-1It wasn't too long before Randal, Tony, Cinnamon, Maive, and Breena joined them. The cooks were hard pressed to keep enough food on the table for four wolves, a pregnant woman, and three hungry humans. Breena didn't eat anything, but she participated in the conversation. Wendell came down a little later. Danielle was the last to show. She ran into the room and quickly slipped into a seat next to Ivy.
"I know we have to go, but there's something that we just have to do first. I saw it in my dream last night and I've been dying for some anyway." Danielle said quietly to her.
"Who's dying?" Faolan cried, worried.
"No one! Gosh, decaf, wolfie boy." Danielle said quickly.
Faolan sat back down, embarrassed. He didn't know what decaf was, but he got the gist.
"What are you talking about?" Ivy asked.
Danielle lowered her voice even further to a conspiratorial whisper.
Ivy rolled her eyes.
"Even if I tell you not to, you will so what the heck." she said.
"Great! This is so cool. I get to introduce karaoke to the 9 Kingdoms!" Danielle said, rubbing her hands together with anticipation, "Yeah, I've been thinking what CD's that I know you have. I'm making a list of good songs for this."
"Look out 9 Kingdoms, " Ivy joked, "It's a good thing we have to go back today."
"Not 'till later, we're not. Where's Lord Rupert? I was talking to him last night and I think he can help. I'll need your CD player thing, too. I'll be back." Danielle said and ran off again.
Faolan looked at Ivy and she could see he was looking for an explanation. She shook her head.
"That's Danielle for you." was all she could give him.
Virginia let Ivy into the room she shared with Wolf, figuring that the girl would want some privacy. She waved a hand at a chair against the wall, motioning for her to sit in it, and pulled over another chair for herself. When they were both settled in, she looked to Ivy to begin.
"It was Snow White's idea that I should talk to you. She said that I was lost like you were. I think she was right. My whole life I…well, I stayed in kind of a bubble and no one else could get through it. That's until Faolan (man, this is a bad analogy) popped it. I was all cold inside and I didn't even know it until recently. Life sucked. I'm a writer, so I had an escape. I'd write stories and make myself one of the characters so it was like I was somewhere else, living an exciting life, falling in love, being a hero. But I'd always have to come back, knowing that it wasn't real. During this adventure is the first time I've been able to cry in years. It hurt inside." Ivy bit her lip and couldn't believe she had just blurted all that to Virginia.
To her surprise, Virginia leaned over and hugged her.
"You sound like me." she said.
"I am like you, I guess. That's why it seemed to me like we were repeating your story. The fact is, I just had to learn the same things you did almost." Ivy said.
"My story?" Virginia asked.
"You know. The 'Four Who Saved the 9 Kingdoms'."
"Oh! Where'd you hear that?" Virginia wondered.
"Really? They can't possibly know the whole story."
"The whole story? There's more?" Ivy asked curiously.
"The story starts back in New York in the old apartment I shared with my dad…"
Randal was bored. His brother had almost seemed to have forgotten him. He knew that wasn't true and all in all he liked being away from Faolan for a while. But still, that left him no one to bug. No, talk to. He meant talk to. Randal wandered into a different room and came across Ivy's friend. She hadn't noticed him, she was too busy writing on a piece of paper. Randal edged up next to her.
"Whatcha doing?" he asked.
This girl jumped in surprised and gave a short yell. Her papers fell all over.
"You scared me. Not a tough thing to do in this situation, but…" she cut off as she noticed Randal sniffing, "You're a half-wolf, aren't you?"
Randal ignored her question. He seemed startled.
"That's what it is! You like King Wendell!" he exclaimed.
"Shhh!" Danielle hissed, pulling Randal over to her, "Not so loud! What…what makes you say that?"
"I can smell it! Plus, I smelled something funny from your direction whenever King Wendell was around. I just never knew what it was. I just knew it reminded me of Faolan and Ivy." Randal explained.
"Okay. Let's say you're right and I have a little bit of a crush on him. Could I, hypothetically, rely on a young half-wolf, let's just say…you, to keep quiet about it?" Danielle asked.
"What's hypo…whatever mean?" Randal asked, making a face.
"Just answer the question."
"Yes." Randal said, fidgeting.
"Good. Now help me pick up these papers, would you? You must be Faolan's little brother, Randal. Ivy told me about you. I'm Danielle." she said as she gathered papers.
Randal handed her the rest of them. Danielle picked up her quill and sat back in her chair. She started writing again. She hummed a little under her breath. Randal peaked over her shoulder.
"Who's John Mayer?" he asked.
Danielle clamped a hand over the paper.
"Why? Did I burp?" Randal asked, confused.
"No, but it's not polite…oh, forget it. He's a singer from the 10th Kingdom. Speaking of John…" Danielle said and jotted down another song.
"What's karoke?" Randal asked, mispronouncing it.
Danielle had a flash-back to her babysitting days and sighed.
"You'll see. Hopefully I can talk your brother and Wolf into doing a number or two. Maybe even Wendell. And I have to get Virginia to do a couple with me and Ivy. Maybe I can find one for Maive and Cinnamon. I've got a lot to do, kid. If you're going to stick around, will you help me?" Danielle asked.
"Sure." Randal nodded.
Faolan whined again. He resumed his pacing across the floor. Wolf looked up at the sound of his movement.
"She's okay, you know. She's just talking to Virginia." Wolf said.
"Yes, but…she's been in there a long time and I feel that it's important stuff that they're talking about. You know, things that might be hard for her. I want to be there."
Faolan growled with frustration.
"You have to let her do her own thing. Even if she is your mate, she's still her own wol…I mean, person." Wolf advised.
Faolan didn't stop pacing.
"I asked her, you know." he said finally.
"I asked her if she would be my mate. I wanted to hear her say it. She said not yet. She said to slow down." Faolan growled.
"But she didn't say no."
"But she didn't say yes." he stopped pacing, "I suppose she's right. I want to go with her. I need to go with her. But what about Randal? I can't leave him."
"I think Randal can take care of himself. Ask him what he wants to do. I think you should go with her. But if you do, be careful in the 10th Kingdom. It's not like here. I don't even understand lots of it." Wolf said.
"Maybe you're right. Huff-puff, even if you are I still need her to come out and talk to me." Faolan heard a noise and spun around, "King Wendell!"
Wendell nodded to Faolan and Wolf as he walked over.
"There a problem, Wendy?" Wolf asked.
"Nothing catastrophic. Just something personal." Wendell said, sitting down, "How's my favorite step-sister?"
"She's fine. What's your problem?"
"Oh…it's just….Danielle." Wendell admitted.
"Ivy's friend? What about her?" Faolan asked.
Wendell wrung his hands and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"I…well, I…I think that…"
"You like her." Wolf grinned, "I knew that. Ever since Breena brought us back and we found you two together."
"How?" Wendell demanded.
Wolf looked from Wendell to Faolan.
"A wolf knows." he said simply, "So what's the problem?"
"So. What am I supposed to do? It's not like I can pursue it. One, I'm a king here and she lives somewhere in the 10th Kingdom. Two, the Council of the 9 Kingdoms was already discussing prearranging my marriage to some princess. Kings aren't allowed to marry commoners. Not that she's common! Or that I intend to marry her!" Wendell sighed, "Am I completely hopeless or what?"
Wolf held up a hand to stop their conversation. He stood up and turned towards the side entrance just as Virginia and Ivy walked in. Faolan jumped when he saw her and bounded over. He stopped a pace from her and looked at her.
"Hi." he said.
"Hi." Ivy replied, her mouth quirking at his sudden shyness, "What have you three been talking about?"
"Nothing." all three said hurriedly at the same time.
Virginia and Ivy exchanged a look. Neither of them bought that. But neither of them would push it.
"Faolan, I have an idea about where you can stay. Is Randal coming with us?" Ivy asked.
"I don't know yet. Come on, let's go outside." Faolan said, taking her hand and leading her away.
Ivy shrugged and waved goodbye to Virginia, Wolf, and Wendell.
"What about you two? Are you going back to the 10th Kingdom?" Wendell asked.
"Not until I have this baby. 10th Kingdom doctors wouldn't respond well to a baby with a tail." Virginia said and smiled.
"I don't see why." Wolf said, "A tail is p…"
"Perfectly natural." Virginia finished for him.
"Well, it is." he insisted.
"Listen, Ivy…" Faolan began, sitting her down on one of the ebony benches in Wendell's garden.
"No, Faolan. You listen. I know what you're going to say. That I can tell you anything. That even if I'm not ready to be your mate, that you're mine. The truth is, I'm confused. The journey makes sense to me, but not the end. Danielle's happy as can be, everyone else acts like this is normal routine. Maybe it is around here. But…I helped kill the last of a species. How can I live with that?"
Faolan frowned. Why would she dwell on something like this? She had seemed so happy before. He had even begun to hope that all their problems were over, that from now on it would be…well, a fairytale.
"He was evil. He would have killed us all. So would that witch. It's over. The others are just trying to get on with their lives. If you dwell on it, it'll destroy you." Faolan said.
Ivy buried her face in her hands for a moment. Maybe he was right.
"Still." she said, looking up.
Faolan sat down next to her and put an arm around her. She leaned against him, surprised to find comfort in his strength.
"Don't be sad, please." he said, "I don't like it when you're sad."
Ivy whimpered and laid her head against his chest. Faolan nuzzled her and put his head against hers.
"You're right, I guess." she said without moving.
Faolan didn't reply.
"Okay. Alright. It's ready. It is ready? Right? Right?!" Danielle demanded.
Lord Rupert nodded.
"Yes, yes. It's ready. I'm still not too sure about your choice of table arrangements, but…" he waved a hand to dismiss it.
"Good. This is the 9 Kingdoms first ever karaoke and I want it to be perfect. Randal, can you go get the others?"
Randal nodded and ran off. Danielle heaved a sigh and plopped down in a chair. She gulped down some water and waited for the others to show up. Lord Rupert stood off to the side, also waiting. Who would have though that arranging the first ever karaoke in a fairytale land would be so much work?
"Are you guys always going to act mushy or what?" Randal asked and stuck out his tongue.
"What is it, Randal?" Faolan asked, only moving so that he could stroke Ivy's hair.
"Danielle wants you to go into the conference hall." Randal reported.
He ran off again before either of them could reply, following his nose to the others.
He found Cinnamon next. She, too, was in the garden, pacing and staring off in the distance. Randal stopped and waited for her to see him. His wolf instincts told him it wasn't a good idea to approach an agitated she-wolf without her permission.
"What do you want, cub?" she asked without looking at him.
"I'm supposed to tell everyone to go to the conference hall." Randal said.
"Better move along then." she said coldly.
Randal backed away slowly, then continued on his way. Whatever was bothering her, he didn't want her to take it out on him.
Randal went back into the castle and almost bumped into Wolf and Virginia.
"Ewww, more mushy stuff." Randal complained.
Virginia pulled away from Wolf and smiled at Randal.
"Sorry." she said lightly.
"Are you really going to have a cub?" Randal asked in wonder.
"Yeah." Virginia nodded, placing a hand on her stomach.
"Where did it come from?"
"Uh…." Virginia looked to Wolf, worriedly.
"You'll find out later. Just watch nature." Wolf instructed.
Randal cocked his head, confused. He finally shrugged.
"Danielle wants everyone in the conference hall." he delivered his message.
"Okay. Thanks, Randal." Wolf nodded.
Randal ran off again to find the remaining members of their party. Virginia slapped Wolf on the arm.
"I can't believe you told him that." she said.
"What? He's a wolf." Wolf said, rubbing his arm as if it had hurt, "What would you have told him?"
"Well…when two people love each other very much…" Virginia trailed off with a grin.
The line was lost on Wolf.
Danielle jumped to her feet as Ivy and Faolan came in. She grinned as Ivy stopped in her tracks and looked around.
"I'm not sure if you're a genius or an incredible ham." she said.
"Both." Danielle said with a bow.
"You're a ham?" Faolan asked in confusion.
"An expression, Faolan." Ivy explained.
Faolan only looked slightly less confused.
"Grab a seat, Faolan. Ivy come with me." Danielle said quickly.
Ivy shrugged and followed Danielle over to the make-shift stage. Ivy touched it and grinned.
"I'm not even going to ask how you whipped this up." she said, shaking her head.
"Good. Here. This is the list." Danielle said, shoving a piece of paper in Ivy's hand.
"Are you deliberately trying to embarrass me? Why are there I's and V's and D's and W's….." Ivy's eyes widened as she figured it out, "You want Faolan to sing 'Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me'!"
"You don't approve of the list?" Danielle frowned.
"No, I don't approve of the list!" Ivy almost yelled.
"You mean that you're not the least bit intrigued by the notion of Faolan singing you a love song?"
"I'm not going to answer that. But I am trimming this list. Besides, we have to get going. It's a long way from New York back to Arizona. My truck's probably impounded by now." Ivy said.
"Fine." Danielle allowed.
"This is more nuts than anything else I've seen in this crazy place. I guess we'll fit right in." Ivy muttered.
"Okay, guys. This is the first ever 9 Kingdoms karaoke, orchestrated by me. Ivy and I'll start this thing off so you get the idea. I'll go first. This song goes out to a certain someone who will remain unnamed. Formalities out of the way, hit it!" Danielle said before launching into a song about having a crush.
Danielle shot a glance at Wendell before fixing her eyes firmly elsewhere. She probably hadn't fooled anyone about who she was singing to. She should never have done this. Too late now. Almost through the song. Just a short bridge and a repeat of the chorus. That's all. Then she could get off the stage before she started blushing so bright everyone would see.
Danielle froze. It was over. What was she supposed to do now? Look at Wendell. No! Don't look at Wendell! Just bow and get off the stage. Go work the controls. That was it.
"Okay. Yeah. Now, you guys are supposed to clap. Thanks." Danielle said, then beat a hasty retreat off the stage.
Danielle grabbed Ivy's arm and shoved her on stage. She checked the CD and saw that Ivy had already switched it. Good girl.
"Uh….hi." Ivy said lamely, "I think you guys get the idea, right? Okay. Um…go, Danielle."
Ivy began shakily singing another tremendously sappy song about love that Danielle had picked out, she suspected, to make her die of embarrassment. Ivy had never been one for the spot light, really. That was more Danielle's thing. But she would also never back down from a challenge, which Danielle had made this now. Unfortunately, she caught sight of Faolan. The half-wolf was practically falling out of his chair. Danielle rolled her eyes.
Faolan jumped out of his seat as she finished the song and Danielle had a feeling he would have run over and kissed Ivy, except that she had placed herself between them.
"None of that. This is a family show." Danielle said and winked at Randal, "Okay. Virginia, your turn."
"What?" Virginia cried, "No way!"
"Aw, come on. We've got a song all picked out for you. I even wrote down all the words." Danielle coaxed.
"Oh, fine." she gave in.
She got to her feet and walked over to where Ivy and Danielle stood near the stage. Danielle handed her a piece of paper. Virginia skimmed it as Danielle pushed her on stage. Ivy hit the play button at a nod from Danielle. Virginia's voice grew steadily stronger as she sang what was apparently a somewhat familiar song and the next time she sang the chorus, the singing ring joined in. Virginia's eyes widened in surprise, but she kept singing, Once she finished the song, everyone clapped, but they were drowned out completely by Wolf.
"That was great, honey!" he called.
Virginia smiled shyly and returned to her seat. Wolf squeezed her shoulders and kissed her cheek.
"Did you hear that, baby cub? Your mama's voice is almost as beautiful as she is." Wolf said, placing a hand on Virginia's stomach.
"Uh…Wolf, could you tear yourself away from Virginia for a few minutes? You, too, Faolan." Danielle said.
Wolf and Faolan hesitantly got up and headed over to Ivy and Danielle, looking very confused. Danielle glanced past them at Wendell who was sitting at a table with Tony. He had golden curls that some girls she knew would kill for. He was wearing a tailored blue suit that looked as completely natural on him as blue jeans and a T-shirt. He said something to Tony and looked in her direction. Danielle quickly turned back to Wolf and Faolan and handed each of them a piece of paper.
"Isn't she wonderful?" Wendell sighed.
"I mean, isn't this wonderful?" Wendell corrected hurriedly.
Tony nodded at Danielle.
"You like her, huh?" he asked.
"No! Of course not!" Wendell cried immediately, then added quietly, "Yes."
Tony smiled. Wendell was like a son to him, but he was also his best friend. It was a peculiar feeling hearing about Wendell's first crush, as far as he knew.
"Well? What are you going to do about it?" Tony pressed.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's not like there's anything I can do. The Council of the 9 Kingdoms will arrange my marriage to someone else and she'll go back to the 10th Kingdom. Besides, I don't even know if she likes me, Anthony." Wendell finished.
Tony shook his head. Love was blind, he guessed.
"She just sang that song about having a crush to you." Tony pointed out.
Wendell's head shot up and he looked at Tony like he was insane.
"Oh, come on. You can't figure it out? Think about it, you're the only one she could be singing to. She certainly doesn't have a crush on me." Tony continued.
Wendell shook his head, but his eyes were wide. He stopped and rubbed his temple as if he had a headache.
"So what do I do? They're leaving soon." Wendell asked.
"Now that is up to you, Princey boy." Tony said and patted Wendell on the head.
"Anthony." Wendell said in a warning tone.
"Oh!" Tony realized, "Sorry. Forgot. You were such a nice dog."
Wendell glared at him.
"I'm just teasing! Geesh."
Faolan and Wolf looked utterly confused. Danielle sighed in exasperation.
"Look, why don't you two listen to the song first, then try it?" Danielle suggested.
"Why would we sing a girl's song?" Faolan asked.
"Because I said to! Just listen to the words. Now put on these headphones. No, no, like this." Danielle said, adjusting the headphones on Wolf.
Wolf jumped in surprise when the music came on. Danielle turned to see Ivy edge over.
"What are you doing? This wasn't on the list! Not my version, anyway." Ivy whispered angrily.
"Cool it. Just sit down." Danielle replied firmly.
Ivy glared at her, but plunked down in her seat at a table.
Danielle turned back to Wolf and Faolan and switched the headphones to the latter. He was even worse than Wolf when she pressed play. He pulled the headphones away from his ears as if it were too loud so she turned it down. Gosh, he listened to it softer than Ivy did!
Wolf scratched his temple again and looked at Danielle.
"Um…Danielle? There's a small, tiny problem." he said as if he were embarrassed.
"What?" Danielle sighed.
"I don't…oh, huff-puff, I can't sing like that!" Wolf protested.
Danielle felt like banging her head against a wall.
"Of course you can't. That's Faith Hill. She's a woman, you're not. 'Kay?" Danielle asked, forcing a smile.
"But…" Wolf began.
"No. You know what? I don't care." Wolf tried to talk again, but she cut him off with a wave of her hand, "Uh uh. No. Not one word."
Faolan pulled off the headphones and he looked as doubtful as Wolf.
"You either. Don't argue, just do it. Now. Go!" Danielle urged, pushing them onto the stage.
Danielle calmed her annoyance enough not to break the CD player when she pressed play. She could hear Wolf and Faolan arguing over who would have to sing the lead. Apparently, Wolf won 'cause Faolan started out singing Faith Hill's part.
"If I could win your heart,
You'd let me in your heart,
I'd be so happy, baby.
Just for these arms to be
Holding you close to me.
There's nothing in this world I won't try.
No limit to what I'd do to make you mind 'cause…" now Wolf joined him for the chorus. At least these wolves picked this stuff up quick,
"I'd climb right up to the sky,
I'd take down the stars
Just to be in your arms, baby.
I'd go and capture the moon.
That's what I would do
Just to hear you say that you love me.
Just to hear you say that you love me."
Not bad, Danielle thought to herself, I do good work. Now Faolan picked up the song again and Wolf sang the back-up almost word for word. Good. Now just finish off the song, Danielle thought, Good wolfies. Now bow and get off my stage. That sounded bad. Oh, well. A good finish to my karaoke, I suppose. Four songs, though. Pitiful. Stupid Ivy.
"Good job, guys. I told you that you could do it." Danielle said, directing them off the stage and taking their place, "Okay. That's basically it. It's a lot of fun, really. We could go on, but some of us need to get back to the 10th Kingdom. I'd just like to say thanks to everyone. Breena, Wolf, I'd still be lost if not for you two. Wendell, you saved my life. I can't thank you enough. I promise I'll come back as soon as I can. That is, if I can?"
"We opened the mirror for Wolf and Virginia once every week at sunset on Sunday." Wendell said, "We can open it for you."
"Alright. Thanks, Wendell." Danielle nodded, gratefully.
That was weird. Ivy hadn't said thank you. Danielle looked over at her and saw that she was being all cuddly with Faolan. Ewww, she gets her first boyfriend and already she was all…in the words of Randal, yucky. And she would have to put up with it all the way home, too.
"Ahem! Ivy, wouldn't you like to say thank you?" Danielle asked pointedly.
"Thank you! Everyone." Ivy said, trying to pull away from Faolan, but he wouldn't let her, "Faolan, we really need to get going."
"Have we got everything? Are we ready to go?" Danielle asked.
"Um…I think so." Ivy said, looking to Faolan for confirmation.
Faolan rose and went over to Randal.
"What do you want to do, Randal?" he asked.
Randal fidgeted and looked around.
"I think…I'd like to stay here. Is that okay?" he asked worriedly.
"That's perfectly fine. I'll be back soon, don't worry. Huff-puff, I'm going to miss you." Faolan said.
"I'll miss you, too." Randal said and hugged him.
"We'll keep an eye on him, Faolan. Don't worry." Virginia added.
Faolan looked at her in surprise.
"Thank you." he said sincerely.
Everyone was quiet for a moment. Wendell rose and coughed to get their attention.
"If you're ready, I can lead you to the mirror room." he offered.
"Sure." Danielle agreed, hopping off the stage.
Ivy had never liked good-byes, especially long ones. So they got them all over with before following Wendell. Wendell was the last one they had to bid farewell to before going home.
"Bye, Wendell. You don't know how happy we are that you found us in Central Park." Ivy said, shaking Wendell's hand.
"Incredibly happy." Faolan added, shaking his hand after her.
Faolan disappeared first through the mirror. Ivy waited for Danielle.
"Coming, Danie?" she asked.
Danielle looked at Wendell, then at the mirror.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm coming." she said, stumbling backwards toward the mirror, then turning and stepping through.
Ivy thought she heard Wendell sigh as she followed.
"Wow." Faolan said, gazing around at the city as they walked toward the Grill on the Park, the last known whereabouts of Ivy's truck, "What's that? And that? And…oh, what's that smell?"
"I'll explain later. It's a long drive. First, we have to find my truck." she said.
They were in luck. Ivy's truck was still there, but with a few added tickets on it.
"Alright. I'll drive first. Danielle, you'll have to switch off with me. I still need to write that report on wolves that was due last Wednesday. Whoever's not driving, try and think of an excuse that our parents will buy." Ivy instructed, "Let's take care of these tickets. I don't need parking tickets on top of everything else."
"You know, " Danielle said later as they were driving home, "I'm thinking we definitely have to patent this adventure."
"A novel maybe?" Ivy suggested, "Of course, we couldn't put our names on it. We want to be inconspicuous so we can get back to the mirror and everything. And it'd have to be labeled fiction."
"No, I'm thinking more of a television production. A miniseries!" Danielle said, her mind buzzing with possibilities.
"You'd better start with Wolf and Virginia's story first, the 'Four Who Saved the 9 Kingdoms'. Otherwise it wouldn't make sense. We could be silent benefactors and help in the casting and everything, get actors who most look like everyone and all." Ivy said, getting into it.
"What's a miniseries?" Faolan asked.
"It's another 10th Kingdom thing. You'll see." Danielle promised.
Virginia sighed and leaned back against Wolf. So there really were lost girls out there just like she had been. She hoped the 9 Kingdoms had changed their lives like it had hers.
With that thought, Virginia rubbed her stomach. Soon, she would be a mother. Wolf was right, they would have a wonderful baby. And he would be a wonderful father.
"Wolf?" she asked.
"Yes?" he murmured, putting his head on her shoulder.
"Do you think we'll live 'Happy Ever After'?"
Wolf paused and thought that over. He slowly smiled and wrapped his arms around her.
"You know what, my succulent dreamy girl? I think we already are."