The path to Faerie is easier than you think, except when the way is barred by old promises. Unlock the key to seeing more in this world and step through the veil into Ellswood.
I hefted the stone in my hand, feeling the weight of it and its rough polish against my skin. Water from the stream dribbled between my fingers and down my arm. Water and stone, my mind caught on that amid the swirling emotions and thoughts.
I cast it across the small pool in the stream. It skipped three times, the second exactly in the middle, causing waves to lap each shore simultaneously and then echo back upon themselves to the middle.
There, that was the second time. Only one more to go.
I had found this doorway by accident when I was eight and visiting my grandmother’s house. I had tossed stones in the stream on a whim, a child’s play. I hadn’t realized what I had done until I looked up to see gray eyes staring back at me from across the stream. The boy had looked as startled as I, and as curious.
I can only imagine what would have happened, into what land I would have disappeared, if my grandmother hadn’t caught my hand just then. She pulled me away, grabbing both of my shoulders so that I would face her. Leaning close she had made me promise to never, ever throw the stones and open the door again.
And I never did until today. Finally another stone skipped perfectly across the water.That made three. At least you didn’t need to manage three in a row or I would have been there in the mist all day. My task done, I sat down on the damp leaves with a sob, rubbing my forearm across my eyes to dry them. With the emptiness that can only come from grief, I sat and waited, watching drops of the morning’s rain fall from the limbs of trees around me.
It didn’t take long. He came like he had always been there, watching me cry and skip stones in the lingering rain. One moment I was staring at nothing, the next I realized my eyes were focused on his sinewy arm under a snug tunic the color of dry oak leaves.
Tears spilling down my cheeks, I looked into his face and his gray eyes. I recognized him as Wren even though I had only seen him that one time as a boy. Why was I surprised to see that he had aged in seeming comparison to me? He, masquerading as a bird, had been my playmate as a child. Why did I think he would have remained young while I aged?
“She’s dying.” I was too grief stricken to pad the truth. Wren looked down at the wet leaves at his feet.
“I knew she had left Ellswood.” His voice was older, mature with a depth that reminded me of polished wood, deep and rich. I leaned closer to him, sliding partly down the bank.Wet from the rain and the stream, mud and leaves stuck to me changing me into something more akin to his kind than mine. Grief is a great equalizer.
“Please, you must do something.” My tear stained eyes sought his. He seemed unnerved that I was so close and sat up straighter, no longer lounging amid the leaves and bark.
My sob as I supported myself against the soft moss on the bank touched him despite our differences and years apart. He reached out as if to touch me in comfort, but stopped a few inches away.
“We promised her, your grandmother. She bartered three promises from my mother ages ago, when you first came here. It is our word that we will not interfere with her wishes.”
“Do you know what she wants to do? Do you know what will happen once she dies?”
I searched his gray eyes but found only a detached sadness there. I wasn’t sure if it was for me or for my grandmother. “She wants to be composted.” My voice verged on hysterical. A small unbelieving laugh escaped from my lips. “She wants to be composted and spread on the gardens.”
Wren leaned back, looking across the woods towards the unseen house. A small smile flickered across his lips. I wanted to be mad at him for finding something fitting in that, even though I knew that if I were feeling rational I would have as well. Instead, my eyes slid from the soft curve of his lips, along the ridge of his high cheek bones, and down to his broad chest barely hidden by the brown shirt. I hadn’t expected him to have grown up so well.
I spun on my heel from where I knelt before him and sat on the bank, my back to him and legs dangling above the stream. I could feel the warmth of his breath on my cheek as he leaned forward. The smell of the damp woods and moss filled my nose.
“Your grandmother, she understands the way it must be, Lynn. She accepts her fate. It is the way of things.”
I didn’t dare to turn and look at him. “Yeah, that is what she said too. She wants to die when it is her time. It is natural like one of her plants in the fall.” I felt new tears well in my eyes. I squeezed them shut, letting the tears slide down my cheeks to meet the rain drops on the ground. Looking down to my right, I could just see Wren out of the corner of my eyes.
“What were the other two promises she made you keep?” I could see his fluid features suddenly tense. He held still, before answering in a low voice.
“The third I do not know. It was between Eva and Eventide. The second,” he paused, turning to look at the fragment of my face he could see. “The second is that we would not take you with us into Faerie.”
I tilted my head up in understanding, the tears running down my neck and into my rain soaked blouse. It made sense. Perfect sense, I thought as my heart splintered.
“Of course,” I whispered it hoarsely as I stood. The pain was numbing. My only frantic thought of escape was closed. I walked across the stream through the pool, not feeling as the water soaked through the last bit of my socks. I only knew I walked toward the empty house and away from my only chance of refuge.
I stayed for the funeral, my grief only matched by Thimble’s. He would pace the windowsills of the sunporch all night, howling until he collapsed into exhausted sobs. Then I would collect him and settle him onto the foot of the bed where we would both fitfully sleep until dawn. The pattern was almost comforting, filling some need within me for order and routine. But the house echoed of the absence of Gram. I looked out the windows to the garden in seething accusation. The garden could have her, would have her soon, but I could not.
I packed my bags and left, leaving Thimble to howl alone. Memories of the empty house plagued my dreams and I stayed away as I finished college and searched for a new life. Four years I stayed away until the memory of the place and its magic had nearly been erased by the every day.
I lay awake in bed watching the morning light break across the lilac buds. The wind was damp but held a kiss of warmth. The gardens were breathtaking. It had been too dark when I had arrived the night before to see. The sight of them full and lush was a comfort to me now. They were full of life, every petal a vivid tribute to my grandmother’s love.
Swinging my legs from under the blankets, I was disappointed not to see Thimble. He hadn’t greeted my arrival last night and his absence this morning had me worried. Hopefully, he was only angry at my retreat years ago, leaving him to manage our grief alone.
The light drew me out of the quiet house to the simplicity of the garden waking. Barefoot in the spring grass, I walked the paths in my night robe like I had as a little girl. Like my grandmother had as an old woman.I had to greet what remained of her spirit there.I said hello to the flowers like old friends, greeting each in turn, feeling close to something deeper once again.
It seemed completely natural to round a bend and find Eventide seated on a garden bench, sunbeams chasing night in her hair and Thimble asleep on her lap. Sitting next to her, Thimble eyed me with ancient, hurt eyes.I felt tears well in my own and opened my arms to him.He hesitated and then ran forward so fast, I couldn’t follow his movements. I only knew that he was suddenly hugging me back and we were both crying away the heartache.
Next to me, Eventide sighed with contentment.“It is good you came home.”
Petting Thimble where he had curled onto my lap, I confessed, “The endowment called.”
She looked askance at me, one eyebrow raised to invite more information.
I swallowed hard, my fingers stiff against Thimble’s pelt. “They want permission to use the house for their headquarters.” Eventide half closed her eyes digesting the news.Her composure was unreadable, remote.“ They also want to buy the property next door, which will add seventy-five acres to the woods,” I finished lamely.
Eventide was quiet for a moment.“It will be good to see the house full again. At least during the day.”
I bit my lip, following her gaze to the quiet house, its windows dark panes against the sky.
“Do you want to come in?For a cup of tea, I mean?” Eventide looked almost as surprised as I felt for having asked. Her smile brightened the dawn considerably as she nodded acceptance.
I had doubts as we started to walk towards the house. I had never seen Eventide inside in all the times I had stayed with my grandmother. Could such a faerie as she be contained in something as mundane as a house? But to my surprise, it seemed perfectly normal as I put the teapot on the stove.
The house seemed to warp around her, as if she were at the center of a fish eye lens. The rooms were larger in her presence, filled with more air and space.Natural accents like the stone door knobs on the cabinets and the wooden beams stood out as if they held a special magic all their own. Or maybe they did and they were just waking up to it in Eventide’s presence.
Watching Eventide sip tea from a clay mug in my grandmother’s kitchen made her seem almost human. She spoke kindly of my grandmother and the changes in the gardens since I had been away.I could almost think of her as an aunt come visiting, but it was impossible to forget entirely what she was.
My heart lurched when she sat her cup down and I knew no entreaty would entice her to stay. I wanted to hold on to the moment. As new and unrepeated as it was, it held in it some connection to the past and I wasn’t ready to let it go. All the years away had been stripped from me and I had felt peace for the first time since Gram died.
Eventide watched me with knowing eyes as she waited for my thoughts to settle. “Let me know, please, when they will come?”
I knew who she meant and nodded, following in her wake to the door. She turned a moment and smiled before stepping into the sun and disappearing. If it wasn’t for her tea cup on the table and Thimble in her chair, I would have thought I was still dreaming.
I spent the morning stalking through the house, stopping in every room to pick up some long forgotten object and memory, reclaiming a past I had thought unwanted until I came home to say goodbye. It was Thimble’s pointed ears flicking forward so like a cat’s that made me aware that something had changed before I heard the song bird at the door. The air had altered subtly, easily dismissed if you didn’t know.
I opened the back door to the garden, not knowing what to expect and not expecting what I found. An oriel flew away just as my mind made the flash of recognition that it had left behind a leaf too broad for this early in the spring. Written across in dew was one sentence: “Come to the garden tonight.” I paced through the house for the rest of the afternoon.
As the shadows lengthened across the garden, I began to fret. What did the invitation hold? Where was I to go? The garden stretched over six acres and then there was the forest. The note which had so quickly evaporated had given no clue to a location. I eyed Thimble, wondering if he would know and could lead me. He slept, immune to my anxiety, curled up in my grandmother’s favorite chair looking to the casual observer like nothing more than a nearly furless cat.
I was too nervous to eat, but tried to munch on some toast to give myself something to do. I watched the shadows grow, heard the sounds change until finally the shadow cast by the woods reached across the entire garden and the last of the sunlight faded from the white roses. Thimble roused as I stood up and put on my walking boots. Stretching, he watched but made no move to join me. I sighed, hand on the doorsill and met his ancient eyes. I had grown up amid the fey in my grandmother’s garden as a child. Why would I be nervous now? Thimble gave me no signal to lessen my nerves. I turned and stepped out into the deepening twilight.
The garden was another world at night. Lights floated amid the dark plants, globes marking the path glowed without electricity, and plants bloomed out of season. I walked away from the warm brightness of the house, heading deeper into the wild. Every breath of wind sent tingling shivers through my body, every scent of exotic flowers caught in my throat. But still I headed deeper, knowing that Eventide would be away from the precise lines of the planned gardens near the house. She would wait where the lines were hidden by nature, captured by the profusion of her plants.
Eventide waited where two slender white birches arched towards each other over the path and wild roses tumbled over hedges of boxwood and yew. She appeared like condensed moonlight finding shape and life in the mysteries of the night. I paused before her, barely recognizing the woman who had sat at my kitchen table that morning. She was ethereal during the day, at night she was in her true element, changing into something undefinable, something other. Every nerve in my body thrummed energy directly into my soul. Is this what my grandmother felt when she had danced amid the gardens at night?
Eventide smiled and in one fluid movement pulled a silver gray cloak around my shoulders. Leaning close to my ear, she whispered, “No kindness is left undone,” and kissed each of my cheeks.
The world tilted, fell away, and then pulled back in a whoosh. Breathless, I held still, wide-eyed. Eventide waited and then nodded towards my dress. Replacing the comfortable jeans was a gown of sleek lines and unearthly glimmer. Running my hands across it, the material felt like velvet made of water.
Still uncertain, I looked at Eventide, my eyes begging for some explanation. To my surprise, she laughed a deep and kind laugh. Tossing aside the ritual, she gave me what could only be called a conspirators grin.
“The dress and cloak is but a glamour that will last only tonight. My gift to you is to open the gates and welcome you to my house as you did me to yours.”
My heart thundered in my throat. “But the promise you gave to my grandmother?”
Eventide raised an eyebrow that I knew about the old promise, her face unreadable. She reached out and touched my cheek with a gentle thumb.
“That was the past. This is now. Time changes, promise do too.” She held her hand out to me, palm up. I laughed to myself, not hiding my smile or my excitement. I placed my hand in hers and together we stepped under the arching branches.
We walked down a corridor lined with trees that held up the sky. I only fully became aware of the differences from the garden when we entered a room, light spilling across the stone floor and reflected back by the brook running along its length. But what really caught my eyes was Wren.He leaned with one hand resting on a great oak table that filled the center of the room, speaking to a woman whose refined beauty was indescribable to my all too human senses. As Eventide and I paused in the entrance, he looked up, his eyes meeting mine. The surprised pleasure in them inflamed my chest making the uncertainty of the night fall away. He stood and walked quickly across the room to greet us, kissing his mother on both cheeks and taking my hand tenderly to lead me to the table.
There are no words to describe the night that passed. When most people say something is indescribable, they mean they can’t think of the right words.When I say that the night, the music, the hall, Eventide and her kin where indescribable, I mean the words haven’t been invented yet that could ever hope to capture a fleeting essence of what took place. I forgot to worry about rules that the books in my grandmother’s study had whispered about. Don’t eat their food. Their time is different from ours and an hour spent with them was a year passed in ours. I simply didn’t care. The food was too good, and the wine tasted like morning sunlight rising on a clear day. Everyone was beautiful and though I was a stranger, they were kind. And then there was Wren.
I woke in the morning with the memory of his eyes near mine as he led me in a dance. I was almost startled to find myself in my bed, Thimble still asleep at my feet while morning sounds of birds called across the garden. There were no glittering clothes tossed on the floor, just my jeans and tee-shirt. Did I dream it? My heart was too full, too free. I couldn’t have. I mustn’t have, but it was impossible not to feel as if I had dreamed I had been a princess in a fairytale.
I was almost disappointed that it was only the next day, the day it was supposed to be, when I checked the morning news. Nothing untold had happened. I had returned unharmed to my life.And my life had its demands for the morning. I had to meet with the Endowment, look over the property next door, and discuss arrangements for them to take over my grandmother’s house. What would be done with her books, her furniture? All that was left of her except the plants in the garden. Store it? Sell it? The questions were difficult and personal, painful after such night as I’d had.
I couldn’t get the memories out of my head, even though they seemed too improbable to be real. Just as my life here in the real world had seemed a dream when I had danced in the star lit hall.I found my attention wandering as details were discussed, remembering the hall that was once constructed and something that had grown, Eventide’s laughter, Wren’s every touch. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t decide.I was anxious to get home as if afraid the garden and house would disappear, proving that they were just a fey illusion.
It was after lunch when I was finally able to return home. Standing in the doorway looking at my grandmother’s things, I realized I couldn’t face the house, every room full of choices that had to be made. I wandered instead into the backyard. Rounding a sunlit bend, I wasn’t even surprised to see Wren sitting in the grass watching frogmen play in a small pond. It was as if I’d I known all day that he would be waiting for me.
Seeing him at ease in the sunlight and grass brought my heart thudding to my throat and an unexpected wave of emotions flowed over me. Memories of the night before intermingled with the last time I had seem him in the gardens before Gram had died.Overwhelmed, I stopped on the path, not daring to breathe.
My stillness amid the breeze inspired dancing of the garden plants caught Wren’s attention.He turned towards me, rising to his feet in one fluid motion. The look on his face cast aside my confused emotions.
“Why did you come here if you are just going to leave again? Does Thimble even know? Have you told him?” I took an involuntary step back as Wren stopped before me, arms folded across his chest and his gray eyes dark. The silence drew taught between us as I studied the grass beneath me. “You didn’t even think of him, did you?”
I wouldn’t admit that I hadn’t.“I thought he was of your kind. That he’d just return to the gardens.”
“He lives in the house. He can’t come to the woods. He isn’t a part of our grove.”
“Well, how was I supposed to know that?” I snapped. “Fine, I’ll take him with me.” I met Wren’s eyes, thrusting my chin forward.
“It isn’t that easy. You have no idea what you’re asking!” He looked exasperated but somewhere in the back of his eyes I saw a smudge of grudging admiration. He hadn’t expected that answer. Finally, he couldn’t meet my steady gaze any longer. He turned and tossed himself on the grass, his back to me.
I walked over and sat a few feet away, watching the ripples on the pond lap the stone edges. “Eventide told you about the Endowment?”
Wren didn’t reply. But when I glanced over towards him, he nodded. The anxiety of the moment on top of the painful questions of the morning held me in a steel grip. My fingers pulled at the deep grass, as I wrenched at the decisions I had to make. I bit my lip to keep it from trembling. “I should have told you last night. I . . . I just didn’t think of it. Maybe I shouldn’t have come.”
To my surprise, Wren put his hand over mine to quiet my yanking. I looked up to where he had moved next to me. His gray eyes were kind again.
“I’m glad you came. Do you know what the celebration was for?” I shook my head, angry that there were tears in my eyelashes and not feeling like telling him that for all I knew they held banquets every night.
“It marks my coming of age for our kind.I’m free to leave my mother’s grove, to travel and find somewhere new.” His eyes held mine with liquid warmth. The threatened tears spilled from my eyes in earnest this time, gliding slowly down my cheeks. My pulse thundered in my ears. I couldn’t imagine that what I thought he was saying could be true.
“You can leave? Do you want to leave?” I wanted to say ‘with me’ but couldn’t form the words.
In answer, he leaned forward and kissed me. His lips tasted of fresh morning rain. Its coolness tumbled through me like clear spring water, lodging deep in my stomach. I reached for him, my fingers curling in his hair. The touch of his hand against the skin of my back made me gasp as I tugged at his shirt and we both fell over in the warm grass.
The week flew by with many decisions left undone. I was too distracted by Wren, his exotic yet familiar presence, his passionate love play, and the new doors Eventide had opened for me. The week was over, my job was calling, my friends were calling, the Endowment was calling.
I leaned forward from where I sat on the bed, watching the early morning shadows play across Wren’s tanned features and kissed his shoulder where the blankets had fallen back. His lips curved in a sleepy smile. He didn’t even open his eyes. I sighed and resisted the urge to go back to bed. That was how I’d gotten this far behind in the first place. I left Wren to sleep off the remainder of the night’s revelries and padded bare footed toward the kitchen.
Thimble was asleep in my grandmother’s favorite chair, her garden books and notes lining the shelves an arms reach away. Thimble had made no comment at Wren’s presence but had moved inside the house to sleep. Though I thought I caught him smiling every once in awhile. The sight of him nestled on my Gram’s quilt brought an ache to my chest. I paused in the doorway of her study and looked open-eyed around the room. Was I really ready to tear this cozy place apart and let someone move in computer equipment and desks, file cabinets and flow charts? I was beginning to think not.
Making tea from the old kettle, I handed Thimble a cup and was startled when Wren reached around me and pulled me back against him. I hadn’t heard him get up, but wasn’t surprised. I was becoming used to his innate ability to be silent. The week had taught me a few other things as well. I realized that my first rash hope that Wren would leave with me simply wasn’t possible. We traveled in different worlds, on different paths. Leaning back against his solid warmth, his breath on my neck, I wondered if I would see him again after I left tomorrow.
“A year and a day.”
“What?” I replied, shifting so that I could look at him and still remain held fast.
Wren smiled. “A year and a day. It is a . . . traditional time length for us.” During the week Wren had learned a few things about me as well, including how little I knew of his kind.
“Say that we’ll meet back here in a year and a day.”
Now I turned fully to look at him. I hadn’t gotten used to how he always seemed to know what I was thinking.
He brushed my hair back from my neck and looked at me earnestly. “Take a year to decide what you want, if you want the Endowment to have the house, if you want to come back, and if you do, meet me here then.”
I swallowed. “And you’ll decide too, if you want to come back?” Wren inclined his head forward slightly, looking slightly scared of the adventure before him. I knew how he felt. I weighed his proposal but couldn’t find anything to disagree with. It wasn’t a definite, but it wasn’t wild promises that would never come true either. I smiled up at Wren and nodded.
“A year and a day.”
I wanted to ask where he would go, but was afraid of the answer. Instead I asked “Will you visit me? Just once?” Wren looked thoughtful, then nodded and kissed my forehead.
“Before winter, I’ll come.” With that promise, we endeavored to spend our last day together. The Endowment took my suggestion that they use the newly purchased farmhouse next door as their headquarters better than I anticipated. The news that I was even playing with the idea of moving to Maine and into my grandmother’s house caused enough excitement to brush the disappointment of not being able to locate headquarters at the gardens aside.
“I knew after a week you’d fall in love with the place.” Mary Sue gushed over the phone. I kept my smile as friendly as I could but felt suddenly ill. In love? I couldn’t say and had a year to decide.
The flight back to California was surreal. Everyday life surged around me in its hectic normalcy. I stared at the ceiling of my bedroom that night listening to Beka in the living room of the apartment. It was so much like every night before I’d left that it threatened to overwhelm the fragile memories of Wren and the garden and erase the promise held. I clutched my pillow to my chest and curled around it burying sobs into my blankets.
To my surprise, it took far less than a year, or even a month, for the scales to begin to tip. I wouldn’t admit it, not to myself, not to my roommate, but even after returning to the apartment for only two weeks I knew I couldn’t stay. It started with just an inkling, a feeling of discontent at work. Being handed one two many cases to research under too tight a deadline and instead of rising to the challenge, I stopped in the hallway. I suddenly wondered, what was the point? There were always more people suing each other and even if the ‘good guys’ won, they never seemed happy. And all I did was the research for the cases anyway, researched someone else’s life and I wasn’t even sure if it was sunny outside. I found myself more and more often idly scanning the job market on the east coast.
My friends hounded me to why I had stayed in Maine so long. I had only meant to go for the weekend, not a week. That I had met someone was written all over my face, but I didn’t give details and it drove them nuts. When I hinted that I was thinking of moving back east, they thought I was insane. An immediate intervention was called that included several nights out and an introduction to every single man my friends knew.
It made no difference. Some were nice, some were handsome, but each was focused on his career, the night life, or the city. I found myself staring out windows at the odd trees and parks.I thought of Gram, her garden and the legacy she left me for the first time in years without pain. Instead, I felt a yearning I could no longer deny.
Quietly, I began to make plans and wrap up the loose ends. It took time, but time I had. I spent evenings with my friends, not to forget as they hoped, but to say goodbye. Wren’s promised visit lingered in the back of my mind, but without a scheduled date I couldn’t focus on it. Just the occasional mental note of a place I thought he’d enjoy. I idly wondered how a creature such as he would appear in my life, the everyday. Would I stumble on him as I walked through the park? Would he be there when I looked up from my lunch?
I was completely at a loss when I turned around one night at a club and saw him across the room. It was perhaps the last place my imagination could picture him and I doubted my senses for a moment. Instead, my mind revolved in shock as I caught his half smile as he walked across the dance floor towards a table I shared with my roommate and two friends. It took them a moment to notice I was no longer following the conversation, but instead looking astonished across the club.
The crowds parted around him effortlessly. He so obviously was something not typical, but without knowing what you could spend the night guessing and never be close to the truth. He moved with a slow confidence, power easily contained. I could only wonder where he had been in the few months we had been apart.
Beka watched him walk up to our table with mouth agape. “That is him?”
I smiled, a shiver running through me and nodded. I could hardly believe it myself.
Wren’s eyes danced as he held out a hand to me.Oh, he knew the impression he was making. My stomach flipped as I accepted and stood up to go.
Wren looked down at my friends. “Ladies, excuse us. We have a date.”
I could have laughed. Thrown back my head and laughed until my stomach hurt and I gasped for breath. Somehow, I managed just a smile and a wave. They would hound me later for more, but I didn’t care. I could laugh myself sick then.
Hand in hand, we moved through the club like it was an empty room. Up and out to the street. The city was different next to him. Slower, emptier and sadder somehow, the mad rush peeled off, exposing the sad humdrum of people simply wasting time until their lives ended. I had felt hints of it before, elusive and undefinable until now.
Suddenly, the places I had thought of taking him seemed childish, inappropriate. Stopping on the street, I looked at him and smiled. “Let’s get out of here.”
We ended up an overlook along the Pacific Coast highway. Climbing down to a perch above the sea, we could look back and see the lights of the city along the bend of the bay. We had barely talked during the drive, the differences between us seeming unbridgeable so far away from the common thread of the garden and Eventide. But Wren seemed a little less imposing here so near the vastness of the wild sea on a moonlit night. His changes were less in comparison but there were still violet mysteries in his gray eyes that hadn’t been there before.
There were so many questions on my lips, so many desires in my heart that I was at a loss at where to start. We stared at each other a few minutes and then both laughed. Wren reached up and slid his fingers along my cheek to the back of my neck. The touch was comforting, real in a night that felt like a dream. We rested our foreheads together, as if being so close could transmit the questions and answers faster.
“You’ve been far already.” It was a statement, not a question. My heart ached to say it. Wren nodded, his thick hair moving against my forehead at the motion. “Where were you last?” I ventured.
“Dancing the autumn rituals with the fire sylphs in Arizona.” My mouth formed an ‘O’ as I tried to digest the information. I wasn’t sorry I had asked, but knew I had no answer if he asked what I had done with my time. Certainly no answer to compare to that. I wondered if he’d always had an unplaceable accent. If I’d never noticed it before or if he’d traveled so far already.
He brushed my cheek with his thumb again, bringing my attention back to him. “You seem tired, drained.” I closed my eyes and exhaled. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I changed position, leaning my head against his shoulder as his arm wrapped around me. My head against his cheek, we looked out to sea. His warmth was real, bringing back the familiarity of the gardens and Gram’s little Cape.
I asked the second question that tugged at my heart. “Where will you go from here?” I felt his smile against the top of my head as he brushed his lips against my hair.
“I have cousins in the old country.I think I’ll go there next.” I thought a moment.
“England?” I asked, trying to remember the tales. He chuckled.
“Close. Ireland.” I couldn’t help but imagine the regal power that the fey of Ireland would hold. Would it be enough to make Wren forget about me? “Then maybe Iceland.”
I looked up at him, a bit of excitement in my voice. “Iceland? You have cousins in Iceland?” He nodded, amused. I couldn’t find the words to express my thoughts on what his kind in Iceland would be like. Like Wren, I imagined, wild, unbounded.
“I’ll take you, if you like.” He whispered in my ear, his breath warm on my skin. My heart was in my throat as I turned to look at him. I didn’t need to ask when as my lips met his.
I wasn’t home until far after dawn. My roommate was asleep on the couch, obviously having tried to wait up for me. I smiled and scooted by her silently. The memories were too new to taint with sharing. I slipped into my room and lay back on my bed, the night swirling and eddying in my mind like the waves on the coast.
One thought finally surfaced above the others. Wren had said I wasn’t alone here, that I could see his kind if I looked. I hadn’t been looking. I had never seen the fey outside of the garden, had never thought to look at them in California in the times between visits to my grandmother. Now I rolled onto my side and looked at the African violet growing on my windowsill. I opened my eyes and looked. Just a flicker, the tiniest thing, of iridescent color before I lost it again.
He was right. I wasn’t surprised. If the fey were here, did I need to go back to the garden? Could I find a home here for myself? It was a thought I hadn’t expected and left me staring at the ceiling, wondering. Suddenly uncertain, I got up to face the day, my friends, and to fetch some honey to leave beside the plant
It was spring again. A year and a day. I dropped my bags in the mudroom and walked into my grandmother’s house, my house. Thimble was out of the chair and clinging to my leg in the blink of an eye. He cooed his enjoyment in a language I couldn’t understand. A note was taped to the fridge from Mary Sue. “Hi Lynn, I stopped by to dust but looks like you had someone in already. Welcome back. Stop over at the farmhouse when you are settled to see the greenhouses and the new garden!” I smiled satisfied that things had worked out the way they should.
I unpacked some, but spent most of the day in the garden contentedly waiting for Wren in the golden morning light then, as the afternoon shadows lengthened, with a tinge of concern. Thimble watched me, his eyes shadowed with worry. Maybe the wilds of Iceland had captured his heart, or somewhere else after that. Why would I imagine that we would be content to return to Eventide’s patterned garden? Just because I was?
Dinner was simple pasta, no celebration for my homecoming. Thimble made tea to distract me, telling me about the passing year in half understood clicks and purrs. As I pulled back the covers to go to bed, a tear slid down my cheek. He hadn’t come back. I couldn’t be too surprised, but I was hurt.
“I guess it is just you and I.” I said to Thimble where he had curled up at the foot of the bed. It was the only heaviness in my heart.
The drums woke me. The moonless night held thrumming like a living pulse vibrated from the deep woods. I knew immediately what it heralded and only spared one soaring glance at Thimble before racing barefoot out the door. I ran the paths to the pool along the stream with the sureness of a child’s memory. The drums came from everywhere at once, surrounding me like the night.
Wren stood across the stream, a stag mask on his head. It’s antlers spread like a young sapling’s branches. The shadows blended with the cloak he wore, spiral patterns dissolving and forming in the changing light. His presence filled the woods with a wild power, linking the fragment of forest with something older and vast. I stood opposite him, my breath coming quick from more than the run .He had come back, much changed, but he had come back.
He held out a hand to me, a glint of the Wren I knew flickering in his shadowed eyes. I smiled widely and reached out as I stepped across.