Fairies flicked left and right through the night sky. They avoided the fire where Warren and his older brother sat roasting marshmallows, much to the brothers' relief. Warren dragged a hand over his face, his fifth marshmallow caught fire and burned to a crisp, but there was no relief in methodically burning sugary treats.
"You're still not going to tell her anything, aren't you?" Dale asked as he subtly pulled the marshmallow bag away from Warren.
"No, it's better if I keep things quiet," Warren scraped the marshmallow covered poker on the grassy yard. "It's one step closer to a normal lifestyle."
"Normal doesn't exist for people like us."
"Yeah, doesn't stop me from wondering what it might be like. Doesn't stop me from wishing I didn't always end up half-dead."
Silence, save for the crickets of course. A fairy grew brave and tried to grab at Warren's cheap poker. A mournful cry faintly drifted through the woods surrounding the manor. A pair of witchy yellow eyes blinked from a distant bush.
Dale shifted in his seat, "I think you should break it off with her, reconcile with Vanessa. Stay here at Fablehaven."
"Vanessa's halfway across the world, if I was going to apologize, I'd do it in person and not over the phone."
"You need to figure out what you want before you do something stupid and ruin something."
"I need a beer if we're going to be having a conversation like this."
"You know how Stan feels about alcohol around the kids."
"They're not exactly kids," Warren popped his thumbs. "Besides, everyone's asleep."
"Fine," the responsible older brother act was growing annoying. Dale gestured to the house, "There's a six pack under the sink, bring me one."
It was impossible to scowl at Dale for long. Warren grinned, "You've had a stash and you never told me about it?"
"Knowing you, you'd drink too many and end up with an arrow where it counts, get going."
Warren grunted as he stood up and left the fire ring, his thoughts as murky as the smoke gracefully sifting through the night. The weight in his jeans pocket weighed down every step he took. Yet, the responsibility he carried left him swaying. He shoved his hand into his pocket, the antique metal cool against his calloused fingertips. There was no doubt that she'd love it, or that she'd say no to him.
Squish, squish, squish.
The grass was wet with water that had escaped from the pool.
The door to the manor glided open without a sound. The kitchen was darker than it had been outside. Good, nobody would be able to yell at Warren for sneaking a drink. Digging through the cabinet beneath the sink was a challenge all on its own. Eventually, Warren resorted to moving all of the cleaning supplies out of the way. He caught himself wishing that he could fix his dilemmas as easily as he got his hands on a Coors.
Ah, Coors Light.
How odd it was that a simple brand of alcohol carried so much weight.
Vanessa preferred Coors Light over other name brand beers, specifically in some biker-themed bar. She liked Walmart rosé shared in privacy. The beer sat calmly in Warren's right hand; his left rested over the pocket. Why couldn't he let go of either? He was a monster for feeling that way, his heart torn in two. Neither one really left his mind, Warren was sure that his choice would be made for him. The desire to get what he wanted surpassed the importance of getting what he needed.
Sometimes he was so overwhelmed by the divide in both women, he had to force himself to think of something else.
Wild against gentle.
One who would give him the world if he asked.
The other who could abandon him at any second.
A light turned on in the hallway; Warren shut the cabinet and quickly returned to the fire ring. Wordlessly, he tossed the Coors can to Dale, and sat down by the dying campfire. First thing Warren did was cut a hole in the can with his pocket knife. The Coors can was empty in less than a minute. He wanted another one.
"Feel any different?" Dale asked cautiously as he cracked open his own beverage. "You ready to man up and figure out your crap?"
"I never am, but may as well get it over with," Warren shrugged innocently as he tossed the can behind him. He'd have to pick it up and hide it from Stan. "My problems all started... When I was born."
"You're not funny."
Warren narrowly dodged the stick Dale had thrown at his head. "I dunno man, this is, um, well, I asked her to come stay here. At Fablehaven. To, uh, meet Stan and Ruth."
Beer spewed everywhere as Dale choked, "You're doing what?! And you haven't told her about the creatures here? She'll go crazy!"
"If I keep the milk away from her, she'll be fine! Besides, she wouldn't be here for long, maybe a day or two. Honestly, it won't cause any problems, I swear it."
"I can think of quite a few problems that come from being dishonest, Warren."
"I'm not being dishonest though, I'm just choosing not to share certain things."
"Is that really helping her? Is it helping you?"
Dale had backed Warren into a wall, and they both knew it.
The thought of sharing Fablehaven and its many secrets with her was terrifying, in the best way. She'd burst out in a wide smile when she finally figured out what Fablehaven was, much like she had when Warren brought her a healthy supply of gel pens.
Just thinking of how bright her smile was made him crack a grin of his own. Her honey hair and her March colored eyes were as intoxicating as any drug. She acted like spring. She acted like spring and Warren was drunk just thinking about seeing her again.
His springtime girl.
"You're blushing pretty badly." Dale pointed out, sipping at his Coors like he owned the place.
His hands itched to text her. Warren cleared his throat, "No, I'm really not."
"Better ask Stan permission to bring her here, I doubt you'd get even close to the ledger on your own."
Screw Stan and screw everybody else. The hunk of metal weighed a little lighter now. Warren dug his hand into his pocket to touch it again. His thumb brushed over the tiny details carved in years and years ago. The bauble had belonged to Lena Burgess years and years ago, and now it was Warren's to give away. No way he'd ever tell Dale he was thinking about using it.
"Are you saying you approve of my girl?"
Dale scoffed, "Let's not get too ahead of ourselves."
Warren's grin led to a chuckle of some sorts. Several fairies had gathered around his abandoned Coors can to admire themselves in the can's glinting reflection. It was times like this that he was confident enough in himself to make a choice. Usually those times involved a small amount of alcohol, but that wasn't a major detail, or so Warren thought.
His drunken confidence nearly got him into major trouble once when he and Vanessa had gotten a motel room in Tallahassee. They'd successfully captured a rampant troll, and celebrated the victory at a classic hole-in-the-wall bar. Three shots of vodka later and Warren began blabbing about a friend of his 'back home' to the bartender.
'Don't know what I'm doing here, I used to love this kind of,' he hiccuped and censored himself. Drunk Warren had a potty mouth, but Dale had trained Drunk Warren to avoid dropping particularly nasty words. 'Kind of life, y'know? Travelling the world with that babe over there but-'
The bartender had poured Warren another shot, 'But what?'
He drained the entire glass, 'Listen, dude, I get into a lot of trouble. Hospital staff knows me on a first name basis. But then this one girl I've never seen before struts on into my room. God, scrubs are sexy, ya feel me?'
'No, but I'm still listening.'
'So she walks in and asks if I need anything. Nobody ever asks if I need anything. Well, they do, but not the girl I came with. She's tough, doesn't like a guy who's a wuss, I'm not a wuss. Anyways, back to this girl back home. I'm in the hospital for a few days, and dude get this.'
'Get what?' The bartender asked. He'd arched an eyebrow at something behind Warren, who wished he'd been clear headed enough to shut his mouth.
'She smuggles me in, like, seven jellos because I said I liked them all. Didn't see her again for the rest of my stay. But right when she left, after she gave me the jello, she turns around and says her name. Like a Nicholas Sparks movie, all dramatic and smart and she gave me jello.'
'And what was her name?'
Warren burst into a huge smile, his ears turned red and so did his cheeks. He gushed about how he couldn't get her name out of his head to the point that he'd dusted off his guitar and learned how to play again.
There was nothing better than an angel offering all colors of jello dressed in blue scrubs.
The biggest smile spread across Warren's blushing face.
Vanessa slipped into the stool next to him and ordered a beer on tap. Her eyeliner had been sharp enough to kill a man, and her stylish boots had to cost more than the whole bar. Sultry. Vanessa knew she had Warren wrapped around her little finger ready to do her beck and call.
'Who are we talking about?' Vanessa asked as the bartender slid the frothy beer towards her. She caught it without looking. Her eyes were too busy boring into Drunk Warren's soul.
He had the good sense not to talk about another woman to another woman, 'The lady cop who pulled me over for speeding.'
Her eyes flashed with frustration, 'But you don't drive anywhere now that you have me.'
Drunk Warren's first mistake had been scoffing at her comment. His second mistake was when he blurted out something a man should always avoid, 'Not true, I might have a life that you don't know about.'
Very heated argumentative words were shared in front of an uncomfortable bartender.
Warren slept on the nasty motel floor for what he'd said.
Vanessa left him stranded in Florida, but luckily Warren had enough friends within the Knights of the Dawn to safely hitchhike back to Fablehaven. She'd waited for himat argument was so fierce even Seth Sorensen decided it wasn't worth it to eavesdrop.
Their relationship came to a screeching halt when Vanessa took off to Europe and Warren stayed in the United States. She didn't hesitate to post about her adventures to Instagram, she'd picked up a rebound, but Warren had unfollowed her before he could get too jealous and get his own rebound. He'd wanted Ophelia to be special, and for several months she was, that was why he carried a lump of metal in his pocket.
They trusted each other. Trust was hard to come by, and even harder to earn from a man like Warren Burgess.
His emotions became clouded when Vanessa called him from Italy and told him she missed him. It was impossible to ignore the past he shared with Vanessa. But the future he could have with Ophelia Scott rivaled that past.
Every time he was away from Vanessa, he remembered why they'd broken up. It was only when she came and fawned over him that he lost sight of himself. There were several of their friends within the Knights of the Dawn who referred to them as 'the Sexiest Couple', but what was sexiness pitted against toxic habits?
Wrong. It was wrong. Warren had only wished he'd known boundaries when he was younger. Emotional boundaries that is. There was nothing in the whole wide world that could stop Warren from becoming a renowned adventurer. Ophelia constantly supported him when he left for days on end because Stan needed him to pick up an odd creature or another. They trusted each other.
Ignorance is bliss.
Sweet untainted bliss.
"You loved Ophelia the last time you met her," Warren pointed out. And Dale did, after a while of course. "You just don't like her because she doesn't have a sports car."
"Everything's better when a nice car is involved."
Warren stood and picked up his discarded can. Several fairies flapped their wings in annoyance. "I think deep down you approve."
And deep down Warren knew who he needed. He knew that if he strayed, he'd always be welcomed back with open arms.
It was no secret that everyone at Fablehaven was a little wary of Ophelia Scott. She was, after all, an outsider. The fairies in the yard would look like butterflies to her and she'd have no clue about the other magical creatures on the preserve. Warren placed everyone under strict orders not to tell Ophelia anything on pain of changing the wifi password. His threat was enough to keep the younger members of Fablehaven well behaved, but Stan insisted that he wasn't afraid of having no "weefee".
There was also the jarring fact that Ophelia was definitely not Vanessa.
Ophelia had no idea that she was being compared to a stranger by people she'd never met before.
Even though magic worked wonders, it would take more than the miracle of magic to change Seth Sorenson's premeditated dislike for Ophelia. He didn't believe that she'd smuggled Warren all seven jello colors when he'd been at the hospital following a disastrous attempt at cornering a rare creature. Warren had been swimming through different pain medications, and probably just hallucinated the jello.
Ophelia had no idea about how stubborn Seth Sorenson could be.
Warren tried his best to prepare her for meeting his relatives.
The afternoon sky was cloudy, promising early summer rain. Trees blurred together into one green streak as Warren drove down the highway in Dale's old Chevy truck. Ophelia sat with her face pressed to the window as still as a doe caught in headlights. Warren hadn't borrowed Dale's truck with its bench seat just for his girl to sit as far away from him as possible.
"Scoot over," Warren grinned, daring to glance at Ophelia. "I need you right here by me."
He could feel her spring green eyes on him. Better yet, he could feel the immediate warmth that came when Ophelia cozied right up to Warren. Though best of all was draping an arm around her shoulder as she slowly relaxed. Ophelia leaned forwards and changed the song playing via aux cord.
"I'm terrified," Ophelia muttered into Warren's flannel. Her hands wrung Warren's shirt in dismay.
There was always a sense of pure reverence whenever Warren caught her slender wrist in his grip and pressed a kiss to Ophelia's knuckles. "How come? You're wonderful, they'll love you."
"Well," she began, "No. It's silly, I shouldn't worry about it. Everything's going to be perfectly fine."
Lena Burgess's wedding ring still lingered in Warren's pocket. He pressed another kiss to her knuckles, "There's nothing to be terrified of, except Seth's feet when he takes off his shoes. Besides, I'll make sure to act like a real idiot if you need me too, I'm always an idiot."
"That's not true, you're brilliant."
"There's a lot of things I've done that'll prove you wrong, and there's even more things I haven't done yet that'll definitely prove you wrong."
"Still doesn't make you an idiot."
The speed limit dropped from 65 to 55, but the truck was barely pushing 54, so Warren wasn't too concerned over slowing down. His free hand twirled a strand of Ophelia's short hair. He launched into a fabricated story about the one time he'd wrestled with a zombie bear. Ophelia shut her eyes, giving into the lull of Warren's voice.
Soon he wouldn't have to make up lies on the spot about his adventures as a Knight of the Dawn. Warren had a master plan about revealing the nature of Fablehaven to Ophelia, hence his desire for everyone to avoid talking about any kind of magic for as long as possible. Once she knew, he could tell her the truth about the numerous injuries he always sustained, he wouldn't have to claim he was going hunting with his brother whenever his duties as a Knight called him away.
Warren signaled to turn the moment the Fablehaven turnoff came into view. To Ophelia, the side road probably looked like something blocked off with slurping mud or discarded rocks. However, she didn't question him when he turned down the driveway and continued on past the menacing 'Keep Out' signs. Ophelia's grip tightened on his knee when the rolled to a stop just outside of the main house. He switched the Chevy off and hopped out of the truck; Ophelia lingered on the bench seat.
"Hey," Warren said quietly, cupping the side of Ophelia's face with his hand. "You've got this."
Those spring green eyes were swimming with doubt, but despite her fears, Ophelia nodded. "You'll still want me even if I botch this all up?"
There hadn't been much room for concern before, but Ophelia's anxiety was contagious. He slid his hand into Ophelia's back pocket and dragged her across the bench. Warren set his head on her knee, "I'll always need you Ophelia, you're my girl."
Ophelia ran her fingers through Warren's dark hair; he leaned in to her touch. She was always gentle when she touched him. Never forceful. Warren saw himself as a train constantly crashing through life. Ophelia was his sole impulse , some of her caution had worn off on him. Warren caught himself agreeing with the fact that cutting off all of the sleeves on his shirts was not a good idea.
Though Warren truly was grateful he hadn't cut the sleeves off his shirts when it rained the very next day.
"I can carry something," Ophelia insisted as Warren carried all of their bags with the strength and determination of 17 Batmans. Or was the correct term 17 Batmen? Either way, Warren dragged in Ophelia's suitcase, his backpack, and his guitar case up the steps to the front of the manor. Ophelia lunged to open the door, determined to prove that she wasn't completely useless. A whiff of mist slipped in through the open door.
"Listen, I didn't go to the gym today, I've got to get in curls somehow," to prove his point, Warren began lifting his guitar case in one hand as he set down all the other bags on the floor beside the staircase. "Don't you like buff guys?"
"I like you."
"But would you still like me if I didn't have any skin?"
"What kind of question is that? You're setting me up to fail. You'd never be in a situation where you'd lose all of your skin, so I clearly don't have to answer."
Warren made a face as he thought of some of the creatures he'd faced... and some of the creatures he was going to face. There were at least a dozen situations where he could end up without any skin. If he was going to die, he at least wanted to look presentable for his funeral. "So you wouldn't like me if I didn't have skin?"
She shrugged, "I'd still like you if you got an ugly tattoo on your neck, but I'll have to draw the line at skin. You've got to have your skin on if you want me to still like you."
"I'd still like you if you didn't have any skin!" called a voice from the kitchen.
"You're the man, Seth!" Warren called out after he pounded his fist against his heart. He slung his guitar case over his shoulder, and pressed a kiss to Ophelia's knuckles. "For the record, I'd like you even if you didn't have skin."
"Thank you," Ophelia grinned. She wasn't afraid when Warren entwined their fingers and led her to the kitchen.
It was just as he remembered, save for a few more crude drawings of demons and ogres. Drawings crafted by Seth's own hands. Warren inched towards the fridge where the drawings were hung, and tore them down. Seth's eyes widened, but he couldn't protest. Not when his mouth was full of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Seth's eyes blazed as he drew his finger across his neck.
"This is Seth Sorenson, he's my cousin," a very distant cousin, but a relative through and through. Warren leaned on the counter near Ophelia, ready to jump to her defense should she ever need it. "Seth, this is Ophelia, she's my girlfriend."
"She's your what now? I thought you were just bringing a friend over, not a g-word. Where's your real g-word?"
"Seth can be a real pain in the a-" Warren would've slid right past Ruth's 'no profanity in the kitchen' rule if Seth hadn't interrupted him pointing that rule out.
Ophelia nodded, "It sounds like he has a sense of humor like yours."
"Not even," both Seth and Warren snapped at the same time.
"Listen, kid, when I was your age you respected adults," Warren flicked a stray piece of Cinnamon Toast Crunch onto the kitchen floor. It glided across the floor leaving a trail of cinnamon sweetness in its wake.
Seth held out his hands and looked right at Ophelia, "He's barely twelve years older than I am."
"Sometimes he acts like he's twelve," Ophelia pointed out. She wrung her hands, a telltale sign of uneasiness. "I like Cinnamon Toast Crunch too."
The subject change had been coming at least a mile away.
"God it is," Seth said, holding up a spoonful of cereal. "It so is."
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Milk splashed back into the bowl. Seth had yet to look at Ophelia for more than two seconds. Red hot frustration started pawing through Warren's chest. The desire to swoop in and insure Ophelia's conversation was strong enough to turn Warren's feet to lead. His family had to like her. There was no reason not to.
No. No. Warren had to let Ophelia do this on her own, she'd asked that much of him as they'd driven to Fablehaven. She'd wanted the chance to show the Sorensons that she was perfectly nice and Warren wanted to show the Sorensons that his feelings about Ophelia wouldn't change. He clamped his mouth shut; his eyes wandered around the roomy kitchen. A checkered rag hanging from a cabinet caught his eye first.
"But I really like Krave most of all," Seth blurted out. He frowned at his cereal as if he were mad that he'd said anything in the first place.
The window opening out to the woods was covered in rain drops.
Ophelia stopped wringing her hands. She was calming down, "Oh that's a good one. Have you had the version where everything's chocolate?"
There was something hiding out in the rain.
"Yeah, but my sister ate half and Warren ate the rest. They saved me a piece though."
Witchy yellow eyes watched the house from the darkness of the woods.
"That's considerate, I can buy you your own box next time I run out to the store."
Those witchy eyes were too glassy to belong to any magical creature.
"Ha! You're using money to win me over!"
"Is it working?"
"... You'll have to find out."
"That's better than a no."
The witchy pair of eyes flashed murky green and snapped to life. Warren couldn't drag his gaze away. He could feel something jabbing at the corners of his mind. Walls slid up. Putting up walls to protect himself from everything and anything was second nature to him. The jabbing came to a screeching halt as it slammed into one of the walls. Warren thought he was safe from the witchy eyes until the force began forcing its way through the walls.
What belonged to those eyes? Juggling the searching force and his concern for Ophelia, Warren tried to remember what creatures he'd brought to the preserve over the last few months. Several gnome breeds, a few fairies, mushroom shaped creatures called Strangers, a creature that other Knights of the Dawn called the Odile. Fairies weren't that big. Gnomes didn't have yellow eyes. Strangers were mushrooms and thus had no eyes. The Odile was incorporeal, so that was out of the question.
Think Warren! Think! Yellow color changing eyes. Hides in the woods. That definition matched far too many different creatures. The force slowly sludged out of Warren's head. How had it gotten there in the first place? The border around the yard should've kept out any psychological attacks. Warren shook himself back to reality. The unknown force left a stain on Warren's thoughts, sort of like nasty lake silt.
Floating, lilting silt.
Clouding clear water.
Covering up the creepy things hiding beneath the surface.
"One time I went to a college campus for some summer thing in Utah and I kid you not, I ate ice cream every day," Seth was rambling. "Best thing I ever did was combine my favorite cereals with vanilla ice cream and gummy bears. My sister was freaking out when I told her, she went to the same campus, different camp though. She's a soccer person, I'm definitely a football player. And I mean football football, not the English type."
"Are you now?" Ophelia had taken a seat on a bar stool, her chin propped up by her hand. "Do you like football?"
"Yeah, when I sit on the bench. I'd rather do something cooler than toss a ball back and forth but public school doesn't have anything, um, up my alley."
Where had those witchy eyes gone? So long as the border around the yard remained intact, whatever owned those eerie eyes couldn't get in. Until Midsummer's Eve, but that was at least three weeks away.
He wasn't sure if he was prepared for finding out what owned those all-seeing eyes.
Warren popped his fingers, "Yeah, but Ophelia doesn't need to know about your hobbies. Or mine."
"No, you can't say that, I'm curious now! I thought I knew you, Warren Burgess."
Seth coughed unceremoniously, and then drank the milk from his cereal bowl to avoid Warren's look of concern. The rumbling of the garage door faintly sounded. As far as Warren knew, Seth was warming up to Ophelia, which was just what he needed to calm his anxieties.
"Stan left you here alone?" Warren demanded, steering himself as far away from accidentally revealing Fablehaven's true nature as he could.
"Yeah, 'cause I'm responsible now."
"I doubt that."
"I'm surprised you don't believe me, considering the, ah, things we've both been through, Warren."
Stan Sorenson shouted at Seth to help unload groceries from the open garage. The cereal bowl lay abandoned on the counter top, after all, Seth had to be the one to trumpet Ophelia's arrival to everyone who'd gone grocery shopping.
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I think you might've grown a little on Seth," Warren murmured. He wrapped his arms around Ophelia from behind, his chin on her shoulder. "Didn't I say everyone would like you?"
She went quiet, "Yeah, you did. I must've jumped the gun, I'm sorry."
"Don't say sorry, you didn't do anything wrong."
"Stop saying sorry, O, it's okay."
Warren stopped the apology by pressing a sloppy kiss to her open mouth, earning a light smack in return.
Her giggle made him smile.
Did she know how much power she had over him? Did she know that Warren absolutely trusted her with taking care of him?
The door to the garage slammed open, an onslaught of grocery bags would be trampling in.
Warren nipped at the top of Ophelia's ear. No reaction. Correction: not much of a reaction. Ophelia shrugged her shoulders in self defense. Her attempts to get away only instigated Warren's constant need to shower people with affection. He kissed her neck, her jaw, her cheek and pulled away just as Seth dragged in as many grocery bags as he could.
"That's nasty," Seth chided. He constructed a mass of plastic and various foodstuffs as close to Warren and Ophelia as possible.
"Not as nasty as you," countered Warren.
"I'm telling Grandpa you were making out in the kitchen."
"Or you could not, ever think of that?"
"Telling me what?" Stan Sorenson arched an eyebrow at Warren, and tilted his head at Ophelia, who'd shyly turned around to look at the newcomers. The grandpa who was too cool to wear old man clothes but not young enough to wear the 'hip' stuff aesthetic reverberated through the air around Stan, all because of the baseball hat on his head and aviator glasses tucked into the collar of his t-shirt.
The side eye Seth drilled at Warren was equivalent to a revenant's cold glare. Warren held up his hands; Seth pinched his thumb and forefinger together and rubbed them. There would be a debt to pay for Seth's silence, Warren knew that much. He rolled his eyes and fished his wallet out of his pocket.
A particular plastic bag caught Seth's attention. He fished around in the bag and pulled out a blue box of chocolate covered granola bars. The box tore open. Seth threw a granola bar at Warren as hard as he could, and unwrapped one for himself. "That Warren's buddy might be cooler than I thought she'd be."
"I hope he hasn't given you too much trouble," Grandpa Sorenson said with a grin. He stuck out a hand to Ophelia. "Stan Sorenson, nice to meet you."
"Ophelia Scott," she shook Grandpa Sorenson's hand. The slight waver in Grandpa Sorenson's polite grin told Warren all he needed to know. Grandpa Sorenson thought Ophelia's handshake was weak. The biggest offense of all. "Thank you for letting me stay here."
"Thank you for keeping this knucklehead out of trouble," Grandpa Sorenson retorted, gesturing towards Warren.
"I like to think of it as he gets me to do things I usually find terrifying, his courage is contagious."
"His reckless tendencies are also contagious."
"I'm glad you had a safe drive too, Stan," Warren rolled his eyes as far as they'd go.
"Help me put away groceries."
Ophelia scooted away from the counter- the stool made no sound over the hardwood floor- but Warren shook his head, "It's alright, I can do it without getting hurt."
"It's just putting away groceries, that's not hard."
"Just sit here and look pretty," he snagged a bag of chicken noodle soup cans to avoid an argument. Warren followed Grandpa Sorenson to the pantry.
"Are you sure?"
"Sure that you're pretty or sure that I can move groceries without hurting myself?"
"Considering that you've gotten more paper cuts than anyone I know. . ." Ophelia trailed off, a smile tugging at her lips.
Warren stuck out his tongue, "Oh, Ophelia, you're my knight in shining armor."
She really was, even if she didn't know it. Ophelia gave him an incentive to avoid death while he was off assisting the Knights of the Dawn.
Stacks and stacks of various canned ingredients already lined the walk-in pantry, but there was never enough food in the house in Grandma's eyes. Not that Warren was complaining. He loved a nice warm meal. Warm homemade dishes meant safety in his eyes. The chicken noodle soup cans were aligned by the end of one of the shelves.
Grandpa Sorenson turned on Warren as if he'd been expecting him to follow, "Weak handshake."
"That's not what I was going to talk about," Warren frowned. "There was something sitting by the yard border."
"I thought you would've noticed that sooner, considering that a lot of things linger at the yard."
"Well, yeah, but-"
Kendra audibly introduced herself to Ophelia in the kitchens. It sounded like they were getting along. Good. All Warren wanted was to watch Ophelia succeed.
And he didn't want to watch people walk all over her.
He didn't want people to take advantage of her compassion.
"This thing was different, I think it might've been one of the creatures we brought in over the past few weeks."
A crease formed between Grandpa Sorensen's eyebrows, "We've brought in a couple of new things, the only one you might've seen was a gnome."
"The eyes were yellow, and pretty big too, I could see them from the window." And where else had he seen those witchy eyes? Ah, yes, when he and Dale shared a Coors by the fire. Warren had thought he'd imagined the eyes, but apparently not. "It's psychic, I think, something raked through my thoughts too."
"Before or after you saw the eyes."
Grandpa Sorenson took off his hat and scratched his head in thought. "I'll talk to Ruth about it, maybe we can figure out what it is. You're sure the eyes were yellow?"
Not only were they yellow, but they were also almost human.
Not enough though, more like a bird's eye with extreme jaundice.
"Perfect. You've brought a girl home and now there's something prowling at the yard border. I'm getting too old for this danger." Definitely a lie. Grandpa Sorenson was fiercely protective over his title as a caretaker for a magical sanctuary. Nothing in the whole world could make him give that position up. He shrugged, and shuffled towards the pantry door.
"Stan, I-" Warren began, but he cut himself off. "Everything's going to be just fine."
"You better hope so, kid," Grandpa Sorenson said firmly as he continued out to the kitchen.
"I give you my word."
"Don't make promises about things you have no control over."
The truth was simple.
Everything was not going to be fine, and Warren was the only one who knew why. He thought back to when they'd captured the Odile at a lake halfway between some odd city and Fablehaven. Chunks and pieces were missing from the encounter. Every time Warren thought of the lake, he had to push himself past the image of the water in order to remember other details. There was something important about the Odile, but it was just a little ways out of reach.
Always out of reach.
Warren lingered in the pantry. He pretended to study the labels of some random can as the witchy yellow eyes began to mix into the Odile's lake. Witchy yellow eyes peering up at him from under ice even though the Odile had been caught during the springtime. Witchy yellow eyes following him home after a botched mission. The eyes flashed spring green.
Everything happened for a reason, so whatever light show Warren was seeing, there had to be something to it.
Had the witchy yellow eyes themselves put the thoughts in his mind?
Which creatures had eyes that turned from lifeless to ruthlessly alive on demand?
Why was he even concerned over the eyes?
A lot of things had eyes, it was a normal thing to have eyes, so what made those witchy yellow ones so eerie?
Speaking of eyes, they were all eerie, even human eyes. Gross little balls of watery flesh that were too fragile for their own good.
Can down, Warren left the kitchen with fewer answers from before. Ophelia was quietly nodding as Seth showed her his collection of 'dank' memes as he titled them, and told her all about the cliffs he'd jumped off of. Kendra hadn't been so easily won over. Grandpa Sorenson wasn't even in the kitchen.
So what was it that Warren was doing wrong?
Why had Seth latched onto Ophelia and Kendra hadn't?
"I think you would've loved Vine, Seth," Ophelia said with a smile, she opened cupboards until she found where the cereal was supposed to go. "There's one where a boy flips his ice cream cone and says something about skateboarding. I can see you doing something like that."
"You mean the 'Do you even skate' kid?" Kendra interjected.
Ophelia was handling herself. She'd come down from her self imposed stone pedestal. "Yes! That one! I haven't known Seth very long, but if he were a Vine, he would be that one."
"What kind of Vine would Grandpa Sorenson be?" Seth asked, gesturing as to where Ophelia was to put the small jug of non-magical milk.
"Oh dear, you can't tell him I said this." Non-magic milk went next to the magic milk. Dear Lord, if Ophelia drank the magical milk before Warren could explain the fairies, there'd be trouble. Ophelia glanced at Warren and then laughed to herself, "If Stan were a Vine, he'd be the..."
It was a common game, finishing each others' sentences and then pretending that that was exactly what they were going to say. Once every so often, Warren could say what Ophelia had planned. Ophelia, however, had caught on far more quickly to Warren's ideals.
Now was one such time where Warren said exactly what Ophelia had been thinking.
"Stan would be the 'whoever threw that paper, your mom's a hoe' Vine," Warren concluded.
Pure joy lit up Ophelia's face, Warren patted himself on the back. Mentally, of course. Her sunshine smile seeped through the sludge covered bits and cleaned them away.
All he wanted was to wrap his arms around her and keep her safe.
Seth burst out laughing, "Warren would be the kid who says he's John Cena and plays two recorders with his nose."
"I don't really spend time on social media, so," Kendra made a face.
"That's alright, 9 out of 10 people agree that most apps are a waste of time. But not Clash Royale." Speaking of which, Warren needed to check up on his precious clan before too much time passed.
"That's probably one of the worst apps I can think of."
"You're just jealous because you don't get video games Kendra."
"I kicked all of your trash in Call of Duty."
"Warren says you like to read," Ophelia cut in, carefully changing the subject before Kendra and Seth began bickering. "What books would you recommend?"
With five words, Ophelia single-handedly dragged Kendra away from a brewing fight. Kendra was shy to share her favorite books first, but with a little coaxing, soon she was chirping all about the current book she'd gotten two days ago. Ophelia did what she always did. She listened.
Ophelia listened all evening and prompted and smiled, all without needing Warren constantly at her side for 'moral support'. There were a few instances where somebody nearly spilled the magical beans during dinner- Ruth really outdid herself with some pasta dish inspired by Olive Garden- but Stan managed to steer conversations far away from fairies and magic and Catatonic Warren.
For some reason, that was much harder than it should've been.
Dishes were cleared and washed. Stan and Ruth left for their office, likely to discuss the witchy yellow eyes Warren had seen. Ophelia lay on the living room floor, honey hair on the carpet. Kendra turned pages in her book, Seth was claiming lives via Clash of Clans, Warren plucked at his guitar.
"Play me a song," Ophelia requested from the floor.
"The Lumineers or Of Monsters and Men?" The G chord had gone slightly flat.
"Elvis. All Shook Up."
"You're like a grandma trapped in a twenty year old body."
He strummed an A chord anyways.
"Yes, but I'm your grandma whose been trapped in a twenty year old body," Ophelia's eyelids fluttered shut.
"O?" Warren asked, calmly playing through the first few measures.
"Never say that again, my darling grandma."
"I hate you both so much," said Seth as he continued to stare at his phone screen.
The witchy yellow eyes watched from the woods before they snuffed themselves out like lightning bugs.
Later that evening, with nothing but the silver moon to witness, Warren sat alone on his bed, examining the ring he carried with him everywhere. Cries from the past itched to run rampant in his head, but there would be no horrifying memories to entertain that night. The ring brought security, he was confident in the woman he cherished above all others. He'd had a past with Vanessa Santoro, but he had a present and a future with Ophelia.
Their past would come in time. Warren would tell her about what plagued him when he slept. Ophelia would tell him about her family, all he knew was that her stepmother had passed away recently, and her brother was estranged. She never talked about her stepmother. There had only been one time when Ophelia mentioned her sister. She claimed she'd much rather listen to happy things.
Warren didn't blame her.
Happy things were hard to come by in his line of work.