Jericho stumbled down the garden path, taking another pull from his flask and enjoying the burn of the whiskey. It was official, weddings were the worst. He pulled off his tie, cummerbund and jacket, discarding them on a bench as he walked past – not noticing that they fell to the ground. He was drunk and he knew it but he didn’t care. As long as he got away from the party, from her - no from them, that would be fine. He didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of knowing they were the reason for the drinking.
The cool night breeze was a relief, chasing away the summer heat as well as some of the dizziness from the drinks. He meandered down to the bridge that crossed the lake, the moon and stars casting more light than he would have thought. But he was used to the city life, where the artificial lights drown out the night sky. It left the world around him washed out but still visible. Things like the colorful flowers and decorations that adorned the bridge for the wedding ceremony were now just pale reflections of their daytime beauty. Jericho kicked a rock, stumbling a little as he watched it skip once across the water before sinking into its black depths of the water. Tiny waves rippled out, unseen until they hit the reflection of the full moon causing the image to fragment like a kaleidoscope.
He made his way onto the bridge, no real destination planned when movement caught his attention. Just there, towards the middle of the bridge he could see the outline of a person.
“Great,” he muttered. The last thing he wanted was to run into someone in his inebriated state. He thought about turning around, decided he would look like a lost idiot, so continued on his way deciding to ignore the other person. As he got closer, he could see that the person was a woman sitting on the banister, long gown fluttering as she kicked her legs in the open air. The dress seemed to shimmer in a myriad of colors, which surprised him how brightly they winked in and out of existence with only the light form the moon and stars. Her face was dark, her eyes startlingly gold as she looked at the moon and so utterly sad.
He started past her just as she shifted forward, and reached out suddenly afraid that she was going to do something foolish. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back, the whiskey doing a wonderful job as he overcompensated and he fell flat on his butt. Somehow, the woman managed to land gracefully on her feet, giving him a curious look as she glanced down at him as he gaped. Her long hair was partially up, revealing her slender neck and pointed ears before her locks tumbled past her shoulders resting gently behind her silver wings. He blinked and the wings were gone, gold earrings hanging from her perfectly normal ears.
“I was not going to jump.”
Jericho blinked at her voice, low but musical, those exotic eyes staring at him as if he were a curious creature.
“I’m - sorry?” He stuttered a little, aware that the drink was making his thoughts and reactions slow. Her mouth quirked up a little.
“You had such a look of fear on you, I wondered if maybe you thought I was looking to make an unwise decision.”
Jericho furrowed his brow, trying to get his brain to move faster. He looked back to her ears and shoulders and shook his head, which was a terrible idea that left the world swaying.
“I was hallucinating,” he whispered, looking up as the woman giggle.
“I assure you I am no hallucination.”
“No, I didn’t mean – I’m sorry, I think I drank too much at the wedding and am a little – drunk,” he finished lamely, flushing and feeling foolish. The woman smiled and looked back towards the venue.
“Ah, I thought I heard a revelry. A wedding then? How lovely.”
He picked himself up with what little dignity remained to him and saw again that look of loss on her face. He didn’t quite register her words, but her voice was wistful, as if she were remembering something both happy and sad.
“Are you ok?” The words were out before he could think better of them. He doubted that she wanted to talk about her problems with a drunk wedding guest. “That is – I mean. You don’t have to answer that.”
“Why would you think I am not alright?” She looked at him with honest curiosity and he reached for his flask, belatedly remembering it was still in his jacket. He ran the hand through his hair instead, feeling foolish.
“I don’t know, you just seemed – incredibly sad staring at the lake and,” he looked away from her penetrating gaze, feeling the flush creep up his neck, “I did think that maybe you were going to – fall in.” He managed to catch himself before he said ‘jump’. He shoved his hands into his pockets looking at the ground as if it would tell him how to stop embarrassing himself.
“You do not know me but wish to help. You are a hero then?” There was no mocking undertone in the questions, just honest curiosity but he was already waving the thought away.
“Oh God no. Nothing like that. I just – I don’t know why I did it. I just know that no one should be so sad at a wedding.”
He looked up self-consciously, aware he sounded ridiculous but she was only smiling at him and it was unbearably beautiful. It was an etheric beauty and he was convinced the drinks were messing with his vision.
“Then you,” he could hear her voice soften as she spoke, “are very kind.”
She beckoned him over to the railing and pointed down, where fireflies sparkled over the water. He watched as a fish jumped out of the lake, attempting to catch one of the bugs before falling back in. This was happening in several places, and he looked over at the woman in surprise.
“I enjoy watching the fish try to catch the fairies. That is what I was leaning over to look at.”
Jericho felt like an idiot. Of course, she hadn’t been trying to kill herself. He was glad to have something other than the woman to look at, hoping to hide his embarrassment as he remembered something.
“Oh, you mean the fireflies. My friend Mary said that they named this Fairy Lake because in the old days the locals though the fireflies were tiny fairies. That’s why she wanted her wedding here. She loves all that stuff.”
He saw the woman smirk and he realized that he hadn’t even introduced himself. He offered her his hand, and she looked at it then up to him.
“I’m Jericho, but most people just call me Jerry. What’s your name?” She took his hand lightly, gripping his fingertips and giving a slight curtsy.
“You may call me Nim. But tell me, why are you not back at the grand occasion instead of roaming the grounds by yourself?”
Jericho thought back to the wedding, to his shock at seeing Anna and Greg there, together. He shook his head slowly, sighing in defeat.
“I was running away from someone. I was being a coward.”
Nim placed a finger to her cheek as she assessed Jericho, then nodded once.
“I propose a trade. For your story, I will grant you a chance.”
Jericho arched an eyebrow at her, suddenly wondering if she was a crazy person.
“What kind of a chance? How do you even ‘grant a chance’?”
“The chance will depend on the story you tell. Now, tell me why you are not at this wedding.”
There was something commanding in her voice as she regained her seat on the railing, and Jericho was surprised to find himself sitting next to her the words leaving his mouth almost without his permission.
“My girlfriend Anna is there with my friend Greg.”
The corners of Nim’s mouth turned down in confusion.
“Would this not be an occasion to celebrate with your friends?”
Jericho jumped up, though if he had startled Nim she showed no signs of it.
“No! I mean she is there with him. She’s my ex-girlfriend and he’s no longer my friend. Sorry it’s all just – really recent.” He started pacing back and forth, almost talking to himself.
“I caught them – in our apartment, hers and mine. I mean, I was coming home early to surprise her! And they never really answered me when I asked how long it had been going on. I just don’t understand, I thought we were happy together. I mean five years; we’d been together for so long and I never saw any signs that she was not happy. I just don’t understand! And Greg, he knew how much I was in love with her. How could he even – I mean,” Jericho let out a hiccup, the tears coming now as the pent-up feelings came to light, “I had just bought her a ring. I was going to ask her to marry me.”
“That was two weeks ago, I forgot all about the wedding. That Greg was one of the groomsmen. I can’t believe they came together though. I almost didn’t make it through the wedding. And then I just started drinking, I don’t even know how much. I almost ruined the wedding, when Greg tried to come talk to me. I wanted to punch him so badly. But I couldn’t do that to Mary and Alec. So I just left, and stumbled my way here.”
Jericho slapped a hand over his mouth in horror. He had only meant to tell her that his ex had shown up with his friend. What the hell did I say all that for.
Nim smiled at him, giving him a look as if she knew what he was thinking.
“Be at ease Jericho, after all I had asked for the story. Though, I am sorry that girl was not worthy of your love. Or that your friend did not love you enough to stop it from occurring at all. Tell me. If another woman was to come into your life, would you trust that she would love you faithfully?”
Jericho let out a laugh that had little joy in it. “Honestly, I don’t think so. You know, I have been dumped by the first two girls that I thought I loved. And now this. I don’t think I ever want to be in love again. The heartbreak is unbearable.”
Nim nodded. “I understand. I lost the love of my life many moons ago, and I will never get that piece of my heart back. But filling that void, that would be a possibility I would like to have again. So that is the chance I will grant you.”
Jericho gave her a wary look, wondering again if she was even sane.
“O-k.” He thought back over their conversation and realized that she hadn’t said she was with the wedding. In fact, now that he actually thought about what she had said, he didn’t think she was here for the wedding at all.
“Wait, if you aren’t a guest then who are you? This venue was booked out for a private party.” She gave him a hint of a smile, making a sweeping gesture over the lake, the wind rippling the glass like surface as if she had command it.
“Child, this place is my home, I can come and go as I please.”
Child?! Jericho would have been shocked if she was a day older than him. He took a tentative step back, a little creeped out as she continued.
“We Fae do not often meddle in the affairs of humans, but I think you Jericho deserve this second chance. Do not let it slip away.”
Jericho opened his mouth, unable to speak as the wind whipped around him forcing him to shield his eyes. He squinted over to where Nim was, standing there as he had first thought he had seen her – pointed ears and wings clearly visible. He thought he saw her strange eyes glow before everything went black.
Jericho jerked up, not sure where he was. He looked down, noticing he was seated on a bench, his jacket and other belongings in a pile next to his foot. His head ached and he was vaguely aware he was somewhere important.
“There you are!” He looked up to see Mary, wedding gown held up from the dirt, staring down at him. Oh, right. “I’ve been looking for you for the last thirty minutes! What have you been doing?”
Jericho stood, surprisingly steadier than he anticipated, and he gathered his things.
“I think, maybe I passed out for a few minutes.” Already his encounter with Nim was fading, fading back into the bizarre dream he must have had. He watched her face soften and he held up a hand to stall any words of pity.
“No no, I’m alright. It was just a surprise to see them together. And I am clearly not the drinker I thought I was. I think I’ve sobered up enough to be a civilized human being. Just, know that I will be dodging them like the plague. And Mary,” he made his voice more lighthearted than he felt, “do me a favor. No more stories about fairies.”
Two years Later
Jericho’s head jerked up at the name, though he wasn’t quite sure why. Barreling straight at him was a black cat, and a dark-haired woman in heels and a pencil skirt chasing awkwardly behind it. The cat dodged gracefully as the woman attempted to grab it, right into Jericho’s way. Without thinking he scooped the cat up, its strange gold eyes staring at him in an oddly nostalgic gaze. He cradled it as the woman stopped in front of him, doubled over as she tried to catch her breath. When she looked up at him it sent a shock of interest through him that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
“Thank… you… I… am… sorry-“ Jericho put a hand on her shoulder to stop her.
“It’s ok, catch your breath.” She gave him a grateful, slightly embarrassed smile and he found himself returning it. “I have to say, that was impressive. Though, I think you should talk to your boss. I think an animal control officer should be dressed a little more practically.”
The woman let out a huffed laugh, straightening up as she regained her composure.
“Yes, this would not be my choice of clothes for chasing my stupid cat. Thank you again, she has never tried to get out of my apartment before.” The cat flicked her tail in dismissal at her owner, snuggling deeper into Jericho’s arms, purring. “I was just getting in from work when she took off and I just ran without thinking. Thank you so much for catching her.”
The woman reached out, intending to take back her cat when the feline let out a disgruntled rumble. Her hands froze, wide eyes reflecting the surprise Jericho felt mirrored on his own face. The cat sniffed once, her golden eyes flicking between them before she nestled in again to Jericho. Jericho attempted to put her down, but she was already jumping back into his arms before he could straighten up. The girl, looked up at Jericho, clearly unsure what to do. Jericho tentatively pat the little furball, her head leaning in to his touch as he spoke.
“Um, well. She’s a friendly little thing isn’t she. I could – carry her back for you. I mean,” he rushed to make sure she didn’t think he was being too forward, “since she seems to be weirdly attached. Wow, that came out way more awkwardly than I intended.”
He was relieved when she just laughed as she nodded.
“That would be helpful if it’s not too much of an inconvenience?”
He smiled shaking his head. “I think my morning coffee can wait a few minutes. I’m Jericho, by the way.”
He held out his hand, careful not to disturb the fickle creature. She took his hand, and he was surprised to see her cheeks turn a flattering shade of pink as she motioned the way she had come and they started walking.
“I’m Amy. And that little devil,” she said, eyeing the catch with fond annoyance, “is Nimue. I suppose this is what I get for naming her after a fairy.”
Jericho looked sharply over at Amy though she didn’t seem to notice, her words triggering a fleeting memory but as he tried to remember the image slipped away again. They made small talk as they walked and when she stopped in front of her building, she looked at her cat then back at Jericho.
“Thank you again for helping me,” her hands fiddling nervously with the cuff of her blouse, “I hope you’ll give me a chance to repay you.”
At that the cat sat up from where she was napping, her strange eyes regarding him seriously. His brows furrowed, and when he looked up Amy, he could feel something he hadn’t felt in a long time stir inside.
“It was no trouble at all, no need to repay me. But, maybe we could grab coffee together sometime?”
As the two exchanged numbers, the change in the cat went unnoticed – gold eyes turning back to yellow-green and her attachment to Jericho fading, crawling back into Amy’s arms as the promised trade was kept.