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Actually I do own these characters, this story, and it was originally published as part of my collection of short stories "Magical Moments" available on Amazon along with my other books.

Popularity

By, Clayton Overstreet

Wishes are tricky, especially when you get what you want. This is because a wish is always specific and unchanging while reality tends to change at the drop of a hat. You can't change a wish once it's been granted. You can only make another one.

Charlene Laramie ran into an alleyway and ducked behind a large garbage bin really wishing she hadn't dropped her lunch. Her heart was beating in her ears so loudly she almost did not hear the pounding footsteps that followed behind her. But she definitely heard them stop and she definitely heard the voice that called out to her.

"Come on out Charley! We know that you're in there! I can see you under that stupid dumpster!"

Charley looked towards the other end of the alley. There was a large chain link fence blocking it off. The top looked very sharp. But then again, what were a few scratches next to the beating she was about to get if she stayed put? Keeping low she began to move backwards away from the bin.

"Look Jenny, can't we talk about this?"

"What is there to talk about? You threw lasagna all over my new cashmere sweater."

"And you threw my backpack and books in the trash in the girl's bathroom. Isn't that enough?"

"No, it isn't."

Charley could see Jenny and her friends now. The five girls completely blocked any possible exit from their end of the alley. Jenny was the only one of them who had real red hair. The rest had dye jobs to match her. Aside from that they varied in size, Jenny being the smallest and the same size as Charley. Another difference was the large tomato stain on Jenny's pink sweater. Charley winced and wished reverently that Jenny had not tripped her at lunch. She wished even more that she had managed to sneak away after school instead of stopping to use the bathroom.

"Look, it was your fault," Charley said desperately. "You're the one who stuck your foot out like that."

"Oh, that reminds me. You stepped on my foot." Jenny nodded her head. "Get her."

The girls rushed forward and with a squeal Charley turned and ran for the fence. When she reached it she tried climbing, but instead just managed to slam against it and scrape her leg when her foot slipped. They grabbed her and pulled her away. Thrown to the ground she saw Jenny smirking down at her just before the first fist hit her face.

Her left eye swelling shut and her hair caked with gunk from the alley Charley dug her backpack out of the trashcan at school and once again started for home. Looking inside she found that one of the lenses had popped out of her glasses, but she pushed it back in and they were otherwise all right. Jenny's friends had been too busy chasing her to get creative.

For a moment Charley stopped in front of the tinted doors outside the gym. Her reflection looked back at her looking almost as pathetic as she felt. Even if she were not scraped and bruised Charley had never been much to look at. Teeth that were too big for her mouth, a large chin, and hook nose stared back at her surrounded by pimple-covered cheeks. Her eyes were beady and black. She even had a washboard stomach that went all the way up to her neck. Hormones were things that happened to other girls. All together she looked like a rat. Her glasses did nothing to help, making her eyes seem to expand in size to twice what they should be.

Turning from the door she reached into her bag and pulled out a battered copy of Lord of The Rings from her backpack and read it as she made her way home. Whenever she was feeling really down Charley had always read that particular book. In her opinion it was the best one in Tolkien's series because it gave the best description of the elves. Ever since she was a little girl Charley would read about elves and pretend to be one of them. Tall and beautiful with an inner light that just shone out of them. She was already very slim. More like a scarecrow than an elf, but she was always sure that the possibility was there.

At least, she had been until two years before when she got into high school and her health teacher had told the class that they had all already filled out to the frames they would have their whole lives. Charley had immediately burst into tears and simultaneously solidified her reputation as an easy mark for every jerk in school. Now that she was a junior and much more cynical she could understand. She would have probably made fun of her for that too.

An hour later she closed the book and opened the door to her house. "I'm home!"

Catherine, her mother, stuck her head out of the kitchen. She had similar features to Charley, and it had given the young woman much hope that her mother had managed to have a child. That was until she was fifteen and found her mother's old diary. Then she had learned that her mother had been knocked up after passing out at a college pig-party. "You're late… what happened?"

Charley looked up at her mother's worried face. "I spilled food on a girl's sweater at school."

"Oh dear, do you know who it was? Should we report them?"

"Don't bother mom. I have a bad enough reputation at school. She would just have her friends say that I was nowhere near her. Then she would beat me up again." She sighed and set her pack down on the coffee table. "What is there for dinner?"

Her mother gave an apologetic smile and said, "I made lasagna."

Charley groaned and said, "Forget it, I'm not hungry. I'm going to go clean out my wounds and then I am going to bed."

"I understand dear," Catherine said. Her voice sounded sad and she obviously wished she could help her daughter out in some way.

Charley debated giving her mother a hug and telling her not to worry, but she was tired and her scratches were throbbing. "Goodnight mom."

"Goodnight Charley," she said.

Going upstairs Charley took a brief moment to do as she promised and went into the bathroom to clean the scrapes. When she looked in the medicine cabinet she found that they were out of peroxide and all that was left was iodine. "Great."

Hissing in pain she used a cotton swab to apply the stinging chemical to her skin. It took longer than it should have because the sharp stabbing pain made her wince with just tapping the swab against the wounds. And like a person who hopes that getting into a cold pool slowly will make it easier, she was sadly disappointed.

Finishing up she put everything away, washed off the mud, and then went to her room. Looking around she once again realized how lame her taste in decorations was. She liked pink and unicorns. Whenever she picked something out she always thought it looked great and fit in with her room. But even though it did fit, she had nothing that could even remotely be considered cool. There was even a beat up looking blue stuffed rabbit sitting on her pillow.

Her heart dropping into her stomach Charley picked up Mr. Flops and hugged him to her chest before diving onto her comforter. She buried her face in the fake fur and cried. "Why? Why did I have to be cursed like this? Why can't I have friends?"

It did not make sense. She was nice, quiet, and very friendly; everything that should have been required to make her qualify as somebody's friend. She would have even settled for being a toady or a footstool. The few times she had tried going along with fads she had ended up spending weeks labeled as a poser. In fact, coloring her hair red was what had first set Jenny and her friends off.

Eventually she calmed down and tossed the rabbit aside. "Face it girl, you just lack the cool gene. Live with it." She looked at the window and saw that it was still light out. She was also getting a little hungry. But going downstairs would make her feel like a quitter. So instead she dug under her mattress and pulled out a bag of cookies. The thought of turning on her television quickly soured. It was Thursday and there was nothing good on. Scanning her bookshelves she selected Cole's Encyclopedia of Fairies and settled into her bed.

Charley had reading down to an art form. With her free hand she plucked a cookie from the bag and used her thumb to turn the page. Sadly this technique had a few flaws and by the time she was a quarter of the way through her book she had already dropped three cookies. She reached for another and found that she had polished the rest off. Since she did not feel like eating off the floor or even trying to clean them up, she pushed the bag over too and started using both hands to read her book.

On the next page was a familiar image that made her grin. The tiny humanoid was nude with walnut like brown skin and matted hair. "Brownies," she read. "Small fairies who are known for their propensity for living in human homes and performing housework when the owners of the house are asleep and occasionally trading boons for bread and milk. The only way to get rid of them is to offer them clothing which they find offensive. However, the brownie may instead choose to remain and instead of helping he will begin undoing hard work and breaking things." She licked her lips and glanced at her cookie-covered floor. "I could sure use one of those." For the hundredth time she scanned the page until she reached the poem at the bottom. She had said it all before and nothing happened, but it was always fun to pretend.

"By magic's call I conjure thee. By bread and milk please come to me. For ye I offer thrice yon food in exchange for a minor boon. Three requests I ask of thee and three pieces of bread I offer ye. Thrice do grant me my request. Use my home for thy rest. Brownie, do not pass me by!"

Charley laughed again and continued reading her book. Eventually her eyelids were heavy and she decided that she was tired enough to give up. Putting the book down on her nightstand Charley turned off the light and buried herself in her blankets. "Good night mom!"

She had no idea how long she had been asleep, but suddenly her eyes opened. She was sure that something had made a noise. Moments later she heard something under her bed. Whatever it was had just run over her empty bag and was gnawing on one of the cookies. Oh great, she thought. Now I've got a rat in my room. Peeking over the edge of her bed she saw the silhouette of the little vermin against the bright colors of the cookie bag. Moving slowly she moved her head off of her pillow and brought it out from under her. She moved it to the edge of the bed.

The thing's head snapped up just as she brought the pillow down on top of it. Charley felt it squirm under her and she prepared to call her mother in to take care of it. Until she heard something from under the pillow. At first she thought that the rat was just squeaking. Then she began to pick up specific words. No rat used those particular four letter words.

Shocked she pulled the pillow back and turned on her light. Sitting on the floor glaring up at her was a tiny wrinkled man. Thought her surprise she could not help but notice that he was naked and extremely well hung for his size.

"And what was the big idea of trying to suffocate me? After I come here at your request!"

"You're a brownie!" Charley felt her eyes bugging out of her head.

"Yes, I am. And you strike me as one of those human girls who get a kick out of reading old spells from some book and then are surprised when they work." Sniffing he reached down and picked up the third and final cookie. "Though usually I don't get food this fine."

Sure now that she was having a dream Charley could not help herself. "They were made by elves."

The brownie raised an eyebrow and sniffed the thing. "No, they aren't. But they are good. Milk chocolate, good dough… not bad if a little dry." She watched while he quickly finished it off and patted his belly. "From what I heard from outside you offered me these cookies and the use of your home as my own in exchange for three boons and the standard cleaning service." Deciding not to take any chances Charley quickly nodded. "Well then you have yourself a deal… provided you don't go too overboard with the wishes. I have barely enough magic to hide myself from you mortals. Wishes for gold or power are out, understand?"

"So what can I ask for?" Charley asked.

He waved a tiny hand. "Things I can do physically. I'm small but I am strong. Do you want a well dug? Something stolen? Anybody you want me to kill?"

Briefly Charley had a happy image of the brownie coming in with Jenny's head dragged behind him by her beautiful red hair. But her conscience got the better of her. "No, I don't think so. It would be great if you could just live here. I've always wanted to meet a real fairy and you are very well spoken… what should I call you? I'm Charley."

"You're too kind my dear. All fairies hold the gift of tongues. It is one of the few things that bind us together. And you may call me Giles." He smiled up at her. "But honestly, you spoke the deal and I agreed. Therefore I must grant you the boons. I have no choice. Once a fairy gives his word or accepts a gift he must carry it through. Didn't that book of yours mention that?"

"Yes," she said. "But I never really believed them until now. Besides, how would they know?"

"A fairy told them, more likely than not. We can speak only the truth. It is the price of our immortality and magic."

"Can you teach me magic?" Charley asked, her eyes lighting up.

Giles looked down. "In truth I can not. I only know the powers I was born with and have no clue of the working of spells."

Her heart sinking Charley nodded. "I thought as much." Feeling even more depressed and tired than before she yawned loudly. Despite the amazing thing that just happened she was still tired from her beating. "Do I have to decide now? I'm pretty tired and it's hard to think. I'm just going to roll over and go to sleep for a few hundred years until a prince shows up to wake me."

"A prince?" Giles asked.

"Heck, any cute boy would do. But the chances of me getting a boyfriend are slim to none. Who would want to date me?"

"So you really want a boy that badly? Are you exceptionally picky?"

Quickly fading into unconsciousness she shook her head and said, "Not really. Though I would like it if he were cute, rich, and popular. Maybe he could introduce me to some of his friends and not be ashamed of me. Goodnight Giles."

"Goodnight Charley," the brownie said and looked at her thoughtfully. "And don't worry, I think I know just who you are looking for."

The next morning Charley woke up with blue fur in her face. Moving back she rubbed her eyes and saw her bunny on the pillow next to her. Memories from the night before came flooding back. Rolling over she looked down at her floor. The bag and cookies were gone. There was not a crumb to be seen. Looking to the side she saw it sticking out of her trashcan.

"Huh, mom probably came in last night and cleaned it up." She looked around the room. Even her desk was neat. Her heart raced and she considered her options. If she didn't believed in all of this then that meant she was just another pathetic loser. If she called out and the brownie did not respond then she was still a pathetic loser. If he was real then calling him up for no reason might make him mad and he would leave. Or maybe hang around until she made some stupid wish that she really did not mean and make it come true terribly. She had books full of stories like that. If nothing else brownies were known for liking their privacy.

Okay, so the plan was to go about her day as if nothing were wrong. She had to get ready for school anyway and either way she doubted that her new little friend could get her out of that. Well, unless she were stupid enough to tell people about him Then some nice men in white coats would ensure that school was out forever. No, it was best to just pretend that nothing happened until she figured out a good wish that would not backfire.

When she had finished cleaning up she came downstairs and found her mother had made some eggs and orange juice. Catherine smiled at her and said, "I'm sorry I couldn't make pancakes or French toast, but when I checked this morning I it turned out that we were out of milk. I have to go to the store soon."

Hiding her smile Charley said, "It's okay mom. The eggs look great."

Catherine smiled at her daughter. "You're sounding better. Even that shiner of yours doesn't look as bad."

"I put a little makeup on it," Charley said between bites. "And you're right. I had a really great dream last night. It cheered me right up."

"Well good for you." She glanced down at her watch. "I wish I could stay and chat but I have to be in to the office by seven today. I'll swing by the store after work and pick up some groceries."

"Okay mom," Charley said. "Don't worry, I'll take the bus in to school today."

"If those girls bother you today I want you to take it home too," her mother said.

Charley nodded. "I will. But they don't care that much about me. As long as I avoid them I should be okay." They put their dishes away and kissed each other on the cheek before heading out to their daily grind.

When she got to school and stepped off the bus Charley scanned the area for any sign of Jenny, but there wasn't a red head to be seen. Not surprising. It was cool this time of year and anyone at school rushed to class to hang out until the teacher was there so that they could enjoy the heating. She was no exception.

One of Jenny's friends was in her first class and made an expected comment about her eye. Charley ignored her and just sat at her desk. Judging by the tiny spit wads hitting her in the back of the head she was going to pay for her indifference later. Probably when she had backup and there was less chance of a teacher walking in. Briefly Charley once again considered the brownie's offer to kill people for her. But the chance that he might turn on her made it not worth the risk. There were way too many horror movies that had fairytale creatures killing people. She shuddered, wondering how many of them were based on true stories.

As expected the morning went by slowly and uneventfully. During class people rarely did anything except for the minimal amount of work required and spent the rest of the time looking for any excuse to space out. The teachers were able to recognize any possible fights because they too had a lot of free time. Not surprising since Charley could see 1992 stamped on the bottom of her worksheet and a battered teacher's edition sitting on Mr. Hassle's desk.

Lunch was another matter. As soon as she entered the cafeteria Charley saw Jenny and the others staring at her. The one from her class punched a fist into her palm and sneered. Charley felt herself begin to shake as she moved through the lunch line and glanced around nervously for a table near one of the security guards or even a teacher. When she located one she made a show of getting her food and then purposefully moving towards it. She almost made it when one of the other red heads quickly rushed forward with her tray and took the last seat. The girl looked up at her and sniffed.

Jenny called out, "Oh there you are Charley. Please, come sit with us! We insist."

Charley flicked her eyes from left to right looking for some way out. Any way out. But she was trapped and somehow she knew that if she refused Jenny's posse would just come over and frog march her to the table. She was trapped and she knew it.

Something closed over her bicep and made her jump, almost spilling her tray. Looking down she saw a black leather glove holding onto her. Her eyes followed the hand until it connected to the sleeve of a leather jacket. Then up the arm and into the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. They were blue like sapphires and say under thin arching eyebrows. Long blond hair was tied back in a pony tale. Skin the color of milk and as smooth as velvet. His ears curved like seashells coming to a sharp point at the top. Blood red lips turned upwards in a smile that showed white teeth and made her legs feel like they were melting.

Focusing Charley managed to take in the details. Aside from being the most beautiful man she had ever seen he was dressed from hear to toe in shiny black leather with silver embroidered throughout it in spikes and swirling Celtic designs. His black leather jacket merged with his pants but stood out against his black silk shirt.

"Charley? Is that your name?" He asked, his voice carrying a musical quality but at the same time deep like an adult. Charley looked closely and could honestly not tell how old he was. Uncomprehendingly she nodded. "Such a lovely name for an equally lovely woman. Would you care to sit with me?"

"Me?" She asked, completely stunned. "Why would you want to sit with me?"

He looked at her and his expression became sad. "I am sorry dear lady. I did not mean to offend you. Are you perhaps taken with another? Is there some other young man in your life who would become jealous seeing us together? I do not wish to intrude."

"Nobody has ever been jealous of me," she squeaked. Then trying to regain some composure she said, "I mean no, I don't have anyone else."

His face lit up and he smiled again. "Ah, then you will eat with me dear Charley?"

"S-sure…" She said and let him drag her off to a side table.

Sitting down Charley automatically looked over at Jenny's table and saw their shocked stares as they looked from her to the boy. She looked away quickly and sat down. He took a seat next to her and when she looked at him again he was staring at her and eating an apple.

"Would you like some of my food?" She asked.

He looked down at her tray and a brief look of distaste crossed his features when he glanced at the hotdog and French fries on her plate. "No, thank you. I prefer to eat fresh fruits and vegetables."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you." She said.

He laughed, and the sound sent shivers through her whole body. "Do not be absurd. I do not believe that there is anything you could do to offend me." He extended his gloved hand to her. "But I have been remiss. Please, allow me to introduce myself. You may call me Lord Terence, Teri for short."

"Lord?" She asked. Something tickled at the back of her mind. "Excuse me for asking this Teri, but what made you want to talk to me?"

"Why, a mutual friend of ours suggested that he knew a charming young woman who wished for a boyfriend who met my description. Was he mistaken?"

Charley's jaw dropped and she half remembered what she had said as she went to sleep the night before. Something about wanting a prince, a gentleman… she had asked for a handsome popular boyfriend. "Oh my god, are you an elf?"

Teri smiled and spread his hands wide. "Indeed, that is the term your kind use. And all you need do is confirm that I am what you wished for and I will be yours as you will be mine. What was it you wanted?"

"Yes!" She said without thinking. "I mean you are everything I always wanted in a boyfriend. I just… I didn't think Giles could actually… I mean…"

He smiled and tilted his head to the side, as if watching her was incredibly entertaining. "And what would you wish me to do as your boyfriend?"

Trying to remain calm she said, "I… I don't know. Take me out, spend time with me, and help me become popular. You know, boyfriend stuff."

"A simple task," he said. "And what would you do for me?" Looking into his eyes again she felt her mind go numb. He was so beautiful. He reached out and placed a hand on hers.

"Anything you want for as long as you want," she said.

He nodded and said, "Then the deal is done. Until the day we both wish to end it, we will be together." And then he kissed her.

Charley was in total shock. Was that his tongue? Was she still dreaming? And then suddenly it did not matter. Closing her eyes she reached up and wrapped her arms around him, kissing back. She felt him run a finger behind her ear and pressed against him, hoping desperately that if she were dreaming she would never wake up.

When they finally broke apart she asked. "This isn't a joke is it?"

"I do not often jest about such serious matters," he said.

"But look at me! I am thin, I'm ugly, and I have zits!" Charley waved her hand over herself. "Why would you want to date me?"

"To me you are very beautiful," he said. "Where I come from every woman is far above the human norm in beauty and it has become extremely dull. And those marks on your face are merely the result of a slight imbalance in your system." He kissed her on the forehead. "They will be gone when you awaken tomorrow morning."

"You mean it?" Her heart leapt and he nodded.

"Forgive me, but now I must leave you. A first meeting should never last too long and I must depart before the bell rings." In a graceful move he stood up and turned away without a look back, heading towards the door. "I shall see you at noon tomorrow. Goodbye."

"Goodbye," she called back.

In her dazed brain Charley thought, Oh right, elves can't stand the sound of bells. They also had a problem with iron and steel, which explained the heavy covering and the gloves. Salt and other things in her food were also a big no-no. If she ever saw him again she would have to be more mindful of what he would want to avoid like churches, certain plants, and some other things. At home she would have to go through her books just to make sure.

A girl nearby leaned in and asked Charley, "Who was that hunk?"

She turned lazily to the side and said, "That was my boyfriend."

After school Charley took the bus home. When she got there the entire house was completely spotless. Nothing important had been thrown out but even the post-it notes her mother sometimes left around the house were neatly stacked on the kitchen counter. Looking into the refrigerator she found that all of the cheese slices were gone, the wrappers thrown away in the garbage can.

"Giles, are you here?" She called out. Then she jumped as the little man appeared on the counter in front of her.

"Excuse me for startling you," he said. "Does the house meet with your approval?"

"Yes, it's great. You must have worked very hard on it."

"We have an agreement," he said with a smile. "But your praise is welcome."

Charley grinned and said, "You deserve more than that. Do you know someone named Lord Terence?"

The brownie's smile faltered. "Yes, I do. I have also heard how your meeting with him went today. I can see him mark upon your spirit."

"What's wrong?" She asked.

"It is merely that… you promised him anything he wanted. That can be dangerous."

Charley's own happiness flickered when he said that. In the stories elves sometimes took souls. Or they would ask for a child. Then her heart soared. "I have nothing I would not mind giving up for a boyfriend like that."

"As you say," Giles said uncertainly.

Leaning on the counter Charley said, "I know what will cheer you up. My mom is going shopping after work. Tell me what your favorite food is, I'll call her up, and have her get some for you."

The brownie's eyes shone. "Anything?"

"Just name it," she said.

"I don't suppose… truffles?"

"Chocolate covered or plain"

"They come with chocolate?" He asked amazed.

Charley nodded. "I'll call my mom right now and tell her. Free of charge, no boons required."

"You are a true princess of your kind." He said and bowed.

She curtseyed back and then picked up the phone. Seconds later her mother picked up. "Hello?"

"Hi mom. Did I catch you at a bad time?"

"Not at all, I'm just picking up some milk and things."

"Could you pick me up some chocolate truffles?" She asked.

Catherine said, "Sure dear, but just a few. You sound better."

"I am," Charley said. "I got a boyfriend today."

There was a clack as her mother dropped the phone. Seconds later she picked it up and said, "You have a boyfriend? Oh darling, I'm so happy for you!"

Catherine asked Charley all kinds of questions. Charley told her all about Teri, leaving out the bit about him being an elf and getting hooked up by their new house brownie. They continued until she got home and walked through the house carrying the groceries. Charley hung up the phone and rushed forward to help her with the bags. Then Catherine stopped and looked around the house.

"You cleaned up too? Wow… this place looks amazing. You must be in a good mood." She lifted up a lamp. "You got under everything? How long can we keep it like this?"

"We'll have to see," Charley said. "By the way mom, I'm thinking of starting a high protein diet. You know, see if I can put on some muscle. Do you think you could get a lot more milk, bread, and cheese?"

"Sure honey! Though I have to warn you, I've tried that sort of thing myself and failed miserably."

"I'd still like to give it a shot," she said. "In exchange I can promise that this house will stay this clean."

"If you can do that you have a deal," her mother said.

The next morning Charley woke up at seven to watch cartoons. When they were finished it was eleven o'clock and she was feeling the urge to use the bathroom and to eat. She decided to go with the more pressing need first. When she was washing her hands she looked up into the mirror. Her acne was completely gone. She stared at herself for a moment and then remembered that Teri had promised to meet her at noon. Feeling nervous she immediately got into the shower and cleaned herself more thoroughly. After that she spent time combing out her hair and then changed into her best blue skirt and a matching blouse.

Downstairs she found one of her mother's post-its on the kitchen door telling Charley that she had to go into work for a few hours. Deciding to help out Giles she took the note down and put it in the trash herself. When she did she saw the empty box of truffles sitting in the bag. Smiling she quickly made a peanut butter sandwich and ate it quickly.

Just as she finished the last bite there was a knock on the front door. Glancing to the microwave she saw that it was exactly twelve o'clock. Trying to stop her heart from jumping through her ribcage she scurried over to the door. Running her hand over her shirt to make sure there were not any wrinkles, she reached for the doorknob and opened it.

Teri was dressed in the same clothes as before, but just like yesterday they were immaculate. "May I come in?"

Charley ran through the rules for elves and remembered that while an elf could enter a home freely, if they did so uninvited they could not use any of their powers. "Certain, enter and be welcome good sir."

He smiled and stepped over the threshold. Charley closed the door behind him while he took a look around the room. "An interesting design. What are the walls made of? They're very different from the houses they had a hundred years ago."

"Plaster and insulation mostly," Charley said. "Castles and old Victorian homes look good but they lacked certain things like lights, plumbing, cable… you know, the necessities."

Teri looked down at her and said, "Oh, I understand. Unlike many of my compatriots I do not disappear from the world for centuries at a time. Decades tops and much less since I myself have discovered television. No, I merely asked out of politeness. I've never been interested in architecture. Would you care to show me to your room?"

Charley's stomach dropped to her feet. "My bedroom?"

Stepping closer the elf took her in his arms and kissed her. Then he let her limply fall back, still holding her. "I believe in your culture what you are thinking would violate several laws." He winked. "So let us save that for your eighteenth birthday."

Feeling disappointed she said, "Then why do you want to go to my room?"

"You wanted me to make you popular did you not?" She nodded. "Then to begin with we must examine the room you call your own."

"Yeah, I think I've seen some reality shows about that," she said.

"Magic eye for the mortal guy huh?" He asked. She giggled and he slipped his arm around her waist. "As you say."

She took him upstairs to her room and stood aside while he ambled around, examining the decorations. "It is well kept up and I must admit that you have a certain something."

"Thank you," she said, sensing a 'but' in the wind.

"Sadly this is the room of a little girl. If you wish to spend your time with children this is a perfect room." She flinched and looked away. When he was right, he was right. "Do I have your permission to do what needs to be done?"

"Yes," she said.

Teri chanted under his breath and closed his eyes. Watching him Charley felt the hairs all over her body stand straight up. He was doing magic. Real magic! Feeling almost as good as when he kissed her she silently waited for whatever was going to happen.

She was not disappointed. All around her the room began to shift. The pink walls turned red like someone had spilled something on them; only it kept spreading over everything. Her bedspread and sheets shifted from cotton to red silk. Her pillows kept the frills, but now they hung down and shimmered. The curtains soon followed. Her stuffed animals ceased to exist entirely and even her dresser and nightstand changed from plywood to oak.

"Wow," she breathed and looked down at the plush carpet.

He flicked his wrist and suddenly her closet and dresser drawers opened and Charley's eyes bugged out of her head when she saw designer clothes there. She walked forward and ran her hands over the Victoria's secret panties in her top drawer. Gucci dresses and various other clothes that were so far out of her price rang that her wallet hurt just looking at them. Even stockings and shoes lined the bottom shelf.

"Are you crazy? If my mother sees this she'll think I robbed a store!"

Teri came up behind her and said, "If your mother sees it she will think it is the same as ever. Or have you never heard of fairy glamour?"

It was true. Fairies were masters of illusion. In fact everything she was seeing now could be the fake. But either way if she got to live here and wear these clothes it did not matter. Saying a quick goodbye to Mr. Flops under her breath she turned and smiled at him. "Thank you."

He bowed and then said, "But we have not finished yet."

Suddenly she felt herself being squeezed. Looking down she saw that the clothes on her back had changed too. She was now in a pair of black high heels and a leather miniskirt with stockings and a garter. A leather halter was wrapped around her chest like a tattoo and accented her total lack of cleavage. She screamed and tried to cover herself.

Teri laughed and pulled her hands away. "None of that." He moved her arms down to her sides and then lifted her chin up. "You deserve to look good."

"I do?" She asked looking down at her bony knees and elbows over her hooknose. "I am really not pretty."

Teri rolled his eyes. "That is a matter of opinion. Confidence is all you lack." He nodded towards the bathroom. "See for yourself."

Nervously she made her way over and then stopped when she saw the mirror. Her hair was up like it had been done in a salon. She was wearing makeup that somehow made her nose look smaller and her eyes stand out. Her eyebrows were plucked and the green lipstick she was now wearing contrasted her teeth enough that they seemed to shine. She caught sight of her nails and Charley gasped, seeing the black polish catch the light, offsetting the small silver ring she was wearing.

"Do I really look like that?"

In the mirror she saw the elf's sharp teeth glitter in the light. "Yes Charley. And this is only the beginning."

Jennifer Stanton and her friends were looking through clothes at the mall. She picked out a new sweater and held it up against her chest. "Alicia how does this look on me?"

A red head turned to look. "Terrific! Hey, how do I look in this green skirt?"

"Fantastic as always," Jenny said, looking at herself in the mirror. Then something flashed in the light from the skylight behind her and she turned to look. "Hey, isn't that the guy who was kissing that dork yesterday?"

Looking over Martha said, "Yes, it is. He looks like a college student. Who is that with him?"

Jenny did not answer right away and soon all five of them were staring. To the left Sherry said, "Is that Charley? She looks great!"

"What?" Jenny said.

"Well she does. Is that a leather bag?"

"I think it's an original," whispered May.

Jenny frowned and said, "He must have bought them for her. There is no way she could afford to dress like that." Setting the clothes aside the girls followed Jenny out of the store as she marched resolutely across the food court to where Teri and Charley stood.

Charley saw them coming and whispered out of the corner of her mouth, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

"Yes, you have to challenge your greatest rival. Trust me, I know the rules of the game. You won't have to do anything. Just act confident and let me do the talking."

Jenny stepped up to them and stopped, her friends lining up behind her with practiced ease. "So Charley, who is this? Your cousin or some guy you're paying to be seen in public with you?"

Charley just smiled while Teri sniffed. "Excuse me Charley, but do you know these people?"

"Huh?" She asked. "Oh, no, I don't think so. They might go to my school, but I'm not sure."

Jenny was not too bad at the game either. "Yes, I'm afraid Charley here just is not in our class, is she girls?" The others backed her up on this.

"I should think not," Teri responded. "She has much better clothes for one thing. Her hair isn't splitting in every direction. And her taste in makeup is obviously superior as well."

"Not that we have seen before," Alicia said.

Teri snorted and said, "Of course not. What kind of person wears their best clothing to school?" Suddenly all of the girls seemed unable to look him in the eyes. Charley felt her own pride rising. "I thought so. Come along Charley, let's leave these girls to their desperate attempt at improving their wardrobes."

Jenny's mouth opened and closed several times while the two of them walked off. Then she screamed and stormed away. Her friends gave Charley's new clothes one last longing look before following after her.

"There, you see?" Teri said.

Charley nodded happily. "Thank you so much."

"It was a pleasure, though there was hardly any challenge in it. Now, let us have some fun."
"Hey Teri, could you teach me how to do magic?" Charley asked.

He looked at her surprised. "Why would you wish to do that?"

"It would be cool," she said. "And fun. Besides, as an elf I would think you would understand how popular magic could make a person."
"In that case I suppose it falls under our deal. Very well, but if I agree to teach you even simple magic then you must agree to maintain yourself on your own while we are together. I will provide you with the clothes and makeup and even show you how, but you must apply them correctly."

The next week was exhausting. Every day after school Charley rushed home and applied all of the makeup and clothing that Teri had shown her. Some of it she could not even pronounce and it took all of Sunday for her to learn how to apply it in what Teri deemed the correct way. Since then she had been doing it all on her own. She could not even ask her mother for help because Catherine was completely unaware of the change.

When Charley tried to bring it up her mother just said, "Have you been doing something with your hair lately?"

Then she had just enough time to do a C to D average job on her homework before Teri showed up wit whisk her away to some party or club for the evening where everyone in her school hung out. By Wednesday almost everyone knew her name. During school a fistfight broke out between the football and the basketball team over whose table she would sit at.

The first time Teri had shown up at the door Catherine had told Charley how jealous she was of her and most of the girls who talked to her now were no more hesitant to voice the same opinion. They would have been drooling if they had not noticed the distain that Teri treated them with already. Everyone except for Charley he treated like dirt. She was uneasy about that, but once again it just seemed to make people like them more. Was that Jenny's secret?

She also managed to get him to spend about ten minutes a night showing her some magic. It would have been great except that she was usually too tired to focus. By the end of the week she had barely learned how to make even an illusionary light appear in the air. Every night she crawled into bed just in time to get about six hours of sleep. The one saving grace was that thanks to Giles she did not have to do any chores. Her mother had even raised her allowance. All of which went to pay for replacement makeup.

On Saturday she woke up slowly, trying to savor being able to rest for once. That was before something began tapping on her forehead. Charley opened one eye to see a walnut staring at her. "Good morning Giles."

"And a fine morning to you," he said in return. "Are you going to want me to make your bed today? I know sometimes you humans like to leave things messy on the weekends."

"What? Oh, no that's fine. You don't have to if you want to leave it. I guess I had better get up anyway. Teri said that he would be here by noon and I have to get ready for a hockey game tonight." She paused then asked, "Any idea what the local colors are? I don't really like sports."

"Then why are you going?" He asked.

Yawning she sat up and stretched. "Because to be popular I have to go to all of the places that other people go."

Giles waved a hand in front of his face. "Don't forget to brush."

She covered her mouth. "Sorry, it was jalapeno night at Taco Grande last night." She eyed the television. "Too bad I don't have time to catch some television, but if I don't get the makeup on exactly right I'll have to redo it from the beginning and we'll be late."

"It sounds like being popular is a lot of work," Giles noticed.

"Yeah, but it's worth it." She paused on her way to the bathroom. "Isn't it?"

Several hours later she finished and headed for the kitchen. Downstairs she was surprised to find her mother waiting for her at the coffee table. "Mom? Don't you have to go to work?"

"No, I'm free for the day. Besides, I wanted to talk to you."

Charley frowned and pulled out a chair for herself. "What's up?"

"I'm so happy for you honey. You have such a great boyfriend and he takes you out to all of these great places. But you look so tired. Are you sure you aren't over doing it?"

"Mom, come on. It's just been a week and already I've been invited to a party after the prom in two weeks."

"Really?" Catherine bit her lip.

Charley watched her face. "Mom, are you alright?"

Catherine turned away. "It's nothing honey. I just… I'm a little jealous of you is all. Seeing how happy you are makes me wish something like this had happened to me. It just never did." A tear slid down her cheek. "You know, I always thought that when you grew up the two of us would have more in common and be able to hang out. But then I started working all the time and now you're so busy…"

"Mom, I'm sorry," Charley said. "I really don't know what to say."
"No, it's fine dear. I know how much this means to you." She wiped the tears off of her face. "Look, just try to take it a little easier. You know I care about you. I don't want you to fall behind in school and miss out on college."

"Don't worry mom," she said. "I've got most of the text books memorized and my GPA can take a few hits before Harvard passes me over." She kissed her mother on the cheek.

"I know," her mother said and forced a smile.

The game itself only lasted until six. After five hours of people screaming in her ear and getting praised when Teri just happened to catch a flying puck, her head was pounding. Her cheeks hurt from smiling the whole time, something that Teri insisted on, and her shoes were killing her. Afterwards Teri suggested that they go to a club but Charley put her foot down. She had enough of people for a while.

"I want you to teach me a decent spell," she said. "I can see how that light ball could help me save money on flashlight batteries, but come on. You said you would teach me how to do something cool."

He sighed. "You humans are always in such a hurry. But fine, what do you want to know how to do?"

"Um… shoot lightning? Turn people into animals? Fly?"

He rubbed his chin. "All of those spells could take months or even years to learn. True, using magic does increase your lifespan indefinitely, but we have things to do."

Yeah, she thought bitterly. I might miss one of Kimberly Jenson's parties and have to actually ask to be invited to the next one. "Fine but what can I do that looks good?"

"I could teach you how to do more complex illusions. Then you could make people think you had done all of those things."

"Great! So what do I do first?" She asked eagerly.

It turned out that Teri was even stricter with magic lessons than he was with how she looked and acted in public. He said that since they were going to be too busy for him to teach her anything big for five years, he was going to pound this one into her mind. Which meant that she spent the next five straight hours first learning how to form her little light ball into new shapes with him telling her that she needed to do better. The worst part was, that even though he did not insult her, he would make side comments about how inferior human beings were in general. Then he spent another three hours showing her how to make the illusions move, make sound, and to make them self-sustaining when she was not around.

When she was finally released to go home with orders to keep practicing, she stumbled home in the dark and collapsed face first onto her couch. "Well, at least I know some magic now."

That small comfort was all that got her through the next three weeks. She had taken to napping during class and using her new spell to make it look like she was sitting and paying attention, especially in gym class. Every night it seemed that they were staying out later and later.

After the prom Teri had discovered the area around the local college. Without so much as asking he began taking her to cyber cafés, getting invites to concerts for music she did not even like, and even dragging her off to vegetarian barbeques on the beach where she decided that it should be illegal to call anything made out of tofu a 'burger'. After that she had to use her illusion spell to hide the sunburn and the rash she got from the beach sand.

"For crying out loud, it was too cold to even swim," she said to Teri.

"Ah, but look at it this way. When you are in college later you will know how to act so that when we go there you will fit right in."

"Right," she said. On the one hand she could see herself in two years as the most popular girl in college. On the other she could see herself in an insane asylum when lack of sleep drove her into jamming a pencil through her leg for kicks. "Sounds great."

During lunch one day she happened to glance over her sea of admirers to one of the distant tables. Jenny and her friends sat there, watching her right back. After a moment she excused herself for a moment and walked over to them. All five girls stared as if she were a rock star or something.

"Hey, how's it going?" She asked.

Jenny sniffed. "Not bad. I see you're anything but lonely these days." She smirked. "Guess I can't beat you up after school any more."

"Not a chance," Charley agreed. "You know, if you guys want to come over you can."

She saw their eyes light up, but then Jenny said, "Sorry, but it looks a little crowded."

"Well maybe you'd like to come to this club that Teri is taking me to tonight. It's one of those performing arts places near the college."

"We'd like to," Alicia said, "But we all have curfews. I guess that's one of the things your mother doesn't care about because you've always been good. We haven't so we have to be inside by a certain time."

"Besides, May is renting movies and we've got plans to spend the night at her place," Jenny said. Then she added, "You know, if you want you could come over and hang out for a while."

Charley had not been so surprised since the night she had met Giles. But she knew that as much as she wanted to, she couldn't accept the offer. "Sorry, but I can't. Teri is the one who decides what we do."

"Whoa, that sucks," said Jenny. "I'm dating the captain of the football team and even that jock lets me pick something every now and then."

"Sorry you can't make it," Alicia said. "Oh, and… we're sorry for picking on you."

"Why did you do it?" Charley asked. "I just never understood that. I've tried to hang out with you before and you always just…"

"We know. It's just that's what you do," Jenny said. She snorted. "I'd think you would understand that, the way your boyfriend talks to people. You can't be the best if you aren't better than other people."

"Yeah, it's like, totally an animal thing. Alpha males or something like that."

"Females," Jenny said.

The other girls nodded. "Right."

Alicia put in, "Besides, Jenny may be a serious bitch sometimes…"

"Hey!"

"But she does do some things that we want to do and she helps us stay popular too."

Charley smiled a little. "You know, you have no idea how lucky you guys are to have friends."
"If your man ever dumps you I'll take him in a heartbeat. We'll see how well he can boss me around."

Charley turned away, once again feeling envy for the girls. True, Teri was always there for her, but it had become obvious that it was all for his entertainment and because of the deal they had struck. He considered all humans beyond contempt and despite his sweet words that had to include her. Also, it was frustrating that he would kiss, caress, and compliment her when he had no intention of having sex with her. And because everyone knew he was her boyfriend and that they could not compete there was no chance of them asking her out. On top of that she was too busy mingling to get to know anybody. Even Teri never told her anything about himself.

As the day wore on, Charley asked herself why she had wanted to be popular in the first place. And for once, she could not think of a decent answer.

After she got home that day, Charley simply sat down on the couch and stayed there until Teri arrived. He knocked on the door and she did not move an inch until he knocked three more times. When she did open it he looked very annoyed. "Why aren't you ready?"

"Because I am too tired to go out tonight. That makeup is a pain in the ass and those shoes hurt my feet."

He shook his head. "You know we had a deal. If you don't keep up your appearance then I won't teach you magic."

"Fine, I don't care any more. I just want to spend some time by myself again."

Teri laughed and even though it was the same as always, the sound sent chills through her spine. Charley had expected him to argue or get mad. Instead he just looked as confident as ever. "Charley, that was not our agreement. I'm still having fun and until I agree to let you go, you belong to me."

"What?"

"Invite me in," he ordered.

"No!" She tried to yell. Instead she stepped aside and said, "Come on in." Then she almost swallowed her tongue when she realized what she had actually done.

Stepping inside he smiled down at her. "Now I understand that it has been rough on you, but do not worry. Human frailties can be overcome and eventually you will get used to it." He waved a hand and she felt her clothes shift. "Are you ready to go now?"

Defeated she nodded and did not even bother to check herself. She knew she looked great.

That night when she got home she felt the desire to scrub off. She was tired, but did not want to think what kind of dreams what she had seen at that café was going to cause. Mostly it had been poetry and people doing things with chainsaws, pains, and flowers while everyone around them commented about how poignant and inspiring it was. The kind of dialogue you only got from English and Drama majors.

But when the naked girl got onto stage and peed in a cup, spouted something about industrial America, and then drank it… Charley had more than enough and tried to leave. Unfortunately for her Teri would not let her. She found that she could not even keep from smiling and chatting with people as if she thought it was the most inspirational thing she had ever seen.

"Honestly, that was totally gross," she said. Then she called out, "Giles, I've thought of that second boon you promised me."

Giles showed up immediately, smiling p0leasantly at her. "I am here to serve."

She smiled at him and pointed at his stomach. "Seems you've been serving yourself a lot too. Put on a few ounces?"

He grinned. "Yes, and I must say I thank you for all the help. I have never eaten this well in all my years."

"I'm glad you're in a good mood because I really don't want you to be offended by what I am about to ask you." He waited expectantly. "You know that charming, handsome, gentleman you hooked me up with on my request?" The brownie's head bobbed up and down. "How do I get rid of him?"

"Ah, I thought this might come up. You aren't the first human to regret a fairy lover."

"A lover I wouldn't mind," she said. "This guy is more like a keeper."

"Well, it is not easy. I don't suppose you happen to have gotten a hold of his true name?"

"It isn't Lord Terence?" She asked hopefully. He shook his head. "Then no."

Sitting down Giles crossed his legs and said, "You can't simply force him to leave. You have to make him want to leave."

"How do I do that?"

"Well, there you got lucky. Male elves aren't quite as savvy as the females. Of course female elves actually care for their human partners unless they're mistreated or insulted. In which case they'll turn on you like that." He snapped his tiny fingers. "But they'll stick to their chosen come rain or shine for a century or more. Sometimes they'll even drag them back to Elfland and then drop them back here after they grow disillusioned or bored, but usually they just keep their humans forever. Except for the two queens, most of them are pretty subservient and willing to go along with whatever you could suggest. Elves aren't like humans and usually if they mate, it's forever."

"Maybe you can hook me up with a girl later then," Charley snapped, getting impatient with the lecture. Her lack of sleep wasn't helping her attitude much either. "I'm about as sick of men as you can be at this point. For right now though, I need to know how to get rid of this one."

"Like I said, males are a little easier. They have their pride just like anyone else, but they're also easy to make angry. And of course fairies have to keep their word and they can't lie. So there are three things you'll have to do. First, piss him off. I mean, do something that so offends him that no matter how calm he looks inside he has to be seething. And it has to be public with people who understand what is going on. If he can just laugh it off he'll wait and make you pay later in private."

Considering the control he had over her Charley could easily think of a thousand things he could do to her. Maybe it would be better to forget about this and just live a long desperate life of popularity. After all, it could be worse.

"What do I do after that?"

"Then you challenge him. You have to think of something you can beat him at that he can do. Juggling steel balls with his hands and things like that are completely out. It has to be a fair contest."

She winced. "Okay, so much for popcorn eating contests with lots of salt or horseshoe tossing contests. So I just beat him and that's it?"

"It would be, but you made him a deal and you're trying to break it. Even if you won he would still have a claim to you unless you can find something else to replace you. By then he'll be only too happy to get rid of you, but his pride won't let him walk away empty handed. He'll want to take something important to you."

That was a problem. She had no clue what she had that someone who could transform things at will, could possibly want. Everything good that she had he gave her. Anything else she had owned had ceased to exist when he cast his spells.

"Your mother seemed willing enough," the brownie said conversationally. "What do you think she would give to be in your place?"

"No! I would never do that to my mom. I love her," she said instantly.

The brownie shrugged. "It was just a suggestion. But when you decide what to do tell me. I know a fair number of otherworldly characters that would love to watch an elf get taken down a peg just on general principal. That elf in particular."

"What if I lose?"

"Well… you probably will. More often than not, that's what happens. We find that almost as entertaining." He then vanished.

Feeling incredibly disheartened and weary beyond words, she collapsed into her pillow. Maybe mom would like to date him. She already graduated from school and he could probably make her rich. No, she could not do that. Her mother was too much like her and it would end the same way. This was a one-time shot.

Charley worked on her plan for the next week, thinking about it through school, parties, and while talking about inane things. She was treating it like a school project. The problem was that she was working with limited information. There were too many variables to consider and she had almost no idea what would make Teri mad. Distain he seemed to manage and even disgust, but she had never seen him angry once and when she tried he just laughed it off; like a man whose dog ignores him when he throws a stick. Both of them knew that if he wanted to he could make her obey.

Okay girl, so what do you know? She asked herself. Well, she knew about elves. Casey knew everything recorded about elves. All of her books had vanished when her room was redone, but she had memorized them long before. Elves were powerful. So powerful that they had rules of conduct that they had to obey. They could not lie or even use their magic on someone in their home without permission.

Weaknesses included iron, salt, certain herbs, and the ringing of bells, but she didn't think she was up to actually killing him. Wracking her brain she also remembered something else. Sneaking out of school during her lunch break she made her way to a nearby park and spent over half an hour scanning the dry streambed until she found what she was looking for: A small rock with a hole worn through it by the motion of the water. She happily returned to class carrying it in her pocket. Such rocks were well known for disrupting a fairy's magic as much as iron. Maybe more. She took it home and looped a necklace of steel beads through it before stuffing it into her nightstand. No reason to tip her hand too soon.

Defending against his magic long enough to pull whatever she was going to do off was the easy part. Remembering how to insult an elf was harder. Name-calling would not work. Especially if it were in front of a bunch of people who would not know what he was. She remembered what he had done to Jenny at the mall all too well. No, it had to be an act. Something she could do that he would not expect and that would embarrass him down to his core.

Slowly an idea occurred to her. The more she thought about it the more she was certain it would work. If anything she had ever read about elves were true this would literally drive the nail home. The contest was the difficult part. She was physically weaker and challenging him to a magic contest was completely out of the question. Unable to cheat or stack the deck unfairly she had to fall back on the only thing she had ever had over anybody. Her mind. She just had to find some way to outsmart a guy who spent all of his time at parties.

Finally she was ready to put her plan into action. At school on Wednesday she made some stops at woodshop, metal shop, a home economics, picking up supplies. But when she was on her way home she heard the sound of running feet coming up behind her. Turning she saw May and ducked out of reflex.

"Wait! You don't need to be afraid. I… I'm sorry about before. We did some really rotten things to you." She sounded sincere and Charley straightened up. "I just wanted to talk to you."

"What about?"

"Well, Jenny doesn't know about this, but Alicia, Sherry, May, and I wanted to ask you over this weekend. If you aren't too busy."

Charley glanced at her backpack. "Actually… I'm planning on breaking it off with Teri tomorrow."

"You are? Why?" She asked.

"I just can't do it any more. He takes me everywhere he wants, dresses me up like a doll and I don't get a say in any of it. So I'm arranging a little something for tomorrow night to let him know how I feel."

"You know, I probably shouldn't be saying this, but Jenny has serious designs on the guy," said May. "Ever since she met him she has been saying what she would do if she were in your shoes… you know?"

"Jenny is jealous of me?"

May rubbed her neck. "A lot of the girls are."

"Well you can tell them that whoever wants him can have him. Anyone who shows up on Thursday at Café Latté's when I finish my little show just has to say that I suggested that they and Teri should hook up and they can have him." There, that was she did not have to feel guilty about setting up anybody in particular. And if this failed then hurting someone's feelings was going to be the least of Charley's problems.

"Just like that?"

"Yes, exactly like that," Charley said.

May looked at her as if she were crazy, but said, "Okay, if you want. So we'll see you this weekend?"

"I hope so. What is the address?" May wrote it down on a piece of paper and handed it over. "Thanks. I'll bring a DVD or something. Do you like Labyrinth?"

"I love that movie! David Bowie is so hot." She blushed and began walking next to her. "I always bring my copy of The Princess Bride."

They ended up walking together all the way to Charley's house, discussing movies. When they got there Charley asked, "Are you going to come by tomorrow?"

"To that café? No, I don't think so. The girls and I have some work to do for the pep rally this week."

"Sorry I'm busy or I would help you out."

"Maybe next time," May said.

They went their separate ways and Charley rushed upstairs to get ready for Teri. She worked extra hard to make sure everything was perfect. When he arrived he smiled at her, obviously pleased. "You dressed up well tonight."

"Thank you. I thought I might as well." She said. She took his arm and let him lead her from the house. When they had gone a little way she asked, "I was wondering if you could set something up for tomorrow."

"What would that be?"

"Well," she said. "You know those performing arts shows you took me to?" He nodded. "I came up with an act of my own I was hoping to try. I worked on it all week. Do you think that you could arrange it? So that I could give it a try?"

"Surely!" He said. "It would be a wonder to see you up there. You truly have become more confident."

"I hope so," said Charley. "But just in case do you have any friends that you could invite? I know fairies love the theater."

He nodded. "Perhaps. I know one or two who have not been to the mortal world in many years. They may consider one night, if I ask."

Giving him a genuine smile Charley stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. "Thank you so much Teri. You are the best."

"Whatever pleases the lady," he said, preening.

"Honestly, you have no idea what this means to me."

Thursday morning Charley did not move from her bed. Her feet were covered with blisters and her leg muscles were twitching in pain. Teri had made her dance for six straight hours. She had not been able to stop and when Teri carried Charley home her shoes were full of blood. If the police had not stopped the party he would have made her keep going.

Her mother came into the room around seven. "Hon, get up. You're going to be late for school."

"I'm skipping today," she said into her pillow. "I have to get ready to break it off with Teri tonight."

"Did he do something?" Catherine asked.

Charley rolled over and sat up. Looking at her mother she said, "Mom, would you freak out if I told you something weird?"

Walking into the room she sat down on the bed. "Of course not honey. What is it? Did he try to get you to do drugs?"

"I wish," Charley said. Then she reached into her drawer and pulled out the rock. "Here, take this. Put it up to your eye and look through the hole."

"You want me to look through this rock? Why? Is it going to spray me or put a ring around my eye?" Still smiling she lifted the rock up. When she did the smile seemed to crystallize on her face. Then it dropped off entirely as she slowly turned around the room moving the rock on and off of her eye. "Charley?" She turned to her daughter who had pulled back the blanket. "Oh my god… your feet."

Charley reached out and grabbed her mother's hand. "Mom, I can't tell you what is happening right now. It's really best if you just go to work and let me handle this. Everything will be over by tomorrow." She took the rock back and then said. "But if something happens to me, I just want you to know I love you a lot and I'm sorry if I made you feel bad."

Her mother stared at her, obviously fighting back tears. "Charley, you're scaring me. Please tell me what is going on."

"I can't, not yet." She smiled. "Please, just go to work."

"Okay honey, I trust you. I'll call the school and tell them you're out sick. But tomorrow we need to talk." She got up and walked towards the door. She paused for a moment, but then closed it behind her. A minute later Charley heard the car start. Feeling guilty and relieved at the same time she collapsed backwards into her pillow and took the chance to get another couple dreamless hours of sleep.

Finally she dragged herself out of bed and got dressed. One of the benefits of performance art was that she could wear whatever she wanted. None of her clothes were comfortable, but she went to her mother's closet and picked out a baggy sweater, some old jeans, and a pair of tennis shoes. Slipping into them she felt like she was in heaven. She even went to be bathroom and made faces at the makeup she did not have to wear.

After eating breakfast she went to the garage and picked through the tool chest for a hammer and nails. Then she put that into her backpack along with a bottle of maple syrup and headed for the café. The bus was crowded, but she did not mind. When she got there a perky waitress met her at the door. She wore a nametag that said Debby.

"Hello miss, can I help you?"

Charley smiled back and said, "Hi, my boyfriend was supposed to arrange for me to do a show tonight. I think he would have put me down under 'Charley'."

"I don't actually handle the performances. You would have to talk to our manager. He's in the back." Debby led her to the back between tables full of people with laptops. It was eerily quiet and made Charley realize just how used she had gotten to spending her time in places with loud music and no elbowroom. "Here we are."

Debby knocked on a door with a manager sign screwed into it. A second later a man in purple sunglasses and a red t-shirt opened it, stroking his goatee. "Yes?"

"Mr. Herman, this is Charley. She says her boyfriend signed her up to do a show tonight."

"It's my first time," Charley said. "I don't know when I'm supposed to be on or anything."

He smiled at her. "Don't worry about it. I'm afraid we were mostly full up so when the young man came to talk to me I tried to tell him that. But he asked who was on at midnight and when I told him the young man's name he said that he knew him. That he had been in an accident. It took a little while but I found out that almost at that exact moment he really had broken his leg. Is your boyfriend a psychic?"

"Something like that," Charley said, feeling incredibly guilty. "Is the guy who got hurt alright?"

"He already took a spot next week to do an act about the horrors of the hospital. Thanks for asking though. So what are you going to be doing tonight?" She told him. "Whoa! Sounds like it's one of those real thought provoking bits. What is it called?"

"A fairy's fair well. A dedication to Teri."

"Great, I'll make up the posters. How do you spell that?"

She told him. "Make sure that it says it's just dedicated to Teri. I don't want anybody else to think I meant it for them."

"Any special lighting needs?"

"Just keep them on me." She shifted her pack. "So I'm on at midnight? Great, that gives me plenty of time to get everything down."

Mr. Herman smiled. "I think I've seen you in here before. Is this boy you're talking about that tall blond fellow?" Charley admitted as much. "Yeah, you two are always the center of attention."

"Tell me about it," Charley mumbled.

"You seem to be the focus of attention though. You have some very distinct features."

Charley shrugged. "I know I'm ugly."

"No, I wouldn't say that. Not exactly the standard of beauty today, but what you have you pull off well."

Herman was not the first person to say that to her lately, but he was the first to say it when Teri was not around. She blushed and said, "Thanks. Too bad I'm not older or I might have asked you out."

"Too bad I'm not younger or I would have let you." He patted her on the shoulder. "Anyway don't be too discouraged if not too many people like it. Usually the point of these shows is to piss people off."

"I can pretty much guarantee you sir, the crowd I have invited tonight is going to be very mad at me."

"You can do all of that with what is in that little bag? I can't wait to see it."

Charley left the café a few minutes later and wandered over to the public library. She went inside and wave at Miss Madison, the young woman behind the counter. Miss Madison smiled, "I haven't seen you in here in forever."

"I've been busy lately. I'm hoping to be able to come back soon."

"Is it a day off of school?"

"I have permission for a project I'm doing. I just thought I would kill some time someplace quiet for a while." Charley went to one of the tables in the back and sat down. In the silence that followed it was almost possible for her to pretend that the last month had not happened. That maybe she had gone nuts and just imagined all the parties and fairies. Closing her eyes she sat back and just enjoyed how quiet and simple things seemed in between the rows of books.

Time passed quickly until sunset. At six the library closed sending Charley out into the streets. It was an odd sensation. She had never actually gone anywhere except the library without her mother or Teri to at least give her a ride. Wandering the sidewalks in the setting sun was a new experience for her. Charley checked her wallet and found that she had just enough for a burger and fries to eat. "When I have some time to myself I need to start exercising."

Digging in the paper bag on her way back to the café Charley enjoyed a brief moment of happiness as she imagined the look that Teri got whenever he saw her eating meat and preservatives. Actually since animals had iron in their blood meat was probably poisonous to him. It would explain why he kept to plants. Charley wished she had asked him more about Elfland. Not enough to reconsider what she was doing, but she would wonder… unless she failed and he decided to drag her there to live forever.

By the time she made her way into the front door of Café Latté's Charley was in the kind of good spirits that people on Death Row were known to have. The point in which you were sure you were going to die but were also about to do something stupid and dangerous. Whistling under her breath she found an empty table and took a look around the room. People were arriving and leaving every few minutes, but still the tables were filling up.

Something about the crowd around her began to prick at Charley's mind. They were a lot more varied than they usually were. A blind man with a dog, a pair of old women, and a tall man in a suit. Even a mother and a child sat in one corner. Considering the topics of some of the performances it was shocking that a parent would bring their child into a place like this. Feeling foolish she reached under her shirt and surreptitiously pulled out her stone. Holding it up to her eye she took another look around the room. It was all she could do not to swallow her tongue.

There were roughly ten humans in the room counting her and the staff and maybe six of the customers. The rest were anything but. Some of the alterations from their illusions were subtle. Obviously a lot of elves preferred the more subtle approach, dressing like average humans to fit in. The only changes through the stone were their facial features: Eyes, ears, hair… that sort of thing.

But some of the changes were much more extreme. The blind man was not there at all. Curled up on the floor next to the chair was a dragon the size of a Great Dane. Green scales caught the light as it picked its teeth with a claw.

The mother and child were actually human. It took all kinds. The little old ladies did not change much until she saw their teeth. Black and coming to points they jutted from their wrinkled mouths like stalagmites. Charley shivered when her brain spat up what they were. Hags: cannibalistic monsters known for cursing and eating people.

Two girls in the corner looked like elves at first, but one's skin was blue and the other green. When the blue one lazily dipped her finger into the glass of water on the table before her and it disappeared, not even causing a ripple. Then she pulled it out and it was whole. She was obviously a nixie. The white shroud in which she kept her soul was just visible under the collar of her shirt. The leaves growing in the hair of the other indicated that she might be a dryad. Both were nature fairies and their presence once again gave Charley pause. If her little plan were going to anger the elves then these two would go through the roof.

Finally her attention was drawn to the tall man in the suit. He was an elf too, but not like the others. His suit had gold gilded edges and a silver circlet was around his head. Gold rings with flawless gems adorned every manicured finger. His hair was raven black instead of blond. The rock fell from Charley's limps fingers and slowly she realized what kind of trouble she was in. If that elf was not their king then he was a close relative. She could still try running, but disappointing all of these people when they came for a show would probably get her killed as fast her show would.

"You could always still just kill yourself," a voice said behind her. Turning Charley saw an elf standing there. She had short blond hair and wore a tight red leather halter and matching pants. Open toed shoes and a pair of red gloves finished the ensemble.

"You know who I am?"

The elf winked and said, "Giles described you quite well."

Relaxing a little Charley asked, "So you aren't a friend of Lord Terence?"

"I should think not!" She motioned around the room. "The only two people here he invited are the nixie and the dryad in the corner and from what I hear they don't care for him much either and simply came for the show. The rest of us, are here to see how you do. You can call me Penny. I came to watch you too. Are you ready?"

"Me? I'm scared to death that I'll enrage every fairy in the place. For this to work I really had to think of a way to piss off an elf."

"Possible, but unlikely. We're expecting it to be insulting and most of us are fairly tolerant of humans these day. Not that we have much choice." She sat down at the table. "And what is that look for?"

Charley realized that she had rolled her eyes. "Sorry, it's just that Teri constantly tells me how much better he is than humans. He never says it about me, but when he says that all humans are inferior I can't help but feel insulted."

"Oh, that," Penny said. "Yes, most of us are like that. It is because we used to rule this world and now we aren't exactly pleased that your kind is in charge. All because of some stupid hunks of metal."

Smiling now, Charley said, "I guess I understand. It's a way of keeping yourselves above us just a little bit. I just think Teri takes it a little too far. For one thing he would never admit why he does it."

"Not surprised," she said. "Males think they're above everyone. I think it is instinct. I can barely stand the human kind, let alone my own. That is why so many of our women seek human mates and children. Better a weak human who loves you than a strong elf who rules you."

"You won't hear me argue," she said motioning to the stage. "Even a real friend would do instead of flitting from party to party so that everyone knows my name and I don't know anything about them."

"Exactly! And they are so possessive. As if they can not imagine that a woman could have a moment of fun without them."

"More like they're afraid we will. And dear god, why does he have to insist that I dress up all the time?" She motioned to the clothes Penny was wearing. "It looks good but last night he made me dance for hours in heels."

Penny flinched in sympathy. "So sorry to hear that. Maybe we can talk after the show and I can show you some healing spells."

"Thanks, that would be great. You know, you're nothing like Teri."

"I thank you for the compliment," Penny said standing up. "I did so hope you would not find me as odious as you did him." She moved across the room and sat in the chair next to the "blind man".

Penny had barely left the table when the door opened again and Teri walked confidently into the room. He saw Charley and ambled over to her. "Well my dear, I managed to convince two dear friends to join us." He looked around the room and then pointed to the undine and dryad. "There they sit. But as you see, their acceptance of my modest invitation was hardly required. Many people are here to see your show."

"Are you sure they are here for me?" Charley asked. "I'm sure they just came for the acts in general."

"I must admit, you are probably right." He sat back and added, "But I did get you in as promised. Was there any problem?"

"No, but I must remember to thank you for that." She kept her voice happy and thankful, instead of showing that she wanted to puke at what he had done to get her in. "I hope you were able to enjoy yourself without me today."

"I found a place not far from here to pass the time." He looked around the room. "So many new faces here today." Then his smile cracked for a moment. "Oh my."

Casey looked at him. "Is something wrong?"

His eyes traveling over the other patrons he did not answer right away. Penny made eye contact with him and he actually jumped in his seat. "My dear, do you know some other elves that I am unaware of that you may have invited?"

"No, I only asked one girl in school to mention it," she said honestly. "But I think Giles said something about inviting some friends of his."

Teri nodded. "I see. Remind me to talk to him about his choice in friends. It seems that more than a few of the sidhe have come here today."

Ignorance written all over her face Charley made a show of looking around the room. "Where?"

"It would be rude to point," he said amicably. "In any case there is nothing to worry about I'm sure." His eyes flicked briefly to the royal elf.

Charley watched him squirm and wondered why he could not tell she was lying. Even she thought her act was bad. But then again, elves could not actually lie and he was rarely in a situation to hear anything harmful. He was probably out of practice. "Would you like to invite your friends over?"

"After the show, if you do well," he said. "It lacks class to solicit applause."

"If you say so," said Charley.

At eight the other performance artists started their acts. First a young man with a shaved head recited a poem to three balloons with his with his face on them. As he went on about old age he let the air out of one, then he spoke of reckless living and popped the second. At the end he spoke of bettering himself and gave a signal to the lighting crew. They opened up the skylight over the stage and he released the last one into the air before taking a bow. A round of polite applause filled the room.

Next a girl who was nude marched out. She held a bucket of mud. Without any words or music she started dancing around the stage and taking handfuls of the mud from her bucket to splash on herself. Ten minutes in she suddenly stopped and poured what was left over her head. The lady applauded nervously and her son shouted, "Way to go sis!" So that was why they were there, supporting the family. Two college boys and one of the male waiters applauded loudly. The rest of the room simply sat there quietly, completely indifferent. Looking a little disappointed the girl took her bucket and left the stage while janitors rushed up to clean off the stage for the next group.

"I guess not everyone can make a big impression," Charley said.

"And you think you will in those clothes?" He started to wiggle his fingers.

She quickly held up her hands. "I need these clothes for what I'm doing."

"If you insist," he said.

As act after act went on Charley looked around the room nervously. Nobody new had shown up yet. If she could not find someone to replace her then everything she had worked for was going straight down the- "Hello," she said as a familiar figure walked into the room.

Teri looked up and saw Jenny walk in, passing by the exiting mother and son. Charley had to admit she looked great. Her makeup was flawless, her clothes looked like they had cost a decade's allowance, and all together it probably took two hours just to get it all perfect. So much for hanging with her friends and working on the pep rally, Charley noticed. She would have had to ditch them entirely to dress up like that.

"Isn't that the girl from that mall?" Teri asked.

Charley confirmed it. "I told you I invited some girls from school. It was her choice to show up."

"It seems you have been busy." Once again though, he did not invite her over and simply looked back to the stage.

From across the room Jenny caught sight of Charley and mouthed the words, "Are you serious?"

Charley nodded and sent back, "As a heart attack."

Looking suspicious Jenny took a seat and ordered a soda from one of the waitresses. She looked bored, but kept glancing in Teri's direction every few minutes. Charley guessed that she thought she was taking a chance on being embarrassed again. If only Jenny knew of the chance Charley was taking. But then, if she did, she would have run screaming in the other direction. It was probably a good thing Teri had blocked her from talking to anyone. Charley was not sure she could talk to Jenny and stop her conscience from ruining the whole thing.

At 11:45 Charley excused herself from the table and headed backstage, asking Teri to order a couple of drinks for when she got back. When she got there, Mr. Herman was waiting with the promised poster and a stand for it. "I hope you don't mind, but I cut out some pictures of Tinkerbell from my daughter's coloring book and stuck them around the edges."

Charley examined them. "She colors very well. Thank you."

"We're only open until 12:30 on weekdays. Do you think it will take much longer than that?"

"No, I expect to be in several very small pieces by that time."

"Great," he said. "I love it when the crowd gets riled. You know, if you can do that well I could get you a regular slot for any time you want."

"I really think this is going to be a one time thing," she said. "One way or another." He shrugged and left her alone.

After the clean up crew removed the pieces of cabbage from the stage the clock began to strike midnight. Swallowing her fear Charley pulled her necklace into plain view and boldly walked onto the stage. Setting up her poster Charley made a fist and then turned to face the audience. With the spotlight in her eyes all she could see were silhouettes, but the fact that most of the dark shadows stared back with glowing eyes of varying colors did rattle her a bit. Soon her sight adjusted and she could see the expectant faces staring up at her.

"I just want to say, this is just meant for one person in the audience. Lord Terence himself, and no other," she said loudly. Teri smugly stood up and bowed as the audience turned towards him. He got a little less smug when she added, "And I mean no offense to anyone else."

Some low chuckles come from around the room. Teri sat down quickly, his eyes darting around the room. He looked very confused. After a moment he was looking up at Charley and waiting with the others.

Setting her pack down Charley firmly placed a baseball cap on her head, knelt and began to empty it out onto the stage. The first item was a piece of oak cut into a six-inch cube. After that a piece of white cloth followed by an iron bell, the bottle of real maple syrup, the hammer, and nails were all set in a row. Now the audience was nervous, shifting in their seats. Charley could not blame them. There was enough iron in any human building to stop them from simply vanishing indoors and even Teri had always responded to seeing humans holding any piece of steel.

Slowly, so as not to spook anyone, she picked up the cloth and held it up for them to see. The nixie automatically reached up and grabbed tightly to her shroud. Charley lay it down across the piece of wood. Then she picked up the syrup bottle and popped the cap. Every inhuman eye in the room watched her as she poured slow thick drops over the clean white cloth. Both the nixie and the dryad were unable to refrain from making annoyed squeals, but they remained in their seats. The others gave them glances, but were otherwise unmoved. Teri smiled calmly and shrugged apologetically over to them.

Then even those brief movements ceased. The room held its breath when Teri picked up the hammer and a single nail. Methodically Charley placed the tip over the cloth and raised the hammer. With a swift blow she connected, driving the nail through the threads and almost an inch into the wood.

"No!" The nixie and dryad screamed, grasping each other. Then the dryad fainted, leaving her friend to hold her up and looking like she would be ill.

Angry murmuring swept through the room. Hisses and other inhuman sounds followed. The two remaining teenage boys suddenly got up and left. Even the serving staff suddenly seemed suspiciously absent.

Not looking up, Charley did not stop there. She picked up one of the other nails and set the hammer aside. Then she turned to look at Teri. He was still smiling, but not a muscle moved in his body. While he focused on her she methodically lifted her middle finger on her left hand and aimed it right at him. The nail moved in her other hand and she used the sharp tip to prick her finger. A single drop of blood welled up. Not taking her eyes from Teri she moved that hand over to the cloth and pressed the blood into it. Two loud thumps later and the nixie and dryad were both passed out on the floor.

In a swift movement Charley suddenly snatched the iron bell from the stage and began shaking it over her head. Chairs around the room shot back as their occupants jumped up, attempting to run. Actual screams of fear filled the air for almost a minute as did the sound of running feet. It stopped seconds before the entire group reached the door and they as one realized that no other sound had filled the air. They all stared at her in disbelief as Charley proudly displayed the empty inside of the bell and its complete lack of a clapper. Only Jenny remained in her seat, wondering what was going on.

The entire room was silent again at first. And then one clear voice giggled from the middle of the group. It soon became a full laugh, and the mob parted to reveal Penny. They stared at her for a second and then, starting with the tall man, they began to join in. Soon the entire room was alive with laughter and applause. The pictures on the wall shook and everyone sat down, yelling their congratulations. Jenny even clapped a little, her instincts telling her that if she did not she would be left out of something very important. Only Teri remained standing. He was no longer smiling.

Moving much slower than the others and aware that they were all looking at him he cautiously bobbed his head up and down and said, "I see." Then he went back to his seat.

"Good," Charley snarled at him. Abandoning everything else on the stage Charley picked up the block of wood and carried then hopped down to the floor. With deliberate steps she walked over to where Teri sat and set it on the table in front of him. "I challenge you for my freedom."

Teri looked around the room at the impressed faces on the creatures around him. "And these are your witnesses?" She nodded. "In that case I accept and you must defeat me in a fair contest. If you lose then you are mine forever to do with as I please. And what exactly is it that the little human girl thinks she can beat me in?" All pretense of her being his equal was gone now. "Please, do tell me."

"A battle of wits," she said fast, not giving him time to think.

"Excellent. And what shall it be… a riddle? Charades?"

"No, I suspect that elves have gotten very good at those since the old fairy tales were written." There was confirmation from the people around them including the now conscious dryad and undine. "So instead I will do something and then you will attempt to do the same thing. Neither of us can use magic. Okay?"

Confident beyond all reason Teri nodded and leaned back in his chair. "As you say."

Charley kept her face straight and reached up, pulling the hat off of her head. Teri watched her slam it down over one of the two glasses of soda sitting on the table and let it go. "I will now drink this entire glass of soda without moving or even touching this hat again. I will do it with no magic at all and in this game the only one who can move the hat is the person's opponent."

Teri blinked and confusion flooded through the room. Jenny, who had moved closer for a better look said, "Don't be stupid. How will you do that?"

"Watch," Charley said. She got down on her knees and stuck her head under the tablecloth, careful not to bump or shift anything. This was shortly followed by several large gulping sounds from under the table before Charley rose back out and stood up looking satisfied. Letting out a large burp and wiped the corner of her mouth with her thumb. "That was actually quite good."

"You drank it from under there?" Teri asked. He lifted up the tablecloth and took a peek. "Did somebody teach you a new spell?"

"There was no use of magic," the tall man said firmly. Nobody dared argue with him.

Charley pointed at the hat. "See for yourself."

Teri lifted the hat and sat back. The glass sat there, undisturbed and still full. "Ha, it looks like you failed."

"Did I?" Charley now reached over and picked up the glass. Downing it in a few gulps she was still chewing the ice when she flipped the cup upside down and set it back on the table. Then while Teri was still looking confused she snatched back her hat and placed it over the other glass. "Your turn."

Understanding spread through the room. The cheering that followed was even louder than it had been before if possible. Teri's mouth opened and closed while this was going on, and he stared at the hat. Even Jenny was smiling, finally understanding one thing that was going on.

Teri's fist suddenly pounded on the table. "That was totally unfair!"

"How?" Charley asked. "I did not break any of the rules."

"She's right," One of the hags, cackled. "And something tells me she is not going to move the hat for you."

Teri withered under the combined glare of everyone in the room. He had lost and he knew it. More importantly everyone in the room knew it. "Fine, but you still have to do one more thing. You have to find me something of equal or greater value to what I lost."

The undine said, "Come on Teri, that's a little unfair."

"She beat you. Isn't that enough?" The dryad said.

"No! You know the rules. Just because nobody else uses them any more doesn't mean I can't."

"Actually, he's right," Charley said. "I was told that those are the rules."

The tall man smiled kindly down at her. "Those rules are flexible for your kind. I could make an exception and enforce it." Judging from the annoyed look on Teri's face he could.

"That depends," Charley said and looked at Jenny. "Do you still want to take my place as Teri's girlfriend?"

"Yes!" She said immediately. Then she blushed and looked at Teri. "Uh, I don't know what is going on, but Charley said that she thought you and I would make a couple."

Around her a low murmuring started again. They did not mention Jenny, but focused instead on the fact the Charley had just beaten Teri using all of the fairy's rules and even turning down offers of help.

"Will this not weigh heavily on your conscience?" The man asked.

Looking at Jenny who was still eyeing Teri hopefully, Charley had an image of Alicia and the others waiting for Jenny to help them flash through her head. "Not at all."

He smiled and turned to look at Teri. "Do you accept her offer?"

"It appears I must," Teri said. Now even he looked at Charley respectfully. "You have bested an elf. Enjoy it, it will not happen again."

"So you're my boyfriend now?" Jenny said, completely lost.

Smiling the elf turned her with what looked like a sincere grin on his face. "But of course my dear. I must say you are much better than this mere girl. You are obviously a woman of class and taste."

Charley quickly backed away from the table. Around the room the various occupants got up from their seats and headed for the exit. Each one stopped to shake Charley's hand when they passed her. Eventually the line stopped and everyone else was gone. She scooped up her piece of wood and returned to the stage and began putting her things away in the bag.

"That was very interesting," Mr. Herman said, stepping out from behind the curtain. "I didn't understand it, but you certainly made an impression on them. Would you mind explaining it?"

"I don't think so," she said. "I really doubt you would be happy knowing. Thanks for letting me perform, it was fun." Outside Charley stopped and stared up at the clear night sky. She was finally free. Taking a deep breath she started down the sidewalk, enjoying the feeling of being free.

A hand closed on her arm and looking down she saw a familiar red leather glove. "You know, Giles said that you asked him to hook you up with a girl."

"Oh no."

Months later, Charley's life had settled down to a reasonably normal pace. At first she tried to just study and get back into her old way of life. That failed miserably when Jenny's old posse, now Charley's friends, kept insisting on spending time with her at school and after. Her month of intense partying and popularity had made sure she was invited to every big bash in the area. She kept it down though and went to maybe one actual party a week and only concerts with music she liked. Her grades even shot back up to Harvard standard.

Catherine insisted on hearing the entire story and once it was done had been introduced to Giles. She had been delighted and scared at the same time, but as days moved on she simply accepted it as part of life. However, every month now she did invest in a box of truffles for the brownie to gorge on.

Penny was as good as her word when she said she was nothing like Teri. She had joined Charley at the video party and had easily made friends with the other girls too. Sometimes she accompanied Charley to parties or just out to eat and on a few other dates. Charley did not mind since the elf neither insisted on picking every meal or made her do it. It was an even split and both of them enjoyed it and spent time apart too. Penny wasn't possessive or controlling.

Charley was beginning to think that she might actually be able to fall in love this time, but she played it cautiously. There was no reason to rush into a serious relationship again. Penny understood and said she was willing to wait for as long as it took. In the meantime the magic lessons she gave Charley went well and she insisted that Charley had the potential to be the greatest sorceress since the fall of Camelot. She even used some of her new tricks to make her mother more beautiful. It was the happiest Charley had ever seen her.

There was one blemish on Charley's happy new life. Jenny had stopped coming to school entirely. Alicia had suggested they visit her house and when they had her mother told them that Jenny had filed for emancipation and moved out of the house to live with her boyfriend. Neither of Jenny's parents knew where that was.

One day Charley had decided to go to Café Latté's again. The guy with the balloons had caught her interest the last time. When she did though, there was a group of people huddled around a table. She took a peek over their heads and saw a pair of familiar blond and red heads. Walking over to the table she heard Teri and Jenny chatting away with the college kids around them. Teri spared her a brief glance before going back to his talk. Jenny on the other hand seemed ecstatic to see her.

"Charley! I've been dying to talk to you. How have you been?"

"I can't complain," Charley said.

Jenny looked up at her and said, "I was wondering if you could help me with something." Jenny was smiling pleasantly enough, but when Charley looked at her eyes she saw a certain twitch around the edges and a gleam of desperation. She knew what Jenny wanted… needed. "Could you please help me?"

Now Teri turned to look at them, supremely interested. "Oh yes, I'm sure there's some way you could help my lovely young lady out. You know I am always in for trading up."

Charley looked at Jenny and then back at Teri. "Sorry, but I had my shot. I'm just not cut out for the nightlife. She chose it herself."

Teri wrapped his arm around Jenny's waist. "Not bad for a human," he said, bestowing his highest compliment. His next words sounded completely sincere to anyone who did not know him. "Not nearly as good as my girl here of course."

A tear fell down Jenny's cheek. "It was worth a shot. But you're right, I got what I asked for." She looked away. "Lot's of luck on your life Charley."

"You too Jenny. Sorry I can't help you," she said.

"It's alright," Jenny said. Then she asked, "After all, how long can the good life last?" Teri did not answer right away, so Charley took the chance to at least try to make it a little better.

"You're right, I'm sure it will end soon. So enjoy it while you can." With that she looked away from Jenny's face and walked out of the café for the last time.

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