I: he said

Moonflowers is about an Irish guy, an American girl, and the dog they rescue. Who is secretly the girl’s presumed-dead father.

...Yeah, it’s that kind of story.

And by story, I mean "fairy-tale."

And by fairy-tale, I mean "the unsettling kind."

---

Malachy sees a small slim shape of a girl, just ahead of him on the hiking path. She’s all but hidden in the remnants of dusk until the wind sends her hair up. Her shirt flickers pale against the Cliffs of Moher.

He can’t help reciting the moon’s prayer for some reason, lilting like he’s seven or eight again. “O moon so fair, may it be so, as seasons come, as seasons go.”

“The new moon was Wednesday, Mal,” Logan reminds him, with a tug at his sleeve.

“Pfft, I know.” He ruffles Logan’s hair. “It’s just her shirt looks a bit like the moon, now that it’s dark.”

“But she’s not the moon, she’s a person--”

“Hush up, it’s slippery.” Hand out in case Logan slips, Malachy watches his brother pick through the loose patch, and sighs when it starts to drizzle. “Great. It’s not supposed to rain till Monday. Right then, Logan--we should be able to drive home soon, but if it rains much harder, go to Plan B.”

“We get to stay in the tower?!”

“Nonono wait!” He grabs Logan’s arm just in time, though it’s a good few moments before his heart slows down. “Good god. I don’t know why you like staying there so much.”

“Because camping is fun!”

“Logan, camping is when you have a tent,” Malachy shoots back. “An old tower with bird shit all over it is an emergency, not camping.”

“Da said no cursing,” Logan tells him, but at least he stays careful until they reach level ground.

“Logan, it’s been--”

“He still said no cursing.”

The girl is ahead of them, maybe a little farther now, and her hair flies like a banner.

---
They need to stay in Moher Tower after all, but it’s not like Mal didn’t expect it. He brought a pocket-torch to keep his iPhone from getting wet, and they have enough extra food to last the night if they need it. When they reach the mostly-dry tower, Logan drenches his sandwich in mustard and waits patiently for a story after he finishes.

“One minute,” Mal says around the second-last bite.

“Mam said no talking with your mouth full.” Logan huddles against the old rock, and Mal swallows out of guilt.

“Okay. One minute.” The last bite is sharp and dry in his throat, but at least Logan comes a little bit closer.

---
“You be good, boys,” Carrie wheezes, and ruffles Mal’s hair. “Especially you.”

“I can’t do this,” Mal pleads. “Mam, please. I can’t take care of--”

“Where on earth did you get blond?” She tries to hold her hand in Mal’s hair, like when he was five, but she starts shaking from the effort and nestles back into the blanket. “I suppose it’s from Greg, but...”

“What?”

It’s too long after he asks that when she laughs gently. “My little prince,” she says.

And Mal knows she can’t hear him anymore, but he wants to stay here--or he wants to get Logan, or Uncle Greg, or the nurse--but he also wants her to get better, because if she gets through the fever, she should be fine.

He wants a lot of things right now, but they’re all shoving around his head and he can’t decide which goes first--

---
“--said a minute, Mal,” Logan is saying, and Mal clears his throat.

“I know,” he exaggerates annoyance. “Just trying to remember a story that you won’t finish.”

They grin, and then Logan spots something. “Hey, it’s the other girl! Come on, it’s less wet over here!” He waves her over.

She has a silvery sweater on; like his and Logan’s windbreakers, it’s better than nothing but still ill-equipped for rain. She is tiny, and looks Asian, but he can’t quite pinpoint where. Wild tangled waves cling to her hips, once she reaches the shelter of the ledge.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” she says. Her accent is mostly American, but she speaks carefully like an English learner. It’s strange, but he decides not to say anything. “I’m Alima Song.”

“No worries. My name’s Malachy Bray, and this is my brother Logan.” He shakes her hand--small and delicate, with a ridiculously hard grip. (He still can’t tell where she’s from, but he doesn’t want to ask right away.)

“You’re American!” Logan states, and she chuckles.

“Really? Thanks, Logan, for saying so.” She stumbles over the strange order, but Logan doesn’t notice.

“Did you take a trip here? How long are you staying?”

“I moved over to here, actually.” Another not-quite-natural sentence. “Thought about a change, mostly. Ireland made as much sense as any other country.”

Mal wonders if the school system is that bad in America now, but he decides not to say anything--he wasn’t exactly a writer himself, after all. “So Alima, how do you like it here?”

“It’s nice. I didn’t expect you’d have electricity outside of Dublin.”

He’s so surprised that his laughing echoes through the tower.

“Was it that funny?” Alima asks, and Logan shakes his head, but Mal nods.

“It is!” he assures her between spurts of guffawing. “Especially if you deal with tourists! God, Mag’s gonna love you!”

“Ohhh.” She shakes her head, smiling, and sits down with them. “Who’s Mag?”

“Margaret, my friend from school. She’s a tour guide now. Haaaates the dumb ones.”

“Don’t we all.” She takes out a container from her oversized canvas satchel, taps it with one finger for the heating spell, and digs in to the mash of rice. It smells meaty and warm.

Logan is indignant and smacks his shoulder. “Maaaal! We could have brought more food! Why did you just make sandwiches?”

“The heating spells wore off,” Mal retorts. “I’m not resetting one or two lunchboxes just to have the rest of them wait at home.”

“Fine.” He tries not to sulk, which is commendable.

“Oh, wait,” Mal recalls. “Do you still want a story?”

“No, I’m okay.” Logan turns to Alima. “So where did you live in America?”

“California. All this rain feels like winter.” She grimaces when the wind shifts, and moves left so a lip of stone can shield her. After running her fingers through her hair, she starts wrangling it into a braid.

“Really? I thought it was sunny all the time.”

“That’s south California; north California is rainy about half the year. Ow.” She’s hit a tangle.

“Did you live in San Francisco?” Logan asks.

“I lived an hour out from it, actually.” She looks up and moans. “They said it might be chilly after sunset. Not that we’d be drowning on a giant cliff. I left my umbrella at the inn.”

“We can’t tell the weather half the time, either,” Mal jokes.

“It reminds me of home,” Alima says, and ties off her braid. Even wet, it’s at least as thick as her wrist. Logan doesn’t catch the flicker of loss on her face, but Mal does.

The rain falls, but the stone feels warm.

---
Close to nine o’clock, the storm lets up after three hours. On the drive to Mal and Logan’s house, they find out that Alima is nearly three years older than Mal, that she is half-Filipino and half-Chinese, and that she does not talk about her parents. (Logan doesn’t notice the last one. Mal does.)

It’ll take about an hour for the heater to dry their clothes off, so Mal puts the kettle on to make tea for him and Logan, plus coffee for Alima. “Do you two want scones, or just some biscuits?”

“Scones!” Logan, as usual.

“Biscuits, please.” She sips her coffee black, then stirs one spoon of sugar in. When Mal pours his and Logan’s tea, she looks at it oddly. “What kind of tea is that? It’s green, but not the same as actual green tea.”

“Oh. Nettles,” he replies. “I needed to save money, and keeping nettles in the back was cheaper than buying tea. Just got used to it after a while.”

“Mm,” she empathizes. “When I was in college, I ate almost nothing but Ramen for lunch and dinner for half a year because I needed gas money. That sodium was not good for my heart.”

“You had a heart attack in your twenties?!” Mal spills a bit of tea on the couch’s arm.

“Not technically, but according to the doctor, I sped things up about twenty or thirty years. Plus I was always angry and tired.”

Once their clothes are mostly dry, Mal checks the time: Ten-thirty. “I can take you back to the Miller’s Mount after you’re done, or you can just stay the night,” he offers.

“It’s fine--I’ll take a cab or something.” She flicks her hair off her shoulder; still wet. “Thanks, though.”

“You can’t wander this close to the town wall alone,” he tells her. “I wouldn’t mind if it was daytime, but night is entirely different.”

“Drunk Irishmen?” She grins, but it falls when Mal shakes his head.

“The Folk.”

“Ah.” She swallows. “I can just turn my sweater inside out.”

“That doesn’t ward the Folk off, it only makes sure they can’t hurt you. Salt or iron keeps--you’re not waiting outside,” he tells her when her mouth opens.

---
Logan fell asleep despite his attempts to stay awake, so Mal takes him to his room and tucks him in before grabbing a jacket from his own closet.

"What happened? To your parents?" Alima asks, and flinches. "Sorry."

"What happened to yours?" He returns, but gently, and he shrugs his jacket on.

Neither of them can manage to answer, at least not now.

(But maybe that is the answer.)

Next Chapter: II: she said