Katie stormed out the front door about a minute after arriving home. Her parents were at it again. The argument had progressed to the point where neither one was making any effort to keep their voices down. It didn't matter that Katie had SATs to study for. There was no chance of that with her parents screaming their heads off about - what was it this time? Katie listened.
Oh, God. The hairbrush. They're fighting about the hairbrush again.
That was enough for Katie to slip back out to the porch, pull on her rollerblades and go. She didn't want to be here if the cops showed up again.
Her friends liked to make fun of her for rollerblading.
"Who still does that?"
"You should try skateboarding instead - at least then you might attract some cute skater guys".
Katie tried to ignore them. They didn't understand her need to escape, not just her house but her life. To Katie, rollerblading was freedom. It was using your own body to make yourself fly. It always made her feel better about her parents.
She rounded the corner and took off toward the new sub-development. She wasn't terribly happy about the growth her once-small town was experiencing - the fields and trees she'd liked to play in as a child were coming down all the time - but it did provide for nicely-paved sidewalks.
She stopped when she got to the meadow, propped her elbows against the fence and leaned over it. The meadow was beautiful. Especially now, overgrown, still laced with late-summer flowers, the trees of the orchard just beyond starting to change color. There was something about this place that called her. It made her feel things she didn't understand. It made her want to race through the grass and disappear into the trees, for no reason she could define. Sehnsucht, she thought. "The inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what." Germans really do have better words than we do. Katie wrote, so she often lamented the lack of proper words to express herself. But she never went into the meadow. Partly because it was owned by a cantankerous old farmer known for scaring away anyone who trespassed on his land. But more than that was her fear that if she did try to disappear into those trees, she'd be unable to, because they would just be trees, nothing more.
She straightened and turned to leave, muttering to herself that she couldn't avoid home forever. There was a nice hill at the end of the road, newly paved, and she wanted to fly down it first. Wonderful paved hills, she thought. But they better not pave over my meadow.
She climbed up the hill as fast as she could, intentionally running out of breath. It heightened the thrill of going down. She reached the top and pushed off, a smile of exhilaration lighting her face. Freedom, she thought blissfully, and closed her eyes for a brief moment. She stumbled as something tripped her, something large, and she crashed hard against the pavement. Just before her head hit the ground she regretted her decision not to wear a helmet.
She woke, unsure how long she'd been out. Couldn't have been that long, as she'd fallen in the street and no car had run her over or stopped to help, she reasoned. Her head still hurt, but there was no blood, and she was more concerned with the large bruise on her arm and the scrapes on her elbows. Since her parents fought loud enough for the whole town to hear, her teachers already asked questions. She'd have to wear long sleeves tomorrow. Long sleeves, in California, in September. It was far too warm for long sleeves, at least for her. A winter fae, her mother called her, with her dark hair and eyes, pale skin and love of the cold. Sometimes Katie wished she was a changeling. She knew she couldn't be of course, as she'd had the luck to inherit her mother's dark green eyes and the misfortune to inherit her father's wild eyebrows. She was clearly their child, much as she wondered how it was possible for her parents to have stopped fighting long enough to conceive her.
Thinking about the questions they asked her at school made her depressed, and she wanted to delay going back home. She'd only been gone an hour - they'd still be at it. She righted herself and headed back for the meadow. She was already a mess. She'd take off her blades and go in. Even getting chased by an angry old farmer couldn't make her feel much worse than she did now.
Climbing the low fence was easy, though trying to avoid getting a splinters stuck in her bare feet took some time. She was actually glad once she was over the fence, however. The grass felt lovely on her toes. Soon she was running, skipping, dancing, heedless of anything but the lush natural world around her. She even began to sing a bit of a song she'd been working on. There was no one around to laugh.
As she inched closer to the trees of the orchard, she thought she spied a light. She stopped and stared, hoping it wasn't she owner out to chase her off. She saw it again, but it didn't look like a flashlight - and anyway, it was too early for one. Feeling puckish, she decided to follow it, and stepped into the trees.
Her immediate thought was that maybe it was dark enough for a flashlight. She could still see, but there was something odd about the way the light fell - shadows where there shouldn't have been. She caught a glimpse of that strange light again, just behind a huge walnut tree, and prepared herself to pounce.
The strange creature Katie had seen just seconds before she pounced had somehow transformed into a boy, and he seemed to have no problem with her tackling him to the ground. She quickly untangled herself from his long limbs and stood up. She knew, no matter how crazy it sounded, that this boy had just had wings.
"How do you know my name?"
"Because you talk to yourself sometimes, standing at the fence." The boy grinned. He had auburn hair and incredibly dark eyes - she couldn't tell what color they were.
Katie gaped. "Why did you never say hello then, if you've been spying on me?"
He grinned even wider. "Because you couldn't see me before."
Katie stared, trying to make sense of this. She couldn't, but she did notice the boy's ears were pointed. Or were they?
"And why not?"
"Because I hadn't given you the sight yet."
"Oh? And how did you do that?"
His grin faltered slightly. "I tripped you."
Katie's stomach plummeted. "You what?"
"You closed your eyes for a moment, so I tripped you. You hit your head and now you can see us. Me."
Katie had an idea of what might be happening here. She'd been called "winter fae" and "changeling" and "wild child" enough to know a thing or two about faeries. She'd always thought that people in books who found themselves confronted by the supernatural took an awful lot of time to catch on. Sometimes it annoyed her. She had just met a faery, she was fairly sure, and though she fully intended to examine why this didn't shock her as much as it perhaps should, later, there was still something that didn't make a lot of sense.
"Why did hitting my head make it so I can see you?"
"Well," he said. "There's something called synesthesia. It occurs when humans have certain wires in their brains crossed, so to speak. The signals of your senses get crossed. It makes it so you can hear colors, taste words, see feelings. That's the kind I gave you - the ability to see feelings."
Katie knew what synesthesia was. It was a great word, after all.
The boy continued. "I could see your longing. You wanted so badly to see us. You didn't know that's what you wanted, but it was. So I let you. I let you see your longing.
"You know," Katie said, "Giving a girl brain damage isn't exactly the best way to arrange a meeting."
"It is if it's the only way she'll ever know you're there."
Fair enough, Katie thought.
"You keep saying 'us'," Katie said. "So where are the rest of you?"
He flashed that smile. "Why? Getting bored with me?"
"No," Katie stammered. "I'm just wondering. I saw a strange light before. Was that another...of you?"
"Oh, this." He pulled some kind of silver talisman from his pocket and held it up. "I just used this to get your attention. Human girls like shiny stuff, right?"
Katie nodded, unsure what else to do.
"Come on," he said. "I'll introduce you to everyone. They'll be excited to meet you. We've been watching you for a while, you know. I'm Aubrey, by the way."
"Pleased to meet you." Katie swallowed. "How - how many are you?"
"About eight thousand," said Aubrey. "This is the Winter Court, after all."
Katie stopped short but then started to laugh.
"What?" demanded Aubrey.
"The Winter court is in California?"
Aubrey's face twisted in thought. "Of course. Why wouldn't it be?"
"Because it's hotter than the sun!"
"Well yes, that." Aubrey smirked. "But it's lovely. The earth sings here. You know that. That's why you love it, even with the heat."
I've really got to stop talking to myself out loud, Katie scolded herself. Or maybe that isn't how he knows. Maybe - he just understands?
"You know an awful lot about me," Katie said. "Just how long have you been watching me?
"Some time," he replied, intentionally vague, it seemed.
"So mysterious." Katie laughed.
Aubrey turned to her in mock outrage. "You know, I didn't give you brain damage so you could laugh at me."
"Do you go around giving brain damage to all the girls you spy on?" asked Katie.
"Actually," he said. "I don't think they'll be too pleased with me when they find out I did that. Let's try not to bring it up, shall we?"
"You're the boss," said Katie.
"Not yet," said Aubrey. "That's my mother, the queen."
Katie really wished she'd worn shoes.
and the curtains billow
with broken glass echoes and
Mendelssohn's bride waltzing
to better times
She becomes the rain,
and breaks her own heart as
right through us.