Oh we are so close to publication! Fans of The Sunshine Line don’t have long to wait for the sequel – The Mirror’s Image – now!
To get you in the mood, here’s the first chapter:
Wednesday July 1, 1992
Once the portal was fixed most of the fairies went through to their own world, leaving only Amaleen behind with us.
We humans stared for several moments at the straightened painting that concealed the portal, as if admiring it. But, really, we were simply exhausted and didn’t know what to do next. The previous week had been so frenetic, we were at a loss as to what to do with ourselves now that everything was resolved. Kristy and her parents looked wilted and fried. I doubt I looked any better.
Only Amaleen – the brownie who had revealed her nature as an ambassador to the human race – seemed untouched by all the drama. With a business-like manner she snapped us out of it. “You lot need food and sleep, in that order. Wash up, then sit down and behave yourselves until I call you in for breakfast. Nothing else until then.”
“Are you going to sleep too?” I asked. Then, “Do you even sleep?”
“Of course we do, Joe,” Amaleen said. But she didn’t answer my first question, just started shooing us out of the den and towards the two bathrooms.
In the hall, Molly said, “I’m going to check on Allyson.” Her kind face was concerned. “She said she was going to try to rest, but if she’s awake, she might want to eat with us.”
“We may have just adopted a very large kitten,” Tom said wryly, watching his wife walk away down the hall.
Kristy giggled in a slightly punchy way, then took my hand and led me to the hall bathroom, while her adoptive father went into the master bedroom. I shut the door behind us and pulled Kristy into my arms, kissing her deeply but quickly. She smiled happily and delivered the same sort of quick but intense kiss back to me. While I would have liked to keep this exchange going, we had to wash our hands and get out of there or risk Amaleen’s wrath for being late. We didn’t have time to make out in the bathroom, even if we had just gotten engaged an hour ago.
When we emerged from the bathroom, we found ourselves face to face with Allyson, startling all of us. Her wide china-blue eyes – they made her look perpetually startled at the best of times – were as big as a child’s. Her fine blond curls were mussed from lying down and her face was slightly blotched from crying, but she gave us a timid smile as she passed into the bathroom.
We found Tom and Molly in the living room. Kristy and I greeted them and sat down on another couch, holding hands. While they were technically her aunt and uncle, Molly and Tom had raised Kristy from the time she was an infant, so she considered them her parents.
Kristy tilted her head back in the direction of the hall, raising her eyebrows to convey her question to her adoptive mother.
Molly said, “She wasn’t sleeping; I told her to join us for breakfast.”
“I could have guessed that much, Mom,” Kristy said. She opened her mouth to ask for more details, but then Allyson entered the room. “Hi, again,” she said instead.
“Hi,” said Allyson, quietly. An awkward silence commenced.
It was thankfully brief, as Amaleen yelled over the bar just a minute later, “All right, get in here and eat!”
Allyson flinched at the order, but when she saw that none of the rest of us were concerned she cautiously followed us out of the living room and into the kitchen.
Poor Allyson’s comfort level was not increased when Amaleen glared at her and said, “It helps to know how many I’m supposed to be cooking for.”
I tried to intervene, “Amaleen, be gentle. She’s having a hard time.”
Amaleen turned a hard gaze on me, “I know she saw the error of her ways, Joe, but I can’t forget her holding a gun on me. Not so soon.”
“I’m sorry,” Allyson whispered.
Amaleen turned back to Allyson. After a moment’s hard scrutiny, she said, “Oh, it will be all right, I’m quite sure,” with a slight eye-roll and a complicated gesture that seemed to be a shrug executed by her hands rather than her shoulders. As she turned away to begin serving breakfast, I noticed she was lightening up, literally. I hadn’t registered it as it occurred – it had happened so subtly – but she had been growing darker, as if her skin were absorbing water from a soaking rain. Now that it was dissipating, I could see it. Her skin began to look more like bark in the sunlight again, which more closely matched the shade of her brown clothes. Amaleen had been really angry. But clearly she had decided to let it go, or at least have faith that things would get better with time.
It occurred to me that Amaleen was really quite even tempered despite her grumpy demeanor. And then I thought again and decided it was more accurate to say that she was very much in control of her emotions in spite of appearances.
As I ate eggs and bacon and toast and washed it down with orange juice (but no coffee, Amaleen was going to put us to bed), I thought about the fairy organization that had decided they needed human help. Amaleen had called herself an ambassador, and had negotiated on behalf of the fairies. Not that there had been a lot of negotiation. They asked for what they wanted and I said yes. Way to represent the human race, Joe. Yet I believed in the project. I wondered, though, who was in charge. Was there a Faerie Queen like in Shakespeare – or any number of folktales – or was there a committee? A government?
I thought back to this morning’s revelations. The fairies had decided to enlist my help to maintain, or where necessary, create portals between their world and ours. They felt that the crossings between the worlds were being threatened by human development, and they needed human help to preserve them. Amaleen had explained that, but we hadn’t gotten into the concepts in any depth.
I turned bleary eyes full of questions towards Amaleen, who spoke before I could put any of them into words. “Unless the curiosity written all over your face concerns the possibility of more bacon, it’s going to have to wait until after you get some sleep.”
I blinked owlishly at her, then looked at my glass. Then I realized that my glass had nothing to do with bacon and mentally conceded that waiting to talk about important things was probably a good idea.
“It’s almost driving me nuts, having a breakfast like this without coffee,” Tom said.
There was a chorus of punchy laughter.
In its wake, cheer still in her voice, Molly turned to Allyson and said, “Allyson, child- or would you prefer we call you something else, like Ally?”
Allyson interrupted her, “Please, don’t call me ‘Ally’. Really, only that awful Claire called me Ally… I’d much rather be called ‘Allyson’.”
There had been a general flinch at the mention of Claire’s name. She was dead – well, we were pretty sure she was dead; she had been subjected to Becky’s venom twice and left in a burning building – but her insane menace had instilled fear even in those of us who had only spent a short time in her company. I didn’t like to think how Allyson must feel.
Molly spoke into the cold chill that had come over the room, “Well, then, Allyson dear, what do you want to do now? I’m not sure what to make of this situation myself; I’ve never been in the position of having a practical stranger” – being at opposite ends of a shotgun made us acquaintances of some kind, I suppose – “in the know about the portal and the fairies.”
Allyson looked down at her empty plate. “I’m going to go home and pack bags for my daughters and myself. I’m going to dismiss the nanny and take the girls to my mom’s house. Then I’m filing for divorce.”
Tom said kindly, “Allyson, you’ve been through a lot in the last couple of days and you’re very tired. Are you sure you want to do such drastic things right now? You’re welcome to spend a few days here if you need to think things through.” Molly nodded her support.
Allyson shook her head, “I know it sounds sudden, but honestly it’s been a long time coming. There’s nothing left in my marriage and hasn’t been for years. Last night was just a kick in the pants to make the changes that I’ve needed to make for a long time.” She looked down at her plate again, as if the crumbs held answers. “I made up my mind earlier. I’ll go when you all get put to bed.” She ended with a tiny impish smile and a peek in Amaleen’s direction.
Amaleen decided this was the opening she needed and started clearing the dishes. “Sleepytime, human-types,” she said firmly.
Allyson left promptly. Tom watched her cross the street and get into her SUV before shutting and locking the doors. I absently watched Tom, my mind a blank, as Kristy and Molly had a low-voiced conversation at Tom and Molly’s bedroom door.
Tom turned to me and said, “You know, son… if this moment doesn’t scream ‘after breakfast cigar’ I don’t know what would.” And he winked.
I laughed helplessly. I don’t really care for cigars, but I don’t hate them either. I’ll smoke them if the occasion calls for it, and if Tom felt this was such an occasion, I was game. “I’ve never heard of an ‘after breakfast cigar’,” I said, still laughing.
“I bet there’s a lot of things you hadn’t heard of before you came to my house,” Tom said, letting out one of his incongruous large belly laughs. He packed a powerful personality into his slender frame.
“What the hell,” I said. I heard Kristy collapse in giggles behind me.
“I’ll see you in bed, honey,” she said.
Tom darted into his room and came back a moment later with a couple of cigars and a lighter. I followed him down the hall to the stairs that led down into their long back yard. The sky was gorgeously blue, but the sun was still low enough to keep the yard in the shadow of a nearby three-story apartment building. Tom paused thoughtfully on the outside landing.
“It almost seems worth going up on the roof, with the weather this nice,” he mused. He turned towards the ladder bolted to the side of the house. At eye level was a fabulous spider web, classic in shape and massive in size. A gigantic spider sat regally in the middle of it.
“Jesus, Tom!” I yelped, “Do you need a permit for that thing?”
Tom just looked at it solemnly for several moments, and then shook his head as if to clear away mental fog. “The garden it is!” He said then, with a grin.
Idly wondering if you could saddle that spider and ride it up to the roof, I followed Tom down the stairs. We sat on one of the benches and he lit the cigars, handing one to me.
We smoked in silence for some minutes. Finally Tom said, “You know, son… I’ve been trying to come up with some way to express … how pleased I am that you’re going to be my son-in-law.” He paused for a third time, then continued, “You’ve got an interesting life ahead of you, and I think you’re going to make Kristy very happy.”
I blushed. I was too tired to try to fight it, or it might have been worse. “Thank you, sir,” I said.
“Tom,” he corrected, automatically. “But I suppose you’ll be able to call me ‘Dad’ pretty soon.”
“It would be an honor, sir,” I said. Then, “Oh, damn. Tom. Whatever. I really need to sleep, I can’t even think.”
“Right there with you,” Tom said, and he reached underneath the bench and put out his cigar in a small planter filled with sand. I followed his lead,
and we went back up the stairs into the house. I said “Goodnight… or whatever it is,” to Tom in the hall, and went to wash my hands. I thought Kristy might not appreciate me coming to bed reeking like cigar.
I opened the door to “our” room as quietly as I could. Kristy appeared to be asleep already. I got undressed and slipped into bed with her as carefully as I could, but my colder skin on hers, warmed by sleep, woke her up.
“I’m sorry sweetie, I didn’t want to wake you.”
She rolled on top of me and smiled. “That’s okay, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”
“We should, though. Sleep, that is.” That’s me, Mr. Eloquent.
“I know,” she said. But she continued to lie there on top of me, smiling.
Slowly I relaxed into the knowledge that I was totally alone with the love of my life. I started smiling back at her. Our smiles grew bigger until we were grinning like idiots and finally started giggling.
“Do you really want to marry me and embark on this mad mission?” I asked her, half rhetorically, but half incredulously.
“The fairies convinced me too, Joe. The Weak Spots between our world and theirs need to be protected, and the portals need to be maintained.” She spoke with earnest sincerity. Then she smacked me upside the head and said, “Of course I want to marry you, you idiot.”
I blinked several times at that. “A simple yes, would have sufficed,” I said plaintively.
“Oh, Joe!” She said, then, and started kissing me. I don’t know what she meant with her words, but I was still functioning well enough to understand her actions. Our love-making was quick but intense, and we fell asleep almost instantly when we finished. In my dreams I rode a giant spider and climbed the skylines of San Francisco.
It was nearly six that evening when Kristy woke me by trying to climb over me without waking me.
“Oh! Sorry honey!” she said, instead of good morning. It wasn’t morning anyway.
“That’s okay, I’m sure it’s time to get up, if we’re ever going to get to bed again tonight.”
I sat on the edge of the bed and watched her dress, seeing her firm toned limbs disappear into clothes that looked very feminine but had the effect of leaving her almost completely free to move. Kristy is very petite, and very dangerous. A black-belt with adorable freckles.
She finally realized I was staring at her. “Are you ever going to get dressed?” she asked.
I snapped out of my reverie and reluctantly got dressed. I guessed we had gotten nearly eight hours of sleep. Which would be plenty if it had occurred the night before. It would have to do for now in any case. I had a feeling Amaleen was going to drop a load of information on us and I hoped my brain was up for it.
After using the bathroom, I went to the kitchen almost by auto-pilot, and indeed, Tom, Molly and Kristy were all there, drinking coffee. I started towards the pot, when I looked around and over the bar to the living room. “Are we alone?” I asked, surprised.
Molly answered, “Yes, Amaleen asked me to let her through before we went to sleep this morning. She had things to take care of, I guess. She said to open the portal when we got up, that she’d be there.”
I poured my mug of coffee and sighed. “I guess we hadn’t better keep her waiting,” I said, without sitting down.
“Oh, I think you can have some coffee, Joe,” Molly said.
“I don’t want to do anything to make her naturally charming temper any worse, Molly,” I said with a wince.
“He’s got a point, mom,” said Kristy.
After a moment, Molly nodded and said, “Possibly. Probably.” She got to her feet and the other two followed. We all carried our coffees to the den.
Molly set hers down on the coffee table, then stepped up onto the couch underneath the large landscape painting that hung on the wall. On its right side was a small latch, which she opened, then she swung the painting back from the wall on the hinges that were mounted on the opposite side.
Behind the painting was a clearing in what looked like normal California coastal forest, oddly at ground level through this second story hole in the wall. If it even was a hole in the wall. There was no hole from the other side, that was sure. It was only my second look through the portal, and I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that the scenery looked so familiar. I wondered about how it happened to be ground level at the bottom of the portal, yet in the middle of the second story in the San Francisco I’d always known.
With an uncharacteristically patient demeanor, Amaleen was sitting in the clearing waiting for us. She said nothing, just stood and walked to the edge, then hopped down onto the couch and then the floor. She turned around in a circle to look at all of us who were in turn staring at her. Finally she spoke.
“Well, you’ll need feeding again, I’m sure. And you’ll be wanting something to drink, no doubt; that coffee won’t do. Well come get your drinks and then get out of my kitchen until you’re called.” Molly’s mouth quirked into a tiny smile as Amaleen claimed ownership of her kitchen.
We followed the brownie and relinquished our mugs. She passed out beers to all of us without asking what we wanted, then made shooing gestures. “I have a lot to say, but you will eat first.” That was an order, clearly.
We went into the living room. It almost felt like a guilty pleasure after having been banished to the den for a week trying to figure out how to fix the portal. The fairies had taken over the living room, then, and it felt a bit empty without them. Tom turned on the television and we watched the news. Or stared at it, anyway. I know I didn’t absorb any of it.
Amaleen called us into dinner before the news show was over. As we were seating ourselves, the doorbell rang. Tom went to answer it and came back with Allyson. Amaleen started growling about how she didn’t know there would be another person eating and now what, until Allyson told her she had already eaten. Amaleen’s attitude gave the impression that she felt Allyson couldn’t possibly have done it properly, but at least she didn’t have to worry about how much food everybody got. She served the rest of us and just gave Allyson a few dark looks, from which Allyson shrank back more fearfully each time.
“Oh, Amaleen, really, she thinks you’re going to cook her next,” Molly admonished the brownie.
Amaleen looked shocked. Then she stalked out of the kitchen talking to herself in another language.
“Allyson, child, you must understand that she’s just always like that,” Molly said. “I haven’t even seen her smile a handful of times in my life.”
A few minutes later, Amaleen stalked back in, much the same way she had left the room, only without the cryptic dialog.
“So what did you do when you were…” I trailed off. I had no idea what to call the other side of the portal. I had asked Molly once before, and her answer had just been “’the other side’ or ‘their side’”. It didn’t seem like enough. Accidentally leaving off a lot of the mental brickwork leading up to the question, I burst out, “What the heck do you call your side of the portal, anyway?”
Amaleen made a little frown that was more thoughtful than angry. She said, “The old Molly, the one who was here when I first came here, asked me that question and I didn’t know the answer. The elves and the pixies and we brownies and such – we name our own places, where we come together to live. But we don’t have a word for the all of it. So I asked many fairies for a name we could give humans. An elf told me a human word he heard, Talidandaganu, and said that it means ‘two looking at each other.’ I took this word to Molly, and she said it was a mouthful.” Here Kristy giggled and Amaleen gave her a sour look, but went on, “Well maybe it is. She wanted to know, was it the right name? I told her it was nothing to us, what you call it. She decided to shorten the word to Daganu, so the few times it’s come up, that’s what we’ve used. You can call it Daganu if you wish or you can just call it ‘our side’. It doesn’t matter.”
I tried to wrap my head around this way of thinking. Imagine not having a word for the earth. It made it clear that they didn’t have countries as we did. When she said they name their own places, did she mean cities? Or homes? This was hard to grasp.
“Are you all done eating?” Amaleen asked.
“Then it’s time to talk a bit about your job, Joe.” She took a seat at the table, then looked pointedly at Allyson. Turning back to me, she said, “Are you sure she should be here for this? Does she need to know anything more than she already does?” Amaleen’s gaze was stern. “We don’t exactly have reason to trust her. We don’t want to deal with a lot of tourists.” She looked back at Allyson darkly, “Or hunters.”
Allyson blanched and swallowed hard. “I – I never,” she started to stammer, but I interrupted her.
“Allyson was mixed up with a bad crowd. She switched sides as soon as she could. She changed allegiance in her heart even before that. I trust her, Amaleen,” I finished.
“You’re over-simplifying and you know it,” Amaleen snapped. This surprised me, as it was a very penetrating observation. I hadn’t yet adjusted my mind from the Amaleen of the last week, who had seemed to only care about regularly feeding us, to the new Amaleen, who had been entrusted by her people to represent them to the human race and was highly intelligent and extremely self-possessed. But her demeanor softened slightly after a few tense moments, and she said, “I admit to the possibility that my judgment is prejudiced in this case. If you don’t wish her to leave, so be it.”
“All right then,” she said, in an efficient voice that announced her readiness to get on with it. “In a little while I’m going to introduce you to a gnome named Bixel. Bixel represents his species on the Portal Project. They are the group that will be providing the funding.” She stopped, glancing around the table. She sighed. “Not a one of you knows why.”
“Okay,” she went on after a sigh, “gnomes work the earth. They mine. There are some… opportunities provided by the slight topographical differences in our worlds -” She stopped, again searching our faces for understanding. “Joe, you’re going to be tutored in all this stuff. It will all make sense, I promise. For now you’re going to have to just take some of this on faith”
I nodded. Amaleen being patient with me was so odd it was almost alarming. I forced myself to pay attention and try to understand as much as I could.
“The gnomes are going to be providing the funding because they can easily access amounts of precious metals and gems that probably don’t even exist in your world anymore. And they are good at finding lost treasures from your world. Well, not finding; recovering. Finding requires talents that don’t run strong in the gnomes.” She waved a hand in front of her face impatiently, apparently scolding herself. “You’ll learn about that stuff from your tutor.”
“To get to the point,” Amaleen said with a more normal – which in her case meant irritable – tone in her voice, “The gnomes asked to pick the first two locations for the Portal Team and due to the essential nature of their contribution, their request was granted. Bixel will tell you about them.”
She seemed to be done speaking, and I was about to ask Amaleen how long it would be before we met him, when Kristy spoke.
“I want to get married before we start training,” she blurted out.
Everyone stared at her, including me.
Then I took her hand and said, “That gives us about three days, I think. From license to when you can use it.” I smiled at her with my heart in my eyes.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Then, at a normal volume, she said, “Amaleen? Is there a fairy marriage ceremony? I think it would be appropriate for Joe and I to marry on your side as well.”
Amaleen went still for a moment. Then she said slowly, “There is more than one kind of ceremony. I will talk with some others and see what would be best suited for humans. I think a marriage on our side might be appropriate.”
I knew Amaleen well enough to know that she was being evasive about something. She wouldn’t or couldn’t outright lie, but there were times when she didn’t want to speak the truth either. She tended to get very general in her phrasing at those times. I had also learned that sometimes there was a good reason for her reticence and that letting it go for the time being might actually be the course of wisdom. I just gave Kristy’s hand a squeeze of encouragement.
“We should get moving,” Amaleen said then, getting to her feet. “Bixel is probably already waiting for us.”
“Waiting where?” Allyson blurted out, but I could see her putting the pieces together as the group of us made our way to the den. She hadn’t seen the portal opened, but she knew what it was. “Are we going through?” she asked in a reverent whisper.
“No!” Amaleen snapped. I flinched on Allyson’s behalf and hoped that she would be able to find a way to stay out of Amaleen’s sight as much as possible.
Amaleen stepped to the right of the portal and made a little gesture indicating that somebody – anybody – should open it. There was obviously something I didn’t understand about portal construction. The latch itself was plastic, which Amaleen could surely handle without harm to herself. But for some reason, she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – open the door herself. Oh well, I’d learn. It was going to be my job to know.
Kristy hopped up on the couch and swung the portal open. Allyson suppressed a gasp.
The clearing seemed almost familiar this time, but just on the other side was a desk with a matching chair. On the desk was a small stone bowl of fire, though I couldn’t tell what was burning. It provided enough light to see that the desk was covered in neat stacks of paper. It also provided light by which to see the occupant of the chair.
He was remarkably ugly, and I’m not really one to care what another person – being – looks like. But in his case it was so marked that if I looked away for a moment and then looked back I was startled again by how ugly he was.
Once I managed to see past the surprising ugliness, I got the impression of a fussy little man. He was small compared to human scale, perhaps about four feet tall. He appeared to be dressed in an exquisitely tailored business suit, but with fairies you never know; it could be a glamor. If it was, it was very firmly in place. It didn’t give me a headache like the glamor clothing of the elves I had met sometimes did. He seemed fastidious, and somehow gave off the impression of a tax accountant who took his work with a worrying seriousness.
As soon as we were all gathered in front of the portal, he stood up. He approached the edge where it dropped into the room over the couch and gave us all a look that plainly said we were in his way and had little time to correct our error. Indeed, he stepped down almost at once, but all of us had gotten the message and were backing off.
“You may sit,” he said imperiously, but remained standing.
I didn’t see any reason to play dominance games with this creature I hadn’t even been introduced to yet, so I just accepted the invitation, such as it was, and pulled Kristy onto a couch next to me. Tom gave me an amused look, but followed my lead, down to holding hands with Molly. Allyson timidly took a chair near the door, looking as if she was having second thoughts about being there. Amaleen remained standing, which made me smile.
“I am Bixel,” the gnome introduced himself brusquely. “You should have been told that as the source of the Portal Project’s funding, we have been granted the choice of location for the first two Portal Team goals.” His phrasing implied that he doubted it had been done right.
Bixel looked straight at me, then spared a glance for Kristy before going on. “The locations are Weak Spots that aren’t currently protected by a portal. They both also are in strategic locations as far as travel through -” he stopped and went to Amaleen and whispered up into her ear. She whispered back to him, and he continued, “Through Daganu. There are areas where it is much easier to travel on your side of the portal.”
I drew in a breath to ask why that would be true, but Bixel spoke before I could, “Your tutor will explain these things, I can’t be bothered to teach you everything. You just do as you’re told.”
My eyebrows shot up. Amaleen was whispering in Bixel’s ear again, so I decided to hold my tongue and give him a chance to rephrase. Bixel’s expression was sour as he listened to Amaleen. Finally he spoke. “I’m,” he paused, swallowing and looking through narrowed eyes at Amaleen, then back at me. “Sorry. That was ill done to you.” He seemed to be struggling with himself and finally he added, “Of course, we could not do this without you.”
It probably took me a heartbeat longer than it should have to realize I had better acknowledge the apology. “I’m sure this is a learning experience for all of us,” I said. “No harm done,” I added, somewhat generously, I thought. After all, his words had been very offensive. On the other hand, I had been so wrapped up in watching the dynamic between Bixel and Amaleen that I hadn’t bothered to actually be offended. The hesitation and somewhat lukewarm nature of my response didn’t seem to sit well with Bixel. We were off to a bad start. I hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with him personally too often.
Bixel opened the jacket of his suit and took a folded map out of an inner pocket. Somewhat to my confusion, it was a AAA map. He unfolded it and laid it out on the coffee table, gesturing for Kristy and I to come closer.
“We do not map… Daganu. Not in any way you could use. But we can look at your maps and know how they relate to our terrain. You will have to travel through Daganu to get to the Weak Spots, but I can show you on the maps where they are.”
He pointed to a spot near Greenbrae, north of the Golden Gate bridge, and another on the west side of Lake Folsom. “Here and here,” he said. “More or less. The lake isn’t there on our side, of course.”
Of course? It was hard to bite my tongue on all the questions. Also, if the gnomes were concerned about traveling in our world to avoid theirs, why were these portals so far apart from each other? Wouldn’t they want them closer together? And why do we have to travel through this territory? I looked at the map. “You want to use our bridges.” I said, almost without intending to speak.
“Yes, of course,” said Bixel. “Bridging deep water is an even larger undertaking for us than it is for you. And crossing our bridges takes longer too.”
I blinked at that. Was there some sort of hitchhiking fairy conspiracy that I didn’t know about? I remembered that the pixie Becky had ridden across the Golden Gate bridge on the mudflap of a big rig truck, rather than fly, but I had assumed that was because of her tiny size.
I furrowed my brow, trying to understand, even though I’d been told to be patient and wait for my education. “Did it ever occur to you guys to just learn our technology and cut out the middle man?”
Bixel looked completely blank at this. “We have exactly the amount of technology we want and need,” Amaleen said primly. “We can’t operate freely on your side of things, that’s all.” There was something very final – not menacing, but inarguable – about the way she said it.
Bixel said then, “You may keep this map. I have nothing more to say at this time. I hope your training goes quickly; we are eager to see you in action.”
With that, he climbed up on the couch and through the portal. With an imperious lift of one ugly eyebrow, he managed to convey that the portal should be shut now. Kristy obediently closed it.
“Okay,” Amaleen said briskly, “That’s it for tonight. I recommend you stay up a bit longer and then go to bed and try to have a normal day tomorrow.” She turned to Kristy and me. “If you two want to get married, you’d best not waste any time. You’ll have things to do tomorrow. Do them promptly.”
Kristy nodded with wide eyes and I said “Yeah, boss.”
That caused Amaleen to smile for a fraction of a second, a tiny sunburst effect that would have been charming had it lasted long enough but was instead almost disorienting. “All right, then, let me through the portal. I’ll want to come back through in the morning. See you then.”
Kristy opened the portal again and all signs of Bixel and his desk were gone except for a slight disturbance of the forest floor. Amaleen bounced up into the clearing and waved goodnight before turning north and walking away. Kristy shut and latched the portal again.
Amaleen’s “orders” were only common sense. Molly suggested a movie and made some popcorn. Allyson decided she had better go sooner than later, as her destination was on the peninsula, but the rest of us settled down with popcorn and beer and watched Airplane, free from the burden of having to explain the nonsense to any fairies.
When it was over, we obediently went to bed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be tired enough to sleep, and I was afraid that if left to my own thoughts, I’d worry at all the things I hadn’t understood today. But once I actually found myself naked in bed with my bride-to-be we discovered something we could do that would both distract me from worrying thoughts and help me relax. Afterward we fell asleep easily in a tangled snuggle. I dreamed I was playing hopscotch with Bixel; he kept changing the rules, but at least Amaleen brought me a beer.