✨ Chapter 10 ✨

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Sal swatted her purple bangs aside and peered up at Marian. In the background, a flurry of Minikin boys tumbled out the front door. Vanilla notes of breakfast cake wafted through the air; the scent grew stronger as the girls made their way inside.

Marian's stomach twisted. "I, um, went for a walk. Is Endrik still here?"

"Maz took him and Prillene home last night after you conked out," she answered dryly. "No changing the subject!" She narrowed her eyes. "Were you in your firefly form just now?"

Marian brushed a film of glittering gold from her midsection and sighed. "Yep, you caught me. I guess I should go and clean up before breakfast." She headed quickly toward the spiral staircase.

"Marian!" Sal called after her. "Where were you? What's going on?"

"It's a long story," she yelled back over her shoulder. "Tell everyone to go ahead and start without me. I'll be right back."

She fled down the stairs to the bathroom attached to Sal's bedroom, where she'd left her bag the night before. From within the safety of the bathroom, she feverishly brushed her teeth and changed into clean clothing. How am I supposed to keep this secret from Sal and Endrik? Especially Sal?

On her way back to the kitchen she bumped into Sal's mother. "Mrs. Minikin! I'm so sorry!"

Mrs. Minikin's smile lit her soft gray eyes. "No need, dear," she said, walking with Marian to a table set with individual teapots with mugs shaped like flowers. "I'm the one who should be apologizing for missing the sleepover last night. The work day seems to get longer every year—with so many layoffs; and those of us who are fortunate to keep our jobs have to absorb the work left behind."

Unsure how else to respond, Marian nodded.

"Sit down and I'll get you a plate. Maz is sleeping in this morning, so I get to reclaim control over my kitchen."

Sal entered the room, pulling a chain of little brothers along with her, as Marian seated herself. "There you are," said Sal.

Marian crumpled under the weight of her friend's stare, wondering how someone so tiny could induce so much guilt. She responded with a sheepish smile.

Once all the Minikin children were seated, Mrs. Minikin began dishing out plates of breakfast cake. "The powdered sugar and nectar syrup are on the table. Help yourself."

After dousing her cakes in syrup, Marian took a bite and chewed. The lightness of the cake, paired with the syrup's sweetness, was heavenly. It would have tasted better had Sal not been giving her suspicious glances throughout the meal.

Mrs. Minikin sipped from her mug and smiled. "What are your plans for the day, girls?"

"Homework," Sal groaned. "Marian, Endrik, and I have a school project. Though, I get the feeling Marian spent some time this morning working on it." Sal shot Marian a pointed grin. "I'm hoping that means we won't have to spend the whole weekend not having fun."

Marian gulped. This was not a conversation she wanted to get into at the moment, much less in front of Mrs. Minikin. Just as the nectar's sweetness began to fade in favor of the rising bitter taste in her mouth, a doorbell chimed.

Gat jumped up from the table to answer the front door.

Marian exhaled, hoping the visitor would provide a distraction.

Moments later, a smiling face framed with long, dark hair popped through the kitchen door. "Good morning, everyone. It is very nice to see you today, Mrs. Minikin."

Marian gaped at Prillene, who looked even more like herself than she'd realized the evening before. I must have been super tired. We're nearly identical.

Nearly.

Identical.

She smiled as an idea flickered and brightened in her mind of minds.

***

Marian passed underneath a canopy of summer flowers and frowned at the humans walking by. Most were tethered to their four-legged animals with straps made of leather and chain. Some had attached the straps to trees. She shuddered at the thought of captivity, having once seen a human who'd trapped a firefly in a glass jar. She did not understand, nor could she imagine, what it was like to care for a pet. Or why anyone would want to do so. It was a concept completely foreign to Glistens.

Endrik caught up to her from behind and playfully bumped her shoulder with his. "Hey, Mari. How was the rest of the sleepover?"

"Hi! It was fine." She smiled and smoothed down the outfit she'd changed into before walking to the park. Today's tutu was longish, in a bright shade of yellow, and belled like the petals of a daffodil.

"You must be a pro at sleepovers. All you did was sleep. You didn't even make it through the movie." He grinned. "I hope that means you're feeling better now, you know, after what happened at school yesterday."

Marian yawned. "Oh, sorry," she said, covering her lips, unsure how she'd let the yawn slip out.

"Did Sal wake you after I left?" Endrik gaped. "You had fun without me?"

"No way. I never made it off the couch. When I woke up, everyone was gone." Marian's voice trailed off. She paused to cringe at the expression on Endrik's face.

He rubbed his chin; the strawberry-blonde scruff had filled in more overnight. "Maybe you should sit."

"What? Why?" she said, only half-dodging his attempts to get her to sit down next to him on a park bench.

"Marian," he said, his gaze serious. "You look exhausted. If this is too much today, we can work on our assignment tomorrow. I'll take you home. I can deal with Sal. We'll find something to research while you rest."

She patted at the puffiness beneath her eyes. "I didn't think it was that obvious," she muttered. "After breakfast I stopped home to check in with my parents and let them know we'd be at the park this afternoon. Sal said she'd meet us here. I can't let her down." She didn't mention the two-hour nap she'd taken before heading for the park.

Endrik tilted his head toward her. "Let me know if you change your mind."

Pink tinted Marian's cheeks. Tentatively, she rested a hand on his arm. "I'm okay. Don't worry."

He covered her hand with his palm, holding it there. "Worrying means I'm thinking about you. So, please, let me worry."

Marian looked down at their hands. Instead of trying to come up with a response, she focused on the warmth created by the contact of their skin. Slowly, her lips curved into a smile. She looked up to find him smiling back.

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