Naira, Heart of Flame - Part 8, A Dinner
"Grant, front and center - now!" It was Tony, his father, and he sounded furious. Well, what else is new? Grant was tired of feeling like the prodigal son of the family. His step-sister Clara was so perfect she practically belched sunshine, and James was such a prude. Grant turned around, and let his feet slide from stair to stair, a wicked smile flickering across his face as more mud transferred onto the staircase.
Grant walked into the dining room where his parents were assembled, with his bow still in hand, and surveyed the scene. His step-mother Carolyn, was sitting at the head of the table. His father had his hands clasped behind his back, furiously pacing in front of the windows directly behind her. Are they upset because I skipped dinner again? Or did they get my report card? Oh well, he thought, I never please them, so I'll just amuse myself.
"Yes, Tony?" he asked, his voice full of scorn. Tony Roy turned to look at his worm of a son.
"Do not call me that, Grant. Now sit!" He sounded as though he was scolding a disobedient dog.
"And what is bothering their highnesses this fine evening? Make this quick, I've got homework." Grant plopped into a chair at the far end, and with a loud clomp threw his feet onto the table. Carolyn winced, and his father stopped pacing.
"Where have you been?" asked Tony. His eyes were fixed on his son, but Grant had long ago grown immune to his father's death glare.
"Does it matter?"
"Jesus Grant!" Tony's hand clamped onto the back of Carolyn's chair, and he was clearly counting to ten. "Of course it matters. You are our son and we love you, despite the idiotic things that you are doing constantly. But you have to stop disappearing. What if something happened to you? What if we had an emergency?"
"What kind of emergency would you possibly need me for? You don't trust me enough to take out the trash." Grant loved nothing more than to make his father perform for him, to lead him about on a leash. "Besides, she isn't my mother. And knowing mine, it's highly doubtful you're really my daddy dearest."
"Don't start with me on that crap tonight Grant. You have no idea about how many times I've saved your sorry - "
"Tony, don't." Carolyn's voice was icy, and Grant was surprised. She usually let Tony play the righteous parent. However, Grant knew better than to mess with Carolyn when she sounded like that. Unlike Tony, she wasn't afraid to punish him.
"I'm sorry," he said, sounding less than sincere. "If you must know, I was at the archery range." He paused, looking at Carolyn, his face contorting with a look of sheer delight, distorting his features into a piggish grin
"How was James's stay at the cabin?" he asked, waiting for Carolyn to take the bait.
"I actually haven't talked to him yet. He is most likely still upset, or else I would have expected him to have called by now."
"Oh, I don't know. He is probably too busy playing house with his new roomie than to call his mother." He delivered the bomb, and waited for it detonate.
"What do you mean?" Carolyn asked, her composure slightly rattled.
"Oh...." Grant's face became unreadable to his parents. "He didn't tell you? Well, I saw her with Eli at the archery range. Very pretty, an old friend of Eli's, apparently. The boys are just... what was the word.... helping her out?"
Carolyn's eyes were cold, and she was weighing whether or not to believe him.
"After all, Lena is out of the picture, and this new girl is going to be just down the hall...waiting for help..." Grant deemed the session over and got up, a large streak of mud slashing the table as he stood up. He left the room feeling the best he had all day.
"No Mom, it isn't like that! Honestly... no, I am not lying to you!" James tried to keep his voice down, conscious that the girl in the cubicle across from his was casting him weird looks. Of course she has to call work, just wonderful! Of all the people for Naira and Eli to see at the range last night, it had to be Grant. "Mom, Naira is just our friend. Look, Mom -Lena and I are back together."
"Oh, that's wonderful!" James winced at the joy in his mother's voice.
"Yes, yes it is." He echoed. A large voice was booming orders across the room, and he knew it was his boss, Phil.
"Look Mom, we'll talk later. And yes, Clara is welcome to dinner tonight. She'll love Naira. Bye." He hung up the phone just as Phil rounded the corner. His bulky figure stopped outside of the cubicle. Phil's eyes looked as though his cheeks had swallowed them. Yet James liked his boss, and Phil recognized the quality of work that James turned in, especially for an intern.
"Meeting right now, let's go." Phil barked, and waddled down the aisle. James grabbed a pen and pad of paper and followed him. I wonder what this is about, he thought. They got to the conference room, which was already filled with four of the other interns on staff. James knew them all, and instantly realized that something big was up. These were the best "rookies," as Phil called them. James strode in behind Phil, and slid into a seat at the far end of the table.
"Alright ladies," Phil began, "we've decided that we're going to hold a little contest this year at the paper. We have a fabulous group of interns right now, so the challenge I have for you is this. Whoever turns in the best investigative story in two months, will be hired. If there are duplicate topics, those entries will be disqualified. That is the only rule. You don't have to participate, but you have what it takes. That's it. Get to work!"
James was stunned, and he could tell the others were as well. He glanced at them, fresh eager kids just like himself. But James was confident, especially since Phil had looked right at him when he said "you have what it takes." I can't wait, he thought to himself. James got up quickly and strode out of the room, already feeling as though he had won.
Naira rubbed her eyes, and refocused on the book in front of her. She had been working all day on figuring out how to read English, as it was called here. She had never been very intrigued by the common tongue, preferring the Elven histories. Little did I know, she thought.
She was curled up in a comfy easy chair in the den downstairs. It was just beyond the living room and next to the small hallway that ran past the powder room into the kitchen. The house was a large square, really. But she loved it.
Eli stuck his head in the door, and asked, "Wanna help me with the salad, kid?"
She laughed, setting her book aside. She had been reading an interesting tale written by a man with the same last name as James, however his name was R. Charles Varden. I wonder if they're related, she thought, especially since James's father is Charles.
"Honestly, Eli, it is ridiculous for you to call me kid. I'm older than any person living on Earth." Her voice was airy, full of joy.
"That doesn't mean I can't call you kid, does it?" Eli laughed, and headed off to the kitchen. She followed him down the short hall, and over to the sink. Remembering what Eli had taught her the night before and what she had seen up at the cabin, Naira deftly made a large salad. She enjoyed cooking, and found Earth food to be quite enjoyable. Elvish food had more practicality to it, this was an art.
She suddenly sensed someone was behind her, and turned to find James trying to sneak up on her. He was smiling, hands stretched out to tickle her.
"Beware mortal, I have salad tongs, and I am not afraid to use them!"
The three friends burst out laughing, Eli noting how happy James and Naira looked. Naira's face had looked strained all day, and now it was radiant.
"Excuse me, I didn't mean to interrupt." Eli and Naira turned to find Lena in the door, looking sourly at James.
"Sorry, Lena." James instantly apologized, walking over to his girlfriend. "I didn't mean to leave you like that in the hall."
"No, of course not." She smiled at him sweetly, but Eli saw the poison she had in her eyes for Naira.
"Hey guys," James said, taking Lena's hand, "we're gonna go pick up Clara. We'll be back in about half an hour."
"We'll be ready." said Eli, kicking himself for the millionth time that day about his bad advice. Naira looked crushed.
"Hey kid, you okay?" He asked, trying to sound natural. She nodded, flashing him a brief smile.
"Should I change into something nicer for dinner, since I am going to be introduced to Clara for the first time?" Her voice was distant, yet urgent with the need to escape the kitchen.
"That's a sweet idea. I'm sure Clara would like that." said Eli, feeling like he was addressing a five-year old. Still, Naira had so much to learn about their way of life. It is amazing how intelligent she is though. I would probably have died in Middle-earth by now, he thought. She had placed the salad in the refrigerator, and breezed out of the kitchen. He watched her go, wishing Lena wasn't coming back. It's my fault, all my fault.
Naira slipped into her room, and collapsed onto the soft bed. She closed her eyes, wishing she didn't feel this way. Her thoughts were full of bittersweet thoughts of James, of Lothlórien, her family, her future. She asked herself the same questions that had been troubling her since she had fallen from the ship. Why had Gandalf sent her here? Why had he given her Narya? What was she supposed to do? Happy, he had promised her happiness... when?
A soft knock at the door pulled her back from her engulfing thoughts, and she realized that forty-minutes had passed. She sat up, and said, "Come in." Through the door stepped a fragile-looking girl with curly blonde hair and large, brown eyes. They had the same honest look to them as James's eyes, and Naira instantly knew it was his sister. Her face was round and he features were very pretty. Yet, where James was broad and muscular, she was petite and thin. Almost too thin, the notion flickering through Naira's brain.
Naira stood up and smiled at the girl. "Hello, Clara. I am Naira, your brother's friend." To Clara, her voice sounded like a bell on a clear day, its sound carried by warm winds and sunshine. Naira was different than any other person she had ever met, but it was almost like she wasn't human in a way. She seemed old and wise, yet her eyes showed a playful spirit.
"Grant was right," Clara said in small voice.
"What was he right about, Clara?" Naira tried not to think of Grant and his rodent-like face.
Naira was taken aback. She couldn't believe her ears. She shook her head, and said to the young girl, "No, not nearly as lovely as you are." Clara blushed. She then asked the question that had been bugging her since she had heard about Naira.
"Where are you from, exactly?" her voice was gentle, but the question rattled Naira even more than she already was.
"Well.... let's just say it is far away..." she paused, looking at the floor. She unconsciously pulled her flowing hair behind her ears, revealing their delicate points. "I don't think I'll ever return, and I am trying hard not to think about it. This is my life now, and that is what is important."
She looked up, conscious of the blush that had crept into her cheeks as she spoke. Clara was transfixed by something, and Naira felt very awkward.
"Clara, what is it?"
"Your.... your ears are pointed..." her voice was disbelieving, searching for meaning but finding none.
"Like an Elf's perhaps?" Naira said, realizing that Clara would put the pieces together sooner or later. Clara looked at the woman in front of her, her bearing and beauty, her poise and flowing speech. The ears.... She looked like an Elf from The Lord of the Rings, but that was impossible. Wasn't it?
"Let me show you something." Naira walked over to the closet and pulled out her flowing gown for the girl to see. Clara walked over, disbelieving. She stretched out her tiny hands to finger the woven material, in awe of the craftsmanship of the dress. Naira delicately replaced the garment, and held out the jewel around her neck.
"This is Narya, and it is very old and powerful. For the time being, I am its guardian."
"This is so cool!" Naira was shocked to hear the girl's dovelike voice raise to such a pitch, and Clara's feather light arms were suddenly snaked around her neck.
"Oh, I am going to take you everywhere and get you new clothes and a haircut and teach you about make-up and boys and everything!" She let go a little, her honest eyes full of excitement. "It'll be like we're sisters. James was right, I do adore you!"
The memory of Naira's own two sisters floated away, their relationships had never been close. This little girl stick of a girl had already showed more enthusiasm over her mere existence than Oricon or Ainon had ever done in her thousand years of life.
"Now," said Clara plopping onto the bed like she was at a slumber party, "tell me absolutely everything!" Naira laughed, her new friend's refreshing attitude warming her heart. She began telling Clara the basics about herself and her adventure thus far.
All too soon, James appeared in the door. He was smiling ear to ear, his approval of the friendship evident.
"Are you two little girls ready to eat, or what?" he asked warmly. Naira turned, her brilliant eyes glowing.
"Oh, James, we had forgotten all about you!"
"I doubt that, I'm pretty memorable."
Clara laughed, chiding her brother, "Like last weeks vocab test."
"Oh, that hurt sis. You're gonna get tickled later for that one!"
Naira repressed the urge to ask what a vocab test was and followed Clara as she bounded out of the room. James looked at her, his smile dazzling her.
"James, how old is she?"
"She just turned 15. Why?" He looked puzzled, and Naira just sighed.
"Oh, it doesn't matter. She's just got so much energy and warmth. I like her immensely already. She is al lot like you..." She slipped past him and glided down the stairs. As she turned into the dining room, she was shocked to see Grant slouched at the table.
"Hello, gorgeous." His voice was oozing with foulness. Naira stiffened, feeling very reassured by James's presence behind her. The others had sat down already. Grant and Lena were sitting next to each other on the far side of the table. Eli was next to Grant at the head of the table. Clara was in the chair closest to Naira, next to Eli. There were two open chairs, the one next to Clara and one at the far end of the table. Naira sat gracefully down next to Clara, trying to keep as much space between her and Grant as possible, while still trying to avoid Lena.
When James sat down, the meal began. Clara seemed to understand that Naira being an Elf was a secret, and talked to her normally about going to something she called "the mall." They decided to go that Saturday. Lena looked like she had eaten something sour. In all the time she had known Clara she had never asked her to go shopping, never even hinted at it! What was it about this girl that made Grant go loopy and enchant James so? She was very pretty, but in an unconventional way. Her hair was too long, she didn't wear make-up, her ears weren't even pierced!
Grant was devouring his meal, his eyes devouring Naira. How can I get her alone.... Suddenly it dawned on him.
"So, Naira, who taught you archery?" Naira looked at him, trying not to focus on the food dribbling down his chin.
"My brother did. A long time ago. He is very skilled." She tried not to think of Encaitar. She did truly miss her brother. He was her best friend, and he had to be worried sick about her.
"Well, I was wondering if you could teach me some of your technique." James's fork stopped halfway to his mouth, and he stared at his step-brother. Something stirred within him. Lena's expression darkened, and her eyes were popping out of her head ever so slightly. She was certainly not attractive when she was angry.
Eli was desperately thinking of what to say to ease the tense moment when Clara burst in, "Oh, I think that is great! Would you teach me, too?" Naira looked at the bright, eager face next to her. Again, she noticed that there was something wrong with her. She quickly focused on Grant, conscious that James had a very stormy look on his face.
"I'd be delighted to. After all, you're both young, you should learn quickly." Naira's voice was full of poise, and she noticed that James had finally put his fork down. Clara's arms once again ensnared her, and Eli was breathing again. Stupid kid, thought Grant, she makes me look like I'm five too. Well, I'm not, and Naira will find that out soon enough.
Dinner proceeded from there, James watching Grant like a hawk, Lena watching James, Eli watching Lena look dirtily at James, and Grant and Clara watching every move Naira made. Naira was trying to think about anything other than James and Lena. This is so muddled, she thought, and no matter what I am going to end up getting into trouble.
As soon as they finished dinner, Naira helped Eli and Clara wash up. Grant and Lena sat with in the living room, Lena talking like a parrot about topics that had no relevance to anyone besides her. James must have the patience of a martyr to put up with that, thought Grant. However, there had been a time when Lena had been different, and he remembered it. Eli remembered her before she got to college and went haywire, too. Maybe James still tries to see the other Lena, the considerate and sweet one who didn't tan religiously and look slightly surprised from an odd eyebrow wax.
James and Lena were sitting on the loveseat near the front door, a foot of space between them. Grant had strategically positioned himself in the middle of the couch. He wanted Naira close to him. When the others walked in, Eli plopped down next to Grant on his left and Clara on his right. Naira proceeded to sit on the floor, her long legs wrapped around her like a dancer would. Naira was relieved she had walked in last. She didn't want to seem like she didn't like Grant, for James and Clara's sakes, but he made her skin crawl.
After a little more conversation, mostly Lena babbling on like a chicken with its head cut off, James told his siblings to get ready to go. Clara said her goodbyes, and they arranged to go shopping Saturday morning and then head over to the archery range in the afternoon. Clara gave her one last hug, and a bright smile before bounding out the door. Grant slinked over to Naira and held out his arms. She hesitated before letting him hug her. He grabbed her tight and he planted a dry, scaly kiss on her cheek. James saw it, and his fist clenched. "That's enough Grant, let's go."
Grant backed away, and winked at Naira. "Till next time, beautiful." Naira wanted to fire an arrow into him, if he had been an orc she would have without hesitation. He slid through the door, and Eli followed him, probably to make sure he behaved around Clara. She saw Lena looking at her coldly.
"It was nice to see you again, Lena." The other woman nodded and walked out the door, her demeanor icy. James walked over to her, his brow furrowed.
"I'm sorry, I am so so sorry. Grant is inexcusable, he always is. He is such a little worm!" He was lost in her eyes again, and she was smiling beguilingly up at him.
"Don't worry, James. I can handle him." She reached out and took his large hand in hers. "Really, I can. But thank you for your concern."
"Naira, I... I just - " He stopped, not knowing how to say what he wanted to. She smiled at him again, and said in her melodic voice, "We'll talk when you get back." He nodded, and swallowed the lump that had suddenly grown in his throat. He squeezed her soft hand before letting it go. He already knew he was going to get hell from Lena, he could tell. Well, here goes nothing, he thought to himself as he got in the car. Eli said goodbye to Clara again, and went back to the porch. Naira joined him on the front step, never taking her eyes off of James.