I woke up on the shores of Skull Rock when I was only eleven years old. I can recall my first waking moments vividly, the memory overpowering everything else that came before it. I knew so little then. I knew nothing.
Of course, the whole reason I still dream about this moment is because it was the first time I saw him. I could close my eyes and the memory would feel like it was only yesterday.
It was six years ago. In some ways, nothing has changed.
He was a short, lithe little boy dressed in a green vest and earthy brown trousers. He had reminded me of the mischievous sprites my mother had used to read about in my favorite fairytale books, with his sparkling hazel eyes and crooked smile. Maybe it was the familiarity that made me warm up to him so quickly.
The sand had been cold under my back, shivers slinking across my shoulders like snakes. The air had been humid and briny, the cavern full of the echoing rush of the oncoming tide. The tide that I’d washed up on, supposedly. My nightgown was soaked and crusted with the rocky sand.
The boy stood over me, peering at me like I was some oddity he’d never seen before. Once he realized I was awake he gave me a tilted smile, a smile that still warms me to my core. He held out his hand and helped me to my feet, his grip firm and wiry.
I remember feeling bare, standing under his studying gaze in my thin gown and bare feet.
A salty breeze brushed my coal-black hair out of my face, tangled and damp from my mysterious swim.
“My name’s Peter,” the boy said, smiling warmly. I noticed a spindly circle of leaves crowning his head of wild red hair. He looked like the king of the forest.
“I’m Katherine.” I forced the words out of my throat.
“You’re new here. Let me show you around.” Peter grasped my hand and pulled me out of the cavern of Skull Rock, into the sparkling daylight beyond.
I blinked, adjusted my gaze against the brightness of the shining sun, the gleaming water, the glistening waterfalls.
“Welcome to Neverland, Katherine.”
Exactly six years later, I stood in my own room getting dressed for the celebration tonight.
A celebration for me. Six years from the night Peter had found me.
They called it my birthday.
I felt a little too ordinary to have a whole night dedicated to myself, but the pixies insisted otherwise.
Epiphany flitted around my head, twisting my long black strands into coils and plaiting them down my back. To the ungifted eye, she and her friends would look like nothing more than pinpricks of light in all different colors, swirling and dancing through the air. Not actual beings with wings. Most people saw them this way. Only Peter and I could make out the details of their gossamer wings buzzing, flowing velvety hair, and pastel floral dresses. They were the embodiment of nature itself, in all its power. Some might even argue that they were the most powerful beings in Neverland.
However, only I had permission to hear them speak.
“You look stunning, Kat,” Epiphany chirped in my ear, like the sound of birds whistling at dawn. Each pixie sounded distinctly different, like some dialect that labels each level of their social structure.
I smiled at my reflection in the mirror before me, framed with oak. I was dressed in a long white dress, with wild peonies pinning up different layers, creating folds and ripples in all the right places. My amber eyes gleamed, the sunset color of the flowers setting them aglow. A green pixie named Emerald tucked a pure white peony behind my ear, her wings softly brushing against my skin.
One by one, the pixies left, drifting lazily out my open window, admiring their handiwork. Only Epiphany was left, her shifting orange and yellow glow illuminating my room.
“Stunning, as I said,” she told me smugly.
“Yes.” I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as I spun in the mirror. “Thank you,” I said.
She waved her hand, blowing a short lock of auburn hair out of her eyes. “It was nothing, Kat. You know that.” She hovered over my shoulder, landing and crossing her legs daintily at the ankles. “Besides…” she added with a devilish smirk. “Aren’t you looking to impress someone?”
I blushed. “Am I that obvious?”
“Only to someone who knows the signs,” Epiphany sang. She laughed, a sound like wind chimes on a summer breeze.
My face was on fire. “Uh, well-”
“Lucky for you, guys are normally quite clueless when it comes to these things.” She admired her nails against the evening light streaming from the window. “That’s where I come in. I help you look irresistible.”
Well, she was awfully confident in her work. Not sure how to steer the conversation to a less embarrassing topic, I scrambled for words. “Again, um, thank you.”
Epiphany clicked her tongue, rising from my shoulder and trailing lazily to my open window. She smirked at me and made her exit.
Well. One look out the window showed me the sun was setting, the cerulean sky tinged with blush, violet, and strands of gold. A light breeze caressed my cheeks, gently shifting my hair. The smell of the sea swirled into my room, full of tang and salt and the barest, freshest hint of magic.
I was walking on clouds and mists of magic, light and care-free, as I left my room. The door shut softly behind me, and I floated down the forest path leading to the beach.
I’d never seen the forest so empty before. Normally all of its enchanted inhabitants were chattering, buzzing, flickering through the trees. The quiet was almost… nice. Peaceful.
They must all be at the celebration already.
The image of a crowd of animals, pixies, and all my friends waiting for me at the beach’s edge was enough to send me tumbling back to reality. I sped down the pathway, toward the ever lingering scent of the sea.
Peter’s hand was warm as he held mine in his firm grip. He smiled at me, his eyes sparkling with the roaring bonfire near us. Unable to help myself, I smiled right back, resisting the urge to run my hands through his auburn curls.
He lifted our intertwined fingers into the air, high above our heads. The answering roar from the crowd brought a grin to my face. I could see so many familiar faces. My rag-tag family (they called themselves the Lost Boys these days- I think they liked the mysterious ring to it), was closest to me. I saw Parker and Miles and Aiden and Chase and I could probably go on forever with their names. I still didn’t know them all as well as I’d have liked to. Even after six whole years, growing up among them. I could still see a few unfamiliar faces.
I supposed it was to be expected, though. The Lost Boys were always expanding, more and more troubled souls needing saving. Peter had a natural gift, it seemed, for helping the helpless. Out of all the souls on this enchanted island, I was probably the only one who Peter hadn’t saved.
Which explains why they all seemed to look up to me.
Peter lowered our hands. Behind us, the sun was dipping into the ocean. It scattered forlorn shadows across the beach as the sky alighted with vivid colors. Rich golds, pale blues, blushing pinks. As if I hadn’t already been doing enough blushing.
My heart thudded painfully loud as I took note that our fingers were still twined together.
“On this night, six years ago,” Peter began, his voice carrying over the beach, “Lady Katherine washed up on our shores.”
The crowd of hundreds might have been glued to me, but I was riveted to Peter. A small breeze rustled his hair, the strands flashing bronze in the light.
“Our Kat,” he proclaimed. Then, he turned to face me. “My Kat.” He was talking quietly now, private. I could feel his voice in my bones. “Kat with the softest ebony hair. With the most brilliant smile and laughter that could face storms.” He gently lifted my chin. “And in your eyes- I see a piece of the sky. A sky so beautiful and vast, I could fly in it forever.”
I can’t seem to catch my breath, looking into his warm brown eyes. He’s a breath away. My wildest dreams are a breath away.
Then he straightens.
I can’t help but be disappointed.
Peter stroked his thumb over my knuckles, keeping my hand in his grasp. In spite of myself, I feel soothed. Comfortable. “So what’s next?” I asked him softly.
His eyes gleamed. “I have something important to show you. Tonight, after the celebration.”
“Really?” My heart beat in a steady thrum of excitement. “What is it?”
He smiled. “It’s a surprise. Meet me where it all began, midnight.”
With that, he let go of my hand. My questions died on my tongue as I watched him dissolve into the now-mingling party guests. At the sudden weight on my shoulders, I realized that some small dreamy part of me had been hoping Peter would spend the party with me, at my side.
I silenced that part and shoved it to the farthest corner of my mind. I was being ridiculous. Besides, he had a lot on his plate, being ruler over Neverland. He must have urgent matters to attend to. Something I could never understand, never being a ruler in my entire life. I am obviously far from the most important thing on his mind. I didn’t mind. I didn’t.
After all, he wanted to meet me tonight. Where it all began. He must mean Skull Rock.
Straightening, I decided I could wait until after the party.
“That’s right, girl!” a chirpy voice sounded in my ear. “You’re a strong, independent woman who don’t need no silly man.”
I slowly turned my head, lifting an eyebrow at Epiphany hovering over my shoulder. She was a bright, ethereal yellow. “You read my mind,” I said with a smile.
“My supernatural senses tell me the meeting will be well worth the wait.”
I smirk. “I’m glad I can trust your supernatural instincts, Epiphany.”
She examined her nails. “Most reliable source of intellect in all the land, of course.”
I grin. “Well, what do you want to do first?”
She stands on my shoulder, hands on hips, examining the celebration around us. “Those snack tables sure look lovely… Oh! Those guys are handsome. You could demand they sing to you, you know. Serenade you for your birthday. Wouldn’t that be hot…” I don’t even have time to respond before she moves on. “Okay, let’s go with the card tables. You’re the best at those, and I really feel like I need to establish my territory as your magnificent wing-woman.”
Epiphany chuckles to herself. “No pun intended.”