Mom and Daddy fight for the first time tonight.
“Lacy, you don’t know what I’m going through,” Daddy protests. His voice, as it usually is these days, is steely and cold. Mom flinches, draws back from his tone.
“At this point,” she replies in a low, hurt voice. “I don’t really care.”
His jaw tightens. “Excuse me?”
She takes a deep breath, preparing for a long, screaming lecture. Like the kind she gives me or Jasmine when we don’t cooperate, or disappear after curfew. Sneak out. Refuse to eat dinner because it’s something we don’t like. She swipes a lock of curly brown hair behind her ear.
“You drink almost every night, and you rarely leave the house,” she hisses. “You’re drunk, and Jasmine and Elouise are terrified of you. You talk to yourself sometimes, and you go into raging fits at night. There’s something wrong with you Artemis. Accept it.”
His eyes flare dangerously. She’s pushed it too far, I can see. But to my surprise, Daddy doesn’t stumble as he makes his way over to the couch and sits down. He walks normally, calmly. Except for his eyes. They are still wild.
Mom seems shocked, too. There’s a bottle of wine on the coffee table. She briefly weighs it, more shock registering on her face when she realizes that it’s full. There’s no half-empty glass beside it, either. The lid is tight. Daddy doesn’t even look at her as she does this.
“I belong in my own home,” he tells her. His voice is taut, ready to burst. “Not underground.”
She blinks, setting the bottle down. “What?”
Daddy looks momentarily confused, but then recovers himself and shakes his head. “It’s nothing. Never mind.”
“Like I said,” she continues, voice never wavering, even though her eyes dart back and forth between the him and the wine. “There’s something wrong with you. Obviously.”
“I pushed it down before,” he answers with determination. “I can and will do it again.”
At this point, my thoughts are in sinc with my mother’s. I creep forward a little farther, daring to reveal another ice blue eye. My hair, raven as Daddy’s is, is kept out of my eyes by a tight ponytail.
“Pushed what down, Artemis?” She doesn’t sit down next to him. Doesn’t event try to reassure him. No patting his back, looking into his eyes. She stands, taps her foot. Seething, with worry expertly hidden underneath. I would know. I’m a lot like her.
He grits his teeth, and a shiver wracks itself through him. “That would be four words. Lacy, could you possibly be considerate of my various sensitivities?”
Now she’s utterly perplexed, as am I. “Sensitivities? Excuse me? Artemis, you don’t have sensitivities.”
“Yes, actually, I do. Many.”
She fumes for a moment, clearly wondering what’s wrong with him. She’s about to speak again; taking in a sharp breath and opening her mouth…
I curse to myself. It’s Jasmine. “Yes?” I whisper, moving away from the developing scene to face my sister. She’s my identical twin, but we don’t exactly get along. Sometimes we think the same way, talk in the same tones, and our eyes change colors in the same patterns, but we are almost nothing alike. While I am more emotional and fiery, Jasmine is cool and calm, if emotionless.
“Why are you up?”
I don’t want to explain, so I just bite my lip and wave at her to come look. She takes one brief hesitation, and then follows my lead, crouching beside me.
“-can’t even take control of your own life!” Mom is yell-whispering. Her voice is nearly silent, like when you try to explain to a friend how loudly you screamed at somebody or something, but a teacher shushes you, and you can only whisper in high-pitched tones. Except that Mom’s is slightly louder.
“I do have control, but you are stretching my limits.” Daddy is speaking at a normal level, but for his anger. I imagine steam blowing out of his ears. It isn’t hard at this point.
Mom just glares at him. I can see a single tear flash down her cheek, but she ignores it. “Well,” she says stiffly. “I think we should stay separated for a while until we can work this out.”
He frowns, visibly flustered, but Mom breezes away from him…and toward us.
Panicking, I push Jasmine aside and scramble up the stairs. I can hear her soft pants behind me as she races to catch up. Mom’s just behind us, and I can almost imagine what she’ll say when she finds out that we were there, listening…
We both dash into our room just as she passes, leaping into bed quietly and fumbling with the covers as we paw them over on top of us. Minutes later, we look almost asleep.
Just when I’m about to move, glance at Jasmine, Mom’s footsteps backtrack and lead her to our door. I immediately close my eyes and slump down in bed, assuming a sleeping position.
Her shadow darkens the room, splaying onto the floor like a giant black rug. I know my breathing is too fast. I try to calm it without arousing any suspicion.
She pads softly over to me, and I feel her hand gently stroking my hair. A tear drops daintily onto my cheek. I resist the urge to wipe it off, or cry myself. She carefully touches her thumb to my face and mops up the salty splash.
A kiss lands lovingly on my forehead. My brow doesn’t wrinkle, and I don’t rub off her affection with my hand. Even though, in “sleep”, she’ll probably think it was cute. Or maybe she’ll realize I’m awake and we’ll be busted. Either way, I don’t stir.
I hear her go to Jasmine and repeat the ritual before sweeping out of the room in tears. I hear an almost inaudible sob come from down the hall before a door slams. A sigh echoes from the living room.
I raise my head after a few minutes. “Jazzy?” I whisper, using my sister’s pet name.
She sits up, meets my eyes. There are tears gathering on her eyelashes, highlighting their thickness and volume. “I’m awake.”
A ragged sigh escapes me. I want to laugh in relief, but that seems childish and cruel, considering the circumstances. “We didn’t get caught,” I say.
A smile ghosts across her face. “We’re alive,” she cheers. But it’s a dead phrase.
I lean back against my backboard and stare at the dark ceiling. “Daddy’s so…”
She copies my stance, casting worried looks at me every few seconds. “Put out?” she suggests.
“No,” I disagree. “Not at all. More…determined. Did you see his eyes, though?” I picture them again; haunted, but flaring with anger.
She slowly nods. “He kind of looks beaten already,” she offers quietly. After this she won’t meet my eyes, even though I want so badly to see them now. I wonder why she says this.
But it’s so true; she’s right, he does look rather beaten.
I shake my head, though. I don’t want to worry her, feeling a protective sibling emotion pooling in my gut. I can’t agree with her; I can’t help her along the path to more worry. We’re both nearly fourteen. The same age. The same height. The only varying things about us are our tastes and styles. Other than that we’re about as alike as you can get. But I can’t hurt my sister. Not Jasmine.
“Let’s just go to sleep,” I whisper. I close my eyes and slide down under my covers. “We can worry about it tomorrow.”
She purses her lips. While she tends to keep her promises, she knows that when I say I’ll do something later, I won’t. It’s always better to make me do things at that time, rather than let me go off on my own. Take responsibility. I’m not a very responsible person, really.
“Fine,” she says. I’m surprised, but I don’t show it, and just nod. I’m actually pretty pleased with myself. I’ve convinced Jasmine – unmovable, stony Jasmine – to listen to me. “Tomorrow. But you’re not getting away with anything after that.”
I give her a reassuring smile. “Okay, sis. Night.”
She replies with a faint grin. “Night.” Her eyes close.
Another thing about Jasmine is, she knows she’ll never bring it up again.
I hear the buzz of talking down the hall and sit up.
At first it's Daddy's voice; a few words, and then a laugh. And a female's…a woman's.
The hope that stabs into my heart surprises me. It's a knife of pleading and begging, a blade of pure belief. Perhaps they've made up now at nearly…I glance at the clock. Nearly 3 Am. Maybe we'll be okay.
I can only hope that tomorrow, when Daddy goes back to normal, that Mom won't care.
It's plain enough for even a dimwit to see – I don't trust my father. And it's clear that I most likely never will. He has been neglectful as of late, and I am not about to let him off right away. It's quite possible that I'll be angry with him for quite a while. Not forever – no, I hate to exaggerate. But a while, certainly.
I push the covers away and drop to the floor with an almost silent thud. Jasmine doesn't twitch a finger, so I move with careful footsteps to the door, and then down the hall.
The voices are coming from the room farthest along the hallway. Daddy used to say that it was his old room, when he lived here in Fowl Manor as a child. He doesn't mention it anymore now. Maybe he wants to keep it a secret from me. I don't know.
"If you push me out the window," Daddy jokes, his voice muted from the other side of the door. "I will have you fired."
"You don't own me, Fowl, get over yourself." It's then that I realize he's not talking to Mom. She doesn't call him Fowl. Never has. And how would Daddy have Mom fired, anyway? A lurch of fury shoots through me.
"I am very much over myself, if you had noticed."
"I didn't notice anything, actually."
"Ha. Very amusing, Captain Short."
The 'Captain Short' lady releases a short little snicker, and then there's a long, breath-taking silence.
"So," she sighs. "The Atlantis Complex, then?"
"Back and badder than ever."
Daddy offers a small smirking laugh back to her before becoming absolutely serious. "If you noticed, I'm counting my words once again, Holly."
Oh. Her name's Holly.
"Yes. I did notice. And I'm making an effort to count in fives for your personal benefit. It's a lot harder than it sounds, actually."
Confused, I start listening more closely. I then realize that it's true – they are talking in fives, or multiples of fives. And playing back that night's fight, I discover that Daddy was doing the same when he was arguing with Mom. At least, mostly.
I can't resist cracking the door open. But they're talking, so they don't hear me.
Their legs dangle out the window. They sit precariously on the edge, at a pretty close range. It's obvious they know each other well. I wonder…in what kind of way?
Holly is short, and I can see her hears poking out. They're pointed. I think it has to be a mutation or something, and I have to ask myself why Daddy would bother with someone like that. He has never been the caring type. And not at all considerate.
"I agree, it really is." Daddy then sighs. "Lacy and I were fighting tonight…"
"Ooh, six words," Holly teases, but then relaxes and looks at her feet. "But go on."
He cracks a pained smile. "She was angry with me. For being ill."
"Does she know?"
He swallows. "Em, not entirely. It would involve a lot of explaining."
Holly shrugs. "Okay. You were saying."
Daddy takes a ragged breath. I realize that I hate him right now. Hate him for talking to this strange lady and ignoring Mom. He's cheating on her! He's cheating! I want to scream.
"The guilt was…truly incredible," he says quietly, with a hint of injury in his voice. "It was so hard not to scream, or start counting my every word. But I let Lacy walk out of there after our fight and I didn't say anything. Perhaps Orion could have brought her back." His head droops miserably.
At first, I feel a small wad of sympathy growing in me. I stop it before it grows too big, and sternly remind myself of why I had been angry before. He is cheating on my mother. Cheating, cheating, cheating.
"Hey, Orion's not you, Arty," Holly reassures. And then seems to rethink it. "Okay, well, technically he is you. But I like this personality much better than Orion. You’re a lot less annoying. Sort of.”
Daddy smiles shakily, wags his head. “Opera house designing skills, Holly. You need them more than you think.”
“Shut up, mud boy. I don’t need you any more than we need Opal to start coming after us again.”
The two shudder, sharing a moment which I know Daddy would not – or could not – share with Mom. It makes me even more furious. But there’s also curiosity tickling me. Who is Opal? And what’s all this about ‘mud boy’, and ‘opera house designing skills’?
The two are silent for a few more minutes, sitting in companionable silence, like the kind Daddy never has with Mom. Not now.
“I’m not a boy anymore, you know,” Daddy whispers.
“Yeah, I know. But I’m not about to start calling you mud man. That’s Butler.”
Daddy bows his head. “I wish he was here.”
Holly nudges him with her elbow. “Hey, me too. But he deserves a normal life, you know? He likes Japan anyway. I dropped in a few days ago, actually.” She smiles warmly. “He has a wife, and he’s a foster parent now.”
Surprised, Daddy shakes his head. “He has always been that kind of person. I think that’s why he was a bodyguard. At least those kids will always be safe.” He doesn’t smile again. Instead, he leans his head against the side of the window. “Like I was.”
“Oh, Arty, don’t cry. Come on, let’s do some LEP training or something.” Holly bounces nervously on the window. “Please? It’ll help keep you’re mind off of everything.”
He sighs. “Maybe tomorrow, Holly.”
She frowns in reply. “For you,’ maybe tomorrow’ means ‘probably never.’ Butler would want you to do it.” It’s a taunt, a dare. I know Mom would never dare Daddy to do anything. I hate this Holly girl even more.
He stiffens. “I know what you’re doing. I’m a genius, remember?”
“Yes, I remember. And that’s also why you have the Complex, so let’s just keep that crazy mud boy mind away from numbers, shall we?” She grins mischievously and then readies herself. “Last one down is a troll.”
It’s too late, I realize. She pushes off of the window sill and starts free-falling to the ground. As much as I don’t care for her…I don’t want to see her dead. I also don’t want Daddy to hear me yelp and come running. So I bite my lip and try not to run to the window; see what’s happening.
It’s strange to me, then, that Daddy just sighs. “I hope you don’t mind the weight,” he calls down, and then he leaps off, too.
“Daddy!” I scream, but it’s too high-pitched for even me to hear. I quickly cover my mouth and creep over to the window, hoping what I see isn’t something too gruesome.
My wish is granted.
Daddy and Holly are just lying there, panting.
“That was amazingly stupid of you,” Daddy acknowledges. “You didn’t even have a moonbelt on me.”
“Well, I didn’t think you’d really do it,” she grumbles, and sits up. “Idiot. I wish I hadn’t tried to catch you.”
To my amazement, he smiles. “All right, Holly, it is my turn now. Truth or dare.”
“Oh, come on, Artemis, this isn’t funny. We almost died.” The two glare at each other for a few minutes, and then start laughing. Laughing! Daddy hasn’t really laughed in forever. I’m in absolute shock that Mom has in no way gotten him to even crack a smile, but this weird Holly lady can just burst right in and make my father roll on the floor snickering. It’s infuriating.
Holly lies back down on the ground with a sigh. “Truth,” she finally says.
Daddy blinks. “I thought you would go for Dare, truthfully,” he admits. “But all right. Has…” He pauses to think. “Has Trouble ever asked you on a date?”
She bites her lip, holding back more giggles. “No. He doesn’t have the guts.”
She lets the laughter loose. “For sure,” she jokes. “Okay, Arty-boy. Truth or Dare?”
“Ha! Knew it.”
Daddy gives her a sideways grin. “Just get on with the question, please, Holly. In case you didn’t know, it’s three thirty in the morning.”
“Whatever.” She rolls her eyes. That’s when I realize that hers are the same color as Daddy’s. Or should I say, same colors. Just like Daddy, one of her eyes is hazel, and the other blue. But they’re on opposite sides. It’s really strange to me. I have always assumed that Daddy had just been born like that. But apparently not. After all, I have all blue eyes.
“Um…How bad is the guilt? On a scale of one to ten?”
Daddy barks out a laugh. It’s not a real laugh, I can clearly tell. “Honestly, or do you want me to answer with my diseased mind?”
“I’d prefer honestly. Just ignore all those crazy fours.”
Wincing, Daddy thinks. “Honestly…nearly ten. You can only re-live your most horrible moments a few thousand times before you begin to wonder what kind of person you are. Lying, tricking people, kidnapping certain friends…” He trails off and won’t meet Holly’s eyes.
“That was years ago. I know how the Complex works, Artemis, but you really need to get over it.” She smiles widely just to prove it. “I’m over it. I’ve been over it.”
He kidnapped her? I gasp to myself. What?
Daddy sighs, shakes his head. “It keeps coming back to this, doesn’t it?” he says in a low voice. “We keep talking about me.”
“You’re important, Arty. This whole thing is important.”
He sits up and curls his knees into his chest. Holly props herself up on one elbow. “Nobody’s ever forgiven me, Holly,” he mumbles. “And I just can’t forgive myself.”
She stands up with a warm smile. “I forgive you, mud boy.”
He looks up at her then, his eyes wide but uncertain. “Thank you,” he sighs, and I can tell he means it.
Holly grins wider, and then ruffles his hair. Daddy looks confused. “I better get home. Be careful. I don’t want to get called in because you had some attack or something.”
He doesn’t say anything, just gazes up at her with caution.
“Take care, Artemis,” Holly whispers, and then gives him a long, careless hug. Both of them have their eyes closed, arms wrapped around each other firmly. Not wanting to let go.
I just want to cry. Mom and Daddy never hug like this. Not ever.
Finally, Holly pulls herself away and starts walking off. Daddy watches her leave with a mix of uncertainty and love in his eyes. I can’t tell what kind of love.
But I think he wants to be married to her instead of Mom.
In tears now, I walk away from the window, hardly caring if anyone sees me. I’m not careful as I trudge sadly down the hall and into my room. But nobody wakes up.
I am all alone with this secret. Not counting Daddy.
I don’t want to be his daughter.
We're having breakfast together as a family this morning, and both Daddy and I look like we were dragged through a rose bush with extra thorns. Our clothes aren't ripped or anything, but we are tired from last night. He doesn't seem to notice me, though. He concentrates hard on his plate. Nobody tries to make conversation.
At last, Jasmine has her plate cleaned off, and she requests to leave the table. Daddy mumbles an unconcerned yes as he shoves another bite into his mouth. Mom watches him with a fury I didn't know was possible for her.
"Elouise," she finally says, her voice stiff and angry. "Why don't you finish up and go play with Jasmine for a while? I need to talk to your father."
I straighten nervously. "Um…okay?"
She waves me off. "Go on, dear."
I steal a glance at Daddy, who doesn't look worried in the least. He's not even looking at me. I wonder if he was drinking last night after Holly left. I nod slowly at Mom and take my plate away to the sink. When I'm done, I make sure to go all the way into my room before creeping back out to listen.
Daddy is still eating, his eyes dull with sleepiness. "So what did you want to talk to me about, Lacy?" he asks. He doesn't seem to care, though.
She crosses her arms and pushes her plate away. It still has a little bit of egg on it. "You seem more tired than usual, Artemis," she says with steel. "I'm just wondering why. Worried about your health." She doesn't seem to care, either.
To my surprise, Daddy winces and puts down his fork. "I'm fine, thanks for asking," he replies in the same firm way. Then he takes up the silverware and jabs the fork tongs into his breakfast once again. I notice that he's speaking in fives again, like he did some of last night.
"How late were you up?"
He shrugs. Later than three thirty, I whisper smugly to myself. I wish I could yell it to Mom. Maybe she’d leave with us, and I’d never have to deal with Daddy again.
“Late enough,” he says. He’s now finished with his eggs. He takes a sip of tea from a mug. It’s Earl Grey, as always.
“Can I have a time? I am your wife,” she reminds him icily.
He eyes the ring on her finger. “I know. And I really do not have to explain.”
Ten words, I note.
She stands up, her chair scooting backwards behind her. “Yes you do,” she hisses. “We aren’t supposed to keep secrets. We’re family.”
Daddy won’t look at her now. His eyes are unfocused, I see. A lurch of worry takes me, but I push it away.
“You certainly don’t act like it,” he mutters back.
“Excuse me?” She leans forward onto the table. “We’re married, Artemis Fowl. No secrets. No lies.”
He clenches his fists. “Why do you assume I lie? I have made mistakes in the past, but that’s none of your business in the first place.” He’s almost yelling now. I remember how he kidnapped Holly, and shudder.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Mom cries. “I don’t even know you anymore.”
Daddy watches with wide, guilt-shrouded eyes as she pulls the ring off of her finger and lays it on the table. He glances at his own, still resting on his finger.
He twists the gem in the middle. It turns.
Mom stares at him. “What are you…?” she begins. She doesn’t get to finish.
“Holly!” Daddy calls frantically at the ring. He sounds like he might cry. “Here. NOW!”
“Arte-” Holly’s voice erupts from the ring. I yelp from the staircase, and Mom glances at me.
“Elouise?” she gapes. “What are you doing?”
I can’t answer. Daddy is running from the room, out the door, into the bright Irish sunshine.
Jasmine rushes out of the bathroom, her hair half brushed. Her eyes are wild.
“What’s going on?” she demands. She sees Daddy throw open the front doors and burst into the outdoors. “Where’s Daddy going?”
Mom gets a serious, angry look on her face all of a sudden. “I don’t know,” she hisses. “But we’re going to find out. Come on, girls.” She runs after him, Jasmine and I just behind.
The doors don’t close on us; we get there just before they do. They open on Daddy, pacing so fast and furiously that he might just dig a rut in the earth. He stares impatiently at the sky, and then finally spots us.
He takes a sharp intake of breath and backs up a few inches. “Lacy,” he says angrily. “Stay away from me.”
“Daddy?” Jasmine pleads. “What’s happening?”
His eyes rake over the two of us – his daughters. “Holly’s coming to pick me up,” he replies. “Your mother and I aren’t getting along. She…” I can almost see the lump in his throat as he swallows. “She took off her wedding ring.”
“So?” Mom growls. “I’m just trying to prove my point, Artemis. You’re acting strangely.”
His eyes narrow. “You should live a day in my life, Lacy,” he seethes. “See how you like fearing for your life every second.”
She blinks. “What?”
All of a sudden, I see Holly jump out from the bushes. There’s a weird pair of wings strapped to her back, and she has a creepy black helmet on, as well as a black jumpsuit. She’s holding a gun.
“I’m here,” she grumps. “What is it?” Her hands go to her hips, the gun still in one of them. She looks like a little kid playing dress-up. A little kid who accidentally found her father’s gun in the closet.
Mom stares blankly. “Who are you?” she demands.
“Captain Holly Short,” Daddy says, and goes to her side. “We’re leaving.”
Holly turns to him. “We’re what?”
He seems to hold back an irritated sigh. “We’re leaving. I told you already.”
She slowly shakes her head, as if unsure what’s happening. “Artemis, I may be able to understand any language, but that doesn’t mean that when you start speaking in rapid-fire Japanese that I’ll automatically be able to decipher what you say. I’m not a computer.”
He crosses his arms.
Mom keeps looking back and forth between he and Holly. “You can speak Japanese?” she finally gets out to Daddy. He raises an eyebrow.
“Japanese, Chinese, Gaelic, Gnommish,” Holly chants. “You name it, we can speak it.”
“Gnommish?” Jasmine gapes.
In reply, Daddy says something. I can’t understand what it is, but Holly nods and repeats it.
Mom shakes her head. “How old are you?” she asks Holly. Her anger is back, but it’s a bit muddled with confusion. “Four?”
Daddy laughs. Holly glares at him. Says something. He stops laughing. He replies in the same tongue. They seem to be arguing. Daddy winces several times. Holly has her hands on her hips again soon enough. She holds up the gun, points it at his chest. Growls something at him. Mom looks as if she might faint.
They turn back to us.
“Forty,” Holly says simply. “Not four.”
“But you look-”
Daddy tells Holly something in their strange language. Smiles a vampire smile. Next to me, Jasmine shudders and reaches for my hand. Holly smacks him upside the head with a palm. She says something back to him then, and they both fall silent.
“Sorry about all that,” Holly apologizes to us. “We tend to fight a lot.”
“So you know each other well?” Mom asks, fury quivering in her voice.
Daddy seems to know what’s coming, and puts his hands behind his back. His eyes are cold.
“Lacy, you can’t claim to know what we’ve been through together,” he says stiffly. “If you did, than you wouldn’t be arguing with me right now.”
“Oh, I can only imagine,” Mom seeths. “But I’m sure it was a lot of fun.”
“Oh gods,” Holly gags. “Not at all. I would have been a lot better off without child geniuses and quantum zombies to deal with.”
Daddy rolls his eyes. “We didn’t even see a quantum zombie.”
“It was mentioned. I worried. So did you, if I remember correctly.”
“I was fourteen.”
“You are fourteen in my book, Fowl.”
We watch this exchange with a great deal of bewilderment. Mom is shaking with the intensity of it all. Jasmine looks ready to catch our mother if she falls.
“Twenty-five years,” Mom finally croaks. “You’ve known each other twenty-five years.”
Daddy coughs. “Actually, it is more like twenty-seven. We met when I was twelve. It shouldn’t be very surprising, though. Plenty of friendships survive to the adult years.”
“But we’ve never met…” Mom whispers. “Artemis, have you been…have you been with her all this time? Cheating on me?”
His eyes widen. “No! How could you even…even…” He looks like he’s going to have a heart attack his face is so red.
Holly looks extremely concerned. She takes out her gun. “Um, should I…?”
Daddy nods quickly. “Yes please,” he gasps. “Hurry up.”
Mom cries out. “What are you doing? Are you going to shoot him?” Holly has her hand on the trigger. Mom screams, not needing an answer.
“Five times five is twenty-five,” Holly mumbles under her breath, sets up the gun, and then pulls the trigger. Mom screams again as Daddy collapses. I can’t stop staring, and then I realize that I’m screaming as well. Jasmine has tears streaming down her cheeks. Mom drops to her knees, shaking so hard it’s scary.
It’s minutes later that we realize Holly is looking at us with more than a little bit of worry – no regret or the lust of murder – and that there isn’t any blood. Daddy is still breathing. Breathing deeply, in fact. He’s sleeping.
“What…” Mom stammers, crawling over to his side, pressing her hands over his chest, where the gun was. There’s a little scorch mark on his clothes, but not even a drop of blood.
“Neutrino 4000,” Holly explains, twirling the gun on her finger. “Foaly’s latest model. Burst concentration of up to six. Enough to set a building on fire. I had the setting on one. Enough to shock a mud boy to unconsciousness.” She smiles grimly. “I’d say we have two hours until Orion comes along and bugs us. Enjoy the peace.” She shoves the gun into a holster and gestures at Daddy. “Anyone want to help me pick him up?”
Jasmine is blinking. “That whole thing took…it took…”
“Five minutes,” I gasp. “That was only five minutes.”
“Time flies when you’re arguing with an insane mud boy,” Holly sniffs. “Anyone?”
I bring myself back to reality and help pick up Daddy. Jasmine and Mom are working with me, while Holly supervises, helping us bring him back into the house. She’s still wearing her wings.
Soon enough, Daddy is sleeping soundly on the couch, and we’re all settled into our respective chairs. Holly seems to have made lemonade while we were working. We slurp on it uncertainly.
“So you’re Elouise and Jasmine?” Holly asks, looking Jasmine and I over. We nod slowly. “Huh. Sometimes Artemis brings pictures in when he visits, but I’ve never seen either of you in person.” She has her helmet off, and Mom just can’t stop staring at her ears. Or her eyes.
“He visits?” my mother asks, her voice hollow. Holly nods.
“Every few months or so. We talk on the phone sometimes, but he usually has things to do. People to see.” She shrugs. “So do I, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Jasmine pipes up, “How did you two meet?” She has her hands in her lap, looking trusting, but her voice is steely, and I know she’s plotting her next move.
Holly suddenly looks uncomfortable. “Well, it’s kind of a long story.”
Mom takes a nervous sip of lemonade. “We have time.”
Swallowing hard, Holly sighs. “Okay, fine. It was a pretty normal day for me really. My commander yelled at me, I went on a mission. Almost got killed by a troll. Didn’t have any magic to work with. People saw me. Mind wipes.” She leans back in her chair. “Got lectured about being careful. Flew off to preform the Ritual. I mean, that stuff’s not normal, but it was pretty much in the beginning.” She seems out of order.
“Trolls?” I say. “Magic, and mind wipes? What are you talking about?”
She raises her eyebrows and shrugs again, this time more helplessly. “I told you it was a long story.”
Mom stutters when she speaks next. “So how did you meet, then?”
Holly nods. “I was getting there. So I had to bury an acorn to fill up again. I went to this old oak tree, with a river running near it. I was just about to start when I got shot in the shoulder with a sleep dart.” She closes her eyes, reliving the moment. “And then I woke up in a room.”
“Was Daddy in there with you?” Jasmine asks. Now she seems really into the story. “Is that how you met?”
Holly smiles wryly. “Not quite. You see, this was years and years ago. And he wasn’t always a good person.” Mom snorts, as if to say, He’s still not a good person. But she didn’t speak. “He was actually a real jerk.”
“Go on,” I say slowly. I know what’s coming next, though. What she’s going to say.
“His bodyguard Butler was the one who shot me,” Holly answers in a quiet voice. “And I was in this very house, trapped downstairs in a cell.” She shivers. “I never go down in the basement anymore, believe me.”
Jasmine is bone white, and she just stares in disbelief at Daddy, who is breathing deeply on the couch still. His eyes are closed, and he actually looks at peace now. It’s hard to believe he had ever kidnapped Holly.
“His father was missing,” Holly explains in an undertone, as if she fears of waking Daddy. “He was in charge of the family fortune – he’s always been rich. He was trying to manage everything alone, and his mother was crazy with misery while Mr. Fowl was gone. Literally crazy. Sometimes she didn’t even recognize him. He was twelve, and probably the greatest genius I’ve ever met.”
“My husband is a genius?” Mom repeats.
Holly blinks. “I thought you knew.”
Mom slowly shakes her head. “He…he never told me much about himself.”
“For a good reason, too.”
“He kidnapped me,” Holly points out. “But anyway. My commander tried so hard to trick Artemis, get him to give me up. He threatened to kill everyone, because he wasn’t allowed inside.”
“Why not?” I ask. “Why couldn’t he just walk through? It’s not like there was some magical barrier or something keeping him back.” I snort at the thought, but Holly just raises her eyebrows again.
“Actually, there was,” she says. “We can’t go inside a residence uninvited.”
Mom tilts her head sideways. “We?”
“My people and I,” Holly clarifies. “So Root – my commander – set up a time-stop over Fowl Manor.” She gestures at the house. The house we’re sitting in. “I had already escaped from my cell and I was roaming throughout the house. I punched Artemis in the face.” She smiles at the memory. “They got me out of there before they blue-rinsed the place. Everything died. And Artemis, Butler, Juliet, and Mrs. Fowl were all still inside.”
Jasmine glances at Daddy, as if making sure he’s not a ghost.
“But like the genius he was, Artemis came up with a plan and saved all of them. And he and I set up a deal – he would get half of the ransom that he would have originally gotten for capturing me, and I healed his mother. We didn’t see each other for a while after that. But then he called me up and we went off to save his father.” She rolls her eyes. “I lost a finger.” She moves one of her index fingers. “But I fixed it up before my time ran out.” She smiles again. “We’ve had a lot of things happen to us over the years. These past few have been blissfully quiet.”
At this point, I’m thoroughly convinced that both she and my father are completely insane. Commanders, trolls, magic barriers, time-stops…it’s all insanity.
Mom and Jasmine both seem to think the same, as they set down their lemonade and don’t touch it again. Like they’ll contract this craziness just by touching anything after Holly. Mom scooches a little farther away from the couch where Daddy lies.
“So. Long story or what?” Holly takes a long pull from her glass and sets it down with a satisfied sigh. “I know I probably sound crazy to you three, but believe me, Artemis is a lot worse. He talks so technically about it that you can barely understand him unless you know him really well.”
“And you know him that well?” I mumble.
“Like the back of my hand.” She looks long and hard at Mom. “I’m not surprised that he hasn’t told you anything. But the fact that he’s a genius would have been a good way to get plenty of girls to follow after him like lost puppies.” She folds her hands in her lap and her tone is conversational. “So how did you two meet?” she inquires. “He never did tell me.”
Mom coughs and shifts awkwardly, moving farther and farther away from the two friends. “We met in a college class when I was sophmore,” she says unsurely.
Holly nods. “Go on.”
“He was the assistant teacher, but I thought he should have been the real thing.” Mom blushes. “I never thought he might be a genius, though. Sometimes he didn’t act very smart. He didn’t know how to flirt at all.”
“Oh, I know.” Holly rolls her eyes in disbelief. “He’s not a social butterfly, that’s for sure.”
Mom continues slowly, like she’s not sure if Holly can really understand her. “I never saw him looking at me, but one day he told me that he was impressed with my intelligence, and he took me out to coffee. We got to know each other pretty well, I thought. It was nearly a year of having coffee and dinner together before I realized that we had been dating the entire time.” She barks out a laugh. “And then a few years later, he proposed.”
“What class did he teach?” Holly prompts. “You never said.”
It only takes a moment for Mom to answer. “It was a technology class. He was so good with computers. Sometimes he would bring in these little trinkets and he would do some pretty amazing things with them.” She blushes again. “I was…dazzled. He never seemed cold to me until now.” She casts a long, distant look at Daddy. “He started drinking a few months ago,” she whispers now. “I don’t know why.”
Holly’s face suddenly gets furious. “I do. Argon prescribed it.”
Mom’s eyes get as big as full moons. “Who…what are you talking about?”
Shaking her head, Holly bites her lip, seeming to calm down. “I’ll have him explain when he’s back to himself. I think it’ll help for him to talk about it, actually. He pretends that he doesn’t want people to worry about him, but he does. He wants someone to care.” Her eyes fire up, and then slowly die out. “It’s infuriating sometimes.”
Jasmine grasps my hand again. “He’s also been acting really mean,” she says. “Cold, like Mom said.”
Holly nods thoughtfully. “He doesn’t trust anybody? Wants people to just stay out of his way and not bug him?”
Jasmine’s eyes are huge as she bobs her head.
Mom moves over to my sister’s chair and sits next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “We’ll figure this out, honey,” she soothes. “It’s all going to be okay.”
“I’m not a kid,” Jasmine snaps, but she leans into Mom and sighs.
A smile plays at Holly’s lips, but she doesn’t speak.
Then the black helmet lying on the couch next to her starts buzzing, and we all jump except for her. She just rolls her eyes and picks it up.
“Sorry,” she grunts. “I have a call. Maybe I’ll put it on speaker, if you want to hear.”
“Who is it?” I ask loudly. She catches my eye.
“Foaly,” she says, as if I’m supposed to know who that is, and then she commands to the helmet, “Speaker on. Answer.”
“Answering,” the helmet chimes in a light, carefree voice. It’s surprisingly loud.
A voice crackles at the other end, speaking in Holly and Daddy’s weird language.
“Foaly,” Holly replies. “We have some English-speaking guests on site.”
“What?” the voice questions. “Who?” It sounds like a man.
“Elouise, Jasmine, and Lacy Fowl.”
There’s a long silence, and then a hoarse, “Well, um…hi.”
“Artemis is unconscious on the couch, Orion expected to join us shortly,” Holly recites. It’s like some sort of pledge or something. A required report. “He and Lacy, his wife, have been fighting.”
“What?” Foaly snorts. “So we’re playing therapists now? Gods, Holly, I may be a genius, but I can’t always be a miracle worker.”
“You’re ego is bigger than your entire station, ‘genius.’ And it’s not as much about that as it is about the Complex.”
Foaly sighs irritibly. “I heard about Orion already, I got the picture. How bad?”
“Talking in fives, paranoia…the usual.”
“You said unconscious? Are you using the Neutrino?”
Holly doesn’t answer the second question. “Yes, I said unconscious. I’m expecting more than an hour until he comes back.”
“What about the gun, Holly?”
She puts on a laughing, cheerful, “I’m-messing-with-you” face. “It was fine. Could use some improvement.”
“Just some general improvement. Maybe we could rename it ‘Donkey Boy.'”
“Oh, ha-ha, very funny. Not.”
“It’s hilarious. I think Artemis would agree.”
As if hearing his name, Daddy stirs.
Holly looks horrified. “D’Arvit!” she quips. “He’s waking up early. See? This is what I mean by improvements.”
“I’ll hack into the screens, okay?”
“Yeah, whatever.” She loudly enunciates to the helmet, “Hang up.”
“Hanging up,” the happy voice obeys, and then all falls silent again.
Daddy quickly sits up, holding his head and moaning like he has a bad hangover. “Princess, did you have to shoot so suddenly?’
“I was doing you both good, and you know it,” Holly sighs. “And don’t call me that.”
Mom’s mouth is hanging open. “Princess?” she chokes out. “Princess? You’ve never called me princess. Why is she suddenly so special? I thought you said you didn’t have anything?” She’s breathing fast and I fear she’ll collapse.
“My dear, do not fear,” Daddy coos. “We both love you as the stars love the night sky, and the birds love to sing.”
I’m worried for him, suddenly. He has never, not ever said anything like that. His eyes are too gentle now, as well, and his stance not as intimidating as usual. And he says everything with such a seriousness it’s almost adorable. But at the same time, he’s casual and mundane. In a weird kind of way.
“We?” Mom repeats. “As in…?”
“Artemis and I,” Daddy clarifies.
“But…” Jasmine interrupts, trailing off. “You’re Artemis…my dad…aren’t you?”
Daddy pauses, as if thinking it over. “Perhaps I could be considered your farther, Jasmine, dearest. But I was not present when your mother gave birth to you, that would have been Artemis. You will find that we are two very different beings.” He beams.
“When you marry Artemis,” Holly snickers. “You marry Orion.”
Daddy turns to Holly and bows. “Princess, please forgive me. But I have pledged my heart to sweet Queen Lacy, as Artemis has. We might have been but for my undying love for her. She is the most beautiful, most wonderful. Do not be disheartened; love will find you.”
Holly is bright red when he’s finished speaking. “I think I’ll manage,” she half laughs, half croaks. She seems a little nervous.
“So wait,” I blurt. “You two…you were…”
“Not exactly,” Daddy sighs. “Until we met Lacy, Holly was the only one who understood, and helped with Artemis’s guilt. However, I was affected only by her beauty.” He turns to Mom. “But my Queen, you are truly the prettiest thing this world has laid eyes on.”
“His guilt?” Jasmine repeats, flushing dark red as she ignores the last few comments. “What does that mean?”
Holly mumbles something under her breath. I think I hear the words, ‘mud boy,’ and ‘Complex.’
“Yes, Holly?” Mom asks loudly, her eyes steely and superior. They clearly say, He loves me, not you. Get over it.
To my surprise, Holly looks straight up at her, hands in her lap and her eyes flashing defiantly back. “I think Artemis should tell you. He’s your husband after all.” Also to my surprise, her voice is casual, and it doesn’t hitch or rise when she says ‘husband.’ It’s almost as if she really doesn’t care.
Daddy nods. “He would certainly like to. As he is free of the fours, I believe he will be quite able to explain. I could speak for him, Princess,” he adds to Holly. “I don’t like to leave the Queen at such a time as this.”
Holly blushes again. “Sorry, Orion. You can watch from the inside. Silently.” She pulls out her gun again, and Daddy sighs and bows his head.
“If you must, please hurry.” He exposes the skin at his neck with a flick of his hand. “Artemis and I agree that it hurts like the devil.”
Holly tugs on the trigger, and Daddy collapses again, asleep once more.
“Well,” Foaly’s voice echoes through the house. “That was relatively painless. For me.” He cackles. “Gods, Holly, I thought you were choking you were so red!”
She turns angrily to the TV, which is slowly turning on. “Shut up, donkey boy.”
“Hey! That is never funny, and you know it.”
“I think it’s hilarious,” she retorts, stretching the last word for an extra second.
The TV screen flickers once before displaying a strange looking man. He has a long, horse-like face, and he’s wearing a lap coat over his bare chest. There’s a tin foil cap on his head. I’ve never seen anything stranger, I know as soon as I lay eyes on him.
“I wish I could punch you,” he says ruefully in Foaly’s voice. “But sadly, the screen is in the way.”
“Plus miles and miles of dirt,” Holly smirks. Then she becomes serious and gestures at Daddy. “How long do you think he’ll be out?”
Foaly shrugged. “Probably an hour. More.”
“Another hour?” I hiss. “Another hour? I want to know what’s happening now.” Mom nods firmly, and Jasmine crosses her arms over her chest protectively, eyes cold and venomous.
“Gods,” Holly sniffs. “You three are almost as dramatic as Orion.”
Foaly shudders. “And we all know we don’t need another one of him.”
Mom narrows her eyes. “Well, I thought that he was sweet. Artemis has never said anything like that to me.” I see her eyes glittering and I know how much she would prefer Orion to Artemis – my Daddy…or maybe Orion should be my Daddy. After all, he’s so much nicer and sincere…
Jasmine seems to agree with me, as she nods slowly and leans into Mom.
Foaly gapes at us all like we’re a collection of strange alien creatures. “You like Orion better than Artemis?” he chokes. “Excuse me, but how is that possible?”
“Daddy is cold and emotionless,” Jasmine pipes up. “And just now he was different. He was nice. And he cared about Mom. He didn’t push her away. He told her he loved her. I want to see him like that all the time. I’m still confused about all this,” she added. “But I know for sure that I would rather have that Orion man as my Daddy other than Artemis.”
I copy her crossed-arms pose and agree with a brief, “Exactly.” Mom casts a quick smile at Jasmine and I.
Holly turns away now, fists clenched around her helmet. Foaly looks nervous when he sees her twist away, but I’m not sure what to expect. Before she’s all the way turned around, though, I see the glint of a tear in her eye. I can tell she’s trying to hold in a gallon of emotions by the way she’s hunched.
“Perhaps I should bring a friend of ours by,” she says, her voice heavily guarded. If I hadn’t seen her face for that brief second, I wouldn’t have known she was fighting back tears. “An old friend.”
Foaly suddenly straightens. “When will you be back?”
“I don’t know. It depends. Probably late tonight, if I fly quickly. He’ll be surprised to see me, I’m sure.”
Foaly quirks a beaming, relieved smile. “Try to bring back some Japanese for me, will you? They have the best noodles I’ve ever tasted. For mud men, that is.”
I see a hint of a smile on Holly’s lips. “I’ll try,” she promises, and then grabs her wings from the couch and puts them on. The gun is at her belt again, I notice. “Be right back, mud girls,” she grunts, and this time I can hear the pain in it. She dashes out the door, shoving her helmet over her head as she goes.
Mom looks shocked, grabbing Jasmine’s hand and dragging her out the door, me following closely behind. We arrive just in time to see Holly leap into the air, the wings – which had looked so much like dress-up clothes before – buzzing like a hummingbird’s on her back. And she starts flying off to the east.
“She…she…” Jasmine whispers.
“She flew,” Mom breathes.
When we come back inside, still utterly speechless, Foaly is busily crunching on some carrots. Daddy is still lying on the couch, and all of our lemonades are still and silent on the table.
“Well,” Foaly sighs. “I guess all there is to do is wait.”