1.28. A Garden You Never Get to See
Luna is nearly done with her twenty-fifth book. She can hardly believe that she has written this many. At the beginning of her career, a chapter could take her days to write. Now she can finish a book in a couple of sittings.
The book--titled The Queen’s Gambit--is loosely based on Bastian’s quest to find his daughter. Luna had to fill in a lot of gaps, but she managed to cobble together a strong plot based on her brief conversations with the mage as well as what Lark told her later about seemingly prescient dreams she had experienced. She was surprised when she learned that her daughter dreamed about Dom and Bastian’s adventures in the fae realm. Luna sometimes wonders if there’s something special about Lark, something otherworldly like there is about Elysia. But Lark appears to be nothing but normal other than her brief brush with the fantastical and ethereal.
Despite the plot holes Luna clumsily covered and the strange motivations on the part of the novel’s antagonist, The Queen’s Gambit is a best seller. Luna is proud of the progress she has made as a writer--she spends almost as much time answering fan mail as she does writing--but even with the positive critical reception, she’s worried about this book. She hopes Bastian doesn’t read it. She doesn’t foresee the hotheaded mage being charmed or flattered by her depiction of him. But what are the chances she’ll ever see him again?
Regardless of whether or not they’ll ever meet again, Bastian’s story of magic and adventure has deeply influenced Luna. While she started out as a sci-fi author, the experience has made her shift to fantasy, and she relies heavily on her daughter’s dreams and retellings of what she’s seen for inspiration. But tonight Lark isn’t home, so Luna turns to painting in order to channel some of her creative energy--just until she can draw more inspiration from her daughter for her next novel, of course.
Lark’s absence from the Bee home is due to Nikolas. It’s been a few days since Lark has spoken to him. She’s been avoiding him at school and ignoring his texts. But tonight, for whatever reason, she decided to respond. Moreover, when he asked to speak in person, she benevolently acquiesced.
They meet at Placid Park, which is near the eastern shore of the island. Fog rolls in off the water and obscures the street, carrying with it a bitter wind. But even with the fog, the bright full moon illuminates the park, causing the playground equipment to cast strange shadows. Lark finds Nikolas sitting on the grass and staring up at the stars.
“Hey,” Lark’s voice cuts through the silence. Nikolas smiles at her hesitantly.
“Thanks for coming,” he says, “figured you wouldn’t want to see me again after what happened.”
“Oh, ‘what happened?’ You mean, when you stole from me and lied about it?”
“Yeah,” he grimaces, “that.”
“Any thoughts about that?”
“Sorry. I’m--sorry. Very sorry, even.” His words sound sincere and his face appropriately apologetic.
Lark sits next to him. “That was a really fucked up thing to do.”
“Yeah, I should’ve figured stealing was off limits. You know, considering it’s usually a misdemeanor and all.”
“I was talking more about the lying, but it’s good to see that you’ve grasped the ‘thou shalt not steal’ clause of the social contract.”
“Oh, that. Um, I know it’s no excuse, but my parents had a really dysfunctional relationship. Lots of lying and stuff. And so I wonder how much that broke my sense of what a relationship should be like. It didn’t feel so much like a lie,” he shrugs, “but I can see why it upset you now.”
“Are you trying to persuade me to give you a second chance? Because saying dysfunction runs in your family doesn’t make you sound very credible.”
“No. It’s not so much persuasion as explanation, really.”
“I see,” Lark picks at a tuft of grass as she talks, “So your parents--that’s why you moved here, right? You and your dad?”
“Yeah. Things didn’t end well between them, and my dad wanted to move back here after my mom decided she didn’t want anything to do with us.”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“It’s fine. It gave us a chance to start over, I guess. My mom was kind of, um, overbearing, I guess? Really pushed me to do things I didn’t want to do.”
“I know the feeling,” Lark frowns.
“I think you’ve mentioned that a few times,” he says, “Anyway, it was kind of a blessing. I hated living in Monte Vista, hated the people and the culture. And my dad used the move as an opportunity to start up the family business here.”
“Family business? I didn’t know he was a businessman. Which store does he own? Could I get a discount?”
Nikolas laughs, “no store, so no discount. He works in security. And occasionally acquisitions. Wants me to do the same, actually.”
“That sounds boring,” Lark wrinkles her nose, “no offense.”
“It has its moments,” Nikolas says, “anyway. I don’t mean to talk about myself so much.”
“It’s fine. This is the first time it’s really felt like you’re actually talking to me.”
“Hmm,” he tilts his head, “I always felt like you weren’t that interested in learning more about me.”
“Sorry, I guess I just assumed you were nothing more than a pretty face,” she grins.
Nikolas lets out a faux gasp, “she thinks I’m pretty!”
“Don’t get cocky. I find everything else about you repulsive.”
“Oh,” he frowns, “so I take it you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me?”
Lark puts her hand over Nikolas’. “I guess,” she says casually, “I can forgive you.”
Nikolas looks up at her, his eyes full of surprise.
“But you’re on probation,” she warns, “until you prove you aren’t a lying douche anymore.”
“Understandable,” he says, intertwining his fingers with hers.
The couple spends the rest of the evening stargazing. Nikolas knows a surprising amount about the constellations. He points them out and explains them to Lark, describing the myths of their formation. Lark, on the other hand, can only identify the North Star, Polaris. It has a special place in her heart after all.
“Thanks for hanging out with me,” he says as curfew creeps nearer and they start to hem and haw about heading to their respective homes.
She thinks about just standing up and leaving with no fanfare, no long goodbye. Their relationship is still in recovery, after all, and she should avoid any overtures that might give the illusion that she cares about him more than she should (or, more accurately, does). But she can’t help herself: he is indeed a pretty face, one she can’t resist. She leans in and kisses him.
“Thanks for admitting you’re a douchey liar,” she exhales.
“Um, no problem,” he smiles at her, his face growing red.
As quickly as it screeched to a halt, their relationship picks back up. They see each other daily and text constantly. And it all culminates in this afternoon, a day that will prove crucial for the life-altering choices they make in the near future. Luna and Quentin are gone for the evening, and Lark has the house all to herself. Taking advantage of her newfound privacy, she invites Nikolas over.
“I thought you said you played this a lot?" Nikolas asks jokingly, “is this another pool situation? You talk the talk but can’t walk the walk?”
“It must be the controller,” she pouts, “it’s broken or something.”
“Sure, blame the controller for your embarrassing performance.”
“As if being embarrassing is something to be ashamed of,” she says, “I pride myself on being embarrassing.”
“For example, you should’ve seen me at prom,” Lark laughs, “I was nothing but embarrassing, and I’ve embraced that. Every weird thing I do is a fun story for someone else to tell.”
“You went to prom? Wasn’t that just a few nights ago?” Nikolas leaves the next part unspoken: while we were on break.
“Yeah, I went with Kyra.”
“Kyra? I’m surprised she risked dancing when Mercury was in retrograde,” he rolls his eyes, “no doubt that negatively impacted her aura.”
“Don’t be mean. It was fun, though my prom picture came out totally awkward.”
“Awkward?” Nikolas perks up, “I have to see it.”
Lark hesitates, “It’s up in my room.”
“Let’s go then,” Nikolas stands up.
Despite her reticence, Lark leads him upstairs. As he peers curiously around her room, she regrets her uncharacteristic passivity. It’s so personal in here, so revealing. Besides, there are still mortifying remnants of her childhood, such as the stuffed unicorn on the vanity.
But Nikolas is focused on examining the prom picture, his brow furrowed. “Why are you posing like that?”
“I was pretending that I was holding my imaginary date.”
“Imaginary date? Shit, that’s even worse than going by yourself.”
“Well, I was with Kyra, but when Lowell showed up I pretty much became a third wheel. I coped the only way I knew how.”
He cringes,” I’m sorry. That blows.”
“It’s okay,” she smiles awkwardly from her perch on the bed, “wanna go back downstairs? I have a few other games, or we could watch a movie or something.”
“You’re tense,” he states the obvious as he takes a seat on the bed next to her.
“I’m not supposed to have boys in my room,” she says.
“Oh, are you afraid I’ll get you in trouble?” Nikolas’ eyes twinkle mischievously.
“I’m in a constant state of trouble, so not really. Though I guess I am a little afraid that if my parents come home, you’ll get me in previously unexperienced depths of trouble.”
“Me? You were the one who suggested I come up here! This is all on you.”
“How dare you! I’m innocent, and I’m obviously being corrupted by you ne’er-do-well charms.”
“C’mhere,” he wraps his arms around her and pulls her backward so they’re both lying on the bed.
“See! You’re proving my point, you brute.”
“Shh. Just cuddle with me for awhile.”
“You’re so bossy,” she complains, but she gladly nuzzles against him.
“Hmm. No, not bossy. I just take initiative.”
“That’s a politically correct way of saying bossy,” she retorts. He doesn’t respond, save for a stifled laugh.
They lay together for what simultaneously feels like long hours and mere seconds. The room is quiet, so quiet she can easily hear his heartbeat and the rhythm of his breathing. He feels so warm, and his embrace is so tight and comforting. It’s amazing how things change and people grow--just a year ago she would have bristled at the thought of being so intimately close to someone else.
A thought crosses her mind, and--acting on its impulse--Lark sits up and smiles at Nikolas. It’s a knowing smile, one he has seen before. What follows is wordless, all instinct, the expected outcome of two people who are at the every whim of their hormones.
The only witness of their transgression watches unblinkingly.
It’s Lark’s birthday, and she’s celebrating with a small party--just a few of her friends as well as some family members. She didn’t want anything big. It doesn’t feel like it’ll be that big of a change, after all. Functionally, she’ll be the same person, just taller and without the obligation known as high school.
The guests cheer her on as Lark examines the flickering candles on her birthday cake. She wants to consider her birthday wish carefully before she makes it, lest she waste it on something stupid. Ultimately, she settles on basically the same thing she wished for before becoming a teen: adventure and exhilaration.
As she blows out the candles, she can tell, deep in her heart of hearts that this wish is going to come true.
That, and she realizes that despite her expectations, becoming an adult is in fact a huge deal.
After the festivities wear down and the guests leave, Quentin and Luna lay in bed talking. The first night they lived together--before they even moved to Aurora Skies--they hardly slept. Not because of any particularly enduring intimacy, no, but because they couldn’t stop talking to each other. About their future, their hopes, their fears. Tonight feels so similar to that night all those years, miles, and children ago.
“An empty nest,” Quentin remarks, “it feels so strange.”
“It won’t be empty until Lark moves out,” Luna replies
“True. But I don’t see her staying here that long.”
“She doesn’t have a job lined up, though. And she decided not to go to college.”
“So,” Quentin shrugs, “she’ll find something. Besides, I doubt she’ll want to continue to live here under your draconian laws.” Despite her daughter’s age, Luna is still insistent that Lark 1) continue to follow curfew, 2) pay rent, and 3) not bring boys--men, really--to the house without seeking parental permission first. The last rule stemmed entirely from Luna’s first encounter with Nikolas. He was nothing but polite and friendly towards Luna and Quentin, but something about him is unsettling. Luna knows she can’t forbid her daughter from dating someone--especially since her daughter is now an adult--but she can make it more difficult for relationship to grow.
I don’t think my rules are the unfair,” Luna protests, “they’re meant to hold Lark to a level of responsibility necessary for her new life as an adult.”
“You’re right, they’re not unfair. At least, not for a convent.”
“I’m just trying to keep her from making any mistakes.”
“Lark’s an adult now. We need to put a little more trust in her than we have in the past. We both made mistakes as teenagers, and I’d say we’ve led successful lives otherwise. She can’t grow if you keep her cooped up.”
Luna furrows her brow in anger, then sighs, “You’re right.”
“Wait, what?! Could you repeat that?”
“No! That’s the only time I’ll ever say that you’re right.”
“Then I’ll have to constantly remind you about it until I die or go senile.”
“How sporting of you,” Luna hesitates before continuing, “Lark will be fine, right?”
“Yes,” Quentin says, “she’ll have a perfectly normal life. I promise.”
Quentin probably shouldn’t make promises he can’t guarantee. After all, Lark’s life will hardly be normal.
Author’s Note: Whew! It's the end of generation one, finally.
I don’t know if Lark’s life will be any more interesting than Quentin and Luna’s, but she has some pretty entertaining rolls so it’s possible. I liked rolling couple as well as stable, normal careers but it really meant that there wasn’t much in terms of story for Luna and Quentin, which is why I threw Elysia, Crimson, and Mark/Mercury into the mix occasionally. I also regret not fleshing out Lydia and Luke more, so they’ll probably show up in generation two occasionally.
A note about the title. It comes from the penultimate song of Hamilton, “The World Was Wide Enough.” The song is about--200 year old spoiler alert--the duel in which Aaron Burr kills Alexander Hamilton. In Hamilton’s pre-death internal monologue, which takes the form of some pretty dope spoken word poetry, he says, “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” I think that’s a lovely thought, so I stole it. As a side note, I sometimes give my characters voices, and I always imagined Quentin sounding like Leslie Odom Jr. (the guy who plays Burr).
Anyway, thanks for reading! :D