“I peered out the window, letting out a long sigh. Rain sucks, I thought miserably. I had made plans for that day with my aunt Ruthy, who was staying that week. Today was her last day, and we had arranged for us to go up to the park and take a walk together. Well, it looked like that plan was screwed.”
I peered out the window, letting out a long sigh. Rain sucks, I thought miserably. I had made plans for that day with my aunt Ruthy, who was staying that week. Today was her last day, and we had arranged for us to go up to the park and take a walk together. Well, it looked like that plan was screwed.
My gaze roamed across my room, falling on my bedside table, where my book lay. I turned away from it, resting my chin on my arms and watching the window again.
The rain cast a gray, flickering light all throughout my room. The only sound was the steady pitter-patter of the rain, pounding on the roof, the sidewalk, the glass windowpane.
When would the rain let up? Maybe we still had time to take a walk in the park. I knew it was a lot to hope for, but I didn’t get to see Aunt Ruthy often, and I wanted to make the best of our time together. Although, I suppose some would say that I, sitting here on my windowsill, was the one not making the most her visit.
The sound of my name startled me, and I almost fell off the sill. But it was just my mother calling up from downstairs. I sighed and called back.
“What do you want?”
“We’re playing Set! Wanna come down and join?”
“No!” I replied, annoyed. I was up in my room for a reason.
“Ruthy is playing!”
I rolled my eyes but smiled.
Aunt Ruthy was just so ridiculously bad at Set, it was hilarious. On top of that, I was also quite good at it, if I do say so myself.
I slid off the windowsill and headed downstairs. We played Set for a while before having lunch. All the while, the rain continued to pour, never letting up, never allowing for a break. My chances of our walk were getting slimmer by the minute.
“Yahtzee!” Ruthy raised her arms above her head in victory. “Woohoo!”
“Darn it,” I said. The dice on the table all had fours showing. “You got me again.” I picked up the dice and rolled them on the table. I got two threes, a one, a five, and a six.
“Aw, that’s rotten, Annabella,” Ruthy said sympathetically. I already had my threes.
The game continued like that, Ruthy getting great rolls and I getting terrible ones. Every once in a while, I glanced at the clock. It was ticking closer and closer to dinnertime, and by then I knew it would be too late.
Ruthy seemed to notice my worsening hopelessness, because after another one of my terrible rolls, she took the dice but didn’t do anything. Instead, she asked, “Annabella, what’s bothering you? I know something is — you never act like this.”
“It’s nothing, Ruthy,” I said, dropping my gaze to the dark brown wood of the table.
Ruthy raised an eyebrow.
“Righhhhht,” she said. “I can’t make things right unless you tell me what’s wrong… ”
“Fine,” I said reluctantly. “It’s just — I was really hoping we could go on that walk together. But… it looks like the rain won’t let us.” My finger traced the swirls of the wood as I spoke.
“Is that what’s got you all mopey?” my aunt chuckled. I nodded. “Well why didn’t you tell me?”
“I — don’t know,” I replied.
“Well, why don’t we do something about it then?” she asked, setting aside our game of Yahtzee. “We might not be able to take a nice walk in the park with this rotten weather, but… ”
I cocked my head, looking up. “What?”
She cast a sly glance out of the corner of her eye.
“Well… I might be able to convince your mother to let me take you to Willa’s.”
My face broke into a wide grin. “Really?”
“Sure!” she smiled.
Willa’s was my favorite ice cream shop in the neighborhood. It had the best ice cream ever, and whenever I went there with Ruthy, she would let me get as many scoops and toppings as I wanted.
“Yes!” I said, fist-pumping the air.
After negotiation with my mom, a mad dash through the rain into the car, a short drive, and another mad dash, we were at Willa’s.
Like my usual with Ruthy, I ordered three scoops of trash can with rainbow sprinkles. She ordered one scoop of bubble gum in a cone. We got a table together and sat down.
“So how was seventh grade? Are you excited for eighth grade?” Ruthy asked me.
“I did not like seventh grade, and yes, I am excited for eighth grade because it is not seventh grade.” Ruthy laughed.
I loved it when Ruthy laughed. It sounded like bells tinkling merrily, and I thought it was the most beautiful sound in the entire world. I smiled at the thought.
Anyways, our conversations went something like that — school, vacation, all that kind of stuff. It was nice to catch up with her, because somehow I hadn’t gotten the chance in the week prior.
After we finished our ice cream, we headed back home for dinner. The rain had started to let up, but it was still sprinkling a little, rippling the puddles on the sidewalk and roads.
“You naughty girls, spoiling your dinner with ice cream,” my mom said jokingly when we came through the door.
I giggled and dodged around her as she tried to grab me. Not long after we got home the warm smell of chicken noodle soup was wafting all around the house.
Dinner felt strained, at least to me. We all knew that Ruthy had to leave afterwards, and we — I — was not looking forward to it. But I knew it would come.
And of course, like all things do eventually, it came.
I knew it was time when Ruthy sighed and stood up. I folded my arms on the table and rested my chin on them.
“Well,” Ruthy began, “I’ve had a wonderful time with all of you. We’ve had lots of fun this past week, and unfortunately it has come to an end.”
“Visit soon,” my mom said, smiling.
“Yeah!” my little brother Jacob piped, who was only seven years old.
“We’d have you any time,” my dad said.
I just nodded.
My mom went over to give Ruthy a hug, as did my brother and dad. I did too, but it wasn’t as enthusiastic.
“Don’t leave,” I said, my voice smaller than usual.
“I have to, honey,” Ruthy whispered. “But I promise I’ll visit soon. Call me if you need anything.”
“Okay,” I promised.
I stepped back and found myself in my mom’s arms. It felt warm and good.
Ruthy waved goodbye to all of us one last time. I watched her as she walked through the rain to her car and drove away until I couldn’t see her anymore.
My sneakers slapped the path as I made my way through the park. The trees were all a fresh, bright green color, and the soil was a rich, dark brown. The rain had stopped the night before, and everything smelled wet and earthy. I breathed it in, savoring the deep scent.
I didn’t really know where I was going, I just knew I was walking through the park. Once all the excitement of something wore off, there was really nothing to do. I wasn’t going to summer camp, and I didn’t have any plans otherwise. I guess I had been depending on Ruthy’s visit for activities.
Ruthy was my only aunt. My dad had a brother, but he wasn’t married, and he didn’t have kids. That made me the only one I knew who didn’t have cousins, but I guess that also explained why I loved Aunt Ruthy so much. We always had so much fun together, and since I didn’t really have anyone else outside my immediate family, she was the only one I could really connect to. My uncle lived too far away, whereas Ruthy was just a couple hours south of us.
I passed a patch of geraniums fluttering in the breeze. I thought they looked pretty, so I bent down and picked one. I smelled it’s sweet fragrance and then threaded it into my braided brown hair. I turned to keep walking and found myself about to sink my sneaker into a puddle the size of a dining room table. I wobbled a bit with one foot in the air, but kept my leg steady.
I shook my head, scolding myself, and continued on.
And it was then that I heard it.
The sound that changed everything.
A little splash, coming from behind me.
I froze, then slowly turned around, eyes wide. For a moment, everything was silent. Then in a split second, it was broken.
By a hand, bursting out of the water.
A scream ripped itself from my throat. I tried to run, but my feet wouldn’t obey. They were rooted to the ground. Fear gripped my whole body. I didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t possible. Everything I thought I knew, I suddenly wasn’t so sure. Was I going crazy? Was this a hallucination? I thought nothing could surprise me now.
I was wrong.
The hand surfaced again, this time followed by an arm, a shoulder, and last, a head. A woman’s head, to be precise.
She smiled broadly.
“Goodness, it sure was stuffy in there,” she said to no one in particular, her voice airy and bright. She looked around, taking in the trees, the bright green grass, and me. “Oh, hello, there!” She seemed to notice my expression, because she frowned. “Pardon me, but are you okay?”
I stared at her, stunned.
“You… the… what… I… how?” I spluttered.
“Oh!” she laughed. “I’m so sorry. Pardon my manners. I haven’t introduced myself!”
And slowly, she rose. Her shoulders emerged, followed by her torso, her legs, and her feet. I looked down at them and my eyes widened to saucer size. She was standing on water.
The woman took a step forward, out of the puddle. She was long and lean, with a cascade of red hair down her back, and glittering blue eyes. She had a bright splatter of freckles on her face, and she was barefooted. She wore a floaty sky-blue dress that fell down to her ankles and swirled around her legs.
She extended a hand, palm facing up.
“I’m Amethyst Skylar, a Guardian of Good Spirits in Locletria. And you are?”
I took a step back. Somehow, I was able to speak.
“You know, people don’t just go around talking to strangers,” I said, sounding a lot braver than I felt.
Amethyst lowered her hand and frowned.
“Do they not? Where I come from, everyone is a friend. There are no strangers.”
“Well, where I come from, kids are told to be wary of strangers. You’re not supposed to tell random people your name.” Why was I talking? I shouldn’t be talking. I should leave right now. And yet — there was something about this woman… I didn’t quite know what…
I took a deep breath, steadying myself.
“Okay, listen up,” I said, trying to sound commanding and not petrified. “I don’t know who you are, or what the heck is going on, but I do know that you’re freaking me out, and I don’t know what to do. So I am going to leave. I have to meet my aunt Ruthy,” I threw out, making up the excuse on the spot. I turned on my heel and walked away, leaving the woman standing next to the puddle alone.
“Wait!” she called to me. I kept walking. “Please! Come back!”
I shook my head and stuffed my hands in my pockets, not stopping.
I froze in my tracks and ever so slowly turned around.
“How — how do you know my name?” My voice shook.
Amethyst’s expression softened. The corners of her lips curved upward into a smile.
“You know Ruthy Nelling?” My eyes widened. I opened my mouth to say, “No,” but instead what came out was:
“She’s my aunt. That’s what I said.”
Amethyst lifted her hands to her heart and walked to me. When she was standing right in front of me, she placed her hands on my shoulders.
“You’re here,” she murmured. Her breath smelled of sweet roses and the sea, and when I looked into her eyes, I found them rimmed with silver. “She’s here. I thought — I thought I would never see her again. You’re here,” she repeated.
“You know my aunt Ruthy?” I whispered.
“I’m her sister.”
I stumbled back. My head was spinning, and I was worried I might collapse.
“That — that isn’t — possible,” I choked out. “Ruthy has one sister, and that’s my mom.”
Amethyst shook her head and smiled sadly.
“Come. Sit down. Let me explain.” She placed a gentle hand on my back and led me to a nearby park bench. A part of me knew I shouldn’t be letting this stranger touch me, but the other part, the more important part, felt safe in Amethyst’s hands.
I sat down on the bench and looked up at her. She was gazing ahead at a big oak tree.
“We aren’t really sisters. Half-sisters, I believe is the term. Ruthy’s mother — your grandmother — got divorced to her father — your grandfather — and my father. He was an author. He believed in magic, and those who believe… they can do anything.” She sighed, as if recalling a long-lost memory. “He found his way to the magical world and… met my mother.” Her voice softened slightly. “They soon got married and had me. They were together for a while, but then when I was twelve years old, he decided that I must meet his other girls. My mother tried to persuade him over and over again not to do so, but he was stubborn. He took me and left. I don’t know how he did it. We came here, and he got in touch with Ruthy’s mom to visit his kids. She refused at first. But in the end, it was Ruthy who convinced her. She wanted to see her father so badly; she just wouldn’t back down. Your mother, Maggie, however, had no interest whatsoever in seeing him again. She wanted nothing to do with him, after he had divorced her mother and left them. But as I said before, Ruthy was insistent. Finally, her mother allowed her to visit with him. Of course, she had no idea I was there. So when she got to her father’s old house, she saw not only him… but me. That was when I first met her.”
Amethyst turned to look at me, her crystal-blue eyes sparkling with memories. I smiled.
“Ruthy was… more than I expected. She was sweet, and caring, and open-minded. We had a lot in common. Even though I was only twelve and she was sixteen, we got along really well.
“When she first appeared and saw me, she was a little alarmed. But she let her father explain everything that had happened. She believed him. Even more, she was awed and marveled at the fact that magic was real and this, all this, was possible. She embraced it with open arms, instead of shying away or refusing to accept it. She wanted to know everything about me and my world. What it was like, being magical. I told her all I knew. I explained how magic was never good or evil, how it was the way you used it that counts. I told her about the magical creatures of our world: fairies, elves, mermaids, unicorns. All of it. I told her how unicorns have gold hooves, how fairies emit a silver glow, how forest trolls are the fiercest of their kind. I spoke of old legends about the most ancient spirits. She listened throughout the whole thing in utter fascination.
“Of course, I demanded stories from her as well. She told me all about life in the city. How it was always hustle and bustle. How she had to go to school to learn about lots of things that didn’t matter to her. She wanted to be an artist, she told me. Paint beautiful things. Maybe one day she would paint me, she said, smiling. I smiled back at her, because I knew that we had something. Maybe we had only known each other for a day, but we had something. Even though I was only twelve and she was sixteen, we had each other. We had grand plans. She would become an artist, and I would become… well, I don’t know what I thought at the time, but we would grow up and be best friends, best sisters, forever.”
And then, just like a light switch, Amethyst’s smile evaporated and a shadow fell over her face. She shook her head sadly.
“But then, one day, all our dreams, all our hopes, were crushed. They became specks of dust, blown away by the wind.” Amethyst stopped speaking, seemingly able to go on no longer.
“What — what happened?” I asked, almost fearfully.
“One day, my father went to visit the doctor, and… he found out he was sick. I don’t know what he had. He wouldn’t tell me. But I overheard him, talking with Ruthy’s mother. ‘It’s just a small disease,’ he said. ‘It shouldn’t be too bad. I’ll get over it soon enough,’ he reassured her. But I knew, he knew, he was dying. And I knew my days spent with Ruthy were over. I knew he would want to go back to see my mother one last time, and of course he would bring me.
“So we left. I barely had time to say goodbye to Ruthy before my father whisked the two of us back to Locletria. I had been in your world for just less than a year, but it felt like forever.
“When we got back, my mother was waiting for us. I was glad to see her, but my feeling of missing Ruthy overpowered almost everything else. My mother tried to take care of my father, but she was no unicorn. They didn’t have enough resources to go find one and not enough money for the magical concoctions of the apothecary. There was nothing we could do. And day by day, he got weaker, until he could barely stand up or walk. My mother was desperate for help, but as I said, there was none. And then, one day, he… he… we woke up and he… ” her voice broke, and she stopped talking.
We sat in silence as I digested this. I laid my hand on hers, gentle and warm. After a while, she spoke again.
“I was left with my mother. She was heartbroken, but we had each other. Eventually I grew up and studied all about the magical creatures of my world, learning more than I ever thought I could. It was nice, but my heart still belonged with Ruthy. The only thing I ever wanted was to come back, but I knew I couldn’t. So I continued my studies, never quite satisfied. I became well-known for my knowledge, and I was honored greatly by being inducted as a Guardian of Good Spirits in Locletria. I helped creatures of good intentions down whatever road they took. I made some good friends along the way. I was happy with my life, but I still missed Ruthy sorely.” She paused.
“So… how did you end up here?” I asked her.
“Well, as I told you, I help good creatures. But I also get in the way of bad ones. If I feel a pull towards something, I let my magic take me there. It tells me what’s wrong, and I do the best I can to help. Usually it takes me to a place I know already — after all, I’ve been practically everywhere in Locletria. But this time… I didn’t know where I was. I was underwater, which wasn’t a problem, I was just highly uncomfortable. So I did the rational thing and came out, and look where we are.”
She smiled at me, finished with her story.
“You can’t be up to your head in a puddle,” I said, confused. “Besides, you were completely dry when you came out. How does that work?”
Amethyst just waggled her eyebrows at me.
“And anyways,” I went on, “Why did you come here? You said your magic told you what was wrong, so what was wrong? It’s got to be important.”
Amethyst looked at me seriously.
“That’s not something we should talk about now. It will take too long, and you need to get home.”
My brow creased.
“But I need to know! It’s important, isn’t it?” I backed down under her commanding look. “Fine. Will I see you tomorrow? Don’t you need a place to stay?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m sure I can find somewhere to go.” Her eyes scanned the green landscape in front of us, then turned back to me. “And yes, I will see you tomorrow. How about at noon?”
“Sounds good.” A thought struck me. “I shouldn’t tell my mom, right? I mean, she doesn’t even know you exist.”
“Unfortunately, that is true, so I do believe it is best if you do not tell your mother.”
“Okay,” I said. Then I paused. “Wait — how did you know it was me? Ruthy can be a pretty common name.” Amethyst smiled gently.
“When you said her name, it all clicked. You look just like her,” she said, her eyes soft.
“That’s true,” I said. I got that a lot. “Well… see you tomorrow, then.”
Amethyst looked unsure, like she was hesitating about something.
“What is it?” I asked her.
“Well, I… um… does your aunt Ruthy live here?” she said in a rush.
“Oh,” I said apologetically, “No. Sorry. She lives in New Jersey, a couple hours away from here.”
“Ah,” she said. “Thank you for letting me know. Well, I will see you tomorrow, then.”
“Okay,” I said. “Bye!”
“Goodbye!” And with that, she walked away.
I turned to go home then stopped, remembering something.
Call me if you need anything.
I stuffed my hands in my pockets and rushed home.
Call me if you need anything.
Well, here I was, keeping my promise.
I took a deep breath and picked up the phone. I lifted my hand to dial the number, but then I hesitated.
What would I say?
Oh, hey, today I met your long-lost sister. She came out of a puddle in Prospect Park.
Hi, how are you doing? Great! Oh, by the way, your half-sister emerged from a rain puddle today, and we chatted together for a while.
I shook off these silly thoughts, remembering her words.
Call me if you need anything.
I blew out a breath. It’s not like this was some big thing. Right? And so, I brought my hand slowly down to the number pad and dialed her number, holding my breath.
It rang once, twice, three times, and then —
I exhaled, my body sagging in relief. She picked up!
“Annabella? Is that you?”
“Yeah. How’s it going, Ruthy?”
“Oh, you know, back to work, back to my boring life. I miss you guys already! What’s up?”
I didn’t respond. My fingers fidgeted with the phone cord, twisting it around. I swallowed.
“Annabella? What’s wrong?” Her voice, cheerful before, had become concerned.
“I, uh… well… Today I was… um… ” My fingers kept fidgeting.
“What is it, honey?”
“I took a… a walk… in the park… and I… ” I bit my lip and swallowed again. It’s not too bad, I told myself. I can do this. “I met your sister,” I said in a rush. “Half-sister.”
Apparently Ruthy had been eating something, because I heard a choking noise coming from the other end. When she recovered, she spoke.
“You — you what?” she said, her voice low and shocked.
“I met your sister on my walk today,” I repeated.
“Did she — did she tell you her name?”
“Amethyst. Amethyst Skylar. She had blue eyes and red hair.”
I heard a strange sound coming from Ruthy’s side of the phone.
“It’s really her,” she whispered. “She’s here.” Then her voice changed, becoming more sharp. “What happened?”
I took another deep breath, readying myself.
And then I told her. I told her everything, from the moment I heard the splash to the moment we left each other. I told her about how Amethyst was Guardian of Good Spirits in Locletria, about the death of her father, and her return to this world.
When I was finished, there was silence from both ends.
After a while, Ruthy spoke.
“Why did she come here?” Her voice sounded thick and choked, and for a minute I thought she might have been crying. But I didn’t mention it.
“I don’t know — she wouldn’t tell me. I assume it’s serious, though.”
There was a pause and then a sound of thumping in the background. I assumed she was going up the stairs. After that I heard some jumbled noises — a loud crash, a certain four-letter word I chose to not hear, a couple more loud noises, and another string of profanities. When everything on her end had quieted down, she spoke, panting a bit.
“You can’t dissuade me,” she stated determinedly. “I’m coming. I’ll be there tomorrow at eleven o’clock.”
“Um, I don’t know if my mom would — ”
“I love you, Annabella! Good-bye!”
“Ruthy — ”
I heard the dial tone before I could say much more.
I sighed, gazing up at the pictures on the wall above me: Ruthy and I in front of Willa’s, Ruthy and I at the park, Ruthy and I at the top of the Empire State Building, Ruthy with our whole family at the beach…
I lowered the phone and placed it back on its stand, thinking — knowing — that that little splash in the park — that one tiny sound — was the start of something a whole lot bigger, for me, for Amethyst, and for Ruthy.
To be continued…