The following morning, Juliet rolled over reluctantly in her bed. Remaining traces of the fire of last night filled her nostrils, and she finally sat up, groggy and disoriented as always. She glanced around her bedroom, reaching for her glasses on her bedside table. She put them on and threw the covers aside.
Juliet stood up and then stopped. Hadn’t she left all of her sketches from last night scattered across her desk and floor? A swift sense of déjà vu rushed through her and she wrenched the door open, running quickly down the stairs.
“Mom?” Juliet called.
“I’m in the kitchen,” she heard Elena reply.
She reached the kitchen and slid slightly on the tiled floor before she stopped.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
Juliet looked at her mother, confused. “Were you in my room last night?”
“Of course not, sweetheart. How come?”
“I… never mind. Maybe I put them away.”
“Are you all right?”
Juliet shook her head absently and made her way upstairs. She could have sworn that she’d left her bedroom in a horrible state last night, having been so frustrated at bother her mother and herself. Sighing, she closed her bedroom door behind her and got ready for the day.
After she dressed, she searched every where she could think where she would have stashed the drawings, but to no avail. No matter where she looked, it turned up empty. Juliet grabbed her bag and went back downstairs.
Elena looked up at her, concerned.
Juliet held up a hand. “I’m mentally rifling through my bedroom, don’t interrupt.”
“All right,” she replied, laughing quietly.
Juliet set her things down, and scrounged up some breakfast, while Elena sat at the table, consistently checking her watch every few seconds.
“Expecting someone?” Juliet asked as she sat down to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.
Elena shook her head absent-mindedly. “More like I’m trying not to expect someone, but she always show up around every fourth year or so.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said suddenly, a blush rising in her face. “I was just mumbling to myself. Ignore me.” She got up from the table and rinsed out her coffee mug. “So, what are you going to do about Mr. Nielson?”
Juliet sighed. “Since you won’t let me take your books, I guess I’m just going to have to tell him it was a lie, even if it so obviously isn’t. If only I could find those sketches…”
Elena shifted anxiously and said, “I’m sorry about that, Juls, but it was an invasion of privacy for you to go through those things anyway.”
“You won’t even let me take one in?”
“I’m sorry, love.”
“Yeah, okay,” Juliet said, sighing again. She put her empty bowl on the counter and grabbed her bag. “I’ll see you when I get home.”
“I love you, you know,” Elena said when Juliet was half-way out the door. Juliet lifted her hand to acknowledge she heard her, but said nothing.
Juliet groaned when she got to school. Nigel was leaning against his car, which was parked beside Juliet’s usual spot in the parking lot. She toyed with the idea of running him over for a moment and, thinking better of it, pulled into the space beside him. She wondered if it was too late to pretend she didn’t see him. Considering if she hadn’t, she probably would have run him over accidentally rather than intentionally, Juliet decided against it and reluctantly got out of the car.
“Juliet,” he breathed.
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, Nigel, that is my name. Brilliant of you, that one is.” She walked around her car and opened the passenger door, pulling her bag off the seat.
“Did you get any proof for Mr. Nielson?”
Juliet looked up at him as she swung her bag over her shoulder and shut the door to her car. “No. My mom wouldn’t let me take any of her books to him.”
“I figured as much,” he mumbled.
“I said, here,” Nigel said, pulling out a thin, leather bound book from under his jacket. Juliet took the book from him, running her fingers over the gold-embossed lettering on the front.
“Where did you get this,” she asked him, not taking her eyes off of it.
“That’s not something I’m at liberty to discuss.”
She flipped through it anxiously. “Yes… yes, this is exactly what I need to prove to Mr. Nielson that I wasn’t lying. Thank you so much.”
He smiled ruefully. “You’re welcome, I suppose. Just see to it that I get that back right after school today.”
“Of course,” Juliet replied, distracted.
“Yeah,” Nigel said awkwardly after a moment. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets.
She finally looked at him. “Why did you bring me this?”
“I didn’t want you to fail,” he answered slowly.
“I don’t think that’s exactly true.”
“It doesn’t matter what you think. Just take it to him, all right?”
“Fine, but it doesn’t mean I’m not curious.”
Nigel looked at her seriously. “You know how you won’t tell me anything about what happens to you on a day to day basis?”
“Well, I’m allowed my secrets, too.”
“But that isn’t fair,” Juliet protested. She opened her mouth to continue, but Nigel held up a hand.
“It’s perfectly fair, and if you want to stand here in the rain and contemplate the unfairness of life, that’s fine, but I’d rather not be late to Calculus.” Nigel pulled the hood of his windbreaker over his head roughly and trudged inside, leaving Juliet staring after him.
The day passed in a melancholic blur. Though they knew little about each other, Juliet realized she had begun to depend on Nigel to show himself between classes and at other inconvenient times, a consistent buzz in the background that filled her days with at least some kind of human interaction. Today, however, Nigel kept himself scarce.
At lunch, Juliet attempted to settle herself at the lunch table at which Nigel always sat in order to speak to him. He spotted her sitting awkwardly amongst her friends, dumped his newly purchased lunch in the trashcan, and headed for the library. When she tried to follow, he ignored her so thoroughly that he almost had her convinced that she really wasn’t there – perhaps this was some horrible dream and she would wake up, all of her sketches would be there, and the day would be put right. But before she knew it, it was time for her Geography class, and Nigel hadn’t so much as nodded at her since their tense conversation that morning.
Juliet entered Geography feeling morose. Though slightly distracted, she did not forget about the leather-bound book that was still tucked away in her jacket.
“Mr. Nielson, I have my proof,” she told him the instant her professor stepped through the door.
Mr. Nielson looked utterly shocked for a moment, and then a smug smile spread across his face. “And what wild excuse for proof have you managed to scrounge up, Juliet?”
“No wild excuses, just a book,” said Juliet proudly as she pulled it from her coat. She set it on the table in front of him. He stared down at it skeptically, trying to decide as to whether or not this small, moldy book could be legit. He flipped through the pages, pausing every now and again to stop and read.
“I don’t believe it,” he muttered under his breath.
“I told you it was amazing.”
Mr. Nielson shook his head, pulling his glasses off and setting them down delicately on the desk. “That’s not what I was referring to, Miss Montgomery. What I cannot believe is that you would take so much of your time last night, when you could have been doing something much more beneficial such as homework, to create such a thing as this. Did you honestly believe you could fool me, Juliet?”
“But, sir, it –”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses, Juliet,” he cut her off sternly. “I want you to take this stupid little book and find your seat, and I don’t want to hear another word of this or I’ll report you.”
“It’s not a lie!” Juliet slammed her fist down on Mr. Nielson’s desk, rattling the contents of his pencil cup.
He narrowed his eyes. “I suggest you follow instructions, Miss Montgomery, and control that temper of yours.”
The rest of her Geography lesson, Juliet sat fuming, not paying attention, as usual, to a word he said. She was angry. She was going to get a zero and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it – not that school necessarily mattered to her. It was the principle of the thing that bothered her. She had brought him what he had asked for and he heartily denied the existence of such a wondrous city, of such an amazing world.
The bell rang. Juliet stood up and swung her bag over her shoulder. She crossed the school quickly in order to catch Nigel before he left. She feared she’d missed him when she was almost to the parking lot and had seen no sign of him, but when she turned down the side hall, she saw him leaning against the wall by the door, hands deep in his pockets, eyes fixed on his shoes.
Juliet walked up to him slowly, no longer sure why she felt it was important she talk to him about what was going on earlier that day. She compensated for the awkward gap in conversation by pulling his book from her coat.
“Here,” she murmured, pressing the soft leather into his hand. “He didn’t give me the grade. Thanks for everything. I’ll see you later.” She was unsure of what else to say, but as she reached out to open the door, he grabbed the handle and held it shut.
“That’s it, then?”
“What do you mean?”
He kept his eyes downward, but he appeared concerned. “You’re giving up. You’re not going to try anymore to prove your heritage, to prove what you are, who you are.”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
Nigel finally looked up at Juliet’s face, taking in the way her eyebrows pulled together, the slight curve of her full lips. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “I know that, and I wish I could figure out why.”
She tilted her head in confusion.
“I’m desperately trying to understand how you could know about Eldias – how your mother could posses the kind of information in your paper – and still be… human.”
“What, you think I’m not human?”
He met her gaze. “No one with that kind of information could possibly be.”
A thousand things began racing through Juliet’s mind at once – was he insulting her, by telling her she was inhuman? She didn’t even know anything about him. He was the one who had ignored her all day in the first place. To treat her like that and then to tell her that she or her mother couldn’t possibly be human? Juliet clenched her fists.
“There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“I didn’t say there was.”
“I can’t believe you,” she told him through gritted teeth. “You attempt to help me this morning, treat me like a leper through the school day, and now you’re telling me that because I know about Eldias I can’t possibly be human? What is wrong with you?”
“There is nothing wrong with me,” Nigel replied stiffly, straightening up and staring down at her.
“Something must be. It’s bad enough that you follow me around every day after school, trying to figure me out. Well, you haven’t figured me out. I’m not some kind of freak show just because my mom has some old books about this country that, according to my geography teacher, doesn’t exist.”
“If my being around bothers you that badly, then I suppose I’ll leave you to your own devices.”
“I didn’t say that…”
Juliet clenched her fists tighter, refusing to believe she was telling him this. “It really bothered me today that you weren’t around. I didn’t expect it. You’re always right there.”
“I’m not your keeper.”
“I know that.”
“Well, then, what did you expect? I’m not going to attempt to make conversation with you if you so obviously don’t want me around.”
“I don’t want a keeper, Nigel. I want…”
“What?” he asked sharply.
“I want someone to explain to me what the hell is going on.”
“Then ask your mother.”
“That’s not what I mean!” she shouted, slamming her palm against the wall. She was breathing heavily, trying to control the anger that was coursing through her veins. She didn’t understand anything that was going on anymore.
Nigel continued to stare down at her, though his eyes softened. “Then what do you mean, Juliet?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Yes, it does.”
She shook her head slowly. “Just let me go home, Nigel,” she pleaded with him, flexing her fingers to keep herself from clenching her fists. “I just want to go home.” He let go of the door. He dropped his eyes to the floor as Juliet bolted outside to her car, only seeing the ends of her jet black hair as she flashed by.
Juliet slammed her car door and bent over the steering wheel, breathing heavily. After a moment she sat up, attempting to clear her head. She felt bad for the way she had reacted and cursed herself for her ill temper, but she couldn’t bring herself to get out of the car and apologize.
Staring at the school, she saw Nigel finally come outside to go home. He looked violently angry. Juliet’s temper flared again, and she turned her car on, peeling out of the parking lot and keeping up a stream of profanities that she wished she could scream in his face.
She was home ten minutes later, yearning for the comfort of her bedroom. Juliet got out of her car, grabbed her bag, and headed inside through the back door. Her mother wasn’t in the kitchen, but she heard her talking to somebody in the living room. She stepped into the room.
Juliet’s bag hit the floor before she’d even registered that she’d dropped it. Elena whirled in her seat, staring at Juliet open-mouthed.
“Juliet, honey, what are you dong home?”
“School let out half an hour ago. I’m actually late,” Juliet replied mechanically, not taking her eyes off of the stranger. Elena laughed nervously then looked back over at her guest.
The woman who was sitting on the couch across from Elena’s chair was the strangest looking person Juliet had ever seen. She had waist length hair that was silver with a bluish hue, though the side-swept bangs that hung over her eyes were a bright gold. Her short dress, thick boots, and elbow length gloves were of the same two colors. She had snowy white skin, and eyes that were two different colors – the left, an ice blue, and the right was gold. There was also a gold “x” just under her right eye.
“It’s March,” Juliet said slowly. “Isn’t it a little late for a costume party?” She bent down to pick her school bag off of the floor.
Elena grabbed at the excuse. “Yes, but there’s a convention in town and she’s going to be staying with us for a little while.”
“Aren’t you going to introduce me,” asked the young woman, her airy voice carrying a mocking tone.
Elena nodded. “Juliet, this is an old friend of mine from… from college. Her name is Hayle.”
“Like a bad storm, hail?”
“No, like my mother likes to make convoluted names with whatever letters pop into her head. At least the elves didn’t have their say; they would have named me –”
“Hayle will be in and out of the house, but she will be here for dinner. Please take your things upstairs and then come back down to help me cook.”
“Fine,” Juliet sighed. She had stopped asking questions about the kinds of people who came to visit her mother – there was one woman with bright blue hair who had insisted that she was a queen and ordered Juliet around for three days. She made her way upstairs slowly lost in thought. When she first set eyes on Hayle, she had a fleeting sense of memory, a shower of gray and gold feathers, and an argument that had broken her mother’s favorite vase in the living room. But there never had been vase in that corner, had there?
Juliet set her bag on her bed and changed into a pair of more comfortable jeans. She went back into the hall and turned to the stairs, about to head back down, but then stopped as loud voices reached her ears.
“You couldn’t have just the slightest bit of respect for my decisions as a mother?” Elena asked angrily. Juliet sneaked down a few stairs silently, trying to hear Hayle’s muted reply. She sat down at the end of the wall, peering around the first post of the banister at the tense scene taking place in the living room.
Elena and Hayle were standing, facing each other. Both of them were rigid, clenching their fists, their jaws tight.
“She’s getting on in years, Elena. You can’t keep masking her memories, forcing her to repeat high school every few years. The Council is getting suspicious. I know you’re trying to protect her from everything you fled from, but there are things happening in Eldias that I don’t understand, and I’m fairly certain Julietrielle is the key.”
Elena said nothing, so Hayle continued.
“The Council put me on as her guard, Elena. I’ve lied to them repeatedly for you, told them that Juliet’s aware of everything and is choosing to stay on Earth to please you. But they’re getting anxious, Len. They know that eventually ever Ayephim on Earth is taken by the wanderlust to get back to Eldias, but only if they know. It’s been three-hundred years, and she hasn’t once come home.”
“I have to protect her. Gabriel is general of the Fallen, the world is falling to pieces – last I heard Elkon’Legh had truly lost his power and I worry that what the Council did to him has corrupted him even further than we all think. I don’t want her involved with that world.”
“Eventually she will put her foot down.”
“Not if she doesn’t know,” Elena said, shaking her head. “I’m planning on doing another memory wipe soon and start her as a freshman in college. Maybe I’ll send her somewhere warm this time, possibly California.”
“It’s the middle of the school year. If you pull her out, the principle or the school board or whoever is going to wonder why one of their prime students suddenly stops coming to school in her senior year. Her friends are likely to get suspicious, too.”
Elena shook her head again. “Juliet doesn’t have any friends.”
“You may believe that, but I’m fairly certain there are at least one or two of her peers who will notice if she goes missing.”
“There’s nothing else I can do, Hayle.”
Hayle suddenly threw the glass she was holding. It shattered against the wall. “You can let her come home, you irrational woman! They need her! Do you want Eldias to get destroyed? At the rate it’s going, it will be, by the Council if Gabriel doesn’t get there first. I can’t let that happen.”
“As her mother, I can’t allow you to do this.”
“I have no other choice, Elena. Maybe not today, maybe not four years from now, but I will come back for her, and she will know.”
Hayle snapped her fingers and the shattered glass disappeared before crossing the room, wrenching the front door open, and slamming it shut behind her.