Bride of Alvar – First Five Chapters

PROLOGUE

At the vulnerable age of eight, in the basement of my childhood best friend’s house on a cold, late December evening, I shared my big secret for the first time.

Emily Hall’s family lived in a two-story colonial in an upscale suburb in Elmhurst, Illinois. Compared to the one-bedroom apartment my mother and I shared, it was the ideal place to play in the winter months.

“What’s your boy’s name?” Emily asked me.

We’d recently gotten our first Ken dolls for Christmas from Emily’s parents. My mother discouraged Barbie dolls, but I’d hidden a secret stash of them at Emily’s.

“Mine is named Greg. He’s a news anchor. Like Amanda’s dad,” Emily said.

“Mine’s name is Alvar,” I announced.

“Alvar?” Emily wrinkled her nose at me. “That’s a silly name!”

“What are you talking about? It’s a great name!” I declared, defensive of Emily’s dig at the person my mother had placed on a pedestal for me since I could talk. “It’s the name of my future husband and—”

I covered my mouth with one hand.

Oh-my-gosh! I shouldn’t have said that!

My mother had instructed me not to tell anyone, and up until that time I’d ensured my secret didn’t get out.

Mom would say, “Lucy, your life here on Earth doesn’t matter. And this is good because it means you don’t have to worry about anything. When you’re old enough, your life will become a real fairy-tale! The magical king, Alvar, will come and sweep you away to live in his castle with him. Can you imagine, Lucy? A castle! Why will he do that for us you ask? You need to marry him, Lucy, so you can create a treaty with his world for us.”

“What are you talking about?” Emily’s tone was hushed, and her expression went from teasing to curious as if my secret were exciting to her… as if I were somehow special.

Butterflies came alive in me.

Happiness over the fact that poor, awkward, nobody Lucy could be interesting to her cool, popular friend, bubbled through me. Newfound bravery swelled within me. If anyone could hear about it, Emily, my best friend in the whole world should know.

Maybe she’ll even think I’m cool!

I’d never been the cool girl; my secret kept me bound to sitting on the outside looking in.

“Don’t tell anyone, it’s supposed to be a secret,” I said, and glanced around the playroom, checking if Emily’s little brother was hiding behind the pool table or if her parents had left the door open on the stairs.

Emily leaned forward and nodded at me, excited and interested, encouraging my transparency. “Okay,” she said, “I promise, I won’t tell anyone!”

“My mom told me I’m going to save the world someday by marrying a king called Alvar,” I whispered to her.

“A king?” she asked, her eyes wide.

“You know like in those fairy tales you read? Well, they’re real! Alvar is the king of another, magical world. There’s this portal that connects our worlds and Alvar—”

“Lucy, what the hell are you talking about?” Emily interrupted me, using a grown-up swear word for emphasis. She frowned, her eyes widened. “You’re not serious… are you?”

“Yeah, I mean, not really…” my voice trails and fear gripped me.

This is why Mom told me not to tell anyone. 

I’m so stupid for talking about this.

“No, Emily, I was just kidding! It’s just a joke,” I said and tried to laugh it off, my heart rate steadily rising as every horrible second after my revelation passed.

Too late to take it back.

“But you were serious,” Emily said pointedly, fear for my sanity in her eyes, she dropped her dolls and scrambled up off the carpet. “That is really, really weird, Lucy, and I hate to tell you this, but your mom… is a liar.”

Before sharing my big secret, I’d felt separated from all the other kids. But seeing the reaction on my best friend’s face, I learned I was an island, separated from the rest of the world by my mother’s insanity and my stupidity in believing her.

ONE

Contrary to a large part of the female population, trying on wedding dresses isn’t my idea of a good time. I’m one who hates any sort of spotlight.

However, every prospective bride needs a wedding dress, and I’m a bride. So, here I—unfortunately—am at an upscale wedding dress shop located in downtown Chicago.

Why am I not eloping?

While I sit, waiting for my wedding dress consultant, Victoria, to return with a gown, I fidget with the rubber band I perpetually keep on my wrist to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of my past.

To make matters worse, everywhere around me are brides excited to try on their gowns with their gushing and over-opinionated mothers.

I’m all too aware of why my mother isn’t here, and it’s not because she’s dead, disabled, or abandoned me.

No, all those reasons would be way too normal for my life.

If my Mom were here, she’d tell me I’m making the worst decision of my life to marry Michael Jones. She’d also say that my life and the lives of everyone on Earth are at stake by doing it.

For a long time, I’d fought her, trying to reason with her delusions, now I’ve just accepted it: I live in reality, and my mom doesn’t.

Rubberband snap. I’m present.

“Hello? Earth to Lucy!” my best friend, Emily, says, waving a hand in front of my eyes.

“Stop it, Em!” I playfully knock her hand from my view. She’s the only one here to watch me sift through gowns.

“You look like we’re here to choose a casket for your funeral,” Emily says, an exasperated expression on her pretty face. “Smile! We’re going to get the dress today!”

“Yeah, I know,” I mumble.

“What is wrong then?”

“My mom,” I say without emotion. I don’t cry about it anymore to Emily. Now it’s only the internal turmoil, the feeling I’m betraying the woman who raised me whenever I do something for myself, that torments my mind. “She wouldn’t approve of Mike.”

I hate that this is who I am: Raised a freak because of my mother’s madness.

“Yeah, but the important thing is you approve of Mike,” Emily soothes and hugs me. “And you realize she only doesn’t approve because she thinks she promised you to the King of Wonderland before you were born.”

“King of Underland actually,” I remind her under my breath. You’d think Emily would know by now. We’d talked about it enough over the years.

“Lucy, she is unwell, and remember what your therapist told you? Stop feeling guilty about her delusions and remember the years of emotional abuse,” Emily rubs my back. “Look! Victoria’s back with the dresses.”

“Are you okay, dear?” Victoria asks.

“She just misses her mom,” Emily covers for my expression. “Lost her mom when she was six.”

I don’t stop Emily from lying for me about it is because the truth is stranger than fiction.

“I’m so sorry, dear,” Victoria says, she takes me gently by the arm and ushers me toward the changing booth. “Come with me, and we’ll start trying on these dresses. You are going to look so beautiful.”

Minutes later, I walk out of the dressing room and show off the gown in the mirrors to Emily. My hair is ash brown, my eyes are light brown, and my skin is a subtle tan, dark enough that I don’t burn in the sun quickly. I’m not beautiful, but I’m grateful for my under-the-radar appearance. I don’t like being noticed in a crowd.

Emily has always said I’ve got a “girl-next-door” thing going for me, but I’m pretty sure that’s her nice way of saying “Plain Jane.”

“Oh my gosh, you look amazing! You sexy thing! I wish I looked that good in white!” Emily showers me with embarrassing, over-the-top compliments as best friends are supposed to do when you try on wedding dresses with them.

“I think this is the one,” I say, my eyes flickering to the EXIT.

I don’t care what I’m wearing so long as I marry kind, uncomplicated Mike, and put the past behind me.

“There is no way you’re only going to try on one dress!” Emily laughs at me.

I turn back toward the dressing room in time to see Victoria with another dress on her arm in a bag.

He wants you to try this one on,” Victoria says while taking the plastic off of it.

“He who?” I give a half laugh at her randomness.

“Alvar,” Victoria says.

“C-can you point him out?” I stutter, swallowing hard and feeling the blood drain from my face.

Alvar is not a common name here in the states… or anywhere actually.

“He’s over there by the reception desk,” Victoria says, nodding in that direction. She pulls the dress out of the plastic, and my eyes widen. “Said he wanted Lucy Hammond to try this dress on for him.”

“I can’t afford that, Victoria. And did you say Alvar told you to put this on me?” I laugh nervously. “I don’t know anyone named Alvar.”

“Of course you don’t,” Victoria whispers with a giggle. She gives me a “we know a secret” type of smile. “I won’t mention it to your friend. And just so we’re clear, Alvar said, don’t worry about the price. He will buy it for you. You’ve got a very generous, very gorgeous ‘friend’!” She winks at me.

And now she thinks I’m having an affair. 

Despite my mortification and embarrassment, I can’t help myself. I let her help me into the exquisite gown.

The strapless corset bodice ends in a dropped waist and is embedded and embroidered with sparkling stones.

Real gemstones?

With shaking hands, I run my fingers over them. I know by touch and quality of the fabric, it has to be expensive. The skirt flows out in a sea of white around me.

My heart pounds in my chest as I look up into the dressing room mirror.

I never thought I could look like a princess until now.

Victoria leads me back to Emily.

The gown flounces in a graceful sway as I walk.

Emily doesn’t say anything at first. Her eyes get buggy, and her lower jaw drops a little.

“Wha-what do you think?” I break the silence with a stammer.

I still can’t believe I put this luxurious gown on considering the circumstances.

I’ll admit, this “Alvar” has good taste.

“It’s—like—you’re a complete goddess!” Emily’s voice gets all gushy, and she circles me studying every angle of the dress. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful,” she breathes. “I would marry you in this!”

“I’ll just tell all the guys you’re taken then,” I tease, trying to lighten my anxiety with a joke.

Emily loves guys. Yeah, that’s right. Plural.

When Emily was eleven, she’d had her first “boyfriend” and a fake wedding where I was the maid of honor.

Poor, little Timmy Richardson was the first guy out of many to have his heart broken by her.

I tell Emily I’m getting the dress, but I’m lying. I will not get a dress “Alvar” supposedly picked out for me.

My blood chills just thinking about it.

But who would be so cruel as to play a prank like that on me?

I don’t have any “enemies” to speak of. My weird upbringing has left me socially incapacitated besides Emily and Mike.

I thought I put the bullies behind me in High School.

After Emily and I part ways, I drive to the grocery store and can’t stop thinking about Alvar’s name getting dropped.

So sick! Whoever that was, they’re a jerk.

Just when I’m trying to put my past behind me living a lovely, quiet, life married to a regular guy, and have his kids in my rebellion to the way I was raised; someone decides to throw a twist in the knife which is my past.

Well, screw them!

Mike, my fiancé, is a promise of a fresh start for me. Mike and I met in college. When he asked me to marry him, of course, I’d said yes. His proposal felt like my ticket out of Looney-town.

I want stability in my life — stability I’d never had as a child. Mike knows ours isn’t a passionate love affair; it’s a solid friendship. A comfortable arrangement we’re both satisfied with.

At that thought, I call him.

Need anchoring. Rubberband snap!

“What’s up?” Mike answers after the second ring.

“Hey, babe,” I say.

“How did the dress shopping go?” Mike asks.

“I didn’t find one. I’m about to get some groceries,” I say, keeping it casual, and realizing I’m too embarrassed to talk about my run-in with Alvar.

“Great, I’m starving,” Mike says.

“I take it you’re coming over for supper?” I ask him with a laugh.

“Definitely, Lucy,” Mike says.

“See you at 5:30 then! Love you!” I say, but not sure I’m all for him inviting himself considering my day.

“Love you too!” Mike says.

I enter the grocery store and hold my list up to my nose for a quick recheck.

Okay. Eggs. Milk. Butter—all the usual suspects.

I head to the back of the store to the dairy section. As I am bending to get a carton of milk someone taps my shoulder, so I jolt, dropping the milk on the floor only to see it split open in a wet crash all over someone’s expensive black leather shoes.

“I am so sorry!” I exclaim, not sure why I am the one apologizing because they’d been the one who’d snuck up on me in the first place.

“No, I’m sorry for scaring you like that,” a deep voice comes from the stranger, sending shivers down my spine.

I look up at the owner of the shoes and heat flushes to my face. In addition to his dark, deep, melted-chocolate voice, he’s got a powerful presence. So tall his broad chest is at my eye-level, and he’s muscular too.

Oh. He’s one of those guys.

At least that’s what Emily terms to dark, mysterious, male strangers who make you uncomfortable for reasons you can’t explain.

Suddenly, I’m touching my hair and giving a nervous giggle like an idiot.

I’m a freaking engaged woman! What is wrong with me?

“I’ll pay for the milk,” he says apologetically.

Besides, his general clean masculine exterior, his face throws me. A thick, intrusive scar lines across his right cheekbone and up over his eyebrow, marring an otherwise sinfully handsome face.

That scar almost goes through his eye! Bet there’s a nasty story behind it too. Who would mess with this guy though?

“Oh, there is no need! I shouldn’t be so jumpy,” I try to recover as gracefully as my socially awkward self allows.

“I thought you were someone I knew,” the unreasonably beautiful stranger says.

“Oh,” I gasp. Why am I unbearably hot right now?

I’m sure he’s going to leave and go about his business and I will never see him again.

Thank goodness, too. Men like him should have nothing to do with mousy librarian-types like me.

Since when has any man made me this nervous?

“I’m pleased to see I was correct. Lucy, forgive me for not saying so, but I’m Alvar,” he says, his blue eyes are fixed on me as if I were a work of art. He leans down to my height, lips inches from mine. “Forgive me, but your beauty is captivating, may I kiss you, my bride?”

“How dare you! No—no, you may not!” I stutter, backing away, my head spinning. My feet are unsteady, and I practically trip over a produce kiosk.

“Pity, your lips look so soft,” he murmurs, his eyes fixed on them so my hand instinctually rises to cover my mouth.

I’m frightfully aware of how this stranger’s words are affecting me in a way I’ve never experienced, even around my own fiancé.

“However, I don’t know much about Earth customs and I can see you wish to keep this formal. I shall respect this. See you again soon, lovely Lucy.”

He takes my hand and kisses the back of it.

Like he’s stepped out of a fairytale, Prince Charming comes to rescue his fair maiden.

I stare at him dumbstruck. How can this be real? Where his lips touched burns into my hand. He rises and goes on his way, turning into an aisle.

For a moment I stand frozen in place, scrambling to gain back control of myself.

Go after him. Tell him off!

I shake myself awake and hurry after him.

I scan the entire store, but the stranger is nowhere to be seen.

Vanished. Like magic.

The memories come flooding in of my strange childhood. I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone. The years of isolation and anxiety forced on a young girl whose mother made her believe she was going to save the world by marrying a king are not pleasant.

I’d convinced myself to stop believing in her delusions. Emily had helped me get over them and embrace normalcy.

I pull my phone from my pocket and dial Mike up. I’m too polite not to keep him in the loop on my whereabouts.

“Hi—hi, Mike,” I stutter. “I—I was wondering if you can cancel dinner plans with me tonight?”

“Sure,” he pauses, then, “Is something wrong?”

“No,” I rush, almost interrupting him. “I need some time… alone. I think I am obsessing too much about Mom and—and—”

“I understand,” Mike interrupts, “don’t worry about it, babe. Have a good night.”

“You too.” I hang up the phone and slip it into my pocket.

Instead of finishing my shopping, I leave the cart where it is and head straight to my car.

I’m going to hate myself for this, but I need to see my mom.

 

TWO

“What are you doing here, Lucy?” Mom asks, opening the door to her apartment and stepping aside so I can come in.

Upon seeing my mother in the old apartment I’d grown up in, I’m immediately fighting off my guilt for not visiting her more often.

My mom doesn’t take care of herself.

I’m not surprised either because I’d always taken care of us.

Our little home had been drab, but tidy when I’d lived with her. Now unread mail covers the dining table, protein bar wrappers litter the dirty shag carpet, and old cereal boxes sit open on the kitchen countertop.

“I came to talk to you about—” I stop myself. It’s so hard to say it. “Alvar,” his name is managed in a whisper.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Mom walks over to the window of her apartment gazing away from me at the rain pattering on the glass in glistening droplets.

“But I met him today,” I blurt out.

Mom’s gaze snaps from the rain to me.

“You met him?” Mom says, her tone dripping with sarcasm. She may lack in terms of housekeeping, but dramatics are her forte.

“I am pretty sure I did.”

“What did he look like?” Mom’s voice is hushed with shock, and perhaps she didn’t expect me to be serious about seeing Alvar.

“Tall, with dark hair and blue eyes. Looked no more than thirty-five,” I mutter. “There was a striking white scar on his face.”

“Just like I remember him!” A tear falls from one of Mom’s tired grey eyes.

“Just like you remember him? How is that possible?” I cross my arms over my chest, a wall to protect myself from slipping back into her delusional world. I snap the rubber band on my wrist a couple of times.

“His world is so different from ours, including aging and time passing,” Mom explains. “But we need his world to be at peace with our world or all we know will be lost.”

“You’re not telling me he’s like a fairy or elf. He’s human, right?” The words sound like madness as they escape my lips.

Crap. I can’t believe I’m starting to believe in Alvar. It’s just all too uncanny.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if his people spun many of those beliefs into existence,” Mom says with brief amusement crossing her face. “But his world is called Axus, and he rules the most powerful country in that world: Underland.”

“I know,” I say dryly. It’s all coming back. All that I’d pushed from thought to preserve my sanity. I remember Axus, Underland, my wedding plans…

“You know? You know now, huh?” Mom gets up from her chair, and she crosses and paces in front of me in her living room, slippers crinkling against the plastic wrappers.

“Uh, Mom, let me—pick that up,” I say, out of instinct, I kneel and start gathering up the garbage.

“I would keep this place clean if you hadn’t left me as you did!” Mom says, back at her old game of blaming me for all her problems.

“Mom,” I say, taking a deep breath. I have to say it though. “I’m getting married.”

“You certainly are getting married, Lucy! You’re getting married to Alvar, and from what you’re telling me, it’s going to be soon.” Mom drops to sit on the old blue sofa we’ve had for as long as I can remember.

I draw in a deep breath and say slowly, “No, Mom, I’m marrying Mike.”

She glares at me in disbelief.

As if Mike’s the man from another world.

“Who the hell is Mike?” her tone sharp and accusing.

“Mike is the friend I introduced you to at my graduation party. The one you freaked out about.” I drop the trash.

 That’s it. Mom will never treat me as an adult. I can’t keep doing this to myself.

“Does Alvar know?” Mom asks, snorting at the fluttering wrappers.

“Um, I didn’t tell him if that’s what you’re asking,” I say pointedly.

“He mustn’t find out you are trying to marry another or everyone you know, everyone you love will be in danger.” Mom’s face dims white as a sheet. She seems haunted with memories of something I do not know, but the idea of a large, intense man like Alvar causing danger to anyone does not surprise me.

“Sit down, Lucy. I think you need your memory refreshed,” Mom whispers, patting the sofa.

I do as I’m told, like I always do, despite every part of me wanting to reject her reality as my own.

“Alvar told me he needed an Earth-human bride to keep peace with our world,” Mom begins.

Either we’re both crazy, or she’s telling the truth.

“I made a promise to Alvar that you were to be his.” Mom doesn’t look me in the eye while saying this. She stares at her hands folded in her lap and sighs. “You were going to die while you were still in the womb and I told him that if he’d save you—”

“So you promised me to this person before I was born? Is he like the God or something? Having powers like that to save a life?” I ask.

“No, his people have abilities we do not have. Abilities to cause healing,” Mom’s crying as she talks now. “I explained so many times while you were growing up how I had to save your life even if it meant that…” her voice trails.

“I’ll be enslaved my entire life to a dangerous king — who is way older than me — who requires a human bride to keep peace with our world?” I finish for her and shake my head. My stomach is churning, and I fear I’m going to vomit. “That sounds like a great life to look forward to if you ask me.”

“Some of the people of Axus are not friendly toward humans. Alvar does this so his kingdom cannot attack our world and take it for their own,” Mom says. “He is saving us by this diplomacy. His powerful kingdom is in treaty with all other countries in Axus, and if he says not to attack, no one will dare attack.”

“I can’t be his bride. How do I let him know he needs to choose another because I’m taken now? Sorry, buddy, you are too late,” I say, jutting my chin forward.

“You can’t be taken. You have been his chosen bride for many years. The agreement was for you, and only you, to become his queen at his appointed time,” Mom states firmly. “To tell him you are not his bride would be more than a horrible insult to him and his people. It would mean war between them and us.” She pauses and sucks in a breath. “And I believe they will win.”

How does she know that though?

“So what do I do? What do I tell Mike?” I ask, crossing my arms over my chest. “What do I tell my friends?”

“Your friends?” Mom sniffs. “You mean that bitch, Emily?”

“Mom, you’ve never liked any of my friends because they didn’t believe you and encouraged me not to believe you. Don’t you realize how crazy you sounded talking about another world needing a bride from here to keep the peace? How backward and medieval that sounded to every friend I’ve ever had?”

“They turned you against me!” Mom shrieks back, “I understand it sounded crazy, but everything I ever told you is the truth! Now you believe me because you’ve seen things you can’t explain too. You should have always believed me, Lucy. I’m your mother, but you only believe now because you see!”

There she goes making me feel guilty.

I snap my rubber band, so it hurts.

“Alvar told me I could live in Underland to help you prepare for the wedding and then to live with you,” Mom informs me with a triumphant smile. “I couldn’t have given you up otherwise.”

I don’t know if that’s supposed to sound comforting, but I don’t bother arguing with her. Instead, I ask, “When will that be?”

“Since he’s visited you like I said before, it will be soon.”

“How soon?”

“I’m guessing within the week since your birthday is coming up,” Mom says, giving me an annoyed expression. “I’m done talking.”

“Okay.” I get up from my seat. “Bye, Mom. I’m-I’m sorry again that it’s been so long since we’ve spoken.”

“It doesn’t cut it, does it?” Mom says, blinking glassy eyes at me rapidly. “I love you, but you hurt me by not believing me.” She stops as her voice choked, and the tears begin to fall. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive you, Lucy.”

The words and her expression cut me deep.

I leave her and stumble out the door of her apartment fighting to maintain peace of mind, but it’s impossible. My life revolves in a toxic circle I can’t get out of: Everyone else guilt-tripping me for believing Mom, and Mom guilt-tripping me for thinking her delusional.

And then that all too familiar feeling of “I am lost, I don’t belong here” creeps in and holds me captive. I don’t want to be the bride of Alvar. I didn’t choose this. Alvar hasn’t even asked me to marry him! Doesn’t he know you don’t just betroth people in this day and age anymore?

Mike calls me while I’m in the car and I sigh with relief. Mike’s comfortable, and what’s better, he makes me comfortable.

“Hey, are you okay, Lucy?” Mike asks. “You sounded weird on the phone earlier, and I just wanted to check in.”

I tense my grip on the steering wheel.

“I don’t want to talk right now,” I say, pushing all of the madness away, fighting to be with Mike where things are comfortable and stable.

“You visited your mom, didn’t you?” Mike asks.

“Yeah.” Damn it, he knows me too well.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Mike rebukes. “I keep telling you. You need to move on from her. You should have talked to me before going.”

Everyone thinks they can tell me what to do.

Emily. Mom. Mike. Alvar. They all have a plan for me. My entire life is mapped out differently by each of them.

I give a disgusted groan and hang up the phone on him.

All conversation has to stop. I need somewhere quiet to brood. I park by a coffee shop and get myself a latte because coffee is life.

Since I don’t want to get back into my car, I perch myself on the curb and watch the cold mist of the late autumn float around an old cornfield the coffee shop faces.

I shiver as I sip down the warmth of my latte.

If Alvar is real, and if he is coming for me, I’ll have to leave this, Earth, behind.

This world is everything I know. It is where I grew up.

“Underland is a tropical climate. There is no winter in my kingdom. I believe you’ll like it in Underland, Lucy.” The voice is familiar.

“Alvar,” I say, and notice the man I saw in the grocery store is sitting next to me on the curb. “Where did you go off to?” I dryly ask because my life is a shit-show, I might as well make some humor out of it.

Alvar hands me what looks like an old piece of paper. “Here is the agreement,” he says.

On that yellowed paper, in bold black ink are these words:

Under oath to Elias, the God of Light, on this day of Earth, October 10, 1993, and this day of Axus, in the twenty-third day of Havath, 2918, an agreement between Hannah Delaney and King Alvar of Underland, that the female child she carries will be betrothed to the King as his future wife and queen to secure a peace treaty between the realms of Earth and the realms of Axus. On a day after this female child has come of age to marry, King Alvar is entitled to return and retrieve Hannah Delaney and her daughter to reside in Underland, after that, having all their material and personal needs provided for by the nation of Underland as well as the protection of the Underland Guard and instruction from the Institute of Underland in the ways and customs of the people.

 

My mother’s name, as well as Alvar’s are signed at the bottom.

 

THREE

I take another sip of my latte and fold the paper that my mother signed away my rights on so I can put it in my pocket.

I set the latte down and rest my palms on the cement of the curb to lean back and inspect Alvar up and down without shame. Now I’m aware of who he is, I believe I’m more than entitled to take a closer look.

He wears dark wash jeans that cling to narrow hips and a simple white button-down that fits his muscular frame incredibly. His thick, wavy, black hair, is styled over his scalp, his strong jawline speckled with a five-o-clock shadow, and blue-violet, otherworldly eyes are visually enticing, but that scar…

What causes a scar like that?

An accident? Animal claws? No, it’s too clean to be from an animal.

However he got it, it gives me the creeps.

“It’s quite unsightly, I know.” Alvar’s right index finger trails over the scar, he seems to sense my scrutiny. “The Bridge is unpredictable. But I knew it would open on your twenty-second year when I met your mother. That makes this time dangerous for everyone here and time is of the essence to close off Earth from Axus.”

Whatever that means.

“I don’t know why you think I’ll make a good bride for you,” I begin with a sigh.

“You are the only one,” Alvar answers. “We all have to make sacrifices for our people and the greater good. If it makes you feel any better, it is a sacrifice for me too.”

That does not make me feel better.

“Why do you care about Earth humans? If your people dislike us, why do you care about keeping the peace?”

“You don’t need to know, you just need to trust me that this is necessary,” he says, his hand cups my chin and he turns my face toward him. I can’t resist.

I am again under his spell, a spell mixed with attraction and fear. There is something not human about him.

“I have a life here,” I muster out in a defiant whisper, my throat tightening. “It’s nothing special, but it’s mine.”

Lie. I’m flailing about for something, even if it’s a small something, to be mine.

“What is your life here like?” His voice soothes, and his calmness is catching. “Do you love this life here?”

Alvar’s strange eyes are a place of darkness and light mangled together. He’s old for his appearance, and I find myself wondering what his sad eyes have witnessed.

“I—I can’t love it. There is no certainty about anything. There has never been,” I hiss. “My life is in chaos!”

“Chaos?” the word seems to strike an interest in him, he leans forward, his finger traces along my jaw. “For that, I apologize, Lucy. I promise I’ll make you very comfortable as my queen.”

“Comfortable?” I snort. “You’re the reason I have no certainty and why I can’t live my life,” I say.

“I believe you will love me, Lucy,” his tone is sincere but holds frightening darkness to it. It says nothing of his love for me. “I will give you more than you could ever dream as my queen!”

“How dare you assume I’ll love you?” I yank myself from him, “You don’t even know me!”

“You haven’t taken him to your bed, have you?” Alvar says as if he can read me like a book.

 Nice to know I look like a virgin.

“That’s none of your business,” I say through gritted teeth, blushing so hard I’m sure my face will burn off.

“Even if you have, I want you to know that it is my duty to marry you and I will honor you and your desires as your husband,” Alvar states.

My mouth hangs open, and I gawk at him. He deserves it, talking about us as if we are a duty-bound couple in a medieval fairy-tale.

Mike had put the abstinence rule into place early on in our relationship, and he explained his reasoning was he wanted our first time to be special. His family frowned upon sex before marriage.

I’d liked this just fine considering my background, and I’d never felt the urge to break his rule with him.

Before Mike, I hadn’t had a single boyfriend in High School because Mom forbade it. She’d hammered down strict precautions from an early age to ensure I remained “pure” because I was “promised to Alvar.”

Every talk Mom had given me about sex included Alvar in the picture.

Needless to say, sex and romance have equaled the most uncomfortable topic for me. To this day Emily still teases me about my virgin status.

“I see the fear written on your face, but do not worry. I know you didn’t believe I existed until you saw me, Lucy,” Alvar says assuredly, patting my hand. “But I must confess I had no idea how beautiful you were going to be.” I can sense the warmth of his hand, and it prickles to life a sexual awareness for which I loathe him.

 Stop feeling attracted to him, I internally tell my body, this shouldn’t feel like a connection. It should be creepy.

“In three days, I will come for you. You have till then to tell your friends goodbye.”

In a flash of light, his presence leaves me.

I have no idea what is going to happen, but defying someone whom most people don’t know exists isn’t going to be difficult.

All of Mom’s talk of him being powerful and able to destroy humankind doesn’t make sense. If that were true wouldn’t it be obvious his realm existed? Wouldn’t there be records of previous wars with his world?

I get off the curb and head back to my car.

I want a stable, sensible life.

I’d never had that growing up, and Alvar promises nothing of it.

He won’t give me a choice.

He doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do!

Who does he think he is? He’s arrogant, controlling, loathsome, and he doesn’t own me!

“I won’t marry him,” I declare to myself while driving my car back home and add louder in case he somehow can hear me, “I’m not going to be your puppet, Alvar!”

I arrive home and see Mike’s car in my apartment’s parking lot. I roll my eyes, but I’m also relieved.

Thanks, Mike, for coming to my rescue.

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

Mike is lying back on the couch watching an episode of a crime series and munching on popcorn. His dark blonde hair styled in a tousled look that suits him and he flashes me a huge smile. He’s only a couple inches taller than me, and his teeth are crooked, but they add to the awkward charm he possesses.

The face of someone I’m attached to.

“You sounded really down, and I wanted to surprise you,” he says, “popcorn?” He holds out a handful toward me.

“No thanks.”

Mike bends down next to the couch, and I hear the crinkle of paper.

“What’s that?” I ask.

He holds out a bottle of wine. “It’s the good stuff, Lucy. I figured you needed it.”

“Which is another way of saying, ‘not cheap’?” I cock an eyebrow and grin vaguely.

Mike chuckles. “I shouldn’t have scolded you about your mom. It’s your choice, not mine.”

“Thanks, Mike,” the urge to sob in relief at his sweetness overwhelms me. This guy has held the position of my buddy since before we even went out. During our time at college he didn’t care about my Mom being crazy and the emotional baggage I’d accumulated from it. Like Emily, he’d stuck with me through all the strange.

“You’re great. I love you,” I murmur, and embrace him close to me.

He pours the wine into two glasses and hands me one.

“To us!” He cheers, tapping glasses with mine.

“Yes!” I drink the glass as quickly as possible.

“Whoa! Slow down, girl!” he warns me. “Wow, today must have been bad! I should have bought some boxed stuff instead of an expensive Pinot if you’re going to drink like that!”

“You can say that again,” I grumble dryly.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie,” he says and pulls me in for a kiss. With his lips pressed to mine, I close my eyes, but then Alvar asking to kiss me starts replaying in my mind. I involuntarily wonder what kissing a man like Alvar would have felt like for me.

No, I don’t want to know what kissing Alvar feels like! Why am I thinking such a messed up thought?

I draw back from Mike abruptly, practically pushing him off of me.

“What was that about?” Mike asks, hurt crossing his face.

Too bad he doesn’t miss anything.

“Sorry, I’m—uh—just really tired after everything that happened today. Not feeling up to making out.” I might as well be honest with him.

The timer beeps from the kitchen.

“The pizza’s done!” Mike says.

“I’ll get it,” I say, trying to escape the awkwardness of the situation. I open the oven door and in my distraction grab the pizza pan without an oven mitt.

“What are you doing?” Mike shouts, making me jump. “You’ll burn!”

“Oh!” I let go of the hot pan in surprise, and it drops on top of my oven with a clatter.

Mike hurries over to the sink and turns on the cold water. He grasps my hand and it under the stream.

“Let me see,” Mike says, concern furrowing his brow.

I splay my fingers and wave my hand in front of his face. “See? Not even a mark,” I say with a laugh, “I’m okay.”

After dinner, Mike prepares to leave.

“You sure you don’t want me sticking around?” Mike pulls me into his arms while we stand at my door. “You know, our wedding is getting really close. I know I am marrying you. How ‘bout we do something fun tonight? Something we’ve never done before.”

He means sex.

At that moment, I stare up at him, wondering what it would be like to actually go through with it with Mike, and I can’t picture it. My body isn’t responding. My hands splay on his chest, and I kiss his neck.

No fireworks.

I hadn’t even touched Alvar, and an electric current had seemingly buzzed between us.

And now, I’m thinking about sex with Alvar. My psychologist would have a field day.

“No, Mike, let’s wait,” I say, carefully removing myself from his arms with a smile, “We’re so close to getting married.”

“I never thought you’d be the one who’d make us stick with the abstinence thing,” Mike mumbles with disappointment.

Why don’t I want him as he wants me right now?

We’ve snuggled on the couch during every movie or football game, and we’ve had some make-out sessions that ended in Mike—um—losing himself in his pants. So why am I hesitant about going all the way now?

I should defy Alvar by doing this with Mike, but I don’t want sex with Mike.

I want to be Mike’s friend, not his lover.

Which means I shouldn’t be marrying him.

“Okay, goodnight, babe.” He leaves me with a peck on the cheek and a confounded expression on his face.

In the silence of my empty apartment, all of it sinks in: My mom wasn’t crazy. Alvar is real and coming for me in three days. My young adult life, my education, my job, my relationships…all of them are meaningless here if Alvar is genuinely going to whisk me away to a completely different world. All of my hard work in being a “normal” person has amounted to nothing!

And besides all of that, I shouldn’t marry Mike because I have more chemistry with a complete stranger than with Mike.

Oh, my poor Mike, how am I going to tell him that his future with me is impossible even if Alvar hadn’t come for me? How will I tell Emily that my mom really isn’t crazy and there really is a magical king coming to take me away?

I unfold the agreement Alvar gave me and read it over and over until my frustration over the lack of control in my life bubbles over and I rip the damned thing up and throw it in the garbage.

After that, the rest of that wine Mike brought becomes my friend.

*

“Lucy, Lucy!” someone is saying my name.

“Mmm?” I groan, covering my ears at the painfully shrill sound. My head hurts. It’s as if a ton of bricks rests on my forehead.

“Lucy, are you ready for the best bachelorette ever?”

It’s Emily?

Come to see me wake up with an embarrassing hangover.

I hear a bunch of giggles.

Correction: not just Emily.

Crap.

I’m still wearing the clothes I’d worn yesterday, and it’s times like these that I wonder why I’d ever given Emily a key to my place.

I roll onto my back and focus blearily on the group standing around me.

What time is it anyway? I’ve never gotten drunk like that before. I’m usually the one glass-of-wine-at-a-party kind of girl.

“What are you doing here?” I moan, rubbing my head to ease the pain.

“Here’s some water,” one of the girls hands me a glass.

Who even is that? I think I sat by her once in a college class. What is she doing at a party for me?

“I’m not even going to ask why my friend who never drinks has a hangover because we don’t have time! We’re giving you your bachelorette party!” Emily is grinning from ear to ear. It dawns that all of Emily’s friends from college are dressed in skimpy bachelorette party outfits.

“I told you nothing too over the top,” I croak instead of speaking the words as I sit up.

“I’m not doing anything over the top, Lucy. No male strippers, no penis decorations—” Emily begins with a huge grin.

“Okay, I get it,” I say, my cheeks flush, and I silence her from going on, “My virgin ears can’t take it!”

“We’re taking you bowling first,” one of the girls’ chimes with a giggle at my comment about being a virgin.

“Isn’t it a little early for bowling?” I ask, not sure if I can stand up, let alone hold a bowling ball.

“It’s already 2 p.m., Lucy!” Emily says with a laugh, she grasps my hand and drags me out of bed. “Now, C’mon! Let’s get you into something slutty!”

 

FOUR

The restrictively tight red dress Emily somehow scrounged up for me is quite impractical for bowling. Things get better when Emily takes us to a fancy Italian place where, after a glass of champagne and some friendly encouragement, I loosen up a bit.

All of us head back to my apartment for the rest of the night to open gifts and play silly bachelorette party games.

The presents are quite predictably scandalous and sexual: lingerie, a sexy dice game, and even a pair of pink fuzzy handcuffs.

I try to laugh with them, but even with champagne dulling my senses, it’s hard to enjoy it all. Overthinking about my sexual future is enough to send my brain into a panicked frenzy.

“What did you think?” Emily asks after everyone has left.

“I had fun,” I say with a forced smile, striving to keep my doomed outlook a secret. Emily isn’t the best person to share fantastical stories with as I well know.

“I know you’re worried about something. You’ve seemed kind of lost today. Is it your Mom again? Is it about the gifts?”

“Yeah, Emily, it’s about my mom,” I lie, “but there isn’t anything you can do.”

 “You have three days to tell Mike and your friends goodbye.”

What a nice guy for giving me a whole three days!

“Emily, I am thankful for our friendship.” I hold her tight in our hug.

“You’re welcome, love you,” Emily says. She lets me go and turns to the door. “See you later, Lucy.”

See you later.

The door closes behind her and my phone buzzes with Mike calling me.

I can’t pick it up, and I watch helplessly as my phone rings out his number, snapping the rubber band on my wrist until there’s a red line on my skin.

My door opens, and I jolt.

Thankfully it’s just Emily, and not Alvar coming to get me.

“I forgot my scarf.” Emily smiles apologetically.

“Oh, here,” I mumble and take her into the living room.

“I can’t believe how cold it’s getting out there,” Emily says, she picks up her scarf.

The sound of shattering glass in my bathroom causes both of us to jump and scream. We snap our gazes into the direction of the noise.

Holy crap, someone just broke through my bathroom window!

The lights flicker and shut off. We’re surrounded in darkness, and my unadjusted eyes can’t see anything.

Heavy footsteps sound from the bathroom.

There is more than one person in my house.

I stumble panicked in the dark toward my front door and fumble for the knob.

“We know you’re in here, filthy Earth human,” a scratchy male voice calls. “Now don’t do anything stupid.”

I bring my phone to my face, the phone illuminates the door, and I attempt to dial 911 with shaking hands.

“There you are!” A deep voice exclaims, and I hear Emily scream.

“Let go of me! Lucy! LUCY!” Emily’s cry comes from the right of me. I shine my phone light in her direction to see two twisted monster-like creatures grabbing my friend by her arms.

“Shut up and come quietly, bride of Alvar,” one of the creatures orders. His pointed teeth glint in the light of my phone as he speaks to Emily.

What are you? What’s is hap—?” Emily screams, but her voice abruptly stops when a flash of light illuminates the room. For a fleeting second, I see the three figures more clearly; two large menacing ones and one small, struggling Emily figure. Then it falls dark, and their presence vanishes, much like Alvar had.

“Emily!” I scream and start toward the empty space left behind, grasping at air.

My phone falls from my grasp as I trip over something in the dark.

“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?” I hear from the phone on the floor.

Someone grabs my hand, and I hit and scream at whoever has caught me.

The monsters must be back for me!

Despite my kicking, I am pulled up from the floor to find myself face to face with Alvar.

“We must go,” he says gruffly, his expression intense, worried.

“Emily,” I cry, gasping for breath, the shock hitting me and constricting my lungs in panic. “Where’s Emily?”

“You must come with me earlier than expected. I apologize if you haven’t yet said your goodbyes,” Alvar’s voice is wooden. His eyes shine a fiery red.

I blink up at him. What the—?

Alvar touches my forehead with a glowing white crystal and wraps his arms around me.

My world explodes into white oblivion. A rush of cold makes me cling to Alvar for warmth.

We’re suspended in a cold black space, with lights passing us.

“Where are we?” My voice holds no echo to it at all.

This is freaky. The silence of this place makes my spine tingle.

“The Bridge,” Alvar whispers, he holds me tighter. “We are about to enter Underland. I need you to keep holding onto me as tight as you can.”

I roll my eyes at him. “Isn’t that convenient for you?”

“Oh, you think I’d use this as an excuse to hold you close to me?” Alvar asks with a snort of annoyance. “I’m not that desperate or hopeless, Lucy. I only say this because if you are lost in the Bridge, you are lost forever.”

“Where is Emily?” I can’t stop thinking about her or her screams of horror.

“Emily?”

“Some of your goons took her,” I accuse, realizing I’d just used the word “goons” and wondering whom on Earth uses that word except me. Then I start thinking how I’m probably not on Earth anymore, so it doesn’t matter.

“I didn’t send anyone to take her, so I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about,” Alvar says, giving me a confused, concerned expression.

“You don’t know?” I bite my lip and start trembling.

Emily, who took you then?

Wait.

They’d called her a bride, hadn’t they?

“Oh my gosh! They thought Emily was me!” I exclaim.

“How do you mean?” Alvar asks.

“They called her bride of Alvar!” I exclaim, “Why would they say that if they hadn’t come from your world?”

“Maggort!” Alvar growls, his eyes turn to fiery red glass.

What is up with that?

“What is going on with your eyes?”

“My eyes?” He looks down on me, eyes blazing.

“Your irises are bright red?” I say, “They’re freaking me out.”

Alvar ignores my statement and raises the crystal upward. A circular window appears ahead of us. It’s a circle of darkness compared to the white space of the Bridge.

“The planet of Axus is very different from the planet of Earth, but it has enough similarities such as gravity and atmosphere that the transition shouldn’t be too difficult for you,” Alvar informs cryptically.

We launch into the portal and fall together onto a soft landing of velvety grass.

“Whoa,” I say, panting and staring up at the sky.

We’re on our backs in a field. Above us, two moons shine brightly in the night. One of the moons is lavender in color and shaped like an oval, and the other is white and the same size and shape of Earth’s moon. Stars spatter the clear purple night sky. A warm breeze whisks my disarrayed hair from my eyes.

I struggle to believe I’m no longer on Earth, but on the grounds of Axus, Alvar’s world.

“They are beautiful,” Alvar says, our hands clasped together as he stares up at the moons wistfully. For some reason, I don’t want to let go of his hand. “The lavender moon is named Arlith, and the white is Vesp. After two goddesses of old.”

“It’s unreal,” I murmur, inhaling deeply. The air is lighter than Earth’s. A pleasant aroma wafts around us, a mixture of fragrant spices, and early morning dew.

“Welcome to Underland, Lucy, the southernmost country in Axus and my kingdom,” Alvar whispers in my ear. “All of this land you will be the mother of as my queen.”

“It’s different than I expected,” I murmur. “So beautiful and strange.” My awe is cut short by the horrible memory of Emily’s screams. “Who is Maggort and why did he want Emily—uh—me?”

“A gobli lord. He lives in the mountains of Ferar in Goblia. He wants you because he does not wish for peace nor does the queen who sent him,” Alvar says.

Alvar drops my hand and sits up, scanning the horizon ahead of us.

I note his eyes are back to blue-violet color, but I’m now too afraid to question him about it.

“Right now, he most likely believes he has the bride,” Alvar says, “Sadly, the queen will know otherwise when she sees Emily. Once she learns she doesn’t have you; she will kill your friend.”

No, no, no! Please, let her live.

“Kill?” I squeak out, and my lip starts to quiver.

“Fear not, Lucy. We can save her if we seal our marriage. Once I marry you, killing Earth humans will be a crime against Underland. Remora does not want war with me,” Alvar says. “We must perform the wedding before they discover they have the wrong bride.”

“How much time before the ceremony, and how do I know you didn’t set this whole thing up to get me to marry you right away?” I say dryly.

“You won’t know.” Alvar shrugs, not sugar-coating a thing. “But it truly is the only way. Once we marry, I will order Emily’s freedom and have her brought to Underland City.”

“And if I marry you, and find you to be lying, our marriage is null!” I snap.

“Fair enough,” Alvar says with a grin, probably because he knows he’s got the more powerful hand in this twisted game life has placed us in.

“When I get her back, can I send her home to her family and friends?” I ask. It would be what Emily wants. I can’t imagine Emily outside of her vast social circle.

“She must stay here,” Alvar says without emotion. “I will give her a job as one of your attendants if you wish.”

“What if I don’t marry you, could we get her back if I don’t?”

“I’m sorry, but that is unlikely,” Alvar says, “Remora knows I don’t have a claim to Emily’s life, and she despises humans.” Alvar motions for me to get up and continues to search around us. “Shasti should be waiting for me.”

“Shasti?”

“My mytonir,” Alvar explains.

“Your what?”

“They are like your Earth horses, only much faster. You might have trouble riding it in that outfit you’re wearing,” his gaze turns to me, and he cocks an eyebrow as if noticing my slutty get-up for the first time. “You do look quite enticing, Lucy, but I doubt you were wearing that for me… waiting to meet that fiancé of yours?”

Why? You jealous?

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re kind of a dick?” I ask.

“I’m a realist,” Alvar says with a shrug. “If that makes me a dick, so be it.”

“You can jump dimensions, but you haven’t invented a non-organic form of travel here?” I say, trying to find my own jab.

“As far as I know, your Earth vehicles cause pollution and are ruin your planet’s atmosphere, besides, mytonirs are very fast,” Alvar says with a challenging smirk. He takes a whistle out of his pocket and blows into it.

The mytonir equivalent to a dog whistle?

He extends a hand down to me. “Come. Get up.”

“Yes, my king,” I say dryly, taking his hand.

Alvar wasn’t lying about mytonirs being fast. In the time it takes for him to pull me up from the grass, a creature appears beside us.

The best way to describe a mytonir is to think: horse mixed with a greyhound or cheetah, cloven-hoofed, lithe, long-legged, and deep-chested, with a smooth-coated body.

Shasti’s mane and tail are long, and her white coat is covered in black stripes. She trustingly places her long face against Alvar’s chest. She is wearing a glossy black leather bridle and saddle. Her ears are elongated, and four horns decorate her forehead in a beautiful curl against her scalp.

“She’s beautiful,” I murmur, my eyes wide.

Alvar hands me the whistle. “Call your mytonir.”

“My mytonir?” I blink at him.

“I give him to you as my wedding gift,” Alvar says. “Titan will serve you well.”

“Titan?”

“That is his name.” Alvar nods, and points to the whistle. “Now call him to you.”

I take the small instrument to my lips and blow.

I hear a whinny and turn around to see a mytonir standing behind me. His horns are slightly larger than Shasti’s, and his build thicker.

“Hello, Titan,” I say, unable to help a smile. This beautiful, strange creature belongs to me?

Titan leans his head into my chest just as Shasti had done to Alvar. He wears the same bridle, and saddle Shasti wears over his silky blue-silver body.

Is this even real?

“What do you think? Do you like him?” Alvar asks as if he hopes he’s finally given me something positive to hold onto.

“I love him,” I impulsively say.

My hand runs over his neck to find his coat is like silk beneath my fingers.

“You ride mytonir’s like earth horses, your mother told me that wouldn’t be a problem, she gave you lessons,” Alvar says.

I nod.

“Now. Let’s go home,” Alvar says.

Your home, not mine.

I don’t know what else to do, so I mount Titan and sit upright in his comfortable saddle.

Alvar mounts Shasti and pats the side of her muscled neck.

“Secure yourself to Titan,” he says, pointing to a strap hanging from my saddle. “The speed of a mytonir is much faster than an Earth horse. Only experienced riders can stay on without a harness.”

I do as I’m told and place the strap around myself.

“Titan will follow Shasti so do not worry about steering him just yet. Hold on.”

“Okay,” I say, leaning down on him to brace myself.

“Kom-rak!” Alvar shouts. The word is foreign to me, and I hope beyond hope people speak a language I can understand here.

Before I have time to ask him what that means, my body jolts as Titan goes after Shasti.

We rush over the fields, and I’m sure we’re traveling as fast as a car on the interstate. The wind blows my hair in all directions and over my eyes. I fight to breathe.

In the distance, a great wall appears, and by the way it approaches, I am sure we are about to run right into it. However, Shasti and Titan’s unnatural halt at the gate entrance is smoother than expected.

Alvar takes the glowing gem he’d used to cross the Bridge and holds it out at the gate. The gate opens, and he motions his hand for me to follow him.

Inside the gate is an organized town with street lamps lit by strange blue lights that cast a blue sheen on everything.

Seeing Underland City for the first time is more than just a shock to my system.

I struggle to believe I’m here.

The buildings lining the white cobblestone streets are made of similarly pristine white rock with dark slate roofs. All of them are uniform in appearance. Besides the click of the mytonir’s hooves, it’s almost eerie how quiet the streets are. Not a soul is out of their home, but I know there must be people residing in them as some of the houses have lights glowing from their circular windows.

“Where is everyone?” I ask him.

“The curfew,” Alvar says cryptically.

“Curfew? There’s a curfew here?” I ask, confounded by such an idea. “Why would there be a curfew? Are the streets not safe?”

“Well, homes are the safest place late at night like this,” Alvar explains, “It’s a safety precaution and not law.”

“What do you mean, ‘safety precaution’?” I ask.

“There is a dark creature that shadows them from the skies. A creature that sees in the night better than we can,” Alvar mutters quietly.

“Should I be afraid of it?” My voice has hushed to a whisper as a chill crawls up my back.

“No, you are with me and with me you are safe,” Alvar whispers back. “The creature is not apt to hurt anyone anymore. Still, my people are rightfully cautious.”

“So why do you travel without bodyguards?” I ask him, suddenly curious, “You are the king, right? Doesn’t the king need protection?”

Alvar smiles vaguely at this as if he finds my question amusing. “I have no need of bodyguards, Lucy. My guards stay in the palace, and around the gates where they have a better use than by my side.”

I’m not getting anywhere with this conversation, even though I find his dodging my questions suspicious.

“You’re working hard to make me like you,” I say flatly.

“That’s odd because I wasn’t trying to make you like me,” Alvar says with a shrug. “Besides, you’re determined not to.”

“Why would I like you? Don’t you care at least a little about what you did to me? If you did it would be easier to like you,” I mutter.

“It must have been quite difficult, growing up apart from everyone else,” Alvar says quietly. “I apologize for the distress it caused you, but it was all necessary to save this world and yours from devastation. Sometimes, we have to do things we don’t want to for the greater good.”

I roll my eyes and say nothing because I hate to admit it, but after everything I’ve endured today, I’m beginning to believe him.