Idea : Book 3 the protagonist finally gets what she wanted but can’t be left in peace, and must face a new threat by… fairies….
Process : I actually plotted this book. I think that’s why it was so hard to write, because I had to stick to my plot, so it seemed unexciting.
Edited? : Not really.
———– Read some! ———–
The tennis courts at Clairmon Academy are like many tennis courts elsewhere: red and green separated by thick white lines, sides divided by a taut net. The four courts were surrounded by white netting to keep flyaway balls contained, and the most exciting feature was the box embedded in the court that worked as an ice chest for water. As far as the arts campus went, this was unartistic and unexciting, unlike the swimming pool, which was shaped like a C, paved in blue-greens, and tiled in a mosaic style like that of the House of Dionysos in Cyprus. These sports facilities were the only ones at Clairmon, and they were there only because investors convinced founder Claire Monet that exercise was needed for creative thinking. There were several theories as to why these two sports were chosen, when something like a basketball court might cost less and be used for more activities, but it was generally assumed the pool was chosen for aesthetic reasons and the courts because girls look good in tennis skirts.
At a time in the morning so early the moon provided light, a casual tennis player tossed a ball in the air and shot it down into a ring on the other side of the court. Her unnaturally-blonde hair fell down a moment after she did, the mini-braids clattering against her stylish, lightweight rain coat. The silence around her once the ball stopped did nothing to help the loneliness she already felt. Blinds over a window on the second floor of the main building had been left open, and the lights of several glowing electronic buttons caused her to turn every so often wondering if someone was there.
No one was, of course. School was out for the summer, and the campus was closed most of the day. There were a few summer courses available, and students could take advantage of the facilities, though only one building was kept well air-conditioned. According to the ground rules the tennis courts were closed, but Helen had no problem slipping under the netting for some practice. Her body was still getting used to the time change coming back from India, her mind still getting used to Naomi not being there with her. It had been a lonely year away from all her friends, but Helen had taken comfort knowing she’d be coming back to them. Without Naomi, however, the others didn’t seem to matter much. She’d chatted with Bianca for a while, insulted Natalie, awkwardly greeted Scarlett, and avoided really saying anything to Kouichi. She just didn’t feel like dealing with people. If Naomi were here, she could talk to her about Kouichi’s apparent infatuation with her, and it would probably be funny, they would probably argue, Naomi would probably be right, and Helen would probable go out with him and probably enjoy it. Right now, though, she just wanted to be alone.
She reached over for another ball and shot it toward the circle almost without looking. Back in the village in India there had been some makeshift tennis courts, and Helen had played with a few of the local girls. Though she didn’t speak a word of their language, and they spoke little English, all they needed to teach other for tennis was a few numbers, ‘Out!’ ‘Yours!’ and ‘Mine!’ Words of encouragement or dismay, cheers or laughter, were easily understood, and it had composed the total of Helen’s social life. The rest of her time was spent working on her music videos, helping her mom cook with local ingredients, and plowing through school materials. Helen wasn’t much of a reader, but she sure appreciated the books her stepdad made her bring. They had no internet, so she couldn’t watch videos online or look things up in online encyclopedias, she couldn’t communicate with her teachers at Clairmon, she couldn’t talk to Naomi, she couldn’t download sound or video clips. At least they had electricity and she could run her computer and charge her other devices.
What a world.
Her most useful non-electronic possessions had been her cork-board, where she planned her music projects, posted pictures from the paper when her parents were finished with it, and kept track of her schooling. It also held sheets of vocabulary. Kala, one of her tennis friends, made her a sheet of sudoku puzzles, and taught her how to say all the numbers in Hindi. From there the two had built mini-syllabi for each other to help them learn the other’s language. They got to the point where they could hold basic conversations, but now she was halfway across the world. Helen had written a letter to Kala, but she wasn’t much of a pen-pal, and her father said they should wait a couple of months before any communication because they didn’t want to draw attention to that area. Dandy.
Helen slammed another ball, this time missing the ring, and she spun around so she wouldn’t have to watch it bounce away. She pulled out the napkin tucked in her skirt and wiped her brow, blinking up at the cloudy sky. If only it would rain or storm. Enduring this heat was almost worse than waiting for school to start.
Helen whirled around until her eyes found the boy, standing outside the netting. His dark features stood out against the white, and his eyes shone almost yellow in the darkness. “Who the hell are you? This is private property.”
“I’m sorry I startled you—“
“I didn’t s—”
“Are you Helen?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I don’t think so. Get lost.”
“But you know Naomi Littleton?”
The mention of Naomi’s name at once made her more receptive and more angry. “Who? Yeah, I’ve heard of her. Not like we’re friends or anything. What’s it to you?”
He looked uncertain. “Does that mean you are Helen, then?”
She twirled the racket in her hand, losing some of her brattiness in the face of his polite, innocent demeanor. “I suppose so. Who’re you?”
“Do you mind if I come in?”
“I kind of prefer you behind the net. Not that I’m worried, ‘cause I’m warning you, I know how to use this thing.” She wiggled the racket suggestively.
“I believe you. We can shake hands in the air. Like an air high-five.” He stuck his hand out, fingers brushing the netting and causing it to sway. “I’m Joey Cameron.”
Joey… Joey… she felt like she knew that name. Her mother raised her with some manners — some that stuck, anyway — so she swung the racket under her arm, walked forward, and grasped his hand through the net. “Helen Choi. Not exactly pleased to meet you, but a little curious. Are you the guy with the cat?”
He smiled, and she was taken again with how childlike he looked. “You mean Cheddarbob Xll?”
“Yeah, that was it. You’re Naomi’s pen-pal, then. Yo, shake harder, dude. A firm grasp means you aren’t weak.”
“I am weak.”
“You don’t want everybody else to know that.”
“Or perhaps I want them to think I am weak.”
“When in fact you have hidden talents.”
She shrugged and released his hand. “Too bad. What brings you to Clairmon at this godforsaken time of night?”
“I believe it’s closer to morning.”
“Godforsaken time of morning?”
“I was walking, and found myself on the way to see Naomi’s school. I am disappointed she is not in town.”
“Right, you were in Alabama or something?”
“Texas. I returned last night.”
“Hey, me too. Well, night before, if this is morning. Sucks, doesn’t it.”
“Is that why you are here also? You miss Naomi?”
“What gave you that idea?”
“She always spoke of you as her best friend. Her heart was also sore, since you were the one who left.”
“Wasn’t my fault,” she said automatically, then shook her head. “Anyway, that’s not the point. So where are you staying?”
“Ah. At her house, actually.”
“Really? Don’t they got enough people there? Where’d they dump you, on the couch?”
“In Skip’s room.”
“How long you here for?”
“I’m not going back to Texas.”
Ah. Touched a nerve there. “Well, we can wallow in self-pity the rest of the night — or morning — or did you want something?”
“No. Unless you know where Naomi has gone.”
Hmm. Helen figured Naomi had found her crystal connection and was now in another world. “Her parents said she was in Egypt.”
“Uh, don’t go sounding all conspiracy-theorist on me, or I’ll revise my revised opinion of you.”
“I am worried, that is all.” He hesitated. “As her best friend, you must know more than I. She asked me about… fairies. She seemed to be searching for an entrance to fairyland.”
“Fairyland? That’s new. Our psycho headmistress didn’t seem like no fairy.”
“You mean, the kidnapping incident?”
“Uh. Yeah. That.”
Joey grasped the netting, his eyes looked sorrowful. Helen would not normally think anyone to look sorrowful except in dramas, but here he was, a real-life sorrowful person.
“To me, Naomi is my closest friend. I confided in her my secrets… yet I knew she didn’t tell me hers. But it still hurts.”
“Like, secret crushes, and how she put chili pepper in the cookie mix?”
“She would never.”
“Yeah, I made that up.”
“I mean her sight.”
“What about it?”
“I’m sure she told you.”
“Told me what?”
“That she could see.”
“She told you that?”
“No. Like I said, she didn’t tell me… those kinds of things.”
His fingers closed tighter on the netting and she regretted her words, faced with the pain in his eyes. “I know. I hate to be such an inconvenience, when — never mind. That is my mistake.”
Helen twisted the racket around. “So, uh, how did you know? That she could see?”
“It was fairly obvious when we were friends. Maybe she thought she was hiding it, but the clues were there. I only realized she must be able to see when we began exchanging letters, however. For one, I drew pictures for her, she liked those.” He smiled faintly. “For another, we began to talk of things more personal and I can’t imagine a teenage girl who would allow her brother or — even worse — her parents to help her read the letter and write the response.”
“Good point. Points even. So you never got the ‘two-minutes and fifty-five seconds’ shpeel?”
“No, I don’t know what that is.”
“Huh. Well, that’s between you and her I guess.” He blinked slowly, and his gaze was starting to unnerve her. “You planning on creeping me into revealing her secrets? Won’t work.”
His expression loosened and he looked to the other end of the court. “Sorry. I was thinking on my words.”
“You’re kinda like Naomi there. Taking a darn-ed long time to figure out a long-winded way to say something.”
“I write more than I speak. If Naomi is in some sort of trouble, I want to help.”
“She’s a big girl, she can take care of herself.”
He looked back at her, curious. “Aren’t you her friend? You’ve been rather critical.”
Helen opened her mouth to say something stupid, but managed to stop herself. This time. Hooray for small victories. “I miss her. I’m angry at the world. And I get cranky when I’m jetlagged. I wish I could help her, too.”
“She is in trouble, then?”
“I don’t know. Probably. She left her stick at home.”
He frowned. “She has only little self-defense experience. Did she go by herself?”
“Uh, I was joking about the stick. You know, it’s kinda personal for her, and I don’t know you that well.”
“Oh Joey’s ok. We can tell him.”
Helen spared a glance to the starlit heavens before turning on the newcomer, hands on her hips. “Samuel Littleton, if your mother knew you were out at this hour—“
“I’m kinda already grounded.”
“I’ll see to it she extends the date to forever. Have you been eavesdropping this entire time?”
Skip glanced at Joey guiltily. “Uh, well, I kinda followed—“
“You little squirt. Whatever. If we’re gonna make this a midnight chit-chat, you two might as well come in.”
Joey lifted the net to allow Skip entrance, then he followed after a quick glance around.
“This isn’t a secret society meeting,” Helen warned them, jabbing the racket towards the both. Then she swung it around wildly and said in a purposefully loud voice, “And there isn’t anyone around, anyway!”
“Just us,” said Skip.
“You didn’t attract any other tails, did ya?” Helen asked Joey. The older boy shook his head, and she took a better glance at him. His dark hair was too long and cut jaggedly, splayed over his forehead and rather large ears. His clothing looked well-worn, and possibly hand-me-down since it was too big. “Dude, you really look like a creepy homeless dude.”
“I am homeless.”
“Ugh, don’t say that. You don’t got fleas or nothing, right?”
“Helen, be nice. Joey just escaped an oppressive regime. Besides, you’re staying at my house until you find a place, so you aren’t homeless.”
Helen flicked a braid. “Technicalities. So, what are we, the Naomi Rescue Society?”
Skip rocked on his heels. “I’ve always wanted to tell someone. See, Naomi can—“
“Are you sure she’d be ok with you telling him?”
“Yeah. It’s Joey.”
“So? I had to force it outta her!”
“You did? Well anyway, Joey, Naomi sees—“
“Why is he special?”
“Just, because. I’ve read enough of their letters to know—“
“You did?” Joey asked, surely imagining an innocent explanation, but Helen knew better. “You what? I thought you had morals! What did your mother teach you?! How dare you read a girl’s letters!”
Skip cringed from Helen’s wrath, ironically edging to place Joey as a shield between them. He only realized his plan was failing when Helen skipped to the side and thwacked him on the head with the racket mesh. “Ow! I’m sorry!”
“No you aren’t.”
“Will you please explain to me why Naomi is in Egypt?” Joey said, more concerned with the issues at present.
Helen decided to steal Skip’s long-awaited spotlight. “Naomi is a Seer from another world that she maybe can access through a crystal mine in Egypt, also that’s probably where her dad disappeared to.”
Skip glared at her. “That’s a boring way to put it.”
“I’m not bored,” Joey said, eyebrows raised.
“But,” Skip said, wagging his nose at Helen, “what you don’t know, is that Naomi went to Elfhame. Fairyland. Through a mushroom circle. That’s what convinced her there were other worlds.”
“She what?” the other two exclaimed.
“Is this the truth?”
The three of them started so badly it was almost funny. But it wasn’t really funny how none of them had noticed the man standing directly under the light. In one sense, he was handsome, for an older guy with silvering hair; in another… Helen brought up her racket with a menacing glare. Unperturbed, the man stepped closer and looked directly down his fine chin at Skip. “Answer me, child.”
Skip swallowed. “Yes. Sir.”
“Should you lie to me, you will find a cursed life.”
“Great way to make friends, mister,” Helen scoffed.
He turned his sharp gaze to her and she took a step back. “I seek not friends, Ms. Choi. Only a return to Elfhame.”
“You are… a fairy,” said Joey, so simply Helen reckoned he must still be in shock.
“And you also have been to Elfhame. How?”
Joey shook his head. “I regret—I was too young to remember. How can you tell?”
The fairy—or if they come from Elfhame, could they be called elves?—swept his arm in front of him. “All who have entered our realm are forever touched. It lends a pale light to your figure, and lights of Elfhame do not fade. You long to return, do you not?” Joey nodded slowly. “This longing will eat away at your existence and capacity for happiness until you visit again. Has Naomi Littleton found a way to Elfhame or has she not?”
Skip spoke quickly. “She found one—but she said the mushroom circle was gone the next day.”
“That she discovered a circle at all makes her adequate for my task. Naomi Littleton will return me and my people home.”
“How did you get here anyway?” Helen asked from her safe distance away.
“A mistake. All those of Curdak’a have thus arrived, for who would choose to come?”
What the hell was a Curdak’a? “No, I mean here here. At Clairmon. Or even Utah.”
“My people have been trailing your family since you came out of hiding. You may wish to convey what you learn here to your father and his organization—“
“—since they have spent so much effort to avoid us. We hold to our own secrecy no longer, as subtle methods have born no fruit. Naomi Littleton has one year to use her knowledge of the worlds to get me and my people to Elfhame. Should she fail to return… you may wish to begin your own research, because I will hold you to this deed if she is unable to complete it.”
Helen let out a startled laugh. “What the hell? Just how long have you guys been stuck here?”
His gaze bore at her. “Some centuries now.”
She swung her racket over her shoulder defiantly. “And you haven’t solved your own problem in all that time? Pa-thetic.”
Annoyance crinkled his face. “Do not mock us, human child.”
“I mock you.”
“I have been civil so far, I give you warning.”
“Posh! Why should Naomi do anything for you, you haughty turd?”
“Ah, yes, incentive. Because I will kill a person close to you each day past a year until this goal is reached.”
“There are ways.”
Helen kept her mouth shut. She’d been shocked into silence. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and she intended to savor the moment while another part of cowered in fear in the presence of this somehow-obviously-powerful being.
Finished with her, the fairy looked back at the other two. “See to it she receives my message.”
The boys exchanged a worried glance. “How is Naomi supposed to—“ Skip started.
“We can all hope she attains great knowledge where she is now. To contact me, call my name. I am Matty of Linehan.”
“Do you use email?”
“I tire of you children.”
Skip began to bluster. “It was a legitimate—“
“Farewell. Remember, one year.”
“Isn’t there any other information you can give us?” Joey asked.
Matty paused. “No. I think not. But ask and I will answer.”
“What do—“ Skip started, but the fairy turned away. “Those with the light of Elfhame may call me.” He walked away, and as he reached for the net Helen recovered from her stupefied state. “Hold on! Is this really how you guys operate? I bet you’ve done this before — and how is that working for you? Feeling closer to home yet?!” She was ignored. “Bastard!” she screamed, and threw a tennis ball with all her might. It may have done damage, but he let the netting drop behind him and the ball rolled harmlessly down. Her need to scream faded with the fairy into the darkness.
“What organization, anyway,” she muttered, picking up another ball and squeezing it tightly. The boys looked as solemn as she would be if she wasn’t so angry. She looked down at the ball, then back up at the others. “Well. Wanna play?”