The Faire

Chapter 3

Gwen’s father did not let her out of his sight for a few solid hours, bombarding her with inquiries about her absence the night before. After pouring herself a cup of coffee, she sat at the small table in the RV ripping open Equal packets and dusting the powder from the table. She picked at the yellowing plastic cover, and sloshed her lukewarm coffee around in her Star Trek mug. She did not like elf-ears on humans pretending to be fairies, but Leonard Nimoy was her childhood crush so she gave him a pass. Knowing that fairies were real, now, she supposed she should give everyone a pass.

“Where were you last night? What happened? Why did you leave the wedding? Do you remember anything?”

These were only a few in the massive list of questions her father threw at her since they had returned home. She had avoided answering them so far by maintaining that she was too tired to think straight.

It wasn’t a lie, necessarily. She remembered clearly the events of the night after she woke in the cave, but they were too bizarre to divulge. Plus, admitting anything to her father would mean revealing that she had been drugged by someone at the wedding, which would frighten him so much he might never let her out of his sight again. Gwen felt so irresponsible for drinking in the first place, especially since she left Cassidy behind. Guilt and shame kept her silent more than anything.
Her father had let her nap for a few hours, but when she woke he sat her down at the table to interrogate her. She sat her mug down with a thump.

“Dad, look, I’m sorry. I had a few drinks at the wedding.” Seeing his bewildered expression, she added, “It was the first time, I swear!”

This was true enough, but it still felt dishonest. Her father remained quiet, but nodded for her to continue.

“I didn’t feel well after that, so I left The Faire to get some fresh air. I went for a walk, and when I sat down to rest...I must have fallen asleep. When I woke up, it was morning. I came straight home.”

Her father looked pensieve, and unconvinced. She couldn’t meet his eyes, and watched instead as his fingers slowly tapped the table, one-by-one. They were blistered and rough, with short stubby nails the evidence of nervous chewing.

His fingers stopped, and he pointed at her bandaged arm. Gwen had cleaned it with stinging alcohol and fizzing peroxide, slathering it in Neosporin, when she first arrived home. With the stark white bandages against her tanned summer skin, it appeared to be much worse than it actually was.
“And that?” he said, sharply. No longer was he acting the loving and concerned father. He had turned his method to the anxious and angry detective for better results. Gwen realized that to him it must seem to be working.

“A drunk girl stumbling through the woods,” she sighed heavily. “What do you think happened?”
She immediately felt bad for the snarky way her words came out, but didn’t try to apologize. She saw the red creeping into his face, and his eyebrows lowered. He stood to loom over her, hand smacking the table and the other holding a jutted finger in her face. The coffee rippled in her cup.

“Don’t you-” he yelled. Then he sighed and fell back into the booth with a plastic squeak. He rubbed a hand down his face to relax his features, and the anger melted away. Exhaustion replaced it.

“I’m just concerned, Gwendolyn.”

“Dad, I know-” Gwen started.

Her father raised a hand to stop her. His expression was somber.

“No, you don’t know.” His voice was thick with sadness. “After your mother...I can’t lose you, too. You know that, right?”

Gwen nodded, tight-lipped and silent. She knew too well that she couldn’t ever abandon her father. She knew so well that she had shredded every college application he had given her. She had forged rejection letters, and printed them out at Kinkos. She had remained at The Faire, wherever it took her, as long as it was with her father. She knew much more than he gave her credit for,but she did not bother to correct him. He had forced smiles for years when encouraging her to leave, and she saw right through it all along. Her father had never been skilled at lying.

They sat in silence for a while, looking anywhere except at one another. Gwen stared out of the small diamond window in the RV door.

The police had left, but requested visits to the local station for questioning. She had been too shocked by the news of Heather’s death and Cassidy’s disappearance, not to mention her nasty hangover, that the cops couldn’t get anything out of her. The stout Indian woman had told her to sober up, and gave her a business card. She was supposed to go to the station to be interviewed tomorrow.

Now that they were gone, as was Heather’s body, people were dashing about to set up The Faire for the day. People were running around with jerkins and jeans passed the door. She saw that Cassidy’s grandparents had not left their RV. The door was shut tight, and she saw shadows bob in the window.

Luckily, since she had been looking there already, Gwen saw as Worsham strolled up to their door. Her father jumped as Worsham rapped on the glass. Gwen wanted to snicker at him, but there was a weight in the air that suggested it was not the time.

“Worsham,” her dad said gruffly as he opened the door. Even Worsham, who joked about his own near death experiences, only managed a weak smile when he saw Gwen sitting behind her father.
“Look,” Worsham started. “I know it is asking a lot of you, but they’re still insisting on opening The Faire, and we are really short staffed. You know, with everything going on…”

Shooting Gwen a glance, her father moved out of the doorframe and closed the door. If he intended to keep their conversation private, it was a bad call, Gwen thought. The RV walls were so paper-thin that she could easily hear their hushed voices if she just leaned forward towards the door a bit.
“Worsham, look,” she heard her father grumble. “I just want to be with my daughter, right now. You can understand that, can’t you?”

Gwen felt a rush of guilt. Her father was a people-pleaser. For him to refuse to help someone, he must have been really shocked by her disappearance. She also knew that Worsham was her father’s best friend, and that Worsham had never asked for favors from her father. Her father demanded that Worsham let him help when he needed a quick ride to the hospital because the volunteer EMT was not there. Worsham always waved help away from him, and maintained he was just fine on his own.

“I know, I know. Trust me...the thing is, though, the parents of all those girls-all of 'em-they’re at the police for questioning.”

“Do the police think one of them is guilty?” Gwen’s dad asked, stunned.

“Dunno,” Worsham said. “I don’t think they know much of anything, yet.”

There was a long silence, and Gwen could picture her dad striking a tired pose with one hand in his pocket and the other wiping the sweat from his brow. Worsham sighed loudly.

“Shit, Johnny. Could you have ever The Faire?”

Gwen had never heard her father swear before, nor had she ever heard Worsham’s first name. No one ever called him by it. He had been Worsham since before he had bounced her as a toddler on his knee singing country songs with his deep, round voice.

“Not in a million,” Worsham replied.

There was a silence between them again, and it was then that Gwen pieced together something Worsham had said.

She rushed to the door, and swung it open with a slam against the exterior of the RV. Her father was startled again, as he easily was, but Worsham just watched her carefully with his almost black eyes and carob skin. His braids were pulled back into a loose hair tie at the base of his neck, with silver cuffs clasped around several at random.

“Dad, don’t worry about me. Go help where you can. I am still so tired, I’ll probably sleep through the rest of the day. Plus, I’m probably grounded, right?” She grinned at him, but weakly so that she appeared as tired as she said she was. "I will lock the door," she added for good measure. As if a person who could kidnap seven girls in one night would falter at the sight of a locked door.

Her father opened his mouth to object to leaving her behind, but Worsham gripped his arm.

“You heard the girl.” Then he turned back to her, with a look in his eyes that she could easily read. Do not get into trouble. Do not make me regret this. “Get plenty of rest Gwendolyn the grounded.”

A few minutes later and they were gone. Gwen watched them through the window to make sure Worsham had completely dragged her father out of the lot before reopening the door. She closed it back, but did not lock it in case she needed to rush back. She was unsure whether Worsham had truly convinced her father away.

She approached Cassidy’s RV and saw the shadow in the window. Movement inside shifted the gingham curtains. If Worsham was right, the Ranklins should be at the police station with the other parents and guardians. It was a consequence of the constant travel that fair workers didn’t really keep pets, so there was no cat inside.

So, Gwen thought, that shadowy figure doesn’t belong in Cassidy’s home.

Gwen couldn’t help the deep, desperate hope that welled up inside her that it could be Cassidy, returned just as Gwen herself had done. There was also the fear in the pit of her stomach that it was whoever killed Heather.

Even more, her heart pounded in anxiety when she realized it could be the Ranklins that answered the door, riddled with grief and only half happy to see that she was safe. They would probably wonder why she was still safe while their Cassidy was still missing. Gwen knew that she had been wondering that herself. If not for Aylwin’s interference, would she be missing, too?

She knocked her knuckles against the glass of the screen door, before giving herself time to think things through. The shadow in the window froze and then dropped out of sight. No one came to the door. The sun was beating heavily on her shoulders, with no wind to calm the heat. She tried knocking again, knowing full well that whatever was inside did not belong there. When Gwen didn’t get an answer the second time, she stepped out of sight of the windows. She pulled the spare key from it’s hidden magnetic holder inside the front right fender.

When she inserted the key in the lock, there was a sudden shuffle and clattering inside. She let herself inside, just in time to see the messy dark brown hair and offensively blue eyes of Justin Dirksen dipping out of the kitchen window.

“Justin?” she heard the disbelief in her own voice.

Arms out and eager to grasp any part of him she could in order to keep him there, she rushed to the kitchen window. She had an interrogation in mind for Justin nowhere near as pleasant as the one between herself and her father. Unfortunately, he was out of the window by the time Gwen reached it. Rushing out of the RV, she only caught sight of the dust and gravel that Justin’s jeep kicked up as he sped off. She watched his brake lights flash red for a split second at the lot entrance before he screeched onto the main road and out of sight.

The cloud of dust from the jeep floated around and choked her. She ran back into Cassidy’s RV, and closed the door.

There was an infinitesimal hope that Justin would have left some evidence behind that explained why he had been there. All she saw were the photographs held in expensive frames organized as they had always been along the kitchen counter. Beside the kitchen window was a slightly disturbed vase of lilacs and baby’s breath. She checked the rooms, but aside from drawers slightly ajar that contained nothing but clothing, she saw nothing. She fixed the drawers so Mrs. Ranklin would not worry.

Before leaving she gave the kitchen and living area one last once over. She stared at Cassidy’s wide smile, standing between her grandparents in front of the red sweeping scenery of the Grand Canyon. The frame was golden and inscribed was the year 2016. Gwen’s stomach squelched at the thought of Cassidy’s lovely face with her eyes open wide, lips pale. Dead like Heather.

She did not stay around any longer, and put the key back where it belonged after locking the RV door behind her.

Walking the short distance to her own RV, Gwen noticed the off-white door hanging wide open. She blanched. The idea that her father would find her missing, yet again, and the idea of him catching her in another lie caused her to spring forward to confront him quickly. To give him less time to worry himself into a fury.

Once inside, she found the RV empty. The only changes since she had left were that the mug she had left half full of stale coffee was now clean and drying by the sink, and that there was a parcel on the table. It was a small purple-velvet pouch with silver rope drawstrings. Beneath the pouch was a note written on one of their napkins. She could tell it was their napkins by the small repeating cat pattern her father had chosen.

Aylwin, she thought.

Unsure whether she felt fear, or pleasure, she closed the RV door and grabbed both the note and pouch. She dropped them on her loft bed that hung above her father’s master bed, and then pulled herself up the metal ladder. The RV shook with her shifting weight, causing the metal to squeak.
Sitting, staring down at the items Aylwin had surely left, Gwen hesitated in opening them. She did not know what to expect. She did, after all, find the person she least suspected to find in Cassidy’s home dipping out of the window there just moments before.

She had told Aylwin clearly, bluntly in fact, that she wanted nothing to do with his people. She regretted how racist it sounded to her now. After all, what did she know about faeries beyond the tales spun by the Grim Brothers and those told by the Renaissance writers about Avalon. The pouch felt light in her hands. She chose to read the note first, twisting the drawstring between her index finger and thumb as she read.

The napkin had long calligraphic writing covering the surface. It seemed like it would belong better on fine parchment than on the cat napkins.

Gwen, she read, you would rather not see me. I understand. However, I feel I should give you the opportunity to remember. This is a necklace with Myosotis flowers preserved in amber. If you wear this while you sleep, you will dream of the past. It is your choice to make. Selfishly, I hope you will choose remembrance, as it is a burden to bear memories alone.
Your Princess,

Gwen dumped the contents of the pouch and stared at the necklace reverentially. The yellow amber was small, about the size of a quarter, and had a golden clasp holding it to a thin golden chain. The chain was extremely long for a necklace, and snaked around in her blankets like golden strands of hair. The flowers inside the amber were still vaguely blue or purple, but tinged with orange. Forget-me-nots she recognized them as, although she wasn’t sure how. Botany had never been her strong suit in school. She somehow knew that they were native to Colorado, and that she had seen some in a field before.

Pulling the necklace around her neck, the amber flower dangled into her lap. She argued with herself internally. This could be a trick, or a curse. She could be messing with something dangerous. Wearing the necklace while awake was not dangerous, though. Aylwin had clearly stated to wear it while asleep.

Gwen recalled his sharp features, his too big black irises, his glass-like wings. She recalled his natural reaction to catch her as he thought she was falling, and relaxed back into the pillows twirling the amber pendant again and again. She closed her eyes to recall him more clearly. She tried to think of him so thoroughly that she could drown out Heather's dead expression.

Your princess, Gwen read the words back to herself in her head. Aylwin was clearly very masculine from his broad shoulders to the thick veins in his neck. He was beautiful, though, and with less masculine features, he could be mistaken for a princess. She started picturing the sketches on the cave walls, trying to imagine the grown fairy prancing in fields of flowers and wielding sticks like swords with her.

Her body felt warm and heavy. The A/C hummed in the roof, cooling her as if with a breath. She should not fall asleep, she told herself. Still, a small voice in her head whispered, it is exactly what I told Dad I would do.

Her hand was warmly held and tugged forward through shrubs and low hanging tree limbs. Gwen noticed her hand was smaller, trees seemed taller, and the scratches the branches caused her legs and arms did not seem to hurt her.

She focused intently on the deep black hair trailing in front of her around clear dragonfly wings, braided randomly throughout and extremely smooth. She could feel her own hair knotting in the wind, catching leaves and twigs. There was the sun spattering light on the ground in patches through the trees and on the path ahead of them. The sweet smell of wet earth and lavender filled her nose. She was in a cotton and lace dress, despite hating dresses, and her feet were stepping bare on the rocks, mud, and twigs underfoot.

They ran, hands fused, for a bit longer, before reaching the grassfield. Warmth washed over her, like she was submerged in a hot bath. She still had not seen the boys face, but she felt delight in his company. She spun in circles in the large patch of tiny blue flowers. She heard a hearty laughter behind her, and in passing blurs she saw the boy spinning, too.

Dizzy and out of breath, she toppled onto her back and he copied her. She turned her head away from him and to the blue flowers, and she started plucking them quickly from the roots. They were very small held together in clusters, and some flowers were still bulbs on the thin green stem. She deftly wove them with her small fingers into an unsteady crown.

When she turned to display her craft to her friend, he was not there.

There was a light tap on her shoulder and she jolted around. The boy was angled so that her cheek fell on his lips. She shoved him playfully, the petals coming loose from the crown in her hand and showering his lap.

“What’s this? A crown for my princess?” his voice was like silk, and he gestured to her creation.

She glanced to his face and really saw him now. Oil-slick reflective hair, black eyes eager. She smiled.

“No, for mine,” she replied, mischievously.

He grimaced, but did not demur as she moved his hair gently behind his pointed ears. The strands tickled her skin. He kept his eyes raptly on hers, though she avoided looking at them directly. They made her feel giddy with unbridled excitement. Placing the crown on his brow, she could really feel the beauty of him. He was much prettier than she could ever hope to be. Her heart felt suddenly heavy. He must have seen her expression darken, because he closed the already small gap between them and kissed her cheek, again, causing her heart to pound quickly, instead.

“Are all fairies this kissy?” she simpered.

They both lay back down in the damp grass, watching dragonflies flutter overhead. She watched him, and his dragonfly wings, sidelong instead. The wings shone iridescent in the sunlight. The boys nose was sharp, cheeks sharper, and irises large and impossible to differentiate from his pupils. The flower crown made him truly look like a princess from the stories, just awakened from a cursed sleep.

“Maybe. If they really like something,” he grinned, and turned to catch her eye. “Maybe if they are pleased with the pink color it gives your cheeks.”

She flushed and pinched him. They both laughed.

“Well, which is it?” she said after a few more minutes of sky gazing. She did not have the courage to catch his eyes after asking. “Are you teasing me, or do you like me?”

She knew fairies had to tell the truth, and he had never given her a straight answer. She heard the sound of his lips parting only because she was intently listening for it.

“Gwen,” a voice called, and both children flinched.

“My mother,” she turned to tell him in a panic, but he had already disappeared. He had not left the flower crown behind. She almost expected him to tap her shoulder again with another kiss. She had hoped to at least hear his response before he left.

“Aylwin,” she whispered.