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Chapter Three: John
We reappeared in the circle of stones, smack dab in the middle of my wooded backyard. Before I could say anything Sapphire was moving, wrenching her hand from mine and sprinting towards my house. I blinked, disoriented, and followed. Great. It had been like five seconds and I’d already lost her. Ruby was going to kill me.
Sapphire skidded to a stop in front of my home, tentatively touching the siding and hooting in delight. “This isn’t wood,” she turned to me, grinning. “What is it?”
“Uh, plastic?” I guessed, not one hundred percent sure. Sapphire laughed and was off again, running along the perimeter of my house, taking it in with sheer delight. We reached the front of the house and Sapphire zeroed in on the windows, pressing up against them curiously, taking in the interior of the house with a hungry enthusiasm. She moved so quickly it was giving me whiplash. I stumbled after her, trying not to screw up my suit.
“You live here?” she turned back to me with a look of wonder.
“No, I dropped us in front of a random house,” I told her sarcastically, ducking with a laugh as Sapphire conjured a threatening blue flame. Suddenly she was in motion again, jumping the short stairway to my house’s small entryway, looking the red door up and down and slamming on the doorbell. She turned, and her gaze fell upon the road. I watched nervously as her eyes grew large.
“The ground is black,” she observed.
“More or less,” I admitted.
Sapphire gave a little yelp as one of my neighbors drove by, cruising through the neighborhood in a small grey sedan. He gave me a small wave, which I returned as Sapphire watched in amazement.
“What… in the name of the Great Seed… was that?” Sapphire breathed, far too excited.
“Um, they’re sort of like horseless wagons?” I fumbled for the right words. “That’s what we use, mostly.”
“Ha! This place is insane,” Sapphire closed her eyes for a moment, taking in a deep breath with a smile. “I love it.”
“I wouldn’t breathe the air in too heavily, it’s probably got all sorts of diseases you don’t have in the Valley,” I mumbled. The princess rolled her eyes and grabbed my hand.
“Come on, you promised me a party,” she tugged me towards the street, grinning from ear to ear.
“Alright, alright, I’m coming,” I laughed, loosening up a bit. For the first time, it occurred to me- This would be fun. “Get ready to be weirded out by my gross friends.”
“Nobody can be worse than you,” she elbowed me, and I jostled her back, laughing.
Sapphire observed the other homes with wonder as we made our way down the street towards Evan’s house. “Wow, this is weird,” she murmured to herself after we passed yet another brightly lit house. “It’s like the lamps in the Silvermen city, or those things on your phone. Everything is electric.”
“Electricity is sort of our magic,” I shrugged. “Limited as it may be.”
Finally, we approached Evan’s house, set apart from the rest by the strings of white lights and the booming music which indicated a party. Scattered shouts and laughs sounded from his backyard, along with some splashing.
“Is there a lake back there?” Sapphire frowned.
“Not exactly,” I bit my lip. “They have an artificial one called a pool.” I paused at the unlocked gate to the backyard, giving my friend a final nervous look. “You ready for this?”
“Absolutely, I definitely memorized all that weird backstory you gave me,” she rolled her eyes.
“Come on, Sapphire, this is serious,” I crossed my arms. “There is no record of you here. You could be locked up in an insane asylum, forced into the foster system, or, I don’t know… deported to Mexico.”
Sapphire smirked and pushed open the gate before I could say anything else. Groaning, I followed her into Evan’s lovely upper middle class backyard. Evan, Sara, Humphrie, Jason, and some other kids were already clustered by the pool, fully dressed, while the parents watched proudly from the deck. Humphrie’s father was setting up a large camera- he was a photographer, so he took the pre-dance photos very seriously. Evan sighted me immediately, waving me over with a grin, but before I could pull Sapphire towards him we were intercepted by his mother.
Mrs. Mycroft was a tall woman with a kind face, for once without the two or three younger kids I associated her so heavily with. She was dressed nicer than usual in a dress and a black sweater, and I could’ve been wrong but I thought she might’ve been wearing makeup.
“John, I’m so glad you could make it,” Mrs. Mycroft smiled at me. “Evan was worried he’d be the only guy in a tie. Kept going on about whether I was sure he wasn’t over or under dressing.”
Nice, so I wasn’t the only one with insecurities. I was definitely still going to find a way to tease him about it though.
“Thanks for inviting us, Mrs. Mycroft,” I did my best polite adult voice and plastered a winning smile on my face. Sapphire made a sound like she was choking on something, and Evan’s mother seemed to notice her for the first time.
“Oh! I don’t believe we’ve met,” Ms. Mycroft extended a hand towards Sapphire. “Are you a classmate of Evan’s?”
“Nope,” Sapphire shook her head, taking Ms. Mycroft’s hand gracefully. My stomach twisted nervously. “I’m actually from out of town.”
“Really? That’s very exciting,” Ms. Mycroft grinned and I cringed. She was interested, which meant she was going to ask questions, and this had not been a very good idea. “How do you know John?”
Geez, why did parents always have to make everything an interrogation? I opened my mouth to save our cover, but Sapphire cut me off. “Actually, I’m from around D.C., where John used to live,” she told Ms. Mycroft earnestly. “My name is Sophie. I was homeschooled, but I lived in their neighborhood.”
“Oh! So you’re childhood friends,” Ms. Mycroft clasped her hands together like this was some kind of revelation. I, for one, was shell-shocked that Sapphire had remembered her lines so well.
“Yes,” Sapphire sighed ruefully, flashing me a mischievous look. “Believe it or not, John used to be bullied mercilessly.” I raised an eyebrow, but the princess was not done. “I had to protect him from the big kids all the time. It was a real problem.”
“Woah, hey, I protected you too,” I glared at Sapphire, wishing I could mentally convey to her that I was going to kill her.
“Of course, John,” Sapphire put an insultingly patronizing hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. “You were a big help.”
“Whelp, Evan’s waving to us, got to go,” I grabbed Sapphire’s hand and yanked her away from the adults towards the kids.
“Have fun, Sophie!” Mrs. Mycroft called after Sapphire as we entered the throng of kids. “You look like a princess tonight!”
“That’s the goal!” Sapphire hollered back, and I punched her in the shoulder.
“Dude, seriously?” I stopped us right smack in the middle of the others, where I figured the adults wouldn’t come for us with more questions.
“It wasn’t technically a lie,” Sapphire shrugged, clearly pleased with herself. “I saved you from the Soldiers what, like three of four times our first time around?”
“John! You made it back!” Suddenly an arm looped around my shoulder, and I grinned as Evan tousled my hair a bit. “I had a bet with Sara that you’d get pulled into some war and wouldn’t show!”
“And you’ve dragged some poor girl with you and forced her to endure your company,” Sara smiled sadly at Sapphire, taking her hands and patting them. “I’m sorry. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.”
Sapphire laughed. “I like her.”
“Sara, Evan, this is Sapphire,” I removed Evan’s arm from me and patted him on the shoulder. “Princess of the Crown, Savior of the Valley, fellow member of the Quest, sort of annoying…”
“All of this is true,” Sapphire curtsied. “Annoying John is a privilege, but also a responsibility which I take very seriously.”
“I like her,” Evan said.
“Can we not make everything be about roasting me?” I folded my arms, which was difficult with the suit I was wearing.
“But it’s something we have in common,” Sara pointed out. “We need to bond over it.”
“Jeez, don’t you want us to make friends?” Evan shook his head in disgust.
“Oh thank God, we’re doing pictures now,” I practically leapt towards front of the pool, where the kids were now conglomerating and posing under Humphrie’s dad’s watchful eye. My face was red- having Sapphire, Evan, and Sara in the same room was beyond weird.
“I definitely should’ve brought Elden,” I muttered to myself as I took my place in the group photo.
“Sorry, what was that?” Sapphire raised a questioning eyebrow from her spot next to Sara in the girls’ row.
“Nothing you’re a good friend and I love you,” I smirked at Sapphire, and she kicked at me. I was briefly very glad that she wasn’t wearing high heels.
As we finished up the pictures, stars emerging in the deep blue sky above, it came time to finally drive to the dance. Sapphire and I would be getting a ride in Sara’s car (something Sapphire was immensely excited for), and my dad would pick us up at the end of the dance. Then Sapphire and I would blink back to the Valley and sleep for five years.
However, just as the cars were pulling up into Evan’s large driveway, I noticed my father at the edge of the party, waving me over. A bit nervously, I nodded towards him and turned to Sara.
“Hey, can you get Sapphire settled in your car? My dad wants me.”
“Yeah, sure,” Sara smiled. “No problem.”
“Great, thanks,” I gave her a thumbs up, moving towards the deck. “Make sure she understands seatbelts!”
“Will do!” she called after me, and I hopped up the stairs to the deck. My father was waiting for me at the edge, looking a little anxious. His eyes lit up as he saw me.
“John! Come here,” He opened his arms and pulled me into a hug to my surprise.
“Okay, we’re hugging I guess,” I murmured, taken aback, as my father stepped away from me and looked me up and down. He was a lot more emotional than I was used to and it was sort of freaking me out. Was this how Mom had been with Violet?
But my father didn’t say anything about how proud he was of me or anything, which was kind of a relief. Instead, he cleared his throat, face reddening, and abruptly changed the subject. “I notice you didn’t introduce me to your date,” he bit his lip. “Ellen said she knew you in D.C.?”
“Uh, yeah…?” I scratched the back of my neck, face reddening.
“Well, it was nice of her parents to fly her out here,” he smiled. “I would’ve offered to let them stay with us if I’d known.”
“Okay,” I nodded, shifting my weight awkwardly. “I’ll, uh, keep that in mind.”
My father regarded me for a second. “You can talk to me, you know? You’re growing up so fast, and into such an amazing person, but you don’t have to do everything alone. I could’ve helped with this, I could’ve been more present for everything and…” he sighed. “Look, things have been stewing for a while I guess, since you and Violet vanished last year. I want to make the most of the time we have together. I want to be there for you.”
“You already are,” I said, my mouth dry. I appreciated the sentiment, I really did- but it was way too late in the game for Dad to start micromanaging me. The last thing I wanted was for him to start noticing, well… anything magical.
“Alright, I’ve said my piece,” My father clapped me on the shoulder, his mood passing. “Go, have fun. I’ll be picking you up at 11, text if it’s going to be earlier.”
“You’ve got it,” I grinned, my gaze darting towards the driveway where Sara’s car was stirring. As my eyes fell upon the bluish minivan, dinged from years of use, a strange shadow fell over my heart. A moment of foreboding. I turned back to my father, wanting to say something to him, almost as if I knew that this moment was all we had left.
“I love you, Dad,” I told him, and went to join the party.