Hearts of the Emerald Tides

by Noël Manning


"Wipe out!" screamed Sierra. She crashed into the ocean, her yellow surf board just out of her reach. Sierra swam towards it and got back on. She flipped her black hair out of her face and turned towards the beach to wave at her friends. Her best friend, Lilliette Omber, waved back and then turned to Jim Trundle.

"It is definitely summertime. Why, it must be at least one hundred degrees!" she said to her boyfriend. Lilliette's blonde hair was pulled back off her neck so as to cool her down. Jim smiled.

"Yeah, it does seem hot. But if you're in the water it's not so bad." With that, he grabbed Lilliette's sun-tanned arm and ran into the water with her. Sierra Heart swam up to the two, dragging her surf board. Her blue eyes sparkled in the bright sun.

"Where is Vince?" Sierra asked.

"He went to get us some ice cubes and lemonade," Jim replied.

Sierra's porcelain face broke into a wide smile. "That's what we need! For now let's keep in the nice cool water, though."

The four teenagers spent most of their time at the beach. Emerald Beach, as it was called. Vince Purt, with his moppy brown hair, dated Sierra. Jim preferred Lilliette.

Then Vince returned in his red pick-up truck."Hey! It's me!" he called. Sierra ran over to him. She was an extremely fast runner. In fact, she was the fastest runner in the whole city!

"Hi Vincey. You need help carrying that?" Sierra asked.

''Hey Sierra. No, you go sit on the blanket under the umbrella. I can get it." The young boy carried the blue cooler over to the orange blanket and sat it down with a thud.

"Vince! Oh, hey, thanks for bringing the drinks. It's a million times hotter down here than it is on the sun," Lilliette said.

Jim laughed."We're lucky it's not."

Vince had brought with him water bottles, lemonade, ice cubes and coke.

"Wow. Compared to how much my mom drinks, there are like hardly any water bottles here at all," Jim said as he opened the cooler. Sierra took a water bottle and sat on the edge of the blanket, her back to the others, studying her nail polish.

Lilliette tapped Jim and whispered, "Why is she over there?"

Jim looked over. "Dunno," he replied in a hushed voice.

"I do," Vince said, his voice even quieter than a whisper.

Lilliette and Jim turned to him. "Why?"

"Because," he began in the same quiet tone. "you know how her mom died years ago, was killed in that car wreck? Well, her dad just told her last week that her mom's body wasn't ever found in the crash."

Lilliette stifled a gasp. "No body found?" she cried in a whisper.

"Yeah. That's what I said. Since her mom crashed her jeep into the ocean, everybody assumed her body floated away. But Sierra just learned that." Vince didn't say any more, so Jim and Lilliette decided the conversation was over. Finally, Sierra turned around and smiled.

"Sorry," she said.

"Oh, it's fine. Totally, completely, absolutely, perfectly fine," Vince said reassuringly, as he stroked her hair. Sierra had finished her water and then pulled out a coke.

A few hours later, Jim looked at the waves, then his watch."Man, it's already a quarter 'til seven. I guess we'd best be getting home." They all packed up their things and said good-bye, planning to meet at Emerald Beach the next day. Sierra hopped in her blue jeep, top and doors off, and drove home. When the slim girl opened her front door, it was 7:03.

"Almost dinner time!" Sierra thought happily, for she was beginning to feel hungry. Sierra ran to her room and changed into dry clothes, then ran back down and seated herself at the table.

"Hello, darling. How was the beach?" Ellen asked, setting a plate full of hot food in front of Sierra. The sweet woman, somewhere in her fifties, was the housekeeper Sierra's dad hired after her mom's death.

"Fabulous," Sierra said. "I'm going back tomorrow." After dinner, which was salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, Sierra went up to her room. She showered, read for two hours, then hopped into her bed.

"Good night, Sierra," she said to herself, then fell fast asleep.

The next morning Sierra sprang out of her bed and threw on her blue and pink bathing suit. After a quick breakfast, the teenager got in her jeep (which still had the top and doors off) and drove to the beach. Vince, Lilliette and Jim were already there, and Vince got Sierra's surf board out of her car.

"How are you feelin' today, Sierra?" asked Vince.

"Better than the queen of England," she said happily. Sierra took her yellow surf board and caught a wave. Suddenly she felt herself lose her balance. She tumbled into the water.

"Wipe out!" laughed Lilliette as she jumped up and down. Sierra opened her eyes under the blue water and looked around. She loved to look around under the ocean. It was so different from land that Sierra almost thought it was a different world. Her blue eyes started to burn from the salty water, and she came up.

But from a bed of seaweed beneath the waves, two somethings were watching the pretty girl.

"That is her," one said.

"How do you know? You cannot know for sure. Come, we must not stay out here. It is not safe," the other said. Then they slid back beneath the green seaweed.

"How does this dress look?" Lilliette Omber asked her best friend, Sierra Heart. The two girls were at Lilliette's house playing dress-up, waiting for the boys to come take them to the beach.

"You look adorable," Sierra said, a twinkle in her blue eyes. Lilliette's gray eyes twinkled back.

"I think," Lilliete said, "that the boys are late."

'The boys' were actually Vince Purt and Jim Trundle, Sierra and Lilliette's dates. The four teenagers spent a lot of time at the beach, Emerald Beach, which was nearby.

Sierra lifted up a pretty blue curtain and peeked out a window which faced the street. "They aren't too late," she replied, "It's only five minutes after twelve." Sierra let the curtain fall back and moved away from the window. Lilliette suddenly gasped.

"Sierra!" she cried, "I forgot to pack the lunch!" Lilliette had agreed to bring some lunch to the beach, but had completely forgotten. "I will go and make it right now," she said, "while you watch for the boys." Lilliette's curly gold hair flew back as she dashed into the kitchen.

Sierra went to the front door and sat down on a chair. She began to think about her mother; how wonderful those many years with her had been. Until she had crashed her car into the ocean and, as was assumed by most people, her body floated away, Sierra had enjoyed every moment of being with her. But Sierra's thoughts were interrupted when she heard a noise outside. Jumping up, the pretty nineteen-year-old flung open the door and saw Vince's red pick-up truck pulling into the driveway. Sierra pushed her long, black hair out of her porcelain face and ran to meet them.

''Hey Sierra!" Vince called. Sierra hugged him.

"Hi you!" she replied. Jim came around from the other side of the truck.

"Hi Sierra. Where is Lilliette?" he asked.

"Lilliette? She's inside packing a lunch. She had forgotten," Sierra laughed.

Vince and Jim grinned, then Vince helped Sierra into the car while Jim went to find Lilliette. Whenever the four rode in the red pick-up truck, the two girls sat in the back, since there were only two seats up front. The boys sat up front and drove. Vince hopped in the driver's seat after he had helped Sierra in, then strapped on his safety belt. The two waited a minute, neither saying a word. Finally, Lilliette and Jim came out through the front door.

"I cannot believe," Lilliette yelled to them, "that I forgot to pack the whole entire lunch! Wouldn't it have been terrible if I hadn't remembered?"

"Yeah, like we would have died of starvation if you hadn't," Jim teased.

Sierra and Vince tried not to laugh. Lilliette put the picnic basket, full of food, in the back of the truck, then got in beside Sierra. Jim hopped into the passenger seat and Vince drove to the beach.

"I'll beat you guys to the water!" sang out Sierra, once they had reached Emerald Beach. Sierra took off running and jumped into the waves.

"Hey!" yelled Vince, "You don't even have your surfboard out yet!" As if in reply to his own remark, Vince pulled Sierra's yellow surfboard out of his truck and carried it over to her.

"Thanks," Sierra said appreciatively. Vince handed it to her and then went back to the umbrella to watch Sierra surf. Sierra was an exceptional surfer and entered many surfing competitions; she won a lot of them.

Sierra caught a wave almost immediately. As the slim, attractive girl fell off and climbed back on her surfboard many times, the same somethings (which had been watching her the day before) were at it again, in the same hiding spot beneath the waves.

"I am telling you, that is her," one insisted.

"And I am telling you, you do not know," the other replied.

The first something shook its head."No, you must listen to me," it said, "She looks just like her, am I wrong?"

The second something did not comment at first. "It resembles her slightly," it said finally.

"You are not listening!" the first one said with frustration. "It does indeed resemble her. But that is not what I mean. I am saying that she looks just like one of them."

"We will learn that," the second one smiled, in its soft, velvety voice, "by her color of blood."

The first one turned and faced its friend. "May I ask, how we will get some of her blood?" it asked.

Again, the second one did not reply immediately.

"Talulah," it said finally, "that, I do not know. But we shall find a way to obtain some of her blood and learn if, indeed, she is of our friend's species."

Talulah, the first something, flapped her silver wings in annoyance. "Atricia," she said, "we cannot not know. We must find her as quickly as is possible. We must think of a way to get some of her blood."

Atricia, the second something, flashed her beautiful black eyes at Talulah. "My dear girl," she began, "you are most impatient. Even being fantastical sea sprites – not to mention from the Glass Palace – we cannot have a solution for every problem. We must think up a plan to acquire her blood."

Talulah rolled her young black eyes. Being only twelve and a half, Talulah was fifteen years younger than Atricia and had less than half of her wise, gracious manner. "We must think of it immediately," she said.

Atricia's beautiful tan face broke into a most affectionate smile. "You are most impatient," she said.

Talulah glanced back up toward Sierra through her invulnerable air bubble (which sea sprites always use to safely traverse the ocean). "I will now return," Talulah announced, as if making a very important speech, "back to the Glass Palace." With those words, Talulah turned on her heel and slid under the slimy, green seaweed. Atricia watched her go, gave one last long look at Sierra, and then followed her friend.

"WHERE ARE YOU SIERRA?" Lilliette shouted. Sierra had finally returned to the beach from surfing, but after she had laid down her surf board, the girl had walked to somewhere and disappeared.

"Sierra!" yelled Jim.

"We didn't agree on playing hide-and-go-seek!" Lilliette chimed in.

"Yeah!" Vince called, "So come out!"

The three began hollering Sierra's name and running all over the beach. After a few terrifying minutes, they saw Sierra's sillouette coming towards them.

"Hey guys. Why you screaming?" she asked casually.

Lilliette's gray eyes got big and wide at Sierra."Sierra Heart you scared the life out of me!" she cried.

Vince ran over to Sierra and hugged her. "Where did you go?" he asked.

"Oh, sorry. I was thinking about my mom and wanted some time alone. I've been thinking about her an awful lot lately," Sierra answered, hugging Vince back.

The four left Emerald Beach at five o'clock. "Bye!" called Vince to Sierra. He had dropped Sierra off at her house last so they might spend some time talking in the car.

"Bye! Thank you!" Sierra called back. She ran up to her house. The house was overwhelmingly big, not to mention the five acres of beautiful land which surrounded it. Sierra stole a loving glance at her big garden, which grew tons and tons of sunflowers, some marigolds, a few tomatoes and a lot of lavender. Opening the heavy oak door, Sierra smelled the delicious aroma of dinner wafting all through out the house. Ellen heard Sierra enter and called a greeting to her.

"Hello, my dear! How was the beach?" Ellen yelled, loud enough to be heard in the foyer.

"It was awesome!" Sierra yelled back. The pretty girl, her beach towel over her cold, wet bathing suit, raced upstairs to change into some dry clothes. Sierra put on a clean T-shirt and some jeans, and tossed her dirty clothes down the laundry chute. "Now," Sierra thought to herself, "let's go visit the attic."

Sierra loved the attic of her house. It was cluttered, dusty, and full of treasures. Sierra's father had always given Sierra freedom to roam the house and yard as she pleased, and Sierra used that freedom constantly, especially in the attic.

Sierra skipped up to the dreary attic. With the exception of the dim sunlight shining desperately through the small dirty windows, the attic was completely dark. But Sierra's blue eyes worked well in the dark, and she easily found a big box to dig through.

Sierra pulled out an old-fashioned camera, a small red box filled with pictures of her when she was younger, a couple of guns, twenty old dust-covered books and a popped balloon. Nothing particularly interested Sierra, (though she did look through the pictures), until she found a small, brown, dusty book.

Opening it, Sierra discovered it was a diary; her mother's diary.

Sierra loved her mother. She wished her mother had never died. But since her mother was dead, Sierra tried not to think about that fact.

Sierra flipped through the pages with immense interest. They were all normal diary entries (like entries about family trips, how the stupid gas stove smells so bad, Sierra, Jacob and friends, and even an entry about a broken finger nail). Yes, all very normal, except for the last few. What they said disturbed Sierra.

June 10, 2007

I am feeling sickish today. I have a high fever, a headache, pain throughout my whole body, my throat is tight, my joints are stiff and I am gagging. I think I'm going to stay home from our family dinner at Donatos Pizza; I hope Sierra won't be too sad.

June 11, 2007

It's getting worse. I feel as though my head were about to explode with its pounding so. I threw up a minute ago. I didn't exactly throw anything up, however. Oh, this pencil is getting on my nerves!

June 12, 2007

I feel so sick today that I can't rite write. Hold on, I need a glass of water. Now I'm better. My head is pounding horribly. Not even a heteing heating pad helps. I've tried one. I hope Sierra understands that I couldn't make it to her surfing compitishon competition. My sweet neighbor, Ellen, offered to make dinner tonight. But it frastraits frustrates me that she refuses to aksept accept pay!

June 13, 2007

I no know what to do! How stupid of me to not have thot thought of it before! Why, of course. Go to Emerald Beech Beach and bathe in the water! That shood should cure any sickness I have.

June 13, 2007, later

Oh my. I just thot thought of something. Wat What if I don't make it to the beach in time? Well then I best hery hurry.

Sierra was surprised at the entries. "Nobody ever told me she was sick when she went to the beach and crashed into the ocean. But if she was so sick that she couldn't focus on spelling, she could have been so sick she couldn't focus on driving," she said to herself. Sierra gently closed the book, but not before she took a quick peek at the next page. Tears overtook her eyes; there was a picture of her mother, at Emerald Beach with a surf board! Wiping her eyes and slipping the tiny book into her pocket, Sierra put the box back on its shelf and went downstairs.

"I declare," Ellen teased when Sierra entered the kitchen, "you spend more time looking around this house and land than you do breathing!"

Sierra gave Ellen a white-toothed smile and sat down at the table. "Where's dad?" she asked. As if in answer to her question, Sierra's father came marching down the steps.

"Dad!" Sierra cried. She ran to hug him.

Jacob Heart, a.k.a. Sierra's father, returned the hug and asked, "How was my little princess' day at the beach?"

"Extraordinary," Sierra replied.

"Dinner's ready!" hollered Ellen. Sierra and Mr. Heart sat down at the table to enjoy the delicious food.

* * * * *

Sierra woke up with a stretch and a yawn. It was Sunday. It was also the start of No-Beach Week. The night before, Ellen had noticed that Sierra had gotten too much sun. "You should at least stay home from the beach for a week," she had said. And Sierra had agreed.

The teenage athlete sprang out of bed, wondering what she would do on a day with no beach. Sierra took a quick shower, dressed, combed her hair and ran down the stairs very fast. Ellen had made a nice breakfast, which she, Sierra and Mr. Heart consumed quickly, then they all got in the car and drove to church.

After service was over (which to Sierra felt like all day), they drove back home and went inside. "You can go do whatever you want, Honeybee," Mr. Heart said. Sierra smiled, grabbed a left-over biscut from breakfast that morning and darted up to her room. After reading for awhile, Sierra started to feel very cold, although it wasn't cold in her room and she had a blanket around her. Then her head began hurting. Sierra puppy-eared her book and trudged weakly downstairs.

"Ellen?" she asked.

"Yes dear?" Ellen's voice issued forth from the kitchen.

"I feel... strange," Sierra said. She walked to Ellen and sat on the counter next to her.

"What do you feel like?" Ellen asked.

"Sick."

"Oh my. Explain it to me."

"Well, I'm very cold. And my head hurts awfully bad," Sierra replied.

Ellen felt Sierra's forehead and asked, "What type of pain? If you had to choose from one through ten, what would it be?"

"Oh, prob'ly five," Sierra said.

Ellen backed away and looked at Sierra."Then it must be worse than I thought. I'm going to take your temperature." The kind woman went and got her first aid kit. Putting the thermometer under Sierra's tongue, Ellen waited until it beeped.

"Your tempature is 104!" Ellen cried in horror.

Sierra gave her a wan smile. "If that's what the thermometer says, I guess it's true."

"Go lie on the couch and sleep," Ellen ordered.

Sierra did so and fell asleep easily. She dreamed something strange, however, which she dreamed the next night and the following night as well. This is what Sierra Heart dreamed...

Sierra-in-the-dream was sitting on her surfboard in the middle of the ocean. It was a sunny day, with seagulls flying about. It didn't look anything like Emerald Beach, but Sierra somehow knew it was. Paddling around the water, Sierra saw a lady standing on the beach. Instantly, she knew it was her mother. Sierra screamed and cried out to her, but the lady just stood on the beach... staring right through Sierra. And then suddenly, she melted! Sierra frowned and began paddling farther out into the ocean. But she did not stand on her surfboard at all. Then, as if it had been expecting a visit from her, a little fairy landed on Sierra's arm! Sierra jerked back.

"Come with me," the fairy said. She beckoned with her tiny hand for Sierra to follow her. "To the Glass Palace we must go!"

"Who are you?" Sierra asked.

"I am the one who will lead you to she," the small creature said. Again, she gestured for Sierra to follow her.

Sierra slipped into the water and swam after the little fairy, who flew along quickly, dodging the waves easily. And then it dove straight down. Straight down into the ocean! Sierra quickly did the same. Her eyes didn't take any time to adjust to the water, and she spotted the fairy hovering patiently over a mass of seaweed.

''What is this?" Sierra asked.

"The entrance," it answered shortly. Then it lifted up the seaweed and gave Sierra a little push forward.

"Remember the way I brought you," the fairy said, in its raspy, twinkling voice, "and come to this very place when you awaken." She disappeared under the seaweed, leaving Sierra all alone.

Sierra-not-in-the-dream awoke with a jerk. "Gee," she said as she shook her head. "I just have some of the most realistic dreams." She half thought it was real and that she should look for the 'Glass Palace'. But she also considered she had a very high fever which might be making her loopy.

* * * * *

On Wednesday, Sierra woke up feeling strange again. Her head hurt and her joints were stiff. "Hmmm," she commented to just herself, "Maybe a nice warm shower will help." Sierra tried one, but it didn't help. Sierra went downstairs for breakfast, trying to stretch the stiffness out of her body.

"Good morning, Sweetheart," Ellen said.

"Morning," Sierra murmured. Her throat had begun to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Ellen turned around, noticing Sierra didn't give her cheery, 'Good morning!' as she usually did. "You feeling okay?" Ellen asked her.

"Just a little sickish," Sierra replied. She sat down at the table to wait for breakfast. When it was served, Sierra ate it eagerly, hoping that it might make her feel better. But it didn't. Sierra picked up her plate and brought it to the sink when she had finished eating.

"I'll do the dishes," Ellen said quickly, concern in her voice, " and you'll lie down and rest."

Sierra did not argue; she was feeling worse every minute. Lying down on the couch and turning on the television, Sierra immediately fell asleep.

She awoke to the sound of her father returning home from work. But she just lay there and made no move to greet him. Sierra felt too awful to do anything. Her head was throbbing, her throat was tight and dry, she was very cold, and moving the slightest bit hurt. She was sore all over and felt as though she would throw up any minute. The few seconds Sierra spent lying there doing nothing were dreadful. Then she gagged. Sierra gagged like she would throw up, but she didn't. She gagged again and her throat hurt when she did. Her head hurt so bad her vision began to blur. Ellen entered the room with Mr. Heart, and they saw Sierra lying on the couch, heaving.

"Oh dear me!" cried Ellen, as Sierra coughed and retched and almost fell off the couch. Ellen and Mr. Heart ran over to her. Ellen felt her forehead. "She's hot," the woman said nervously. Sierra gasped for air.

"I'll take her to the hospital," Mr. Heart said, trying not to sound as worried as he was.

Ellen was horrified. "I'll call an ambulance!" she cried.

"I can get her there faster than it can come here and take her back," Mr. Heart declared confidently. In one swift move, the strong, handsome man picked up Sierra and held her close to him. "It's gonna be okay. Just relax," he whispered.

Mr. Heart and Ellen ran out to their black SUV. Ellen opened the door for Mr. Heart, who carefully put Sierra in and buckled the safety belt. Mr. Heart and Ellen jumped in. Driving as fast as he dared, Mr. Heart reached the Miami Valley Hospital in record time.

"I'll go in and tell them the problem," Ellen offered. As she ran into the big building, Mr. Heart scooped Sierra up into his arms again and followed Ellen, just as frightened as she was. Ellen told the lady at the desk of their emergency.

"We'll call you when we can see you," the lady said. Her black hair, which had little tight curls in it, was pulled up into a neat little bun on top of her head. Her nametag read Olivia, and her red fingernails stood out on her smooth, white skin. Ellen came over to Mr. Heart, who had set Sierra gently in a chair, and whispered what Olivia had said.

"I hope Sierra is okay! She really took a turn for the worse today," Ellen shook.

Mr. Heart patted her arm. "I think everything's going to be fine," he said, trying to sound reassurring.

Ellen looked at Sierra, who was sitting in a very strange position, coughing so hard tears ran down her flushed cheeks. Mr. Heart hugged Ellen, then walked over to Sierra.

"How are you feeling?" he asked. The look of anguish on Sierra's face answered his question thoroughly.

Then Olivia called over to them, "They can see you now." Pointing with her small hand to a door on the right, Olivia gave them a little smile.

Mr. Heart picked up Sierra again and carried her through the door, Ellen staying close behind him. A small, pudgy man with happy green eyes and short dark hair motioned for them to follow him. He led them into a gorgeous yellow room with flowers painted on the walls.

"Sit her right up here," he said.

Mr. Heart put Sierra on the bed and sat down in one of the three chairs by the wall. Ellen kissed Sierra's cheek and sat next to him. The pudgy little man, whose name was Dr. Mark, came up beside her and took her temperature.

"She's got a pretty high fever," he remarked. Dr. Mark decided to do some tests. After most of them were done, Dr. Mark announced that he would now draw some of "the pretty young girl's" blood. Mr. Heart and Ellen waited anxiously while Dr. Mark pulled blood from Sierra's arm. When he took out the needle, he looked at the blood with shocked curiosity.

"Her blood is... golden," he stated.

"I know, it's always been like that. My wife always assured me it was a benign birth defect ," Mr. Heart said.

Dr. Mark left the room for awhile to test the blood. When he returned, he said, "Well, she's fine. Except for the odd color of blood, of course. But if that's not causing any problems then we needn't worry about it any further."

Ellen gave a sigh of relief, but then looked puzzled. "How could she be fine?" she asked.

Dr. Mark shrugged. "She just is. Her test results prove that. Just treat her symptoms at home. She should probably feel better in a few days."

Mr. Heart thanked Dr. Mark graciously, relieved the bed of Sierra, then followed Dr. Mark and Ellen out of the room. After paying, Mr. Heart brought Sierra back to the car. Sierra seemed to have settled down a bit, but she was still coughing, shaking, heaving and still had tears rolling down her cheeks.

"Dad?" Sierra whispered hoarsely.

Mr. Heart would have turned around if he had not been driving. "Yes, Sweetie?" he asked.

"I... think I... know how... to.. cure... myself," she murmured.

"How?" Ellen asked, instantly curious.

"Take.. me to Emerald... Beach," Sierra replied, with some trouble.

Ellen glanced at Jacob. "Is that the fever talking?"

Mr. Heart said nothing but quickly set his course for the beach and helped Sierra out when they reached it.

"Thank you," Sierra whispered, coughing. Then, walking very stiffly, she made her way over to the water and... walked in. Mr. Heart and Ellen were very much shocked and mystified at her actions. But when Sierra came up out of the water, about ten minutes later, she looked perfectly well and happy. No more coughing, gagging, stiff joints, tight throat or headache. Ellen and Mr. Heart stared at her in amazment.

"How did you do it?" Ellen asked in disbelief.

"It was easy," Sierra replied shortly, the same old twinkle in her blue eyes, but giving no explanation.

Mr. Heart hugged her and twirled her around, while Ellen wiped tears of joy from her face. "I'm so glad you're okay!" she said over and over again.

Mr. Heart decided it was time to go home since it was already 5:49. The three got in the SUV and drove home. Sierra went inside and went up to her room, took a shower and then read for two and a half hours. After dinner, Sierra tramped back up to her room and jumped into bed. She fell asleep right away.

* * * * *

"There is a surfing competition today. She is sure to enter it," Atricia remarked thoughtfully. She, Talulah and all the other sprites were inside the Glass Palace. Atricia was sitting on the pink, glass stool in the kitchen. Talulah was sitting beside her on a green chair, resting her chin in her small hand.

"I do not doubt it," Talulah replied , "She loves surfing very much. But we still do not know how to retrieve her blood."

Cocoa, the sprite who was in charge of the cooking, came over to Atricia and Talulah. "What be you speaking of now?" she inquired. Her used-to-be red hair was now white and very short, but her brown eyes were just as dark as ever and had the same little glint in them which had been there in her younger days. Even though she was older, Cocoa was prettier than most of the young sea sprites in the Glass Palace.

"We are talking over the pretty young girl who surfs quite frequently in this part," Atricia responded.

"And how to see what color her blood is," Talulah chimed in.

"Well, good luck be with you, then," Cocoa replied, and went back to making spaghetti and meatballs.

"There must be a simple way to see her blood color," Atricia mused, half to herself.

Talulah looked over at a shark, which was peering at her through the unbreakable glass wall, and said slyly, "I believe I have an idea."

Atricia looked at the shark, then Talulah, shook her head and said, "No."

Suddenly, a little sprite darted over to them. She was the youngest sprite in the Glass Palace. Her name was Juniper, she had short, pink hair full of springy curls, neon-green eyes and a very dark complexion.

"Hello!" she shouted.

"Hello," answered Talulah.

"How do you do?" Atricia asked warmly.

"Great!" Juniper giggled. Juniper was always full of energy, always yelling, and always eating. If there was an eating contest for 'who can eat the most whatevers', Juniper was sure to win.

"That is wonderful," Atricia smiled

"Can I help you?!" Juniper asked with enthusiasm.

"Oh, yes indeed," Talulah replied, "Help us prick the human girl's foot while she is surfing."

Juniper's eyes got big and wide."Oh boy! I would love to!" she hollered

"Then just follow my lead," Talulah said boldly.

* * * * *

Sierra had indeed signed up for the surfing competition, and she was now ready to begin. With all her friends screaming and cheering, Sierra smiled, waved to them and hopped on her surfboard. Sierra and the other contestants paddled out toward the sea. Then the competition began.

Sierra caught the first wave. It was her favorite kind of wave, called a barrel. Sierra had the best kickflips in the contest and scored many points.

Talulah, Juniper and Atricia were waiting for the young girl. "If she is tough, she will not even notice that she has been pricked," Atricia told them. Talulah and Juniper nodded. They were holding two pins with which they would pierce Sierra's heel. The girl came right next to them, and the two sprites jumped onto her surfboard.

"Now!" yelled Talulah.

Even though she used her loudest voice, she could not be heard by Sierra, who was towering above them, even if she was just 5' 6" tall. Juniper and Talulah jabbed their needles into Sierra's foot, maybe harder than they intended to, and pulled them right back out. Sierra felt it.

"Ow!" she cried. Without falling off, Sierra lifted up her foot and rubbed it, then set it back down. Juniper and Talulah looked at each other. Then they gave one careful glance at the blood on the pins; it was indeed golden. Satisfied with themselves, the two abandoned the pins in the water and jumped in behind them.

Atricia was waiting for them when they came shooting down at a terrific speed. "Well?" she asked.

Juniper grinned and did a little spin. "We got it! We have found her blood color!" she hollered.

"Yes, it is golden," Talulah said, a big smile across her face.

"Oh, how wonderful!" Atricia exclaimed, "Now we must lure her down here... through a dream, as we did when the girl had high fevers."

"We shall do so tonight," Talulah declared

"Yes! Yes!" cried Juniper, "May I help?"

"Yes," Atricia replied, "you may help."

Sierra Heart won the competition. Only five seconds into Sierra's barrel wave, Lilliette had gone hoarse from screaming, so she held up a sign that said:

GO SIERRA!

Vince, Jim, Ellen and Mr. Heart were all cheering for Sierra, too. When Sierra won, she got the trophy, said thank you, and went to join her friends.

"Sierra, you did fabulous!" cried Ellen, throwing her arms around the happy, victorious girl.

"You were incredible," Vince smiled.

"Awesome," Jim said.

"I am so proud of you," Mr. Heart hugged her.

"SIERRA YOU ARE AMAZING!" hollered Lilliette, who had gotten her voice back.

"Thank you guys so much!" Sierra responded tearfully. She hugged them all and treated them to ice cream.

Later, after they had finished their ice cream cones, Sierra decided it was time for her to go home and take a nice warm shower. "I am covered with salt water!" she laughed.

Vince, Lilliette and Jim all bid her good-bye and congratulations. Mr. Heart took Sierra's trophy and put it in the seat next to her while she got in.

"You were wonderful," Ellen smiled.

"Yes," Mr. Heart said, "You were amazing."

"Thanks," Sierra said with a grin. The three fastened their safety belts and drove home. Sierra flew upstairs, trophy in arms, put it on her shelf and jumped into the shower. After she was done and in warm, cozy pajamas, Sierra tramped back down stairs for dinner.

"It's your favorite," Ellen said.

"You mean mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, salmon patties, apple sauce, Coke and pumpkin pie?" Sierra asked, a twinkle in her blue eyes.

"Yes, exactly," Ellen laughed.

Mr. Heart came and sat down at the dinner table. "Is the food done?" he asked.

"Almost," Ellen replied, "You must be patient."

Sierra and her father laughed. "It's hard to be patient when you've surfed all day and haven't had anything to eat except a chocolate ice cream cone," Sierra remarked playfully.

"Oh, my, yes. I should think so," Mr. Heart teased. "Better hurry, Ellen!"

"Oh my goodness, you two are in cahoots!" Ellen exclaimed.

They all laughed. Then Ellen, who had finished cooking the food while the playful conversation had been taking place, brought in the delicious meal. Sierra ate hungrily, as did Ellen and her father, thanked them and went to brush her pearly-white teeth. She laid down and fell into a dreamless sleep... but Atricia, Talulah and Juniper planned to change that soon. Sierra had an even stranger dream than she had had before! Sierra Heart dreamed...

"Follow me! Follow me!" whispered the tiny speck of light into Sierra-in-the-dream's ear. "Come with me, to the Glass Palace," it sang.

"I don't think I know you," Sierra said in reply.

"Yes, you do. Remember me? I am she who brought you other curious dreams of similar nonsense, as you would most likely refer to them as."

"I– wait, no no no! I do remember you! You're that fairy who was in my last weird dream," Sierra recalled.

"Yes!" the fairy cried happily, " Although we call ourselves sprites. Now you must listen closely to my directions. Follow me and remember where I go. Then, once you have exited this dream, you will follow the same path I take you through and use it to find the Glass Palace."

"Okay..." Sierra said slowly. Instantly, the sprite dove off in the same direction she had taken their last meeting, which Sierra remembered very well. When they reached the slimy mass of seaweed, the sprite stopped swimming.

Turning towards Sierra, she said, "Now return to the land where you walk and talk and interact with other human beings, and put this secret passage to use."

"Of course," Sierra said, "I will."

With a quick, happy nod of her head, the sprite lifted up the seaweed blanket and slid halfway under it. "Come this way once you return!" she said. Then the sprite slid all the way under the dark hump of slimy green seaweed.

Immediately, Sierra-not-in-the-dream woke up. "I have to find this Glass Palace!"was her first thought. Springing out of bed, Sierra thought of all the ways the little sprite had taken her. Sierra dressed in record time (about twenty eight and a half seconds), raced down stairs, and scrambled herself some eggs. She ate them quickly, screamed, "Good-bye I'll be back later!" to nobody and darted out the door.

"Oh no!" she thought, "I forgot my swimming gear!" Sierra ran back inside and grabbed her swimsuit. Running back out, she hopped in her jeep and blasted off to Emerald Beach.

Upon reaching the deserted place, Sierra went to the bathrooms and donned her bathing suit. Then she ran to the edge of the beach and dove in. At once, it occurred to Sierra that she could not possibly hold her breath long enough to reach the seaweed pile, and that there might not be breathable air (or air at all) after she passed under it. "Great," she told herself sarcastically, "You're brilliant."

Sierra popped back up, very much frustrated with herself. "Now what?" she thought. Then it came to her. "You are so dumb! Why didn't you think of that before?" she scolded herself. Rushing into the small rental hut, Sierra searched in vain for a scuba tank. "Stupid scuba tanks. Where do these people even keep them?" she said in frustration. Normally, Sierra would have been appalled at herself for saying such things. But she was trying to find this 'Glass Palace' before anyone showed up at the beach, and thought she was running out of time. "I found it!" she hollered aloud, then covered her mouth quickly so as not to be heard. "I found it," she whispered.

It was a pretty lime-green-and-blue scuba tank with white streaks painted on its sides. Sierra put her name on a spare rental form and left an IOU note by it. After anyone used the scuba gear, everything was cleaned and put away for other people's use. Sierra knew how to clean the equipment, so she did not worry about it.

She put the contraption on, then pounced into the water. "Here goes nothing," she said. Sierra had heard that expression used so many times and in so many different ways, that she thought it was hilarious. "Here goes nothing," she said again, for her own amusement.

Sierra swam down, having a little trouble keeping her body under the waves. "Where's gravity when you actually need it?" Sierra chuckled. After much swimming and wondering if her direction was correct, Sierra Heart was rewarded by seeing the old familiar bunch of seaweed on the ocean floor. "Hooray!" she cheered. Sierra, who was a little cautious about the whole thing, lifted up the seaweed and peeked down. She didn't see anything but blackness. "I'll have to find out by... going down," she thought. Sierra took a deep breath and–

–went down through the opening. She slid almost fifteen feet and then felt herself hit something sturdy. Assuming it was ground, Sierra stood up (actually she just put her body in a standing postion but couldn't quite make her feet touch the ground) and looked around for the Glass Palace. There, right in front of her big blue eyes, stood a see-through door. "Oh my," she gulped.

Sierra timidly pushed upon it, hoping fervently that it would not break. It opened quite easily, to her great astonishment. Sierra had anticipated it would be locked. She stepped through the passage way and found herself in a giant tube. A giant, transparent tube. The door closed behind her noiselessly.

Sierra studied her surroundings. It was a curious place indeed; the tunnel-like, glass pathway was rounded like a tootsie roll and similar to a window all the way around. Sierra smiled when she looked down and saw a school of fish swim by. "It really is a Glass Palace!" she thought.

As she walked, Sierra didn't duck. She didn't need to; the tube was tall enough so that Sierra could stand up easily and have a few inches above her head. It was dark. Very dark. The water around the tubr, which was also quite murky, made the blackness of the tunnel worse. Sierra, of course, had turned on her water-proof flashlight and could see very well.

After abandoning her scuba gear, Sierra walked down the long hallway. It seemed to take an eternity. Somewhere in the distance, Sierra heard a noise. It sounded like voices, but Sierra couldn't be sure. "I think my mind is playing some big trick on me!" she decided suddenly, "This is all too terrifyingly fantastic!"

The voices grew louder; Sierra was now sure she heard them. She made out what one of them said.

It said, "She is late. Did you not lead her through the night vision?"

Sierra stopped in her tracks. "Does it, or they, mean me?" she quivered.

Sierra quickened her pace. Up ahead, she saw an enormous door. A very enormous door. So enormous that Sierra was surprised. "I thought that little sprite from my dream lived here," she whispered fearfully, "But I must be wrong, with doors this big."

Sierra lost sight of the door as a big hill came up in front of her; but she was used to it, for the tubes were very twisty and turny. Sierra had known, easily, which way to go because she had not come across any other openings on her whole walk.

Sierra came right up to the door.

She waited a moment before opening it, horrid visions going through her head.

"What if something jumps out... and attacks me? What if it opens into nothing and I step and fall down... into the abyss... and am lost forever? What if –" Sierra stopped herself from thinking anything further. "Just open the door. Nothing to be afraid of," she lied to herself.

Sierra took a deep breath and opened the door.

Within the porcelain curve of an immense oyster shell lounged the most breathtaking creature Sierra had ever seen. It was a mermaid, to be exact, complete with a crimson iridescent tail. Her ebony tendrils cascaded over her shoulders and framed her piercing blue eyes. Sierra recognized them instantly. This stunning creature was Sierra Heart's mother. She was so shocked that she forgot to consider her mom had "died", and instinctively raced over to hug her. Her mother embraced her and they both weeped with joy. But as soon as they touched, Sierra's legs were magically transformed into a chartreuse mermaid tail! Sierra couldn't hold herself up and collapsed on the floor. Her mother gently lifted her up. Sierra was dazed.

Looking at her mother, she gasped and exclaimed, "But you're dead!"

Her mom laughed. "No, Dear, I am very much alive!"

Sierra moaned and closed her eyes. In the state of confusion and amazment, she wasn't thinking properly. "But-" she started, opening her eyes slowly.

"I am quite fine," Mrs. Heart smiled, "You needn't worry about me." She reached down and helped Sierra onto her lap. "Sierra, my dear, will you bring me back home with you?" she asked.

"Um... why, uh, yes, of course," Sierra stuttered.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" Mrs. Heart exclaimed. "I can't wait to see sunlight again."

Then Atricia came over. "Fair ladies," she began, "do you wish to return to the land of the humans?"

"Yes, please, Atricia," Mrs. Heart answered.

With a smile and a nod, Atricia flew over to a shelf and took a small, brown sack. She flew back to Sierra and Mrs. Heart and opened the bag. "This," she explained, "will allow you to fly up to the land of humans. I will sprinkle this dust on you," she showed them the golden formula, "and that should do the trick." With that, Atricia scooped out a handful of the dust and dropped it on the girls' heads. Sierra and Mrs. Heart floated up like balloons. Giggling, Sierra twirled around and grabbed her mother's hands.

"Thank you so much for your help," Mrs. Heart said appreciatively to the sprites.

"Yes! Thank you!" Sierra cried gleefully. She was pulling her mother through the air behind her.

"Now bring me back home, my dear," Mrs. Heart laughed. Sierra and Mrs. Heart darted out of the room, hollering thanks back to the smiling sea sprites. When they flew into the hall, Sierra looked around. It was just as dark as it had been before, but it was nowhere near as creepy. Sierra guessed this was because she was with her mom who made her feel so secure and protected. As they shot down the hallway, the two came across Sierra's old scuba gear.

"Is that scuba gear?" Mrs. Heart asked.

"Yes," Sierra laughed, "it's my scuba gear." Sierra swooped down and picked it up.

She was about to put it on, but Mrs. Heart remarked, "You shouldn't need that. The sea sprites explained how the dust works to me, and it sounded as though it will take care of everything."

"That's good," Sierra smiled. She slung the gear over her shoulder and they continued to make their way down the hall. Finally, they came to the door. Opening it, Sierra and Mrs. Heart touched the wall of water. Then they darted through the doorway into the ocean. After they had shut the door they turned their attention to the hole which went up. Sierra and Mrs. Heart crawled up and emerged forth from beneath the seaweed. Mrs. Heart and Sierra swam up to the surface of the water.

"I see the beach," Mrs. Heart sighed dreamily.

Sierra hugged her. "Let's go," she urged. The two began swimming toward Emerald Beach's sand. When they reached shore, their mermaid tails were gone and in their place were the two ladies' legs. Sierra led her mother down the beach. Then, after minutes of walking and running, Sierra saw their house.

"There's home!" she called out to her mom.

Mrs. Heart's gorgeous face broke into a wide smile. "Wonderful!" she yelled back.

They ran toward the mansion. In their excitement, it seemed an eternity before they reached the front lawn. When they finally stepped onto the porch, Mrs. Heart winked playfully at Sierra. The two began to devise the ultimate surprise for Jacob Heart.

Sierra knocked while Mrs. Heart hid behind a porch column. Mr. Heart opened the door.

"Oh, hi Sweetie," he smiled, hugging her. "Where did you go?"

Sierra hugged him back and answered, "Oh, that. I just went out to get somebody."

Then Mrs. Heart jumped out from behind the plant and the two girls shouted, "SURPRISE!!!!"

Mr. Heart gave a cry and stumbled back. He stood in the doorway speechless and weak.

Mrs. Heart kissed him. "I'm back," she smiled.

He stared at her. "But–"

"I'm completely fine. No need to worry about me," Mrs. Heart kindly interrupted.

Mr. Heart looked at Sierra. Then back to his wife. "Rebecca!" he embraced her.

After much hugging and crying, Mr. Heart turned towards Sierra. A bewildered look filled his eyes.

"Yes," she giggled, knowing exactly what that look of confusion meant. "I went out to get her."

Mr. heart shook his head in disbelief and held open the door for them. Ellen heard the commotion and came running from the kitchen.

"Land sakes!" she hollered, at the sight of Rebecca Heart. Sierra and her mother burst into fits of laughter. Ellen looked at each person in turn, pausing awestricken at Rebecaa "My, my, my..." she shook her head.

Rebecca, with outstretched arms, guided the family to the couch.

"Please," she began, "let me tell my story."

The family sat down together on the sofa.

"No interruptions," Rebecca smiled. Then she took a deep breath and told her tale.

"I am a full-blooded mermaid. I was actually born under the waves. My sister, Jayla, was two years older than me. I don't want to come across as bragging, but it was often thought that I was, by far, prettier than my older sibling.

"Our mother, your grandmother, Sierra, unfortunately, played favorites. I was her favorite daughter, and my poor sister disliked that. I suppose she was jealous. Jayla was always into mischief. I was watched closely by mother, who wanted to be sure her favorite little girl would be as lady-like as possible. But Jayla wasn't watched at all. She was always into some sort of trouble, though she never got punished for it, and one day she even persuaded me to go to the surface of the water with her.

"We got too close to land, I'm afraid, but that was all the better, for that's when I saw your father. Jayla and I saw him walking on the beach. We were very young then and so was he. We both fell in love with him at first glance, but Jayla wanted him so badly for herself that she started to swim toward the beach! I grabbed her arm, trying to stop her.

"That is when she swore eternal hatred for me. 'You'll not keep me from him!' she had shouted, 'Just because you're mother's favorite doesn't mean you can stop me from going to the beach! Let go of me! I hate you!' She threw such a fit of hysterics that I was scared. But I pleaded for her to stop and cried for help, still grasping her arm. By then the man had left the beach and we could no longer see him. So when two or three mermen came to my cries, no one was on the beach to see the scene we were creating.

"Jayla was punished severely by our mother, though she only gave me a mild scolding, which ended in a hug. It was so sad how unfair Mother was to Jayla. Anyway, Jayla ran away. She took many treasures with her, out of pure spitefulness, such as my pearl necklace, my mother's ruby ring, a gold bracelet, and a basket woven of pearls which had been found by my father.

"Oh, did I forget to mention? My father was a wonderful merman, so handsome and smart... kinder than anyone I had ever met. However, he died when I was only fourteen; mysteriously. No one knows exactly what happened.

"Anyway, I started getting into more and more mischief. My mother had begun to weaken and couldn't watch me as closely as she had done before, so I was free! Many mermen fell in love with me, and even asked my hand in marriage! But I turned them all down. All I could think about was that handsome man I had seen on shore and how to win his heart. So one day, I did something no mermaid or merman had ever done before.

"I wished on the Magic Ball. Now that blue, glass ball was the most magical thing in the watery depths! But it was moody. Most certainly moody! If it wasn't in the mood for a pretty young scoundrel, why, then I would be in trouble! But in fact, this might seem strange, I was its favorite mermaid in the ocean. Now don't get me wrong, the Magic Ball is not human. It's not a mermaid or merman, either. It was just a moody little glass ball. A powerful moody little glass ball! It granted any wish you could think of. But nobody hardly dared to wish on it.

"So I went right up to that Magic Ball and told it I wanted to be human. And you know what? It granted my wish! Right there and then! One second I was a mermaid with a long, gorgeous tail, and the next moment I was a human girl all dressed in rags! I didn't mind about the rags, I just minded how I was supposed to hold my breath to get to the surface.

"Mermaids knew how humans can't hold their breath for too long. And even though I was a mermaid, I was now human! Sort of. But I swam as fast as I could with those new legs of mine. They felt kind of strange, and I wasn't sure how to win my man's heart. But the Magic Ball, who liked me a great deal, knew what I wanted. So it set up a sort of 'accidental' meeting between the two of us. I came up out of the water, my black hair streaming out behind me. I stood up quite naturally for a mermaid who had never had legs before. My 'rags' weren't actually rags. It turned out I had had on a pink dress all along! But since I was in the water, it looked all wrinkled up and I had assumed it was rags.

"I was thrilled with my legs, my dress, and I was especially thrilled when I saw your father walking on the beach. I tell you, his eyes popped right out of his head when he saw me! But let's get to the point. We met... you know how it goes... and later he asked my hand in marriage. My, did I ever accept! I was crying and hugging and jumping on him and reacting quite hysterically. But he seemed to like it and we got married. After some time, we had you, Sierra. Our own sweet baby.

"Now, I never explained to my husband why I had really come up out of the water like that! I just told Jacob, your father, that I had been diving in my dress. He always thought it was so funny.

"Now, mermaid's have golden blood, understood? Yes, and, Sierra, you're half mermaid! Fortunately, you were born in human form. If you'd been born as a mermaid, you would most likely have died."

Mr. Heart raised his eyebrows whistled softly. "Two mermaids," he acknowledged quietly.

Mrs. Heart smiled and continued.

"But you didn't, obviously, and so we spent many happy years with you. Then problems started happening. I was a true mermaid; nothing could change that. But I was a mermaid disguised as a human, and nobody knew. I surfed and swam constantly, so I had to be careful not to go below the Depth of Transformation. If a mermaid in human disguise went past it, they would immediately have their tail back. I began to get sick. Even if a pure-bred mermaid who lived on land was always in the water, they would still be very ill. For a mermaid has to frequent the Depth of Transformation to stay healthy. And I had not gone past it in twenty years! You can't imagine how sick I got.

"Mermaid's cannot be out of water indefinitely. When I got sick, however, I told no one the true reason I was so ill. I knew the cure for my sickness. Eventually, I got so sick that I decided to go right to the ocean and jump in."

Sierra raised her hand and Mrs. Heart stopped talking.

"Why didn't you go before?" she asked.

"Because," Rebecca smiled, "I thought I had a chance of getting well. But as I was saying, I was so sick I knew I had to get to the ocean immediately. So I jumped in my car and drove over to the sea. I needed water so badly that I just crashed my car into the waves; I was able to pull myself out of my jeep before I could be injured by any debris. As soon as I hit the water, my legs were instantly transformed into my old mermaid tail. At first, I was unsure of how to use it. But I gradually remembered how and swam around for a few happy hours. When I decided I was well enough to return home, I bumped into someone who I hadn't thought twice about in years. My old sister Jayla! But she had changed a great deal since I last saw her. She had gone from being a naughty, miserable, hysterical teenager to a wicked, cruel, dreadful sea witch!

"Jayla had pet sharks, how she tamed them I don't know, that followed her around everywhere, acting as bodyguards. She instantly locked me in a cage and left it hidden somewhere, her nasty sharks left to guard me. I began to become very, very ill. A mermaid needs water, but they also need sunlight. And where Jayla had left me was far from any sun rays. After a long time of being in that horrid cage, a sea sprite found me! She sprinkled some dust on the lock and I was out of it, boom!, just like that! Then she sprinkled some on the sharks, and they began chasing Jayla around the ocean. No one ever saw or heard of them again.

"The sea sprite brought me back to their palace and they nursed me back to health. I pleaded for them to find my daughter, you, Sierra. And they did... after a few years. But it's so wonderful to be with my family again, in the very same house, on the very same sofa."

Rebecca and Jacob hugged for awhile.

When they finally finished embracing each other, Ellen declared, "It's time to celebrate!"

"Oh, no, please," Rebecca argued, "you shouldn't celebrate my homecoming."

"Celebrate," Ellen insisted firmly.

"Yes," Mr. Heart agreed.

"Oh, alright," Rebecca smiled.

"I'll order Donato's Pizza. You always loved it, Honey," Jacob said, smiling at Rebecca.

"I'll set the table!" Ellen announced.

"Sierra, why don't you call Lilliette, Vince and Jim and invite them over?" Mr. Heart suggested.

"Sure!" Sierra smiled.

"Oh, I've missed so much," Rebecca sighed.

Sierra hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.

"Not all that much," she told her. Sierra thought a minute. "Well, only about four or five years of my life."

The two laughed, and Mrs. Heart kissed Sierra and went upstairs to change.

Sierra waited on the couch until her father was done on the phone. She called Lilliette, Vince and Jim and invited them over, but refused to tell them why her family was having a party.

"You always do keep things from me," Lilliette pouted playfully.

When the three arrived, the pizza had already been delivered and the table set. Sierra greeted them at the door and showed them to their seats.

"Tonight," Sierra announced, a twinkle in her blue eyes, "we have a guest of honor that you probably will be surprised to see."

Rebecca entered the room, looking more beautiful than ever.

"Oh!" Lilliette breathed.

For a minute, no one said anything.

"Who is that?" Vince asked slowly.

"My mom." Sierra pulled out her mother's chair and sat in her own.

"Oh!" Lilliette breathed again.

"Why, Lilliette," Mrs. Heart smiled, "I think this might be the first time you've been speechless, from what I remember of you."

Everyone laughed.

The next day, the happy family decided to work something out.

"I have an idea," Rebecca told them at breakfast that morning.

"What is it?" Ellen inquired.

"From here on out, Sierra and I will go to the beach on Saturdays and visit the Glass Palace. For health reasons," Rebecca added playfully.

"I love it," Sierra grinned.

"Me too," Jacob agreed.

"Me three," Ellen added.

"So it's final," Rebecca sighed happily, "I won't ever run away again. I promise you all."

Rebecca pulled them all into a group bear hug.

"I love you, mom," Sierra whispered.

"I love you, too, Sweetie," Mrs. Heart smiled.

Mr. Heart kissed Rebecca.

"Time for dessert!" Ellen announced loudly.

"Dessert after breakfast?" Sierra asked, puzzled.

"A surprise, then," Ellen replied.

She came out carrying a luscious-looking chocolate cake, decked with turquiose icing and precisely five candles that were patiently waiting to be lit. Ellen set down the cake while Sierra turned out the lights and grabbed a lighter. Rebecca and Jacob looked over as Ellen lit the glimmering candles.

"Make a wish," Ellen told everyone.

Rebecca went first. "Do I tell you my wish?" she asked.

"Why, heavens, no!" Ellen exclaimed.

"It's a logical question," Sierra pointed out, "People don't usually blow candles out on a regular basis."

"But," Ellen countered, "this is not a regular basis."

Rebecca smiled and blew a candle out.

Next Jacob went, then Sierra and, finally, Ellen.

"But we still have an extra candle left. How come?" Sierra asked.

"That's for a promise," Ellen answered. She looked at Rebecca.

"I promise," began Mrs. Heart, "that I will never go anywhere without telling anyone ever again."

The family clapped and Rebecca blew out the last candle. The smoke twisted and curled for a moment, then disappeared forever into the morning air.