Magic Makes my Life Less Lonely!
I’d cried myself to sleep the night before...thinking about all the wonderful people I’d leave behind, but I woke up determined. “I suppose I can hold a few more things...if you need me to,” Carton, the cardboard box said despite puffing itself out to expand its volume.
“No, it’s ok, Carton. I’ll just put together another box,” I sighed as I searched for the roll of tape. The cottage was a mess. My things were scattered around all over the place in loosely organized piles with me just sitting in the middle of it all, overwhelmed and upset. The fairy festival was last night and all I had done was cry. It took the combined might of all my little friends to pry me out of bed this morning to talk to them, and all I could tell them is that we were moving.
“Elio... I don’t understand why we have to leave…” Cushion whined.
“We just do, Cushion… I’m sorry,” I said as I halfheartedly fumbled through a pile of books.
“But what of your garden? Rosetta and Jasper will miss you!” Brew said, trying to organize some cups in the kitchen.
“I’ll miss Irina…and Mei.” Tooth admitted.
“And what about Alkan? You can’t just leave without talking to him!” Cushion looked at me, pleadingly.
Alkan…just the thought of him put me on the verge of tears once more. I plopped face-down into the couch and shoved my face into Cushion to avoid my friends' faces. I left him there...and he didn’t even come after me. He must have been so upset with me. I ruined the date...and now he doesn’t like me anymore. I’m so sorry...
“Ok everyone, let’s just keep packing ok?” Tooth said, trying to take control of the situation.
“But we don’t want to go!” Tick protested.
“Yeah, why are we moving anyway? It’s nice here!” Tock added.
“It’s because…” Tooth tried to say. “You weren’t there...in Crystalis before we came to Windbloom. If Elio feels he needs to move...then we move.”
“Elio’s never told us what happened in Crystalis though! Maybe if we knew, this would make more sense…” Cushion said.
“Please tell us?” Brew asked.
“I too would like to know,” Carton said.
“I don’t—” Tooth started.
“...And as the prince spoke the magic words, and he was released from his spell, free…” Novella recited.
There was a moment of silence, my friend waiting for me to say something… I felt Tooth hop onto the couch beside me, shuffling as close as it could.
“Elio...please…” Tooth whispered earnestly in my ear. The little comb had never asked to hear what happened, even back in Crystalis. I suppose it was time to share my story with my friends.
“Fine…” I said, with nothing but shame in my voice. “Basically...I was a failed wizard in Crystalis…” I propped myself back up and sat on the couch, staring into my hands.
“Preposterous! The great Elio, a failure? I find that hard to believe!” Carton exclaimed.
“Shhhh,” Tooth chided, “let him speak.”
“I mean...I was a good wizard, but...,” I tried to say. It was a hard story for me to tell, especially since I had never spoken of it since it happened.
“Take your time, I’ll put on a cuppa, alright?” Brew said kindly as hopped away to fill with water.
“I was a good wizard. My peers in the school all recognized I was powerful, with a natural affinity for magic. My one drawback was that my spells didn’t always...work properly…”
“You mean like with me?” Tooth asked. “You wanted a brush to comb your hair for you, but instead you got me, right?”
“Yeah...kinda…but you were better than what I expected,” I tried to say reassuringly. I didn’t want any of my friends to think they were mistakes. “After graduating, wizards are supposed to complete a year of service to...the royal family.” I buried my face in shame once more. I could feel the tears coming back, but I had to fight them.
“Wow, you worked for the King?” Tock asked.
“And the Queen?” Tick chimed.
“That’s so cool!” they cheered in unison. Little did they know…
“Actually, I was assigned to the crown princess...Princess Damla. She was such a sweet girl, and her beauty was known throughout the kingdom.”
“A beautiful princess...” Cushion wondered aloud.
“Quiet, you silly puff!” Tooth hushed the pillow, and Cushion just grumbled annoyedly.
“Even though I was in her service, we got on so well. I would even say we were friends. We would sit and talk and gossip, and I would always help her with her hair. Oh her hair...she was so proud of it. So long and curly, her radiant red locks shone in the sun. It was truly a sight to behold...”
“Must have been difficult to maintain—oops!” Tooth said, catching itself.
“Now look at who’s interrupting,” Cushion sneered.
“You’re right, Tooth,” I sniffled. “I often use magic to keep it controlled and healthy. It had grown extremely long and she refused to cut it. She loved having shimmering effects, glitter, basically anything that sparkled.”
“She sounds so preeeetttyyyyy! Did you get to help her with her dresses too? I bet you gave her great fashion advice!” Cushion smiled, mesmerized by the mention of a real life princess.
“Yeah I did, actually. One day—” I stopped. This is where the story got painful. “One day...the palace held a grand ball to find the Princess a suitor. Princes from far away kingdoms would be flocking to Crystalis and Damla was to be wearing the most exquisite fashionings magic could conjure. Crystalis is such a showy place, and the royal family relied on me to ensure they weren’t shown up by any of the guests.”
“Water’s ready!” Brew said as it hopped off the burner.
I stumbled off the couch and wiped the tears welling up in the corners of my eyes. I grabbed whatever tea was closest and dropped it into a teacup.
“She wanted an outfit that was the very definition of opulence and extravagance, so I gave it to her...” I said while Brew hopped over to pour some water in the cup.
“You should have seen it; layers of delicate fabric enchanted with the light of a rainbow. At every moment, Damla would glow with a vivid, iridescent light.”
I took a sip of tea. Peppermint. I threw some rose petals in too, not caring to strain them. Why bother…
“She sounds so gorgeous...” Cushion marvelled.
“It sounds like you did a splendid job, Elio!” Tick said, confused.
“Yes, I’m failing to see the issue.” Tock added.
“I think...I know what happens next,” Tooth confessed. It probably did…
“I needed her hair to match the dress, and I knew I could make it cascade in rainbows and sparkles like she wanted, but…” I gulped as I spoke, my hand shaking as I spilled some tea on the floor.
“Elio...” Brew said, sympathy pouring from it’s little mouth.
“I made it work, and everyone gasped when the Princess made her grand entrance. She was so beautiful, the long strands of her hair shimmed with the colors of the rainbow from root to tip…” Tears were flowing down my cheeks as I spoke, my head hung in shame. I tried to finish but it was so hard to stay calm. “But...but…”
“It’s ok, just say what happened,” Tooth said kindly.
“I had to use phoenix feathers to make it work but the spell didn’t go right, and her hair just kept getting brighter and brighter and brighter...so bright we had to look away. When we looked back, it had burst into flames!”
The shame of finally admitting it was too much. I crumpled to the ground and dropped the tea cup, shattering it across the kitchen floor. The memories of that night came flooding back. I could see Princess Damla, descending the grand staircase, the crowd below gasping at her immense beauty. I remember how I smiled at my success, until suddenly those gasps turned to screams as her hair ignited. It was...horrifying! I sat there and sobbed, releasing months and months of pent up fear and anxiety. Even though I felt terrible, somewhere inside me felt a little better to finally share the horrible secret with my friends.
“Oh my gosh!” Cushion gasped.
“You KILLED the princess?” Carton yelped from the corner.
“W-What?! No! The princess was fine!” I said between my tears. I couldn’t help but start to laugh a little at the situation. What must they think of me after that story...
“Oh dear…” Brew mumbled in the kitchen, slightly chuckling to itself.
“I mean...her hair did burn...but the guards extinguished the flames before anyone was hurt.”
“Phew! Still, it must have been so scary,” Cushion said, looking at the ground.
“Yeah… The ball was canceled, and all the princes went home. After the incident, I was the talk of Crystalis: a promising young wizard and confidant to the Princess, now an embarrassment to the entire royal court. I left service immediately and tried to work for myself for a short time. It was all too much though; the embarrassment was absolutely crushing. I felt like everyone was watching me…gossiping about what I did. Even my so-called friends seemed to not want to associate with me anymore…”
“Aww, Elio…” Tooth said sympathetically.
“So I retreated to my apartment, hiding in my room so no one would find me. I guess I fell into a deep depression. I wasn’t able to do even the most basic things…”
“That’s when you made me…” Tooth said, putting the pieces together.
“Exactly, to brush my hair for me, but instead…you talked to me and were my only friend.” I felt like crying again, but I just wanted to talk with my friends.
“I remember…you were so sad. I decided from that day on it was my duty to look after you and help you as much as a little comb could!” Tooth admitted. “I’m glad I was there for you...you’re still my best friend, Elio!” Tooth smiled, nuzzling up to me. We shared a smile and I petted it on the top of its little face.
“Hey! What about us?” Cushion protested.
“You all are my best friends.” I chuckled through a sniffle. “But now you know the truth. That’s when we decided to leave. I needed to hide, to get far away from Crystalis and all the bad memories. But…I guess they just followed me here. I embarrassed myself again in front of the whole town. I embarrassed Alkan and ran away… And now I know the princess has been looking for me? I have to leave Windbloom.”
The room was silent for a moment, everyone thinking about what I had said.
“Elio…we will always be with you, and if you feel like we should move...we support you!” Tooth said decisively.
“Yeah!” they all said in unison.
“…Onward to greener pastures and bluer skies…somewhere over the rainbow!” Novella recited.
I could feel myself tearing up again as I hugged each of my friends individually. For household items, I had some of the best friends anyone could ask for.
“Thank you all... This will be hard, but I don’t want anyone in Windbloom to be embarrassed to know me when they find out the truth—"
There was suddenly an unexpected knock on the door.
“Quick! Turn off the lights,” Cushion hissed, “pretend we’re not here!!”
Carton hopped to and turned off the switch in the living room.
“It’s probably better this way...I don’t know if I can deal with saying goodbye.” I whispered sadly.
“Elio? Elio! I know you’re in there!!” I heard an old raspy voice yell. “Open up! We gotta talk!”
Irina? I guess we were caught; nothing gets past her. I put on a brave face and opened the door. Irina shuffled inside, followed by the man I’d seen at the festival wearing the fancy hat.
“Irina? And…Mr. Bartel?” I said, confused.
“Please, call me Ernest. All my friends do!” The older man said with a gentle smile.
“Oh good, you’re already packing. This will make things so much easier, won’t it my little Barty-warty-puddingchops!” Barty…warty…? Did my attraction perfume really work so quickly?
“Indeed it will, my darling!” Mr. Bartel—Ernest cooed back. I guess the perfume, and maybe a few elbow jabs at Mildred, helped Irina score Mr. Bartel’s affections! It felt nice to see the fruits of my labor, and the mischievous old woman’s persistence, pay off before I left.
“Pleasure to meet you, Ernest!” I said as I stepped to the side and allowed the couple into the cottage. Ernest sat at one of the chairs while Irina inspected the darkened room.
“Oh, would you like some tea?” I offered, quickly turning on the lights.
“Dear boy...drop the polite stuff and sit. We need to talk.” She motioned with her hand for me to take a seat. What on earth would Irina need to talk to me about? Unless...the fairy festival.
“Of course...what about?” I asked.
“About you moving…” She rolled her eyes as she plopped down on the couch. One look around the cottage gave away my plan of leaving.
“Irina really does know everything that happens in town...” Cushion said with a giggle.
“Cushion, there are piles and boxes everywhere. Of course she knows,” Tooth sighed.
“Oh my! Who said that?!” Ernest looked around in a flurry, trying to locate the source of the voice.
“The pillow, dear. Oh, and the comb. Almost everything in here talks,” Irina said, waving her hand dismissively.
“Good to meet you, Ernest! I’m Cushion!”
“Oh! Well...nice to make your acquaintance!” Ernest tipped his hat to the pillow politely.
Cushion always liked making new friends...it was sad knowing we wouldn’t be here much longer. I brought the conversation back to the subject at hand.
“Yeah, well, I’m afraid I’ll be leaving soon...and please don’t try to talk me out of it.” I hung my head.
“Oh I won’t, don’t worry. Actually I want you to move!” Irina said with a slight smile.
“Hey!” Tooth piped up in anger.
“That’s meeeeeeean!!” Cushion whined.
“I wasn’t aware Irina was that way!” Tick said to Tock.
“Quite right...it’s shocking.” Tock shot back.
“It’s alright, everyone...I understand. Irina is just looking out for the town.” I guess they really want me to go after the debacle at the festival.
“Indeed I am!” she said happily. Really...they wanted me out this much?
“I get it...well I guess I’ll get back to—”
“And what better way to look out for Windbloom to bring our resident wizard into town,” she said with a confident cheer.
“—packing...wait what?” I must have misheard her. She wants me...closer to town?
“I mean really, the walk out here is such a schlep for an old woman like me. And yes, admittedly it might seem a little selfish but my goodness you live out in the boonies! Now listen, Ernest has a proposition for you.” The old woman sat at the edge of her seat, eagerly waiting for her beau to speak.
“Umm...ok…” I said, confused at the whole situation.
Ernest Bartel cleared his throat, and began: “Well young fellow, I’m afraid time catches up to all of us.”
“Oh it does though, doesn’t it?” Tick agreed from the wall.
“Finally, someone who understands the importance of time! I like him!” Tock said. Ernest offered an awkward smile and continued.
“Yes, well… I’ve had a long and successful career making hats to astound and amaze. My creations have rested on the heads of the homeliest of townsfolk to the highest of royalty. And yet...I’ve had no one to share it all with. Until now!” He gave a big laugh while looking over to Irina, and the old woman blushed and waved a hand in return. “I’ve loved this woman since the day I laid eyes on her, but it was only until recently I realized my fears were getting the better of me. So! I’m closing up shop! I want to spend the rest of my time with this lovely lady here.”
“Closing up shop?” I was shocked. A world without Bartel’s hats? “But you’re...you!”
“Yup, I’ve come to the end of my career as a shopkeeper. I’ll still dabble with hats, don’t worry, but the shop is just too much. That’s where you come in, young’un.”
“It’s a brilliant idea, and such a great opportunity for you!” Irina said with a crooked grin.
“I’d like the town I’ve lived in all my life to finally have a resident wizard. So what do you say? Do you want the shop?” Ernest asked.
“To...make hats?” Cushion asked, confused. Honestly I was too. What exactly are they asking me to do?
“No, dear boy, we want you to move to Windbloom, take over the space and open your own shop!” Irina leaned back smugly in her hair, smiling all the while.
I gulped. This was Irina’s plan?! I couldn’t go back to Windbloom...I’d already made a fool of myself, and I’m sure the royal family would be on to me soon. Only by moving all the way out here, and away from any potential of being seen or known was I able to begin to heal.
“I-I…” I began shakily. “I really appreciate the offer...but I’m not—”
“And what a great offer it is, right? Where else would you be off to in such a hurry anway?” Irina asked, gesturing at all the boxes
“Now now, let’s not interrogate the poor lad—” Ernest tried to say.
“Oh shush! What do you have to think about? You’d be in the middle of town and I could come and patron your business daily!”
I could feel my stomach churn and beads of sweat form across my forehead.
“Lad, the choice is ultimately up to you. We’re not here to pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to. But if I may, our town has been growing at a rate I’d never thought I’d see… The people would benefit greatly from having a talented wizard directly in town to help everyone!”
“I understand, b-but—”
“Elio, what if I said I only discovered you because I happened to venture out this way by chance one day?” Irina asked.
“I’d say you made that up, darling!” Erenst added playfully. “You’re in everyone’s business.”
“Oh hush! So what if I am?” she playfully jabbed at Ernest’s side before they both broke into a fit of laughter.
“It’s an incredibly generous offer, Mr. Bartel...Ernest. I’ll...have to give it some thought.” I tried to sound upbeat, but I bit my lower lip nervously trying to stay calm.
“Please do, dear, but don’t take too long!” Irina said, smiling. “Well, we won’t keep you, Elio,” she said as she dug in her purse, pulling out a few gold pieces. She handed them to me. “Here, for your time!”
I waved my hands politely, rejecting the payment. “N-No, it’s ok! I didn’t do anything today, magic-wise for you!”
“Shush, you! Consider it a house-warming gift! Or if you prefer, a downpayment on that hex you’re one day going to help me with!” she chuckled.
Irina came close and pushed the gold into my chest, giving me a little hug as she did. This was odd, she was never one to be so...touchy-feely. As she did, she whispered something quietly into my ear that stopped me cold and made my eyes open wide.
“Did you say hex? Who’s getting a hex?” Ernest asked nervously.
“Nothing to concern yourself with, unless you get fresh with me!” Irina said playfully. He chuckled, buying into her sass.
“Now, I expect to see you around. Don’t go disappearing or anything, you hear?” Irina said sharply with a stern look showing she wasn’t to be argued with. I could only nod. “Have a good day, Elio!”
“Yes, take care lad! Wonderful to meet you!” Ernest said.
“You too…” I managed to say, still stunned by Irina’s quiet words.
“In all my years in this sleepy little town...I never thought we’d have the opportunity for our very own wizard,” Ernest exclaimed, turning to Irina.
“Agreed. Let’s hope our young friend here decides to come.” Irina smiled at him, and talked about me the way old people do sometimes, as if I wasn’t in the room. I waved as they left, and Ernest shut the door with a final smile.
The entire room began to fade away and I was left there, standing on my own, completely overwhelmed by everything that had happened. Not just the festival, not confessing everything to my friends, not Mr. Bartel’s offer… It was what Irina whispered before she left that was echoing in my mind.
“Elio?” Tooth’s muffled voice broke through the confusion and snapped me back to reality.
I had somehow sat down on the couch, staring off into the distance.
“Elio, you ok? You’re crying…” Cushion said with concern.
Was I? I touched my hand to my face and felt my heels were wet with tears.
“What did she say to you, Elio? I know she said something,” Tooth gently asked.
“She said…” I started, my throat closed and dry. “She told me not to run away...that I’ve never looked so happy than when I was dancing with Alkan…”
“She knows Alkan?” Cushion asked, sounding surprised.
“I’m sure he’s paraphrasing, but that’s not important,” Tooth chided the pillow. “Elio...what are you going to do?”
She saw me...and Alkan… Nothing ever gets past Irina. But she doesn’t know the whole situation with the royals. And Alkan’s a viscount, my shame would destroy him...or did he know everything already? Or was he actually a vampire and just lying to me? Should I even entertain moving to Windbloom? Where was I running to anyway? Too many questions, my head was spinning and I felt faint. I could feel myself falling back onto the couch.
“Elio!” Tooth called again.
Somehow, Cushion had managed to roll under my head and catch me before I hurt myself.
“Brew, we need hot water, stat! Catron, bring that blanket over here!” As Tooth barked orders to the others, they all jumped too and moved quickly to help. “Tick, Tock, no arguing!”
“Roger!” Tick affirmed.
“Who’s Rog—err, right!” Tock agreed.
“Just lie back and relax, Elio. You’ve been under so much stress lately. Let your friends take care of you, ok?” Tooth said kindly.
“Really, I’m fine… I need to pack,” I said, trying to get up.
“No you don’t! Today just became a chill day,” Cushion yawned. “You don’t have to do anything… Let’s take a nap instead, ok?” it said as it snuggled up against me.
“The pillow is right, no need to rush anything!” Tick said.
“Time is usually of the essence, but in this case...you can afford to wait.” Tock agreed.
“But—” I tried again to speak.
“No, Elio,” Tooth said softly. “You are in no shape to make any decisions until you’ve had time to process everything. I let you run away last time...I’m not letting you do it again.”
“Tooth…” I had never seen my little friend so genuinely concerned.
“When you feel better, and you still want to leave...nearly everything is packed. But for now, I think you need to eat.”
“...Alright,” I said weakly. I guess I hadn’t really eaten since the day before. “I’ll make some food...but I’m so exhausted.” I sighed.
“Water’s ready!” Brew called.
“Sit, Elio...I’ll take care of it. We can make you some instant noodles quickly.” Tooth smiled as it hopped off to the kitchen.
“Thank you, Tooth...and everyone, you’re truly the best. I couldn’t ask for more supportive friends. I’m so lucky to have you all.” I smiled and let myself sink further into the couch. Tooth, indeed, took care of the quick meal for me—some of the best instant noodles I had ever eaten. After I’d finished eating, I laid on the couch.
“Novella, a relaxing story, would you please?” Tooth asked.
The little book began reciting a happy tale about a sweet grandmother and a magic teapot. And I felt myself begin to relax. I guess I really needed the rest; I was so stressed and anxious over my life crumbling around me. My mind drifted between Novella’s story and the events of the last few days. The Fairy Festival. Princess Damla. Mr. Bartel’s hat shop. Alkan… I passed out before I knew it.
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