Chapter One

“Meliae, where are you?” Lola called, pushing wet strands of hair out of her eyes. The storm had lasted three hours, knocking out the power. At least the rain slowed to a tolerable downpour. They had a couple hours before darkness set in, but why hadn’t Meliae come inside?

Lola crossed the backyard to the edge of the woods and high-stepped through weeds until she came to a hollowed-out tree stump. Jeans soaked, she dropped to her knees and pulled open a hinged section she’d fashioned into a door.

Empty.

Fear edged up her spine. Her fairy was old. The rain would damage her wings if she was out in it too long.

“Meliae!” Lola ran down the path to the small cabin, jumped over a puddle, and raced up three steps. She barreled through the wooden door into the space that used to be her dad’s writing office. Now, she used it for her own escape—a place to close out the rest of the world.

She pushed the door closed and reclined against it, running her hands through her sopping hair. At least her new bob-cut would dry quicker. She pulled her red T-shirt over her head, dropped it on the floor by the door, and grabbed a green hoodie off the back of the desk chair. The lining hugged her arms and belly with soft warmth.

The hundred-years old zipper stuck two-thirds of the way up, leaving a gap through the word “Northern” written across the front. “And that’s why I leave you out here.” Lola yanked on the pull but it wouldn’t budge. “Fine. Be stubborn. Are you in here, Meliae?”

Lola flipped on a battery-powered lantern and located a second light in her grandmother’s wooden chest, sitting along the adjacent wall. In just a few steps, she crossed the room and set the lantern on the only other piece of furniture—a black leather chaise lounge.

Lightning flashed, followed by a loud crack. Rain hammered the roof. Lola tugged on the curtains behind the desk. The window framed a great view of the woods during the day, brilliant with wildflowers and newly leafed-out trees, but it was not so gorgeous on a stormy evening. With another zap of lightning, Lola watched the creek, filled to capacity, as it moved across their property.

“Meliae?”

The air sizzled. A rainbow of colors flickered on the corner of the desk. Lola squinted through the shadows and leaned forward. “Is that you?”

A four-inch figure materialized, disappeared, then came into view again. The fairy landed on the desk, arms lifted from her sides as she watched her body and sword come and go like a short-circuiting light fixture.

“Hold still.” Lola set the lantern on the corner of the desk and snagged a throw off the chair. She slipped to her knees. “Let me dry you.” She ran a corner of the blanket over Meliae’s body and wings.

With a purplish-green exoskeleton and green abdomen, Meliae resembled an oversized, mutated grasshopper, except her black eyes were kind and lined with a purple mask. Her antennae hung long and wispy, nearly invisible. Not the typical fairy found in story books, but she was the best friend a lonely child could have.

From the beginning, Meliae understood Lola’s words. English and Spanish. Probably because she was Meliae’s fifty-seventh assignment.

Meliae laughed an unusual noise, like rattling pebbles.

“Always ticklish.” Lola smiled, her nerves settling. “Where were you?”

The fairy held out her arms again and motioned toward the house.

“Oh. You came out, but I didn’t see you?”

Meliae nodded, then opened the grass-woven pouch that hung across her body. She extracted a handful of dust and rubbed it over her wings.

“Why are you glitching?”

Meliae patted her chest then let out a long, soft whistle.

“You’re old. I know. But what does that mean? That water washes off the dust more quickly, or is something else happening?”

Dust wafted into the air as Meliae shook out her wings and fluttered an inch off the desk. She bowed in Lola’s direction.

Lola narrowed her eyes. Bowing always meant goodbye, but Meliae hovered in the air instead of moving toward the exit Lola had created for her under the chest.

“What are you trying to tell me?”

Meliae settled on the desk, shrugged, and touched her chest. Did that mean she was uncertain? Like she didn’t know what was going on, or what her future held? Alarm washed through Lola. She always knew their time together was limited, but she wasn’t ready to lose the only friend who listened while everyone else disappeared into the chaos of their lives.

“You can’t leave me yet. I still need you.”

With four-digited, hand-like claws fisted on her hips, Meliae stood tall, chirping sharply five times. A sound of disapproval. She pointed toward the house and opened her hands, palms up. The tilt of her head gave a nurturing vibe as her wings vibrated in a purr.

“Yes, Mom is having the baby, but that doesn’t mean I won’t need you. Besides, she’s been in labor all day. I have this feeling something is wrong.”

Meliae shook her head, spun around, and lifted into the air again. An admonishment, as if Lola worried for no reason.

“Maybe I shouldn’t worry, but I can’t help it. The baby’s early, and I’m scared she’ll lose it again, and then…” Lola sat back on her heels, the blanket in her lap. Waiting was the worst. Not knowing. Dad hated texting. Unless there was new information, she wouldn’t hear from him. His phone was probably in the car, or in Mom’s purse.

One of Meliae’s wings glided along the other, causing a sad, exaggerated hum—an invitation for Lola to talk about her fears.

“If Mom loses the baby, she won’t want me around. But I can’t leave again. I don’t know what I’m going to do, especially if you—”

The door burst open. Lola hopped to her feet and grabbed the lantern, the blanket falling to the floor. A shadow fell over Meliae, but the fairy had disappeared. Lola turned to face their intruder and stared into the face of Chase Stenger—her neighbor and former best friend.

A year older at seventeen and completely obnoxious, he was still hotter than her mom’s green chili sauce. Not that she cared. His dark brown hair hung in straight strands, dripping water into his eyes.

She didn’t hate anyone, but Chase came close.

If you would like to read more, please sign up for our newsletter in the sidebar off to the right and follow the instructions inside the newsletter. Thank you for reading. –T. S. Mart