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Authors: Amanda McGee

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BOOK: Extraordinary
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This must have been what Alice felt like after she tumbled into the rabbit hole and ate the growth-spurt cake. This entire experience resembled a fairytale within a fairytale. I could not resist a smirk as I reached in my pocket for my own personal magic potion. Though this one would not shrink me, the long-term side effects were still to be determined.

“Would you care for some tea?” Arwen asked coyly.

“Alex doesn’t drink tea,” Tristan answered for me.

Does he remember everything?

“Oh, I can make coffee!” Arwen exclaimed.

“No, no don’t trouble yourself,” I said. “Got what I need right here.”

I deposited two drops of tonic on my tongue but instead of another memorable experience, melancholy enveloped me. Concern for Sadie and Blaze bubbled up, deepening my heartache. I wondered what they felt like, what conditions they were facing, if they were alive or...

Don’t even think it.

“So Arwen,” I said, joining them at the predictably tiny table. “Where are your parents?”

“My parents died when I was three.”

“I’m sorry. Who else lives here?”

“Just me.”

“It is not safe for a child to live alone, especially in the middle of the creepiest forest known to man.”

“Alex, he’s twenty-three,” Tristan whispered, embarrassed.

“Get out!” I said, nearly falling off my miniature chair. “I’m sorry Arwen, you just look very young.”

There was a story behind this, I was certain. I had insulted him enough, asking more personal questions would send me further over the line. I noticed the glances exchanged between Tristan and Arwen.

I wondered if they knew one another. They were close in age, maybe they went to school together?

In spite of my overwhelming interest, I did not pry; I simply bit my tongue a bit harder.

“Don’t be sorry,” Arwen said. “Life has just made me this way. We all have our crosses to bear.”

Thankfully, my questions were not required. The conversation had been set in motion and I lingered with silent intrigue.

“Arwen’s parents died when he was three,” Tristan said. “Katerina took him in.”

A hum of awe reverberated in my chest. Then it sunk in that it was Katerina we were talking about. Arwen’s introverted personality and constant need to stare at the floor lowered any expectations that his story was a happy one.

“Once I came to live with Kat I stopped growing. I expect that is why I walk hunched over. I experience great pain with each movement because I was not allowed to grow properly.”

“She did something to make you stop growing?” I asked angrily.

Tristan and Arwen both flinched at the fury in my tone. The words came out much harsher than I intended but my hatred for Katerina was beginning to consume me.

“She never admitted to doing so but I have always believed she did something to me. I was grateful to not be homeless but also dreamed of the day I could escape.”

Arwen leaned forward to massage his knees. He said his joints ached from his stunted growth and that even the weight of lifting his own hand to eat was a challenge.

“Imagine being an adult crammed into a child’s body,” he said. “My own body is a prison and I cannot live like this much longer.”

“Do you have any special powers?” I asked.

Arwen resumed his stare at the floor while shaking his head “no.” My anger grew with each agonizing detail. Katerina’s evil stretched far beyond the greedy revenge she wished to enact against our family. The wickedness in her soul shrouded all that she encountered, in addition to those she hunted.

“I never got any,” he said. “They never developed.”

Katerina stole his powers. Fury stored from a lifetime of oppression shown through his sad, green eyes. Arwen was another casualty of Katerina’s tyranny.

“I may not be able to provide mystical assistance but I am certain I can be of help to you,” Arwen continued.

“Help us do what?” I said.

“Defeat Katerina and free your siblings.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“It would be my honor to assist you but you would be doing me a favor as well. I knew from the first time I saw you that you were exactly what I had been waiting for. I tried to stop her that day at your house but there was no convincing her otherwise. But I could see the intensity in you and your sister. You never backed down.”

“Didn’t do much good I suppose,” I said.

“I’ve never seen anyone put up such a fight with her. Not since your mother that is.”

“You knew my mother?”

“I had just come to live with Katerina when it all went down. I was too young to know what was truly going on but I do vaguely remember your mother and how Katerina has been obsessed with her ever since.”

It was beginning to seem like everyone else knew my mother better than I did. I lived with her every day of my life and never suspected a thing.

Who would ever suppose their mom was a magical do-gooder?

“Excuse me a second please,’ I said, waddling to the front door.

Once outside, I stretched my arms as far above my head as humanly possible. My muscles pulled and contracted and were so overjoyed they practically sang a tune. Then and there I promised to never complain about my height unless I was cramped inside a small box again.

Katerina’s ominous abode must have been miles away because the sun and the forest existed in all their natural glory, not the edited version that surrounded her. The sun shone on my face, cleansing me. Closing my eyes, I tried with all my might to slip into a happier place.

There was something healing about the sun. Even on my worst day, I could walk outside and feel its heat on my skin. My problems would often disappear long enough for me to realize they were not as severe as I had believed them to be.

This was not one of those times.

A hand touched my shoulder and, instinctively, I swung around with balled fists. Tristan ducked just as my right hook blew past him.

“Whoa, easy,” he said. “It’s just me...well unless you meant to swing on me.”

“Of course not,” I said. “This is all so ridiculous. This world, this predicament, this tiny little house. It is all ridiculous.”

I took a few steps back and faced the sun once more. I prayed that it would work its magic on me. I pleaded for it to show me that my problems weren’t as severe as I imagined them to be, to unwind me and transport me back to a time when violence wasn't my first instinct. My eyelids slammed together so tightly the darkness behind them resembled television snow.

The sun’s powers failed me again. Instead of calm, I felt lightheaded.  Instead of escaping to a happier place, I became more aware of the hell I had found myself in. Intense concentration and dread overwhelmed my already unstable system. My eyes snapped opened for fear that another fainting spell was imminent.

“Are you feeling
all right?” Tristan asked.

“Just dizzy from being hunched over,” I said. “How can we be sure we can trust him? I sympathize with him Tristan, I really do but at the end of the day, he is i
n cahoots with Katerina. His sad story could just be an act.”

“Cahoots?” he said, laughing again.

“Look, I get that you think my antics and vocabulary are hilarious but in case you have forgotten I am dying here. Literally dying! And my brother and sister, who are also dying, are being held hostage. And I've hit some world record for injuries. So let’s just tone down the shenanigans.”

He offered an almost serious expression but it was about as transparent as the air around us. It became evident that he was fighting to hold back his true reaction. My words had triggered something deep inside him making the withholding of amusement nearly impossible.

“Just laugh before your eyes pop out of the sockets,” I said.

Tristan vehemently shook his head, standing firm on his dedication to obey my original request. The more he resisted the redder his face became. The pure spectacle of his behavior was causing a boost of silliness to brew within me as well. It was not everyday, I expect, that Tristan would have a giggle fit and, even employing my best efforts, it was beginning to rub off on me.

With a glance, the two of us released our pent-up juvenile snickers. For another tiny moment in time, we had a customary young adult reaction. There was no danger or separations to worry over we were simply normal again.

“You had me until shenanigans, then I lost it,” he said.

“I knew I had lost control as soon as it came out of my mouth,” I said. “My life is so absurd you almost have to laugh.”

“I agree,” he said. “It is ridiculous. Especially to someone who is not accustomed to this world, it is intense. I’m sorry for not handling it like an adult.”

“I forgive you. I needed that. We both needed that.”

Tristan placed his arms over my shoulders, clasping his hands at the base of my neck. Bending so that his forehead was touching mine, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. I wondered what he was thinking. Good or bad? Then a smile stretched across his lips. Good. Even at close range, his smile was reassuring.

“The last thing any of us needs is for someone to panic,” I whispered. “Sadie and Blaze need me. I have to keep my head on straight.”

“I will get you home,” he said softly. “All of you. I promise you.”

“That is a big promise, Tristan.”

“I only have time for one so I better make it a good one.”

What little portion of my heart that wasn’t shattered already was pummeled into dust and carried off into the forest by the summertime breeze. Unlike most couples, we didn’t have our whole lives to prove our love for one another; we only had right now. Tristan and my relationship was set on fast-forward—a lifetime of love, devotion, and displays of affection in a matter of days. This was an impossible feat for anyone to accomplish much less two people whose lives were in danger.

If I never believed another thing for the remainder of my existence, I believed that Tristan would keep his promise. My concern was the lengths he would go to do so.

Tristan leaned in for a quick peck on the lips, any longer and I may have grown even more frantic.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Arwen said.

Arwen turned his attention to the sky, while Tristan and I chuckled at his embarrassment.

“I’m so sorry,” Arwen continued. “I’m so sorry.”

“No reason for you to be sorry,” I said. “It was nothing.”

Arwen loitered with his eyes on the ground, as usual. Although, he was a few years older than Tristan and me, Arwen’s childlike demeanor had me embarrassed that he’d walked up on us.

Arwen reminded me of a boy from the 1950s selling newspapers on the street corner. He was now wearing a beret to accompany his too-short tweed pants and brown suspenders. His style, though outdated, was utterly adorable.

“Arwen,” I said, kneeling. “You can understand why I’d be skeptical of your help. You seem like a thoughtful, genuine guy but life has been a bit unpredictable for me recently and I needed to process and decide if I believe you are sincere.”

“I’m not sure how I can prove myself,” he said.

“I don’t mean to insult your character,” I added. “It was certainly not my intention but I think you can understand my skepticism.”

“I can only give you my word. I tried to make the best of the life Katerina provided but I am not the person she would like me to be.”

He shuffled over to a wooden chair resting adjacent to the house. The pain involved in this effort emanated through his face despite his attempts to hide it. Bending his legs to walk or sit should not have been such a burden. I may have lacked trust in his intentions but my sympathy for him as a human being increased with his every wince.

“I do not wish to live my life in darkness,” he continued, his eyes watering. “This is no way to live. I spend my days surrounded by evil while Katerina demoralizes everything in sight, including me. I may never get to walk through town on a sunny day or find someone to love but if I can help you, then you can have those things and I can, at least, be free of her and her power over me. Truly free.”

Agonizing tears skimmed his cheek, sliding their way down to his quaking lips. Any doubt of his sincerity, or my ability to stand firm, was sufficiently washed away. I kneeled beside him laying a hand on his shoulder. My heart pleaded for me to wrap my arms around his feeble frame and, possibly, offer Arwen his first dose of true affection since the passing of his parents. My stubborn brain, resuming its usual cynicism, screamed for me to resist or risk forming another bond that was destined to be broken.

Too late again, brain.

“Arwen, you are a sweet man,” I said. “You deserve the chance to find happiness for yourself. Promise me that when this is all over you will try.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

With my thumb I wiped the remaining tears from his cheek. A smile as big as, I imagined, he had ever had a reason to display, began to shine through. In this moment, I recognized that a friendship was blossoming in spite of what the future may hold.

“I don’t mean to be emotional,” he said. “I have been overlooked for so long; it is nice to have someone see me as a human being. I often wondered if the day would come when I might be seen as such.”

BOOK: Extraordinary
12.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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