In the orphanage, we all survived by pretending.
We pretended our families would find the love or money they needed to take us back. We pretended they’d never died or disappeared. We pretended a new family would want a child full of fear and sad memories instead of a perfect new baby.
But I only pretended that good things would happen when it rained on sunny mornings.
Miss Hudson said that was called a “sunshower.” I liked to pretend it meant the sky was crying happy tears, without any clouds to hide them.
It stopped raining by the time I began my morning chores.
Everyone at the orphanage had to work, but I loved plants, so I didn’t mind. Because of the rain, I didn’t have to water, but I needed to pick whichever berries were the ripest and pull out any weeds.
Sometimes I felt bad about the second part. Didn’t a weed deserve a home too? Just because nobody wanted it around, it wasn’t allowed to stay…
Sometimes I wondered if that’s how my parents felt about me, but I couldn’t remember them. I only remembered the rain and the lightning–but it was dark and cloudy and cold, not like a sunshower at all.
The sound of strange voices nearby made me drop my basket. There’s a fence, I told myself, even though I wanted to run and hide. No one can get in…
Not unless they had wings.
“See, Griff, I told you I knew where I was going, ” a pretty girl with wings said. “Look, a real, live human. Maybe even the one I saw in my dream.”
“Doesn’t look normal to me,” said the other girl, just as pretty as the first. Maybe both of them were pretty enough to get adopted, even if they were old. “There’s something weird about it. Can we go home now?”
We all pretended at the orphanage, even if we knew better. There were so many things that we knew would never, ever happen…
And this was one of them.
“Don’t you wanna get closer?”
“Nope. Humans are boring and stupid and I hate them.”
I just had to sneak out of the garden and run back inside and tell Miss Hudson, and everything would be okay…
“Hey, my mom’s a human,” the other one said, laughing. “C’mon, before she gets away.”
The air moved behind me. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t breathe–it was all getting sucked out…
I gasped for breath. “Go away go away go away go away.”
“Fox,” came a voice that sounded even closer than it did before. “Can it see us?”
“Nah,” came another voice, just as close. “I made us invisible.”
“Then you messed up, duh.”
The air moved again. “My dad taught me how, and he’s just as fae as your dad. Hey, human, can you see us?”
I shook my head without meaning to.
“See,” a bored voice behind me said. “Your glamours suck. Let’s just go already before it does stupid human stuff.”
“Hey, princess. Your two princes are here to rescue you.”
“Princesses are dumb. And you’re only the son of a duke, not a king.”
“Princes?” I said. “I thought you were girls…” There weren’t any boys with long hair at the orphanage, but all of us were supposed to keep our hair short to make things easier.
“We’re fae,” the one floating in front of me said. “We’re just naturally really pretty. The prettiest.” Instead of getting mad at me, he sounded happy. “But you’re pretty too–I knew you would be.”
“I have to go,” I said suddenly. “Lessons start soon, and the other kids will be mad if Miss Hudson doesn’t have the berries to make tarts…” I tried to smile, even if my shoulders shook.
“We’ll come back, don’t worry.”
How many kids here had heard the same words? I didn’t expect to see them ever again. But when the next morning arrived, so did they.
“That’s where our kingdom is,” one of them–Fox, the cheerful one–said. “I think.”
“Don’t just make stuff up, idiot,” the other one said. His name was Griffin, and it was his idea for them to hide their wings, just in case someone else saw them too. “You’re just trying to impress a dumb human.”
“Don’t mind him.” Fox put his hand on mine. “He’s just grumpy because he’s a prince with a tragic past.”
I just nodded. I didn’t think tragic pasts were very interesting–all the kids here had one too, even if they couldn’t remember them.
“When we rescue you,” he said, “we’ll take you back to the palace there and you can live like a princess.”
I liked how Fox acted like I was special, even though I knew I wasn’t. Miss Hudson was nice, but she couldn’t pay more attention to one kid than another, not when there was only one of her and so many of us. She’d been one of us once, too, and was never adopted.
“We’re not allowed to take humans back,” Griffin said, his voice rising. “My dad got in trouble for that once, and he’s king.”
“We’ll make an exception for Lani,” Fox said, “because she’s the prettiest human in the whole world.”
“You don’t have to pretend,” I said. “Not if it makes your friend upset.”
“Friend and cousin,” Fox said. “His aunt’s a human, in case he forgot, and she’s my dad’s favorite.” He looked down. “And you’re my favorite too, I think.”
After that, Fox and Griffin started visiting the orphanage every day. I knew Griffin didn’t want to come, and that he was probably mad at me for stealing his friend, but I was only borrowing Fox for a little while. I’d never had anything of my own before, except for my stuffed bear.
I knew Fox wasn’t really mine, even if I pretended. Everything else could be taken from me, but now I’d have a memory to hold on to once I was alone again, just like some of the other kids had.
I didn’t really know what to say, but Fox didn’t seem to mind. He told me all about the fae kingdom he’d bring me back to someday.
“You’re not allowed,” Griffin said again. “And you live around humans most of the time, remember?”
“My dad’s talking about moving,” Fox said. “You don’t have a family, right, Lani?”
“We’ll be your family, then, me and Griff.”
This time, I took his hands. “Thank you.” For pretending. For making each day different from the one before. For the memory.
“You don’t even know her,” Griffin said. “She could be a zombie or a werewolf or a zombie-werewolf. I’m telling you, she’s weird.”
“Then I guess I’m weird too,” Fox said cheerfully.
I don’t know why I decided to kiss him on the cheek.
Neither did Griffin. “GROSS,” he said.
Another memory I could keep forever: my first kiss…
Every morning, Fox returned, just like the sun. For some reason, Griffin always came too, even though he looked unhappier every time.
“I promise to come back every day forever and ever, until I can take you back to the fairy kingdom,” Fox said. “Pinky swear.”
“You’re my cousin,” Griffin interrupted. “And I’m the prince. So why can’t we do what I wanna do for once?”
“Thank you,” I said to Fox. “I’ll wait for you.”
“I mean it, Lani,” he said. “You’ll see. The flowers there are really pretty.”
I took his hand in both of mine. Was this what the kids who found new families felt like?
“Gross,” Griffin said. “Humans are gross and so are girls and princesses and Lani is the grossest.”
I wanted to tell him not to be sad, that Fox would leave and forget about me someday, but that made me sad instead. But I couldn’t be sad for very long with Fox around, not when he tried so hard to make me happy.
Sometimes, he brought me presents.
Somehow, he knew plants were my favorite thing of all.
“My mom and dad and sister love flowers,” he said when I told him. “So I hoped you would too. …Are you gonna take it?”
“It’s so pretty…”
“It reminded me of you.” He grinned at me. One of his front teeth was loose–maybe it would fall out by his next visit. “…Am I your favorite?”
I wanted to make the memory last longer, because I knew the flower wouldn’t live for long. But I wanted to make him happy too. “You are,” I said quietly, taking the flower.
I hugged him, careful not to crush the flower.
It might be the last present–and hug–I ever got…
The next day, Griffin grumbled even louder than usual while Fox told me stories. Fox had a twin sister, he said, but she wasn’t as pretty as me.
“What’s so great about Fox?” Griffin mumbled.
“Everything,” I said quietly.
I was surprised when Griffin pulled me off the ground and dragged me by the hand. “Come with me,” he ordered. “I wanna show you why I’m better.”
Fox laughed. “Good luck with that, Griff. See you tomorrow, Lani.”
“So obviously,” Griffin said when we were alone, “I’m the son of a king and he’s just the son of a duke. And my mom’s a vampire and his is just a normal dumb human like you.”
“I don’t know what a duke is,” I said, “but I know Fox, and he’s nice to me.”
“Just because he gave you some stupid flower? I can give you a zillion flowers when I’m king.”
“I don’t think I need that many…” They might fill the entire orphanage, and each one of us only got a tiny amount of space to ourselves.
“I can think of something better, I guess.”
He thought of something, but it wasn’t what I was expecting…
It started raining on my way back to the house. The sun was still out–and Griffin was still with me.
“Think about it,” he said, holding a giant leaf over my head to protect me from the rain. “If you pick me as your favorite, I’ll grant you a wish. Anything you want, unless it’s really gross or stupid.”
“I can’t think of anything…” And I’d already told Fox he was my favorite.
I knew what I wanted. What we all wanted, every single one of us. “A family,” I whispered.
“And then I’ll be your favorite?”
“…You promise? Not that I really care or whatever, but I’m fae and a trade has to be fair.”
I hesitated. I didn’t want to betray Fox, and I knew Griffin couldn’t give me what I wanted most, but it wouldn’t hurt to pretend, just this once. “I promise.”
“Done.” He sounded smug. “I’m really powerful, you know. My dad says so.”
I had the strangest dream that night. Or maybe it was a nightmare, but I wasn’t falling and there wasn’t any lightning.
The next morning, there was another sunshower.
I was starting to believe good things would happen, instead of just pretending. Maybe Fox had brought me another present…
But Miss Hudson stopped me when I brought my dirty clothes down to wash.
“Lani,” she said, “I was looking for you.” She smiled at me, the smile every kid in the orphanage got exactly once–or never in their whole time there. “You’ve been matched with a family.”
“Are you sure?” I blurted. Griffin couldn’t have granted my wish…he was a fairy, not a genie.
“They’re coming from far away,” she said. “I didn’t want to tell you until everything was in order and I was a hundred percent sure. They can’t wait to meet you.”
When I did meet them, they weren’t at all what I was expecting…
“I’m Finn,” the one dressed all in black said. “And this is my husband, Benny. We’d like to be your new dads–if that’s okay with you, Lani.”
They looked so hopeful. Even if they weren’t what I was expecting, I could pretend, the way they’d have to pretend I was really their daughter and not one that someone else forgot or threw away.
“It’s okay,” I said shyly.
It would have to be. And if it wasn’t, I’d pretend.