Peter is plotting his retaliation against the latest bombing. Neverland needs an army, and Peter Pan is certain children will join him once they know what is at stake. The lost boys and girls are planning an invasion in suburbia to recruit, but in order to deliver their message, they will need the help of an old and dangerous associate—the infamous Pied Piper.
Hunting him down will require a spy in in the real world, and Gwen soon finds herself in charge of locating the Piper and cutting an uncertain deal with him. She isn’t sure if Peter trusts her that much, or if he’s just trying to keep her away from him in Neverland. Are they friends, or just allies? But Peter might not even matter now that she’s nearly home and meeting with Jay again.
The Piper isn’t the only one hiding from the adults’ war on magic though, and when Gwen goes back to reality, she’ll have to confront one of Peter’s oldest friends… and one of his earliest enemies.
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She knew she could walk two miles in forty minutes, so she was confident that even with the deterrent of the dark she would still be able to make it flying. Retracing the steps she and Peter had taken was impossible, but she had her cell phone and its GPS at her disposal. She tried to set up navigation to plot a course for Lake Agana State Park, but “flying” wasn’t a transportation option. It was too dark to find the walking trails, so she settled for watching her little blue GPS dot move across the screen’s map as she headed toward the lake.
Once she was confident of her direction, she glided through the trees like a bird of prey on holiday. She was more excited than she’d been in months, knowing she zoomed toward Jay. She was sneaking out to see a boy! Gwendolyn Hoffman, of no reputation at Polk High School, was flying through the forest on her way to meet with an attractive senior boy. It didn’t register in her giddy mind that the flying should have been what felt impossible and exciting. She managed to reach the lake without running into any major tree branches, and then flew around the edge of the elongated lake much faster without the trees to dodge in the moonlight. She wasn’t brave enough to cut straight across—should her flight give out, falling in to the bitter cold of the lake water would be disastrous.
As she approached the grassy bank of the eastern shore, she fell onto her feet and jogged the rest of the way toward the maple tree where she was almost certain a young man leaned against the trunk. She felt fearless. If it wasn’t Jay, she knew she could fly away.
She passed a picnic bench and watched as part of the maple’s shadow peeled away. Jay walked over, her cardigan sweater in his hand.
“Hey,” he called.
Gwen’s heart stopped, and it almost stopped her feet with it. “Hey, Jay.”
He held out his arms—a noncommittal invitation for a hug. She was happy to walk into his arms. First and foremost, they were friends, weren’t they?
“How have you been?” he asked, his voice full of curious excitement. “What’s happened to you?”
“I’ve been great,” she gushed. “How are you? What happened at the party? I’m so sorry I bailed on you!”
She pulled out of his arms a little, just to see his face, but Jay took it as a signal that the hug was over. He let go of her and was empathic as he told her, “No, don’t think twice about it. I’m glad you got out. That was some scary shit.” He shook his head, recalling the traumatic night.
“What happened after I left? What did the cops do?”
“You’re not going to believe this,” Jay explained, “but they left.”
“They just left?”
“They didn’t even confiscate the alcohol! They didn’t ask for any names or make any threats… except for when you vanished. They wanted to know who you were.”
This was discouraging news. “Oh.”
“We didn’t tell them,” Jay insiste. “When they asked me where you went, I told them you must have gone out on the roof and down to the porch to get away. I said I didn’t know who you were, that you had said your name was Sarah, and I thought you were a friend of Troy’s. He had no clue who you were, but then everybody got the drift and pretended to realize you were some weirdo who had just crashed our party.”
“And then what happened?”
“They told us to knock it off and sent everyone on their way home, but that was it. Just a warning. When the officer who found us first came back down, they grilled us really hard about some missing kid. I guess they had bigger fish to fry. The other one went up and searched, but neither of them could find anything. They didn’t care about anything else.”
Gwen wandered closer to the tree and sat down against it. “That actually makes a lot of sense,” she told him. Remembering how much trouble Jay, Claire, and everyone could have gotten into, she shuddered and apologized, “I’m so sorry.”
Jay looked confused, and Gwen regretted even broaching this conversation.
“What do you mean? Do you know who they were looking for?”
She grimaced and admitted, “I think they were looking for me; they just didn’t expect me to be so old.”
His eyes narrowed, and his tone became cautious and serious. He hunched down beside her. “Are you in trouble, Gwen?”
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she burst. “I just might have aided in the abduction of my little sister…or run away with her, depending on how much autonomous decision making you attribute to children.”
“You have a sister?” Jay sank down, sitting beside her under the maple tree.
“Yeah. Rosemary is eight. She’s adorable. So when my decision was to let her run away or go with her, I went with her.”
“So you’ve just been on the lam with a fourth grader all this time? I knew better than to believe everyone who figured you were sick. Apparently, your parents have been telling people you have mono.” He looked amused. “I’ll give you credit—you’ve got guts to just bail on school.”
Gwen hadn’t stopped to look at it in that light. “It just kind of happened. I mean, nothing’s more important than school, and I know I’m supposed to be sending out college apps next year, but… “
“Family is more important.” Jay was adamant. “It sounds like your sister’s got some serious issues with authority, and she’s dragging you along with her. Of all the reasons I’ve heard for dropping out, I think that’s the best.”
“I don’t know. I’ll go back.” Wasn’t that a reality? Sooner or later, everyone wandered home from Neverland. She’d heard one of the officers say that himself. Had she really abandoned high school? Was she going to have to be one of those weird GED kids when she got back to reality?
“Okay, taking a semester off then. That’s more reasonable.” He laughed. “So, are you going to tell me what happened after I left you upstairs at the party, or are you going to try to maintain this alluring air of mystery? I have to warn you, if you pick mystery, I’ll still try to figure you out, and I’m not too bad with this brain of mine.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to… but you have to promise not to get mad when you don’t believe me.”
Jay looked both skeptical and amused. “I can promise I won’t get mad, but I can’t promise I won’t believe you. I’m sorry to inform you, but I’ve already started believing in some of your unbelievable things.”
She giggled. He was using that word again—unbelievable. She was unbelievable. “Like what?”
“Like how you got out of the house from upstairs when there’s no way in hell you could have gotten on the roof and down off the porch.” He gave her a severe look, conveying he was onto her impossibilities, even if he still had no idea what those impossibilities were.
“You say that like you think I just flew away.”
“At this point, that’s looking like one of the more reasonable explanation. For a long time, I thought you were still upstairs, hiding somewhere. Once everyone left, I called for you and expected you to come out… but you were just gone.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to explain,” she whispered.
“It’s fine. I enjoyed the puzzle, wondering how this beautiful, mysterious girl had disappeared. So correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this has something to do with it… “
From out of the letterman jacket he was wearing, Jay pulled a small sandwich bag that was empty but for a little bit of sparkling substance in its corner. A mix of green and gold, Gwen recognized Dillweed and Hollyhock’s pixie dust.
She was impressed with him. There wasn’t a lot of pixie dust collected, and she knew the fairies would have left little more than what he had managed to scrape up. He’d caught her red-handed in something she wasn’t ashamed of—the sensation was unfamiliar. “You’re really bright, Jay. You sure you want to know all this?”
“Whatever is going on with you, I want to know.” He reached out and took hold of her hand. “I told you, I can keep a secret.”