✨ Chapter 14 ✨

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The picnic basket dangled from a handle shared by two hands. Marian looked over at Endrik and grinned. His quiet mindfulness during the walk to the park made it less of a test of endurance. Not physical endurance, but rather an exercise in tolerating Sal's squeaks in praise of Blaine's intelligence. He pointed out the different species of insects along the way, identified trees by their leaves, and even lectured Sal on how humans could obtain the Minikin purple hair color.

Marian inwardly groaned. I'm beginning to understand how weird it is for Sal to have a best friend with a crush on her cousin.

Sal and Blaine continued to banter back and forth while walking along on the path ahead. Sal hadn't tugged at her braid once; possibly because like a fourth grader, Blaine did so for her. She didn't seem to mind.

It's weirder yet having my best friend returning feelings for my younger brother.

"I didn't expect this would be a double date," said Endrik, echoing Marian's thoughts. He scratched his head.

"It's good for Blaine, though." Marian exhaled. "He has no trouble making friends or jokes, but he's so focused that he doesn't get out much. He should be enjoying the weekend and doing something besides chores. And since Glistens don't mix with humans outside guardian-ward relationships, it's probably for the best."

Endrik laughed. "It's funny how little we interact with the humans, even though we live among them and watch over them. It's amazing how we've managed to blend in."

Marian nodded as they caught up to Sal and Blaine, who waited at the bridge. Unable to help herself, Marian searched the ground.

She hitched her breath and shuddered. In the daylight, the Rabbit Hole was exactly the size she thought it would be. Not much larger than her human foot. The hole sank into a dry spot in the dirt, uncovered by grass or weeds.

Marian looked away. She pretended not to notice the glance that passed between Sal and Endrik. She didn't want to draw attention to the Rabbit Hole, much less answer questions about it. Endrik gently pulled the basket from Marian's grip to hold it in one hand. He wrapped his opposite arm around her, keeping her close as the group walked across the bridge.

Marian glanced out past the railing that bordered the pedestrian crossing. The river below stretched forward, disappearing where it bent to the right. Greenery enclosed both sides of the water, with houses beyond and wooded hills above.

Evidently not picking up on the somberness of those around him, or perhaps in an effort to reduce it, Blaine broke the silence. "According to the Glisten histories, our ancestors settled all along the Allegheny River—from where the three rivers meet in Pittsburgh up to the Allegheny Reservoir that crosses the border between Pennsylvania and New York."

"Really?" said Sal. Her mouth popped open; her eyes glowed with adoration. "But I thought there were Glistens all over the world, at least in areas where there are fireflies."

Blaine looked down at her with a smirk. "Of course there are. I was only pointing out that we're part of the oldest settlement. The humans in this part of the country more commonly call us lightning bugs, even though the state insect is the firefly."

Sal sucked in a breath before pressing her fists to her chest. "Oh, that's so cute! Lightning bugs. I love it!"

Marian cracked a smile. Sometimes at night, she'd also overhead humans talking about lightning bugs as opposed to fireflies. They used the terms interchangeably. But never once had she heard them referred to as Glistens.

The group exited the bridge and made a right turn toward the park. It was unusually quiet for a weekend, but several human elders walking their animals passed by. The Glistens stopped at a shady spot beneath the trees, with a clear view of the water. Blaine unfolded a large beach blanket.

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