part 29 of “Unexpected Grace”; can be read on its own
That summer was particularly hot and muggy, but the nights were cool and moist. In the morning, the trees outside of Lucie’s window dripped with dew and rain. Amalia had once told Lucie that a young woman should bathe her face with dew every May First – it would, she promised, ensure beauty. Lucie remembered a few years of vain attempts, but she never had enough dew to wash with. She had tried rubbing her nose in the grass, but instead of beauty she wound up with a smudged face.
Maybe it had worked; she was beautiful in any case, although her nose was crooked and she was too skinny. Besides, no magic could heal her nose and she had resisted surgery. Let it be a symbol of survival, she had thought: the proof of flight as sure as wings were. She had been thinking much about flight lately. Her obsession with wings had grown since her leap from the tree, and at night she had dreams she was flying. She watched the birds outside for such long stretches that Alex began to worry. Deena had been plaintive over her own mother often, and Lucie would run to her and tell her that Maria was flying in the heavens and at night she manifested into little stars that only Deena could see. And when they walked alone at night, Lucie would pretend to not see stars that Deena pointed out, as if to prove her point. They were like children at make-believe, only Alex was unclear that Lucie was pretending or reciting her own bizarre ideas.
Lucie’s wings from Amalia were wearing out from overuse, as Lucie insisted on wearing them everywhere as if she were a fairy princess and not a young and mortal woman. Lucie had taken to walking for hours at night after curfew – Alex knew from the stray black feathers that Robert began finding outside the door and inside the house. Alex resisted checking Lucie’s bedroom after midnight, as their former therapist had stressed Lucie must feel that Alex trusted her. Despite the newfound trust Alex thought she had forged with her daughter, she found herself losing Lucie more and more each day – Lucie seemed to falling into a dream-world where she could be lost for hours: her body sitting at the window, but her heart, soul, and mind a thousand miles away.
She was roused from her reveries by Deena or the birds, or by the mailman who might bring a postcard from Amalia, or sometimes for dinner. But otherwise she was gone, eyes far-a-way or locked in her room with a book. She expressed no ideas for her future, no plans for study other than the habits and rhythms of the birds outside.
Alex took to worrying over Deena and Lucie’s futures quite often. Deena had taken an interest in Ministry, but there was no school nearby. Lucie never wanted to talk about school, and she had been spending more and more time on her own lately, which both relieved and worried Alex. She had been so used to Lucie being afraid of things, needing rides and protection – her daughter’s sudden freedom over the summer was unexpected. But Alex knew young girls were caught on the wind easily, swept away and never returned.
_I’m not certain how I managed to get home without fainting. It was a hot day, I remember that. I was barefoot and the concrete sidewalk burned my feet. I never looked around for him. I just walked. I walked home. I knew it would be riskier to wait for the bus, or to sit there not knowing who the bus would pick up, and I was never accepting help from a stranger again.
I had been lost to begin with. That was the strangest part. I had been lost, and he found me. And then when I was free, I knew exactly where I was going, as if my brain had spent all of its subconscious time figuring out the way home. Three years later, I was still trying to find my true place._
Sometimes Deena snuck out of the house with Lucie, and they would walk for miles, or in circles around their block, or to Deena’s church. Lucie would stand outside and wait for Deena to make a secret prayer and light a votive, and sometimes she wanted to go inside and try her hand at a prayer, too. But then she would look at the sky, littered with glittering stars, and they became her candles, her prayers, the lights she rested her dreams on.
She had spent so much time outside at night lately that she had been able to memorize constellations and notice the changes of the moon. She learned how to tell when it would rain the next morning, or when to expect a heavy fog. The moon wore veils of clouds before a rain, she knew, and if her predictions were false she felt as though the moon had betrayed her. She fell in love with the night sky completely, imagining herself winging her way through its deep blackness. She would lie on the church steps and count how many stars fit into this space or that, waiting for Deena with a patience she showed no one else.
She knew that Deena cried in the chapel when she was alone, cried over her candles and whispered to her mother – she knew this because she spied on Deena when nights were overcast, and because she would have done the same thing once, before she was fourteen. She had prayed once, had bent on her knees and asked for forgiveness. It was a child’s gift, she thought, one that adults could never do properly and therefore should not try. Once one had lost their innocence, the only thing to ask for was forgiveness. And one night, she did.
Lucie leaned into the cement steps of Deena’s church and let her eyes fill up with stars; she felt small and then vast; she was a nonentity, then a goddess, and the stars whispered to her and she answered.
“Forgive me,” she whispered, “for I have sinned.”
She shut her eyes to the stars and waited for the remnants of light to flicker out of her eyes, waited for complete darkness. She lifted her arms over her head and stretched, the stairs digging into her back and grating against her bone.
One night, walking further out than usual Deena and Lucie came to a pond. It was a local pond, abandoned by the city and put to rest with a shroud of foam. It was beautiful tonight, lit by the stars, the tainted foam looking like clouds. Here it was safe; no one came this way and the girls were in the magic hours far past midnight but long before dawn.
Lucie pulled at Deena’s sleeve and they sat facing each other, cross-legged. In the sunlight, Deena looked mature and sweet, something of a beautiful peasant within her skin and eyes: bright, healthy, and deep. In the sunlight, Lucie was dark and brooding, like a charcoal sketch that had sprung to life, or a figure from a fading dream who woke up with the dreamer. In the moonlight, Deena looked somber and sad, slightly lost with shadows under her eyes.
In the moonlight, Lucie’s hair matched the color of the raven sky and reflected the moon, and she seemed to glow like a pale ghost, her white skin stark against the darkness.
This time of night was the time for secrets, when people become drunk off of the enchanted air, high from the overdose of starlight. There were reedy stems and long-grass around Lucie and Deena, and cat-tails and wildflowers. The ground was hard from a lack of recent rain, but the moon was encircled by wispy clouds, which Lucie told Deena meant that rain would come soon, maybe that night, maybe that morning.
“Once upon a time,” Lucie began, “there was a little girl.”
Deena leaned forward expectantly, hoping to hear the end of the tale Lucie had started a month ago.
“What happened to her, Lucie?” Deena asked, eyes wide.
Lucie looked towards the lake and shrugged.
“I told you, it doesn’t matter what happened to her. What matters …”
She edged closer to Deena, knees almost touching – but not quite.
“What matters is what is about to happen. By the time she was a woman she had wings,” Lucie said reverently, as if the trees might overhear if she spoke any louder.
“Were they black?” Deena asked, eyeing Amalia’s wings.
“They might have been,” Lucie said carefully, “or maybe she only imagined them. But she learned to fly. The man – there was a man in the story, remember?”
Deena nodded. The intensity in Lucie’s eyes mesmerized her.
“The man thought she was a vengeful fairy come to take his life. One night she left her sister alone while she returned to the man’s home, and she flew from his trees to warn him.”
Deena leaned closer, the enchantment of the Secret Hour overwhelming her.
“Warn him of what?” she barely whispered.
A slow breeze swept through the pond, rippling the foam and crawling into Lucie’s hair, which flew around her face and into her eyes. Lucie lay back, her eyes searching the sky. She didn’t speak for a long time, maybe a minute, maybe thirty. Deena watched the pond, watched her sister, looked to the sky to discover whatever significance Lucie saw. She didn’t find it. Finally, Lucie spoke.
“Do you think it’s possible to forgive someone who took something from you that can never be replaced?”
Deena had discussed this in her youth group many times.
“Of course,” she said easily, “forgiveness if always possible.”
Lucie nodded, still lying on the ground, but she was far-a-way, no longer with Deena. Her mind was in the clouds, pulling the sky into her black forest, adding new aspects to its visage. Now there was a heavy sky laden with stars. Now there was a blanket of foam over her brook. Now there was a young princess who wandered in, with curly hair and bright eyes, who asked too many questions but was impossible not to love.
Lucie sat up.
“It isn’t,” she said, and she hadn’t spoken in so long that Deena had forgotten what she meant.
“Forgiveness,” Lucie said, “it’s not always possible.”
“You can make anything possible,” Deena said, thoughtful.
“I can light the stars on fire with my prayers, but they will never be moved by my dreams alone.”
“Who is it that you can’t forgive?” Deena asked.
“Once upon a time,” she said, “the little girl grew up and she had black wings and there was a man she could never forgive. He lived in a pretty house and had an ugly wife.”
“Why couldn’t she forgive him?” she asked, tears in her eyes.
“Could you forgive the man who stole your innocence?” Lucie asked, but she was searching the sky again.
Deena’s eyes grew wide.
“He’s -? But -”
Lucie tore a bit of grass from around her hips.
“The woman had a child. The man was the child’s father. He didn’t know.”
Deena searched her sister’s lovely face, so pale and sad, and she seemed to be in disbelief. Lucie with a man like that? He was who she had abandoned their family for three years ago? He was the man she loved and had a child with? Him?
“I don’t understand,” she said sharply.
“Fairy tales don’t need to be understood,” said Lucie. “They just need to be told.”
They sat in silence until dawn.
This is a part of , a work-in-progress.
_Step-sisters Deena and Lucie have never been close. Healing from a rape she pretends was a love affair, Lucie had turned to a life of sex, moodiness, and imagination. Deena turned to prayer. When Lucie’s aunt makes her a pair of wings, Lucie begins to gain confidence and a belief in magic, and through her new strength the sisters gain a connection that will either save or destroy Lucie – and everyone around her.
The 12 sections (24,939 words in and counting) currently drafted are posted at lilynoelle
Thank you for reading! I hope this chapter stands alone; that’s why I posted it. :)
This chapter is PG; story is PG-13 atm.