Naira had sought refuge on the couch in the living room, her knees pulled up against her chest. She was still wearing her flowing gown, its familiarity comforted her. She was rocking slightly back and forth, trying to calm down. Clara was really sick. What if she died? James was still on the phone with Grant, his voice was low and it was hard to hear him. Clara was so young, vibrant with energy. How could she be struck down like this?
James hung up the phone, his heart heavy with dread. This time, Clara was really bad. Grant sounded terrible, and that scared him. Grant was usually flippant about all matters. James knew Naira would need him now, and walked into the living room. Her head was buried in her arms, her body compact as though it could shield her from pain and worry. James sat down gently, facing her, fighting hard to keep calm for her sake. I won’t worry until I see my sister, he promised himself.
His strong arms reached for the Elf, and she tried to shrug away.
“No, you don’t!” His voice was firm but gentle. “Not this time, Naira. You have to trust me, don’t act like you’re stone.”
Her teary eyes caught him by surprise. Fear and sorrow swam in those tears, feelings that were eating her alive. James placed his hand on her face, pulling her face out of hiding. He leaned in; kissing away her tears with a dozen feathery kisses.
“No tears, Naira. Not yet. This is just a precaution for her health.” He smiled at her, wishing he felt as brave as his words sounded. He gathered her in his arms, holding her. She wrapped her arms around his neck, trying to comfort him as well. Her touch soothed him. Narya suddenly dug into his skin through his shirt.
“What is wrong James?”
He let her go, and looked down at the necklace that hung from her neck. James took it between his thumb and forefinger like he would hold a dart. Something was wrong with it, he realized. The very top ridge of the jewel had turned black as pitch. He knew that the stone wasn’t supposed to look like that.
“James…. What is it?”
“The stone has turned color.”
“That’s impossible!” Her voice was disbelieving. She took the jewel now, and she gasped when she saw the slight transformation.
“What does it mean, Naira?”
From the look in her eyes, he realized that neither of them had an answer.
An hour later, they had showered and eaten. Now the two of them were driving to the hospital. A note had been left for Eli when he woke up, it was only a little before ten. James was explaining as best he could what a hospital was. “So, it is like a large house of healing?” she asked, absently fingering Narya. He smiled, impressed once again at the rapidity with which she grasped new concepts. I just pray that they heal my sister…
Naira didn’t like the hospital the moment they set foot in it. It smelled unnatural, and death seemed to be laced in the air. She slipped her hand into James’s large one, and he squeezed it reassuringly. His smile was bright, but his eyes were not. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought her, he thought. But he knew Naira wouldn’t have stood to have been left behind. James asked to be directed to Clara’s room, and headed towards the elevator. James paused before pressing the button. He turned to Naira and said, “This is what we call en elevator and – ”
“Clara and I rode one at the mall. But thank you for caring.” She squeezed his hand, and he laughed. Once again, amazing, he thought. James was trying hard to keep out the dark thoughts that were slipping in every once and awhile. Clara had to be alright. She had to be. Naira’s hand slipped into his again, and she rested her head against his shoulder. As the elevator slid to a stop, her emerald eyes gave him the strength to face the facts.
Unconsciously, they were both smiling brightly, their feelings for each other deeper than they were ready to admit. When they walked into the room, their smiles had faded a little, but their presences brought new life to the room. Clara automatically felt better, and the air seemed easier to breathe. Clara had an IV running into her left arm, her face ashen. She didn’t look too bad, but there were lines on her face that shouldn’t have been.
“Naira!” The young girl’s voice held nothing but love for the Elf. Naira walked over to Clara’s bed, Carolyn Varden-Roy noting how smooth and polished her movements were. James kissed his mother on the cheek as he hugged her. There was something different about her son, it was as plain as day what is was too. He was obviously smitten with Naira.
“This is Naira,” James said with a slightly goofy grin on his face, “and Naira I would like to introduce you to my mother, Carolyn, and my step-father Tony.”
Tony shook her hand across the bed, and Carolyn smiled broadly.
“It is an honor to meet you both at last. I have heard so many wonderful compliments about you both, I know that you’re just wonderful!” Her voice was melodic, soothing and honest. Everything about this girl was different from Lena, and Carolyn liked her immensely for that very reason. Naira was sitting in a chair, her elegant hand holding Clara’s delicate porcelain one. Clara’s face was haggard, and her eyes were dull. Naira sensed illness in the girl, but not death. Somehow, she could sense the level of disease in the girl. I hope they know what is wrong, thought Naira.
“Did you see what I’m wearing today?” Naira asked, sitting back to show her friend the skirt and top she was wearing. There were pink and red cherry blossoms on the fitted skirt, and the top was black with slight flairs at the elbow and a v-neck that revealed the smooth, perfect skin of Naira’s neck. Her hair had dried with a slight curl to it, a few strands pulled back off her face. Clara thought she looked lovely, smiling and nodding in approval. She already felt better with Naira in the room.
James motioned with his head to the hallway towards Tony, and the older man followed his step-son outside. Carolyn started asking the girls about their shopping excursion, Clara’s voice regaining some animation.
“Well, what’s wrong?” Tony didn’t look too worried, and that made James feel better.
“The doctor says she most likely has a urinary tract infection. She’ll be here for a few days, and then go home. This isn’t too serious, we were worried because she coughed up blood. She’s been really nauseous lately, and having a lot of trouble sleeping. When she was getting sick, something cut the back of her throat, that’s all, so she didn’t really cough up blood. We panicked a little bit.”
James let Tony finish, nodding the whole time. This was one of the few incidents when James was actually happy to have an important last name and a powerful step-father, it ensured Clara would get the best treatment available.
“No, you didn’t panic. I would have called an ambulance and gone crazy.” James made Tony chuckle as James ducked back into the room. He went over next to the bed, sitting on another chair across from Naira. He smiled at her, then turned his attention to his sister.
“Hey beautiful….” Naira heard the words, and her spine stiffened. She turned her head, and standing in the door was Grant. He looked awful. He motioned for her to come out into the hallway. James was talking to Clara, Naira squeezed Clara’s hand and went to the hall. James watched her, his face becoming grim.
“Hey, don’t get jealous.” James turned back in surprise to his little sister. She was smiling mischievously. “After all, Naira’s been in love with you since she met you. Grant is just a little idiot if he thinks he has a chance with Naira.”
“What do you know about love, munchkin?” he asked, jokingly.
“Enough to know that when you’re in love, you stop comparing that person to other people. When we were at the mall, there were dozens of attractive guys. They may have been interested in her, but she can’t see past that stupid curly hair of yours. She loves you, she just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Wow, they must have you on some pretty good drugs!” She slapped his hand, and smiled at him with care. Her smile faded a bit, and she looked intently at her brother.
“James, do you love her?” James was suddenly staring at the bed sheets, trying not show how taken aback her was by her question. He hadn’t tried to classify his feelings for Naira yet.
“I don’t know, kid.” he said truthfully. “Naira means more to me than any other woman ever has. I don’t know what we’re classified as, all we’ve done is kiss, and that is only in the past twelve hours or so. But she makes me feel…” he laughed at himself. “Is it possible to feel more than alive?”
Just then, a nurse and the doctor came in. Dr. Niall Wallace had to resemble a horse more than any person James had ever seen. His mother and Tony were talking to him. The nurse walked over and checked the IV, and smiled at him.
“Miss Varden needs her rest now. Doctor’s orders.” James nodded, and kissed his sister on the cheek. Clara smiled, talking to James and Naira had made her feel almost well. From the look in her brother’s eyes, Clara knew that this was the love of his life. She felt it, every inch of her heart and soul knew. And she couldn’t have been happier. I just wonder how long it will take him to realize it, though, she thought.
Grant tried not to notice how becoming Naira looked, and to follow the plan. Gain her trust, he reminded himself. He was biting his cheek in order to cry.
As soon as she had walked into the hallway, he had started talking in a low voice.
“Naira, is she alright? She has to get better. If she doesn’t, I’ll never forgive myself. While she may have been dying, I got carried away with you! I am lower than dirt. I am a creep, a major creep. I just had to say how sorry I am. I deserved everything you did to me.” Naira glanced at the cut on his chin, which was really a mere scratch. It looked at though it hadn’t been cleaned.
“Grant, don’t worry. Clara is going to get better.”
“That doesn’t erase what I did to you!” He sobbed, took a deep breath and said softly, “I’ll understand if you never forgive me. My family prefers to take that route. I am the prodigal son…”
Naira couldn’t help feeling sorry for him, but the change in Grant was rather drastic. She looked at him, trying to gauge the situation. She decide to give him another chance, but she still didn’t trust him.
“Grant, I forgive you. We can start over as of this second.” But I’ll be watching you, she thought. Grant held out one of his little paws, and Naira shook it. He was smiling weakly. That was too easy, Grant thought. Grant could see Carolyn talking to James behind them.
“So you dumped Lena?”
“Yes, I did. She was just using me.”
“I am sorry to hear that. So, you and Naira are…?”
“We haven’t slept together, cuz I know you’re wondering that.” He gave his mother a wicked smile. “We like each other. Nothing is official yet. We’ve only been together about twelve hours.”
“So, you’re not worried that Grant is clearly interested?”
“Well, I can say in total confidence that Naira isn’t. Now, if you don’t mind, I am a going to go save – ” he paused, before adding with love, “my girlfriend.”
Carolyn watched her son sidle up to Naira and slip his strong arm around her waist. Grant’s eyes bugged out with the realization that Naira and James were together. He took a step back, watching with interest as the two of them headed to the elevator.
As it turned out, they were the only people in the elevator, and James seized the moment. He intertwined his fingers with Naira’s on both hands and his mouth covered hers protectively. He wanted her to know that he was there, that he would take care of her. That the most important thing were his feelings for her. Her fingers slipped free and she encircled his neck with hers arms, unexpectedly kissing him back passionately. Never had someone seemed so perfect, felt so natural with him. The elevator slid to a halt, and James reluctantly broke off the kiss just before the door opened. He leaned near her, and whispered into her tapered ear, “You know, I’ve never kissed a girl in an elevator before.”
“Well, I’m sure the boys you have kissed in an elevator enjoyed it very much. I’d highly recommend it…” James let out a deep, appreciative laugh.