The fairy’s presentation appeared to have lifted the mood in the room. Even Zeke seemed calm. He joined the crowd around the fairy. Everyone wanted to touch her wings and her hair, and get a close-up view of her long limbs.
Laura breathed a long sigh of relief. For the moment, at least, it seemed that Zeke had been pulled back from the brink of darkness. He smiled and laughed with the rest when the fairy suddenly turned into a winking firefly then into a tiny version of herself, who flew just high enough that the witches couldn’t trap her in their hands, no matter how they tried. She so entranced them, that they all forgot about the treats until Jeremy’s watch dinged.
“Five minutes,” he shouted.
At that warning, the group scattered, some heading for refreshments, others for the toilets, while the rest began rearranging the room so that all of the chairs formed a single circle. Jeremy and the fairy picked their spot, next to each other. The circle slowly filled with teenagers, drinking punch and munching on cookies.
Laura and Matthew sat together, opposite their fairy guest.
Laura patted his hand. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Fine. Zeke doesn’t scare me.”
“Good.” Matthew’s thoughts flashed into her mind. He didn’t like her babying him. He believed he could take care of himself.
She closed her eyes and probed a little more deeply, then abruptly exited his mind, wishing that she hadn’t spied. His feelings for her had cooled. He wanted more independence, more of a friendship than a budding romance. She bit her lip and nodded to herself. Everyone had tried to warn her that they were too different for it to last. She realized that didn’t bother her like it would have a month ago. This modern world presented a hugely different challenge from living five hundred years in the past in their little trading village, where life stayed the same from one day to the next. They might have married if they’d stayed there, but here? There was too much to learn and too many distractions pulling them apart, along with the difference in their talent for magic.
She thought about the way Matthew had stepped in to help her and her brother when their parents died, their furtive meetings next to the river, each of them longing to touch the other but never brave enough to break the village’s taboos, Matthew’s journey to save her from her uncle, and their trip along the web of time and space, but she found that she wasn’t sad their romance had ended. They would always have that connection. No one could end their friendship and loyalty to each other.
Perhaps she didn’t feel sad because of the way Jeremy’s touch burned her skin. She looked across the space to see his eyes searching for hers. If it was true Matthew no longer wanted to be with her, she could allow herself to explore this new connection, without worrying about him.
The rest of the meeting, the group discussed the terms of the alliance, and its importance.
They learned that witches had to respect the fairies, by doing their best to preserve parks, planting flowers, not using pesticides and other chemicals, and knowing that any insect or bird could actually be a fairy. They were not to kill, or allow the killing of, any insect or bird. They should help organize others in favor of controlling greenhouse gasses, and taking care of the environment in general.
For their part, the fairies spied on anyone suspected of allying with the reptilians, and bringing anything important to the ears of the witch councils. They had already stepped up their search for totems to give young witches to strengthen their powers.
“Sorry to bring such heavy news to this meeting,” the fairy said, “but we can no longer be complaisant. Things are going downhill at a faster and faster rate.”
The kids, so entranced earlier by her wings and transformations, wore serious expressions. They listened to her and Jeremy without saying a word.
When they finished, a boy announced: “We’re raising money to put solar panels on our school. We have a bake sale next week. You should all come.”
With that, the meeting ended. The fairy disappeared. The room buzzed for a few minutes, then emptied, as teens pulled cell phones out of their pockets and called their parents, while others dug for bus tickets and left. A few stayed to help put the room in order and sweep up crumbs.
The girl who’d talked to Laura before the meeting came over to help her. “I’m Melody,” she said. “I’m impressed. You guys handled Zeke and his thugs really well.”
“Thanks, but I didn’t do anything.”
“Oh, yes, you did. You got him laughing. And you’re really good at shielding your thoughts.”
“You could tell?” Laura tensed. She stopped sweeping the floor and stared at Melody.
Melody laughed and wiped off a table. “It’s in my blood to see the shields automatically, even if I can’t see what’s behind them. Zeke luckily can’t tell.”
“Good. Can lots of witches see them?”
Melody shook her head. “No. Only those in my family. It seems to be a new mutation that my grandmother acquired.”
“Does that mean your immediate family, your cousins, your aunts and uncles?”
“Actually, only my dad, one cousin, and me.”
Laura nodded. “I feel safer knowing it’s only the four of you.” She turned to finish the clean-up, but Matthew had already started folding up their table. Another kid arrived and took Laura’s broom from her. Laura stood there, examining Melody.
“Hey, want to come over to my house next Saturday?” Melody asked. “We could hang out.”
Laura pressed her arms nervously to her sides. Hang was an awful idea.
“Oh, gosh, I forgot,” Melody said. “You probably haven’t lazed around and talked with a girlfriend since you arrived.”
Laura blinked, comprehension dawning. “No, I haven’t,” she said. “But I’d love to.”
“Great. I’ll talk to my mum, and we’ll figure it out.”
And in this casual way, they began a friendship which would last through many crises and triumphs.