A sparrow perched on the windowsill, bathed in sunlight, singing of its joy in a new day - both of which were stabbing into Ella's brain, even though her eyes were still closed.
She whimpered and pulled the pillow over her face, but it didn't help. The housewarming party for the home she shared with her twin sister had been one for the ages, but she was paying the price.
A click and a creak accompanied the door opening, followed by shuffling footsteps and a pitiful groan.
"Could you just smother me?" Ella muttered to her sister.
"Only if you do me first," Terra answered as she sat down on the foot of the bed.
Ella experimentally lifted the pillow and discovered that her sister had closed the curtains. The light was still too bright, but subdued enough that she felt safe to push the pillow away. She raked her fingers through her dark blonde hair and made a face because her locks were sticking out in every which direction.
A look around through squinted eyes didn't reveal her phone, so she asked, "What time is it?"
"I swear I'm never doing this again."
Terra let out a half-hearted chuckle. "You always say that."
"So do you."
"It was a great party, though."
Ella sat up, though it made her head pound and her vision swim. The lemony smell of furniture polish that lingered in the house after the final marathon cleaning was turning her stomach.
"Have you seen John?" she asked.
Terra pointed at the nightstand and said, "There's a note. It probably says the same thing mine does. They went into town to get us Excedrin, since we didn't have any in the house."
"Guess we should have told them, huh?"
"Guess they should have told us they were going instead of leaving us notes," Terra countered. She started to chuckle, but it cut off in a pained groan as she covered her eyes.
"Time to go, before my head explodes. Do you see my phone?" Ella asked.
Her twin slid off the bed and said, "Here's the cord." When she traced it from the outlet to one of Ella's discarded shoes, she found the phone beneath.
Ella took the phone and tapped out a hasty message to her husband-to-be, "Gone 2 Gma's pool."
With a little help from her sister, Ella crawled out of bed and started through the house. It had once been their great grandfather's - and a family friend's before that - but the family had secretly renovated the place for them when they both announced their engagements. After the work, the downstairs was essentially two apartments joined by a central living room, kitchen, and dining room. The arrangement gave both twins their own space on opposite ends of the house, but acknowledged that they would never be very far apart.
The sunlight streaming into the front room through a huge bay window felt like lasers burning into Ella's head. The state of the room also provided a pointed reminder that they still had to clean up from the party. Salvation was close at hand, however.
The twins hurried as best they could in their delicate state to the front door, across the porch, and down the stairs. The moment their bare feet touched the grass, their headaches began to fade. Caring not a whit that they were dressed in nothing more than t-shirts and panties, they crossed the lawn to the woods.
The trail they followed was one they knew well, and every step along it brought a new surge of energy. Anyone else would have seen nothing more than a wall of trees and undergrowth surprisingly thick for the first week of April. Such was the magic of their great-grandmother's woods that it hid its secrets.
The scent of honeysuckle filled the air. Squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks scurried everywhere. With the symptoms of their overindulgence already nothing more than a memory, the singing of birds was a joyful accompaniment to their walk. Flowers bloomed, adding splashes of vibrant color to the myriad shades of green and brown lining their path. It was a place of peace and oneness with nature that was as much their home as any manmade structure.
Golden sunlight breaking through the canopy and a silvery laugh marked the end of their journey.
"Morning, Grandma. Morning, Grandpa," Ella said - dropping the great - when she entered the clearing.
The dryad Xantina stood amidst the ferns at the edge of her crystal-clear pool waiting for them. Intimately connected to her family, she'd known the twins were coming as soon as they did. She appeared no older than the sisters, and had no shame for her nudity. With skin that shone golden in the light and hair the color of new leaves, she was a stunning and beautiful sight.
"Take away your coverings and come swim with me," the nymph declared, and then turned to dive gracefully into the pool.
Ella was all too glad to do so.
Their great-grandfather Daniel chuckled as the twins undressed. Once a mortal man, the love and magic of his dryad mate had granted him a body of nature that could remain at her side long after his natural span. Though he had green hair and skin that resembled the bark of a tree, he otherwise looked like a handsome, fit, nude man in his twenties.
"From the way you girls' hair looks, I take it the party was a success," he said.
"The best," Ella confirmed, and her twin echoed her a moment later.
"And the old place is working out for you?" he asked.
"It's perfect," Ella said. "Thank you, Grandpa."
"No need for thanks. I hated to see the place sitting empty," he said, and then snapped a hand up to block the side of his face.
Their great-grandmother's splash still soaked him.
Xantina pouted, "Talk later."
"Yes, dear," Daniel chuckled, and then stood up. "So, while you have company for a while, I'm going to go borrow a newspaper and catch up."
Terra said, "Tell Grandma we said hello," knowing it was his daughter's paper he was going to borrow.
"Will do. Have fun."
Ella took advantage of the distraction. She darted toward the pool and laughed when her sister called out, "Cheater!" A moment later, she hit the water in a flawless dive and surfaced on the far side of the pool. Her sister was only a second behind her, but the splash she launched when she surfaced found only air. Ella popped back up from below the water, and her splash caught Terra full in the face.
It was on.
The girls called a truce several minutes later when they were both panting for breath and laughing too hard to continue. It was then that Ella saw John and Nathan coming down the trail.
They were new to the family secret, and entered the clearing with poorly concealed nervousness. Both sisters had been afraid to tell their beaus about their heritage, and had only found the courage out of necessity when the two friends had proposed to them at the same time at the end of the previous summer.
A nudge from Terra indicated that her sister wanted to play a different game. Careful to address both young men, Ella asked, "Feeling better?"
Nathan revealed his surprise when he answered, "Yeah, a lot."
"How?" John asked.
"Magic," Terra said, and wiggled her fingers.
"Guess we dragged ourselves out of bed and to the store for nothing, huh?" John replied.
Terra said, "Uh huh. Best hangover cure ever."
Nathan laughed. "Can't argue with that."
"So..." Ella paused dramatically, and then finished, "Why are you two still dressed again?"
The boys inevitably blushed. The commonplace nudity of the family was something they weren't remotely used to yet. They did kick off their shoes to begin stripping, though. Ella was used to the state of undress, but that didn't stop her from admiring John as he disrobed - and peeking at Nathan.
They were two of a kind - leanly muscled and well-endowed. They were just as beautiful on the inside as well. John was the most caring, considerate, and good-humored man Ella had ever met. Not for the first time, she thanked her lucky stars that she'd outgrown her fixation on jocks to discover him before someone else snatched him up. Nathan had been a friend to her and her sister all their life, and had patiently waited until the day Terra finally recognized the love hiding right under her nose.
Caught up in a flood of memories - and arousal - she started when her sister whispered, "Hey."
"Sorry," Ella whispered back. The sisters locked eyes, took a deep breath, and then ducked down under the water.
Once below the surface, Ella swam to the right to reverse position with Terra, and then kicked off the bank toward the opposite shore. Once there, they turned to face their beaus. Ella could see in John's eyes that he knew what was afoot.
The twins simultaneously said, "Come on in, John."
Nathan held up his hands. "I know better than to give you any hints," when John looked to him for help. Nathan had always been able to tell them apart.
Xantina laughed, recognizing the game her great-granddaughters were playing. She caught John's eye, which only deepened his blush, and said, "Look with this." She held a hand over her heart, and then lifted it to cover her eyes. "Not with these."
John blew out a long breath as he took the couple of steps through the ferns to the edge of the pool. After filling his lungs with air again, he dived in.
Ella's heart sang when he veered toward her, though she did her best not to show it when he came up in front of her.
Terra's voice held a faux warning when she said, "Are you sure? You're about to kiss my sister."
The game was over when he looked deep into Ella's eyes and said, "I'm sure, Terra."
Ella threw her arms around him and kissed him hard.
.... There is more of this story ...