Ballad a gathering of f.., p.9

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, page 9

 part  #2 of  Books of Faerie Series


Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie

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Page 9


  She frowned at the eyelash. “I think you made that up. ”

  I shuffled around to put my back to the wall and settled next to her, wrapping my arms around my legs. The bricks were cold on my butt. “If I was going to make something up, it’d be a hell of a lot more interesting than that. They were all like ‘teen girls are pulling out their eyelashes to relieve stress and now they’re hideously bald. ’ I wouldn’t make that up. ”

  “I’ll put it back, if it makes you feel better,” Dee offered. She poked at her eye, reminding me again of its redness. I hated that she’d been crying. “My harp teacher is an ogre. How is your piping person?”

  “I killed and ate him. They’re making me learn piano to punish me for it. ”

  Dee’s eyebrows pulled together in her cute worried way. “I can’t picture you playing the piano. ”

  I thought of earlier that day, Nuala’s fingers on mine and the piano keys beneath. “I can’t picture a harp teacher as an ogre. I thought all you harpists were supposed to be, I dunno, ephemeral. ”

  “Forty-point word. ”

  “At least fifty. Have you ever tried spelling it?”

  Dee shook her head. “But she is an ogre. She keeps on telling me to hold my elbows out and I don’t want to and she goes on and on about how I’m doing everything all wrong and that I’ve learned from idiot folk musicians. What if I don’t want to play classical? What if I just want to play Irish stuff? I don’t think you have to hold your elbows out to be a good harpist. ” Her mouth made a terrible shape, very close to tears. But there was no way something like a jerk teacher would send Dee to tears—she was a lot stronger than she looked. There had to be something else bothering her.

  Dee bit her lower lip, as if to straighten her mouth out. “And the stupid dorms are so awful when it rains, you know? There’s no place to get away. ”

  I couldn’t ask her what was really wrong. Funny, now that I thought about it, I’d never really been able to—so I just sighed and stretched one of my arms over her head, an invitation. She didn’t even hesitate before edging closer and resting her cheek against my chest. I heard her sigh, deeper than mine, weightier. I wrapped my arms around her shoulder and leaned my head back against the wall. Dee in my arms was warm, substantial, surreal. It felt like it had been a thousand years since I’d hugged her.

  I closed my eyes and thought about what someone would think if they came out onto the portico and saw us. That we were boyfriend and girlfriend? That Dee loved me and had snuck over from her dorm to meet me back here? Or would they see the truth—that it meant nothing. I’d thought we had something, until this summer, until Luke. But I’d been stupid.

  It was killing me, the wanting. The wanting for this—her in my arms, her tears on my T-shirt—to mean the same thing for her that it meant for me. If it had, if she’d really been my girlfriend, I would’ve asked her why she was crying. Why she was sitting under the columns of my dorm instead of hers. If she’d seen Nuala. If it was her fault that Nuala was here in the first place.

  But I couldn’t ask her anything.

  “Talk,” Dee said, her voice muffled against my T-shirt.

  I thought I’d misunderstood her. I opened my eyes, watched the gray clouds roll in sheets to the ground. “What?”

  “Just say something, James. I just want to hear you talk. Be funny. Just talk. ”

  I didn’t feel like being funny. “I’m always funny. ”

  “Then be what you are always. ”

  I asked, “Why were you crying?”

  But she didn’t answer, because I hadn’t said it out loud.

  The truth was that I was too grateful for her presence here at all to push my luck by asking questions that might frighten her away. So I babbled to her about my classes and the foibles of Paul and Doritos as alarm clocks, and I was completely flippant and funny and even as she began to laugh, I was dying with wanting.


  If just for a moment to belong

  To be caught in the wondrous net of family

  Would it be untrue or wrong

  To say ‘I live here; this is home,’ so earnestly?

  —from Golden Tongue: The Poems of Steven Slaughter

  Watching James come out to rescue Dee behind the dorm put me in a bad mood. I got tired of watching her boohoo-ness really fast, and decided to go to the movie theater instead. If I was going to be witness to that amount of melodrama, I wanted it to be delivered by a highly paid and beautiful head on a big screen. On the walk over to the theater, I thought of the multitude of things I didn’t like about Dee. While I waited in line for a ticket—not that I really needed a ticket—I wondered if she practiced her sad faces in a mirror. Or if she was just a natural at invoking sympathy in male types. Not something I really had talent for myself.

  The kid at the ticket counter looked bored. “Which movie?”

  “Surprise me,” I told him, and waved money at him.

  It took him a moment to figure out what I meant. “Seriously?”

  “Serious as death. ”

  He raised his eyebrows, punched something into the computer, and then gave me an evil grin that made me think fondly on the human race in general. He handed me a ticket, face down. “Go right. Second theater. Have fun. ”

  I rewarded him with a smile and headed down the dim carpeted hall. It smelled of popcorn butter, carpet cleaner, and that other odor that always seemed to invade theaters—anticipation, or something. In such familiar surroundings, my brain returned to its previous preoccupation: things that I hated about Dee.

  One, her eyes were too big. She looked like an alien.

  I counted the doors to the second theater and resisted the temptation to look up at the sign above the door to see what movie Ticket-Boy had chosen for me.

  Two, her voice was pretty at first, but it got annoying fast. If I wanted to hear singing, I’d get a CD.

  Inside the theater, it was quiet and fairly empty—only two or three other couples. Maybe that wicked grin from Ticket-Boy was because he had sent me to a dud.

  Three, she used James to make herself feel better. It was the sort of attribute I only liked for me to have.

  I chose a seat in the dead center of the theater and put my feet up on the chair in front of me. It was the perfect seat. If anyone came in and sat in front of me, I’d kill them.

  Four, she fit in James’ arms too perfectly. Like she’d been there before. Like she was claiming him.

  The trailers boomed to life in front of me. Normally I would’ve basked in them, enjoyed the promise of movies to come, but I couldn’t focus on them tonight. For starters, I wouldn’t be around for any of the movies they were advertising—they were all for the Christmas season and next year—and plus, I was rehearsing dialogue in my head for next time I saw James.

  “Unrequited love,” I’d say. He’d look at me sideways in that cunning way he did and say, “What about it?” and I’d reply, “It’s just not your color. ” Pithy. Just to show him that I’d noticed. Or maybe I’d show myself to her and say, “Guess I’m not the only one who uses humans around here. ” And then I’d summon some of Owain’s hounds to chew off the bottom bits of her legs. Then she wouldn’t fit just right into his arms. She’d be too short. It’d be like hugging a midget.

  I grinned in the theater.

  The movie began with a sweeping rock ballad from the ’70s and a helicopter shot of New York City. The guitar work was inspired—I wondered if I’d had anything to do with it. It quickly became apparent that Ticket-Boy had sent me to a romantic comedy. Not really my thing, but at least it would take my mind off James and the song he’d played for me earlier. It was unbearable to think I might never hear it played out loud again. I was getting a crush on it.

  For a half hour, I tried to get into the movie but I couldn’t. It was cutesy, and they kissed, and there was lovey music. And I started thinking how I would fit into James’ arms, if my head would fit just right
under his chin like Dee’s had. And then I started thinking about his car, how it had smelled like him, and I imagined that smell clinging to my skin.


  I got up and pushed my way out of the theater. I didn’t stop to talk to Ticket-Boy, although I felt his eyes on me. He probably thought I hated the movie. Maybe I had. I walked straight out into the twilight. The rain had stopped; thunder growled far away. I headed down the rain-slicked sidewalk, fast, as if I could put space between me and my thoughts.

  It wasn’t like there hadn’t been tension of the sexual variety between me and my pupils before—the guys, poor little lambs, almost always wanted to get my clothing off, which just made them work harder and sound all the more beautiful.

  But it wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I wasn’t human.

  I was so caught up in myself that I didn’t realize I wasn’t alone until the street lights flickered around me, guttering and flickering like candles before shining brightly again. Whoever—whatever—it was, it wouldn’t do to look cowed, so I kept walking along the sidewalk as if I hadn’t noticed. Maybe it was only a solitary faerie who would leave me alone.

  My hopes disappeared when I heard voices, distantly, and saw two faeries approaching me on the sidewalk. My stomach flopped over in a hollow kind of way, an unfamiliar sensation. Nerves.

  It was the queen.

  Before she had been queen—before the previous queen had been ripped into pieces—Eleanor always wore white. The white had lent her pale gold hair more color. Now that she was queen, Eleanor wore green according to the oldest traditions, and her long hair looked nearly white under the streetlights. Tonight’s dress was of course a thing of freakin’ beauty, deep green-black with golden rings and spangles stitched into the sleeves and into the high collar that covered her long neck and framed her chin. Some sort of jewels glittered at me from her train, which dragged on the sidewalk behind her. Unlike the previous queen, Eleanor didn’t wear a crown—only a small circlet of pearls that shone dully like baby teeth.

  She was so beautiful that it ached. Was this what James felt when he saw me?

  Eleanor saw me and laughed, terrible and lovely. The person beside her was not a faerie, as I’d first thought, but rather her consort, the man from the dance. He smiled at me with one corner of his mouth and looked back at Eleanor. He was very human; fragile and stolen and in love.

  “Ah, little whore,” Eleanor said, pleasantly. “By what name are you called this time?”

  I’d heard the word too many times before to flinch. I tilted my chin up, defiant. “You’d ask me to say my name where anyone could have it?” After I said it, I regretted it. I waited for the obvious comeback, heard a thousand times before: Anyone could have the rest of you.

  But Eleanor just smiled at me, benevolent; with wonder, I thought perhaps she hadn’t meant “whore” as an insult, merely as a title. Then she spoke. “Not your true name, faerie. What does your current boy call you?”

  James had said no to me, so saying “Nuala” was technically a lie. I couldn’t lie any more than Eleanor could, so I was forced into telling the truth. “I don’t have anyone at the moment. ”

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