“You do look like us!” Sarah exclaimed as soon as Elanya opened the door to answer Chris’ knock. She laughed and welcomed them inside, asking them to sit at the dining table while she prepared tea.
You were right, Chris! I can’t believe she is from a different universe!
Sarah realised he wasn’t in the mood for talking, but couldn’t understand why. Elanya soon came back with three cups and a kettle, and poured equal measures in each. They talked uncertainly for a while, not knowing whether mentioning something to the other was a good idea or not, while Chris sat silent. The girls soon realised that as long as they didn’t mention places or brand names, they could go on endlessly- and they did.
“I liked bell bottomed jeans more than straight-fits.” Said Elanya.
“Really? I used to think slim-fit were best for me. Did you ever...”
An hour passed. Chris poured another cup.
“...so I decided I won’t eat ice cream for a month, but then I had a chocolate cornetto the very next day! Can you believe it?” Sarah squealed with laughter.
Elanya replied. “I managed a week before I...”
Another hour passed. Chris put his head down on his hands and closed his eyes.
“I prefer mountains to the oceans, they are all cool and comfy.” Elanya said.
“But I just love swimming! You have to try swimming out into the sea, trust me...”
The third hour passed. Chris poured himself a cup of very cold tea that Sarah didn’t notice and Elanya didn’t mind.
When the conversation ended only by mutual understanding that they had to save some discussions for the next days, Elanya looked at Chris.
“Why Chris, you’ve been very quiet. Are you unwell?”
“He’s been like this since afternoon. Dunno what’s got into him.” Sarah spoke as she jabbed a finger into his shoulder that made him raise his head.
“So have you guys decided on what to wish at the Lake of Need?” Elanya asked as she picked up the cups and the kettles and went back into the kitchen.
Sarah looked at Chris, but he only shrugged his shoulders to indicate he didn’t know what she was talking about. So when Elanya came back Sarah asked her.
“What’s the Lake of Need? John mentioned it once, but he didn’t say anything about wishing something...”
“He didn’t tell you?” Elanya looked at Sarah first, then Chris in equal surprise. “When you came here, to Arisia, you must have found yourself standing near something... like a shop. Did you see it?”
Sarah nodded. “We landed beside a mall. But what has it to do with any lake?”
Elanya smiled in a knowing way. “That was just an illusion, Sarah. There’s a big lake where you had landed, called the Lake of Need. When you come into this world it gives you everything you want, but everything you see is an illusion.”
Sarah was truly surprised, and at least from his face she could say that Chris was too.
“But I stood on the roof of a skyscraper!” She looked at Chris to corroborate, but he said nothing.
“All you did was experiencing an illusion. That is why your things disappear when you come to Arendil, if you bring anything here. But once you’ve come here then the Lake grants one real wish. Only one, so you have to choose very carefully whatever you say there.”
“We can wish to go home!” Chris spoke for the first time.
“Yes!” Sarah beamed at him. “We can do that! Elanya, why didn’t you?”
Elanya reddened as she answered. “I was not sure if I would frame the right words. Master Falnor tried doing it-he lives to my right-and he wished he could be back home. He doesn’t say what were his exact words, but he landed right in the front of his house in Arisia.”
“Oh no! That must have been horrible!” Sarah spoke in sympathy.
Chris asked, “If it is just a lake, how can it create illusions matching our real world?”
“The Lake is not a water body, Chris. It is a network of membranes separating different worlds from each other. When somebody pops out of a membrane, the Lake creates an illusion in accordance with the material structures found in the world enveloped by that particular membrane. You will be able to see a part of your world when you look through the correct membrane. Usually the right one’s exactly in front of you, because the Lake knows where you belong to.” Elanya finished, and looked at Chris if he wanted to know something else.
He did. “How do you know all this?”
“Master John told me. This is your first day, and everyone is taken to the Lake after a month so that they can spend some time in Arendil before finalising on what to wish for.”
Chris drummed his fingers on the table. “I guess we should go now, Elanya. Thanks for the tea, it was really needed after such a crazy day.” He rose, and realised that Sarah didn’t get up.
You aren’t coming?
I think I’ll accept her offer and stay with her, if it’s okay with you?
Suit yourself. His thought was void of emotion, and it sounded more like a careless comment.
What’s wrong with you? Look, I can still come and stay with you if it’s bothering you Chris, I trust you completely.
I’m all right.
No you aren’t. Come on now, out with it.
“I said I was all right.” Chris spoke a little too loudly and too suddenly for Elanya to look shocked and jump out of her chair, and he realised that she hadn’t had any idea that they had been communicating.
“Don’t shout at me like that. I didn’t do anything.”
Chris walked out of the door. Sarah looked at his receding back before he went out of the house and closed the door behind him with a bang. Elanya put a hand on her shoulder to comfort her. “Don’t worry. He’ll be allright. He’s a good guy.”
“I know, he was okay in the morning. I don’t know what happened.”
“Oh no, don’t bother. Guys are like that, Sarah. At least where I come from, they can’t control their mood swings even ten years past teenage.”
Elanya gazed at her for some time, then looked outside the window to see that the sky had turned red with the setting sun. “Let’s get something to eat Sarah. You didn’t have lunch, and neither did I.”
Sarah was really amazed that evening had come so quick. “Oh, yes, I’m starving. I don’t even remember feeling hungry when I was talking to you, but I think I can eat for two people at once.” Elanya laughed, and together they went inside the kitchen to make dinner.
Chris sat at a table in the inn. He had ordered chicken stew and a glass of wine, and was relieved to hear that guests were not asked for payment until they took up an occupation and started earning. When the order came, he sliced a piece with a knife and put it in his mouth.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ Sarah’s concerned voice from memory sounded in his head, and he stopped chewing.
‘I trust you completely.’ He didn’t feel hungry anymore. He rose from his seat and went out of the inn and ran towards his house in the fading sunlight.
When he reached the lawn in the front, he spat out the unswallowed piece of meat in his mouth and sat on the stairs. His mind wasn’t working properly. How could she talk about trusting me and think about someone else?
She had done what she had done, but it had given him no right to shout at her. With a loud sigh he went inside and lay down on the low bed without closing the door against strangers. What’s there to steal anyway?
Elanya studied Sarah for some time. She didn’t know how to cook at all, but her company in the kitchen after living for two months alone in Arisia had been more than enjoyable. Now they were sitting at the dining table, and Sarah was staring at the untouched bowl of boiled rice and curry in front of her.
“Do you think I should go and ask him to come and have something?” She asked, still staring at the rice.
”What do you think?” Elanya replied as she ate another spoonful, but never took her eyes off Sarah’s face.
“What do I think? I think he’s a complete jerk. Stupid.” Sarah was angry, because that was all she could channel her emotions into. She couldn’t help thinking that maybe she had said or done something to offend him, and that guilt had created a lump so hard that she couldn’t swallow, so food was impossible. All the rice had been divided into those two bowls, and Elanya’s was almost finished. Sarah wanted to go and ask Chris if he wanted to have some, but Elanya had already told her that the inn would serve him free of cost.
She rose from her chair and carried the empty bowl back to the kitchen. When she came back, Sarah still hadn’t touched her bowl.
“I’ll go and ask him whether he has eaten or not, okay?”
“Why bother, sit here and we’ll talk.” Sarah looked at her as she tried to keep herself calm.
“You need some energy if you’re going to talk anymore. And you need to eat to burn it inside your tummy.”
“I am eating.” Sarah said indignantly.
“Not before I return and tell you that Chris has had dinner. Sit back and relax, I’ll be back soon.” She touched her shoulder gently and saw her smile before she went out of the door.
Elanya smiled to herself. She was sure that Sarah would soon realise that Chris meant more to her than she thought. But there was a small voice in her mind that was asking why had she been so eager to come out and check on him. She wanted to find an answer to that. The sun had set and the darkness was slowly winning its battle against light, and the dark blue sky was left with just a tinge of crimson when she smoothed her dress and stood in front of Chris' door, thinking whether to knock or go right in. It was time to share her little secret with Chris. He was thinking about sending Sarah home, and Elanya was hearing him loud and clear.