Chapter One

The Idealist and the Realist

"I've always adored this woods," Aislin said to her friend, Ellen, as they walked through the dense forest. "Ever since Papa told me tales about the mystical woodland fairies that run about creating mischief, I liked to run in here and believe that I myself was one of those sprites."

"You are so lucky, Aislin."

"What do you mean?" She picked a few wild flowers and wove them into her tousled auburn curls and then proceeded to do the same to Ellen's stringy dirty-blonde locks.

"You are so lucky to have a father who indulges your romantic mind. Father always has to find the logic in everything. Once, when I thought there was a monster lurking under my bed, Father had to give me a whole lecture on why monsters and the like could never exist. Since I was four I never had any imagination."

"Poor Ellen!" Aislin exclaimed with a mock pout.

Ellen responded, with great seriousness, "I'm not asking for your pity."

Aislin continued the game, "And I'm not giving it."

"I swear, sometimes you act as if you're seven and not seventeen."

"Oh come, join the fun!" In a flamboyant whirl of petticoats and gingham skirts, Aislin sat herself down on a tree stump.

"Why am I even your friend?"

"Your father corrupted you more than I gave him credit for."

"Child!"

"Adult!" And so the inconsequential argument went on. Quarrels like this were not rare between the two friends. Aislin went along as if it was a game, and Ellen was often serious although sometimes she saw the joke in all of this, but that was once in a blue moon.

But why were these two people, so different from each other, best friends? The answer, believe it or not, is quite simple. Ellen, given the imagination-less childhood she'd had, needed a touch of whimsy in her life, whether she admitted it or not. Enter Aislin, who needed someone to keep her feet on the ground and get her head out of the clouds every once in a while, even if it was against her own will.

Finally, Ellen looked up at the sky and noticed that the sky had become a rainbow of different warm colors. "The sun's setting. We ought to go home."

"Why? Sunset is one of the three most magical times of the day."

Placing her hand on her hip, Ellen rejoined, "And what might the other two be?"

"Sunrise and the most magical time of all: midnight!"

"Midnight?"

"The bewitching hour. All things, both horrible and beautiful, happen at midnight."

"Sure… Now, let's go." Ellen had to practically drag Aislin off the stump and through the forest back into town.

Aislin and Ellen stumbled out of the woods. They made their way through the small meadow separated the wood from the town and then started walking leisurely into the town of Waldgebiet, Pennsylvania. The town got its name from German settlers who found nothing but trees when they came to the site. (Waldgebiet translates to Forestland in English.) It was a rather small hamlet, but, since it was located right in the middle of the county, it was quite a traveling center where many people flowed through towards both the south and the north.

A sharp whistle pierced the air as Aislin passed by Danny Brewster, the son of Mr. Brewster, the owner of Waldgebiet's general store. She smiled flirtatiously, swished her skirts, and sashayed down the sidewalk. Ellen ran after her.

She scolded, "Aislin, you shouldn't do that!"

"Do what?" she giggled.

"You know very well 'what'! It's not proper for a young lady to behave in such a manner."

"That's only the old matrons who are just jealous because their husbands don't love them any more. They're to be ignored."

"They are certainly not to be ignored!"

"I ignore them." Ellen sighed, and Aislin came to a halt as she reached her home. "Good-bye, Ellen," she said walking into the house. A second thought came to her and she called over her shoulder. "Meet me in front of Mr. Brewster's at ten-thirty tomorrow morning."

The O'Malleys resided in a small, eighteenth-century home in the middle of Milltown. It was constructed of whitewashed coarse stone and had two stories and an attic, each containing two rooms and a small corridor running between them. The front room on the first floor served as a drawing room, and the back room was used as a kitchen and informal dining room. Upstairs, the parents' bedroom and the girls' bedroom sat side by side. In a small portion of the attic, the O'Malleys stored their heirlooms from Ireland, but the most of it was the boys' bedroom. People on the lower end of the middle class and built it, and it people on the lower end of the middle class had been all who'd lived there. It was sparsely furnished, but all of the furniture was nice and comfortable. The walls had no elaborate wallpaper or hangings, but the slightly faded layer of paint served its purpose. Of course, that did not suit Aislin's fancy one bit, but she was in no place to complain.

"Hello, everyone," Aislin greeted boisterously.

Aislin's father, Nolan O'Malley, and Tadhg, her little brother, had just returned from their work out on Mr. Carter's farm just outside of town. Now they reclined in their chairs in the parlor, chewing their tobacco, even though the lady of the household thought it a dirty habit.

Aislin walked back into the kitchen and found her mother, Bríd O'Malley, sitting in her chair by the fireplace in the kitchen, mending shirts and darning stockings, all the meanwhile keeping an eye on the beef stew that was cooking for supper. Mary, Bríd's youngest child, sat contentedly at her feet, mending one of her own little petticoats, being ever so careful that the embers didn't fly out of the fire and land on the linen. Her parents, in hope that she would fit in more in the new American society than the rest of the family, whose names originated from the Gaelic language, had given her a thoroughly English name.

"Hello, Aislin!" Mary cried, running from her petticoats to greet her older sister, who she idolized.

Bríd pointed to the discarded pile of fabric that now sat on the dirty hearth and rebuked gently, "Mary, your petticoat."

"Oh, yes mother." Mary gave Aislin and quick hug and hurried back to the fireplace.

"Is dinner ready yet, mother?" Tadhg asked, wandering into the kitchen. "I sure am hungry." Bríd peered into the kettle.

"Yes, I suppose so, but you must go outside and spit out that stuff you're chewing first."

"All right." Tadhg went out back and spit out the tobacco, and his father did the same.

Nolan and the children all took their place at the table as Bríd began to ration out the beef stew and bring out the basket of warm rolls. Then Bríd sat too and Nolan said grace, "Lord, we thank you for the plentiful banquet that is laid before us tonight and for your grace towards us. Amen." Once the grace was finished, the eating commenced.

Aislin ate her food in a manner that could almost be considered ravenous. She rarely ate much for breakfast, finding that she never had a craving for food until late afternoon, when she normally snacked like mad, but today she had been deprived of food to serve her cravings. Every day, she pledged to be like the aristocratic women and barely eat anything, even at social gatherings. Somehow, though, she never managed to stick to that promise. It didn't bother her much- so long as she stayed thin, because she didn't have a corset.

When the meal was finished, Aislin removed herself from the chair, sat down on her stool by the fireplace with a groan, and took up one of her brother's torn shirts and began mending while the men went out to relax some more. If she had had the choice, she wouldn't have been sitting there on a spring day with the sun's golden light shining in through the glass windowpanes. Nolan, though not very gifted at administering discipline (Bríd shared his unfortunate trait), had certainly thought that Aislin should learn a few housewife's tasks and devised a clever method of getting Aislin to do her tedious mending. Although Aislin claimed to detest reading, she was secretly extremely fond of fairy stories, romance novels, and the occasional gothic romance. Knowing this all too well Nolan "spirited" away Aislin's books, which were quite worn from almost constant re-reading, telling her that she would get them back once she had mended a pile of shirts. She did this as fast as lightening, and her books were returned to her, under the condition that she spend at least one hour per day mending. And so, Aislin never forgot to go to her mending.

Once the horrid deed was done, Aislin sadistically threw the shirts into the sewing basket and hurried up to the bedroom that she shared with Mary, delved under the bed for the latest novel that she was reading, and lost herself in the make-believe world.

A/N: I really want you people to give me your completely honest opinion on this.