Chapter Eight: Safe and Sound

Nicky caught onto the largest road she had ever seen, and they stayed on it for a long time.  Annabelle began to feel a bit safer, as her hearing started to return.

They still didn’t speak.  He stared silently ahead, shifting his leg every so often, causing a little skip forward of the car.  After several hours he pulled over, into a small roadside lot.  There was a brick building near the edge, next to a lot of brightly colored steel bars, and slides.

Annabelle heard the beep, as he checked his phone.  She watched him, his eyes snapped shut, and his fist clenched.   He texted a few more times, and then dropped it onto her seat.  She glanced down to see ‘Nice’ written next to a little picture of her with her tongue out and eyes crossed.

“She’s alright?”

“Fuck, you care?” he asked, then climbed out of the car.  She knew he might slap her again or worse, but she snatched up the phone.   After she wiped her glasses she read the texts.

<Shes alrright?>  The last one, from Nicole.

<Have Pinky with me.>  From Nicky, just now.

<He died a hero, you know he wanted it like that. In battle. We’re organizing a search for A. Where are you?>

<Really?>  His first reply, in a dozen messages.

<Nicky, he’s gone, I need you here.>

They continued on all pale green from Nicole but she scrolled back to the bottom.  It took her a few minutes but she messaged.

<he left phone. I’m safe. Are you?>

<We’re fine. We found B. and Drake. Worried. CALL if good to.>

“Give me it,” Nicky said as he opened her door.  Annabelle tumbled to the ground landing on her torn wing.  She didn’t look at it, just pushed herself up, and pulled the phone to her.

“I needed to make sure Nicole’s alright,” she said, and then looked at the strange device.  It was black and looked only vaguely like her’s.  “How do I call?”

He snatched the phone out of her hand, and she recoiled, pushing herself against the car.   Nicky took an uneasy step back, hurt shined clear in his hazel eyes.

“You hit the little picture,” he said and handed the phone back.  “It’s calling, talk to her.”

She held the ringing phone to her ear.

Nicole’s voice was hoarse and she sounded like her mouth was full.

“Are you guys okay? What the hell happened?  The driver got to the garage, and all he found was Billy with his pants down next to a dead drake.  Which is always how I pictured finding his corpse, but still, what the fuck?”

“Are you okay?”

“I got kicked in the face. and my mom just took like four Xanax and went to bed. My brother ran off with another elemental and my Pa is…”  Nicole trailed off, her voice going weak.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened.  I got to the little hut late and then a drake got my wing but Billy shot—.”

“Wait, hold on,” she cut in.  “How is the wing?”

“It’s fine, I’ll be okay.”  Even she could hear the truth through her lie but they both let it go.  “Billy shot the drake, and then he put me against the wall, and my heart was dying because of the way he held me there. Nicky saved me but he seemed really unhappy about it.”

Nicole didn’t reply right away and when she did her voice sounded even stranger.  “Did Nicky shoot Billy?”

“I’ll let you talk to him,” Annabelle said and handed the phone off.

He limped out of earshot.  His face was annoyed, but she was starting to think that was his normal look.  After a while she sat back down in the car, her wings under her.  She didn’t want to look at her damaged one.  She could feel the air move through it even if there was no real pain.

“Here,” he said, as he handed her the phone again.  She hadn’t noticed him approach.

“He’s going to drive you there,” Nicole said.  “He’s not in the mood for pa’s funeral, and Billy’s family might be looking to string him up.  It’s a fairy’s, and a drunks, word against Billy’s head being splattered across the dirt.”

“Is Nicky in trouble?”

“Nicholas,” he said, from behind her.

“No, not so much, just don’t need the extra drama.  No one will side with them, but the issues it would cause… You know what have a nice trip.  They seemed pretty convinced you left, partially because we let them look around, after we killed everyone they sent through the portal.”

“That’s good,” she said.

“They get real diplomatic when you send a dozen corpses back.”

“I bet.”

“Just be safe and don’t—Just remember what I said that first night okay? About Nicky”

“Trust me, but whatever happens we’ll still be friends right?”

Just when Annabelle had given up on an answer, she heard a long sigh.  “Of course, siylaette, I just don’t want you guys hurt. Or to have to hurt, either of you.  Good luck… In Cali too,” she said.

“Good luck, uh, Clan head Nicole?”

“Yeah. Nicole Murphy, head of the Murphy’s. You can call me Nice though, Wings, all the family does.”

They said goodbye a few more times, until she spotted the angry look back on Nicholas’s face.   She walked over to him, after she hung up.

“Here.” She held the phone out to him.  “Sorry I took your phone without asking.”

He gave a nod, as he pulled the device from her hand.  “Bathroom there if you need it.  Clean the blood off at least. We’re not stopping until Ashland if we can help it, so do what you have to.”  He walked away toward a bench.

Annabelle went to the little building and washed what she could off.  She burnt what stuck in her hair.  Her shirt would have to be thrown out but she didn’t have another one.  She rinsed it as best she could and put it back on wet.  The pants were broken, the little button gone.   Her glasses were scraped.  She wiped them clean twice, but the lens still blurred in that spot.

Still the fairy avoided the wing, just stared at her face in the mirror.  She leaned forward and kissed her reflection.  The joy of survival overcame any pain, she rejoiced in being able to even count her scrapes.  She danced, spinning in a wide circle with her hands  in the air.

“Holy Guacamole,” a bearded man said as he walked in.

“Sorry,” she answered and examined her bare feet.

“This is the men’s,” he said.

“I didn’t know there was a difference,” she said eyes on the ground as she passed him.

“Is that a costume?” he asked.

“Sure,” Annabelle said as she left the little room.  As soon as she was out, she paled her skin and switched her eyes as best she could.  The glamour was weak, she was still too pink, but it was the best she could do.

Nicholas was sitting on the bench shorts pulled up to his knee as he adjusted a strap.  Annabelle could see the metal started a few inches below the joint.  He dropped the pants leg and it fell hiding the scarred knee, and bit of leg, but still leaving the pole leading into his shoe exposed.

“You could have told me.”

“Not in the mood to rush to the bathroom. Woman’s has a skirt on it, didn’t Nice tell you?”

“Yeah, but I forgot,” she said, not wanting to admit she hadn’t even looked.  “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Saving me from Billy,” she said.  “And driving me.”

“I went there to kill him,” he said.  “I didn’t even see you were there until after I pulled the trigger.”

He got up, and walked to the car.   She followed after, her eyes focused on the ground.

“Liar,” she said as she got into the car.

“Excuse me?”

“How’d you even know he was there? Why did you want to kill him?”

“He was on duty last night. When we met up in the garage, no one could find him. Then those things come out of nowhere, already in the lot. I was in the garage, and one just stepped in from the street. They were let through last night, while we were all sleeping it off. I figured Billy had screwed us over,” he explained, as he backed the car up.  “He always liked Beth a bit too much.”

“Beth?”

“The car, he always liked it, and he was gone,” he said.  “And I asked myself where he’d be if he was fucking us. Then I grabbed Sempra, and—.”  He gestured at the pistol, still sitting on the floor next to the stick.  Annabelle could see designs etched into the silvered barrel.

“The gun? You named it too?”

“Why not?”

“Nothing, nothing,” she said eyes out her window.  She held a hand over her mouth but a few snickers escaped.

“Hey I saved your sweet-.” He stopped.  “I saved you, don’t laugh at my guns name.”

“Why ‘sempra’?”

“A book me an’ Nice like. She’ll show you someday,” he said.  “Had a matching one, awhile ago.  Lost it.”

“I’m sorry about your pa,” she said.

“Only Nice calls him that, he’s just Dad to me.”

“Sorry, about it.”

“I don’t need to hear that shit right now.”  He flicked on the radio.

“Sorry you lost your other gun, Sempra is a cool gun name.”  Hard twist to the knob, and the music flowed like the ocean across her sandcastles.

Annabelle stared at the window the trees they passed helping her relax.   In a few places she could see just a few trees nearest the road and fields of stumps beyond.  She leaned her head against the glass and closed her eyes.  She wanted home so bad in that moment it was like heartbreak icy in her chest.

After a while he turned down the radio.

“Is your hearing better?”  His voice sounded softer than she had heard it yet.

“A lot. Still a little ringing in this one.”  She gestured to the right, both guns fired next to that ear.

“I’m going to go by the store, after I get us a motel. Beside some clothes, is there anything you need?”

“I’m hungry,” she said.

“We’ll get you some food soon but is there like a fire fairy thing? Plants like some dirt to carry with them.”

“No. I can wait for food until you’re hungry,” she told him.

“Fine,” he said and turned the music back up.  After a few songs the music sounded weird and broken and he turned it off.

“I’m going to die if I don’t eat soon,” she said about five minutes later.  He sighed and shook his head.

“Next place, I guess.”

“I’m sorry.”

More silence.

Eventually he pulled up next to a restaurant.  “Wait here,” he told her, heading inside.

Sharp taps on the window woke her a moment later.

“Got you some orange juice.”  She rolled the window down, and he dropped a bag on her lap.   He handed her a cup with it.  “I’ll eat out here, if you don’t want to eat with me.”

“Why not?” she asked.

Nicholas didn’t answer, just walked around the car, and opened the other door. He sat faced outward, eating his hamburger like it was the first food he had seen all week.  He was done before she was but he waited quietly until she finished her fries.

“Trash?” he asked.

“Your car is very clean.”

“Nice still driving her car like it’s a trashcan?”

“It seemed fine to me,” Annabelle said and held out the bag.  Nicky took it, then carried them to the trash can.  He stood a few minutes, staring at the sunset in the distance, before he returned.

We’re going to be late, we haven’t made good time.”

“Did you get napkins?”

“Just burn them clean.”  She did, and wiped them on her pants afterward.  Another long silence as they drove off.  She sipped her juice, and watched him drive the car.

“You’re a good driver.”

“No, Nice is just so bad, I look like a professional in comparison.”

“She’s actually better than you,” the fairy replied.  “I was just being kind.”  He reached a hand up and she pushed herself back against the door again.  The hand dropped heavy between them.

“I was just going to flick your forehead?” His voice was so slow the statement became a question.

“You slapped me when we were leaving.”

“You weren’t moving or responding. I called you for a few minutes, A, but we needed to go.  Did you think that drake was alone?”

“I didn’t think at all. There was a lot happening. He cut off my air and I was going out. I think I was anyway, never seen a fire fairy go out. There was no light, I was blind for a moment. Then fire and I could breathe again.”

“Your eyes were turning black, like coal. I thought you were already…”

“‘I didn’t even see you.’”  She attempted to imitate his lilt but she sounded whiny.

“I don’t sound like that.”

“I’m really bad at impressions.”

“‘I’m really bad at impressions.’”  He said back in her voice.  Annabelle had seen the leprechaun trick a few times, in varying states of skill, but he sounded almost exactly like her.

“You’re really good at that.”

“Gran taught us, back home.”

“Where is home?”

“Nicole didn’t tell you? Murphy clan is from Boston. Mom’s from Georgia but we all lived there a while. Wisteria, is what we call the Odd country over there. Stumptown here but we’re putting you in the Glass. Sorcha, their queen, is a real bitch. She’ll never let a Stydran take one of her subjects, even if you aren’t a subject.”

“Boston, Fryhel?”

“Is there a Boston in Fryhel?”

“Yeah,” she said.  “Is there one here?”

“It’s in Massachusetts, other side of the country.”

“Never heard of it.”

“I’m not going to do the whole explaining thing like Nicole.  Just google it.”

“Left my phone. All my stuff, clothes, everything.”

“Smooth.”  He passed her his.  “You know how to google right?”

“Yeah, I looked up Florence Nightingale yesterday.”

“Why did you google a 19th century nurse?”

Her breath caught and she stared out the window mind racing for an excuse. “I can’t remember.”

“Can’t lie either.”

Instead of answering, she opened the browser, and a bright painting of two female fairies in an erotic pose popped onto the screen.  They weren’t accurate looking more like tiny humans than a proper fairy.  Both were well endowed, she found herself looking down at her tiny frame.  One was reddish with tiny red wings too small to carry her.  Maybe fire?  The other one was green. Plant type, although she looked nothing like any Annabelle knew.

“What is this?”  She held the phone up, he glanced over then snatched at the device.  The car weaved over the road before he brought it under control.

“It’s nothing. I was really wasted last night.”

“You were.”  He didn’t reply just fiddled with his phone.

Annabelle stared out the window and he just put the device in his pocket.   Eventually, she laid low in the seat, her last memory before the car stopped outside a small motel.

***

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