Not So Human - Chapter 4
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
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Chapter 4: Technically, Sabrina heard those two last words, “faerie princess,” but they didn’t compute right away. Or at least she was waiting for Deanda to crack a smile and say, “Just kidding” or “Oops! Sorry. I was so upset that I ended up saying something insanely stupid. Let me give you an explanation that actually makes sense.”
When Deanda didn’t retract her statement or even so much as bother to explain, Sabrina found herself getting angry. First the brother reference and then faeries: It was insult on top of injury. If her friend was trying to lighten the mood, she was failing miserably.
“Are you okay?” Deanda ventured, casting a worried look in her direction.
Sabrina took several breaths that were supposed to be calming but didn’t quite do the trick. She found herself digging her fingernails into the palms of her hands instead. The pain helped, though not nearly as much as intended.
“You just told me I’m a faerie princess,” she noted.
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true and I can explain everything if you give me the chance.” Deanda paused, presumably to gather her thoughts, then opened her mouth again.
But before she could speak, both of them were startled by Sabrina’s phone ringing from inside her purse. It was Eugene.
Under any other circumstances, Sabrina would have let the call go to voice mail, then texted him back later. In that moment, however, he provided a distraction she desperately needed.
She picked up, trying to project a pleasant calm she didn’t at all feel. “Hey. How’s it going?”
“Fine.” He sounded like a nervous kiss-up, just like he had the other night. “How are you?”
The second she heard his ingratiating voice, she began reconsidering her decision to answer. It was difficult to decide which conversation she would rather have.
“A little busy right now.” Sabrina glanced in her side-view mirror. The only things she saw were various shades of earth and a few dozen non-Cadillacs, though that didn’t ease the tension in her chest. “What’s up?”
“Oh, well.” He stuttered several times before he was able to say what he wanted to say. “I just wanted to see if you wanted to talk. But if you’re busy.” Eugene trailed off with obvious hope that she would throw the unspoken offer aside and chat awhile.
She didn’t. “Can I call you back later?”
“Sure. No problem.” He laughed a very self-conscious little laugh. “I just wanted to say hi and let you know that I really enjoyed meeting you the other night.”
Her polite instincts warred with her desire not to lead him on, even if she had initially taken the call to use him as a diversion. “It was good to meet you too” seemed to work as well as anything else, so that’s what she said.
She stared out the window at a herd of cows ambling home toward their red barn, envying the animals their simplicity. Sabrina somehow doubted that any of them had to worry about best friends who suddenly went nuts, or blind dates with men who developed ridiculous attachments.
Eugene had acted and still was acting like she was some exotic creature, fawning over her one minute and almost cringing away the next when he would ask a question, as if he was terrified of offending her. Sabrina couldn’t imagine being kept up on a pedestal like that for the rest of her life. Being adored was great and all, but sometimes a girl just wanted to be recognized for what she was, which was human.
At least she had always thought she was human. If Deanda was to be believed, she wasn’t at all. Only humanoid.
“I don’t know if you could tell,” Eugene continued awkwardly. “But I was a little nervous meeting you. I mean, I knew you’d be incredible, but wow!”
Sabrina heard the compliment and managed to say something gracious in response. Yet try as she might, she just kept hearing Deanda’s words running in her head over and over again.
Her insane or exceedingly inappropriate driver kept shooting concerned looks her way, but Sabrina refused to meet her gaze.
“So what are you doing now?” Eugene asked in the same groveling tone. “Do you want to get together later this week?”
There was an easy answer to that question and no real nice way to express it.
“Sabrina,” Deanda interrupted. “Can you tell him that you’ll call him back later?”
It was another complex question. Sabrina definitely didn’t want to keep talking to Eugene. However, that didn’t mean she wanted to pick things up with her best friend. Like it or not though, she knew she had to address the problem looming between them eventually. And now that she’d had a minute or two to settle herself, she thought she might be able to talk Deanda back down into behaving like the normal, rational woman she’d always been.
“I’m not trying to be rude, Eugene,” she said into the phone. “But I do need to go. I’m kind-of in the middle of something rather important at the moment.”
“Oh right,” he apologized with the attitude of a man who had committed a cardinal sin. “No problem. I’ll talk to you later, Sabrina.”
“Bye.” She hung up and slipped the cell back into her purse. “Sorry about that.”
“That’s okay. We just can’t take any chances right now.”
Sabrina wasn’t going to disagree with that assessment, though Eugene wasn’t the one she was concerned about. “Deanda, princesses hardly exist these days, and faeries never did.”
“Yes, they do,” Deanda replied, sounding and looking lucid despite the crazy things coming out of her mouth.
Growing more frustrated, Sabrina nonetheless tried a different course by making light of the situation. “I think I would know if I was a faerie. If I was, I would have sprinkled myself with pixie dust a long time ago and flown far, far away from here. Second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning, right?”
It had been a while since she’d read J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, but she was sure that the “star” quote was in his original version, not just the Disney retelling.
“Pixie dust doesn’t exist,” Deanda responded gently. “And you are a faerie. You asked me to spit it out, and I did. Now will you let me explain?”
Sabrina didn’t though. “So does that make you a faerie too?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I am.”
“No.” She didn’t mean to sound snappish, but the events of the day were quickly wearing on her nerves. “You’re not a faerie, and neither am I. Because faeries don’t exist.”
“I can prove it if you’ll just give me a chance,” Deanda argued, not for the first time.
Sabrina took issue with her word choice. “After everything I did back there: all the orders I took without question? And you’re going to tell me I’m not giving you a chance?”
Deanda’s jaw tightened, and when she replied, her tone was a little too controlled. “How about we discuss this later when you’re ready.”
“No, how about we discuss this now?” Sabrina threw her hands up with perhaps an unnecessary amount of sarcasm. “But on one condition: I don’t want to be Tinker Bell this time. I’m always Tinker Bell. You be her.”
“Fine. Whatever. Don’t listen.” Deanda descended into an obvious snit of her own.
“Well, I don’t believe in faeries,” she snapped back, almost surprised when her friend didn’t start clapping her hands together vigorously.
While she was well aware that Deanda wouldn’t find the comment funny, Sabrina didn’t expect to feel a sudden painful jolt in her side immediately after the words left her lips. Regardless of whether she was projecting or not – which she knew she had to be – the unpleasant feeling had the effect of throwing her into an uneasy silence, complete with an intense desire to stare out the window at the overall bland scenery.
Tilled fields just couldn’t cut it for long though, so Sabrina broke first. “Are you really mad at me?”
“I don’t know how to make you believe me.” Deanda shook her head somewhat grimly. “I understand you thinking I’m crazy, believe it or not. It was easier for me. I grew up knowing.”
Sabrina didn’t say anything for the main reason that she didn’t know what to say.
“I’m not a princess,” her roommate continued. “Just a regular faerie assigned to watch out for you. After your parents died, your brother didn’t want you to be found for a variety of reasons, especially since you were next in line for the throne.”
Sabrina did her best to process that bit of information, logging it away for some time later when she could form a rational argument against it all, thus wooing Deanda back to the real world.
Parents dead: check. That, at least, she could grasp.
Brother: check. She would take Deanda to task later about that subject after the girl had snapped out of nonsense-mode. Which hopefully would be soon.
The last point re-registered in her brain, forcing all her emotions into a single, sudden, overwhelming concern. She didn’t want a throne of any kind! Not a human one, and definitely not the messed-up faerie version being presented to her.
Sabrina struggled to recover her dwindling rational side. Because the key word in all of this was “faerie,” which was where “fairytale” came from, which in turn meant “made up.” So there was nothing for her to worry about.
At least she thought there wasn’t.
She really hoped there wasn’t.
“You’re not following me at all right now, are you?” Deanda broke into her thoughts.
“Sorry. You lost me at ‘throne.’”
Deanda nodded matter-of-factly, as if what she was saying was common, everyday reality instead of utter nonsense derived from an LSD-laced mixture of Disney and the Sci-Fi channel. Sabrina found it just as difficult to follow her when she started up again, this time to give details on the “Human Preservation and Advancement Committee,” or “HPAC,” that was “out to get faeriekind.”
“In this case,” Deanda went on, “your social standing wouldn’t mean you’d be treated any better than anyone else. Not when, from everything we can tell, their main goal is faerie extinction. So yeah, I’m sure they’d try to use you as a bargaining chip, but that doesn’t mean they’d ever give you back. They’d either flat-out kill you or use you as a lab experiment to learn our weaknesses. It’s happened before.”
Deanda’s voice had turned quite bitter by the end of her explanation, but Sabrina barely noticed, too busy once again fixating on a single concept. This time, it was the “lab experiment” clause that had her sufficiently freaked out. It was becoming less easy to shrug off Deanda’s details with every passing second.
Not that she was buying the whole other-beings theory. That would be crazy. But those men in suits had seemed determined to follow her for some kind of reason.
Sabrina began to shake a little, her hands trembling on their own accord. She stared down at the immaculate floorboard at her feet, trying to gather her sanity.
“Your brother and his advisers decided you were much better off living elsewhere, so the court arranged for you to be brought up with a designated family. Unfortunately –”
“Let me guess,” Sabrina broke in just for something to say. “They were double agents.”
“No,” came the solemn response. “They were killed.”
She immediately felt bad for her flippant answer, then stupid for believing her answer mattered in the first place, and then right back to guilty for being ungrateful if the story was true. Finally, in a state of utter mental and emotional confusion, she began to play with the locks of her brown wig.
“They managed to protect you though.” Deanda spared another glance at Sabrina. “You were found the next day after your surrogate parents didn’t send in their scheduled report. After that, you were moved around a lot. Like the time that man in sunglasses approached you on the playground? And you were moved five counties over by that evening? The slightest change in your setting would put everyone in pure panic mode.”
Sabrina didn’t quite tune her out again, but she was beginning to fit a few significant pieces together while still discarding mostly everything else. That part of the story made sense, at least, since she could remember moving around far too often, even for a foster kid. Now if Deanda could just give plausible explanations for a hundred other questions, she might actually start to sound convincing.
“Obviously, after you graduated high school, you were off to do as you pleased. But Kenneth, your brother, thought it best to just let you continue thinking you were human for a while longer. I mean, graduating high school is a big enough transition without finding out you’re a faerie too.”
Sabrina snorted at that even if she wasn’t even close to being amused.
Deanda didn’t acknowledge the sound. “So when you were accepted to college, they brought me in. The plan was to start preparing you for the truth at the end of the year. They were going to give you a job offer in –”
“Wait a minute.” Sabrina yelped, all of a sudden far less concerned with twirling her fake hair than paying attention. “Rewind. You were implanted in my life?”
It was difficult not to start getting into the story when Deanda never once cracked a smile. If she really was telling the honest truth, then she wasn’t a friend at all. She was a babysitter. A rent-a-friend.
Deanda might not even like her!
All the times spent and secrets told and sorrows shared. It appeared they’d meant nothing. Sabrina was devastated and hid that with a whole lot of fury.
“So you’ve been lying to me ever since we met?”
“Kind of, but it was for –”
“Don’t you dare say ‘it was for my own good,’” she interrupted with savage intensity. “I swear I will never speak to you again if you say that.”
Deanda had been keeping her eyes on the road like a responsible driver for the most part, but now she turned to look directly at Sabrina. “Za, I know this is all a major shock to you.”
“Don’t call me that.” It was difficult not to cry, but Sabrina managed it by concentrating on her anger as much as she could. “Only my friends call me that, and according to you, I don’t know you a single bit. You’re either crazy or a liar, and either way, you’re pulling over and letting me out now.”
She hadn’t originally understood why Deanda made her promise not to throw herself out of the car back at the beginning of their unusual discussion. But now she was contemplating the option for all it was worth.
“Sabrina,” Deanda began but trailed off like she was unsure of what else to say, her voice nonetheless echoing the hurt radiating from her eyes.
Sabrina found herself perversely happy that Deanda looked so pained since it meant that they might have a real friendship after all. Despite anything Sabrina might say in the heat of the moment, the thought of losing her roommate was traumatizing.
She didn’t let on at all, instead demanding, “Why aren’t you pulling over? I wasn’t kidding.”
“I can’t let you out,” Deanda replied quietly.
At that point, fear shoved anger aside in the fight to dominate her emotions. She didn’t know what she had expected, but the firm rebuttal from a complete crazy person was more than a little bit disconcerting. It was downright terrifying, and Sabrina found herself cringing away.
“What do you plan on doing with me?” She asked in a small voice. If she let it get any louder, she knew she ran a serious risk of screaming.
Deanda rolled her eyes, but the action conveyed a sad frustration more than anything else. “I’m not going to do anything to you. I know you think I’m insane, but I can prove I’m not if you would just listen to me. I swear.”
Sabrina was sure she looked like an idiot huddled against the door, hugging her knees. However, her physical appearance didn’t much concern her at that moment. Her physical safety, on the other hand, did.
When she didn’t say anything, Deanda continued with a firm desperation. “Don’t you think it’s strange you were never able to find anything out about your parents? Nothing? At all? No matter how much you tried? And how about that amazing scholarship you got that paid for your entire tuition? Do you know the percentage of people who get free rides to college?”
Sabrina’s head whirled. She was still afraid and still angry, but with each point Deanda made, she was also becoming much more confused. Confused because too many of those questions led to too many conclusions that shouldn’t make sense.
“And what about the time when you decided not to take your vitamins, and your back started itching? That was faerie genetics at work there.”
“You need to stop,” Sabrina begged. “I need to think, and I can’t think if you don’t stop.”
Still looking upset, Deanda nodded in understanding, letting them lapse into a heavy silence.
Sabrina stared pensively out the window, not caring at all when they took the exit toward the Pennsylvania Turnpike. She didn’t even glance over when Deanda collected her ticket to merge onto the new road, and she deliberately ignored the growing quiet as the lanes ahead of her stretched on. The monotony of the budding trees around them, broken up by the occasional plot of farmland, helped reduce her fear and anger. But as they faded, her bewilderment grew even more.
Somewhere between one open field and the next, the thought occurred to her that it would be nice to have a brother, even if it meant believing in faeries. She had always wanted a real family, after all.
If he did exist, then what was he like? Did he miss her? Or was he mad at her for creating the chaos she had as an infant? Because if he existed, then so had those two poor faeries who died protecting her.
Despite those many thoughts racing around her mind, Sabrina still stayed mute until they stopped somewhere to sleep a little past midnight. The plain, pinkish-brown buildings were hardly fancy; but even in the dark, she could tell that the place was well kept. The grounds were tidy and the light shining from the main office revealed a pleasant little reception area, where a woman with a graying bun sat at the front desk.
Deanda parked the car right in front of the office door and got out without a word, taking the keys with her. Sabrina was actually surprised she didn’t issue any warnings not to move, but it seemed her roommate either trusted her after all or was unwilling to break the silence first. Five minutes later, she returned just as wordlessly as she’d left, driving them around to one of the back buildings.
Most people probably would have thought about their personal possessions way before that point, but most people didn’t experience the day Sabrina just had. So she didn’t beat herself up about such small details when Deanda popped the trunk. There, inside, lay two laptop bags and two large suitcases, one of which was lime green and the other a peacock blue. She recognized both. They had used the luggage many times before for extended road trips and the occasional vacation across state lines.
Blinking stupidly several times, Sabrina nonetheless grabbed her stuff and followed Deanda into room forty-three in all its simplistic and sterile glory. It had two queen-sized beds, a smallish bathroom and a mundane picture of some pasture over the dresser.
Unzipping her bag, Sabrina was extremely grateful to whoever had rooted through her belongings to pack what they had. The suitcase didn’t contain every single item she herself would have selected, but it did have the essentials, from her favorite pair of hair chopsticks to a brush, several pairs of socks and underwear, and her oversized nightshirt. Her lemon body spray was even tucked in there.
The sight of her sleepwear sent an undesired tear trickling down her cheek. But it wasn’t until she had put the shirt on and brushed her teeth that she spoke.
“Yes?” Her tone was both wary and hopeful at the same time.
Deanda cracked an understanding smile. “Same here. I’m sure I could have handled that better than I did.”
“Where are we going?” Sabrina asked, sitting down on the second bed, which she decided to claim. It gave way to her weight just enough: an invitation to fall asleep that she was more than willing to explore.
“Right now, I have no idea. We’re basically wandering aimlessly until your brother gets back to me.”
Sabrina was sure she should be asking at least a dozen questions about her alleged brother and their pursuers, not to mention Deanda’s mental health or lack thereof. But as she pulled the comforter up over her body, all she could focus on was a single confused thought.
“Yeah?” Deanda paused in the act of reaching for the lamp switch between their beds.
“If we’re faeries, why don’t we have wings?”
Deanda gave a little laugh that caught on a yawn. “How about this: Tomorrow, you can ask me as many questions as you’d like.”
Sabrina nodded sleepily. “I’m holding you to that.”
“You have my word.” And with that, she stretched again to send the room into heavy shadows.
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