Another Last WinterA Story by Lina Rivera
The first of three short stories for the winners of my "Promote Vizcaya" Kickstarter contest. This one is for Laura who requested an angsty type of story with some romance thrown in.
The small branch in his hand was barely longer than his forearm, but it was sturdy enough that he could draw a line in the fresh powder of snow that had fallen that morning. He drew two lines, having them intersect in a cross shape and then drew a circle around it. He was bored.
He checked his watch again, certain that it had stopped a while ago, yet the time had indeed moved on and he had now been waiting for well over an hour.
“She stood you up again, huh?” The female voice came from behind him, stern and a little raspy, and he didn’t have to turn to know it belonged to his sister, Mia.
“I’m getting used to it,” he shrugged, not bothering to scoot over on the bench for her. She’d sit down regardless.
“I’m sorry. It snowed a lot overnight. Maybe some of the roads were blocked.”
“Or maybe she’s never coming back. Maybe her time is done.”
Mia stayed silent as she rubbed her gloved hands together.
Aidan said nothing more. He knew what he had been getting himself into when he fell in love with a winter fairy. He drew an “x” over his cross and circle then dropped the branch onto the ground.
When Ivy had told Aidan that she was a fairy, he had smiled and then laughed waiting for her to laugh as well. That had been the cutest thing he had ever heard.
They were hanging out at the park, sitting on a bench with a nice view of the fountain that had small icicles hanging from the brim. He had only known her for two months, but already he couldn’t imagine not having her in his life. She had been the only bright spot in a year that had brought nothing but misery and pain to his and his sister’s life.
“I’m serious,” she had said and he lost the smile and thought that maybe he was having an episode. That’s what they called it at the facility where he had been sent to after he had learned of his parents’ deaths. He had been contemplating the idea that he had made up Ivy in the first place, since she was perfect and everything he could’ve asked for in a girl, but they had shared too many “real” moments to make him think it was just a fantasy. That was until she started with the “fairy” business.
“I was afraid to tell you, but with winter ending…”
“I’m a winter fairy. I only live in the winter.”
He must’ve blinked a hundred times in the silence that followed.
“This is a cute trick to play on a guy that did time in the psych ward,” he said with bitterness to his tone. He had never been angry at her before, and he didn’t like how this felt.
“It’s not a trick,” Ivy said. “It’s the truth. I had to tell you because I’d be gone soon.”
“This isn’t funny.”
Ivy said nothing. She bit her lip and looked at him with sad brown eyes.
“Ivy, this isn’t funny,” he reiterated, his tone harsher.
“I only have days left,” she said as her voice quivered. “I wanted you to be prepared, but I wanted to spend as much time with you. I need you to believe me, Aidan.”
So he did. The way he figured it, he didn’t have much to believe in anyway. He might as well believe in her.
Ivy had first seen Aidan from the braches of an evergreen she had perched herself comfortably upon. She had thought no one ventured out into these woods, and was surprised to see the lean boy with the shiny brown hair pass below her. He hadn’t bothered to look up. She had lightly dropped down from the tree and followed him, stepping directly onto his tracks as she meandered with him through the forest.
She had observed that he appeared to be in no hurry, strolling casually, lost in thought, with his hands tucked into the pockets of the blue and green flannel jacket he wore. He had stopped finally at a brook that had frozen over and stared at it, then gingerly touched the toe of his scuffed up Timberland boot to the ice as if testing its strength.
Ivy had ducked behind a large tree bark as she spied on him, wondering if he intended to cross it. She got a better look at him from this vantage point and realized that he had to have been around the same age as her. She had just turned sixteen.
She thought he was cute. Like the kind of boys that she had seen through town walking hand in hand with their girlfriends while trying to keep their hair out of their face and their jeans from falling off completely. This boy’s pants weren’t that low, and then she shook her head because she needed to focus on what he was doing and not on what his pants were doing.
He stepped onto the frozen brook and stood upon it as if waiting for something to happen. Ivy, though usually shy, at that moment felt compelled to say something.
“What are you doing?” She had asked as she emerged from behind the tree. She knew her voice sounded softer than she had wanted. She hoped he heard her.
He turned to look at her and she was caught off guard by the sea green nature of his eyes. He didn’t answer at first, as if wondering why she was alone in the middle of the woods.
“I don’t know,” he said. The honest answer took her by surprise. Most of the humans she came across always seemed to answer with anything but the truth.
“That’s dangerous you know?” She said taking a few steps toward him.
“I’ve heard,” he said. “What are you doing?”
“I was following you. Not many people come this way. I’m used to walking these woods alone.”
“That’s dangerous you know?” He said back and Ivy smiled even though the boy didn’t.
“I’ve heard,” she countered and he nodded. Ivy could’ve sworn he almost cracked into a smile then, but his face held strong.
“What school do you go to?” He asked. “ I’ve never seen you around.”
“I’m home schooled.”
“That would explain it.”
“You should step off the ice now.” Ivy didn’t know why it was making her so nervous.
“Maybe I don’t want to.”
“I want you to,” she said. Ivy knew it wouldn’t matter to him what she wanted, but she told him anyway, and to her surprise he stepped off the brook and back onto the snow covered ground. She smiled and then asked him, “What’s your name?”
“Aidan. What’s yours?”
“Ivy,” he repeated after her as if trying it out on his own lips. “So you walk around these woods a lot?”
“Yes,” she said as she closed the gap between them and stood comfortably before him. “It’s my home.”
He nodded, obviously thinking it was a metaphor, and said, “I’ve never been out here. I guess I was hoping I’d get lost and never found.”
“I...” he hesitated and looked into her brown eyes and she hoped that their curiosity was enough to keep him talking, “...My parents died several months ago.”
“How tragic,” she said noticing the darkness that suddenly shadowed his face. He looked away too late.
“It was a car crash. My sister had to come home from college to help figure things out. She’s still trying to figure things out actually. I guess I am too.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
He shrugged and looked behind him, as if the distraction would help the conversation pass.
“I don’t have parents either.”
His attention turned rapidly to her once more as he said, “You don’t?”
“No. It’s fine though. I’ve learned to do things by myself.”
“So who do you live with? Your grandparents or something?”
Ivy shrugged and smiled.
“Maybe I’ll tell you sometime. If I ever see you again. You should come hang out with me tomorrow after school. I can show you better things in these woods than this brook. It has a lot of cool things and no one knows because no one comes out here.”
Ivy noticed the spark in his green eyes. It was as if she had given him the perfect escape from all the horrible things in his life. She wasn’t surprised when he agreed to return, and she wasn’t surprised when he actually did.
When their first winter together came to a close, Aidan hadn’t known what to expect no matter how much Ivy had tried to prepare him.
They had sat together on a log in a small clearing in the woods. Aidan looked out at the rows of trees that seemed to stretch infinitely before them.
“So where do you go again?” He asked as he looked into her eyes and played with the wavy strands of her long brown hair that had fallen over her shoulder.
“Nowhere. I just cease to exist.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. And you’re sure you’ve done this before?”
“Sixteen times at least that I am aware of. Each time I come back, I leave a mark on that tree to keep track,” she said pointing to the evergreen closest to the log they sat upon.
“So the first time you came here, you were like one? Then how’d you know to leave a mark?”
“I was very small,” she said, lost in thought for a moment. “But it was instinctual to leave the mark. Just as finding food and seeking shelter in the storm was instinctual.”
“And no one raised you? No one came here with you?”
Ivy shook her head and shrugged. “I’ve always been alone. It never bothered me until I met you.”
Although Aidan thought that was sad, he smiled at the sentiment. His questions continued.
“If you’re a fairy, why don’t you have wings?”
“That’s a myth. Artists thought it would be nice to portray our race with wings. I’m not sure why. Wings seem inconvenient don’t you think?”
“I think they seem kinda cool. You could fly all over the place.”
“I can fly all over the place without wings.”
Aidan’s eyes widened.
“You can? How?”
Aidan felt that he had to be making this all up. Ivy could fly using magic? That seemed insane. He was insane. It was official.
“I’ll show you,” she said as if reading his mind.
Ivy stood up and he watched as she took several steps away from him. She then extended her arm and turned clockwise as if getting ready to do a pirouette. The wind picked up and flakes of snow rose up from the ground, creating a soft shield around her. In this way, Ivy lifted from the ground and came closer to him, setting down again in front of him as the snow settled back into place.
She sat back down on the log and smiled at him.
“Magic,” he said blinking and making sure that what he had seen was just real. He reached out to touch her. Her skin felt warm. He touched the waves of her brown hair. It felt real as it always did. “Magic,” he just said again.
“That was also instinctual. Although, it’s taken many visits back to make it look as nice as that.”
That statement caused a small lump in his throat, and Aidan realized that now was the time to ask the question he had most wanted to ask.
“So you remember the previous times right? Like when you come back next winter, you’re not going to forget me. You’re going to know who I am, right?”
“Of course,” Ivy said with a smile. “Even if couldn’t remember what I had done last winter, I don’t think I could ever forget you.”
Aidan would’ve normally said that that was cheesy, but at that moment, he needed to believe it was true. He stared into her eyes once again before leaning in to place his lips on hers and give her a kiss that he hoped she’d remember forever as well.
Ivy kissed him back, and when they pulled away from each other she looked at the sky as the first signs of twilight made themselves known.
“It’s time,” she said. “Sit here. No matter what happens, don’t move. Not until I’m gone.”
Aidan said nothing, not sure if he could promise such a thing, and she kissed him one last time before walking out into the center of the clearing.
What he saw frightened him as the snow around Ivy began to melt. She lay in the patch that was now created, on the damp dead patches of brown grass left behind, and Ivy’s body seem to wane as if becoming an illusion. Aidan was too fascinated by what he was witnessing to disobey her order of staying on the log, but he strained his eyes to try and get a better view. When he could no longer see her body, he realized that little droplets of water seemed to be floating upward instead of falling down. They glistened in the final moments of sunlight then disappeared altogether.
Aidan darted from the log all the way to where Ivy had lain, and while she was nowhere to be seen, the small patch of grass beneath her had suddenly transformed into a radiant hue of spring green, and small buds appeared at the stem of flowers he had never imagined had been buried under the snow.
That first spring and summer without Ivy had been brutal. Aidan knew deep down inside that he hadn’t made her up, but he couldn’t find any evidence that she had ever existed. He walked out into the woods, trying to find traces of her footsteps or soft indentions of any place her fingers may have touched, but the new snows that had fallen had erased any memories of Ivy from the woods.
Mia became increasingly concerned as Aidan withdrew from her and from the world around him. She had watched her brother leave every morning and return very late at night, but the calls she received from his school made it clear that wherever he was going, it wasn’t there.
“Aidan,” Mia said one night that he had come home very late. She had confronted him right in the foyer. “We need to talk about this.”
“I’m fine,” he said pulling off his coat to hang in the hall closet.
“You’re skipping school. They haven’t seen you there in a week. That doesn’t indicate ‘fine.”
Aidan stayed silent then headed upstairs to hide in his room. Mia followed him and caught the door before it could close.
“If you need to talk to someone,” she began, but he cut her off.
“I’m fine! There’s nothing to talk about. I’ll go to school tomorrow.”
Aidan did go to school the next day, but he was withdrawn and could only concentrate on his notebook where he was busy trying to draw Ivy. He never wanted to forget how she looked, and he tried to capture the right length of her long wavy brown hair, her heart shaped face, big brown eyes, pouty lips, just every detail he could remember. He had been mad at himself for never once thinking to take a picture of her. He had always had his cell phone on him and it would’ve been so easy, but whenever he was with her, he was always caught up in frolicking around the woods or talking to her that he never once thought to take out his phone. That was not a mistake he would make next winter.
The most difficult day of that year came at the start of summer when the one year anniversary of his parents’ death arrived. Aidan had no desire to get out of bed that day, so he stayed in as long as he could before he thought of Mia. He got up and went to her room to see how she was doing, but she wasn’t there. He searched the house for any signs of her, saving his parents’ room for last, but when he opened the door to that master bedroom, it was as lifeless as it had been for an entire year.
Aidan hesitated with his hand on the doorknob, then took a few steps in, feeling his face warm up at the memories of times he had barged in to jump on his parents’ bed as a kid, or find his mom to tell her about something he had done that day before he went to bed. He had often found his dad in the room watching TV in an attempt to get to sleep before waking up early for an exhausting day at work. The room still smelled like them, like if they hadn’t really left and were only on vacation and would be back at any moment. His green eyes moistened as he passed his hand over the half-made bed. The day of the accident, his mom hadn’t even been bothered to fully make it. Maybe she had known there’d be no point.
Aidan ducked under the covers of his parents’ bed and held his mom’s pillow close to him. The sobs escaped him without warning, and with his tears and memories, he fell into a deep sleep.
Mia found him that night, and gently woke him with a small shake of his arm. Aidan opened his eyes and saw her dressed from head to toe in a black shirt and pants and wearing shades.
“I brought home dinner,” she said and then left the room.
Aidan met his sister downstairs in the kitchen where bags and small boxes of Chinese food sat waiting. Mia had changed into shorts and a tee and was at the breakfast table eating her won ton soup. Aidan sat down with her and looked at the food, but wasn’t sure he’d be able to eat.
“Where’d you go?” He asked her.
“To the cemetery,” she said. She looked at him with her dark brown eyes as if assessing his reaction, and then said, “I didn’t want to wake you. I just wasn’t sure how you’d handle it or if it would trigger another episode. I figured if you wanted to go you’d let me know. Or you’d go by yourself.”
He nodded and grabbed the chopsticks in the bag in order to hold something.
“Maybe I’ll go tomorrow,” Aidan said.
“I took some flowers,” Mia told him. “It looked really pretty. Some ivy had grown over the headstones so with the flowers it all looks really nice.”
Aidan’s attention snapped to her as he asked, “Some ivy had grown over them?”
“Yeah, it’s really pretty. None of the other headstones have it so they must’ve buried them somewhere that had ivy growing and they didn’t realize it. I think mom would’ve liked how it looked, so maybe she’s doing it from the afterlife,” Mia said with a small smile to herself.
Aidan dropped the chopsticks and ran to the hall closet to grab his old sneakers that he kept in there for when he mowed the lawn. He heard Mia shouting behind him as he left the house and ran toward the cemetery where his parents were buried. He should’ve taken the car keys and drove, but he hadn’t been thinking. He just knew that he needed to run toward the ivy " toward Ivy.
He jumped the short wrought iron gate, more for decoration and not really intended to keep anyone out, and then ran to the horrible place where he had stood almost a year ago watching his parents be lowered into the ground. It was dark, but he felt before the headstones and reached out to touch the ivy that Mia had mentioned. She had been right. No other headstones had them, but the ivy grew over both his mom’s and his dad’s as if Ivy herself was watching over them. It was a sign. She was communicating with him, telling him that even if she wasn’t there with him, she was still thinking of him and couldn’t wait until she saw him in the winter.
“Aidan!” Mia shouted as she slammed the car door and ran over to him. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
Aidan turned to his sister wanting desperately to explain why he had a smile on his face. All he could say was, “Ivy.”
“Yeah I know. I told you. You didn’t believe me?”
He realized at that moment that he’d have to explain everything to his sister. So he took her hand to lead her to sit beside him and then told her about his winter fairy. He hoped she believed him and didn’t send him back to that place where the doctors asked too many questions and where the medication made his stomach hurt.
Mia stood in the snow covered clearing in the woods thinking that maybe if her parents were still alive, they could’ve answered her questions on whether mental illness ran in the family. She didn’t think her brother was crazy. She didn’t think she was either. Yet here they both stood waiting for Aidan’s winter fairy to return to the world.
When he had first told her about her, all she could think was that she had to dig out the number to the lady who had handled Aidan’s case. How would she explain this to her? Her brother was having some sort of psychotic episode where he thought he was in love with a fairy. It didn’t even fit with the profile they had for him. After their parents had died, Aidan had fallen into a deep depression that left him locked in his room. He wouldn’t eat and he wouldn’t talk to anyone. Worried that he would die of starvation, she had called for an ambulance.
At the hospital they said they’d do a psych evaluation, and when that was done, they had admitted him to the psych ward saying they would help him come out of the deep depression he had fallen into. It helped a little, and he was transferred to an outpatient facility where they kept him for a few more weeks as they counseled him, made him partake in group therapy, and made sure he took his anti-depressants. Nowhere in any of that did they ever mention he was delusional.
So here she stood, but only because Aidan had promised her that if Ivy didn’t show up, he personally would check himself into a mental hospital because he’d be the first to admit he was going crazy. Something about his unyielding belief in his fairy made Mia give him the chance to prove that he was telling the truth. He had marked off the days on the calendar, counting down to the first day of winter. Mia had to admit to herself that she was somewhat relieved to see him get happier as the day approached. He started to resemble the little brother she had known so well before their parents had died.
“It’s almost time,” he said as he sat on the log, his feet tapping nervously as he looked at the clearing. “She disappeared at twilight, so I think that’s when she’d come back.”
Mia thought to herself once again that this was crazy, but she kept it to herself and just nodded. She was going to hold onto these precious moments of her brother’s happiness before the bitter disappointment of his made up friend took over him in a few moments.
The sun lowered quicker by each passing minute, and soon the sky was shadowed by the dark night blue of twilight. As Mia considered how long she should wait before saying something to her brother, a small light caught her attention.
“There,” Aidan said putting his hand on his sister’s knee to keep her in place. “Don’t get up. Just watch.”
Mia watched as the light somehow became thicker, and then snow began to fall, but only in that place. She knew there was a scientific explanation for it, but she was rendered speechless when the phenomena finished and Aidan darted up to run over to the spot where the activity had occurred.
Mia got up as well, running as fast as she could behind him and by the time she reached the spot, Aidan was already helping up a girl that looked just as he had described her. She seemed dazed as if waking up from a long nap, and then she looked at him and smiled in recognition.
“Aidan,” she said, her voice soft as the snow that now fell silently around all of them.
“Ivy,” he said, and Mia watched as her brother embraced who she could only guess had to be his winter fairy.
The second winter that Aidan and Ivy shared was far better than the first. The first thing that Aidan had done was make sure to take as many pictures of her as he could. He then surprised her one morning with a birthday cake to wish her a “Happy 17th Birthday.” Ivy had taken a few bites before hurling pieces at him in a playful food fight that led them to the maze of barren trees where they zig zagged around the barks, laughing and trying to outsmart each other. When he caught up to her, they collapsed into the bed of snow beneath them, and he showered her with kisses and affection as the day got away from them.
It was in this second winter that Aidan had insisted that Ivy leave the woods with him.
“I hate leaving the woods,” she said. “The few times I’ve ventured into town, people have been rude or I’ve almost died because of how many things don’t fit in with the natural order. Things only make sense here.”
“But I live in town. So I want to share it with you. Besides, Mia is making dinner and she wants you to come over.”
“I never turn down hospitality,” Ivy said and gave him a kiss before running again with a laugh, knowing he’d chase her.
At dinner that night, Mia had a multitude of questions that she had clearly been saving up for this moment.
“You came into this world with clothes on already,” she said as they enjoyed meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Aidan had thought that Mia had replicated their mom’s recipes exactly. Their mom would’ve been proud.
“Well it would’ve been rude otherwise,” Ivy said as she looked at the meatloaf with wonder.
“But where do the clothes come from?” Mia insisted.
“Magic,” she replied as she looked over at Aidan to see how he was tackling the meatloaf. She picked up the fork and mimicked his actions, feeling accomplished when she took her first bite of the meat. “This is very delicious.”
“Yeah, it really is,” Aidan said to Mia. “It tastes just like Mom’s.”
Mia smiled appreciatively at Aidan but then turned her attention back to Ivy and asked, “Why don’t you have wings?”
“I told you that already,” Aidan answered for Ivy. “That’s just a myth.”
“Where are the other fairies?” Mia continued.
“I suppose they are wherever they are,” Ivy said mixing the meatloaf with the mashed potatoes as Aidan was doing before taking a bite of it together.
“So you’ve never met another fairy?”
“Not to my knowledge.”
Mia looked at Aidan who shrugged not knowing what his sister wanted from him. It wasn’t as if he understood what it was like to be a fairy.
“So what do you do all day?” Mia asked her and Ivy smiled.
“I play in the woods.”
“Seriously, Mia, stop interrogating her,” Aidan finally said. “She’s our guest. Let’s just eat and have a good time. I’m sure Ivy’s never played stuff like board games or video games before. We should show her how to.”
So they spent the night playing games, and when it was time to sleep, Mia said that Ivy could sleep on the couch if she wanted. Ivy thanked her and said she would, but after Mia was fast asleep, Ivy snuck into Aidan’s room. With giggles and conspiratorial whispers, they tucked in together under his covers and spent the entire night wrapped in each other’s arms.
During the second winter, Aidan discovered what Mia meant by “playing in the woods.” He spent all his time with her, watching as she covered the tracks of the hunters so it wouldn’t be easy for them to retrace their steps if they got lost.
“That’s mean,” Aidan said when he saw her do it.
“Killing deer is mean,” Ivy countered.
He also watched as she plucked winter berries from a high branch and fed them to a hungry squirrel that was having no luck finding food.
As they sat by the frozen brook one afternoon, facing each other as their legs tangled around the other’s, Aidan listened to Ivy talk about her woods.
“The winter is a dangerous time for those that live here,” she said referring to the animals. “Many of them burrow or hibernate, but those that don’t are often left exposed and defenseless.”
“Which is why they need their winter fairy,” Aidan put together.
“I suppose. Although we all exist for many reasons. We don’t always know what those reasons are, but we know that while we’re here, we must do what feels right.”
Aidan thought that over and then wondered about his own reasons for existing. He had never given it much thought.
That second winter had gone by quicker than the first, and he felt his mood deflate as the sunlight of each day lasted a little bit longer.
“I wish there was a way to keep you here all year,” Aidan said as they sat on a thick and sturdy lower branch of a leaf-less tree and watched the sun set behind the woods. “Maybe the animals don’t need you all year long, but I do.”
“I wish there was a way too,” Ivy said. “Nature doesn’t care we want though. It does as it pleases. I only exist when I’m supposed to, just like you only exist when you’re supposed to, and how your parents only existed when they were supposed to.”
“That wasn’t nature,” he said. “That was human error. Someone crashed into them and killed them.”
“It was their time,” Ivy said. “Your society and people like to put meaning to everything and make it seem as if things are supposed to happen a certain way, but that’s not how nature works. Nature doesn’t care what plans you made for the future, or how close you’ve grown to someone, it only cares about the balance of the world. Your parents’ time ended, so others’ time could begin. One day I won’t return to this forest anymore, but another fairy will.”
“So then what’s the point? Of any of it?”
“The right now. This moment. Us together before the winter ends,” she said and then Ivy leaned in to settle between his legs and wrap her arms around him, kissing him deeply as new snowflakes danced around them.
Aidan had tried to avoid the conversation about his post-graduation plans with his sister. He knew that she wanted him to apply to colleges, but Aidan liked the idea of finding a job in town and staying put.
“You can’t do that,” Mia had said as she crossed her arms and stared at him in the living room. He had been playing a video game and pressed pause even though he didn’t want to listen to what she had to say.
“It’s my life. I can do what I want.”
“That’s not how life works.”
“It’s not like you went back to college after you dropped out.”
Aidan regretted saying it, knowing it was a sore spot for Mia. It wasn’t her fault their parents had died before she finished, leaving him as her responsibility.
“I’m sorry,” he said before she could reply. “But, Mia, maybe you should go back to college. I can stay here and watch the house and you could go back and finish.”
Mia sighed and ran her hands through her thick, black hair before sitting on the arm of the couch and facing him.
“Mom and dad set up a college fund for you. They wanted you to go. They wanted both of us to go.”
“Well they didn’t stick around long enough to find out that I don’t want to go.”
Mia looked surprised by her brother’s bitter tone and snapped at him.
“Hey! What’s with the attitude?”
“I’m not giving you attitude. I’m just saying…”
“I know what you’re saying. I know that this is about Ivy and you wanting to be here so you don’t miss seeing her, but I think that even she would understand your decision to go to college.”
“Actually, I’m pretty sure she would say that college is something our society invented to give our lives meaning but it has nothing to do with the nature of the world.”
“That’s such bullshit.”
“She is not right. You’re going to buy into something that a girl who only exists for a few months says? She knows nothing about what it’s like to be us, or what it means to be a human. She doesn’t understand the bonds that we share or the dreams that we have or anything. And throwing your future away because of her limited point of view is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re smarter than that, Aidan.”
“I’m not throwing my future away. My future is with Ivy.”
“How? You think that playing for three months out of the year and then spending the remaining nine months just waiting for those three months is a future? There’s no future there. And it’s fun and interesting to you now, but it’s going to get old quick. And have you even thought to ask her how long fairies live anyway? What if she has the life expectancy of a dog? Or what if she outlives you by hundreds of years? You’re living in a fantasy land.”
Aidan had had enough of the conversation. He tossed the controller onto the coffee table and stormed out of the living room. He didn’t understand why Mia was being harsh about the situation, but he knew that he wanted to stay in town. It was the only thing about his future that he knew for sure.
During their third winter together, Aidan did ask Ivy about the life expectancy of fairies.
“It depends on the fairy. Some live a very short time if they’ve completed their task. Others develop new tasks with new knowledge they’ve acquired and can live as immortals.”
“There’s no way to know when one’s time is done until that moment arrives.”
“I don’t want to lose you.”
Ivy placed her hand on Aidan’s cheek, looking into his distraught eyes, and wondering what was bringing this conversation about.
“Don’t waste your time thinking about loss.”
“I can’t help it. I think about loss all the time. I’ve already lost my parents and Mia went back to college. I know I haven’t technically lost her and she makes it a point to call me every other day at least, but I miss her. And then you’re only here for three months.”
“You’re saying that you’re lonely,” Ivy interpreted. “I’ve heard humans talk about it, but I don’t understand it. I enjoy my moments of solitude just as enjoy my moments with you. They’re not entirely different things. I enjoy my own company. What do you like to do when you’re alone?”
“Uh, play video games?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of hobbies. I like to draw.”
Ivy smiled and took his hand, wanting to inspect the hand of an artist.
“I bet you’re great at drawing.”
“I’m okay. Mia thinks I should go to college and major in art. She says that’s what my parents always thought I’d end up doing.”
“Then you should.”
“But I can’t.”
“I only see you for three months. If I went to college then that would be cut down to only three or four weeks. There’s not a college in town I can go to and the nearest one with a good art program is too far away for me to commute from here every day.”
“Oh,” Ivy said with a little pout.
“No, it’s okay though. I got a job at the diner in town. It’s only part-time, but it keeps Mia off my back about not doing anything.”
Ivy’s pout turned into a frown and she shook her head.
“No,” she said.
“No what?” Aidan looked at her confused.
“You’re an artist. You must do art. You have to go to college and do what you’re meant to do. Could you imagine if I worked at a diner when I should be in the woods protecting the wood dwellers? It would destroy the balance of nature.”
“Me doing some drawings here and there doesn’t really affect the balance of nature.”
“Of course it does,” Ivy said squeezing his hand gently. “Don’t belittle your purpose. You must go to college and do art.”
“Well I could do art here if it’s that serious,” Aidan said as his eyes narrowed and his brows furrowed.
“Yes, you could,” Ivy agreed, “But will you grow as an artist like that? Will you be challenged? Will you learn all that you need to know?”
“You didn’t have someone teach you what to do,” Aidan countered. “You said it was instinct right? Art is a lot like that for me too. A lot of it is instinct.”
“Instinct and time. I don’t work at a diner, so I have all day to perfect my magic to help the woods. When you work at the diner and come home, do you want to work on your art? Or are you too tired? If you can do both, then do both, but if not, you need to put your art first.”
“I can do both.”
Ivy sighed and smiled at him, then placed a small kiss on his lips. She would let him try. Maybe he could do both.
During that winter, it had been easy for Aidan to concentrate on his art. With Ivy in front of his eyes, his inspiration flowed and he drew her endlessly along with the scenery of the woods. Everything she touched seemed to be new, and he drew it as if he needed to document its birth. On the eve of her final day of that winter, he promised her that when she returned, he’d have a thousand new drawings to show her.
But as the spring flew by, Aidan seemed to lose his inspiration. With Ivy gone, he found nothing that moved him enough to put pencil to paper. He tried to draw some of the customers in the diner, especially on long nights when few people came in and he found himself bored. He couldn’t get their faces quite right, the proportions of their features would be off, their faces blank and devoid of what made each person unique.
When Mia came home from college for the summer, she once again found herself worried that her brother was headed on a downward spiral. He spent most of his time in his pajamas playing video games, and had begun calling out sick from work.
“Aidan,” Mia said one night as she brought him his dinner to the couch where his eyes were glazed over from staring at the television. “We need to talk about this.”
“I hate when you say that,” he said.
“I’m sorry, but we do. You can’t keep doing this to yourself. You only live your life three months a year. That’s not okay.”
“Come on,” she said putting the food down on the coffee table. “Don’t play this game. You’re old enough to know that I’m right.”
“Are you? We know a fairy. I think any concept of right or wrong goes out the window. Whatever rules you think we’re playing by, we’re not.”
“So you’re living by your own rules? And what are they exactly? Be a bum and then in the winter be an irresponsible teenager who plays in the woods all day?”
“I’m not a bum. I have a job.”
“Yeah, that’s not gonna last for much longer obviously. Do you think this is what Mom and Dad wanted?”
“They didn’t know Ivy existed. If they had met her…”
“They never would’ve. Aidan, don’t you understand? Ivy never would’ve existed if Mom and Dad hadn’t died. You made her up to make up for the loss you felt.”
Aidan’s head snapped as he glared right into his sister’s eyes.
“I didn’t make her up! She’s real. You met her. She came here and ate dinner.”
“Yes, I know,” Mia said attempting to remain calm. She knew if she lost control that he would stop listening, and she needed him to listen. “But you met her because Mom and Dad died. You went into those woods because you were escaping from the pain of their loss, and she was there to fill that void.”
“So then maybe Mom and Dad were meant to die so I could meet her,” Aidan spewed and the venomous words hit Mia so hard that her face physical felt stung.
“How could you say that?” she said, her voice hoarse.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Aidan attempted to cover, but the damage had been done.
Mia left the room and went to her own, slamming the door and collapsing onto her bed as she let the tears fall. She didn’t know how to help her brother, and she felt completely hopeless. She knew she was losing him, but there was nothing she could do.
Moments later she heard the door open and her bed bounce slightly from a body sitting upon it. She wiped her eyes and looked at her brother who seemed to have shed a few tears of his own.
“I don’t know why I get so sad when she’s gone,” he began, and Mia listened. “It’s not like I’m not going to see her again. In my head I’ve thought about how this is how people must feel if the person they love is in the military or something. They go so long without seeing them, and they’re not even sure if they will see them again, but they keep on living their lives, even while they wait to be reunited. How do they do that? What’s wrong with me, Mia?”
Mia sat up and wrapped her arms around her little brother.
“It’s okay. I promise,” she said to him. “Maybe you just need to talk to the therapist again. Maybe they need to give you medication again and stuff?”
“But why? Why can’t I just be normal like you and everyone else? I wasn’t like this before Mom and Dad died.”
“I know,” she said squeezing him a little more, feeling that he needed the extra support. “I don’t know why you’re going through this, but I know you’re a strong person and can fix it.”
Aidan looked at his sister wanting to believe her.
“What if Ivy isn’t real? What if you’re right and I made her up to fill the void?”
“She’s real. That’s not really what I meant, Aidan. Like you pointed out, I could see her too.”
Aidan bit his lip then voiced the idea that had been rolling around his head for the past few days, “What if you’re not real? What if I had made you up first to fill the void?”
Mia blinked and pulled away, having to see if he was being serious or not.
“Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know what’s real or not,” Aidan said and his tears began to fall again.
Ivy woke up on her nineteenth winter and expected to see Aidan’s eyes looking down at her, but she awoke instead in an empty clearing with nobody in sight.
She walked around, thinking that maybe he hadn’t quite made it to her yet, and after a few moments, she sat down upon the log and waited.
It was mid-December when Aidan finally walked into the woods in that nineteenth winter. He had his beanie pulled low to cover the harsh temperatures that had hit them that year. He walked past the brook where he had met Ivy, and then the maze of trees where they had played, and finally he reached the clearing where he could see a solitary form sitting upon the log.
He approached her carefully, almost as if afraid of scaring her away, and then stood before her with both relief and sadness. Ivy looked at him with her familiar pout and curious eyes.
“You’re late,” she stated.
“I was out of town.”
Aidan nodded then sat down beside her on the log, his hands still firmly in his coat jacket.
“Yeah. I went to live with Mia where her college is. Thought I’d see what the whole college thing was about.”
“It’s pretty cool. I decided to give it a try. In the fall.”
Ivy smiled and nodded.
“And you’ll be doing art?”
“Yeah, and maybe something else too. I’ve been thinking of double majoring. Art and Mythology.”
Aidan smiled when Ivy laughed at that and she scooted closer to him and linked her arm through his.
“So I guess this will become normal. Seeing you later, saying goodbye to you earlier. It’s what nature intended I guess.”
“I guess so.”
“Just out of curiosity, what changed your mind? Why did you decide to go to college with Mia?”
Aidan sighed and leaned his head on her shoulder. He couldn’t look at her as he said the words that followed.
“I stopped believing. In you, in Mia, in myself. I got lost in my head, and I went a little crazy. I had to go back to my therapist and the outpatient facility and then I had to get back on my anti-depressant… I fell apart.”
“Are you okay now?”
“Right now? Yes.” He lifted his head and looked at her. “I really miss my parents. It’s been almost four years, and I have to move on and live my life, but I really miss them. I think I was afraid to keep living if they weren’t here to see me do it, like it wouldn’t be fair to them for them to miss whatever I did next, but I started thinking about that night when Mia told me about the ivy growing on their headstones. Somehow, even though you weren’t here, you were. You were watching over me, so the way I see it, maybe they’re watching over us too.”
Ivy nodded and smiled at him.
“I’m sure that they are.”
Aidan felt that was all the affirmation he needed and he took his hands out of his coat pockets so he could wrap his arms around her and hold her close.
“Ivy, I need you to do me a favor.”
“When we see each other each winter, I need you to come see me in town. It’s too easy for me to get lost here. I need to stay in reality. Does that make sense?”
Ivy thought this over and then nodded.
“I can do that for you. Maybe I need to learn more about reality as well.”
Aidan looked at her oddly at the comment, but then laughed a little.
“Is that your version of going to college?”
She nodded emphatically and then laughed with him.
“If I learn new things, I may live longer. So I’m going to learn about your reality. It should be interesting.”
He smiled and then pushed strands of her wavy brown hair behind her ear before leaning in to kiss her for the first time that winter.
Ivy kept true to her word and visited Aidan that winter in the park. They spent most of their time talking about what the other did while they were apart, and often they’d enjoy hot cocoa at the diner where Aidan used to work.
They did the same on their twentieth winter, but on their twenty-first Ivy didn’t show up. Aidan waited again the next day, and the day after that, but still there was no sign of his winter fairy. So on the fourth day he ventured back into the woods, sure that he would find no trace of Ivy. He had prepared himself for the worst, and in the back of his mind laid the knowledge that Ivy had probably finished her task and was gone from this world for good.
He reached the brook and was surprised to see that it was not frozen over. It had been a bit warmer than usual so far that winter, but there was still snow on the ground and he had thought it had been cold enough to help the water ice over. He crouched down beside it, taking in the rush of water over the small rocks and pebbles as he reached out to feel the cold water.
“What are you doing?”
Aidan’s heart beat faster as his face lit up. He didn’t turn around, but simply answered, “I don’t know,” just as he had done when he had first heard Ivy’s voice. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know,” Ivy said and Aidan stood up and finally turned to look at her.
Ivy still looked like Ivy, but something had definitely changed. She seemed to almost glow as she stood before him.
“Why didn’t you come see me?”
Aidan’s eyebrows furrowed as he tried to comprehend.
“So you’re not allowed to see me anymore?”
“So dramatic,” Ivy said with a little smirk. “No, it’s nothing to do with you. I just knew I couldn’t leave the woods, and then last night I had a transformation. Now I can leave the woods again.”
“Yeah. I found out something interesting about my race.”
Ivy smiled and took a couple of steps back, and then the light around her seemed to glow brighter and as he watched, Aidan could see the distinct shapes of wings forming from her back. They were pointy and white and looked as if they had been sprung from an albino butterfly.
Aidan remained speechless as Ivy flapped her wings ever so gently.
“I’m still getting used to them. I guess it wasn’t a myth after all.”
“They’re beautiful,” he finally said. He wanted to touch them and then wondered if she’d feel it as if he was just touching her arm or her leg.
“So I guess now you can fly without magic.”
“Well I need magic to make them appear, so technically no, but yes, I can use the wings to fly.”
“Does this mean you’re done with your task?”
“I don’t think so. I think this means I’m finally beginning.”
“What a coincidence. I’m finally beginning too.”
“So I guess we’ll both be doing out tasks at the same time.”
“I guess so.”
“So I guess I’ll meet you at the park tomorrow.”
Aidan smiled and looked around.
“Maybe a couple of days I can come visit you instead. I miss the woods a bit.”
“They miss you too,” Ivy said as she walked back to him, her wings ruffling in the winter breeze.
Aidan took her hand then tried to figure out how to wrap his arms around her to hug her and hold her close. Once he realized where the wings started, he was able to slide his hands around her waist right beneath them, and then he gave her a long, lingering kiss. And in their twenty-first year, this is how they started another last winter.
© 2012 Lina Rivera