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XI. The Broken Pocket Watch

 15 ½ Years A.D.


Saguaro closes her eyes. She slows her breathing and tries to release the anger storming within her. But when she opens her eyes, the anger is as fierce as ever.


She runs her hand over her father’s pocket watch. Her fingers trace the inscribed initials, which read “F.T.” for “Fiyero Throgelaar.” When the hands of the timepiece first stopped moving, Saguaro was heartbroken. She could not believe that she’d let something happen to such a valuable possession. But when she decided to fix it, Saguaro’s spirits rose. She resolved to surprise her father by repairing the watch.


Why is she so surprised that her mother forgot about her plan?


Someone knocks at her door. Saguaro ignores this, but the knocker sounds again.


“Saguaro, I know you’re in there,” her father says from outside the door. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”


“I just want to be alone, Dad,” Saguaro says. “I’m not in the mood to talk right now.”


“Not even for a bar of chocolate?” Saguaro doesn’t answer. “I got it in town today, and there’s no way I’ll be able to finish it by myself.”


“Can’t Mom share it with you?”


“Your mother doesn’t have the same appreciation for chocolate that we do. Besides, I got it for you.”


Without waiting for her to respond, her father opens the door and enters her room. He is holding a large bar of chocolate. Saguaro notices that he is wearing gloves, which make him look more like a Scarecrow than usual.


“You know, this isn’t how I expected things would go when I bought the chocolate today,” he says, taking a seat at the foot of her bed. “I was hoping you’d be as excited about it as I was, and the three of us would have a nice dinner together.”


Though his tone is light, Saguaro can hear the disappointment in his words. “Well, this isn’t how I expected things would go when I decided to fix your watch, either. I was hoping that Mom would remember I was working on it and be supportive.”


Her father’s gaze falls on the watch in her hands. “I really am touched, Guarie. You did a great job fixing it. And you shouldn’t blame your mother. She’s just been preoccupied.”


“I mentioned it to her at least five times, Dad! It’s like she purposely blocked it out. She always gets strange when I talk about inventions or things I’m fixing, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”


“I’m sure it has nothing to do with that. I know you’re hurt, Saguaro, but you need to look at this from her perspective. You’ve been very…unpredictable lately, and I don’t think your mother knows exactly what’s going to come out of your mouth. She’s probably trying to keep her distance after the way you’ve been acting. I’m sure that’s why she forgot.”


“But she never spends any time with me. She’s always off rescuing birds or spending time with the Animals. Anyway, I’m not nearly as unpredictable as she is.”


Her father sighs. “I take it that you’re not ready to hear your mother’s side of the story?”


Saguaro shoots him a look.


“Okay. But I am expecting you to apologize tomorrow morning. Now eat your chocolate. If you don’t eat it soon, you’ll stay up too late and end up falling asleep in class tomorrow like I used to.”


Though she doubts that her father fell asleep in class because of a late night chocolate binge (she might not know the details surrounding her father’s school life, but she suspects that the true culprit was something far less tame), Saguaro accepts the candy. She takes a bite and lets it melt in her mouth.


As the two enjoy their chocolate, Saguaro glances around the bedroom. Sometimes, she thinks that her room is the only thing that has not changed since her childhood. Her walls are still a soft violet, and she has the same wooden sleigh bed she got after outgrowing her cradle. Even the books on her shelves seem as if they’ve always been there. While her parents have offered to let her redecorate the room, so far, she has resisted. It’s like her nickname. She’s glad that she no longer goes by “Guarie” exclusively (“Saguaro” sounds much more mature), but hearing it reminds her of simpler days.


Her father has finished his share of the chocolate. “This reminds me of when I used to tell you stories before you went to sleep. You always made me promise to finish the whole story. Even if I tried to sneak out when you were just moments away from falling asleep, you’d catch me and insist that I finish it.” He sighs. “I miss those days.”


“So do I,” Saguaro says quietly.


Fiyero squeezes her hand. For a moment, she thinks that he is going to reassure her, but instead, his lips turn into an impish grin. “What do you say? Should I tell you a story now? After the chocolate, you should be wide awake until the very end.”


“Aren’t I a little too old?” asks Saguaro.


“You’re never too old for a Fyre story,” her father says, and despite herself, Saguaro feels a thrill at the name of the bedtime hero she has not heard in so long.


After draping an arm around her shoulders in his typical storytelling embrace, Fiyero begins to speak.


“Once upon a time, years before your birth, a Winkie Prince was born and given the name Fyre. He was pampered and praised, and everyone was delighted that the king and queen had managed to produce a first-born son who would one day be king. This, however, was not to be. All first-born royals are betrothed to eligible young nobles at an early age, and when young Fyre learned of his fate, he was horrified. His parents’ marriage had been arranged and was now very strained, and he did not want the same thing to happen to him and his future wife. He argued and refused so fiercely that his parents had no choice but to arrange the marriage between the girl and Fyre’s younger brother, Tigo, instead. As a result, Tigo became heir to the throne and the favored son.


“The rest of Fyre’s childhood was less carefree than one would expect for a Winkie Prince. His parents ignored him in favor of his younger brother, and Fyre became very loud and disruptive in an attempt to gain their attention. Fortunately, he had two best friends who were very loyal to him. One was Rav, the son of family servants, and the other was Miira, the girl Fyre was supposed to have married. Despite Fyre’s decision not to marry her, no animosity existed between the two. Fyre loved Miira as a sister and never once regretted his decision not to marry her.


“Everything changed when Fyre became a teenager. The summer before he turned fourteen, he had a massive growth spurt. Fyre had always been tall for his age, but he had never been so much taller than his peers. Fyre was now just an inch shorter than his father and was growing taller each day.


“It didn’t take long for him to mature in other ways as well. While his peers were still gawky from their own growth spurts, Fyre had already left his awkwardness behind him. Word spread throughout Oz about the handsome, rebellious Winkie Prince.


“Though Fyre played up this image in public, he was just as lonely as ever on the inside. He saw the unhappiness of his parents’ marriage in a much clearer light now that he was older, and he felt less loved than his younger brother. Miira had also begun to look at him differently, a fact that concerned him. After she confessed her love for him and he explained that he did not feel the same way towards her, a huge fight erupted between them. Aside from casual interactions, the two never spoke again.


“Just before Fyre left for college, he decided that he no longer believed in love. His parents’ unhappy marriage, Fyre’s strained relationship with them, and the end of his friendship with Miira cemented this conviction. To Fyre, love only existed in fairytales and was far more trouble than it was worth.


“Things were very different for Fyre at college. He found himself popular and sought after, and he took advantage of this by carousing and becoming the shallow, spoiled, scandalous prince everyone expected him to be. He spent so much time having fun that his grades began to slip. Eventually, he was expelled from the school.


“This happened again and again, and Fyre failed out of so many schools that they all began to blur together. His life at each of the schools was similar. On his first day, Fyre would seek out the prettiest, most popular girl on campus and throw a big party for the students. Eventually, he would be expelled for his antics and would have to apply to another college and start again. This suited him just fine. Not only was he getting attention from his classmates, but his behavior forced his parents to pay attention to him.


“At his final school, things were surprisingly different. Though they started out the same-he chose a pretty, blonde girl to become his girlfriend and his classmates became enchanted by his carefree, shallow facade-everything changed when he noticed another girl in his class. Her name was Fae.


“Fae was everything her classmates were not. She was feisty and independent and did not seem to care a twig about what anyone else thought of her. She also saw through Fyre in a way no one ever had before. Once, she even challenged Fyre and pointed out that if he were truly as shallow as he pretended to be, he wouldn’t be so unhappy. This shocked Fyre, who had become so attached to his façade that he had nearly forgotten why he’d assumed it in the first place. He found himself thinking about Fae all the time and replaying that conversation over and over again.


“Eventually, Fyre decided to reform his ways and did, in fact, graduate from the school. He realized that he had been wrong. Love was real. When he and Fae finally shared their first kiss, he knew that nothing else had ever felt so right.”


Silence settles between them as Saguaro thinks about the story. Though she has heard this particular chapter many times before, it seems more relevant now that she is older.


“Are you saying that things will get better, even if they’re awful now?” she says finally.


“I’m saying that no matter how hard things might seem right now, you should never give up entirely. Fyre did, and look what happened to him. I know that you and your mother may be in the middle of a rough patch, but you need to be patient with her. She’s a brilliant, strong woman, even if you don’t always see it.”


“I think you’re a little biased, Dad. After all, you did marry her.”


Her father looks her straight in the eye. “You’re right. I did marry her. That’s how I know for certain.”


It doesn’t seem worth it to argue with that.


Saguaro again considers her father’s tale and the way she now understands it. She tries to remember how old she was the first time her father told her that particular story.


A new thought occurs to her. “Why did you stop telling me Fyre stories? I can’t even remember the last time I heard one.”


“I guess you got too old,” her father says, not quite meeting her gaze.


“Maybe now. But when I was ten? I know it was before that, because when I was in Year Five, I got an assignment to research a place outside Cascadia. I remember thinking that it was too bad it had been so long since I’d heard a Fyre story. I couldn’t remember enough to do it on Winkie Country.”


Fiyero frowns. “Why didn’t you just ask me?”


“I wanted to. But I didn’t want Mom to get suspicious.” The Fyre stories have always been a secret between the two of them. “That’s why I did my project on Ix instead.”


Her father sighs. “Crow girl, I won’t lie to you. I know you’ve heard the arguments between your mother and me about whether or not to tell you more about our lives in Oz, and that did affect my decision. Your mother wouldn’t have approved of me talking about Oz in such a positive light after the prejudice she faced there, and I didn’t feel comfortable lying to her, even by omission. But I was also looking out for you. Do you remember the way you reacted after I told you the last Fyre story?”


Saguaro clutches the pocket watch. She does remember, even though she is not sure whether she wants to.


After her father first began telling her the Fyre stories, he started to repeat some of them. He would alternate new stories with old ones, but he never went beyond what happened after Fyre and Fae shared their first kiss. Saguaro eventually caught on. She begged to know what happened next. Although her father hesitated, he finally agreed to tell her the end of the story.


Saguaro still remembers how excited she was to hear the last story. She loved Fyre more than any fictional character she’d ever encountered, and she could not wait to find out whether he ever married. Since the first Fyre story had told of his rebellion against an arranged marriage, getting married to someone he loved seemed like the perfect ending to the story.


When her father eventually sat down to tell her the ending, he went in a completely new direction and explained how corrupt the Ozian government had become. He ended the story with Fyre and Fae deciding to leave Oz for some other place entirely, though he did not specify where they went.


That final story was only five minutes long.


“I complained that the ending was too vague,” Saguaro says, forcing herself back to the present. “You told me that I could decide what happened next, and I said that was stupid. Then I asked you whether you were Fyre, and when you said you weren’t, I didn’t talk to you for days.”


“And then I gave you a peace offering.” Fiyero points to the pocket watch. Though he suggested that they could pretend it was Fyre’s, Saguaro was more fascinated to learn that it was actually his, from Winkie Country.


Both of them examine the watch for a few moments.


“I still don’t know why you ended the story the way you did,” Saguaro admits. “I understand that you probably wanted me to realize that life in Oz wasn’t perfect, so I could relate the story back to why you and Mom left, but I wish you’d been more specific. At the very least, you could have told me whether they got married.”


“You know, Saguaro, it’s always been my opinion that after a story is told, it belongs just as much to the listener as it does to the person who told it. Fyre only took me so far. From the moment I began my stories, he started to belong to you. I know you didn’t believe me after I first told you, but I wanted you to have the chance to decide what happened next. I suppose you could say it was my way of handing the story over to you. ”


“So you’re saying that I’m the only one who can answer what happened to Fyre?”


“That’s exactly what I’m saying. What do you think happened after Fyre and Fae left Oz?”


Saguaro pauses and tries to transport herself back to when her father ended the story five years ago. “I guess I think that Fyre and Fae found someplace where they were able to fit in, just like you and Mom with Cascadia. And I hope they got married and had a child or two.”


Fiyero smiles. “There you have it. Then that’s what happened.”


“But what about everyone they knew in Oz? I know that Fyre was never on good terms with his family, but it must have been hard to leave them. I’m sure Fae had people she cared about in Oz, too.”


“Not all stories have completely happy endings, Crow girl,” her father says sadly, and for a moment, Saguaro wonders if he is talking about himself and her mother. She can tell that her father will become nostalgic if the conversation goes on any longer, so she forces a yawn and tells him that she is about to fall asleep.


After her father leaves, Saguaro picks up the pocket watch again. Despite the reason her father gave it to her, the watch has become her most prized possession. It is the only thing she owns from Oz and her only evidence that her father has been to Winkie Country.


She finds herself wondering if there was another reason that she reacted so strongly to the end of the Fyre story. Though she was annoyed by the ambiguous ending, her anger arose only after her father confirmed that Fyre was fictional. Even now, she hates that she knows more about a fictional character than she does about her own parents.


Perhaps she should see whether the library has any books on hot air balloons.


« Chapter Ten Chapter Twelve »



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