"This really is quite a setup," Birdie Yale
said, slinging her badminton racket over one shoulder as she reached for
a lemonade. "Who's
your gardener, Mary Poppins?"
"Manners, manners," Puck chided. "Don't distract my student."
Alexander Xanatos, the student in question, did not appear to be distracted. His attention was focused on the hibachi in front of him.
Specifically, on the pile of unlit coals.
"I thought they only barbequed turkey in California," Birdie remarked. "Fergs?"
"Not my family," Aiden Ferguson replied, bracing her own racket against the table and refilling her glass. "But some of the neighbors did."
"Even on Thanksgiving?"
"We're not barbequing the turkey and would you please hush up?" Puck floated over to them, legs folded tailor-fashion. "Some people
have school today."
"Only because some teachers never let up," Birdie said. "But you're not an American, so what would you care about Thanksgiving?"
"The gargoyles aren't Americans either, but they care," Aiden said. "Broadway's been cooking all week!"
Alex went on ignoring them all. His sea-blue eyes narrowed, his little brow furrowed, and a wisp of smoke curled up from the hibachi.
Within seconds, flames were licking merrily at the coals. "I did it!" he piped. In glee, he bobbed off the grass and spun in a somersault.
"Good lad!" Puck cheered.
"Oh," Alex said, suddenly somber, looking at Birdie with a soulful expression. "Aiden and me did the garden. Don't you like it?"
"Never said that, kiddo!" Birdie ruffled his firegold hair. "It's great! I especially love the Willie Wonka part."
"That's the chocolate room," Alex explained proudly. "Everything's eatable."
"Edible," Aiden corrected.
"You can eat almost anything," Puck finished.
"And that's Pooh's Thoughtful Spot," Alex pointed.
"I recognized it right away," Birdie told him.
"Isn't it nice?" Aiden sighed happily. "Outside, it's grey and blah, but in here, it's always springtime!"
"A simple thing, really," Puck said modestly. "Mr. Xanatos does prefer to keep the pool area temperate. But now, my boy, back to your
lesson. Can you shape the fire?"
"Into what?" Alex asked.
"Whatever you like."
He concentrated, and one flame rose up, grew wings, and became the image of a tiny dragon.
"Damn, I wish I could do that," Birdie said. "Well, at the very least, Fergs, I can trash you at badminton."
"That's what you keep saying," Aiden said as they headed back to the grassy court. "But how come they're always just practice shots?"
"Okay, okay. This game's for real. Just don't get pissed when I win, and then never invite me back."
"You invited yourself anyway," Puck pointed out.
"Mr. Xanatos said you were welcome," Aiden hastily assured her friend. "Your folks didn't mind?"
"Nah. They're happier this way. Holidays chez Yale really suck. My grandfather thinks I'm hellbound, and you know about Aunt Margot."
"Okay. My serve?"
"Sure, I'll give you one." Birdie's laugh turned into a sputter as she missed her return shot by a mile. Picking up the feathered projectile, she
held it in front of her and scolded it firmly. "Listen, you. I'm a Birdie and you're a birdie, so could you cooperate a little?"
With that, she tossed it high and walloped it. It sailed over Aiden's head, rebounded off a column by the pool, and caromed into the Hundred
Acre Wood. Where it struck a beehive, which loosed a seething black torrent.
The bees swarmed up, hovered for a moment, then arrowed down at the two girls. Aiden shrieked and ducked under the net, nearly colliding
with Birdie, who was holding her racket like a weapon.
"No, run!" Aiden pulled her.
Puck turned idly to watch as they flashed past with the bees in hot pursuit.
"Split up!" Birdie yelled, taking her own advice and veering right. The bees divided precisely to follow each of them.
"The pool!" Aiden took her own advice and made for it, with Birdie on her heels. They jumped in feet first. The bees zipped by just above the
surface of the water, buzzed about in consternation, then returned to the tree.
"It worked," Aiden gasped, paddling over to join Birdie, who was pawing her burgundy-streaked curls out of her eyes.
"What bees these mortals fool," Puck chortled.
Birdie shot him a look as she hauled herself out. "You staged that on purpose, all so you could say that, didn't you, smarty-britches?"
"Respect your elders, Roberta Louise."
"Start acting like one, and I might, Pucky-Wucky," she retorted.
"Where ever did you get that mouth?" he wondered.
Aiden wrung out her hair, smiling at their banter, wishing she could join in so easily. In her mind, Puck was still Owen, and both of them were
authority figures. After almost two years, she still felt awkward around him, not to mention the Xanatoses.
"Came with the package," Birdie said. "Seriously, though, growing up in the shadow of my valedictorian prep-school golden boy-big brother
was what did it. I couldn't compete with Chas, so I was like, starved for attention, you know?" She playfully tweaked Puck's ear.
He shot six feet straight up and turned bright pink. "Don't do that!"
"Hey, so it is true!" Birdie laughed. "I just read this bitchin' new fantasy novel where the elves' ears were a major turn-on spot."
"Lex has something like that," Aiden said, running her thumbs down her sides along the ribcage. "Right here where his wings --" she suddenly
heard what she was saying and shut up in a hurry. Too late, because both Birdie and Puck were looking at her with grins and glints in their eyes.
"Hey, Lex, Broadway," Brooklyn called from on high. "Did we miss the annual Castle Wyvern wet tee-shirt contest?"
Winged shapes, not bees this time but gargoyles, swooped down from the gallery.
"Gee, I hope not," Broadway said as he landed and surveyed Birdie.
Aiden gasped and crossed her arms over her ungenerous bosom, but Birdie looked down at the cloth plastered to her abundant curves. Then
she smirked, said, "Well, now that you guys had an eyeful, when's the wet loincloth contest?" and pushed Brooklyn in the pool.
"Hey, you can't do that to my rookery brother," Broadway protested, charging Birdie with a mock roar. She tackled him and they both went
in just as Brooklyn was coming up, and all three of them sank straight to the bottom with a chorus of gurgled yelps.
Lex fell over laughing in the grass.
Aiden eyed him. "You think you're getting out of this, mister?"
"You can't throw me in," Lex said.
"True." Aiden swept a hand through the air, spoke a word in Latin, and an arc of water leaped from the pool to drench him where he sat. It also
thoroughly splashed --
"Goliath!" Aiden staggered back, mortified.
Goliath's arm shot out and caught her just before she tumbled backward into the pool. "No harm done, Aiden," he said, shaking water from his
Angela, landing well out of the combat zone, giggled merrily. "Whatever happened here, I'm glad I missed it!"
Puck's eyebrow went up, and a raincloud formed directly over the lavender she-garg, soaking her to the skin.
Brooklyn had managed to pull himself to dry land and lay there like a drowned rat. He could barely muster the energy to leer at Angela as her
garment immediately molded itself to her flesh.
"Truce?" Broadway begged, shaking water from his ears.
"Okay." Birdie quit ducking him and they joined Brooklyn at poolside.
"Someone still looks pretty dry," Lexington said, looking at Puck.
"I wouldn't," Aiden cautioned.
Lex heeded not her warnings, but dove for the garden hose. He aimed the nozzle at Puck and triggered it. The hose instantly turned into a huge
green snake and coiled around him.
"Ag!" Lex cried. He wrestled the snake around so that he had it by the neck, its open mouth inches from his head. And then, of course, it turned
back into the hose and he sprayed himself full in the face.
Puck transformed himself into Owen's rigid guise and gave them all one of his famous scathing looks. "Are you all quite finished?" he asked.
"Bronx, nay!" they heard Hudson bellow from the gallery, and everyone looked up just as Bronx, eager to join the fun, cannonballed himself
from the rail. A tremendous gout of water went up, came down, and when the tidal wave was over, even Owen was dripping.
"Look out below," Hudson called belatedly, after having a hearty laugh at their expense.
Alex, untouched by any of it, gave them all a look that suggested he, at all of his three years of age, was the only mature person in the room.
David Xanatos chose that moment to come in, with Elisa and Matt Bluestone in tow. "I thought I heard a --" he stopped short. "Owen?"
"Yes, sir?" as if he wasn't standing in puddles.
"What's going on?"
"Alexander was just about to demonstrate one of his new abilities," Owen said smoothly, and motioned to the boy.
Alex nodded. "Zephyr come and zephyr go, let the West Wind blow, blow, blow." He pursed his little lips and blew, and a warm current of air
flowed over them, drying up all the excess water. Of course, this left all of them except Lex, Broadway, and Bronx with crackling haloes of static-
electric hair, but it was better than before.