The wind played in the evergreens, swinging their boughs to and fro. The tall trunks creaked and groaned, laughing to themselves quietly. The sun trickled softly through the trees and into the room. The light was like a warm blanket comforting Naira as much as the coverlet she was huddled under. Every muscle in her body was relaxed, her mind floating a daze of momentary content.
It had been a week since she had arrived in Earth, yet she felt like she had been there much longer. So much to see, so much to learn, it was magic to her. She still couldn’t quite grasp the concept of electricity, but once she stopped asking “why” and “how” about everything, it was easier to accept the impossible notions she faced. Like the handle that spoke to you. That, she doubted she would ever like. James had been so patient with her, she knew. There had been plenty of opportunities for him to get angry or frustrated with her. Instead, he just laughed to himself and tried again. After the television disaster, Eli only asked her questions about Middle-earth. They love my stories, she thought happily, and it’s cute.
She laughed at herself for using the word cute. The odd language, slang the boys called it, was slowly creeping into her thoughts and a little into her speech. Jiffy, cute, cool, shut up, dude, the list was endless. Even when she asked for the millionth time what a new word meant, James had told her, with care and a sparkle in his gray eyes. He has a good heart, she knew, and had known since the minute she met him. She didn’t know what other earthlings were like, but Eli and James had told her stories about people who weren’t nice. Except on Earth, it seemed to be harder to distinguish between good and evil. James had said… She forgot suddenly what he had said, shocked at how the thought of his name had made her smile.
She hadn’t slept that night, if she ever really did. Every time she closed her eyes, she James smiling or heard his rich laugh. She thought of the long walk they had taken the night before in the woods, and how the moonlight had danced in his hair. She thought of all the times that she had found herself laughing at a joke he had told her. She thought of the look of happiness in his eyes when he looked at her. Or how excited he had been when they discovered she was able to read a little because their English was like the common tongue written. Which made sense, after all, because they were the same.
She knew that James was the most caring and considerate person she had ever met. Once she had gotten used to his odd clothes and his mannerisms, she began to see how incredible her new friend was. In his own way, Eli was nice too. But James made her feel like no other being she had ever encountered. For the first time in her life, her entire life, Naira felt that her opinion and thoughts mattered. She was more than a child or sister to be babied. James asked her what she wanted to do, to know, and when she spoke he listened. After that first night, it was like a barrier had dropped between them, but at the same time some barriers had just grown more impenetrable inside her.
She rolled onto her back, her eyes slightly open, glittering in the light. James would take care of her, help her, be her friend. Could it be possible for them to be more? She reached a slender hand up to her ear, tracing its graceful tip. I’m an elf, he’s a human. We’re from different worlds… and he’s mortal. The thought was painful to her. What if she never got back to Middle-earth? Would she have to watch James die?
There was a knock on the door. It was firm, but gentle enough for her to recognize who it was. James, always so polite and considerate. “Yes,” she said, trying to composer herself. The door opened a crack, and a head of curly hair slid into the opening. He had a cheerful smile on his face, which made his eyes shine. She loved his eyes, gray and stormy. So unlike any others she had seen… but what if one day they closed forever?
He brow furrowed with concern and he slipped through the door, leaving it open a crack. James walked over to the bed and sat down on its edge, careful to keep his distance from Naira, although he didn’t want to. “What’s up?” he asked. She felt her cheeks get a little red, not only because of her new feelings for James, but because she couldn’t remember what that saying meant. James realized the latter embarrassment, and asked, “What’s wrong?”
She looked at him, tracing the lines of his face with her eyes, and imagined what it would be like to kiss him. She hated herself for being so cold before, but that had been on the most awkward day of her life. Now, she could see him, really see him. And she liked what she saw.
“I was just thinking, that is all.” She said, a faint smile playing on her lips.
“Were you thinking about going back again?” he asked hesitantly. He had hoped that she would be happy, or at least not as down anymore as she had been at first. He looked into her eyes, expecting to see tears or pain. Instead, there was warmth there he wasn’t expecting.
“No, I wasn’t. Just thinking…” she paused, and tried to focus on the pattern of the bedspread rather than his face, “That is all.” Naira missed seeing her family, it was true, but they didn’t make her feel like James did. His very presence made her feel alright, that nothing would harm her. He shifted, bringing a long leg up onto the bed.
” I wanted to talk to you,” he said, “about tomorrow.”
“What’s tomorrow?” She was puzzled, he hadn’t mentioned much about his life. She made a note to find out more about him.
“I am supposed to go back to school tomorrow. I’m a student and our break is over. I also have an intern… well, apprenticeship, you could say. I hadn’t realized that this week had gone by so fast. But… I’ve really enjoyed it.”
He stopped and looked at her. James seemed like there was more that he had to say, but didn’t want to. He is going to leave me, she thought darkly, he doesn’t want me around. She was about to tell him he didn’t need to worry about her when he spat out, “Eli and I have an extra bedroom at our place and we both want you to stay with us. You can take some of my sister’s clothes and things back. I just wanted to know if you…” He looked deep into her eyes, trying to see if her feelings for him had changed. The brilliance of her eyes dazzled him. “I just wondered if you wanted to stay with Eli, and stay with me.” He said the last words as though he was ashamed. James was, still, about kissing her on the forehead.
He didn’t know why he had done it, but it had felt right somehow. Everything about her felt right, despite their differences. That still didn’t make kissing her right, or make her reciprocate what he was feeling. He expected for her to say no, that she was going to leave, to try and go back on her own to Middle-earth. Instead her heard her bell-like voice say, “I would love to.” Suddenly, two willowy arms were around his neck. Her golden head rested for a second on his shoulder, the sweetness of her enveloped him. Naira closed her eyes, enjoying the touch of him against her. He felt stiff though, and she let go and sat back.
The tips of his ears were pink, and James looked a little short of breath. He doesn’t like me like that, she thought, suddenly embarrassed. “Thank you, again, for everything.” She said with confidence, but a little coldly.
“You’re welcome.” James got up and walked to the door. He paused and flashed her a charming smile that melted her heart. “After all, what are friends for?” She giggled, but the word friend hurt. When the door closed agian, she sighed. “He is my friend, that’s all.” She spoke to herself, eyes closed and hands clenched. “My handsome, mortal friend James of West Carlisle.”
James stood for a second outside her room, half-tempted to go back in and tell her how he felt. Something had been different for a moment there. Her eyes had brightened for him, he was sure. Even in an old t-shirt and pajama pants of his sister’s, she was breathtaking. She had hugged him… Maybe, just maybe it was possible that she was interested in him. He shook his head. He muttered to himself as he walked down the hall, “She’s just your friend. Immortal elf, immortal elf. This can’t end happily…”
The next morning, with a duffel bag of clothes and what James had assured her were essentials, Naira descended the stairs. She was wearing a flowing skirt that fell to mid-calf with a blouse. She hated to admit it, but the clothes weren’t so odd after all. She had braided her hair with two pleats securing the top half, and letting the rest cascade down her back. She wore Narya around her neck. She was wearing a pair of shoes that James called flip-flops. Her feet were a little bigger than Clara’s and these were the only pair of her shoes that fit. They were light blue, and felt uncomfortable at first. Now, she didn’t mind them so much.
She was smiling unconsciously, deep in her own thoughts. When she reached the bottom, Naira looked ahead towards the kitchen. She was surprised to find James leaning against the doorway, with a sly half-grin and laughing eyes. She stopped and asked mockingly, “Am I so amusing to you? Is there not anything else to watch on Earth besides me?” He laughed, and walked towards her. James was wearing a pair of blue pants that he called jeans. Naira like the way they looked more than his shorts, the hobbit pants. He wore a shirt that buttoned up the front, and it was the same blue of the sky. James looked older somehow, but he was still the same James.
He leaned forward a little bit, she hoped he meant to kiss her forehead again. He said adoringly, “There isn’t anything I would rather see today than you.” Their eyes met, and she lost herself in them, holding their gaze as though she was holding him in her arms.
“Hey! Let’s go you two wild and crazy kids!” Eli burst in, unaware of what he was interrupting. Blood rushed to Naira’s face, and she hurried through the kitchen and outside. Sunlight swept over her, washing her with relief. She was a fool to think he would kiss her. She walked over by the garage and stopped. There were two cars, which one was she supposed to go in?
She heard steps, and knew they boys were right behind her. James was next to her, and she could feel him looking at her. “Who do you want to go with?” She said without hesitating, “You.” He slid a hand on top of the one holding her bag, his fingers lingering on hers before easing them off of the handles. He took the bag and put it in the trunk, and closed it. She watched him, feeling his hand on hers still. James looked at her as he slid on a pair of sunglasses.
“Just think of this as a big horseless carriage.” They laughed, however hers was nervous. She sank into the passengers seat and put her hands in her lap primly. He knelt down next to her and put his hand around a square of metal hanging next to her head. James then stretched his arm out to pull the strap that was attached to the metal across her. He brushed her leg as he placed it into a holster of some kind. She heard a click and he was gone again. The door closed and a second later he was in the driver’s seat and had his seatbelt buckled.
James placed the key in the ignition and looked at Naira. She looked unsure, and wanted her to not be scared. “Nothing is going to happen, just relax.” he said, and placed a hand on both of hers. He smiled at her, wanting to comfort her, yet mindful of her warning. I almost kissed her in there, he thought. The image of Naira holding the sword in the kitchen flashed in his mind, and he drew his hand back. “Just trust me!” he said with confidence and started the car.
They spent the next two hours in relative silence. Naira tried to get used to the speed and the weird jerking movements of the car. After getting on the freeway, which scared her a little, she began to settle down. They talked a little about college, and about where he lived. Before she knew it, James got on an exit and drove into a small, sleepy town. She was overwhelmed, there was so much to look at and take in. James pointed a store and a bank. He had talked about them before, but she was still unsure what they did.
He pulled onto a road and drove a few blocks. The stopped in front of a two-story brick house that to Naira was a marvel. She was trying to take it all in, amazed at the beauty of the house. “Oh James, I think it is so pretty.”
He laughed and got out of the car. He walked around and opened her door. He knelt down again, and reached over to help her unbuckle her seatbelt. She put her left hand on his, and said, “I can do it.” His face was inches from hers, and she didn’t want to let go of his hand. His eyes were searching her face for clues to what she felt, and she wanted to tell him. Tell him you like him, just say it!
“Can’t she unbuckle a seatbelt?” A female voice demanded behind them. James tensed and wheeled around. Standing there with a look that would have curdled milk was Lena. She was wearing a low cut top, and James’s stomach became a big knot.
“And who is this little girl, James?” her eyes flashed daggers at him. Naira already didn’t like her. She unbuckled the seatbelt and stepped out of the car. “My name is Naira…. I am James’s friend. You are…?” She fought hard to be civil, after all this was a friend of James’s, she had to be somewhat nice. The other girl was at least five inches, if not more, shorter than Naira. She was dark and rather muscular for a girl, but very beautiful. She looked at Naira like she was a piece of dirt. She opened her bright red mouth and said acidly, “I’m Lena. I’m sure James had mentioned me.” She looked at James expectantly.
“No, he hasn’t.”
“I’m his girlfriend.”
Naira’s heart sank into the pit of her stomach.