Hi all, I`m back! Hope you enjoy!
"You`re going on a date!?" Kendra gaped at Seth from the couch, excitement and shock evident on her face.
Seth rolled his eyes, trying not to smile.
"Who`s going on a date?" Bracken, his unicorn friend and his sister`s boyfriend poked his head out of the kitchen doorway.
"Seth is!" Kendra called back before turning her attention back to him. "Who are they? What`s their name? Where did you meet? When are you going?"
Again, Seth rolled his eyes at his sister, but Kendra wasn't deterred. Ever since the two of them had moved in together, she had been obsessed with trying to find him a date. After the both of them had graduated high school, they had made the move to New York City, for Kendra to go to college and Seth to enter official training for the Knights of the Dawn. The apartment they shared was in Manhattan, and it was just big enough for him and Kendra to share comfortably, but it also meant that it was nearly impossible to hide anything from her.
"Her name is Juliette. She works at the café next to the Knights headquarters." Seth could barely hide his smile. "She asked me out, we`re going to the carnival in the park next week."
Kendra smiled, clapping. "Ooh! That's so fun!"
Seth grinned a little. "Thanks. I am one of the funnest people alive."
"That`s not a word." Bracken came out of the kitchen, balancing two mugs, a bottle of root beer and a huge bowl of popcorn in his arms. It was lucky the unicorn had nearly perfect balance, or else he would have painted the floor with hot chocolate and popcorn. He handed one of the mugs to Kendra and the other to him, plopping down on the couch with the popcorn next to Kendra. "Are you going to pick her up or are you going to meet somewhere else?"
Seth frowned. "Well I say it is. And also, I think she`s coming here to pick me up."
Bracken grinned. "I like it, a woman who takes charge."
"I know. You date my sister." Bracken tried not to laugh as Kendra threw a piece of popcorn at him as he sat next to her, picking up the remote and pulling up Netflix on the TV. As he found the next episode of Game of Thrones, Bracken shifted, putting his arm around Kendra.
"I`m serious Seth, that`s exactly what you need."
Seth glanced at Bracken. "I don't know if I should be offended or not."
"You most definitely shouldn't be. But you can be a mess." Kendra asserted, taking a sip from her mug.
Seth shrugged a little as the opening theme of Game of Thrones began to play. "You aren't wrong."
"Seth, I`m going to be honest, this doesn't seem like a good idea." Seth frowned at Tanu.
"Because you`re Seth Sorenson and she`s normal." Warren put in, ignoring Seth`s offended look. "You know I`m right."
"I wouldn't say that." Seth glowered, kicking his feet up on the dashboard of the car, turning his head to look at Warren. His cousin laid down the backseat of the car, half asleep. The three of them were on their way back to Fablehaven, and Seth and Warren slept as Tanu drove. Normally, Seth would just go with Kendra and travel between the fairy shrines, but Kendra was in California with Bracken, and Warren and Tanu had offered to road trip with him. Having finally cracked and told them about Juliette, he was kind of regretting it now.
"She`s cool. Really cool. And she`s not normal." Seth thought of her, and her crooked smile as she teased him for putting too much milk in his coffee.
Warren rolled his eyes at him. "Seth I don't mean normal as in if she`s a college student studying finance versus an art school dropout. I mean that you are a shadow charmer who happens to work at a secret magical agency, while she works at a café. Besides, she doesn't even know your real name."
Seth turned back around, his scowl deepening as he thought about the fake last names he and Kendra had been given, all coming with a fake backstory and identity.
"Seth, we`re just saying that things can get very complicated, very quickly. She doesn't know your life, and chances are nothing will be permanent." Tanu amended soothingly.
Seth pouted, slouching back in his seat. "You guys are so pessimistic."
He heard Warren shift in the back, leaning forward and placing a hand on Seth`s shoulder. "You need to be prepared for what could happen before it does. Take it from a couple of guys who`ve gone through it."
Seth leaned forward, suddenly enthralled. "Gone through it?"
Tanu chuckled. "Yeah Warren, why don't you tell us about good old Kelly?"
"Kelly?" Seth whipped around to look at Warren.
His cousin rolled his eyes, sitting back in his seat. "No way."
"Come on Warren!"
"You can`t wear that shirt with those pants." Bracken`s amused voice spoke from the doorway. Seth turned to see the unicorn leaning up against the doorframe, smirking at him.
Seth pouted. "Why not?"
Bracken raised one of his eyebrows. "Because you look ridiculous. Come on." He gestured for Seth to follow him, and he led the way to Seth`s room, pulling open his closet and looking through it.
"When did you turn into the fashion police?" Seth grumbled, inwardly thankful Bracken took pity on him.
"Because you were planning on wearing cargo shorts on a first date, and that makes me kind of ashamed to know you."
Seth looked down at the tan cargo shorts and red shirt he had put on after work. It was Saturday, the day after he had gotten back from Fablehaven and had already gone to the Knights headquarters and back. And Juliette was going to be here in ten minutes.
"Okay your majesty, what am I wearing?"
"You`re going to that carnival in the park right?"
"Yeah." Seth replied, thinking about the text he had gotten this morning from Juliette, telling him to bring enough money for dinner and rides.
"Okay, you`re going to wear these pants," Bracken tossed dark blue jeans at him. "And this shirt. Go put it on and then come back so I can make sure you look presentable."
Admitting defeat, Seth headed back to the bathroom and pulled on the jeans and a nice dark green shirt that he was sure Kendra had bought for him some time or another. Looking in mirror, Seth had to admit it was better than the one he had on before. Releasing a breath, he tried not to think about how nervous he was to see Juliette. He had never been on a real date before, at least not with a girl he actually cared about.
But he could do it. Right? He had faced the end of the world, but he was nervous about a date. He tried and failed to convince himself he was fine, and then headed back to his bedroom. Bracken sat on his bed, waiting for him. Looking up, a smile broke out across the unicorn`s face.
"Oh look at that, our little Seth can pull himself together for his first date." Bracken mocked and Seth rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, thanks. That`s helpful."
Considering him more closely, the unicorn sighed. "Look, you just have to relax. Being all tensed up will just make things awkward. Be polite, hold doors for her, and at least try to win her a stuffed animal from one of those stupid games. Cheat if you have to."
Seth scoffed. "Wow, great advice. Impart upon me all your wisdom my Prince." Hastening into a mocking bow, he felt Bracken lunge forward, pushing him out of his room. Together the two of them raced down the hallway to the living room.
Where Kendra and Juliette stood. Great. Just fantastic. Seth coughed, feeling his cheeks heat up in embarrassment. Juliette was smirking at him and Kendra stared at him with dry amusement in her eyes. Juliette wore black pants and a white shirt, a dark blue button up tied around her waist. As per usual, she didn't carry a purse, but a small black backpack. Her red hair was left down around her face and she was making his heart do annoying little leaps in his chest.
Bracken cleared his throat, holding his hand out to Juliette. "I`m Bracken. Hi." Juliette took his hand, shaking it firmly. She looked interested, but not at all ruffled.
"I heard." She turned to Seth, looking him up and down. He felt himself squirm under her gaze. Why did she make him so nervous? "You clean up nicely."
"Well I did promise I wouldn't embarrass you." The words exited his mouth before he could think about them, and with that, it was all back to normal, just like it always was between them.
Kendra grinned, walking over to Bracken and grabbing his hand, pulling him towards the couch. "You two should get going. It was nice to meet you Juliette. Seth, we`ll see you when you get back. Have fun!"
Bracken bid them goodbye too, Juliette answered for the both of them, surprising him by grabbing his hand and pulling him out the door. "Cab or subway?" She asked as they exited the apartment building.
"Subway?" Given it was rush hour in New York City, he didn't feel like being stuck in traffic for an hour.
"Good enough for me." Setting off down the street, Seth tried to chill out, knowing how awkward he was being.
But Juliette did him a favor and broke the silence. "I take it Bracken dressed you?"
"How did you know that?" He stared at her in shock, wondering if she really was magical after all. "Did Kendra tell you?"
But she was grinning at him now, delight on her eyes. "Actually, your sister tried to cover for you. I knew it as soon I saw you. Cargo shorts and workout shorts are like the only thing you wear."
"Okay, okay, I get it. I need to diversify my wardrobe." Seth was laughing, trying to suppress the extra loud nervous laughter bubbling up in his chest.
"Kendra was really nice by the way. She seems like a great sister." Juliette spoke up, glancing over at him.
"Yeah." Seth grinned a little. "She is. Was it as scary as you thought it would be?" For the entire week prior, Juliette had been stressing out about meeting Kendra, despite his assurance that his sister would love her.
She shoved him gently as they approached the stairs to the subway. "Shut up."
Laughing, he followed her down to the subway stop and up to the tracks. They were lucky, only two minutes later, a train pulling in and its doors opening. They fought their way inside, choosing to stand and hold onto the railings instead of sitting in what Juliette called "the germ collectors" that were the seats.
The subway ride was short, and as the train pulled into their station, Juliette grabbed his hand, pulling him off the car onto the platform. She seemed to do it without thinking, and Seth was suddenly glad she couldn't see his face.
As they walked up the stairs, he began to hear delighted screams and cheesy carnival music. They were close. Looking up, the sun was beginning to set and the smell of funnel cakes floated through the air, filling him with warm nostalgia of a life far gone.
"It`s right there!" Juliette exclaimed, pulling at his arm. She turned to him, a mischievous smile blossoming on her face. "Race you!" She reached out, shoving Seth back a few feet and took off down the sidewalk towards the park.
Laughing, Seth followed, ducking around the other pedestrians, ignoring the glares some of them sent them. There was something so incredibly freeing in running down the street to a carnival with the girl he liked that made his heart swell.
As they turned the corner, Seth managed to pull ahead, reaching the gate and leaving Juliette behind. She came up next to him panting. "Geez kid, what are you, a track star?"
Thinking about the twenty laps his Knights supervisor made him run just this morning, Seth shrugged. "It's a hobby."
"I don't trust people who enjoy running." Juliette proclaimed, straightening and pulling her bag back up from where it had fallen down.
"Really?" Seth mocked. "So you don't trust me?"
Juliette rolled her eyes, stepping a little closer to him. "Depends on if you`re going to win me something tonight or not!"
He smirked at her. "Good to know that`s your only standards for dating."
She grinned, reaching out and taking his hand, pulling him up to the ticket booth. "Oh don`t worry, I have plenty of standards."
Juliette handled the transaction, paying for both their tickets, refusing to take his offered money. As they walked inside, she nudged his shoulder.
"I wouldn`t worry. This just means you`re buying me dinner!"
He raised his eyebrow. "You mean the many snacks we`re going to call dinner?"
She shrugged. "Same difference."
For a while, the two of them just walked around the fairgrounds, checking out the rides and booths, taking a few pictures here and there, deciding to split a funnel cake on their way to the merry-go-round. Seth had objected, claiming they were too old, but Juliette ignored him, smiling cheerfully at the older lady who glanced at the stamps on their hands before letting them through into line. Despite the line being filled with only little kids, Seth followed her. Of course he did.
"See, I told you the merry-go-round is for everyone!" He scoffed, shaking his head.
"I haven't been on one of these since I was eight." Juliette narrowed her eyes at him.
"What, you too cool for it?" She gestured at the lights and the spinning horses.
A smile tugged at his lips. "Maybe. I have been known to be the coolest person ever."
She laughed out loud, the beautiful twinkling sound making his stomach clench. "Yeah right."
As the line opened up, Juliette led the way to the ride, bypassing the first level, climbing right up to the second level. She settled on a golden horse, and with an inward smile, Seth chose a shiny silver unicorn. He climbed on, and with a jolt the ride began. Spinning around and around, he could help but laugh at the silliness of it all, and of course, the genuine happiness in Juliette`s eyes.
The rest of the night passed in a happy blur of carnival lights and sugary snacks and rides that spun too fast, yet somehow too slow. As the night wound down, and midnight neared, Seth remembered Bracken`s advice. Win her a stuffed animal.
So, grabbing Juliette`s hand, he led them to the games booths. They had played a few of them before, failed at all of them and left in favor of carnival hot dogs, but Seth was determined to win. The duck shooting game seemed the easiest, and while Kendra had the best aim with a bow and arrow, he still wasn't terrible.
"Which one do you want?" He gestured up at the rows of giant stuffed animals settled in shelves inside the booth.
She smiled slightly. "You know we could just buy one, right?"
"What would be the fun in that? Besides, you said it yourself, I have to win your trust back!" Seth persisted. "Which one?"
Grinning, she seemed to give up, pointing at the giant Pikachu toy at the very top of the pile. It was the only one left.
Rubbing his hands together, he coached himself. Come on Seth, you`ve battled demons before, this is nothing! Walking up to the rather bored looking cashier, he forked over the five dollars that got him 6 turns to shoot all the ducks.
He picked up the water gun, and the game started. To her credit, Juliette cheered him on through every turn, never seeming disappointed in his lack of success. So, as his sixth turn rolled around, he decided once and for all that he was going to win this game, even if it meant influencing the game a little. He was a shadow charmer after all.
Concentrating for the final time, he got each one of the ducks to fall down, right up until the last few, and as time ran out, he put out the blinking lights that signaled the end of his turn, just for a few seconds, and as the final duck fell, he let the lights blare.
"I can`t believe you actually did it!" Juliette squealed, clutching the giant stuffed Pikachu the cashier had forked over reluctantly.
Seth grinned, feeling confident enough in himself to sling his arm across her shoulders. "What, did you doubt me?"
She laughed. "Not in you. Those games are rigged, it's pretty much impossible to win."
He smiled. "Well, not for me!"
Juliette scoffed. "Yes for you! The only way you win those is by cheating. I`m just trying to figure out how you did it."
Seth shrugged as they headed out of the park towards Juliette`s apartment, leaving behind the lights and sounds of the carnival, a blessed escape from reality. And you never will. He thought sadly, but chose to only hum in response.
Despite the late hour, the streets were still alive with activity, but a distinct feeling of peace settled over them. The walk back to Juliette`s place was quiet, yet comfortable, Seth`s arm still around his date.
"Seth, can I ask you a question?" Juliette`s gentle voice spoke up.
"Sure." He replied, ignoring the fact that he would most likely have to lie.
"Do you ever wish that you could just go back to how things were when you were a kid?" The question surprised him, contrasting a very light, fun evening with deeper, sadder thoughts.
He took a while to consider it before answering. "Sometimes." A lump developed in his throat. "Sometimes I wish I grew up normally, with the suburban white picket fence life." Seth had never really talked about the details of his life with Juliette, only giving her the broad strokes of an unlikely upbringing, and a hint of the tragedy he had experienced. She knew nothing of Fablehaven, or all they had lost in the wars against demons, but she was surprisingly perceptive of the sadness he tried to keep hidden.
"Me too." Juliette was quiet. "When I was little, I always wanted to be taken to the carnival by my parents. But…" She trailed off. "I guess I haven't told you this yet, but I was in the foster system for most of my life. I have parents now… but growing up… it was just from one foster home to another. No time for carnivals or white picket fences."
Seth felt his heart clench. She also was rather secretive about her past, and he was actually a little stunned that she was telling him this. "I know saying sorry doesn't really mean much, but I am sorry you had to go through those things."
She smiled sadly at him as they drew near to her building. "Thanks for saying that. I guess it's not all bad though, all of that made me who I am."
Seth thought about Fablehaven, and the wonders he had experienced, all the creatures he`d met and saved, then his family. The weird, wonderful assortment of characters living together, and how much fun he had with them, and all the times they had been there for him, especially when things got hard. Finally, he thought about who he was coming home to. His sister, who he would do anything for, and who loved him unconditionally, and his unlikely best friend, a unicorn and a prince to boot.
He smiled at Juliette. "I know that no matter what I lost growing up the way I did, I`ve gained so much more I never would have had without struggling."
Her face lit up then, and she hefted the stuffed animal in her arms, a grin coming to her face. "Look at us, two philosophers!"
Seth laughed, the sadness dissipating a little bit. But before he could say another word, Juliette moved forward, reaching up and kissing him, shock overcame him, freezing him in place, an incredible feeling of joy welling up in him. She pulled back, her eyes glimmering in the light of the streetlamps and began backing towards the entrance to her apartment.
"I`ll call you, yeah?" She didn't wait for a response, instead opening her door and heading inside, her arms full with the prize he had won for her.
And even though she couldn't hear him, he replied anyway. "Yeah."
As he turned and began to walk towards home, he decided that any amount of discomfort and adjustment was worth it, if just to spend one more night with this girl. He chose to walk home, happily reveling in the bright night and warm memories. With Juliette, he didn't care about forever like Warren and Tanu had warned him about, because the moments were enough.
When he got home, he moved quietly to the door of his apartment, hoping to not wake anyone. It was nearly two in the morning after all. But he shouldn't have been surprised to see Kendra and Bracken on the couch, waiting for him. Kendra`s head was in Bracken`s lap who was fast asleep, mouth hanging wide open, snoring slightly. But, Kendra` eyes opened when he walked in, sitting up carefully.
"So, how did it go?" Kendra exclaimed at an excited whisper. Her eyes were alive with anticipation, and Seth found himself reminded of the wild excitement he had felt most of the night. But… it wouldn`t hurt to savor it a little while, would it?
So, instead of responding, he simply grinned and began backing towards his room. "It was… indescribable."
Kendra frowned. "Come on, I need details!"
"Not now. Later." He turned and headed to his door. As his hand touched the knob, he heard Kendra speak, gentle and amused and tinged with quiet pride.
"You seem happy."
Smiling, he replied as simply as he could. Because at the end of day, it truly was simple. Simple and flawed, nowhere near perfect, but pretty extraordinary.
So he whispered this small admission to his sister, and allowed himself to feel it fully.
"I am happy."
I hope you all enjoyed this! Thank you so much for your patience with my update schedule, I promise things will be more regular as I am officially done with school for the year.
Let me know if there are any characters or stories you guys want to see, and I`ll try my best to do them!
Thank you to books-and-starss, By myself alone, Yakall, Wolf Lover27, Yuro no Nx, and so many more for all of your love and support.
Please stay safe, happy and healthy! See you again soon!