words...baby, kiss me.

“It was weird,” I commented. “I couldn’t believe you still wanted to hang out with me after realizing the majority of the most recent songs on my phone were from the 70’s and 80’s.” “Of course I did,” Lucy said firmly. “I always like spending time with you, Ghost Queen. You know that.” “I suppose I do,” I admitted quietly.

She began to lead me forwards and backwards, one, two, three, one, two, three. We were dancing the foxtrot.

Fill my heart with song, and let me sing forever more

You are all I long for, all I worship, and adore

In other words, please be true

I stumbled, then laughed, and Lucy laughed along, as we stepped forwards and backwards, left and right, in a synchronized pattern. I stumbled a few times, but it didn’t really seem to matter. All that mattered was the music and the feel of Lucy’s hands on my waist.

Fill my heart with song, and let me sing forever more

You are all I long for, all I worship, and adore

In other words, please be true

She spun me around, and I twirled. I had never been one for dancing, but with Lucy, I somehow felt more coordinated than ever before. She really was something.

We kept dancing throughout the rest of the song, not caring about the time passing by, not caring about the two hushed voices we heard whispering on the stairs, where no doubt two peeping pairs of eyes were watching our every move.

It was exhilarating, and calming all at once. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded continuing for as long as I was able.

With Lucy, I wanted to make every moment as long as possible.

She was just that special, even if I could never find the words to tell her out loud.

“Merry Christmas, Faith,” She murmured as we spun around again.

"Thank you,” I whispered, as I twirled away again.

All in all, it was pretty much the best Christmas I could have wished for.

In other words….I….love you.

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