Warm summer air drifted into Lynn’s bedroom, where she lay silently on her bed, admiring a very strange ring. Her hand hovered above her face, her sea-green eyes mesmerized by the gem winking down at her. It appeared to be a diamond, but somehow pure white and deep black swirled inside of it together without blending. It was odd, but beautiful. She turned her hand at different angles, allowing the light from her bedside lamp make it shine. When Stanley had given it to her that day, she had acted aloof, not wanting things to become awkward between them. But secretly, she was happy he’d given it to her.
Lynn couldn’t let Stanley know how she really felt about him. They’d been best friends for nearly ten years, and she wasn’t about to risk losing him completely by telling him she loved him. He meant too much to her. It made her heart ache not being as close to him as she wanted, but she knew if things became weird between them, she’d lose him forever. The idea made her sick to her stomach.
Struggling to toss the notion out of her mind, she stretched and yawned, letting her hand fall back onto her pillow. She had pushed the blankets to the foot of the bed, because it was so hot in her room. She lay in short jeans shorts and a white t-shirt, her strawberry blond hair jumbled over her head on the pillow. A long day in the summer sun had exhausted her completely. She and Stanley had been at Lake Delight for most of the day, swimming for hours, and then walking through the nature surrounding the water. They’d found the ring under an uprooted tree.
“Whoa, what’s that?” Stanley had said, running over to where the glinting light came from. Because of his height, he chose to lay flat on the ground to get to it. Lynn laughed. When he picked it up, he rubbed the grime off of it and, seeing that it looked like an engagement ring, a mischievous grin took over his face.
“What?” said Lynn, the laugh still in her voice.
“Look at it,” he told her, holding it out for her to see.
Her eyes widened. “Wow,” she breathed.
Then, with her distracted by the ring, Stanley sunk down onto one knee.
“Lynn Marie Stone,” he proclaimed jokingly, waving the ring in front of her face. “Will you marry me?”
Lynn glanced around in embarrassment, her heart fluttering at the sight of him down on one knee in front of her. He laughed, because no one was there to see the scene. His dark hair had dried funny, and was standing up in all directions, and his blue eyes gleamed with mirth as he held the ring up for her to see again.
She smiled then, shaking her head. He pretended to be disappointed.
“No?” he asked, bowing his head. “Okay.”
It took her a moment, but she became amused and decided to play along. “Fine! I’ll marry you.”
Smirking, he grabbed her hand and put the ring on her finger. As the band slid into place, the sun caught the gem again, flashing brightly on their faces. Stanley let go of her hand, but remained on the ground for a moment, looking up at her. Lynn stared back, her stomach aching. This joke was too close to home. She forced herself to laugh, breaking eye contact and looking down at the ring. Stanley cleared his throat, waving her hand away as she went to take it off.
“You should keep it,” he told her. “It’s pretty.”
Lynn hesitated, chewing the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. “Yeah, it is.” she agreed, dropping both hands to her sides. “I guess I will.”
He got to his feet and dusted himself off. “Lets keep walking.”
So they continued their walk, and Lynn tried to suppress her desire to daydream about them being married. She put her hands in her pockets and jogged to catch up with him. They walked around for a while longer, talking about nothing, and then he drove her home.
Lynn sighed, tucking her arm under her hair and closing her eyes to sleep.
The ring really was beautiful.
That night, Lynn dreamt more vividly of Stanley than she had ever dreamed. She felt his warm body and uneven breath on her skin. Her world turned over and became filled with endless groans and gasps, hot air and strange passion, and a stinging feeling--like her whole body was on fire. They twisted together in a dimly lit room, tucked somewhere in a warm corner of her mind. They were fully clothed, but aching for more. Lynn arched up into him and gripped his hair almost painfully, holding him to her as they kissed. Their sighs permeated the atmosphere. Candle light danced on the walls around them, and on their bodies as they pulled at each others clothes. Lynn knew it was pointless, but was unable to lift herself from these dreams.
.. .. ..
Marlow couldn’t believe it. He had passed through the portal into the human world, his robes transformed into horrible human clothes, and now stood alone in the daylight of their woods. But not for long. Spiro’s arrival behind him sent them both tumbling to the ground. They bickered for a while and rolled away from each other, and Marlow felt himself over, glad to find he still had his knife on him, and a vile of red liquid to return in his pocket. Spiro had a vile too, and his pipe, which had never left his hand. He too wore human clothes. They did not belong here, and they had to find the ring and get out as quickly as possible. Marlow dropped to his knees, frantically searching.
But it was nowhere to be found.
“What should we do?” Marlow asked Spiro, an hour later. They’d searched the tree from top to bottom, and the surrounding area countless times.
“Let’s just stay here and keep our heads,” said Spiro, trying to appear calm as white smoke swirled from his nose.
Marlow sat on the ground, his head in his hands. “This is a disaster.”
.. .. ..
Lynn woke with a start to find Stanley standing over her bed, the morning sun blazing through the window onto his concerned face.
Her mind was full of images from her dream, her face blushing red and warm as she struggled to pull herself into the real world.
“Lynn?” he asked worriedly. “You okay? It sounded like you were crying.”
“Um…I’m okay,” she smiled to cover her embarrassment. “How did you get in here?”
“Your mom let me in,” he answered, poking her shoulder. “It’s almost two PM. She figured you’d get up if I came up here to bug you.”
Lynn reached to grab his arm to help herself up. But as her skin made contact with his, a wild shock went through her body. She let out a yelp, tears springing to her eyes. In shock, he slapped his hand over hers, and the pain suddenly fell away, leaving her breathless. She tore her hand away from his.
“What’s wrong?” he exclaimed, confused and panicked.
“What was that?” Lynn demanded. She held her hand to her face, examining it closely. It appeared unharmed, but throbbed painfully.
Stanley’s dark eyebrows met in the middle as he frowned, reaching for Lynn again with anxious eyes. Lynn leaned away from his touch, seriously disturbed at what had occurred. Her normally happy freckled face was slashed with fear. She considered him warily, as if wondering whether or not he’d burst into flames. The light morning breeze blew in through the window, unsettling her hair. They stared at each other in silence for a long time.
“I don’t know,” he said finally, lowering his hand and glaring. “I didn’t feel anything.”
“It’s not…” Lynn stopped herself before she could say “normal.”
She was probably over-thinking this; it was just an aftermath of dreaming. Lynn shook her head and forced a smile for Stanley. “I’m sorry,” she told him. “Crazy static electricity, I guess. I still feel like I’m dreaming.”
Her last sentence made her blush again, but she was sure he didn’t read into it that well.
“Yeah,” he agreed, smiling and seeming relieved that she was no longer mad at him.
Lynn lay back down on the bed and looked out the window, relaxing and yawning. The sun was high, the sky painted a beautiful blue. The leaves on all the trees screened light into her room and lit up every corner. The air was warm, and dust shimmered magically all around them.
. . .
Stanley sat next to Lynn on her bed and sighed, pretending to take in the view with her.
She was beautiful. Her body curved perfectly. She wore short jean shorts and a rumpled white t-shirt. He could tell that the swim suit she’d worn under it the previous day was no longer there. Her hair was glowing its own kind of light against the sun. Her skin the same; pale, clean, and soft looking as she stretched out again, using her feet to push the blankets to the end of the bed. She reached her hands above her head and arched her back, unconsciously making the curves of her body more obvious to Stanley’s suddenly hungry eyes. He imagined himself laying on top of her, feeling her body against his own. An aching want simmered within him.
She was more than beautiful.
Lynn sighed heavily, her eyes sleepy again as she looked up at Stanley.
Realizing how ridiculous he was being, Stanley got off the bed and went looking for a different shirt for her to wear. As he plucked a red one off the floor he said, “Wanna go back to the lake today?”
He heard the bed creak as Lynn sat up enthusiastically. “Yeah!”
He smiled to himself. “Okay, lets go.” He threw the shirt at her, and it fell over her head. She was grinning at him when she took it off.
“Okay,” she answered. She hopped up off the bed and rushed past him to get to the bathroom.
As she passed by him, he had a sudden irrational desire for her to touch him. He leaned sideways, and as she moved her hand brushed against his, and they both slowed their pace for a moment, meeting eyes. Stanley felt his heart falter. Lynn drew in a shaky breath and let it out slowly, smiling sheepishly at him and leaving the room. He stared after her, feeling a strange sense off loss, even though she was only a few feet away from him in the next room.
This wasn’t normal for him. Usually he was able to hide his feelings from Lynn, but all of a sudden he wanted to act on them. This was crazy. He had to get a hold of himself before she caught on.
. . .
In the bathroom, Lynn sat down on the toilet without lifting the seat, crossing her legs and wrapping her arms around herself. She frowned at the floor, trying to make sense of the weird feeling she had--like she needed to get back in the room with Stanley as soon as possible, or something bad would happen. This was stupid. It was just a stupid dream. She and Stanley were friends, best friends.
And they would never be anything more.
Once she was fresh and clean and changed, wearing her swimsuit underneath her clothes, Lynn went downstairs where Stanley was waiting for her. He was sitting on the bench by the back door, basking in the sun. As she walked towards him, she suddenly felt her breath catch in her body. She quieted her steps so he couldn’t hear her approaching.
His dark hair was being blown away from his face by the wind through the open door, and his eyes were closed. He wore his favorite green t-shirt and a pair of black swimming trunks. His tan legs were outstretched to catch more of the sun from outside; his arms crossed over his chest. He almost looked like he was napping. Lynn felt her feelings for him swelling in her chest, and something inside her willed her to sneak up to him. Though she knew it was foolish to play this game with herself, her feet moved her forward. She found herself standing over him, her hands clasped tightly to her elbows to stop herself from touching him. A powerful desire for him had taken over her mind. She wanted to make him know.
This was the bravest, and also the dumbest thing she’d ever done. All this did was make her feel farther away from him, and it was creepy of her to stand over him this way. Still, she didn’t move, and he didn’t notice her. What was happening today? That dream she had last night was weighing too powerfully on her mind. She needed to face reality: Stanley wasn’t hers to have. This couldn’t happen. She had to stop herself from being so weird before he opened his eyes and caught her. Her heart was the only sound she could hear.
The same thing that willed her to walk over to him willed her to lean down and kiss him. His mouth was open slightly, tempting her without him meaning to tempt her. She reached up, and after a long breathless moment, she let her fingertip graze his chin. The moment her skin made contact with his, an electrical zap flew through her fingers, tingling all the way up her arm. She gasped, stumbling away from him. Was she still dreaming?
Her gasp startled him into opening his eyes, and he jumped when he saw how close to him she was. He appeared not to have felt her touching him, or the zap resulting, at all. He laughed. “Whoa. I didn’t notice you walking up,” he said. “You scared me.”
She laughed too, deeply embarrassed and confused. “Sorry,” she said, trying not to let him catch on. “I’m ready to go when you’re ready to go.”
“Alright,” he got to his feet, swinging his keys around and walking out the door.
Lynn lingered for a moment in the doorway, watching Stanley walk to his car. She was afraid. She felt as if something that wasn’t even part of her was trying to control her. She bit her lip, hard, and the pain made her believe she wasn’t dreaming. She was just being risky and dumb. She let out a long sigh. That was a one time slip up. It would never, ever happen again.
“Let it go,” she whispered to herself. “It’s just a stupid dream.”
Then she quickly followed Stanley outside.
. . .
Stanley walked next to Lynn in silence, along the same path at Lake Delight as the day before. They had decided to skip swimming until later. The wall of trees broke every once in a while to show them the rippling lake water, but otherwise hid the outside world from them. They were trapped in a soft, silent world of their own. The silence was only broken by the sound of tree branches creaking together in the wind, an occasional bird skimming the surface of the lake, and their own footsteps, further compressing the earth.
Stanley felt strange. Whenever he felt Lynn looking in the opposite direction, he found himself staring at her. His heart burned with the desire he had to touch her and tell her all the things he’d been hiding. Ever since he put the ring on her yesterday, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he should act on his emotions. Their friendship would go straight down the toilet if he did that though. He couldn’t. Maybe it was stupid of him to pretend to propose in the first place. This joke had gone too far in his mind.
Overwhelmed, he let out a huff of frustration at himself. Lynn turned to look at him, frowning. She must be noticing how he was acting. Stanley tried to shake it off.
“I’m just tired,” he assured her with a smile. “Guess I can’t fully wake up today.”
She let out a little laugh. “I feel that way too.”
They were passing the twisted tree where they had found the ring the day before. Stanley glared. There was a pair of young men kneeling by it, and something about them seemed out of place from the usual unknown passerby; something dangerous. They had a dark air about them. As they approached the men, Stanley moved closer to Lynn protectively. The men saw them and stood, serious expressions on their sharp-featured faces. The shorter of the two had long black hair, and skin that was unnaturally pale. His eyes were strange and solid green, matching the foliage that surrounded him. He wore ripped jeans and a black t-shirt; his feet bare. The man looked to be in his late twenties. The taller of the two had sandy brown hair and brown eyes, and wore the same as his companion. They appeared to be brothers. Stanley noticed that they had both glued fake points onto their ears. Why the heck would anyone do that?
The shorter man nodded to Stanley and Lynn as they passed, and Lynn politely raised her hand and waved.
The man’s eyes widened in alarm as he spotted the ring on Lynn’s finger.
“Stop!” he called after them, throwing up his arms.
. . .
Lynn found herself being pushed behind Stanley as he whirled around to look at the man, his face stiff and angry. The man stepped up to him, his hands held up in surrender to any harm.
“My name is Marlow,” he said. “I need that ring.”
“You can’t be that forward Marlow, they’re only humans!” the other man snapped at him, pushing him aside.
“We apologize for scaring you,” the taller man said slowly. “Did you happen to find that ring you’re wearing here on the ground yesterday? My brother and I have been looking for one like it.”
“It’s--” Lynn started to say, shrinking back in fear as Marlow turned his cold eyes on her. “Mine,” she finished quietly.
“Yeah, we found it yesterday, man.” Stanley told the tall man firmly.
Marlow’s face crumpled in disapproval.
“Man?” he repeated, shaking his head dismissively. He held out his hand to Lynn. “May I please have the ring back, girl? It belongs to someone I love.”
His face had taken on a serious kind of tenderness as he said those last words. The man was being polite and patient with them. Lynn smiled apologetically.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We didn’t know it belonged to anyone. Here.”
She stepped around Stanley and tried to take the ring off. Frowning, she looked down at her hand. It was stuck there.
“Hmm…” Lynn hummed thoughtfully. She twisted it and yanked on it, and it didn’t budge.
“Stanley?” she asked, looking back at him. “I need help. It’s stuck…”
The two men met eyes, and seemed to realize something at the same time. Their faces took on horrified expressions, and the taller one slapped the short one called Marlow on the back of the head angrily. “We’re TOO LATE!” he shouted at his brother. “They’re bonded! Are you happy now? This entire situation is nothing but disaster!”
“No!” Marlow shouted, rubbing the back of his head and glaring at his brother. “This can’t be happening! There must be some mistake. It might not be the ring.”
He turned away from them and started pacing around in circles, muttering to himself. “Humans….humans…” He stopped and took a breath, closing his eyes. “This can’t be happening.”
The taller brother stepped up to Lynn, his eyes crazed, but his expression forced calm. “May I see the ring a moment please?” he asked her. “Marlow!” he called to his brother. “Come look and see.”
Marlow strode over quickly and peered at Lynn’s outstretched hand. He made a strangled sound in the back of his throat and nodded, turning away to pace again. The taller brother’s face had turned, if possible, more pale, and he pulled a pipe out of his pants pocket and put it in his mouth. He had nothing to light it, but he chewed the end as if it were the only thing keeping him from having a mental break down. These men were scaring Lynn. She had no idea what they meant about she and Stanley being ‘bonded,’ and felt bad that this ring meant so much to these men. She wished she and Stanley had left it where they’d found it.
“Um…Marlow?” she stepped forward, shrugging Stanley off as he made to reach for her. She waved to catch Marlow’s attention, and he stopped pacing and stared at her with wide, cautious eyes.
“What are you doing?” he asked, reaching behind himself.
Lynn frowned in confusion, her hand still stretched out to comfort him. She took another step, and without warning he pulled a knife out and slashed it through the air.
Lynn screamed, and Stanley gave a loud yelp and pulled her back roughly, throwing her behind him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he shouted at Marlow. “Get away from us!”
The taller brother put himself between his brother and them, shouting, “Marlow, you idiot! Put that away!”
Marlow held still, the knife poised in front of himself defensively.
“Spiro, she’ll have to come with us,” he said to the taller brother shakily. “I need that ring off of her. If Katrina finds out it was on a human, she’ll never forgive me.”
Spiro nodded understanding, and Lynn gasped, wondering what they planned to do. “Stanley,” she whispered urgently, grabbing the back of his shirt.
Stanley glared at the men incredulously. They scurried around him and reached for Lynn, who gasped and backed away from him.
“Leave me alone!” she cried hysterically.
“We really only need the girl,” Marlow said to Stanley, who had put himself in his path. “You can stay here--the less humans in our world, the better.”
Stanley shoved against Marlow as he tried to push him out of the way to get to Lynn, sending him backwards onto the ground. Marlow froze where he was, and he and Stanley met eyes for a moment. Spiro had his hands in the air in surrender.
Lynn was terrified. Stanley didn’t have any defense against this man! What was he doing? She wanted to run away, but she couldn’t move, couldn’t even speak.
There was a long silence, and then Marlow suddenly sounded sad.
“I don’t want to cause conflict in this world,” he said. “I’m sorry. I overreacted when you advanced on me.”
Lynn swallowed, her heart pounding, but made herself lean around Stanley to look at Marlow. Marlow kept his eyes on Stanley, but slowly put his knife back from where he’d retrieved it, then he met eyes with Lynn. “If you’ll forgive me, I’ll explain,” he said.
“Explain what, Marlow?” Spiro shot at this brother. “We can’t tell them a thing!”
“We have to!”
“Whatever man!” Stanley cut in angrily. “I don’t wanna hear it. We’re leaving!” He backed away from the men quickly, reaching back to grab Lynn’s arm. Marlow got to his feet and took a step to follow them, but then stopped, one hand twitching to reach for them.
“Please,” he said. “You have no idea how important that ring is. There isn’t another one like it in the world. Please.”
Lynn stopped, pulling Stanley to a halt and looking back at Marlow. Her heart told her that she should listen to Marlow. It wouldn’t take that long to get the ring off, if they pulled on it hard enough. This was just a huge misunderstanding.
“We should at least listen to him,” she said. “He put the knife away.”
“The point is that he has a knife in the first place Lynn,” Stanley whispered fiercely to her. “He’s crazy. And who knows what that other guy has hidden in his jeans? He could have a gun. We need to get out of here and call the cops--make sure they don’t try to hurt anyone else.”
Lynn shook her head at Stanley, her eyes still locked on Marlow’s saddened face. “I don’t think they’re dangerous. They just want their ring.”
She tried to pull it off her finger again, but it wouldn’t budge. She couldn’t even turn it in a circle. It seemed to be glued to her skin. She sighed hopelessly.
. . .
Stanley looked from Lynn to Marlow, knowing that Lynn wouldn’t drop it if he made her leave. He huffed angrily and turned them back around to face Marlow. It would take two seconds for Lynn to realize that this was a hopeless situation, and they needed to get out of here fast.
Stanley glared at Marlow and waited for him to speak.
Marlow’s face melted with relief. He smiled at them, clasping his hands together to show he meant no harm. Spiro put a hand on his brother’s shoulder to keep him where he was.
“I realize that humans have a hard time believing that elves exist,” Marlow began. “But under this circumstance, I’m afraid you’ll have to. I come from the light side of the Elvin land,” he said. “I mean you no harm, as you are mere humans and cannot help yourselves from stumbling into our rather scattered world.”
Stanley’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead, and he glanced at Lynn to see how she was taking this. To his shock and irritation, she was biting her lip, thinking it over. Was she crazy too? This guy was out of his mind. He could hurt them at any moment; they needed to leave.
“Lynn!” Stanley snapped at her, glaring.
She chewed her lip a moment longer, studying Marlow. “Look at him, Stanley.” she said. “I know it’s stupid, but he’s not…normal. And...” she paused, seeming afraid to go on.
Marlow’s face lapsed into gratitude for her.
“I had that ring welded for my partner,” he said, speaking only to Lynn now. “Once I ask her to bond herself to me and she accepts me, the ring will be hers. But by some clumsy mistake, I lost it. It fell out of my pocket while I was making my way--” he stopped, glancing around and then lowering his voice so that they had to lean in to hear him. “While I was making my way to the house I built for her,” he finished in a whisper, his face suddenly turning red. He drew close to them though, bending and speaking near Lynn’s face. “That ring will bond us. But it appears that by putting that ring on, you and this human male are bonded, and that is a very dangerous thing.”
“Bonded?” Lynn whispered back to him.
Marlow nodded, his face grim. Spiro was chewing on his pipe anxiously again, shaking his head. Stanley put his arm around Lynn’s shoulders, drawing her into his side and frowning at Marlow. Stanley could tell that Lynn believed Marlow, and he couldn’t believe the way she was acting. He was still painfully aware of the knife that glinted on Marlow’s back. This was crazy. He had to get Lynn to see that these guys were dangerous and that they needed to leave.
“Prove it,” he demanded.