Crystal smiled, and kept up appearances. While there was joy to be had in the annual Harper family Christmas gathering, the sting of what happened simply wouldn’t allow her to fully enjoy the festivities.
As everyone rose from their seats to adjourn to the kitchen to play Hearts, Crystal’s mother asked, “Are you going to play?”
She kept a smile on her face as she shook her head and stood. “I think I’m going to turn in. I’m still jet-lagged from the flight.”
“I’ll walk up with you,” her mother said. “I only opened those vents a few hours ago. If it’s still cold in there, I’ll fetch you another blanket.”
Crystal knew better, and doubted anyone else believed the excuse either. Her aunt said they would set up and save her mother a seat. Mother and daughter then mounted the stairs, and climbed up to the third floor.
Once far away from the eyes and ears of the family, her mother asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
Crystal shook her head. “I just need some rest.”
Her mother cupped her cheek in hand and said, “He wasn’t the one, and he didn’t deserve you. I love you.”
“Love you, Mom.”
At least revealing her secret to her mother in a fit of tearful, disbelieving anxiety had gone better than the revelation that had resulted in that state. After three years of a fairytale relationship throughout college, she’d grown comfortable enough to tell Tony the secret she’d never revealed to another living soul. She’d expected him to be understanding. She thought he might even be aroused by the idea.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
His loving gaze had vanished in a mask of horror and disgust the moment she told him she was attracted to other women. He’d backed away without a word, ignoring her pleas to talk to her, or look at her, or anything. He left, and just like that, it was over. He had never spoken to her again.
Only three weeks distant, the wound was still very much fresh and raw.
Her mom said, “We’ll be right downstairs if you need anything.”
“Thanks. Go. Aunt Steph will be helpless without you,” Crystal said.
Her mother shook her head, rolled her eyes, and sighed. “A doctor, and she can’t play cards to save her life. See you at breakfast?”
“Mmm hmm. Goodnight.”
With that, Crystal opened the door to her room and stepped inside. Strangely, though not a single thing from her childhood remained, the room still felt more like home than her new apartment. She’d only just moved in, unable to bear staying in a place that held so many happy memories - all turned to ash.
A walk to the window revealed a familiar and nostalgic view. Through the frost-rimed glass, she looked down on the town below. Freshly fallen snow covered everything. There was a Christmas tree in the largest street side window of every home, and multicolored lights twinkled far off into the distance. The place was still as much an immaculately prepared tourist trap as a town, but it was home.
Crystal unzipped her suitcase and pulled out her pajamas - which she’d conveniently packed last, so they would be immediately available. After laying them out on the bed, she pulled off her top, and realized that her mother’s excuse wasn’t entirely a fib. The room was indeed chilly, and she shivered as her nipples stiffened from the cold.
Even as she hurried to change, in order to slip beneath the blankets and quilts on her bed, she felt a tickle from her right ear. She lifted her hand to brush away the stray golden blonde hairs, but found she was mistaken about the source of the sensation. Her long, braided pigtails hadn’t slipped loose a few strands. At the same moment, she swore she heard an almost inaudible tinkling of tiny bells.
Maybe my excuse wasn’t entirely a fib either, she thought. She was imagining things, and that was certainly a sign that she was tired.
She steeled herself for the chilly air to kiss her bare breasts, but when she slipped off her bra, she no longer felt cold. What’s more, the clouds over her mood felt as if they had thinned - just a little. Unwilling to risk losing the twin boons by contemplating them overmuch, she accepted them, changed into her pajamas, and crawled into bed.
She drifted off almost immediately - warm and safe in the room where she’d grown up.
Crystal awakened wearing a smile so wide that she could feel the strain in her cheeks. Faint, wispy memories of a dream remained, but beyond that, she couldn’t recall anything specific. There were a few obvious clues, beyond her smile. Her pebble-hard nipples, tingling sex, and the scent of her arousal wafting from beneath the blanket identified the nature of the dream as erotic, even if she could remember no details.
She blushed at the thought, but her smile remained. For the first time in weeks, she felt almost normal. There was still an icy, dark cloud within her heart, but it no longer dominated her, as it had since Tony had left her so abruptly and cruelly.
The welcome buoyancy of her mood remained as she slipped out of bed. The room was warm, and even two floors up, she could smell the heavenly scent of coffee and bacon from downstairs. Eager to partake in both food and fellowship with the family, she went to her suitcase to dress.
Her brow knitted when she saw something unexpected on top of her carefully folded clothing. It was an old tourist pamphlet from the time when she was a child. The image on the front was sun-faded, and there was foxing along the folds. Atop that rested a shiny, golden key.
They certainly weren’t there when she removed her pajamas the previous evening.
Crystal picked up the key and examined it. There was no writing of any kind to identify what it might belong to. She put it down on the chest of drawers and withdrew the pamphlet. One side advertised the local tourist destinations, while the other was a map of the town, and the surrounding region - including her home, which had also served as a bed and breakfast since her grandmother’s time.
Near the marker for her house was another for a spring where she had spent many a joyous day as a child. There, in carefully penned, but childish script, was an odd rhyming poem. She knew instantly that the handwriting was her own, but remembered nothing of writing it.
It read, “The ring in winter. The spring’s beautiful sleep. Touch in its center. The promise she’ll keep.”
Though the words made absolutely no sense, reading the poem made her smile return again.
A knock sounded on the door. “Honey, breakfast is ready.”
Crystal turned toward the door and responded, “I’m getting dressed. I’ll be right down, Mom.”
“Your aunt made blueberry pancakes, and you know how long those will last. Better hurry.”
Crystal laughed and said, “Okay, Mom.” She put down the pamphlet atop the key and returned to picking out her clothing for the day.
Breakfast with the family further lifted her spirits. The spread was enormous, and virtually anything she might have desired was there. Heeding her mother’s warning, she started with her aunt’s blueberry pancakes and a cup of coffee.
Everyone talking, laughing, and telling stories of years past - amidst a backdrop of Christmas carols playing - created an infectious mood. After breakfast, most everyone adjourned to the family room.
Her father had once again picked out a tree that required a ladder and nerves of steel to decorate. He had personally cut down it and the equally large tree in the foyer, as he had every year since her parents were married. Tinsel, evergreen garland, and twinkling lights outlined every door and window. Some of the decorations were four generations old - lovingly cared for so that the next generation would have the same connection to the past. It brought back a flood of beautiful memories.
As festive as it was, it was also loud, and crowded. From time to time, family members would step out for a while, for some peace and quiet. Crystal was no exception, and felt an urge to take a walk in the crisp winter air after a couple of hours.
She returned to her room to retrieve the keys to the rental car, as she’d forgotten to bring in the cardinal ornament she’d made to add to the family’s collection. Next to the keys was the pamphlet and key she’d discovered in her suitcase earlier. Still curious about the items, she tucked the pamphlet in her back pocket and slid both keys in a front pocket, planning to ask her mother if she knew anything about them later.
Downstairs, at the back door, she donned her long winter coat, turquoise knit cap, and rainbow scarf. After adjusting her pigtails so they were providing additional insulation for her ears, she stepped out into the bright, chilly winter’s day.
Her breath formed dancing clouds and snow crunched underfoot as she walked along the sidewalk toward the front of the house. The overlook was her favorite place to take these brief breaks from the holiday celebration, so she made her way there.
The town looked just as lovely in the day as it did lit up with Christmas lights at night. It was a little sad not to see the Ferris wheel off in the distance, lit up red and green for the holidays. Though the town still thrived on tourism, it was much reduced from the heyday, which was before Crystal had even been born. Many of the attractions had survived into her time only because the owners were passionate. As those owners passed on, profit took precedence over passion.
She pulled the pamphlet out of her back pocket and unfolded it, noting the markers on the map for attractions that had changed, or were no longer there. The Skycar was gone, but she remembered riding it high above the town on one of her first dates, which had resulted in her first kiss.
The country music hall, which had once been a rustic, preserved building, now had a huge, modern addition, clad in a veneer of recycled vintage building materials, to make it look old. The water park of her youth on the outskirts of town had been torn down. The spring had been closed a few years earlier when the landowner passed away, and his children had no interest in maintaining the grounds around it.
Still, she had so many fond memories of those lost places that she couldn’t help but smile.
Thinking of the spring, she looked at the poem again. It still made no sense, and she still had no recollection of writing the words. The spring was only a couple of minutes walk down the road from the house, and she felt an urge to see the state of the place. After folding the pamphlet and slipping it back in her pocket, she headed that way.
Crystal frowned as she approached the entrance of the spring. Someone had erected a chainlink fence, barring off the place. There was a padlocked gate, but when she looked through it, she could see little. The evergreens had been allowed to grow completely wild for a few years, and had closed in around the path leading to the spring.
Try the key, she thought. As quickly as the thought formed in her head, another followed. Why on earth would a key to the spring end up in my suitcase? That’s ridiculous.
Ridiculous or not, she pulled the key out of her pocket. The shiny golden key didn’t match the bland, functional lock at all. There was no reason whatsoever to believe they went together. An intense feeling of curiosity overwhelmed her. She couldn’t shake it. She felt compelled to try the key.
After a few seconds, the sensation was making her jittery. “Fine,” she muttered under her breath. “As if this is going to work.”
Rolling her eyes, Crystal lifted the lock, slid the key inside, and turned it.
The lock popped open.
Crystal stared at the lock in open-mouthed disbelief. It was the most absurd, improbable thing she’d ever seen in her life. Yet, the evidence was right in front of her eyes. The lock was open.
As her surprise faded, a new yearning slowly swelled within her. The compulsion to go through the gate to the spring was even stronger than the one that had caused her to try the key. She bit her lower lip, looked all around, and gave in. She had to go to the spring. It would drive her crazy if she didn’t.
Crystal quickly pulled the lock out of the latch, hung it from the chain link, and opened the gate. She pulled it closed behind her, and then negotiated the overgrown path to the spring.
Though it was flowing water, it was slow flowing water, and the pool typically froze over in winter. Some property of the minerals in the water caused the ice to have a distinctive, pale blue cast. It made the whole pool look as if it had a shell of shimmering gemstone.
It was just as she remembered it.
Not everything was, though. Scraggly stems of invading plants stuck up everywhere through the tall, brown remnants of what was once a carefully manicured grassy border. The brick paths and border of the spring were virtually invisible, buried under leaves and other detritus. The concrete benches had been smashed and overturned. Only the shattered stump of the information marker’s post remained.
That explained why the owners had fenced off the spring. Someone had obviously vandalized the place. Still, she thought it was a shame to box off such a beautiful location. She walked to the edge of the spring to look out over its frozen surface. As soon as she stood on the edge of the brick border, she saw it.
In the very center of the pool, she saw a circle formed of crystalline structures within the ice. It was ringed by a dozen evenly spaced shapes that resembled cut gems. Within the circle, there was the image of a snowflake. It looked so perfectly formed that she believed it had to be etched in the ice, rather than any natural phenomenon.
The ring in winter. The spring’s beautiful sleep, she thought. Well, that explains that. The words could only be describing the frozen pool. However, she certainly didn’t remember ever seeing anything similar at the spring before.
That left only the final two lines of the poem. Touch in its center was an obvious - if somewhat perilous - instruction. The promise she’ll keep was still a complete mystery. What promise? Whose promise?
While she stood pondering, an all too familiar itch arose at the base of her skull. Here we go again, she thought as the compulsion to step out onto the ice swelled within her.
Crystal had seen the pool in spring and summer, when it wasn’t frozen. The water was perfectly clear, and she knew the pool was deep. Not deep enough to cover her head, but certainly deep enough to absolutely soak her. That would make for a miserable walk back to the house.
Tentatively, she pressed the toes of her right foot against the ice. When it didn’t crack, she pushed a little harder. When the ice seemed solid, she let her weight come to rest on her foot. It was as unyielding as stone. She stepped out onto the ice, and she was surprised that it wasn’t slippery, considering the surface was as smooth as glass.
Slowly, she took two small steps, which carried her to the center of the pool, and the pattern in the ice. Well, here goes nothing, she thought. Crystal squatted down, reached out, and pressed the tip of her finger against the very center of the snowflake.
In a flash, the world expanded to enormous size around her. Disoriented by the experience, Crystal closed her eyes and whimpered.
A musical voice said, “I’ve missed you, Crystal.”
Crystal opened her eyes, and saw a woman with silver hair and wings hovering in front of her.
She’s flying. She’s naked. She’s beautiful, Crystal’s thoughts came in a rush. She looked down and saw the pattern in the ice, along with a pile of her clothing, topped by her knit cap. They were far below her feet.
I’m naked! I’m flying!
“Be calm,” the other woman said. “No harm will befall you. Listen to your heart. Remember, Crystal.”
The sound of the woman’s voice had a soothing effect, tamping down Crystal’s fears. Her racing heart slowed, and she realized the woman’s face was familiar. The longer she looked, the more familiar it became. Then, out of the blue, a name popped in her head.
“Elsanna?” Crystal hesitantly asked, though she knew as soon as she said it that it was true.
Elsanna clapped her hands and laughed. “Now you remember.”
She did. Memories she had no idea that she possessed flooded back. “You’re Elsanna. You’re a fairy, and you’re my friend. There were others.”
The fairy nodded. “Maisa, Humida, and Flora.”
“Fairies of autumn, summer, and spring,” Crystal said, naming them in the same order as Elsanna. “And you’re a fairy of winter.”
Elsanna giggled and did a pirouette. “Yes! I made you a promise.”
She heard it as clearly as she had so many years ago, when she was but a small child. “One day, when I was sad and lost, you would help me find my way. You gave me the poem.”
“And now, it’s time to keep my promise,” Elsanna said. She hovered closer, held out her arms, and then floated forward to embrace Crystal around the waist.
Crystal sighed from the familiar, wonderful sense of closeness, and wrapped her arms around the fairy as well. Their wings beat fast, causing them to spin in a slow circle above the ice.
The fairy’s skin was so warm, soft, and smooth beneath Crystal’s hands. She let them glide over Elsanna’s back, from the small of her back to the base of her wings. She was keenly aware of the fairy’s small, firm breasts pressed against her own. Elsanna’s hands began to roam as well, but she didn’t shy away from Crystal’s taut bottom. Crystal shuddered and gasped when the fairy cupped her buttocks and let out a moan.
The fairy’s hands slowly slid along the curve of Crystal’s butt, to her hips, and then slipped away. Elsanna hovered back far enough to look into Crystal’s eyes, cupped the blonde’s cheek, and said, “Don’t be afraid of your feelings. Embrace them. They’re who you are. When you do, you won’t be lost any more.”
Crystal’s heart raced as the fairy leaned in. Elsanna’s lips parted, and her eyes drifted closed. Crystal whimpered as something she’d desired and feared for so long became a reality - and it was beautiful. She let go of her fears, and let her tongue slip out to join Elsanna’s.
The long, soft kiss was so perfect that Crystal felt light-headed. The two women’s hands caressed each other’s faces, hair, backs, and bottoms - their touch electric. The fairy seemed to know exactly where Crystal needed the soft touch of a hand. Crystal could feel Elsanna quivering from her own touch.
Crystal felt absolutely giddy when their lips finally parted. The two looked at each other, laughed, and then came together for another brief peck on the lips.
Elsanna twitched her spritely little nose and said, “You see?”
Crystal nodded, and noticed something odd in her peripheral vision. When she cut her eyes to the side, she saw her pigtails standing straight up on end. A moment later, she realized her pigtails were not behaving strangely. Somehow, in the midst of the kiss, the two had flipped completely upside down.
Crystal blushed, but oddly enough, she instinctively knew how to right herself. Two sets of wings buzzed, and the pair once again hovered right side up.
“Was it all that you wished?” Elsanna asked.
“More,” Crystal whispered. She couldn’t believe how beautiful the fairy was. As she gazed upon Elsanna, a spark of passion ignited within her.
The fairy moaned and licked her lips. “More sounds good.” She reached out with her right hand, curled her fingers around the side of Crystal’s breast, and gave it the slightest squeeze. “They’re so pretty.”
Her touch was gentle - knowing - and so different from that of a man. Crystal began to breathe heavily as the fairy’s hand moved along the curve of her breast, and cupped it from below. Elsanna’s thumb extended upward, brushing the stiff point for the briefest of moments, causing Crystal to gasp. Then the fairy leaned in for another kiss.
There was hunger in that kiss. Their tongues wrangled and their lips crushed against each other. Crystal ran her fingers through the fairy’s silver hair, and found it as soft as silk. Elsanna’s hand squeezed and caressed the blonde’s breast with perfect pressure all the while. Crystal whimpered every time the fairy’s fingers tantalized her nipple.
Elsanna suddenly pulled away from Crystal’s lips, and darted in to kiss her neck. Crystal let out an oh of surprised pleasure, and then another when the fairy’s lips kissed a little lower. When Elsanna kissed where Crystal’s neck met her shoulder, the blonde drew in a shuddering gasp of anticipation.