The great front door slammed with a bang against the wind and a strong young man of 18 tramped through in heavy boots into the sitting room, to find his sister cozily reading on the couch.
"Where have you been?!" he bellowed.
"Where do you think I've been? I told you!" she said, looking up. "I'm sure I told you before I left. I thought you heard me--the way you nodded your head."
He stood a few paces from the couch, dripping wet from the torrent of rain he had just left outside. He was visibly distraught, but the signs of his worry were fading as he stood and talked to her. She was sitting, wrapped in a blanket on the antique couch, with her stocking-ed toes toward a blazing fire. It was a chilly night.
"Oh..." he sighed. "I heard you say something," he replied, "but I didn't realize you were going to be gone for so long. I was so worried, and the storm was coming."
"Oh, John! Don't you know by now? I'd be alright even in the wildest tempest with them. They will always take care of me. They promised." She paused. "In fact," she added, "I believe they held off the rain until I got safely home." She returned to her book, content with the thought of this mysterious protection.
"But no one knew where you were," he said.
"Of course they wouldn't! No one would have understood anyway. No one but you, that is." She looked up at him and saw the concern in his face. Turning her eyes from his, she gazed into the fire for a moment. "I'm sorry I worried you so. I'll be more careful next time."
He mumbled something of an acceptance and shuffled from the room. He was the only one in the family who knew, and she was right--no one else would really understand. It wasn't that they were un-feeling or hard-hearted, they just wouldn't understand a 13 year old girl's desire to traipse around the forest day after day, bringing back all manner of strange, unbelievable tales with her.
He went back into the hall and took his boots off, leaving them by the door. He walked carefully upstairs, trying not to drip too much on the carpet. He paused at the top landing, listening to his mother's voice. She was talking to father about the dinner party next week--they hadn't even noticed Muriel had left. He went to his room.
He hadn't meant to have understood Muri's adventures in the woods, except that one day, he found himself in the middle of them.
It seemed many years back now, but when he thought about it, it was only 11 months ago that he saw her as he walked through the woods on a fine autumn afternoon. At first he thought she was only playing make-believe, as young girls are wont to do, but when he got closer, he noticed she was dancing with something--or someone. He began to walk towards Muriel, but before he got much closer she stopped dancing and turned toward him, her face full of joy.
He'd never seen a fairy before, and even now he wasn't sure he had. But it was unmistakable then that his sister danced and played with some being that was real, tangible, and with quite dainty feet. He had seen both their footprints in the moist grass, and the fairy's departing laughter sent a thrill through his heart instantly.
Muriel had the most carefree explanation for him: "They're fairies, John! Real ones! Didn't you see them? Did you hear them singing for me as we danced?" He had to admit he'd heard something like laughter, though he couldn't distinguish it in his mind from a symphony of bells or wind in the trees on a stormy morning: powerful and playful and joyous all at the same time. It still made his heart beat when he thought of it.
"It's ridiculous," he thought to himself. "I've only seen her--really seen her--once, and she barely talked to me." He thought of the fairy's face and saw her eyes in his mind. How they seemed to glow with light, a deep light, from somewhere inside, that caught the reflection of the setting sun and seemed to smolder out the great star itself. And then her smile. It drove straight to his heart when he recalled the joy there and couldn't help but smile himself.
"How could I be in love with a fairy?" he said aloud. "I didn't even know they existed a year ago."
[...to be continued]