And I finally knew why the Vittra were so fixated on me. Sure, the answer didn’t make things any easier, but I understood, and that was something.
When I thought about it, the only real dark spot was Finn’s absence. It left a dull ache inside my chest, but I had to ignore it. There were too many other things going on for me to sit around missing him.
I hated that he’d even come at all. It would’ve been easier if he’d just left me alone and I’d never seen him again.
I went over to Matt’s room and discovered Rhys keeping him company. Elora had fixed him, much to my relief, and Rhys said that I’d have to begin my “training” soon to harness my abilities. I didn’t know exactly what that would entail, but I didn’t want to pump him for information.
I sat down in an overstuffed chair in Matt’s room and decided to tell him everything. Rhys had told him some in the Vittra dungeon, but I wanted to fill in the blanks. More important, I thought Matt needed to hear it from me.
I started from the beginning, explaining how Elora had switched me for Rhys. I told him how Finn had been sent to track me and bring me here, about what it meant to be a Princess, and about the Trylle and their abilities.
The whole time I talked, Rhys said nothing, but watched with rapt interest. I’m not sure how much of this he already knew.
Matt didn’t say much of anything either, only asking the occasional question. He began pacing when I started talking, but he didn’t seem anxious or confused. When I finished, he stood silently for a minute, absorbing it all.
“So?” I asked when he still didn’t say anything.
“So … do you guys still eat?” Matt looked over at me. “’Cause I’m starving.”
“Yeah, of course we do.” I smiled, feeling relieved.
“I wouldn’t call what they eat food,” Rhys scoffed. He’d been sitting on the bed, but now he stood, since the conversation appeared to be wrapping up.
“What do you mean?” Matt asked.
“Well, you lived with Wendy. You have to know how she eats.” Rhys seemed to realize he might have said something wrong, and he hurried to correct it. “Trylle are more careful eaters than us. They don’t drink pop or eat meat, really.”
Matt stared at Rhys for a moment longer, then glanced at me. There was something new in Matt’s eyes, something I was feeling for the first time myself. Rhys had just put Matt and himself into an “us,” a club I didn’t belong to.
I had never and could never think of Matt as less than me, but we were different. We were separate. And despite all the differences between us that had been so obvious, it felt weird to know just how different we actually were, to have someone articulate that we weren’t even the same species.
“Fortunately, I have a fridge stocked with real food,” Rhys pushed on, trying to change the mood in the room. “And I’m a pretty decent cook. Ask Wendy.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty good,” I lied, but I wasn’t that hungry anymore. My stomach had tightened, and I was amazed that I could even force a smile at them both. “Come on. Let’s get some food.”
Rhys thought that talking nonstop would make up for his small blunder, and neither Matt nor I contradicted him. We walked down to the kitchen, with Duncan tagging along as soon as we’d left Matt’s room.
Duncan’s constant presence irritated me far more than Finn’s ever had, even though Duncan hadn’t really done anything. Maybe it was simply because he was there and Finn wasn’t.
I pulled up a stool at the kitchen counter and watched Matt and Rhys interact. Rhys kept playing up his cooking skills, but once Matt saw him in action, he realized that he’d better take the lead. I propped my chin up on my hand, feeling all sorts of conflicting emotions as they talked and laughed and teased each other.
Part of me was thrilled that they got to have each other in their lives, the way they should’ve from the beginning. Depriving Rhys of a wonderful big brother like Matt had been a very cruel side effect of the changeling process.
But part of me couldn’t help but feel like I was losing my brother.
“Do you mind if I have a water?” Duncan asked, pulling me from my thoughts.
“Why would I care if you had a water?” I looked at him like he was an idiot, but he didn’t notice. Or maybe he got it so often, he thought that was just how people looked at him.
“I don’t know. Some Trylle don’t like when trackers use their stuff.” Duncan went over to the fridge to get a bottled water, while Matt attempted to teach Rhys how to flip blueberry flapjacks.
“Well, how do you eat and drink if you don’t use their stuff?” I asked Duncan.
“Buy our own.” With the fridge still open, Duncan held a water toward me. “Do you want one?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure.” He walked over and handed it to me. “You’ve been doing this for a long time?”
“Almost twelve years, I think.” Duncan unscrewed his bottle and took a long drink. “Wow. It’s weird it’s been that long.”
“Are you really the best they have?” I asked, trying to keep the skepticism out of my voice.
He seemed a little too amazed by Matt’s ability to make pancakes. He didn’t exude any of the confidence or formality that Finn had, but then again, it was probably better for him to be as different from Finn as possible.
“No,” Duncan admitted, and if my question shamed him, he didn’t show it. He just played with his bottle cap. “But I’m pretty close. My appearance is deceiving, but that’s part of why I’m good. People underestimate me.”
Something about the way he said that made me flash on to Scream. Maybe Duncan had a bit of that clumsy, unassuming boyish charm.
“Did anybody ever tell you that you remind them of Deputy Dewey from the Scream movies?” I asked.
“You mean David Arquette?” Duncan asked. “But I’m better-looking, right?”
I nodded. “Oh, yeah, definitely.” I could never see myself being attracted to him, but he was kinda foxy. In his own way.
Rhys swore as a flapjack landed on the floor with a splat. Matt patiently tried to explain what he’d done wrong and how to correct it, using the same tone of voice he’d used to teach me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, and drive a car. It was so strange seeing him be the older brother to somebody else.
“Wendy!” Willa shouted from behind me, and I’d barely turned around when she came running over. She threw her arms around me, shocking me with a fierce hug. “I’m so glad you’re all right!”