The House That Ivy Built - Book 0

Excerpt 3

(from The House That Ivy Built #0, © 2002-2017)

Excerpt 1
Excerpt 2
Excerpt 3

[NOTE on this excerpt: Adele has been living with the group for some time by this point, and she is now returning from one of her routine trips from the city. Previous chapters (not featured here) involved Adele meeting a man who drove her into town and ultimately meeting a special four-year-old girl. Chapter 11 picks up with Adele's return to the beach, and since the scenario continues in the next chapter, I've included it. At one point someone named Neptune is mentioned; if you don't know who she is, that's what they ended up naming the invisible woman in the forest (mentioned in the last two excerpts) after they found her. And when Adele mentions Webster, that's the guy who took her into town before she found the little girl.]


Book 0, Chapter 11 and 12, Begin excerpt

       “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap,” Weaver said like a mantra as he motored through the air toward the beach. He caught sight of Alix and Dax in the morning light by the fire circle. “You guys! You guys!”

       “What’s the commotion, Weaver?” asked Dax as he caught his best friend on his arm.

       “You aren’t gonna believe this,” he said, panting. “Adele’s back. She’s coming this way. And . . . she has a kid with her!”

       “A what?” asked Alix, standing straight.

       “A kid. A child. A small little human person.”

       “Human,” said Dax in a rumbling tone.

       “Are you serious?” asked Alix.

       “Of course I am! Like I would joke about something like this? She’s got some little yellow-haired kid with her. Practically a baby. She’s carrying it this way.”

       “Why would she bring a kid? Where’d she get it?” Dax asked.

       “I have no idea, but it looks like I’m an uncle,” said Weaver grimly.

       “I knew it. I knew it! What did I tell you guys? Women end up bringing kids around. I knew this would happen.”

       “Alix, hush up. I’m sure Adele has a good explanation,” Dax said.

       “Do you suppose . . . she’s bringing that kid here to stay?” asked Weaver.

       “Probably,” said Alix. “That’s the way it is with these things. And I for one did not volunteer for daycare duty. If she expects me to watch her baby, I’ll tell her where she can stick it.”

       By the time Adele got close enough for them to see her, the child was at her side instead of in her arms, the two of them walking hand in hand. She got shy as they approached and hid behind Adele, clutching her cloak but peeking out curiously.

       “I picked up a few things,” Adele said sarcastically, looking a bit haggard. Her hair needed brushing, Alix noticed, as she took her hood down.

       “What is that supposed to be, an elf or something?” asked Alix as he got a good look at the little girl. Adele put her hand on the back of the child’s head and gently drew her forward. The girl pressed up against Adele’s legs and put a finger in her mouth, but she gazed openly at the three men who were looking back at her.

       “She does kind of look like one, doesn’t she?” said Adele. “I thought so too. The elves in the fairy tale books always seemed to have the same pointed ears.”

       “Well at least she can join our funny ears club,” said Weaver half-heartedly. The girl’s mouth opened a little, but she didn’t speak. She stared at Weaver, then Dax, then Alix again, meeting his eyes.

       “Tell her to quit looking at me,” Alix said in a little-boy tone, “her eyes creep me out.”

       As if in response, the girl dropped her gaze to the sand, making a little “mmph” sound with her voice.

       “Can she understand us?” asked Weaver.

       “I’d imagine she understands some. She’s only a child, but she does have ears.”

       “Boy howdy, does she,” added Alix. At that the girl looked up and touched her ear delicately like she knew what he was talking about and wondered what was wrong. She just kept staring at him.

       Alix kicked the sand. “Adele, why did you bring her here?”

       “She doesn’t have a home. She has nothing. She doesn’t even have a name.”

       “I don’t see you dragging home every homeless kid in the city. What makes you think we have to take care of this kid?”

       “I’d rather not have this discussion with you right now, Alix. I am taking care of this child and if you are not going to accept it then one of us will leave. Suffice it to say there’s something special about this girl, all right? We’ll help her, but she’ll be able to help us, too.”

       “Oh, now what’s that supposed to mean?” Alix blurted, focusing on the last part of her sentence since being faced with the prospect of one of them leaving bothered him.

       “You’ll see,” Adele said sweetly.

       “How long are you gonna play mom, Adele?”

       “Until she doesn’t need one anymore, Alix.”

       “What, we’re stuck with her until she’s eighteen?”

       “There’s no ‘we’ here, Alix. I didn’t ask for your help. I’d like to have it, but I don’t demand it. I know I didn’t run this by you ahead of time—”

       “Damn right you didn’t!”

       At that the little girl let go of Adele’s cloak and dashed toward the ocean, away from the group. Everyone watched her go.

       “Don’cha think you better go catch her?” Dax asked. “Or . . . you want me to?”

       “She’s fine where she is,” Adele said.

       “She might go in the water,” Weaver said doubtfully.

       “Yes, well, it doesn’t matter.”

       The girl found their cave and scurried behind it. From his angle, Dax could see her sitting with her back against the rocks.

       “Adele,” said Dax, “I know you mean well, but . . . do you know what you’re getting into?”

       “More than you do.”

       “As usual. And granted,” said Dax, “but I was speaking rhetorically. You’re dragging us all into raising a kid, out of nowhere. Do you think we can do it?”

       “Of course.”

       “I’m not ready to be a dad,” said Weaver.

       “Then be her brother,” Adele suggested. Weaver looked stumped.

       “Whoa, wouldja look at that,” Dax said, pointing over at the cave. The girl was now standing on its top. “She got up there awful quick. What a little monkey.”

       Adele laughed. “Actually, just wait a second. Watch her. I have a feeling you’re about to see something amazing.”

       The four of them stood there and watched the little girl. First she sat down and started playing with the ivy leaves, and then she got distracted when a few seagulls flew over her head. She stood up, looked at them, and laughed, stretching her arms over her head.

       And then it happened. All of a sudden the little girl wasn’t on the rock anymore, but she hadn’t jumped and she wasn’t falling. Her feet weren’t touching anything, and furthermore she didn’t seem surprised by this development. She happily floated up to the seagulls’ level and watched them flying around her squawking.

       “She’s flying,” said Alix flatly.

       “Holy shit. How is she doing that?” said Weaver. “I definitely don’t see any wings.”

       Adele smiled. “It surprised me too. I was carrying her and she was extremely light, and then when she fell asleep she was heavy again, so that made me suspicious . . . she must have been sort of flying while I was holding her. Then I was holding her hand when we were walking and I noticed . . . she’d just stopped taking steps.” Adele spread her hands, shrugging. “She was just floating along beside me, not all the way awake, it was really cute.”

       “Cute?” said Alix, looking practically terrified. “You think it’s cute?”

       “I do, too,” said Weaver. “Just look at her!”

       The girl had apparently scared the birds away and was amusing herself, doing the usual small-child romping behavior except that her feet weren’t on the ground.

       “How are we gonna keep track of that?” asked Alix. “What, are you gonna tie a ribbon to her ankle so you can get her down when you want? I don’t see how you’re going to manage this, Adele.”

       “I don’t either,” she snapped, “but I certainly wasn’t going to leave her in the city and let some strange people from the human government get a hold of her. We’ll take care of her out here, and she can be happy and fly when she wants, and grow up with some confidence until she knows how to hide when she should.”

       “Let’s discuss this over breakfast,” Dax suggested, turning his attention to giving the diminishing fire some wood. Weaver jumped off his perch and caught the air, wheeling around above Adele.

       “You think I could go fly with her?” asked Weaver hopefully.

       “It’s your sky,” Adele replied, wondering why he thought he needed permission. Maybe he just considered the girl “hers” and didn’t want to violate her wishes.

       Weaver flapped out to meet the little girl, who was now over the ocean. His heart was racing; he couldn’t believe there was someone else in his sky all of a sudden, and except for some slight confusion and random jealousy he was thrilled. He reached the dancing figure and flew a wide ring around her head.

       “Hey there!” he hollered.

       Her reply was a very high shriek of laughter.

       “Want to play?” he called, and she responded by chasing him. He laughed out loud as she easily followed him around in the air, and he realized early on that she was imitating him, her arms stretched out like wings. Her agility surprised him; whatever she was doing to fly, it certainly didn’t depend on air resistance. She could gain height even in a straight vertical line, and banking and turning obviously didn’t challenge her. It was like she flew just by thinking about it. Maybe that was the case, he thought in wonder.

       Before long they were both out of breath; Weaver wondered if flying tired the girl out or if she was just excited. For his part, Weaver was practically delirious. He couldn’t even imagine the implications: Someone else could fly! Someone he could talk to someday knew what it was like! Weaver let the girl chase him, and though at one point he thought he felt her catching his feet he checked behind him and she was a good distance away. He wheeled around and flew back to her, and she reached out her hands like she wanted to hug him.

       Oh, what the hell, he thought, and landed in her embrace. She was awfully small to be holding him, but he figured no harm done if she dropped him. She gave him a great big hug like she thought he was a stuffed toy. Weaver choked, but he couldn’t get the grin off his face.

       “That was fun,” Weaver said when he could breathe.

       “I wanna do it some more,” the girl piped, and Weaver laughed at the sound of her voice. It was so tiny and cute.

       “I’m tired. But we can fly a little more, if you want.” Well, if you’d let go of me, he thought to himself. Her arms had his wings halfway pinned. It was unreal how she was just standing there in one place in the air, nothing flapping to keep her up.

       Weaver wiggled himself free and took a spiraling dive toward the ocean. The girl followed, her arms and legs spread in pinwheel formation. They reached the ocean at almost the same time; Weaver stretched out his feet and clipped the ocean, and the girl laughed and rotated her body so she could dig her heels into the sea. She loved that so much that she did it several more times, kicking up a froth as she flew around in a little circle. Weaver decided he’d had enough; he was going to exhaust himself and fall into the sea if he didn’t rest soon. The girl didn’t seem to notice that Weaver was going back to the group; she was too caught up in her own activities.

       Weaver saw Adele and Alix sitting together in silence; Adele was busily working on breakfast and Alix was brooding with his arms crossed, doing nothing useful as usual. Weaver flew over them and found Dax by the breakfast fire. His clawed feet dripped salt water onto Dax’s shoulder when he landed on him.

       “Got a new best friend?” Dax asked, poking Weaver teasingly.

       “That was awesome,” he breathed, collapsing onto the beach rather than try to keep his balance.

       “Is she okay out there?” asked Dax, glancing out to where the girl was still splashing circles.

       “I think she’s fine,” said Weaver. “Not like she can drown.”

       “I think you’ve got a point there.”

       “What’d you guys talk about while I was gone?” Weaver asked.

       “I think Alix and Adele have made peace,” Dax said with a joking tone in his voice.

       Weaver looked over at the others. Alix was sitting cross-legged in the sand with a sulky look on his face while Adele calmly cleaned her mushrooms.

       “Well, what’s up? Fill me in.”

       Dax sighed. “Pretty much, Alix agreed that he’ll help take care of her but he won’t like it.”

       “And?”

       “And I guess he granted her the point that if the girl can fly, she’s not exactly normal for a human and probably does need somewhere to hide while she grows up.”

       “I’ll say.” Weaver sat up. “I think I’m going to like having her here . . . I can already tell my flying muscles are gonna be sore before long.”

       “Looks like she likes to run, too,” said Dax. The girl was now scampering around on the beach right by the water. Her tangled blonde locks glinted in the sun.

       “She’s amazing. I wonder how in the world she can do that?”

       “Beats me.”

       “Me too. Aww, man, I’m excited.”

       “About?”

       “I mean, she can already talk a little. She’ll grow up and be able to talk to me, and we can go places and keep each other company. . . . ”

       “Sorry,” said Dax.

       “For what?”

       “For not being able to fly.” He poked Weaver’s stomach. “For not being your dream date.”

       “Shut up.”

       Dax smiled. “Well, I’m gonna go get some water. Be back in a bit.”

       Weaver watched the girl dancing around by the sea. He wished he remembered his childhood. What fun it must be to need nothing for amusement besides one’s own body. The girl spun herself in circles without falling once. He liked watching her play, and felt tickled every time her feet came off the sand for a few seconds too long to qualify as a jump. She played so naturally between the sky and the ground. It was like magic.

       “It’s almost time to eat,” said Adele. “Could you go invite our little guest for me, please?”

       “What? Who, me?” asked Alix incredulously.

       “Well, obviously you’re so busy sulking,” said Adele. “I’m going to finish stirring these berries up, and if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to go get the girl.”

       Alix hesitated for a moment, thinking Adele just wanted to tell him what to do so that she could prove he was her bitch. Then he decided he’d just prove he was a baby if he didn’t do this favor for her. He couldn’t believe he was about to go encourage that weird little kid to feel welcome with them. But what else could he do? The others wanted her to stay. Now he would have to get used to waking up and maybe seeing those weird tilty owl eyes looking back at him . . . ugh, he really didn’t much like kids, and on top of that this one looked like a creepy cartoon and could fly away from him whenever she wanted. What if she tried to fly away now? He stopped at the shoreline, looking at her, wondering if he should just go try to pick her up or what. He kind of didn’t even want to touch her. She seemed otherworldly to him. How ironic, he thought.

       The girl stopped dancing around and looked up at Alix. Even though she was squinting, her big eyes bothered him. He tried not to look as he got a little closer and bent down.

       “Breakfast is ready,” he said, and she didn’t do anything. “You want to come eat? We’re serving it now.”

       Now the girl shook her head and took a step back.

       “Come on,” he urged, and she grinned and turned her back, scampering away. Alix got to his feet and rolled his eyes. This was why he’d never taken up baby-sitting. He wished he had something to call her, but Adele had said she didn’t have a name. He settled for yelling “Hey!” and chasing after her. She let him catch up, but then she wouldn’t take his hand when he held it out. So, hoping he wasn’t doing the wrong thing, Alix made a quick lunge and grabbed her, scooping her up into his arms.

       He wasn’t completely clear on what happened next, but he ended up on the ground. As he blinked up at the sky, the girl flew over him, sand from her toes dusting onto his face. He spit it out and shut his eyes, thinking. He could swear he’d just been shoved, which made little sense since he’d been holding the kid at the time. Then again, she wasn’t an ordinary kid; if she could fly, maybe she had some leverage and could park herself in the air to push him away. But he didn’t remember that happening, and didn’t think a little kid would be able to push him down. One second he’d been standing there, and the next . . . oops, flat on his back. He groaned, sat up, and looked over his shoulder. The girl was hightailing it down the beach.

       So, that was it. There was no way Alix was going to deal with her after whatever stunt that had been. Adele could handle the flying little brat all by herself. Alix got up and stalked back to the circle.

       “Why didn’t you get the girl?” asked Adele when he returned empty-handed.

       “She got away.” Alix sat down. “I tried to pick her up, but she did something and pushed me down. Something is seriously wrong with that kid.”

       Weaver laughed. “She pushed you down? What?”

       “I don’t know, I picked her up and then I lost my balance, I guess, and I was flat on the ground. I don’t remember getting pushed but she must have done something.”

       “Ha ha!” Weaver wished he could have seen that.

       “Oh, it’s funny, isn’t it?” asked Alix snidely. “Beaten by a little girl, yes, it’s a riot.”

       “Did you say she pushed you?” Adele said sharply.

       “I don’t know what I said. I guess it seemed like it.”

       “She pushed you. Hmm.”

       “Anyway, if you want her, you go get her.” Alix said. “I’m not getting knocked on my ass again!”

       “Fine.” She got up and walked out to the surf, finding the child with her feet dangling just above Adele’s head. She reached up and grabbed one skinny ankle, which seemed to amuse the girl as she let herself be towed back to camp.

       “As you can see I had a hard time,” Adele bragged as she arrived. Then she released her grip and the child drifted a little further up.

       “Why’d you let her loose, then?” asked Alix.

       “That was very odd,” Adele said as she watched the child floating.

       “What?”

       “Well, I didn’t mean to let go, but my hand opened.”

       “I’m telling you, that kid did that too,” burst Alix. “I don’t know what’s going on but that kid’s casting magic elf spells on us or something. This is seriously dangerous.”

       “I think she might have done something to me too,” said Weaver. “When we were flying I could have sworn she came up behind me and pulled on my feet, but then I looked and she was nowhere near me. Maybe . . . she can control other people’s movements or something?”

       “This is getting more and more scary,” Alix said. “That kid has some kind of special powers and I don’t like it! What do we know about dealing with this kid? How do we even know what she’s capable of? What if she gets mad and oh, oops, she happens to have the special ability to make people’s heads explode? What then?”

       “That will not happen,” Adele said.

       “Who says?”

       “In case you forgot, there’s someone else here with ‘some kind of special powers’—that’d be me. And I say it won’t happen, because I’d have known it.”

       “Then work your magic for us right now,” Alix said, “and tell me what exactly she can do.”

       “That will take me a second.”

       “I’ll gladly part with a whole minute.”

       While the child flitted away and landed some distance from the group, Adele concentrated on her, poking her mental fingers into the answer pool. She’d tried this sort of thing earlier, groping to find out the extent of the child’s “different-ness,” but she’d gotten nowhere and had considered it solved when the flying started. But apparently that wasn’t the whole story; she didn’t just have a random ability to levitate herself. At first Adele couldn’t nail down the details, but soon enough one nugget got caught in her net and she was able to pry the knowledge loose.

       “Ohh, boy,” she said in a whisper.

       “What is it?” asked Weaver.

       “Well. The bottom line is, she only has one extra ability,” Adele said, with a barely-detectable shake in her voice.

       “Just the flying, then?” Weaver asked.

       “Her flying is part of a larger ability. She has a practically limitless capacity for moving things with her mind.”

       The others were silent, pondering that.

       “It’s what she’s using to fly,” Adele went on. “She’s sort of lifting herself up with her powers. I didn’t know that at first. I guess she pulled your feet, Weaver, and opened my hand, and threw you onto the ground, Alix.”

       “And what’s this about it being ‘almost limitless’?” Alix asked, with his eyes narrowed.

       “It means she can handle objects of any weight or size. Something special, to be sure.”

       “Oh my god. Adele. The kid moves things with her mind. Large things, like you or me. She can do that and you invited her to live with you.”

       “With us, Alix.”

       “I thought I’d just have to get used to her flying around and bugging her eyes at me. But now you’re telling me she could have a tantrum and throw me into the next county. I cannot live like this.”

       “Alix, just calm down. She’s not going to hurt you.”

       “She could have hurt me today! I’m telling you, I can’t take this. She’s way too dangerous.”

       “Alix, yes, she’s dangerous, okay? I’m not denying that—”

       “You invited a monster to live with us, Adele.”

       In a blink, Adele had her hand over Alix’s mouth, silencing him. Her eyes were blazing like he’d never seen before.

       “You better not ever call her that where she can hear it, Alix,” she said fiercely. She let her hand drop back down to her side, but Alix still felt like its imprint was sealing his lips. “You can say and think what you like, but if you let her think she’s a monster she very well could start acting like one. She’s no monster, are you listening? She’s a freak of nature, yes—just like you are. She can’t help the way she was born, so all she can do is make the best of it. I think we’re just going to have to face our fear and help her do that.”

       Alix took a big breath. “But . . . how are we going to set any limits for her when she can honestly do whatever she wants?” He swallowed. “I for one am not planning on spanking that kid. How can we possibly teach her to behave?”

       Adele met Alix’s eyes and held them for a moment before offering a reply. “You’ll just have to give her love, Alix. Then she’ll want to do what you say.”

       “Bullshit.”

       “It’s all I can say. Now that I’ve figured out the whole truth I’m really scared too. But we’ll make it. If you can’t make a child obey you, you just have to make her want to. And I am quite good at that.”

       Adele got up without another word, picked up a bowl of mushrooms in her hand, and walked all the way down the beach to where the girl had resumed her dancing.

       “Honey, come down here and have a snack,” called Adele, and down she came like a fireman down a pole. Adele filled one of the girl’s hands with mushroom bulbs and took the other hand to lead her back to the group. The girl didn’t seem to notice she was having another person’s will inflicted upon her and just walked along contentedly, chewing pieces of mushroom.

       “I hope we get a name for her soon so Adele doesn’t keep calling her ‘honey,’” Alix said to Weaver. “I have a feeling she’s not at all sweet.”

       “I think she’s way cute,” Weaver countered.

       “Cute, that’s arguable. Sweet, definitely not.” Alix’s mouth twisted. “Adele will make a brat out of that child before the week’s out, you mark my words.”

       “Words marked.”

       Dax arrived then, lugging his jug of water. He stopped when he saw the serious looks on his companions’ faces. “Something going on, guys?”

       “Guess what,” said Weaver.

*               *               *

Chapter 12

       “Hmm, that sounds strange,” said Dax.

       “Strange isn’t the word for it,” Alix countered.

       “Something about it doesn’t sound right to me, though,” Dax replied. “Are you really sure she can do all that?”

       Adele shot him such a look that he regretted asking.

       “Okay, okay. So she’s a tiny little girl with fantastic powers. And we have to take care of her.” Dax hmmed again and looked puzzled, winding his little white goatee around his finger.

       “What doesn’t sound right to you?” Adele asked.

       “Well . . . as far as I can tell from what I’ve seen of her temperament, she’s not exactly a little monster.”

       Alix knew better than to comment.

       “It seems to me she’d be less well-behaved,” Dax went on. “I mean, if she could do whatever she wanted anytime she wanted, you’d think she wouldn’t be interested in listening to us at all. But. . . . ”

       “She didn’t listen to me when I said to come to breakfast,” Alix pointed out. “And she threw me in the sand. That’s pretty spoiled if you ask me.”

       “But you grabbed her when she didn’t want to go. Self-defense.”

       “Yes, defending her poor innocent self against the evil overlord Alix who wanted to commit the horrendous crime of giving her some damn breakfast.”

       “Well maybe she didn’t know that,” Dax argued sensibly.

       “Whatever. I don’t think she’s well-behaved.”

       “But she didn’t come in here making demands and toying with us either, even though she could have.”

       “I think,” Adele said, “that it’s because she’s just a child. Children have an ingrained need for parental guidance. All we need to do is earn her trust, and we won’t have anything to fear.”

       “But what if one day it just dawns on her that she can do whatever she wants?” Alix said.

       “That day will almost certainly come,” Adele agreed, “which is why it’s important to make sure she cares about us before she realizes she can hurt us. I know for a fact that she doesn’t really understand the implications of her power, but she does know that she’s different because of it and she does have a . . . tendency toward direct behavior rather than politeness. And she’s very independent. But it hasn’t occurred to her to use her abilities in a long-term strategy to command others or enforce her wishes; she just uses them to overcome obstacles as they arrive and to help her solve immediate problems.”

       “I’m sure she’ll be really helpful, too,” said Weaver. “She can fly like me, but she can also carry heavy things. With that kind of power she could carry a ton of apples back from the farm.”

       “Then I have an idea,” said Dax. “We can make her feel important by letting her help us, and she’ll build up some self-esteem and some attachment to us. Little kids eat that up, right?” Dax didn’t know how he knew that, but he did.

       “You’re thinking along the same lines I was, Dax,” said Adele. “And before too long . . . maybe in a few weeks or months . . . I’ll start giving her an education. I might need your help with that, Alix.”

       Alix crossed his arms. “You can’t get me with that,” he said. “You might try to trick that girl into feeling important by feeling needed, but I am not going to fall for it. You don’t need me to help educate her.”

       “I think I’d at least like your advice,” Adele countered. “You’ve been through a human education. And I’d like to give this girl at least the bare essentials of one. Eventually she’s going to live in their world again, and she’s technically one of them, so—”

       “What?” Alix broke in. “That is not a human.”

       “Well, about like you are. I think her parents are human. I can’t see it for sure, but I think so.”

       “Hmph.” That made Alix feel weird. Thinking this girl was in a similar situation to his—being born different and unsuited for human civilization—made him feel a little warmer toward her. She couldn’t help what she was, after all, could she? But still, his fear made him wince at the thought of her. He was worried that they wouldn’t be able to control her, and that he and his companions would suffer at her hands (or worse). He remembered what kids were like. He remembered a stronger kid making one of his weaker acquaintances eat a bite of a mud pie in their school playground once. And this girl was exponentially stronger than any schoolyard bully. Not to mention that no amount of tattling to the teacher could possibly end her mischief if this girl set her mind to it.

       The group had been so consumed with their thoughts and their conversation that it surprised all of them when the little girl ran up, kicking sand onto Alix’s lap in the process.

       “Hey,” Alix grumbled half-heartedly, brushing it off. The girl didn’t notice and went right for Adele, collapsing into her lap like it was home. This pleasantly surprised Adele, and she smiled, shaking her hair back so the girl wouldn’t catch it by accident.

       “Look, honey,” Adele said, pointing at Alix, “you got some sand on Alix when you ran over here. Can you say you’re sorry?”

       “Huh?” The little girl froze, with confusion all over her pixy face.

       “You didn’t mean to get sand on him, right? And it isn’t nice. So if something like that happens, you say, ‘I’m sorry.’”

       The girl didn’t even look at Alix. Her mind was already somewhere else. “Mmph,” she replied, “I’m thirsty. Can I have a drink?”

       “You can have some water.” Adele quickly pulled out her bottle and handed it over. The girl grabbed it in both hands and started slurping.

       “Can you say ‘thank you’?” Adele prompted, and the girl released the bottle from her lips with a hollow thumping sound.

       “Thank you,” she said carelessly, and went back to chugging.

       “You’re welcome,” said Adele quickly. Alix raised his eyebrows, making eye contact with Adele over the girl’s head. So she could be trained to behave. Maybe.

       After the girl had drunk her fill, she moved to resume her playing, but Adele caught the hem of her dirty white shirt and pulled her back.

       “Sweetie, it’s time for breakfast. Don’t you want some breakfast?”

       “Uh-uh. I’m full.” The girl moved backwards, but Adele held tight.

       “Full of water and mushrooms? No, you at least need some fruit.”

       “No.” The girl’s shirt mysteriously released itself from Adele’s grip.

       “Just a bite and then you can go play.”

       The girl seemed surprised and unsure of how to act. Adele quickly prepared a child-sized spoonful of the smushed berries and held it out to her. She didn’t appear to know how to deal with being talked to like another person was somehow her boss, but it was apparent that she wasn’t about to waste time and energy pondering it. She agreeably came forward of her own accord and opened her mouth for Adele to stick the spoon in.

       “Umm,” she said in approval, and grabbed Adele’s bowl for another couple mouthfuls before spinning around and scampering back to the ocean.

       Weaver laughed quietly. “Oh my gosh, she is so adorable.”

       “That was pretty good, Adele,” said Dax. “You got her to obey you and say thank you, and it’s not even noon yet. Bravo.”

       “I think the secret might be to act as if you expect proper behavior, and if she doesn’t deliver, act really surprised or disappointed. But go easy at first. She has to care what we think before that sort of thing will matter to her, and so we have to make ourselves important to her. The girl needs to feel at home, and feel like she can trust us and like we trust her.”

       “And she needs a name,” Alix said.

       “Should we name her?” Weaver asked.

       “No, that won’t be necessary,” Adele said.

       “What, you’ve already thought of a name?” Alix said.

       “No. But I’ll get her to name herself.”

       “How ya gonna do that?” asked Weaver.

       “You’ll see.”

       It wasn’t long before the girl came trotting back to camp. She’d caught a glimpse of everyone eating together and now all of a sudden she wanted to be included. She took a seat between Adele and Alix and helped herself to the berries. Adele tried to get her to eat the berry paste on the rolled leaves, but she spit out the first leaf she tried and contented herself with the berry paste itself. She even licked the bowl. And then she leaned against Adele’s arm and began to look drowsy.

       “You liked those blackberries, didn’t you?” Adele said in a babyish voice, putting her hand on the girl’s hair.

       “Mm-hmm.” She sighed.

       “I’ll remember that.” Adele’s fingers tangled in the golden strands, and she tried to tug the knot out. “You’ve got quite a bird’s nest going on here, don’t you?”

       The girl remained silent, but emitted a little whimper when Adele pulled on another knot. “I wonder if I should get my comb?”

       “I’ll get it,” Weaver said, standing up.

       “Might be a lost cause,” said Adele, pulling the girl to a sitting position and studying her tresses. “Don’t worry about it, Weaver.”

       “Ow,” complained the girl when Adele began trying in earnest to untangle the knots. “Don’t.”

       “Your hair’s a mess, sweetie,” Adele replied.

       “Mmph,” she grunted, but then something surprising happened. The girl put her hands in her hair and started somehow straightening it out. She just ran her little fingers over her hair and all the knots she hit seemed to untangle themselves. It was obvious she’d done this before.

       “You’re so good at that!” Adele exclaimed while she was still working. “Your hair is so pretty that way, you should try to keep it nice.”

       “Oh.” And then the girl did something even more surprising. She grabbed small hunks of her hair and started braiding them. Little gold ropes started forming between her fingers; she was guiding the process with her hands but somehow the braids were coming together all by themselves. It was so magical that Adele laughed out loud.

       “Wherever did you learn how to do that?” Adele couldn’t help saying, and the girl looked up.

       “That girl showed me,” she said.

       “‘That girl’?”

       “A girl. She showed me. We always do it.”

       Adele felt a little sad at that. The girl was talking about a friend she’d had in the city, but now she wasn’t going to be seeing her anymore. Adele wouldn’t be taking her back to the city for a good long while.

       After the braids were finished, the girl inexplicably got an itchy nose and started sneezing. She unabashedly pulled up her shirt and blew her nose on it.

       “Oh, now that is gross,” Alix couldn’t help saying.

       “That’s dirty, now, honey, let’s get you cleaned up.”

       “We’re gonna take a bath?” she piped, and Adele laughed.

       “Sure we are.” She took the girl’s hand and stood up. “The stream is over this way. Let’s go.”

       Undaunted, the girl scrambled along beside Adele.

       “We’re going to have to buy her some clothes,” Adele called back over her shoulder. “I can go back to the city next week or something. Hope you guys are up for baby-sitting.”

       “Um, you’re not leaving me here with that,” Alix said.

       “Then you go to the city and buy her some clothes.”

       “I’ll go!” chirped Weaver.

       Everyone laughed.

       Adele hurried forward to keep up with the girl, and soon they were out of sight.

       “I wish I could go get the clothes,” said Weaver.

       “I wish you could too,” said Alix. “I’m probably gonna end up having to do it though.”

       “Why not let Adele do it, like she suggested?” asked Dax.

       “Because I think it’s better to have her here if that girl is here.”

       “You’re afraid of her, then?” asked Dax.

       “Well, yeah, and you’d be stupid not to be at least a little afraid. But I’m also afraid to be in charge of her, really of any kid. I never really dug that. I don’t like telling other people what to do.”

       “Coulda fooled me!” Weaver said.

       “No, see, it’s like . . . I don’t like making decisions and then enforcing it. I hate enforcing. With a kid you have to, I don’t know, do it a special way, and with that one there’s no way you can give her a time-out or a spanking. My parents smacked me once in a while when I deserved it, and I think I grew up better for it. But in this case you can’t do that, and plus if anything happens to her it’s still your fault because you didn’t find a way to make her obey your reasoning. It’s ridiculous, a kid who can say no and really mean it.”

       “I think you’ve got some legitimate complaints here, Alix,” said Dax, surprising both of the others.

       “I do?”

       “Sure. I’m almost positive we are in over our heads here. And I don’t care what Adele says, she can’t predict everything.”

       Weaver snickered.

       “It’s true. As far as she knows she’s never raised a kid either. Not to mention one like this.”

       “Hear hear,” said Alix.

       “You guys don’t think she’ll be more help than harm?” Weaver spoke up.

       “I think you just like her ’cause she flies,” Dax suggested.

       “It’s more than that,” said Weaver. “If it was just that she flew, I’d have felt like that about Neptune, too. And I don’t. She’s neat and everything, but . . . you know, I’m really excited about the little girl. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

       “I seem to recall you not being so hot on the idea before you found out what she can do,” said Alix.

       “I thought maybe it was some normal human kid who would maybe be freaked out by us. But she’s not, she’s like us, and she’s going to be really useful besides.”

       “So big deal, she can fly farther than you and carry heavy loads, if we can tame her to do it,” said Alix. “But what else is she but trouble?”

       “Well, she can also go out into the human world easier than any of us, when she’s older,” said Weaver, “and when she lands she can blend in. Plus she’s walking around with this secret ability to protect herself, you know?”

       “Well, that’ll be just dandy, if we can get her to work for us,” said Alix, “but I don’t think you’re right about her blending in, Weaver. I think I look more human than she does.”

       “But as soon as you open your mouth or offer your hand they can see you’re not.” Weaver knew Alix’s webbed fingers and forked tongue were not normal human traits, not to mention his scaly skin and halfway-visible gills. Weaver thought the little girl was just cute—the pointy ears were unlike anything he’d seen in magazine photos or on television, but otherwise he thought she’d pass for human if they put a hat on her.

       “People didn’t really notice my differences at first glance, though,” Alix said. “I was able to go to public school. I got good at hiding. It was getting close to people that was the problem . . . maybe the checkout clerk and the teacher didn’t notice, but your best friend or the girl you’re trying to ask out will. But that kid . . . ya know, you take one look at her and you know something’s different. And it’s stuff you can’t hide.”

       “Like what?” asked Weaver. “All I could tell is she’s got elf ears.”

       “And she’s missing fingers, and she’s got ridiculous eyes,” Alix added.

       “I noticed that, while she was doing those braids,” said Dax. “No pinkie fingers.”

       “I thought her eyes were pretty,” Weaver argued.

       “Well, I’m used to looking at humans, and by a human standard those are very creepy eyes.”

       Dax chuckled. “Creepier than mine?” Alix had told him more than once in moments of honesty that his uniformly red eyes were reminiscent of horrorshow monsters.

       “No offense, Dax, but at least your eyes match the rest of you. I don’t look at you and compare you to a human standard. But I see her and my first thought is ‘jeez, who drew that? They need to take some lessons on drawing realistic eyes.’ She looks human with the wrong proportions, and it bothers me a lot more than looking at you.”

       “I guess you’ll have to get used to the way she looks,” said Weaver, “and just get over comparing her to humans. Because as far as we’re concerned, she’s not one of them.”

       “I know, I know,” said Alix. “I get it.”

       “Wow, things are gonna change so much,” said Weaver softly. “We’re gonna have to learn along the way. Like, do kids her age wear diapers?”

       “Diapers?” said Alix incredulously.

       “I’ve seen diaper ads. They stop the kid from crapping and peeing everywhere.”

       “I know what they are, dumbass. It’s just, she’s much too old for diapers.”

       “Think so?”

       “Shows what you know.”

       “Well, good thing we have someone around who wants to play mommy.”

       For her part, Adele was having fun with her new role, but she could see it getting frustrating and repetitive. For the present time, she decided to just enjoy it; she wasn’t going to try to impose too much structure on the little girl right away. She would have responsibilities like anyone else soon enough, and she would be getting an education because children needed to be taught and given purpose, but Adele wanted her first days here to establish emotional bonds and comfort with her surroundings. Luckily, the girl was rather open to suggestion.

       “Let’s take off those clothes, all right?”

       The girl obediently raised her arms and looked up expectantly. Ah, she’d done this before—at least often enough to make it into her memory, someone had bathed her. Adele gingerly pulled the shirt up over her head and threw it aside. She was wearing a tiny pair of cotton pink panties underneath, also very dirty. Adele reached to help her with those too, but the girl beat her to it and held them with one hand while pulling both legs out at the same time, almost quickly enough to make it look like she’d done it by jumping. Well, that must be convenient, Adele thought, wondering why she ever used her hands for anything at all. She picked up the little girl and lifted her into the stream. She shivered a little but didn’t complain.

       Adele had neglected to bring any rags or any bathing supplies, but she did the best she could. She left the gold braids alone, but made sure the rest of her got clean. She was pleased that she didn’t have to argue with the girl at all, and that she seemed quite content to be rubbed and ducked and splashed.

       “You like baths, do you?” said Adele as she threw the clothes into the stream as well.

       “Yup!” She splashed her little hands around gently.

       “Who gave you your baths before?”

       “Before?”

       “Where else do you take baths?”

       “At the . . . in the bathtub!” She laughed.

       Adele shook her head. The girl just didn’t have names for places and things. She wondered if this extended to people.

       “Do you remember my name?” Adele asked her.

       The girl seemed to hear but not really care that she was being talked to. She was busy dipping little handfuls of her braids into the water and then watching the water drip off the ends.

       “I told you my name one time, do you remember it?” Adele prompted.

       The girl glanced up for a moment and then resumed her dripping.

       “It’s okay if you don’t remember. My name is Adele, can you say that?”

       The girl just pressed her lips together and made her “mmph” noise.

       “You know, it’s useful to know names,” Adele went on. “If you want something or someone, you can just use its name. Do you know the name of this?” Adele splashed the water.

       “Water,” said the girl, sounding pleased.

       “What’s this?” Adele asked, touching the girl’s nose with a smile.

       She made a screechy laughing sound. “Nose! Aah, you tickled.” She rubbed her face emphatically with her wet hands.

       “And what’s the name for me?” Adele said, pointing to herself.

       “Umm.” She actually looked embarrassed.

       “Adele,” she repeated.

       “Adele. That’s you,” said the girl triumphantly.

       “Do you have a word for you?” asked Adele.

       “Mm-mm.”

       “Why not?”

       “I’m just me, so. What’s the name of the blue fuzzy?”

       Adele missed a beat before realizing the girl was talking about Weaver. She laughed.

       “His name is Weaver. Did you like him?”

       “Ya! He went and flied with me.”

       Adele wondered about her vocabulary. She knew what flying was even if she didn’t have a solid grasp of verb conjugations. Adele wondered how many people had seen her flying.

       “I think Weaver liked flying with you,” Adele said, “and the rest of us didn’t mind watching you. Did you ever fly in front of someone who didn’t like it?”

       The girl looked blank.

       “You know not everyone can fly, right?”

       She brightened. “I know.”

       “Did you ever meet someone else who can fly?”

       “The blue fuzzy did.”

       “I think you better call him Weaver. I don’t think he’d like being called blue fuzzy. Can you say Weaver?”

       “Weaaaver.” She said it in a whisper a few more times and apparently it struck her as funny because she started giggling.

       “Yes. Besides Weaver, did you ever see anyone fly?”

       “Um, no.” She gave Adele a look like she was being silly.

       “So being able to fly makes you pretty special. You know that, right?”

       “Ya. It’s only me who flies, I know. And Weaaaver. He makes flying like this though.” She stood up with a splash and started flopping her hands up and down at the wrist, making a swishy sound with her mouth. The girl danced around in the stream with her braids bouncing, making her pretend flying motions. Adele found it incredibly ironic that someone who could fly was mimicking wings.

       “That’s right, little one, his flying is different,” Adele agreed. “I’ll bet a lot of people have wondered how you can fly with no wings, yes?”

       “Wings! Wings like a bird! Nope, I don’t got ’em.” She laughed some more. “I think you don’t mind it if I do it, huh? ’Cause some people always are not glad when I am, they get the scareds, scared voice and faces.”

       “I don’t mind you flying,” said Adele, encouraged, “as long as you can come down when I ask you to. So you’ve scared people before with your flying?”

       “Ya, with when I fly me up or get other things flying and not do it with my hands. I can hide it though.”

       “You can hide what?”

       “I can hide it. I put my feet on the ground, and I pretend they don’t come off. And not bring things around. I don’t like the scareds. They get so scared at me.”

       Yes, indeed, she knows she’s different, Adele thought. “Why do you think everyone gets scared?”

       “Not everyone does. That girl doesn’t and that lady.”

       Adele didn’t ask. She knew the girl was talking about friends in New York—an open-minded caretaker and her daughter.

       “Other people can definitely be scared,” said the girl emphatically, and by this point she was sitting down again, holding her hands out at a downward angle so her fingertips just met the water’s surface. She touched it gently like she was stroking a pet. “So if I think they’ll be scared I keep from doing those things.”

       “But do you know why they get scared?” Adele pressed.

       “’Cause it’s only me who can do it.”

       “That’s right. You’re smart.”

       The girl grinned and looked up.

       “I can make you smarter,” Adele went on.

       “But I’m already smart.”

       “Yes, child. But I’ll teach you things. It will be fun.”

       “Mmph.”

       Adele let the child play silently for a while as she washed her clothes and thought. She wanted to teach this girl a great many things, but many of them would require materials. And she would definitely need more clothes or at least supplies to make them. Adele figured she’d be needing to win some small-time lotteries a little more often. She was also going to need one more thing: A post office box. Some kind of return address would be necessary if she was going to write to Webster.

       Adele looked up from her daydreaming when she heard a noise. The girl was hovering just above the water in a very odd position that nevertheless looked comfortable to her. She was kicking the water rhythmically, nodding her head for emphasis every time her toes made contact.

       “You ready to go back, sweetie?” Adele said. She really needs a name, she thought.

       “Mm, well I’m busy.”

       Adele let her kick for a while, admiring the carefree movements. The water made her skin look almost reflective and very slippery. Adele hoped the sun wouldn’t be too hard on the poor fair-skinned thing; she was pretty pale, looking unaccustomed to outdoor living. Adele counted herself lucky that her own few areas of exposed skin had fairly dark pigment, less likely to get burned. But it wasn’t like they could afford to keep her covered in sunblock all the time. Adele would have to ask Alix how he dealt with the threat of sunburn.

       When Adele shook out her laundry, the sound attracted the girl’s attention. She attained an even stranger posture, tilting backwards so much of her body was upside-down, peering nonchalantly at Adele.

       “Let’s get you back to camp,” she said, and the girl flipped over completely, resolving into an almost-standing position in the air.

       “Come on, then.” Adele reached for the girl’s hand, but she didn’t cooperate.

       “Umm I want to go around.”

       Adele dropped her arm. “Around where?”

       “Wherever we are. Okay, I’m gonna go look at stuff. ’Bye.” She shot up into the sky like she was afraid Adele would somehow chase her.

       I suppose she’ll come back when she’s hungry, Adele thought. She had to admit she was a little flustered by the child’s ability to ignore requests as easily as she ignored the law of gravity. Somehow, though, she would make it clear to her that she might have power, but Adele was the boss.

       No one saw the girl for several hours, and no one knew what to do about it. Weaver did a quick scout-around but found nothing. Everyone was curious or to some degree concerned, but no one was actually worried. Finally, she dropped onto the beach, nonchalantly naked with a couple of leaves stuck in her hair, and she announced that she was hungry. Adele gave her a peanut butter cracker and she began to look drowsy. Adele let her doze lightly in her lap.

       “I think we should make a really nice dinner tonight,” Dax suggested. “A little celebration for our newest addition.”

       “You didn’t do that when I got here,” Alix pointed out, then gave a halfway-forced laugh so his companions would take it as a joke. He didn’t want to sound whiny, but it annoyed him that this girl’s arrival was a cause for celebration when he remembered his own as feeling more like a cross-examination, followed by a period of strained trial “membership.”

       “Do we owe you a party, Alix?” asked Weaver. “I think I got you a present right here.” He started picking his nose.

       “Save it, furball.” Alix gave Weaver a hard shove and stood up, stripping off his shirt.

       “Where ya goin’?”

       “I’m gonna catch a damn fish for this all-important feast, all right?” Alix shed his outer clothing and attacked the ocean like it was going to run away.

       “Well, we’ve got some berries,” said Dax.

       “She likes those,” said Adele.

       “Let’s do mushrooms and roots too,” said Weaver.

       “Do we have any roots?” asked Adele, knowing their bin was empty. They were talking about a tuber-like plant that Adele recognized but could not recall the name for, so they just called them “roots.” Another mysterious, warty vegetable grew around the area that they called “bulbs,” but those were out of season.

       Dax volunteered to get some roots and Weaver said he’d pick a few nuts. They liked to make a little trail mix out of berries, nuts, and pieces of root, and Weaver thought the trail mix plus a little fish and mushrooms would be a great first dinner for the girl.

       Adele was content to keep watch over the girl as she sleepily sucked her finger and made soft noises. Adele felt remarkably happy just holding her new “daughter” and watching her dream. She looked a lot less wild and so peaceful with her big eyes closed. Adele shut her own eyes and hummed to herself, some lulling song she remembered from somewhere. Alix’s footsteps brought her out of the reverie.

       “I got us a good one,” he said with obvious satisfaction as he threw the fish down on the sand and went to get his instruments. Adele watched him spread out his catch, clean it, and begin to butcher it. He did everything with an automatic efficiency. Adele liked how he could be useful even though he also took to whining a little too much for her taste.

       “Alix, were you serious about going to the city for some supplies for us?” she asked.

       “Sure.” Alix wiped some scales off his knife. “I’d rather be the do-boy than try to baby-sit, if it’s all the same to you.”

       “I’d really appreciate it. You’ll need some money.”

       “Well, what do you want me to do?”

       Adele told him.

       “And you need a P.O. box why?”

       “I need an address and this place isn’t exactly on a mail route, is that so complicated?”

       “Who’s going to write to you?”

       “That’s none of your business.” Adele decided at that point that she wasn’t going to talk about Webster.

       “So you want envelopes and a P.O. box to write mysterious strangers. And knitting stuff, yarn, and little kid stuff. Fine, but what’s the money plan?”

       “Small-pot lottery. Small enough that they’ll pay at the actual store. It always works. But make sure you get a few tickets because that way it looks less suspicious.”

       “Yeah, yeah. Just make me a list.”

       Alix was almost finished preparing the first half of the fish when Dax and Weaver came back and started sorting through their berries, nuts, and roots. Weaver switched to chopping mushrooms while Dax set up even distributions of the trail mix ingredients. The girl stirred and woke up when she smelled the cooking fish.

       “Umm, I’m hungry,” she said before her eyes were even open.

       “We’ll eat soon, punkin.”

       Alix winced at hearing another silly pet name.

       Weaver came over to help Alix with the fish; his little sword was a wonder with irritating fish skin.

       The girl sat up in Adele’s lap, leaning against her arm. Adele had put a small blanket around her as she’d slept, but now she pulled it down, quite warm enough by the fire and the shared body heat despite the cooling day. Dax noticed that the girl was watching his berry-division very intently.

       Finally, Dax caught something out of the corner of his eye. It surprised him to see it even though Adele had told him about it already. The little girl was making berries fly out of the bowls. He tried not to make it obvious that he was watching as he observed a raspberry floating right into her little mouth. She was very nonchalant about it, and it was obvious that levitating berries was no strain for her. Dax was intrigued. He wanted to see more, but when he turned around she stopped doing it.

       Dax pretended to look away and pay attention to a different bowl, and then it happened again. A berry sneaked out of the bowl, floated low around the fire, and swooped up between the girl’s little pink lips. He suddenly realized that she must be trying to hide what she was doing, because she was obviously making an effort to chew unobtrusively. Dax chuckled to himself.

       Finally he turned around while a berry was in midair, and he met her eyes. She stiffened up visibly and put the berry back in the bowl she’d stolen it from. Then her eyes got big (well, even bigger), and she hid her face in Adele’s long red hair. Poor thing must think we’ll yell at her for stealing, Dax thought, or else . . . maybe she’s afraid of me. He wondered if she found him scary, but didn’t want to think about it. He wanted her to know right from the beginning that he was her friend.

       Dax grabbed a fistful of berries and walked over to Adele and the girl, squatting down and exhaling to make his presence known. The girl peeked one eye at him, still hiding most of her face against Adele, and there she stayed, looking at him with one apple-green eye.

       Dax reached forward and took her hand, gently unfurling her fingers. It was a tiny, strange-looking hand, but he managed to fit his pile of berries into its palm anyway.

       “It’s okay if you can’t wait for the fish,” he said.

       Her other eye came out of Adele’s hair, accompanied by a grin that was three quarters jubilant and one quarter sheepish.

       Dax patted her head and walked back to his place, resuming his duties.

       The girl ate the berries unabashedly now, and Adele had to wipe her chin several times to clear it of sticky juice. Soon she got her own full bowl of trail mix and an individual stick capped with fresh fish. She found the kebab very amusing and seemed to enjoy holding it, though she couldn’t eat it all so Adele helped her finish it. When she was almost asleep, she asked for a cinnamon bun, though she didn’t seem to care when Adele told her they didn’t have those. She passed out right on the sand soon after.

       “She sure can eat,” Weaver said. “Tomorrow I’m taking her to help pick apples.”

       “Want me to make a bed for her?” Alix asked.

       “She’s worth your trouble?” Adele asked in mock surprise.

       “Gimme a break.” He got up and stood over the little girl, looking at her by firelight.

       “Think I should move her now?” asked Alix.

       “No time like the present,” said Weaver.

       “Yeah.” Alix crouched down and picked her up, glad he could be fairly sure that this time he stood little chance of getting thrown unless he woke her up. He kind of liked her in this vulnerable state. And the closed eyes helped. He grinned a little.

       “Cute little naked sleeping elf,” he said.

       “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call her that,” said Adele. Alix gave her a withering look.

       “Something wrong with it? You yourself said her ears looked like elf ears.”

       “Well, that bit is true. But I don’t want her to get the idea that she’s an elf, since she isn’t.”

       “Can I at least call her an imp, then?”

       Adele sighed. “Well she sort of is that. But just promise me you’ll call her by her name, once we get her one.”

       “Yeah. Better get on that though.”

       “We will.”

       Alix carried the girl into the cave, propped her up on one of the practice pillows from one of their stitching expeditions, and covered her up with another blanket.

       I still don’t like you much, Alix thought, but damn it’s hard to dislike a sleeping kid. He figured there was nothing he could do besides accept that he was going to be a prominent figure in this girl’s host of role models, so he might as well not establish himself as the bitter, moody one.

       He took a last glance and went back to the fire.


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