Ella peeked into the bedroom after getting out of the shower that evening to see John was out like a light. Considering he’d provided his third donation of the day an hour or so before, it was hardly a mystery as to why. Still riding the euphoria of her most recent orgasm, Ella tapped on her phone before drying her hair. No messages had arrived during her shower, but she started when the phone rang before she could remove her finger from the screen.She pulled the towel turban on her head away from her right ear, and then answered, “Hi, Dad.”“Hey, honey. I’m not waking you, am I?”“No, I just got out of the shower. What’s up?”“I thought I’d let you know what I found out about the campground. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot I can do.”Ella sighed and asked, “Too much red tape?”“The opposite, really. Because of the circumstances, everyone involved has been stalling the foreclosure process as much as possible. They’re running out of red tape to slow things down. The biggest problem is that the church can’t legally negotiate a payment plan. Otherwise, they’d be golden. From what I hear, they’ve raised over half the money.”“Would have been more if they’d taken ours,” Ella grumbled.“Close to what they need,” her father acknowledged. “But that’s neither here, nor there. As it stands, the property owner, Ms. Welker, is the only one who can legally negotiate a deal.”“Is there any chance of that?”“I’m afraid not. She’s in the Davon Center Hospice, suffering from dementia. Since she didn’t have any surviving family, she’d made preparations for something like this, but the property tax on the campground was one thing she forgot.”That was that. “Well, thanks for trying.”“Oh, I’m not done yet,” he said, and she knew he was smiling from the tone of his voice. “I’m calling in a few favors to see if I can have the campground folded into the state forest after a foreclosure. The property is on the border of the forest anyway, and at least that way it won’t end up on the public auction block.”“What do you think the chances are?”“A lot better than average,” he confidently replied. “Cross your fingers, and keep your hopes up. Now, I’ll let you go so you can get some rest.”They said their goodbyes, and Ella saw herself smiling in the mirror. She knew what kind of connections her father had, and that he never sugar-coated things for her. If he believed he could do it, then he could.Just in case, she crossed her fingers for a second before picking up the hair dryer.****“Eight o’clock,” John promised, standing next to the car after the last class the following day.“In the door by eight o’clock,” Ella reiterated. “I know how you get when you’re playing D&D. Tell my brother he’s in just as much trouble as you are if you’re not home on time.”He held up his hand and said, “Promise. Dale said your mom told him seven, anyway.”“Okay,” Ella said, and then kissed him. “I love you.”“Love you, too.”Ella shook her head and rolled her eyes as John hurried to her brother’s car. She’d never understand the game, but she knew how much he loved it, so she didn’t argue about him playing.In moderation, anyway.She climbed into her car and tried to think of something to do for an hour or so. She knew her sister, and the looks Terra had been giving Nathan before they left strongly hinted that she would hear things she didn’t want to if she went straight home. Nothing was really coming to her, though. She was on the verge of going to avcılar escort bayan watch her brother’s game when she reached the city limits and a sign caught her eye.Ella pursed her lips in thought as she neared the turn to the hospice. The thought of the woman being there with no family to come visit tugged at her heartstrings. She had no idea if anyone would let her in, but she made the turn anyway.“Can I help you?” the woman at the reception desk in the lobby asked as Ella approached.“I was wondering if I could see Ms. Welker.”“Are you family?”“No. I–”A nurse standing nearby asked, “From the church?”“Not exactly,” Ella answered. “That’s how I know her, though.”“You do know about her condition, don’t you?” the nurse asked.Ella nodded. “I just wanted to visit with her for a few minutes.”The nurse gestured behind her. “She’s out back enjoying the sunshine. She’s always much more lucid when she’s outdoors. I was just about to take her some iced tea, if you’d like to come along?”“Thank you,” Ella said as she followed. “My name is Ella.”“Christine,” the nurse said. “Penelope doesn’t get many visitors. Her condition causes her to say things that are difficult for people from the church to handle, and that’s really all she has left. Her language can be salty, and sometimes she talks about outrageous things.”“I’m not easily offended.”Christine smiled. “That’s good, because she has her days, sometimes.” She stopped in front of a door and said, “Let me get the tea. I’ll be right back.”Ella noticed how quiet the building was and thought of her phone. She pulled it out of her purse and set it to silent, not wanting one of her ring tones to suddenly intrude on the quiet. The vibration was strong enough to feel through the strap of her purse anyway. By the time she put her phone away, the nurse had returned.“I bring it from home,” Christine explained. “Penelope knows her tea, and she’s not fond of what we make here.”“That’s nice of you,” Ella said as they set out through the halls again.“Anything to make the residents more comfortable. Oh, don’t be surprised if she calls me Wendy. I can only assume it’s a nurse from her past that I resemble. She may call you by someone else’s name, too. I usually play along and don’t say anything too specific. Oh, and call her Penelope. Calling her Ms. Welker usually results in a bad spell.”“I understand.”Christine led them out the back door of the facility and pointed. “There she is.”Penelope sat on a park bench, looking out over the manicured lawn toward some trees beyond. Her hair was completely white, and her wrinkles gave her a distinguished, wise appearance. She was smiling and toying with a walking cane leaned against the bench at her side. Another nurse sat on a nearby bench, keeping an eye on her.“Let me go first. Stay a few feet behind the bench, and I’ll introduce you.”“Okay,” Ella agreed, and then followed the nurse across the lawn.“Here’s your tea, Penelope,” Christine said when she stepped in front of the bench.“Oh, bless you, dear,” the old woman said as she took the glass in a reasonably steady hand. She brought it to her lips, sipped, and then let out a satisfied sigh. “Thank heavens you know how to brew tea. Everyone else must make it with toilet water.”Christine laughed and said, “You’re welcome. There’s someone here who would like to visit with you, if that’s all right?”“Oh, who is it?”Christine waved for Ella to approach. beylikdüzü escort bayan “Her name is Ella, and she knows you through the church.”“Ella… Ella… That doesn’t sound familiar,” Penelope mused.“That’s okay, Penelope. I’m sure it will come to you. Here she is.”“Hello, Penelope,” Ella said, and offered a wave.The old woman’s eyes widened, and she gasped. The glass fell from her nerveless fingers, spilling tea all over her lap and the bench. She put her other hand over her heart and reached out with the hand that had held the glass.“Xantwilla. Oh, it’s been so long,” Penelope said.Ella’s heart nearly stopped upon hearing the xan that preceded her real name, and that of every other female member of the family.The wizened woman continued, “You’ve come back. I’ve missed you so much. Where have you…” She trailed off, and then suddenly shrank back against the bench. “No. It can’t be. You’re gone. The fire. Your hair. Your hair isn’t green. It’s not you. Oh, it’s not you…”Ella was both stunned and heartbroken. She had no idea what to say as the old woman’s chin dropped to her chest and she began to weep. She jumped when Christine laid a hand on her shoulder.“I’m sorry,” Ella said, still at a loss.“It’s okay. You just triggered some memory or fantasy of hers,” Christine whispered. “You should probably go, but you didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t worry. She’ll be fine in a few minutes.”“I… I’m sorry,” Ella said again.Christine clasped her hand for a second and said, “Don’t be.” She then sat down on the bench and reached for the old woman’s hand.Ella turned to walk across the lawn shaking and ashamed. As she neared the door, the memory of Penelope mentioning green hair hit her hard. There was no missing the significance of that and the name the woman had called her. Some time in the past, Penelope had known a dryad.There was only one person who could possibly tell her what that meant.****Xantina stood waiting at the edge of her pool when Ella arrived. The dryad held out her hands. “Come, Xanella. I know what you seek.”“So, she did know a dryad?” Ella asked as she pulled her purse off her shoulder to undress.“Yes,” Xantina answered, and Ella saw a rare hint of longing in the nymph’s sparkling eyes. “Come. I will show you.”Though not as deeply aware of her great-grandmother’s thoughts as the dryad was of hers, she could sense that Xantina didn’t want to wait for her to undress. So, she pulled her purse back onto her shoulder and went to take the dryad’s golden hands.“Close your eyes,” Xantina said.Ella did so, knowing that it meant her great-grandmother was going to magically take them elsewhere. Like almost every other member of the family, she’d peeked once when traveling this way, and regretted it. The whirl of green and brown along with the sudden change of location had left her nauseous and dizzy.A sensation of floating and dew settling on her skin marked Xantina’s magic taking hold. In the space of a heartbeat, they were somewhere else.“We are here,” Xantina said.Ella could feel the familiar touch of magic that permeated the woods near her home, but it was subtly different. She opened her eyes to see cabins nestled amidst trees in the distance. She stood just within a much denser forest. “Is that the campground?” she asked.Xantina nodded. “Here is my sister Xantwilla’s place.”Ella followed the dryad’s gaze and saw the stump of a tree. esenyurt escort From the size of the stump, she knew the tree had been massive. Two people couldn’t have wrapped their arms around it. It was hollow on the inside and blackened, as if touched by fire.“She has returned to the earth,” Xantina explained.“I’m sorry.”The dryad shook her head and smiled. “It is no thing of sadness. She gave all of her great magic, and all of her life to protect this place. She did so with joy, knowing what would continue after her.”“The forest?” Ella guessed.“And all who call this their place.”Ella asked, “Was it the fire? I read about how there was a fire here set by someone. Is that what happened to her?”“Yes. The fire fed upon the dry summer grasses, and flew before the wind. It came, but my sister would not let it touch her place. She knew it would mean her passing to take the fire’s hunger, but those she protected would remain to sing of her life in this place.”That was when Ella heard it.In truth, she felt more than heard the song that flittered upon the wind. It was like the tinkling of tiny bells, and the sound gave her chills. She turned, and the music grew louder. Though there was no sign of the source, she knew it was somewhere ahead. She took a step toward the music, but then looked to her great-grandmother before going any further.Xantina nodded and gestured as if she was pushing Ella toward the sound.Slowly – tentatively – she walked toward where she could feel the music. She parted the dangling branches of the weeping willow in front of her, and stepped beneath. Somewhere in the back of her head, she knew the tree was out of place in the mixed forest of pine, maple, and oaks, but it seemed unimportant as the tinkling music grew louder. Ella walked around the tree, and then froze in place to stare in astounded wonder.Even a girl raised in a family descended from a dryad could be surprised by a ring of orange mushrooms and three fairies.“This is the reason my sister gave all of herself,” Xantina explained. “There are so few fairy rings left in this world, and they are precious.”Giggles joined the otherworldly music, and the fairies darted toward Ella. Her great-grandmother stepped in next to her and held up a hand. Two of the fairies alighted on her palm. Ella imitated the dryad’s action, and the third fairy chose her as its perch.She could barely feel the weight of the five-inch-high woman on her palm. The creature was petite, and wore a diaphanous gown that did nothing to hide the perfect body beneath. The fairy’s translucent wings shimmered with all the colors of the rainbow, and were veined in gold. Her hair was of the palest blonde, and Ella could see the points of elvish ears peeking through the white-gold locks. The fairy smiled at her and waved in a very human gesture.Xantina spoke to the pair of fey creatures standing on her palm in a language Ella didn’t understand, but felt as if she should have. One of the fairies answered, and her voice was like the barely heard, rapid tweeting of a bird somewhere in the distance.“They ask that you keep their secret for now – even from your sister,” Xantina said. “You must say the promise.”“I promise, I won’t tell anyone,” Ella said, and then gave a brief shrug. “I can’t promise it won’t drive me crazy, though.”All three fairies and the dryad giggled. With that, the tiny creatures took flight and landed within the circle of mushrooms. The moment their feet touched the carpet of leaves and twigs, the fairies vanished.“Come,” Xantina said, and took Ella’s hand to lead her back through the dangling branches.“Why do we have to keep them a secret?” Ella asked while looking back over her shoulder at the fairy ring.