Wren kept shooting me glances during dinner. I'm sure it's because he had heard about what the elf said of Bryan and I. He probably agreed with the elf, too.
I poked at my food morosely. I wasn't hungry and Bryan wasn't, either. Ryllae jumped and I looked up. Onvyr was on his way over. She nudged Wren and he cleared his throat.
"Would you like to join me for a walk?" he asked me suddenly and I stared.
"A walk," he said. "You know, when you put one foot in front of the other."
I rolled my eyes and Ryllae interrupted.
"I think it's a swell idea," she said. "Don't you think, Bryan?"
He didn't seem to agree but he nodded anyway. I stood up and followed Wren around to the waterfalls. There were bridges that went over the falls so you didn't have to walk through the water. It was a very peaceful place. He kept his hands behind his back and his head bowed while he walked. He always looked like he was deep in thought.
"How much longer will you be here?" he asked, pushing his hair out of his face as the wind blew.
"A week and a half," I answered sadly. "I wish I never had to leave."
"I feel more at home here than anywhere else," I said. "Back at my home... I only have Bryan and Sally."
"What about your mother?"
I rolled my eyes.
"She smothers me," I said, tossing my hair over my shoulder. "She doesn't let me do anything that could be remotely dangerous. Just convincing her to let me come to this was like pulling teeth."
I felt bad for her. I knew what it was like to be an outsider but at least the people around me are the same race. I kicked at the grass, trying to find something to talk about.
"What happened today?" I asked and cringed.
Terrible job, Wren.
She sighed. "Bryan wanted to make a picture of the creature that he saw. He used charcoal but wanted something smoother. So, he asked a garden elf for a quill or something to use. It went bad from there."
"Well, if it helps, I don't believe there's anything wrong with you."
She scoffed. "No need to lie, Wren. I know you do. You've made that very clear."
I sighed. "I'm not very good at talking to people or making friends," I muttered. "I haven't been since my mother disappeared."
"Where's your father?"
"I'm very sorry," she whispered.
"And I'm sorry I was so rude to you. It's just.... For Rosebud to mate with a werewolf...."
"I know she said wearily. "I'm going to bed."
"Wait," I said, grabbing her arm. "I'm sorry. Really I am. But I grew up with these prejudices, girl. I mean, Corstelis. It's hard not to think that way."
"It's not my fault they fell in love," she whispered. "It's unfair for all of you to treat me as such."
"You're right." I let go of her arm. "Will you still walk with me?"
She smirked. "Because you want me to or because Ryllae talked you into it?"
I laughed. "You know her pretty well, don't you?" I cleared my throat. "I.... I would like for you to join me."
"Okay," she whispered, her face pink.
When we got back to the dining area, Bryan was talking with another creature hunter and Ryllae was with Onvyr. I narrowed my eyes and made to go over there. Corstelis stopped me, smiling at the two of them.
"He's not to speak to her without my permission," I said. "It's custom."
"Is it really or are you just saying that because you're being overprotective?"
I laughed a little. "Yeah, I guess I'm being a little protective, but it really is our custom."
"Just be gentle," she said. "They fancy each other."
I stared at her. "They do?"
"Of course they do. Isn't it obvious? Come here," she said and led me behind a tree. "Observe: She sits with her arms back. He sits leaning forward."
"She's leaning back because he's too close," I whispered.
"No, Wren. She does it to draw him in. Look at her smile. She's doing so to flirt with him."
I shuddered. "Flirting? What a disgraceful act."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because.... Because.... Ugh. How do you know he's interested? Just because he leans into her-"
She pointed at his hands. He was touching her hand!
"Ah, ah, ah," she said, grabbing my arm again. "Let's just watch. This is an invigorating moment for her, Wren."
"Why? She's just flirting with Onvyr."
"Has she been courted at all before?"
"I don't know that term."
"It means has a man shown interest in her and acted on it?"
"No," I said. "At least, not that I've seen."
"I don't think she has," she said. Suddenly, she gasped. "Aw! Look, Wren!"
I turned and my jaw dropped. He was kissing her! That musician was kissing my sister!"
"No," I said loudly. "Not going to happen!"
They looked over and Corstelis pulled me back behind the tree. She pulled so hard, though, that our lips touched. She froze and so did I. Our eyes were wide and it struck me how beautiful her eyes were.... And how soft her lips were....
Her eyes closed, kissing me back, and my hand was on her cheek before I realized what I was doing. I broke away and left, my face flaming red.
I stood behind the tree, winded, and watched him rush back to his home.
"Cori?" Ryllae said. "Are you okay?"
"I-I'm not sure," I muttered and looked at the he-elf. "Is this Onvyr?"
He bowed. "At your service."
Ryllae was staring at me. "Can you give us some privacy, Onvyr? I will join you in a moment."
"As long as you need me to," he said quietly, smiling at her.
When he was out of earshot, Ryllae turned to me. I touched my lips, confused.
"What happened?" she asked. "Was he mean to you?"
"No, it wasn't that," I said. "We-We were watching you and Onvyr. It was an accident. He just turned his head at the wrong time. I was looking at him to tell him to shut up and...."
Ryllae snorted. "What did he do?"
"Ran off," I said, feeling a little disappointed.
"So what are you going to do?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said. "Should I talk to him? Should I wait for him to talk to me?"
She giggled. "Oh how the tables have turned."
"Well he's your brother," I said.
She laughed again. "I'll talk to him, okay. But, first I have-"
"No, yes of course, go! I'm sorry. I should go to bed, too. Good night."
"Good night, Cori."
I walked back over to Bryan. He was talking to a male creature hunter with long black hair and brown eyes. When he saw me, he scrambled up straight.
"Cori, this is Almer," he said and I nodded at him. "He's part of the hunting group that will be joining me on the path tomorrow."
I frowned. "You're looking for the creature again?"
"Yes. We're going to try and capture it."
I bit my lip. "Capture it? But that's dangerous, Bryan."
He shrugged. "It's why I'm here. Besides, I've got some help," he added, patting the hilt of the Sword.
I nodded. "Well, I'm going to bed. I've had an... interesting day."
"Wait," he said and I turned back around. "Almer has asked to join us for dinner tomorrow evening."
"Is that all right?"
"I suppose. I mean, he's your friend."
"That means we can't have Wren or Ryllae sit with us," he added and I looked at the tables that only seated four people.
Then I understood. I sighed and looked at the he-elf.
"Will you excuse us, Almer? Just for a moment," I said and he nodded. "What are you up to, Bryan?"
"I was watching you with Wren," he said, crossing his arms. "I know he upset you."
"But he apologized," I told him.
"The point is, Almer is a great hunter and-"
"Slow down," I snapped and he sighed. "You just told me this afternoon not to look into anything and now you want me to get to know this Almer?"
"He's better than Wren," he mumbled.
"Says who?" I demanded, putting my hands on my hips.
"Says me," he said and stood up. It was then that I realized how much taller he was than me. "I'm your cousin, Cori. I am protecting you."
"Protecting me from what? He's a really good guy if you'd take the chance to talk to him."
Bryan glared. "You kissed him, didn't you?"
I rolled my eyes. "Of course not!" I lied. "Where is your head, Bryan?"
"I don't like the idea of you spending so much time with him and Ryllae. She was kissing another elf earlier."
I sighed. "Bryan, they're my friends. I will spend as much time with my friends as I want. Almer can join you for dinner all you'd like him to. I will be sitting with Ryllae and Wren."
I turned and left before he could say anything else. As I walked back to where I was staying, I didn't see Wren standing outside his house, a confused look on his face.