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The Years In-Between Summers

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Ly’s first, glorious summer of freedom has a few flaws. Like the fact that they were briefly stalked by a masked creeper, or that it was really hard to keep magic a secret, or that getting home again involved walking for hours and hours to get to another portal since they failed to re-open the first one. But the biggest ogre on the ice-cream is this: the summer ends.

”I’ll see you next year,” Ly promised the other kids, and had no idea if that’s true. They hugged everyone and awkwardly distracted people from asking for a phone-number or wondering why their parents didn’t show up to retrieve them.

Ly doesn’t have an electrical phone, and even if they did it probably wouldn’t work across dimensions. They’re strictly forbidden from making any Nugget-calls, and can’t even send letters. If Mom doesn’t let Ly go back to camp next summer, they’ll never see their friends again. And it’s not that Mom has really said no. She was even sort of impressed by all the improvement they’ve made! But she hasn’t said yes, either. She says ”maybe” and ”we’ll see” and ”if you get good grades.” Ly knows better than to trust it.

So summer is over and Ly is back in the Witching Realm. Back with Mom and her nagging and fame. They start High School and on the first day three different teacher’s feel the need to say ”oh, you’re Mila’s child!” in front of the whole class.

So yeah. Everything sucks.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

It takes Ly a while to remember that they did, in fact, make one friend at camp who is also back in the Witching Realm. They only knew Harland for a few days, and not very well. But he’s here! That has to count for something. Ly still has the scale and the messaging spell comes easy to them now, even over a distance.

”Um, hey, Harland? It’s Ly. From this summer. I just wanted to talk, it’s fine if you’re busy or… yeah.”

Harland is a few years older than them and a Moss and everything. He might not want to bother with a little Witch kid, now that he’s home.

”Ly, hi, of course,” Harland’s voice answers in their head. ”It’s no trouble at all. You really helped me out, and did you know your Mom gave me her autograph? She’s so amazing! I mean, you know that, she’s your Mother. You’re so lucky!” Harland laughs awkwardly. Ly feels like they have to swallow down a stone to get any words out.

”Sure. Lucky.”

They make plans to meet up that weekend. Ly doesn’t know if they should look forward to it, or dread it. They met Harland in the Human Realm, where they got to be a normal kid for once. In a way they knew he was a Mila-fan before they even meet him, but they’d managed to forget.

Everyone is always so interested in Mom. The only time they ever pay attention to Ly is when they expect them to grow up just like her. It never seems to occur to them that Ly might want to be their own Witch. But they did get to make choices for themself this summer. A whole lot of important choices. They were off on their own and they totally didn’t expose the Witching Realm to the Humans (well, mostly) and they had a good time. They’re a different person than they were in the beginning of the summer. More mature and independent and capable. Harland should see that, too. Ly isn’t just a little kid who happens to have a famous Mother. They have a bunch of merit badges and Human friends and when they grow up they can become whatever the flipping pancake they want.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Seeing Harland again is awkward. He’s so tall, and he talks exactly as much about the fantastic Mila as Ly feared he might. At least Ly can fairly easily distract him by asking about Harland’s own dreams of cosmetics and fame. Harland talks and talks, and draws logo designs in the wet ground by his lake. He never once asks if Ly has any dreams of their own. But that’s okay, Ly tells themself. They’re only thirteen and they don’t even really have a dreams more specific than ”get to summer camp next year.” Maybe even ”keep going every year and become a counselor when you’re too old to be a camper.” They’re not like Mom or Harland or even the twins who seem to just know exactly what they want from the get-go.

”And I was thinking, if I could really get a trend started among the Moss…” Harland babbles. Ly nods along, not really listening. They mostly just feel sorry for themself.

”Be the change you wanna see in the world,” they say when Harland takes a pause. It’s an expression they picked up at camp, and they think it’s kinda neat.

”Exactly!” Harland exclaims. ”It’s like Mila - your Mom, I mean - said in that interview a while a back: if nobody is doing what you want them to, you have to do it yourself.”

If nobody is doing what Mom wants, Ly thinks. She just nags at them until they do. Well, unless it’s Gadgy, anyway.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Ly spends a lot of time in the woods, mostly where the altar that opened the first portal is. They like to pretend they’re back at camp, where they belong. For a while they tried to have pretend conversations with their friends, where Ly would talk out-loud and imagine what they would say in return. But Nugget kept answering and then said the game was stupid, so Ly tried to do it mentally instead. But it’s much harder to keep track of conversations when it’s all in your head, so they gave up and just talked to Nugget instead.

Nugget remembers camp too, after all. Even if he mostly wants to lovingly describe the food until Ly gets hungry.

”You know,” Nugget says one day. ”We were told Norm lives at camp all year. If you opened the portal and popped over, I’m sure he would cook for us.”

And Ly is so, so tempted. No matter that they don’t know how to open the portal or how to get back home. No matter that it’s almost winter and no-one will be there, except Norm. They could just live at camp too and help him with the garden.

”Mom would come get us, somehow,” they reluctantly say. ”And then she’d never let us go back.”

”Hmpf,” Nugget says. ”Well… Yes, probably.”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

”Harland,” Ly says one day. ”How do you deal with being different from the other Mosses?”

And Harland shrugs. He removes dirty seaweed from between some scales, and Ly remembers how happy he was with a clear lake. He doesn’t talk about the Human Realm much, and he never brings it up first, but Ly knows he misses having a lake of his own. He wasn’t surrounded by new friends like Ly, but at least he was far away from the things bothering him here.

”I don’t know,” Harland says. ”Sometimes it’s hard. But I keep trying. And I know I only met your Mom once, and that I don’t actually know her. But she really helped. She gave me a dream, you know? Something bigger to aspire to.”

”Yeah,” Ly says, feeling a little choked up. ”Sure. She… she does that to people, sometimes.”

And Harland is quiet for a while. He looks at them in a serious way that he never really has, before.

”Does she do that for you?”

”Not… really.”

”Oh. Well, she’s your Mother. I imagine it’s different.”

”Mm.”

They’re quiet again. Then Harland says:

”I’ve heard some rumors about Witches living hidden in the Human Realm. Other than the creep, I mean. Do you think a Moss could do that, too?”

”Maybe.” Ly hesitates. ”Wouldn’t you be lonely, though? You can’t just walk up to the Humans and start talking to them. Would… I mean. Wouldn’t you miss your family?”

”Maybe,” Harland repeats. He shrugs. ”Then again, maybe by the time I’m an adult I might find some Moss like me to come with.”

Ly doesn’t think they could wait for adulthood to go back. But at least Harland is older; he would have less time to go.

”Sounds like a plan,” they say. ”If your cosmetics thing doesn’t work out.”

”Oh, it’s gonna work out. I’ll be a super star one day.”

”Sure.” Ly laughs. ”Give me your autograph so I can say I had it before you got famous.”

Harland smiles wide and signs their grimoire. They draw some sparkles and a tiny flower by the signature. It makes something in Ly feel warm and light, just to look at it.

Spring flowers are popping up the grass beside them, not quite as bright as the flowers in the Human Realm.

A few more months, Ly reminds themself. You don’t have to wait to become an adult, you can go back soon. But Mom is still just saying maybe, and they don’t know anything for sure.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

It’s almost June when Mom says, suddenly:

”Don’t you want to go to a normal summer camp? You used to talk about that all the time.”

It’s like a block of ice has appeared in Ly’s stomach.

”I like Camp W,” they say, trying to keep their voice normal and mature. ”I made friends there.”

”It’s such an unnecessary risk. If you absolutely have to go to camp, there are perfectly fine ones here.”

Ly manages not to remind her that the Witching camps have never once been ”perfectly fine” in her eyes before. That she could always list a hundred reasons for why Ly should stay home and study instead. They send a desperate glance to Gadgy.

”Taking care of friendships one has developed is important,” Gadgy says. ”As is making choices when you grow older. The Human camp worked out well last summer, and we know Ly would be looked after there. They wouldn’t be left to fend for themself.”

”Unnecessary risks,” Mom insists again, but she sounds a little less stern. Ly stays silent. If anyone can win this fight, it’s Gadgy.

And, as it turns out, she does win the fight. Ly is officially allowed to go back to camp, provided they get at least a B in every subject. As they are surprisingly good at magic these days it feels like an easy goal to meet. Ly thinks about calling Harland to gush about the good news, but decides it would be insensitive. Harland isn’t going with them, after all. He might not return until he’s an adult, and maybe not even then.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

”Tell me all about it,” Harland demands, after Ly gets back from their second summer at Camp W. Ly smiles wide enough to show off the gap where Miles accidentally knocked out one of their teeth. Double ultra jam ball got banned as well, but the bros invented a new sport and Ly enthusiastically helped. They also discussed witchy-ness with Sophie, science with the twins, camp history with Ruby, acting with Sid and helped Wilfred come up with increasingly wild escape plans. They ate great food (and had great food fights) and told the ghost story of the mighty squirrel, and got to know some new campers.

”It was perfect.” They let out a dreamy sigh, just thinking about it. ”At first it was a little weird, because everyone’s gotten taller - well, not Ruby or Wilfred, really - and we haven’t seen each other in so long. But then Sid - I think it was Sid? - someone yelled ’hug party!’ and everything was back to normal. For us, anyway. I think the new campers might have felt a bit left out. But we did a bunch of get-to-know-you games and soon they were just part of the gang. And I practiced a bunch of new spells, and no-one found out. No-one that didn’t already know, at least, so that was fine. And then…”

Ly goes on and on for a few minutes before it occurs to them that Harland hasn’t gotten a single word in. They awkwardly pulls the story of Miller’s stunt that landed him in a wheelchair to a close, without even explaining any of the wild and improbable things he and the bros then went on to do with said wheelchair.

”So, um, how was your summer, Harland?”

Harland’s indulgent smile drops a little.

”It was nothing special,” he says. ”Just a normal summer, at home with the siblings. One of the oldest moved to another lake to get married, but otherwise things have been pretty much the same as always.”

”Oh.”

”Yeah.”

”Congratulations to them?”

”Thanks. I’ll tell him you said so.”

Awkward silence.

”I was thinking,” Ly impulsively says. ”Would you like to come for dinner someday? You could meet my Mom again. Well, maybe, unless she goes on a last-minute trip somewhere.”

”Really?” Harland looks ridiculously happy, like Ly had promised him his very own, clean lake.

”Sure.”

Ly thinks about telling him that they checked up on the lake during the summer, and that the house Harland used to live in is in good condition. But for some reason, they can’t quite get the words out.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Ly regrets inviting Harland. Not only does a Moss guest mean that they’re eating seaweed and fish (never a favorite of Ly’s) but they have to sit in-between a Harland in full fanboy mode and a Mila who keeps switching between ”graceful celebrity Witch” and ”Mother smug that one of her kid’s friends likes her.” Gadgy isn’t even there to make it more bearable, as she’s visiting a sick friend.

Ly wishes they were sick instead. It is quite possibly the most awkward dinner that had ever happened on any plane, and neither Harland nor Mom seems to even realize it.

Ly is never inviting anyone home, ever again. Particularly not Harland, who apparently can’t play it cool for a single second.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

There’s no lingering maybe’s or fights about Ly going to Camp W for a third summer. Even Mila seems to except that it’s just going to happen. Instead she takes the initiative to make a new, more permanent portal so that Ly has an easy way there and home.

People aren’t supposed to make such portals, but Mila is a charismatic super star. If she brings some powerful Witches together and informs them that they have been granted the honor of working on this exclusive, top secret project with her, not a single one of them will question their good luck.

The new portal is hidden in Norm’s garden shed, which he gives permission to. The place is already chosen when Ly gets told of the project at their fifteenth birthday. They think about how convenient it might have been to place the portal in the lake, so that Harland could easily use it too, but they don’t want to seem ungrateful when their Mother has suddenly turned so kind. So they don’t say anything about it. And for weeks, they don’t know how to bring it up to Harland at all.

”Um,” is how they eventually start. ”Harland, eeeh…” And then they don’t know how to go on.

”Yes?” Harland asks, smiling.

”Nothing.” Pause. ”No, I mean, not nothing. It’s just… Um…”

It has never been so hard to talk to Harland before, and Ly doesn’t understand why. The more curious Harland looks, the harder it is to put what they want to say into words.

”You know…” they try again. ”About, um, camp.”

”Yes, Ly, I know about camp.” At least he looks amused, not like he thinks Ly is an idiot or like he’s burning with jealousy over how much more time at camp Ly has had compared to Harland’s few days in his lake.

”There’s gonna be a new portal!” they finally manage to spit out. ”Right there, I mean. And it’s not in the water but it’s not super far, and I was thinking we could get there before camp starts and, ah, disguise you? Somehow? And I could visit you in the lake so you wouldn’t get lonely, and you could go back home the same way. If you… Do you want that?”

Harland blinks a few times. Then he smiles, and oh, it’s a different smile than the ones Ly has seen before.

”I think I would like that,” he says.

And everything feels warm and bright like the Human Realm.

”Cool,” they say. ”So that’s… That’s that, then. Nice. Good.” They make a face and force themself to stop talking.

”Good,” Harland agrees. ”If I can just get a shower before I go into the lake.”

”Yes, sure, absolutely.”

Ly has a clearly undeserved badge in their grimoire proclaiming them a ”good talker.” They consider if they should turn it back in. Ruby ought to know (or be able to make up) the rules for such things. In the meantime, they manage to keep the blush mostly to their ears and smile at Harland. They’re going to have a camp summer together. More for real, this time. And maybe they can visit on other times of the year, too. It could be the start of something amazing.