Your life, it passed your father by

"Thanks for being here for dinner. I'm so glad the three of you could make it at such short notice!" Mum leans forward and kisses Faith's cheek before ruffling the unruly blond curls of Little Frederick – or Freddy, as the family has come to call him.

"Gooma!" Freddy beams up at his grandmother with a four-toothed smile. He is named for some famous Danish veterinarian whose first name was Bernhard. Apparently, Faith put her foot down about that, so Freddy got one of the more acceptable middle names.

Laughing, Faith juggles her son from one hip to the other. "As if Freddy would ever miss an opportunity to visit his Gooma."

"Gooma!" repeats Freddy happily and waves his pudgy hands around excitedly.

"Nor would we have missed the opportunity to meet Walter's latest squeeze or see my wayward sister again," adds Jem jovially, a wide grin on his face.

Walter sighs in that long-suffering way he's been doing since childhood whenever confronted with Jem's more insufferable tendencies. I just roll my eyes heavenward and wonder, once more, what on earth possessed me to come back here.

"Don't listen to him," Di murmurs in direction of Pat, reminding me again why I've always considered her the most sensible of my sisters.

Jem is joking, of course, when he calls Pat 'Walter's latest squeeze' and he well knows that description to be less than accurate. As far as I know, Walter has only had two relationships before this, both of them serious, committed and long-term. With Jem himself married to his childhood sweetheart and Shirley engaged to be married soon, all of my brothers have proven themselves to have the kind of sensible, stable love life that most parents crave for their children.

Now us girls, we're a different matter altogether. Nan and Jerry Meredith have an on-off-relationship that is, by all accounts, as volatile as its passionate. Joy has simply never bothered with dating at all. Di, being encumbered by being both a fairy and a single mother, bravely ventures out into the dating world time and again, usually falling hard and fast and getting disappointed within weeks. Me, I've had my share of dates in school and a few casual flings while travelling, but nothing ever even approaching a long-term relationship.

If we want to employ an overused and tired metaphor, my brother's romantic relationships are like ships in a safe harbour, while my sister and I remain adrift at a stormy sea.

"It was nice meeting you, Faith, Jem." That's Pat, being unfailingly polite even in light of Jem's teasing, bless him.

"Yeah, good to see you, big brother," I add casually. "You, too, Faith. And Freddy, of course."

Truth to be told, I find Freddy to be vaguely alarming in the general… baby-ness of him. When Hannah was little, I myself was a teenager busy with my own trials and woes, so I never ventured closer to her than I absolutely had to. Since no-one trusted me with her in the first place, there never was an attempt to foist her upon me either. With Freddy, whom I've seen today for the first time, matters appear to lie rather differently. Within minutes of Jem and Faith arriving this evening, he was plonked down in my lap. The poor kid obviously felt as uneasily about me as I did about him, so we just stared at each other warily until Di swooped in and rescued us both from this awkward encounter.

"We were glad to see you again, Rilla." Faith leans forward to give me a brief one-armed hug. Freddy eyes me doubtfully and clings more tightly to his mother, quite as if not trusting me not to snatch him away. As if there's anything I could be less inclined to do!

When Faith bestows hugs on the remaining family member as well, Freddy joins in much more eagerly though, allowing Mum to kiss and Di to tickle him. Jem keeps his goodbyes brief and contactless by waving at us over the heads of wife and son. It takes some more moments, but finally the front door closes behind them as they make their way to the car in order to drive back to their Charlottetown home.

"Now you've met half of Walter's siblings already," Mum tells Pat brightly. "It's Susan's day off and I don't know when Gilbert will be home tonight, but you're sure to meet them both for breakfast in the morning. Nan hopes to be over tomorrow as well. She would have come for dinner, but of course her job made that quite impossible."

Pat nods understandingly. "Yes, I understand. Walter showed me the newscast she's hosting."

Nan didn't quite manage to become the cutting-edge journalist she dreamed of being as a girl, but instead she's now the much-lauded anchor-woman of the only PEI-specific news program, broadcast daily at 6pm from CBC's Charlottetown studios. With Jerry being employed as an auditor by the tax centre in Summerside, the distance is not making their already complicated relationship any easier, from what I gather.

"Actually, Nan is the only one whom Pat hasn't met yet," explains Walter. "We grabbed a beer with Shirley a while ago and made the detour via Moncton before coming here to meet up for coffee with Joy."

Moncton is where Joy works as assistant manager in one of the finer hotels of the province. Her real passion is teaching hockey to a girl's high school team, but since that actually costs more money than it pays, she definitely also needs the day job.

"If you tell Nan that, she'll definitely make sure to be over before lunch tomorrow. You know how much she hates to be the last to know something – or someone," remarks Di and the affectionate smile she has for her absent twin takes any possible mockery from her words.

"She certainly likes to be well-informed," acknowledges Walter while shaking his head slightly.

"It doesn't matter what brings her here," Mum chimes in. "I'm glad every time one of you comes home."

Her gaze moves from Walter to me, where it remains for a few moments. Feeling uncomfortable, I squirm away, moving behind Pat and thus out of the way of Mum's all-knowing eyes.

"I'll clear the table," I announce, because while I usually abhor domestic tasks such as this one, at least it gives me something practical to do.

"I'll help," declares Di simply.

From the corner of my eye, I see Mum hesitate and look at me over Pat's shoulder, but then she exchanges a quick glance with Di and nods. "Thank you, girls. In the meantime, Walter and Pat, you must join me for a glass of wine and tell me all about your new research into literary matters."

She waves the two men into the living room, with three filled glasses of wine floating after them a mere moment later. Di, to her credit, forgoes the use of magic and instead helps me clear the table by hand. It's more work this way, but I appreciate her making the effort to make me feel more included.

"Hannah grew a sunflower for me today," I tell Di conversationally as we carry the dirty dishes to the kitchen. With my niece long since sent to bed, I think it's safe to talk about her now.

"Did she?" Di smiles. "Growing flowers is one of her special little tricks."

"She's really good, isn't she?" I ask. "I mean, I was too young to remember what you or the other two could do at that age, but Hannah's magic seems quite advanced to me."

Di takes a stack of plates from me and nods confirmation. "She's a very talented fairy. She's constantly trying out what she can do and trying to stretch her limits, which definitely helps too, but she also has great natural talent. I could tell she'd be powerful before she was even born."

I frown, thinking back to the months when Di was pregnant. Having done my best to stay out of that particular situation, I don't remember overly much, except that it wasn't an easy pregnancy and that Di hated the judgement that she encountered everywhere she went. If I remember correctly, it was an especially unpleasant encounter with a very judgemental midwife that made her decide that pregnant women needed better support. At the very least, when the time came to return to university after Hannah's birth, she switched from pre-med to a midwifery program.

"How could you tell?" I enquire, watching the sink fill with soapy water as I do.

"She enhanced my own powers," Di explains. "When I was pregnant with Hannah, I was the most powerful I'd ever been, before or since."

I should have noticed that, perhaps, but by that age I'd already soured on fairy magic and did my best to avoid it whenever possible.

"Is that common?" I want to know. I don't look at Di, instead plunging my hands into the water and feeling around for the cutlery hidden beneath the surface.

"Mum says it is," replies Di while appearing by my side with a faded rag to dry the dishes I'm washing. "Joy once said that she remembers Mum's own powers increasing when she was pregnant with Nan and me. And of course –"

She breaks off abruptly.

I feel a prickle at the back of my neck, a sort of apprehension I can't immediately place.

"Of course what?" I query, trying to ignore the warning feeling.

Di sighs. Even without looking at her, I know that she said accidentally too much and is regretting it already.

"It's okay," I tell her gruffly. "Just spit it out. When Mum was pregnant with me, nothing special at all happened, so you all knew I'd be perfectly ordinary."

"Actually…" Di takes a deep breath. "Actually, it was the opposite."

I still. Beneath the water's surface, a knife slips from my grasp. There's a brief, slightly stinging pain on the inside of my palm, but I don't react to it.

"The opposite?" I repeat, my voice sounding strange to my own ears.

There's another sigh from Di. Clearly, she's not at all comfortable broaching this subject further, but can't see a way to wiggle out of it either. Me, I'm not sure I want to hear what she has to say either, but I also know that not hearing it wouldn't do.

"I was just little, so I don't remember it very well," Di cautions. "I'm mostly going by what Joy said. She once told me that Mum could do the most incredibly magic when she was pregnant with you. They expected you to be a very talented fairy, but…"

"But I turned out to be utterly unspectacular," I finish for her. I can feel Di looking at me from the side, but instead of meeting her gaze, I focus back on the task at hand, washing the cutlery with slightly more force than necessary.

Di shrugs, somewhat helplessly. "You're going to have to talk to Mum about it. I was so young myself that I really only remember bits and pieces."

"Mum already informed me that I never showed any magic whatsoever," I reply, my voice perhaps a little rougher than intended. None of this is, after all, Di's fault.

"You enhanced Mum's magic before your birth," amends Di carefully. "As for after… look, I really can't tell you what happened. You want someone else to talk to about that."

I nod and take a deep breath, trying not to feel too frustrated. Somehow, this only keeps getting more confusing and the more time passes, the farther away I seem to be from even beginning to unravel this entire mess. I wonder where it's all going to end?

"Is that blood?" Di asks suddenly, pulling me from my thoughts.

Looking down, I see a sliver of red in the dishwater.

"It's nothing," I quickly assure. But even I know that it's no good washing the dishes when I'm bleeding all over them, so I allow Di to press the drying rag into my hands and switch places with me. The small cut in the palm of my right hand is just superficial and quickly starts clotting when exposed to air instead of water. By the time we've finished, it's no more than a thin red line on my skin.

Di puts away the last pot before turning towards me. "Are you okay?"

"Sure." I quickly plaster a smile to my face. "All good. Nothing I haven't come to terms with ages ago."

The look on Di's face can only be described as doubtful, but she has the good grace not to pry. "Well, then… I'm heading for bed. Are you coming upstairs, too?"

"In a moment," I reply, despite having no plans to go to bed just yet. I'm dead tired, but at the same time, I know I wouldn't be able to sleep a wink. I hope it's just jetlag throwing my metabolism all out of whack, but I have a feeling it's much more than that.

"Okay." Di nods, looking a little awkward. "Good night."

"Night," I echo, adding a little wave for good measure.

With one final searching look, Di leaves me to head upstairs. When I venture out of the kitchen as well, I find the downstairs of the house to be deserted. There aren't even any used wine glasses on the coffee table in the living room, telling me Mum likely cleaned them with magic, as she's wont to do.

Passing by the living room, I slip through the next door, which leads me to the library. It's always been one of my favourite rooms in the house, its collection of books exuding a feeling I find to be comforting. Since the room doubles as Dad's office, it was off-limits to us as children, but by the time I was old enough to be allowed inside, I regularly made use of that privilege.

Finding the library dark and silent, I don't feel any inclination to switch on the light. Instead, I use the half-light of the moon to navigate towards a cushy leather armchair. Sitting down atop it, I draw my legs up – and wait.

The old grandfather clock in the corner chimes midnight and one o'clock without anything happening. I keep dozing off intermittently, but never fall quite asleep, so when Dad finally returns home, I'm wide awake before he's even entered the room.

Since my father interprets his role as a country doctor very much in the way of country doctors over a century ago, he's always ready to do house calls at any possible or impossible time of the day – or the night, in this case. I don't know where he was tonight, but I don't doubt that he sat up with whoever was the patient until they were resting properly and fully calmed. It's his usual philosophy and it's that philosophy that ensured that he wasn't around as much during our childhood than some of us might have hoped for.

Quietly, I remain sitting in my chair when Dad opens the door to the library, steps inside and switches on the light. He looks tired, I observe, but I don't know if only the late hour is to blame or whether there's something more at work here.

"Evening, Dad," I greet him.

He jumps visibly and turns around to look at me. "Rilla! You gave me quite the fright!" But there's a familiar twinkle in his eyes, telling me that he's not really angry at me for startling him.

Studying his expression, I realise that he's surprised, but not totally shocked to see me, which tells me that Mum likely called and told him about my sudden appearance. He probably didn't expect to see me at nearly two in the morning in the library, but my presence at Ingleside is not fully unexpected to him either.

I unfurl myself from the armchair and awkwardly stand in the room for a moment. I don't know quite what I expect to happen, but when Dad walks over to hug me, I realise that that's precisely it.

"It's good to see you," he tells me in a warm voice. Instinctively, I hug him back even more tightly.

"I have a reason for coming," I blurt out when I've stepped out of Dad's embrace again.

He inclines his head, looking mildly interested. "What brought you here?"

"Questions," I reply, "and answers. At least I'm hoping to get answers."

Dad nods calmly, before pulling out the chair from under his desk and motioning for me to sit back down in my armchair. "In that case, and taking into consideration the late hour, why don't we start with the most pressing question on your mind and take it from there?"

I sit back down and let go of a long breath. With him being the unmagical parent, I've always felt closer to Dad than to Mum, and today feels no different. Not that I ever managed to fulfil his academic hopes for me, but at least that was a failure all my own and not a lost cause right from the beginning.

Not quite sure where to begin, I decide to start at the end. "Di said that when Mum was pregnant with me, she was more powerful than before. More powerful, even, than when she was pregnant with Joy and the twins."

"Yes," confirms Dad slowly. "That is correct."

"And yet," I continue quickly, "Mum said that I never showed any sign of magic at all."

"After your birth, you didn't have the active magical powers your sister have," replies Dad and I have a feeling he's choosing his words carefully.

"But you thought I would have them, didn`t you?" I want to know. "When Mum was pregnant, you thought I'd have powers myself."

A slow nod from Dad serves as confirmation. "We did. In fact, because her own magic was so enhanced, your mother even thought you might have special powers. I'm not sure how it works, but I seem to remember that there's a special sort of fairy magic that only manifests very rarely. Back then, your mother said she knows of no living fairy possessing this magic, but because of circumstances, she did consider the possibility that you might have it."

A special sort of fairy magic.

The Fifth Power.

It has to be!

"And then I was born and turned out to be so terribly unremarkable." I affect a laugh, but there's no humour behind it. "No wonder I'm such a disappointment to her."

As I speak, I try to keep my voice casual, but if I thought I could fool Dad into thinking I don't care, I only fooled myself. Instead, I see a concerned frown appear on his face as he leans forward, closer to me.

"You're no disappointment," he states, quietly but surely. "Not to your mother and not to me."

I smile wryly. "That's nice of you to say."

The thing is, I even believe it as far as he is concerned. I know that Dad hoped for a different life for me, one that wouldn't see me restlessly travel the world instead of finding a proper job, but I also know that his concern is coming from a place of care. As for Mum, it's not that I doubt that she loves me as well, but with her, I never could shake the feeling that I truly am a disappointment to her. I get it, even. She thought she'd get an extra-special daughter and instead, just got boring old me. Anyone would be disappointed, really.

"I mean it," Dad insists, as if reading my thoughts, "and if Anne was here, she'd tell you so, too. We love you and we wouldn't change a thing about you. We never wanted anything but your happiness."

"Happiness? That's a tall order," I reply. I mean for it to come out jokingly, but when I try to procure a smile for Dad's sake, it turns out rather shaky.

"It might be, but we want nothing but the best for all of you," Dad tells me gently.

His expression is open and sincere and I want to believe him, want it so much, but suddenly, there's a lump in my throat and tears stinging in my eyes and a pressure on my chest that is hard to bear. It's all… too much.

Abruptly, I get to my feet.

"Thanks, Dad. I'm glad we talked. I… I think I'm going to go to bed now." It's as good an excuse as any to get out of here.

"Of course." Dad nods sympathetically and I have a feeling he understands much more than he lets on – possibly, even more than I understand myself. "Try and get some sleep."

"I will," I choke out. "Good night."

Without waiting for another word, I get up and rush from the room. My feet still know the way and carry me upstairs and to my old room automatically, without me needing to consciously decide where I want to go. It's not the library, but it's a relatively safe space and at least I know I'll be alone in here.

But when I close the door behind me, the dark and the quiet aren't comforting anymore. To my beating heart and my whirling mind, they instead feeling unsettling, like an expanding void that I can't control.

Opening the window, I lean forward and breathe in the cold, crisp air of the night. It helps a little against the stifling feeling in my chest, but it does nothing to quieten my spinning thoughts. They're all jumbled as I try and fail to make sense of everything I heard today. I know it would help to talk it through with someone, preferably with Carl, but it's two in the morning and I know he's asleep. There's no-one awake right now to talk to.

Except…

I straighten slightly as a new thought takes hold.

There's no-one awake to talk to at two in the morning, but… it's not two in the morning everywhere on earth right now, it it?


The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'My only one' (written by Amy MacDonald, released by her in 2010).


To RabeaIsReading:
It looks like I can't PM you, so with your permission, I'll reply to your lovely review in this way. I want to express my whole-hearted thank you for all your very kind words! I'm genuinely happy to hear that you're enjoying this current story and also liked reading my previous stories, too. I always believes that one of the most amazing powers of fiction is to provide a little respite from the real world, especially when it becomes all difficult and complicated, so it's encouraging to know that my stories are able to be that kind of distraction for you - though, of course, I hope that there's nothing serious at all that you need to be distracted from! For me, things are indeed slowly improving, so that I'm trying to keep my head high and my eyes fixed on that silver lining in the distance =).

To Guest I:
I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the last chapter and are enjoying the story as a whole, too =). Hannah is indeed a sweetie and a character I enjoy writing a lot, so we'll definitely see her again in the future. Thank you as well for your lovely words regarding the May break (and the reason behind it). There are ups and downs still, but overall, things seem to be going uphill by now.

To DogMonday:
I always said that I'd write even if no-one was reading (though it's a lot more fun when people do) and that still holds true. When I still wrote in German, I had no more than one or two dedicated readers, but it never occurred me to stop writing. I
am certainly so writing for everyone out there, but most of all, I'm always writing for myself. So, there's really no obligation at all, though I'd be lying if I claimed that the knowledge of having readers who're so lovely and invested in the story isn't a great source of joy and motivation to me =).
Interestingly, considering that she's the main character in this series, writing Anne has never come easy to me. She and Walter just don't feel as natural to me as the other characters, at least when I'm writing them myself (and then there's Jerry Meredith, on whom I've never got a handle at all, much as I tried). Therefore, it always means a lot when someone feels that I got the depiction of Anne right. I'm never 100% sure with her and it helps a lot to hear when she comes across as believable (or not, as it were)!
Rilla could definitely have been more sensitive when talking about her mother's past and yes, she has a tendency to jump to the worst conclusions. She has a history of not giving Anne the benefit of the doubt and while there are reasons for it, that doesn't necessarily means it's justified on her part. Generally speaking, theirs is a complicated relationship with is shaped by love but also by a whole lot of misunderstandings. We'll see those misunderstandings being unravelled in a couple of weeks, which I hope will not only explain quite why their relationship is as complicated as it is, but also show the beginnings of a way forward.
As for Rilla's potential special powers, I think it might help to distinguish between aether (also called 'quintessence' and one of the classical element) and ether (more specifically 'diethyl ether', which was historically used as a general anaesthetic). Anne, who I don't believe was a very diligent chemistry student, is speaking about the former, which helpfully opens up a lot more possibilities about ways in which this special power might manifest. Putting people to sleep could potentially be one of them, but with aether, the sky could literally be the limit ;).
Hannah is indeed new and entirely my own creation. She's no Fifth, being an only daughter, but she's definitely a very clever girl and a very powerful fairy, which combine to allow her to use magic well beyond her years. She comes from a line of powerful fairies anyway and Di is the most proficient user of magic in her generation, so Hannah definitely inherited that, even without any fancy special superpowers. Her making Rilla feel content and at home is the result of a very different sort of magic though - that of a kind, loving, supportive little girl just being herself =).
And speaking of supportive... how did you like Gilbert's first appearance?

To Guest II:
I'm glad to be back, too! I'm having a lot of fun writing Hannah, because she's one of these characters who're just unequivocally
good. I know that there have to be edges to most characters to make them interesting, but sometimes, it's just nice to write about someone who's just good and wants the best for everyone. Hannah is such a person, which is why she's extra special to me. Plus, of course, she hold the distinction of being human companion to Sir Isaac Newt! ;)