I can't believe it's been ten years since Evie tased her way into my heart and onto bookshelves. Writing Paranormalcy started my career and changed my life in so many ways.
To celebrate, I thought I'd give us a peek into a day in the life of Evie, ten years after we said goodbye. There's romance! Intrigue! Malfunctioning Tasers! And incredibly low stakes, because hey, our girl is as happy as she deserves to be.
Thank you, so much, for reading, whether you found Paranormalcy ten years ago or ten minutes ago, whether you've read every book I've written since or hopped around my ever-expanding shelf. Writing stories is a tremendous privilege, and my own storytelling soul is so happy, sparkling, and pink, Evie would want to wear it as jewelry. (But not literally, because she definitely does not take souls anymore, thankyouverymuch.)
With no further ado, I give you:
Read It and Bleep: A Paranormalcy Tenth Anniversary Story
The vampire lunged, teeth bared in a gruesome threat.
I nimbly dodged around him. “Fine. Be that way. It’s time you met my friend, Tasey.” I pulled the trigger and…nothing happened.
The vampire backhanded me. He, apparently, was working even when my Taser wasn’t. I flew across the alley, slamming into the wall on the other side. “Ouch,” I whimpered, trying not to look at the corpse face shimmering underneath the vampire’s falsely normal features. Round nose, pleasant cheeks, brown eyes over dead ones. And the teeth. Oh, the teeth. Teeth I was about to become far more familiar with than I ever wanted to.
I couldn’t believe that after everything I had done—Faced faerie queens! Escaped fossegrims and hags and sylphs! Passed honors calculus!—it was going to be a run-of-the-mill vampire that would finally take me out.
Light cut through the alley as a door appeared on the wall next to me where none had been just seconds before. Lend—beautiful, wonderful Lend—stepped out, took the scene in with one glance, and shot the advancing vampire with two holy water darts.
“What happened?” Lend crouched down and offered me a hand up.
“Tasey betrayed me,” I groaned. I was going to be seriously bruised from this. I hated bruises. So hard to color-coordinate with my outfits. But perhaps worse than that, or at least on par with the badness of physically clashing with my own carefully curated wardrobe, was the fact that I couldn’t manage to move my wrist.
“How many times has Raquel tried to issue you new gear, and how many times have you refused?”
“Tasey has sentimental value.”
“Sentiment is hardly worth much if you’re dead, Evie.” Lend looked so genuinely concerned I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Still. I was going to stick up for my sparkly pink sidepiece.
“But Tasey was a very important part of our love story!”
Lend’s brow wrinkled. “You and I remember our courtship very differently.”
“Eew,” Carlee said, stepping free of the faerie door and looking down at where the vampire writhed on the ground. His smooth glamour skin was smoking slightly, going wrinkly and gray. He’d survive, but wouldn’t be in any shape to attack anyone for a while. Which was good. Carlee looked at me, communicator in hand. “I take it he rejected our offer.”
“Veganism isn’t for everyone.” I shrugged, disappointed. I’d learned not to take it too personally, though. Some vampires had so fully embraced their predatory existence there was no bringing them back from it. Carlee called in a relocation order, so we could move him to the Antarctic island vampire colony where they could be themselves without hurting humans.
But some vampires—a lot, actually—were happy to reclaim some of their humanity with UPARG as their sponsors in the Arianna Program. (Named, of course, for one of my best friends, who proved to me that not all vampires wanted to be that way.) In the ten years since Raquel, David, and I formed it, UPARG had brought in four hundred and seventeen vampires, providing a vampiric-recovery support system, jobs, identification, and a community.
And in the ten years since UPARG took over for IPCA, I had never stopped hating that Raquel named it UPARG.
“What are you two doing here, anyway?” I asked, trying and failing to move my wrist. “I don’t need transport.” I didn’t love the infinitely dark faerie paths, even with all the faeries gone, but I could use them when I needed to.
I still preferred driving. Way less creepy, and my drivers license photo was, dare I say, supernaturally cute.
“We found her!” Carlee said, bouncing in excitement.
“Who her? Which her?” I asked. The pain was starting to set in, and I could already see my wrist swelling.
Lend put his arm around me, checking my head for bumps. “You know we can send our vamps on these trips, right?”
“I know, but a girl can only sit on so many international budget planning meetings before she really just needs to go out and hunt a rogue vampire.”
“A girl can really get hurt doing that, too, when she doesn’t have proper equipment.”
“Shh,” I whispered, trying and failing to reholster Tasey one-handed. “Don’t listen to him.”
Lend frowned at my wrist. “That looks broken.”
“Yeah.” I focused on his dreamy eyes to combat the pain. It almost worked. Today he wore his most regular face, the one with dark eyes and dark hair, olive skin, straight nose. I liked all his faces, because it didn’t really matter what he wore over his real one: I could always see him. “Thanks for the rescue, Waterboy.”
Lend rolled those dreamy eyes. “You know, I’m twenty-eight years old and a doctor. The least you could do is start calling me Waterman.”
“That sounds really creepy.”
Carlee nodded in agreement. “Super creepy.”
Lend sighed. “You’re going to be calling me Waterboy until I’m ninety, aren’t you.”
“That’s the goal.” I leaned my head against his shoulder. Carlee once asked me if I wondered what it would be like to date someone else. After all, Lend and I have been together since I was sixteen. Carlee and Jack have broken up at least twenty-four times, and put together have dated at least half the werewolves (and a few of the vampires) in UPARG. Not to mention the occasional normal person just to shake things up a bit. They weren’t currently dating, but even when they weren’t dating, they were always friends. Being kidnapped by faeries and forever tied to the abandoned Faerie Realms in order to avoid starving to death tended to bond people stronger than regular old relationships.
“Wait, who did you find?” I asked, my heart picking up speed as it dared to hope. It couldn’t be. Not after ten years of fruitless searching.
“Jack’s mom!” Carlee proclaimed. “We found her!”
I immediately forgot about comforting my poor, maligned Taser, and my own ever-increasing pain. “For real? Are you sure?”
Carlee nodded so fast her dark brown curls bounced. She ran all the children’s programming for our community center, and she was fantastic at it. But our side project for the last ten years had been going through missing child reports and news to try and find anything that might link to Jack. It had been a long, frustrating slog, made more difficult because we weren’t sure exactly how old Jack was, where in the world he had been taken from, or really anything other than his name. And we had never told Jack, because we didn’t want to get his hopes up.
“The problem was, his name isn’t Jack!”
“What?” I asked, my jaw dropping. Jack always remembered his name because of a song his mother sang him. It was the only reason he had been able to hold onto who he was when kidnapped by faeries as a toddler. Everyone else lost themselves to their glamour and power, but not Jack.
“I mean, it is! Sort of! It’s a nickname for John, I guess. Which is super weird and confusing, because what does Jack have to do with John, right? But John was a family name so they named him John and called him Jack! His dad and his grandfather are both named John, too. And his mom’s name is Natalie. She lives in Portland. We have her address.”
“Oh, bleep.” I put my good hand over my racing heart. “We found her. We really found her.”
“We really found her!” Carlee threw her arms around me and I hugged her back, only sort of yelping in pain.
The faeries had taken away so much from so many people during their catastrophic sojourn on earth. Countless humans kidnapped. Vampires created by accident. Empty Ones like my sister and me made and then neglected, and Paranormals—including my first best friend, Lish—killed by a confused and misguided Vivian. We had even lost Vivian, Arianna, and Lend’s mom when we sent all the Paranormals who wanted to return to their own home.
At last, finally, we’d be able to give back something that had been taken away.
“You know, times like this I really miss the unicorns,” Lend says, frowning at my x-rays.
“You take that back right now. Gross. Gross.” I shuddered, the scent-memory of those stunted abominations making me want to gag.
“It’s a hairline fracture. So we’ll get you in a cast for a month or so and you should be good. How’s your pain level? Is the codeine kicking in yet?”
“What?” He frowned, looking at me like maybe I hit my head harder than we thought. “Your pain level is pink?”
“A pink cast.”
“Well, that goes without saying.” He turned off the light behind the x-rays. “You know, I’m not really this kind of doctor. We should take you to an actual clinic.”
“But I bet the doctors there aren’t nearly as cute. Unless it’s like General Practice.” Though Easton Heights ended its run seven years ago, half the cast moved on to a new medical drama about the youngest general ever to serve in the army. He had a change of heart and decided to heal people instead of hurting them, but has a hard time adjusting to life in a hospital where it’s not run with military precision. You can’t command the heart, as his nurse-slash-love-interest always says.
“If any doctors anywhere looked like the ones on General Practice, people would be injuring themselves just to get checked out.” Lend shimmered and then his face was replaced by the General himself, formerly known as Landon on Easton Heights.
I laughed. “And to do the checking out. But I’m quite satisfied with my own hot genius doctor, thank you very much.”
“Are you?” Lend’s smile was soft as he switched back to his regular face.
I leaned forward and kiss his cheek. “Always.”
“Good.” There was something intense about the way he said it that caught me off-guard, but we were interrupted before I could ask what’s up.
“Hey,” Charlotte, my favorite former Spanish teacher slash werewolf, peeked in, knocking on the open door. “I’m scheduling next week’s immunotherapy sessions. Anything I should know? About the scheduling?”
“No.” Lend shook his head, distracted by my x-rays, then his eyes widened. “Oh, wait, yes. I’ll be right back, Evie.” He hurried out of the room.
Medical school had been long and frustrating—a lot of time apart with my work for UPARG and Lend’s intensive course and residency schedule—but it was paying off. In the last year he had developed an immunotherapy procedure that suppressed werewolf transformation. Not only that, but they were hopeful they could reverse it entirely. It helped that we diverted most of UPARG’s budget from things like capture and holding to research and medical aid.
After werewolves, he was going to turn his attention to seeing if it was possible to reverse vampirism. He was less hopeful, since the fear was that, if the vampirism was reversed, the bodies would revert to what they should be: bodies. Dead ones.
Still, he’d never stop working to help Paranormals. None of us would.
I yawned, lying back on the little exam bed and shooting a quick text to Carlee that as soon as I was casted up, we’d tell Jack the news together. I closed my eyes, whatever Lend gave me for the pain making everything fuzzy and soft and sleepy.
“Hey, stupid,” a familiar voice said.
“Okay, now I see what Lend means about wanting a new nickname. I’d like one, too.” I smiled, opening my eyes and my arms as Vivian threw herself into a hug.
She looked like herself, but…the best version possible. I had seen her go through the gate and turn into a creature of brilliant light and motion and love, but here, in our dreams, she was Vivian again. White-blond hair, my same nearly colorless eyes, and that impish smile.
“So, give me the update.” She leaned back, toying with a ball of blue flame. Today we were in a sort of bizarro-world version of a family room. The couches were giant cats, sleeping beneath us with purring rumbles. Instead of a television, there was a bioluminescent jellyfish floating, pulsing out different colors in mesmerizing patterns. And the rug was made up of thousands of pink flowers, each as small as my pinky fingernail, blooming with bright puffs of sparkling pollen. Glitter flowers, Vivian called them, and she always made them just for me.
“Where were we? Last time Doctor Sexypants formerly known as Landon Dreamboat from Easton Heights was fighting with Nurse Not-Carys, whom he is destined for but prevented from dating by hospital policy and his own rigid moral code.”
“Right,” Vivian said, nodding and absently petting the couch.
I detailed the rest of the episodes with as much enthusiasm as I could. I knew Vivian didn’t care—not really—but it was our small way of staying connected.
“Your turn,” I said, finishing up the episode with a dramatic to be continued. “How are things? How’s Arianna?”
Vivian’s smile was brighter than the jellyfish. “Good. You know, I worried when we were coming across that we might get bored, or not be ourselves. But we’re still ourselves, we’re just…whole. You know? I know so much of being human is about growth and change, and that doesn’t happen here, and it’s…okay. Better than okay, because we’re together. I really love her.”
“I wish you two were around so we could double-date.”
“Wait, you and Lend are still just dating?” Vivian frowned. “I keep expecting you to say you’re married, or engaged. Time moves differently here, because it doesn’t exist. But still, it feels like it should have happened by now.”
I shifted uncomfortably, burrowing deeper into my cat-couch. It let out a low rumble of protest. “I know. We’ve just been busy. Like, really busy.”
“For the last ten years?”
I laughed. “Yes, for the last ten years. I had to help Raquel build UPARG from the ground up—”
“That really is the worst acronym.”
“I know! But anyway, with me getting my degree, and Lend getting his, and then medical school, and now with his research work and my job, we’re just—busy. But we’re good. There’s time.” I smiled, putting a hand over my heart where my soul nestled. “We love each other, and I’m happy.”
“I can tell.” Vivian leaned forward, her eyes sparkling. “Speaking of happy, do you want to hear the latest prank Arianna and I pulled on your faerie ex?”
Reth. For so long, he was a source of anxiety and pain and confusion. I was glad he’s back where he belonged. And that where he belonged was far away from me. It was easier, knowing he was safe and healthy and totally inaccessible.
Vivian detailed an elaborate crafting of a mirrored pool meant to play on faeries’ innate vanity, lots of the terms and descriptions not quite making sense to my firmly human-world brain, but I got the gist of it and we laughed together, imagining Reth stuck to his own reflection until Arianna and Vivian finally deigned to free him.
Vivian’s tone got thoughtful. “You know, he’s different.”
“Than when he was on earth?” I asked.
“Than the other faeries. Here, they’re almost all one entity. Basically indistinguishable from each other. Like a hive. But he’s always on the edges. A little separate. He changed more than the rest of them.”
It made me both happy and sad to hear it, like most things about the people I sent through the gate. He changed me, too. We were both shaped by our time together.
“Next time you see him, tell him I say hi.”
“Weirdly, after the whole trapped-by-his-own-beauty prank, he’s been avoiding us. But I will.”
“And tell Arianna I love her.”
“And tell yourself I love you.”
Vivian put a hand over her own heart. “I don’t have to. I feel it, all the time, in the soul you helped me create.”
We embraced once more as the edges of the dream darkened and reality reclaimed me with an aggravating amount of broken-wrist pain.
“How’s Vivian?” Lend asked, helping me sit up.
“How did you know?”
He shrugged. “You always smile in your sleep when you’re hanging out with her. What did you talk about?”
“The usual. Her and Arianna terrorizing the faeries. Filling her in on General Medicine. Her asking why we’re not married yet.” I kept my tone as light as possible, but the expression on Lend’s face could only be described as vaguely strangled.
“Oh, I, uh…”
We hadn’t talked about it in a while, and it wasn’t like I was desperate to get married. I mean, sure, I had an entire Pinterest board dedicated to dresses in various shades of pale pink and what color schemes would go best with that, and I had already decided exactly how the entire day would go right down to forbidding Jack from giving any speeches at all, ever.
We had been together for ten years and our plan had always been…eventually. But when was eventually? How did you decide now was the right time when you had waited so long?
Lend ran his fingers through his hair. “I, uh, oh look! Here’s Charlotte with the cast supplies.” He was positively sweating with relief, and for the first time, I was hit with a smidge of worry. Did Lend not want to get married? I knew he wanted to be with me—I hadn’t ever questioned that. He chose me over eternity, after all. What if he just wasn’t a marrying type? His own parents’ relationship had been deeply unconventional. But even David and Raquel had eloped within weeks of being reunited. Maybe that was why. Had he been traumatized by his dad marrying my sort-of-surrogate mom?
I loved Raquel, but if she ruined this for me…
The thoughts chased themselves around my head as Lend and Charlotte got me all casted up.
“How does that feel?” Lend asked, eyeing his work dubiously.
“Like a bleeping dream.” I shrugged. “It is what it is. Come on. We have an appointment to keep with Carlee and Jack.” I hopped off the table, trying to shake my troubles. Today wasn’t about me. Today was about Jack. Lend and I could have the marriage conversation later.
“What is it?” Jack said, stepping free from the door he made in the wall.
We were at UPARG headquarters, which were behind the diner where I worked as a teen. Where Nona and Kari had fought the Dark Queen and died to protect their fellow Paranormals so they could make it back home. Those were sad memories. But thinking of the surly gnome cook, and Kari and Donna's terrible job of spying on me, and the dragon in the alley, and Arianna sewing me a dress in our apartment above the diner, and Lend meeting me after my shifts, and even the time Carlee came before she knew about the Paranormals and a vampire was flirting with her so I 911-ed Lend but he misunderstood and showed up glamoured like Landon from Easton Heights to cheer me up, thus leading Carlee to believe she could never, ever miss another day at the diner just in case any other super hot teen celebs showed up? It all made me smile, and I liked working so close to it.
My office at the headquarters had shockingly white walls. Raquel had barely stopped short of taking my temperature when I told the designers I wanted white. But what she didn’t realize was that meant I was free to put color everywhere else. Carlee perched on the edge of my hot pink sofa, and Lend sat in one of the zebra-striped modern chairs. The walls were covered in framed art by Lend, portraits of everyone we had known who went through the gate. My favorite was a loving rendition of Lish. Not as I had known her, stuck in an aquarium office, but in a perfect, crystal lagoon. I liked that whenever I was working, she was right over my shoulder.
“Do we need a supply run again?” Jack sat next to Carlee, flinging one leg over the sofa's arm. He had grown a little taller but still had something undeniably youthful about him. Maybe as a result of existing only on faerie fruit. Or maybe just his own special Jack-ness, which had softened with time but not faded, as evidenced by his next statement. “Or were you all bored and needed a dose of my phenomenal beauty to brighten your lives enough to make it through the day?”
“That one for me,” Lend said.
“Knew it.” Jack leaned back with a sigh. “I am sorry to tell you, Lend, that it can never happen between us. Not that I haven’t considered it—and we both know you have, because how could you not—but I value my friendship with Evie too much. That, and I have a healthy fear of her Taser.”
“Her Taser isn’t working right now,” Lend offered.
“Oh.” Jack perked up, eyeing Lend with a little too much thought.
“Tasey will work when she needs to.” I cleared my throat menacingly. “No, we have something serious. For real serious.”
Carlee’s knees were bouncing up and down. She could barely contain her nerves. Reuniting families was challenging and emotionally fraught under the best circumstances, and “I was kidnapped by faeries as a toddler” was probably pretty far from best in anyone’s book.
“We found her,” Carlee blurted out. “Your mom. We found her.”
For once in his life, Jack had nothing to say. He looked from Carlee to me to Carlee to me, his big blue eyes wide with shock.
Finally, he shook his head, trying to focus. “My mom. My real mom. You found her.”
I nodded. “We’ve been looking for a long time.”
“So has she,” Carlee added, her voice soft. “She never stopped.”
Jack swallowed, nodding, but the motion was less about agreeing and more about having something to do.
Carlee pulled out the file of information we printed off. We had it all on our computers, but it felt important to give him something tangible.
“Have you—” His voice caught. “Have you talked to her yet?”
“No.” I shook my head. “We’re here to support you however you want to do things. If you want to go right now, we’ll go with you. Unless you want to go by yourself. Or if you want to email her first. Or call her. Or even just go spy on her for a few days. Whatever you want—whatever you need.” I leaned across the space between us and took his hand in mine. Jack had grown more than anyone I knew, from a malicious agent of chaos to a genuine caretaker, making certain that all the people we rescued from the faerie realm were taken care of.
“What if she—what if I’m not—” He looked up, and I could see the fear in his eyes. I knew that fear. What if he wasn’t what she hoped? What if she was disappointed in the disconnect between the toddler she lost and the man he became?
“You always know the way home,” I said, squeezing his fingers. “This will always be home. We’re your family, no matter what. But I can’t imagine she won’t be so, so happy to see who you are now. To have you back. To know the incredible, brave, kind person you grew into. And, of course, to see how absurdly handsome you are.”
Jack nodded, holding back tears. “I really am.” He opened the file, but it was clear he couldn’t really see through his tears. “Can we go tomorrow? I want to decide what to tell her, about the missing time.”
Jack released my hand and shifted so he was leaning against Carlee. She snuggled in, and kept him company as he looked over the photos and details of the mother who loved him so fiercely that even though she lost him, he never lost himself.
Lend’s phone beeped. He glanced down at it, then stood. “I have to check on some numbers. For my new immunotherapy doses.”
“Yeah yeah, go speak doctor somewhere else.” Jack barely looked up.
“Dinner tonight?” I stood to hug him goodbye. “I’ve got to see if they can repair Tasey, and then I have a meeting with the Japan branch about a potential basan.”
“Ba-what?” Lend asked.
I waved dismissively, retreating to my desk and computer. “Fire breathing chicken monster thing. No biggie, the team there are absolute pros. I’m just observing so I can learn from them.”
“But you’ll be back in time for dinner.”
“As long as it isn’t chicken. Feels distasteful.”
He nodded, and though his face was normal, he still looked nervous.
I felt another pang of guilt. I really had scared him this morning with the vampire attack. “I promise I’ll get Tasey fixed first. And be careful of my cast. You don’t have to worry.”
“Okay. See you tonight.” He hurried out of my office, and I listened to Jack and Carlee discuss his mother’s excellent bone structure and puzzle out what to say his job was as I answered emails and filled out forms and did my job, trying not to worry about why Lend hadn’t proposed yet.
And that was when it hit me:
I was going to propose to him.
Even though silver wasn’t as in-vogue as it was back in the day when we were more about bag-and-tag than preserve-and-protect, there was still a whole department dedicated to working with it. I pushed my date with a fire breathing chicken monster to next week, then headed to see my old friend Bud—the entirety of the silver division. Still as gruff and capable as ever, he listened to my specifications and by dinnertime I had a perfect ring.
And, bonus, a mostly-functional-once-again Tasey.
I stood in our kitchen, wrinkling my nose. Ideally, I would have done something to make it look special. I debated trying to cook a fancy meal, but my priorities had always been with baking, not cooking. Lend did most of that. Still scrambling for an idea of how to make this magical, I got a text from Lend.
Meet at the diner for dinner?
My first impulse was disappointment, but then I realized it was perfect. We had gone there on our first sort-of-date, when I had just escaped from IPCA and was still discovering how Paranormals outside functioned. We had so many good memories there.
My other option was the location of our first kiss, but that was in his old house, where David still lived with Raquel and their two daughters, which seemed a little awkward. Hey, Valentina, mind if I borrow your room to propose to your older brother? Yeah, no.
I hurried and primped, which was made awkward by my cast, but I managed. Changing out of my pinstripe suit and pink blouse, I opted for a sweet, flirty sleeveless dress. It was one of Arianna’s designs, and still fit me perfectly. It felt like a hug from her whenever I wore it. I also put on the iron heart necklace Lend had given me when we were teens. Squeezing it once for luck, I rushed out toward the diner.
Of course I should be the one to propose. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner. Lend was always doing special, romantic things for me. Now it was my turn. I practically skipped down the streets toward the diner. This small Virginia town was still populated by an unusual amount of Paranormals, and I waved and smiled at friends. Not everyone worked for UPARG—we always gave them options now. We would support and help them, in whatever ways they needed. A lot of the people we rescued from the Faerie Realm understandably wanted nothing to do with anything paranormal again, so we just delivered food to them and otherwise left them alone. But werewolves tended to stick close for the treatments, and because it really was a nice community to live in.
Giddy, I stopped my skipping pace and slowed down. Lend stood in front of the doors to the diner, my heart in human form.
He had grown a little since we met, though sometimes I teased him and accused him of faking extra height. And though we had once worried that he wouldn’t age, like his mother, Vivian had been right to take a little extra from him in order to close the gates between worlds. I could see the smile lines at the corners of his eyes—both the eyes he showed the world, and the eyes I could always see. I did wish we had done this at home, so he could be in his natural, glorious waterboy state, but regardless, his was the face I loved.
“Hi,” I said, breathless with nerves.
“Hi,” he echoed in almost the same way. He had changed into a smart navy suit. “You look beautiful.”
“So do you.” I bit my lip, so excited I could barely stand it. “I’m glad you decided on the diner tonight.”
“Remember when you brought me here, after we escaped from IPCA? It was the first time I really understood I could have a life somewhere else. With someone else.” I reached out and took his hand in mine. “And there’s no one else I’d rather have my extraordinary, normal life with.” I dropped onto one knee.
“What are you doing?” he asked, his voice rising with panic and surprise. And…not happy surprise, either.
I stopped with my fingers in my pocket, stomach dropping with embarrassment and fear. Did he really not want to get married? “I’m, uh, proposing? If that’s okay?”
“No!” Lend said, and then to my absolute relief, he started laughing. And then, to my shock and delight, he also got down on one knee, so we were face-to-face and proposal-knee-to-proposal-knee. “I’m proposing!”
I beamed so hard it felt like my face might break from happiness. This explained his nervousness today, and the weird intensity. Of course it had been about doing something special for me, not about nerves or reluctance. “Well,” I said, “I need your help anyway. I can’t get the ring box out with my cast in the way unless I let go of your hand, and I don’t want to do that. Let’s do this together.”
“We are always better together, aren’t we?” Lend pulled out his ring box and helped me get mine, then handed it to me. “On the count of three. One, two…” Lend opened his box.
“Oh, bleep!” I shouted. I grabbed it from him without ceremony. “Are you kidding me?” Set in the center of a simple platinum band was a positively ginormous, absolutely perfect pink diamond.
“Can I have mine?” Lend laughed.
“Yeah, sure, whatever, who cares, LOOK AT THIS RING, LEND.”
“I take it you like it, then?”
I smashed my mouth against his in reply. When I let him come up for air, he slipped my ring onto my finger, and I slipped his ring onto his finger.
“Should one of us ask, just to make it official?” he said.
“You are my favorite person in the whole world, and a life with you is the only one I want. Wanna marry me, Lend Pirello?”
“You are my favorite person in the whole world, and every day with you is somehow happier than the last. I could never have enough of them. Yeah, I wanna marry you, Evie Made-up-last-name.”
Laughing again, we kissed. Then he helped me up—kneeling in heels was no joke—and opened the door to the diner.
He had, at least, beaten me this way. Because he had definitely been planning this for longer than a few hours. Everyone we knew and loved on this planet was inside. The whole place had been filled with pink roses, and the far wall was covered with a banner that said EVIE + LEND, complete with sparkles. A wave of cheers greeted us as we held up our clasped hands to show off the rings.
Jack and Carlee surrounded us in a hug, and then let us to go mingle. When Raquel saw my ring, she gave me a new sigh. It was a how-did-my-little-Evie-grow-into-this-competent-happy-woman sigh. Or at least, that’s what I assumed as she hugged me so tightly I could barely breathe. David hugged me, too. "I'm glad you'll officially be my daughter now," he said.
"Instead of the weird way she is now," Jack added, "Where you're married to her surrogate mother and adopted two girls who are essentially her sisters, all the while she's dating your son."
"Yes, thanks, Jack," I said, reminding myself to reman firm on keeping him from giving any speeches at the wedding.
David and Raquel's actual daughters, two of the new Empty Ones born a few months after we sent the faeries away and adopted by David and Raquel, stopped to admire my ring. I spent a lot of time with them, because Jack wasn't wrong—they were my family, too. We all had the same start in life: faerie father, mortal mother who couldn’t survive afterward. We had the same eyes, too. But I was proud that these girls would never struggle, would never have to scrape together a soul like Vivian and I did. They were bright, shining balls of energy and love all the time.
Valentina, my favorite because she drove Raquel absolutely insane, squinted up at me instead of the ring, though.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re so bright, sometimes it hurts to look at you. Why?”
I glanced across the diner, filled to bursting with my friends and family. Raquel and David, Jack, Carlee, Charlotte, Stacey and Luke, and so many more. Finally, they settled on Lend. He felt my stare and met my gaze, smiling that smile that still made my heart squeeze. That would always make my heart squeeze. All this time, and we still saw each other, whole and complete, and loved what we saw.
“Because, kiddo,” I said, putting my arm around her. “I built a life that feeds my entire soul, and I’m just so bleeping happy.”