Vampire Code : The Fissure

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A fissure ran through the block of oak standing on Jaclyn’s workbench. Around this crack, she’d carve faeries, elves, dwarves, dragonflies, and wood nymphs.

On the reverse, if one knew to look, one would see the peering eyes of a demon. Bringing in one type of magic always let in the other.

The creeping-in had already begun. Her young neighbor Florinda walked past home from school with her head hung down.

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“Why so glum, little Flor?” Jaclyn asked.

“My ada finished the rail line. Did you hear that? Well, not him, but the people he bosses. And now it’s done, and he took Sparkie to go over there, but not me, I had to stay home with Rocket and Ama, but when Spark came back, he was sad.”

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“He was none too happy about that dark place, then?” Jaclyn asked.

“No, siree,” replied Florinda. “He says it’s creeply.”

“But he’s home now, safe as beechnut and sound as rabbit, is he not?”

He was.

“And he has a brave sister with a cheerful heart, does he not?”

He did!

“Then all is right in the world, and don’t you worry about the creeplies in the shadows.”

Florinda’s smile returned and she skipped up the hill.

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Jaclyn headed upstairs to the computer.

Sugar Maple was online.

“It has started,” she typed.

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“The two-way connection?” Sugar typed back.

“Yes!” Jaclyn replied. “That blasted goat-footed man. He should have stayed in the Wishing Well.”

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“We knew this would come,” Sugar replied.

Sugar and Jaclyn been expecting something like this since Cathy’s ill-conceived wish had pulled Brennan Stuckey out of the well. They’d hoped binding the two through marriage would forestall the encroachment.

After their twins were born, each full of such goodness, a swing in the other direction became inevitable.

They’d discussed plans and strategies, but until the connection was actually established, it was impossible to know what exactly to do.

“Keep your hope up!” Sugar typed.

Jaclyn closed her eyes and whispered a quick protection spell.

Spider of
Buttercup, dew drop
Yarrow, bluebell,
Spin a web round
The wishing well.

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“Let’s talk” Sugar typed. “Can you make it to the city?”

They agreed to meet at the Spice Festival at sunset.

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Though Jaclyn had never been to the city, she easily found her way from the rapid transit station to the Spice District. Sugar played her violin, and Jaclyn simply followed the pull she always felt from Sugar’s tunes.

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“Might as well have second supper,” Jaclyn said when she spied the table laden with falafal, curried eggs, and dal.

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“I’ve seen it all before,” Jaclyn told Sugar. “It was like this in the old place. First the trolls. Then the boogeys. Then before you knew it, we were hardly safe outside the warrens.”

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“But you survived,” Sugar Maple said. “It didn’t wipe your peoples out. And you found a balance, right?”

“We adapted,” Jaclyn said. “Protection spells, blessings, wildcrafting. All the rituals of the old ways kept us from being destroyed, at least.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Sugar. “You developed rune. We don’t have to look at this as the end of something. We can think of it as the beginning.”

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“It’s a barrow-full of toil!” said Jaclyn.

“That it is,” replied Sugar. “But then, I’ve never been averse to hard work. Have you?”

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Jaclyn supposed not.

“What’s this?” asked Nathanael, Sugar’s nephew-in-law, who’d come along for the festival. “Are you talking about work at a time for feasting?”

“Simply stringing the loom,” said Jaclyn, “so the warp is set when we’re ready for the weft.”

“Right then!” said Sugar.

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Jaclyn caught the whiff of willow catkins on the grill. She knew of only one man in these parts who had a taste for grilled catkin. Sure enough, near the picnic tables, her sweet-heart Davion dished up a plate of fresh-spring river willow catkins for sampling.

“What brings you here, Davi?” she asked.

“Had an inkling you’d be here,” he said.

“Aren’t you the charmer?”

Sugar came to say good-bye. “I’ve got some research to do,” she said. “Don’t worry, Jaclyn. We’ll find a way to protect who and what we love.”

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New World Symphony: Baggage

On her way home from Jaclyn’s, Cathy met Sempervirens.

“Out for an evening walk?” Cathy asked.

“Looking for fireflies,” Sempervirens said. “Do you know sometimes the lights disappear? Where do the fireflies go?”

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“Maybe they’re not fireflies!”

“What else would they be?” Sempervirens asked.

“Dancing lights over the meadows–what do you think they could be?”

“When I was a baby, I thought they were fairies, but Pierce at school says fairies are make-believe. Do you think Pierce is right?”

“Pierce probably is right about a lot of things, but like everybody, he’s also going to be wrong about some things. I’ve got a hunch that you might know best in this area.”

Sempervirens looked out over the meadow, where at that moment five yellow lights were dancing above the buttercups.

“Hey, Squid,” Cathy said. “I’ve got some news to share with you. What would you think about a new friend to play with?”

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“I love new friends!” said Sempervirens. “Me and Jennifer are thinking of starting a club.”

“Good,” said Cathy, “because I’m going to have a baby. Think the baby could join the club when it becomes a kid?”

“Yahoo! Jumping tadpole tales!” said Sempervirens. “That’s the best news! A new kid in the neighborhood!”

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It was late when Cathy got home. She wanted to tell Sugar next. Sugar was the natural leader of this community, always making the rounds, keeping track of every new development, always there when something was happening. It just made sense that she’d be one of the first to know. Besides, she and Cathy were great friends.

She invited her over in the morning.

Cathy expected her to be overjoyed at the news–her wide-eyed shock surprised her.

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But not nearly as much as the anger that followed.

“You simply can’t. How could you? I can’t believe it. This is so irresponsible. So regrettable! What were you thinking?” Sugar could barely get her words out.

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“I’ve never seen you so angry,” Cathy said. “I thought you’d be happy.”

“I would be happy if it were with anyone else. But Brennan? Do you even know what he is? Where is he from, anyway? What is he made of? I sense things about him, about where he came from and why he smells like sulfur. I just can’t believe how irresponsible first that you even brought him here, and now, that you’d have a kid with him? It’s dangerous to all of us and everything. Bringing people into this world bears a responsibility.”

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“I’m sorry,” Cathy said. “The wish was a whim. I realize that. But I love him. I can’t believe that anything connected with such love can be bad.”

“Love doesn’t excuse foolishness,” Sugar said. “It might cause it, but it’s no excuse.”

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Cathy shared with her the conversation she’d had with Jaclyn the day before.

“I can’t help but feel that there’s something greater at work here,” she said. “I don’t feel that any of this has been my choosing. It’s been something that needed to be done, and it’s being done through me, but none of it, not even that rose-water wish that brought Brennan here, is something that I woke up deciding I would do.”

“What was Jaclyn’s reaction when you told her you were expecting?” Sugar asked.

“She was excited. She actually whooped and did a fist-pump!” Cathy leaned in and whispered to Sugar. “She fed me sparkroot and flower petal sandwiches,” she confided. “For transformation, she said.”

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Sugar breathed a deep sigh of relief and laughed.

“So you went to the midwife and she put it all right?” Sugar asked.

Cathy nodded.

“All right. My anger was premature,” Sugar said. “Still, you gotta be careful in this. You can’t just go blundering into things you don’t understand.”

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Sugar stayed close to Cathy the rest of the day, watching her carefully while she went about her morning activities, gardening, baking, painting, and watching the clouds trace patterns in the sky.

“All right,” said Sugar towards evening, “I’ll be heading off, then. Call that husband of yours and share the news with him. Can’t do to surprise him with something like this after the fact. You just be sure you check in with Jaclyn with any questions or worries, and do everything she tells you, to the letter.”

It was easy to agree with such sound advice.

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Brennan came over at nightfall. He had an inexplicable touch of melancholy which the damp scents of the garden only deepened.

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“You look a little ripened, my butterfly,” he said when Cathy greeted him at the door.

She giggled. “That’s one way to put it.”

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She kissed his cheek. “We’re expecting,” she said. “Turns out I’m not too old after all!”

“Holy Jehosaphat!” Brennan shouted. “Who’s the man? Who’s the boss? You’re looking at him!”

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Cathy went in to prepare a supper of pasta with spinach and pumpkin seeds while Brennan stood at the stone threshold, sighing and smiling.

Before Cathy called him in for supper, onezero arrived. She and Brennan stood before the door without exchanging a word.

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Brennan waited while Cathy came out to share their news with onezero. He would never tire of hearing her say this.

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onezero feigned surprise, and then she shrugged and said, “I know already. Why else would I come tonight? I heard from Sugar, I heard from Jaclyn, but before that, I heard from the one thousand. It’s meant to be, plain and simple.”

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After supper, Cathy and onezero sat together on the couch while Brennan played video games.

“Would you like to spend the night?” Cathy asked. Somehow, she didn’t really want to be alone that night.

“Won’t Brennan be staying?” onezero asked.

“No,” said Cathy. “He never stays. Spiders, you know.”

The two friends talked well into the night, after Brennan left and the moon rose and the dancing yellow lights came out over the meadows.

“What was it like to have one parent that was a normal person and the other parents from another realm?” Cathy asked.

“Oh,” said onezero, “Chandler Adam was hardly normal! He had a kind and cheerful heart, my father did, and so, I always knew that I had been born in the right place. Your child will feel the same because of you.”

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While onezero slept in the upstairs room, Cathy played the piano. Even with the pregnancy, she could hardly sleep–there was just so much energy swirling around and within! It was something that music could express better than thoughts or words. She turned to Brahms and let the complexities of his intermezzo convey the feelings within her that she had yet to discover.

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New World Symphony: Club It, Homestyle

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“I knew life with you would be sweet as syrup,” Ren said to Sugar Maple, and they both giggled.

They had an easy and relaxed rhythm to their lives. Sugar was up and out much of the time, hiking through the neighborhoods, woods, valleys, and towns, visiting family and friends, playing music and painting plein air.

Ren tended to stay home. Their house was warm and comfortable. Their garden and yards were bright and secluded. And if she ever wanted to visit, plenty of friends could be found strolling the walking paths behind their house. For an artist like Ren, the quiet life at home was just the thing.

Still, it would be productive, she felt, if she could paint with a group of artists.

She explained her wish to Sugar. “Do you think maybe you could form a club for us, an artist club, so I could paint with some other artists?”

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“I’m in three clubs already!” said Sugar. “Any more and I’ll be over-committed! But you could form the club!”

“Me?” Ren asked.

“Sure!” said Sugar. “And hold your club meetings here! That way, I can still come without being an official member! I’ll be the honorary cookie-baker and musical mentor!”

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“Who should I ask to join?” Ren wondered.

“Everybody! Ask everybody you like and everybody you’d like to get to know!”

Shannon SimsFan happened to be jogging by right then. But she was already busy with Cypress’s Greenies club, her own career, spending time with her husband, and running, so she thanked Ren for the invitation and graciously declined.

“Let me know if you all have any art exhibitions, though!” she said. “I’d love to come!”

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Sabreene, who was also on a morning jog, was very interested in the club.

“Currently, I’m exploring the ways that art presents connection,” Ren said.

“That’s fascinating!” said Sabreene. “Is the club open to all styles of art?”

“Certainly,” said Ren. “And music, too. And even performance theater.”

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Sabreene was so glad to see that Sempervirens was in her aunt’s club. Sabreene and Vi met often when wandering through the fields and meadows near Vi’s house.

“How are the pollywogs?” Sabreene asked.

“Their tails are getting shorter!” said Sempervirens. “And one has little nubbly back legs already!”

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Sugar introduced Sabreene to Kitten Nell, another club member.

“I met Kitten at Jeffrey Pine’s wedding,” said Sugar. “I listened to her play Liszt all night!”

“I know!” said Sabreene. “Her music is so thoughtful. Inspired!”

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On piano, maybe. Kitten had yet to master violin. But Sugar, who has mastered the violin, though not the piano, mentored her. Perhaps Kitten would help her with her piano skills in exchange.

“The phrasing!” Sugar said. “Focus on the phrasing–you’ve got it! Like that!”

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Madison, who has also joined the club, was dismayed that the freezer bunny guitar was so out of tune.

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“Have you thought about getting one of those electronic tuners?” she asked Sugar.

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With the addition of onezero, the club was complete.

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“I just realized that it’s all women in this club!” said Ren to Sugar during a break at their first club meeting.

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“That’s OK,” said Sempervirens. “I like girl power. What’s the club name all about, Aunt Ren? What does ‘Painting, with Passion’ mean?”

“It means you paint from all of you!” said Ren. “Will all your feelings, all your intellect, your heart, mind, soul, and body.”

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When Sempervirens walked out to her drawing table, she saw Kitten, standing before her easel with the brightest smile–like there were stars coming from her.

“That must be painting with passion,” said Sempervirens. “I get it now!”

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“You did well,” said onezero. “The right inspiration, the right club! And just the right members. Not bad, Renaroonie!”

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Ren sat with a cup of coffee and soy milk out in the front courtyard. She heard strains of violin, piano, and guitar wafting through. Kitten and onezero laughed at their easels. Sempervirens sang at her drawing table.

For an artist, community is nearly as vital as solitude, realized Ren. And now, she had both!

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New World Symphony: The Aunts

“Hey, was that Squid?” Ren asked Sugar when a pint-sized dynamo went running past them one afternoon.

“It sure was,” said Shug. “Hey, Vi!”

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“Hi, Aunt Ren and Aunt Sugar!” Sempervirens said when she turned around and caught up with her aunts. “I’m on a mission! I need to write a report for school, and Mom said I’d get the best ideas over here!”

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“We are loaded with good ideas, Little Green!” said Sugar. “Idea number one: eat more cake! Sugar-free, carob cake for health, of course!”

“I like that idea! That way, I’ll have plenty of energy for homework!”

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“But what should I write my report on?” Squid asked.

“What are you interested in, Vi?”

“Everything!” Squid answered. “That’s what makes it hard to choose!”

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“Whenever I feel that way,” Ren said, “I always ask Sugar what she wants to know more about, then she asks me what I want to know about, and then when I say everything, she says, ‘Then start anywhere!’ See, it doesn’t really matter where you start, Little Green, because if you’re interested in everything, then everything is interesting!”

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“I really want to learn about magic!” Sempervirens said. “If I could write about anything, that’s what I’d write about!”

“Oh, I love magic,” replied Ren. “And so does your Aunt Shug. You have come to the right place!”

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Sempervirens met Miss Penguin on the back path.

“I’m writing a report on magic!” said Sempervirens.

“Oh, that’s great, Little Green!” replied Miss Penguin. “I bet Lil Penguin would love to read it. Do you want to share it with her sometime?”

“Oh, she’ll hear it at school,” said Sempervirens. “It’s a read aloud!”

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“Magic is a big subject,” said Sugar. “What aspect do you want to focus on?”

“The kind called enchantment!” said Vi. “You know, that makes you feel different? Like if you’re sad, then-then magic comes, and you feel happy!”

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“I think I know just what you mean,” said Sugar, and she picked up her best violin.

She began playing a sonata by Mozart. As Ren and Sempervirens listened, they felt the music’s enchantment encircle them.

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“How does it do that?” Sempervirens asked, as she took out her notebook.

“There are all sorts of theories about how music affects us,” Ren answered, “but I think that it has something to do with the vibrations, and how certain vibrational rates raise our own vibration, and then we’re lifted up to a happier energy!”

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Feeling inspired by the music, Sempervirens began to write.

My aunt Sugar is a magician, and her magic wand is a violin bow.

When she plays, you forget everything that might have ever bothered you. It’s like nothing matters but what’s happening right then.

When I asked my aunt Renée about that, she said it was because the music moves us into the moment right now, but our problems stay back then.

I have decided that I want to be smart like my aunt Renée and musical like my aunt Sugar. My aunt Renée says that I can be whatever I want. I’m a girl, after all.

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Her report done, Sempervirens went home.

Bryant Cho and Laurel Haas were there waiting for her.

“What’dcha write your report on?” Bryant asked.

“Girls, and how we can do anything,” said Sempervirens.

“I wrote mine on unicorns that talk backwards,” said Laurel, and then she left.

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Bryant, grumbling under his breath about how girls were stupid, headed into the kitchen.

But Sempervirens saw a new girl across the street. She looked neat. She was wearing an overall skirt like Sempervirens likes to wear, and she had super short hair like Aunt Sugar’s, only her hair was blue on top.

“Hi,” said Sempervirens. “Wanna be friends?”

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“Sure,” said the girl. “My name’s Jennifer. What’s yours?”

“I got lots of names!” replied Sempervirens. “In addition to my real name, which nobody ever calls me, they call me Vi, Squid, and Little Green! Take your pick!”

“I think I’ll call you Vi,” said Jennifer.

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Inside, Bryant was making good friends with an ice cream cone.

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He realized he didn’t have to make friends with Sempervirens to be able to hang out here and feast on the ice cream and popcorn that was always available. He could make friend with Vi’s dad, Knox. Knox was nice, he wasn’t a girl, and he liked Bryant’s jokes.

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“So the llama said, ‘Don’t stare at my mama!'” Bryant said, and they both laughed.

It was getting late, and Jennifer had to go home.

“I’m glad I met you, Vi,” she said. “I got a feeling we’re gonna be good friends!”

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New World Symphony: Walk With Me

Ren woke with the tickle of an idea. She and Sugar had been talking about wedding plans. They’d drawn up a few guest lists, considered venues (home was nice, but then so was Cypress and Knox’s garden), and had even begun to sample cake recipes. While tasting strawberry, chocolate, marzipan, and vanilla was fun, they both liked Shug’s sugar-free carob cake best of all.

That morning, Ren’s inspiration was to scrap it all and get married right then and there, with only their own private garden as witness.

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“I’ll beat you there!” Sugar joked as soon as Ren shared her idea.

The morning felt new, with that soft coolness that lingers before the sun drinks the dew.

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They met beneath the lemon tree. The flowers perfumed the air and a chorus of sparrows sang from the hedgerows.

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They shared words intended for only the two of them to hear.

Sugar surprised Ren with a ring that captured all the brightness that she felt whenever she looked at Ren.

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And, just like that, they were married.

They sat together at the poolside in the mid-morning sun, savoring their first moments as wives. They felt so much to be thankful for.

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“So shall we tell everybody?” Ren asked.

“Of course!” said Sugar. “I can’t keep my happiness a secret much longer!”

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They quickly got dressed and ran out to the path behind their house to tell the first people they saw, who happened to be Jaclyn Ball and Sugar’s nephew-in-law Knox McRae.

“Guess how we spent the morning?” Sugar said.

“We got married!” said Ren. And everybody clapped.

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“It’s a fine morning for a wedding,” said Jaclyn, as butterflies hovered around her.

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As soon as they got back to the house, Sugar received a congratulatory text from Redbud. Won’t be long before the news has spread to everyone, Sugar thought.

“Let’s celebrate!” Ren said.

So Sugar invited over all the family and as many friends as they thought could fit in their small house.

“Yeah!” said Sugar when she called to hire Cathy Tea as the caterer, “we’re skipping the boring part and just jumping right to the fun!”

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The romance of an elopement felt contagious to Cypress.

“I remember when Knox and I eloped,” she said. “We just got married right there in the garden, just the two of us!”

Sugar laughed. “Same here. Under a lemon tree, right?”

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Kit Dragonflight found it all so romantic–all these patterns that keep tracing through the family. Garden weddings, big parties, so much to love!

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While Raerei and Eddie joined the dancing in the bungalow, Ren and Sugar found each other circling their own universe.

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By the time their kiss ended, the room had emptied out and they were alone with the romantic songs playing on the stereo.

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“Hey, Eddie! Hi, Raerei!” called Miss Penguin in the main house. “Great party, right?”

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It was a great party. All the family was there, and so many friends.

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Ren looked over at Redbud, onezero, Nathanael, J. P., and Cypress, all dancing and laughing together. This was her family now, too! There was Sean Parodi, Ninja, Kit, Miss Penguin, and Rae–the family friends.

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As the party continued, guests began to drift off alone or in pairs, the way people do when wanting moments to reflect or to find deeper connections.

Jaclyn had volunteered to be the mixologist to make sure that the drinks contained a sprinkling of magic, and onezero was drawn to her. They didn’t speak any words, but they shared the connection that those with otherworldly ancestors exchange with each other.

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Inside, Miss Penguin and Sugar sat together in the bedroom.

“You seem so happy!” Miss Penguin said. “It’s almost like you’ve been waiting all your life for this!”

“Thank you,” said Sugar. “Life feels very ripe!”

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As evening settled, Cypress found solitude by the pool. There’s happiness and there’s joy, she thought. Happiness makes you run around and laugh, but joy’s deeper. It’s contains stillness.

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With her catering duties finished, Cathy Tea followed the sounds of the Goldberg Variations out to the garden patio, where Mesquite had begun the final aria.

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“Ready to go?” Nathanael asked onez, interrupting her and Jaclyn’s wordless exchange. Their farewells were wordless, too.

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After the guests left, the house and garden still felt abuzz with the party energy. Ren and Sugar wandered through the lot gathering the dirty dishes which had been left everywhere!

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Collecting the post-party dishes was a ritual Sugar observed fondly. It provides a moment for transition, she thought, a relaxing task to move from party-mode back into the quiet domestic scene.

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Sugar loved their kitchen–she’d made friends with the wood-burning stove and the old sink. Simple is sometimes better, she thought, washing the dishes by hand.

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Ren fell asleep, settling into the quiet while all the events of the day found their places within her. She had a new wife, a new family, and so many friends. And here, in the quiet of the night, she was still herself, still Ren.

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Sugar took her pink guitar out to the bungalow so as not to disturb Ren’s sleep, and there she played all the sounds and songs of the day, letting the music bring to her the integration that dreams brought Ren.

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New World Symphony: Wood

This beautiful refurbished barn, available on the gallery, was built by TheKalinotrOn. I highly recommend it! (And so does Sugar.)

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The old barn had been refurbished into cottage with private gardens. It stood beside the walking paths near the canyons and hills.

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The best part was that the lots beside it had remained vacant, so there was open space all around.

Sugar took one look at it and decided it was right for her.

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Living next to the walking paths had advantages, especially since one of her favorite people, Shannon SimsFan, took her daily runs there.

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It was also the path that Max Villareal trolled when scouting recruits for one of his gangs.  Sugar quickly discovered that Max wasn’t as tough as he pretended. Any kid who gets excited about blue butterflies has got a sweet side, even if it is kept hidden some of the time.

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As soon as she got settled in, the first person that Sugar wanted to invite over was Ren. She’d enjoyed the time they’d spent together at Cradle Rock. Back at the family home, though, there had always been someone around and always something to attend to, so Sugar hadn’t yet been alone with Ren.

That was a treat she’d been looking forward to.

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“Your new place is lovely,” Ren said. “How do you like it?”

“It’s incredible!” Sugar said. “It’s just the right size, and it’s so comfortable.”

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“And I like it even better with you in it,” Sugar continued. “Stay a while?”

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So Ren stayed over while Sugar continued making the old barn a home.

The appliances were antique, but Sugar found that charming; it meant she could upgrade everything. Back at the family home, all the appliances had been upgraded through the generations, so aside from maintenance and repairs, there weren’t many home improvement projects to work on.

She loved the challenge and satisfaction of making this old hardware better than new.

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Baking in a wood stove posed a challenge.

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When her first batch of cookies came out perfectly crisp and tender, she decided it was challenge she was going to relish.

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The old barn really felt like hers. And she wanted to share it.

She found that, for the first time in her life, she was able to discover her own dreams: not what the family wanted or needed, but the stirrings within her own heart.

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One evening, Sugar gazed out the kitchen window, and there was Ren, a night-time Sylph, swimming in the moonlight.

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In the mornings, Ren painted in the courtyard.

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Sometimes, they painted together.

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With Sugar’s mentoring and her own artistic talent, Ren’s skill with painting increased quickly. Soon , she was creating work that satisfied even her own perfectionism.

“Let’s be a couple,” Sugar said to Ren one morning. “Be my girlfriend!”

Ren didn’t hesitate. “Of course!” she replied. “It’s been predetermined!”

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The next evening, Ren surprised Sugar with a ring.

“Let’s make it more than symbolic,” Ren said.

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Ren moved in, and Sugar’s home now felt complete. They didn’t set a date for the wedding yet–no need to rush it any further.

“When we’ve got completion, we can take our time,” Sugar said, “face the future, and see where it leads.”

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The home sits on the edge of a broad field under the night sky with trees and paths and canyons and hills all around, and Sugar, like a sentinel, circles the perimeter with the chords from her guitar.

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Author’s notes: Ren and Sugar are a couple on another hard-drive, so we knew that they were compatible. I didn’t want to rush the relationship here on this computer: but Sugar did! The first time she had Ren over, she autonomously asked Ren to be her girlfriend, then she rolled the whim to marry her. We moved Ren in, and Ren proposed autonomously to Sugar! If they don’t autonomously get married, I’m looking forward to a big family wedding! We’ll see what their plans are!