The Faire

Chapter 8

Gwen was dreading meeting Aylwin, but the morning came more quickly than she had anticipated. Lying awake nearly all night she kept recalling his lips on hers, the memory of his fingers on her skin, the desperate way that he had spoken to her. She could not even recall why it was so important to get an answer, or why she had not pressed for the answer of what happened to her best friend. The circle continued in her mind of regret leading to the reminder of his heat and their kiss, to her fury, and back to guilt again.
She struggled with staying angry with Aylwin. After all, he had explained himself. She herself knew that faeries could not lie, and that he was sincere in his words. She could not explain why the fury rose in her when he would not explain his feelings for her, when she had only known the faerie a day, and when the idea of him repulsed her. It was so confusing, feeling both desire and revulsion for the same thing.
The anger dissipated overnight, and Gwen knew she needed to stay in the faeries good favor. She knew that she must ask something of him that he would not be obliged to give if she kept pushing him away. The dream she had in her short sleep was evidence enough that the faerie was fond enough of her. My dear Gwen, she heard repeated in her head. Even as young as they were, they appeared at least five years younger in her memory, his fierce gaze and protective words were impressive. Even stained with the apple’s juice and covered in soot from the hunt of the rabbit, he had been handsome and a force to be reckoned with.
It became more complicated to meet Aylwin when Jacob appeared at her front door. Gwen had already dressed in her stable clothes, intending to fool her dad into believing that she was going to tend to the elephants like she told him she would before he left. Which she would, as soon as she made peace with Aylwin, restored her memories, and convinced the faerie to take her to Faerie to rescue her friend. If that was where she was, Gwen would find her, and she was not afraid to destroy anything that got in her way.
Jacob, however, had been sent by her father to ensure she got to the stables safely. She supposed she should find it endearing that her father was worried about her with the killer still loose in the world, or even that Jacob had agreed to the task. However, she just felt a surge of vexation and impatience.
“I don’t need an escort Jacob. I’ll be just fine on my own,” Gwen huffed, hefting a leather bag over her shoulder that held her phone, water bottles, granola bars, and her keys with their pepper spray. She had prepped for her hike down to the cave, regretting how dehydrated she had become the first time she made the trek back up.
“I know that,” he said cooly. “Gwendolyn Tyler, the girl who needs no one.”
Gwen’s eyes cut him a glare, and he shrugged. He was not his usual jovial self, and nowhere near as desperately pining for her as he had been. This new scornful tone grated at her nerves even more than before, and she had to work to suppress her impulse to say something vindictive.
“Fine,” she obliged, gesturing past him. “Let’s go.”
They walked in complete silence for a good five minutes before Jacob dared to speak. They were reaching the end of the employee lot, mostly empty of people who were attending to their booths. He must have wanted the privacy of it.
“You know that I like you, Gwen,” he blurted out. “You have known it for years. I just want you to know I don’t expect you to like me back. So, can you please stop hating me?”
Gwen froze, stomach turning sour. She was unafraid of confrontation, but talking about her emotions was like a phobia of hers. Her dad had sent her to Cassidy’s therapist when her mother had left, but Gwen sat stone-faced in every appointment, saying nothing. It was a waste of time and money, and the therapist eventually let her father know about Gwen’s lack of cooperation.
“I-I don’t hate you,” she stammered, but there was anger in her voice. He raised an eyebrow, and she sighed. “It’s true. I don’t like you. Not like that. But you’re a good guy. I mostly avoid you because I am afraid you’ll get the wrong idea if I don’t. Plus, you are friends with the person I despise most in this world.”
Jacob kicked a rock in the sand, eyes fixed on the ground, and it rolled onto a patch of yellowed grass. There was a sad smile on his face, as though he were struck by both disappointment and relief all at once.
“So, you don’t hate me?”
Gwen’s patience was thinning, and she had already discussed emotions enough for one day. “Your pushiness is annoying. Your friends are assholes. You just don’t ever give up,” she groaned. “But, no, Jacob, I do not hate you.”
Unable to stand the atmosphere, Gwen started through the gate to The Faire. She saw Jacob from the corner of her eye as she passed. A smirk pulled at the corners of his mouth, and he started walking again.
“So, you’re saying, Justin is your reason for avoiding me this whole time?”
Gwen rolled her eyes, ready to be done with the conversation. “Among other things.”
Jacob laughed. “Well, that wouldn’t have been a problem lately. Dude’s been heavy into some drugs or something. Hasn’t been hanging out with much of anybody. Even Heather has been crying every day, getting clingy.” Then he caught himself. “Fuck. I forgot. God, this is so freaking crazy, y’know?”
Gwen nodded. “Drugs, you said? Any idea what kind? Have you seen him taking any?”
Jacob grabbed her arm, and spun her towards him. A couple nearly ran straight into them, unprepared for their abrupt stop. “Suspicious much? Tell me you aren’t turning into one of those wanna-be investigators. You’re just going to get yourself hurt.”
Gwen shook him off. She considered telling him that she had seen Justin in Cassidy’s RV. That he had bolted out a window when he was found out. Did Cassidy know something about his addiction? What was he taking from her home? She stepped forward again, tired of making crowds part for the two of them.
“Chill,” she scoffed. “I’m just asking. I’m not some vigilante.”
Jacob watched her skeptically before releasing a heavy sigh. “With you, I would never know." Gwen tried not to take that as a compliment, but felt a surge of pride despite herself. "I only saw some weird ass bottle, with something pink and powdery inside.”
“Cocaine?” Gwen asked, noting the only powdery drug she really knew.
“Good god, Gwen. Cocaine is fucking white. Have you watched no modern movies?” Gwen glared at him and he relented. “Fine, fine. No, not coke. Never seen anything like it. Hot pink powder, real Barbie shit. Justin kept meeting some blonde guy, not part of The Faire, ever since we came to Colorado. I think he’s the dealer. I never got a good look at him. He was at the wedding, though. He and Justin disappeared right after.”
Gwen’s feet became stones, and the crowd around them fell away. If the dealer was at the wedding…
“Jacob, the wedding, can you recall if all of those girls were there. Everyone that went missing?” There was a sharpness in her tone she hadn’t intended, but she rested her intense gaze on him anyway.
Jacob looked startled, but then thought a moment. “Well, everyone but Heather. She was supposed to be there, you think she was already dead then. Oh my god.”
Gwen grabbed his arm and pulled him forward again. She ignored the blush that crept across his face. They arrived at the stable, and Gwen tried to shoo Jacob away. She was already going to have to walk at least a mile further than she had intended. She wondered how long Aylwin would wait there. What would she do it she arrived to find the cave empty?
What if he did not meet her at all after the night before? Being at the scene of those events made Gwen sweat bullets. She wondered if Jacob could tell. It was irrational, but she was afraid that there would be some evidence of the night's kiss in the wood of the stable or just plain on her face.
“Gwen, you should tell the cops during your interview today,” Jacob said, at her heels as she fed the elephants and shovelled dung. “He’s my friend, and all, but if he had anything to do with this, they have got to know.”
Gwen groaned internally. She had forgotten about the interview, about the cops, about anything further than solving the mystery herself. If it did turn out to be faerie involvement, the cops would be of no use. Other than the iron in their bullets, they had no protection against faeries. Neither, Gwen realized, did she. Aside from having an ally in Aylwin, and an unstable one at that, she had no protection.
“I wasn’t planning on withholding information, if that’s what you are implying, Jacob,” she muttered. “Now, can you go? You’re sort of slowing me down.”
Though Gwen said this, she had actually completed her morning stable check up much quicker than she had anticipated. Roxie, Roo, and Reverend were in the grazing field with several horses, watched carefully by Dean and his parents. The stable was spotless. Food buckets full. Jacob had offered a helping hand, and it turned out to be useful, after all.
He did not look too upset, and saluted her as he left. She watched him go before sneaking off herself, and wondered what life would be like if she had dated him. Would it be morning strolls, and long talks, a helping hand in the stables, and the occasional blush and kiss? She blanched. Never, she said. Yet, she already had kissed someone, and it sat in her mind like a piano hovering over a cartoon character just waiting to drop in some dramatic and hilarious fashion.

“You are late,” Aylwin said. It was already noon, the sun directly above them, and Gwen was panting and out of breath. It was a hundred degrees outside, fahrenheit, and so dry that breathing was abysmal.
“What does time matter to you, faerie? Aren’t you immortal?” Gwen was piqued by the exhaustion she felt, after practically running down the uneven terrain to get there. She did not mean to sound callous and bitter, but it was her default when tired.
Aylwin’s lip curled, clearly displeased. He looked almost in pain. Perhaps, he took her words as an insult. Perhaps, he hated the reminder that he would live well past her death.
Gwen raised her hands in mock surrender. “Sorry, I. Am. Exhausted.”
She walked into the cave without waiting for him to grant her entrance. The shade felt immediately soothing and she collapsed on the floor. The cold stone cooled the back of her shirt which was soaked in sweat. Aylwin followed her in, wordlessly, with a limp in his gate. He looked splendid, dressed in a long cloak, this time in the deep indigo of the night sky. His hair was loose around his shoulders, and reached down below his waist. The hair was crimped in the places that had once held braids. His face seemed paler, and the skin around his eyes seemed darker, but he was still immortaly beautiful. The sweat on his brow sparkling in the dulled sunlight.
The logs where the fire had once been were empty of flame, but the continuous dripping was still echoing from the back of the cavern. The chalk drawings were almost clear in the midday sun peeking around the corner.
Gwen waited until her panting breaths returned to normal, and sat up before speaking. Aylwin leaned against the stone wall beside the entrance, as if ready to make a run for it. As if trying to keep a vast distance between the pair of them. As if he did not have the strength to make the effort.
Gwen did not mind the distance, her face feeling hot again remembering the bad decisions of the night before. They had kissed. She had wanted to hold him there, possibly for eternity. She quelled the thought.
“Are you feeling better, now?” Aylwin asked, his voice hardly a whisper. Gwen almost expected him to call her ‘my dear Gwen’, as he had in her dream. He did not even look at her now, though she stared at him head-on.
“Yes,” she said. “And I want to say three things. One: that kiss last night, forget it. It won’t happen again.”
Aylwin nodded, as if he had anticipated this or had been planning to say the same. Gwen hated that she felt disappointed, her chest turning to osmium, weighing down her expectations to nihility. Had she not already scripted the words she wanted to say, she probably would have said something scathing to punish him for making her feel so worthless.
Instead, she resumed. “Two: I do want my memories back, and I don’t intend to cut you out of my life. I was angry when I said that.”
At this, Aylwin opened his chapped lips to speak, and then closed them. His expression was inscrutable. Gwen thought she saw it flashing from rapture, to scepticism and disapproval. Then to a countenance she could not determine. He clearly was biting back any words that flew through his mind, black eyes flitting to-and-fro before resting on her face.
“The third?” he asked, expression vague and tone unreadable.
Gwen pushed herself to her feet, and walked towards him so that he could see the determination lighting up her face with intensity.
“Three: your people took my friend and six other girls. You are going to take me to Faerie, and I am going to bring them back.”
Aylwin leaned away from the wall, his lips pulled back into a grimace and brows furrowed until only the black of his irises showed. He looked vicious. Truly monstrous.
“No, I will not. I will not allow it.”
Gwen matched his expression, his anger inciting her own. She had tried concealing it, but it would always be there. Rage was thick in her like tar, constantly flowing and recirculating in her like the blood in her veins. It took very little friction, and then it would ignite. She set fire to all the bridges around her that way.
“I will find a way, whether you help me or not. Maybe, I’ll find a more dangerous way. I could get myself killed. But I will be bringing my friend back. I don’t need your help to do it,” she lied. The sharpest words alighted on her tongue and she unleashed them. “You were the one who was so desperate to remain in my life. Prove it.”
Aylwin looked conflicted. He smashed the side of a fist into the stone of the wall, and growled silently to himself. Gwen had thought that he was irate with her, but when he turned back to face her she found that he was weeping dreadful tears. The circles surrounding his eyes seemed darker than ever as the tears glistened over them. Gwen gritted her teeth, and remained impassioned. His eyes met hers, and every remnant of his aggression melted into misery.
“Please do not ask this of me. Please, dear Gwen. Please,” he let himself fall to his knees, head hanging low, hair tangling under his fingers. The movement must have cost him something, because he winced and whined. One by one, teardrops fell from his shaking face hitting the stone like raindrops before a shower begins. “I can’t. I can’t.”
Gwen tried not to feel sorry for him. Too determined in her plans to grant him that much empathy. He had told her about how dangerous the revel had been, but unhealthy levels of dancing and wine did not seem like something to cry so heavily over. Obviously, he had omitted something, but Gwen did not have the time or patience to let that stop her.
Cassidy had already been gone too long. Gwen had seen enough police shows and news segments to know that after a week or two, police stop searching for the person and look instead for their corpse. How likely was it that Cassidy was alive? Especially, if faeries were so cruel that Aylwin would rather weep than assist her in returning to his world.
She watched his performance with a cool detachment. Faeries did not lie, but they made up for it by omitting important things or stretching the truth taut like a rubber band.
“Cassidy is alive.” She hoped in saying so she made it truth. "And I am sure she is there in Faerie. There is not a thing in this world or yours aside from death itself that will keep me from finding her.”
Aylwin nodded, still on his knees and staring at the floor. She heard him sniff, and saw him grasp his lower torso. “Cassidy? I see… I recall the jealous whelp you made of me due to her. To be prized so highly…” he groaned and sat up, and blenched. He did not bother wiping the tears from his face, wrapping his arms instead against his abdomen. “There really is no other way, then?”
Gwen nodded. Resolute and sharp as a whip. She wondered momentarily whether Aylwin had ever met Cassidy in person. Surely, Cassidy would have brought it up in the years since.
He perched a weak smile on his face, the trail of tears still resting there, and his eyes still rimmed with them.
“Well then, if Gwendolyn demands it, I must find a way.”
He pulled himself up to his feet with the wall, and it seemed to take vast amounts of effort. He pulled his cloak closed around him, following that with a hand wiping his face clean. He looked at her, as if lost to what else she expected from him. As if completely lost in general.
“My memories,” Gwen reminded him.
“Y-yes. Right,” he said, clearly still jarred from his emotional outburst.
Though still inhumanly handsome, Gwen could not help but notice that he looked terribly ill. Despite her best efforts not to, she felt pity for him. She imagined him as that small child from her dream, bounding in fields with her while wearing her handmade flower crown. Without the brilliance of his wings, his skin looked sallow, lips chapped. He nearly looked close to human.
He stroked his finger over the chalk drawing on the wall, watching it as if the elephant of yellow might burst from the wall at any moment, or the flowers would bloom heartily out of the stone. He looked at them dearly, nostalgically. When her removed his finger, it was stained with chalk he didn’t bother removing.
“As you can see,” he gestured with an almost imperceptible nod of the head to the art. “I do not have them all. Just the memories that we shared between us two. There may be moments you will not recall, such as times you have spoken about faeries, or any mention you made of me to your family and friends.”
Gwen’s mind flooded with questions. Had she told anyone about it? Did she tell her father about fairies when she was little? Or her mother? Surely, she would have bragged of her adventures to Cassidy. She longed more than anything to speak to Cassidy again. To lay her head on her shoulder, crying with relief. How shocked would Cassidy be to see tears flowing so freely from Gwen’s eyes that were practically deserts.
“Do not worry,” Alwin said, his voice barely a whisper. “If memory serves me, your father believed me to be an imaginary friends, as he told everyone else so when you mentioned me. They preferred his explanation. What else would they think of a faerie boy that they never laid eyes on? You used to think it the most amusing joke.”
He smiled weakly. Seeing his dejected expression, and sickly pallor, Gwen could not stand it anymore.
“What is wrong with you?” she demanded. “Why do you look like you’re practically dying?”
The way he looked at her then made her feel like nothing. Less than the dirt under her boots. Less than the fly buzzing around their heads and near their ears.
“That is not your concern to have,” he muttered, acid in his voice.
“I am making my concern. If I am going to be relying on you, I need to know you are up for the task.”
These were obviously not the correct words. His eyes leveled into such a vindictive glare, Gwen wondered if he had stolen it right off her face.
“If I were not, would you abandon this suicide attempt of a mission?”
“No,” Gwen scoffed. She was offended he thought so little of her ability. “Of course not. I would find some other way, or go it on my own. Even if you didn’t restore my memories today, I would eventually remember how to get to Fairie on my own, wouldn’t I?”
Aylwin heaved a massive sigh, flinching as he did. Obviously, he was defeated.
“Then, I am fine.” He groaned the words with all the childish tones of an annoyed teenager. Of course, that was exactly what he was. Fine, she repeated to herself. A.K.A. the complete opposite. God, he is such a fucking princess. Then her anger softened, recalling the nickname. Recalling their shared memory.
“Come here,” she demanded.
Aylwin eyed her suspiciously, but took slow limping steps towards her.
“Now, stay still.”
As soon as he was within reach, she began patting her hands up and down his legs. She knew she should be embarrassed to be doing so, but continued. Driven careless by her curiosity. He flinched back, ripping his body from her reach.
“What in the hell are you doing?” he asked, nearly shrieking.
His pallid face flushed red, but he was shaking from something like the hidden wound Gwen was positive he had. He could have been just fevered or sick, but the unsteady stance her held suggested he was trying not to stretch his body too far. Like he was trying to compensate for lack of strength in some part of him. His adamance that she not search him made her even more convinced that he was injured.
“I said to stay still,” Gwen admonished, reaching for him again. He stepped away from her, clutching the cloak tightly around to cover himself.
“What is it that you are trying to prove, Gwendolyn?” He tried to muster up some venom in his voice, but his skin was clammy and his eyes unfocused. He closed them, and moved to strengthen his stance.
“Don’t move!” She growled and grabbed him firmly. Just as he had firmly grabbed her the night prior. She pushed the thought down so as not to back down from her determination.
He tried to escape her grasp, but she had tightened her grip and his current strength was not enough to break free of her. She pinned his arms to the wall, continuing her frisk. Ignoring his heaving breaths and blushed cheeks, she moved her arms up and down each side of his arm feeling only sinewy muscle and fabric. Once she reached his waist, his breath hissed inwards and he recoiled to the side. There was a noise in his throat that resembled a stifled scream. He clenched the cloak around him tighter.
Gwen gripped the collar of it and threw it open. The navy fabric flew over his shoulders, revealing that he was wearing the same shirt as the night before. The tan fabric was stained with fresh blood, spread in splotches around a perfectly circular hole. She dropped her hands, giving up the fight. She had found worse than what she had been looking for.
“Were you shot?!”
He pulled the cloak back down over his shoulders, veiling the bloodstain with his hand. The chalk from his finger left a yellow residue on his dark cloak. He did not answer, and did not meet her eyes. Gwen took his nonresponse as a confirmation. How had this happened when she had just seen him only hours before.
“Who shot you? What happened?” Gwen heard something in her voice that she had only heard directed at Cassidy or her father. Concern. Terrified, desperate concern.
“I am fine,” he mumbled. “I heal quickly. I will still find a way.”
Gwen shook her head. “No, we need to get you medical help. We need to get you something.”
“Gwen, you are not going to go there on you own.”
“Good God, Aylwin. Do you not get that I am fucking worried about you?”
That stunned him. He stared dumbstruck, openmouthed. Then, a completely tipsy smile found his lips, and his legs failed him.
“Aylwin? Aylwin, come on.” Gwen had flown to his side, placing his arm over her shoulder and hoisted him back to his feet. She started out of the cave, tugging the staggering Aylwin beside her. He was lighter than her, but she knew it would feel heavier the further she carried him.
“The memories,” he cried.
“That’s not important right now. We can figure that out later, but not if you bleed out and die,” Gwen said. She took one last glance to an image closest to the mouth of the cavern. Blue Aylwin, wings out hovering above the line for the land, Yellow Gwen holding hands and dangling below. Her feet were also above the land line. Had he flown with her in tow? She looked away, promising herself that she would get those memories back sooner rather than later. But there was something deep within her, some kind of foreboding feeling that told her this would be the last time she saw this place. She continued out the door, anyway.
The key to her memories, after all, was Aylwin. What she longed to remember were moments with this faerie who was dying. What use would they be to her if she let him die there? What regret would she feel once she had them and he was gone?
Carrying him was heavy, unrelenting labor. But she imagined him dangling her flailing childish weight far above the ground. If he could make her fly, she could surely help him walk.