I froze in place as I answered the door. What was she doing here? It had been several days since I had met her in the park, and I had been doing my best to not think about her - although little Magic was a constant reminder.
"Hi! My Uncle Louis told me where you were staying. May I come in?" She asked brightly.
"Uh... errr... I'll.. mmm.. just step out on the porch," I mumbled, quickly closing the front door behind me. There was no way I was going to be alone with her inside my cabin. Who knows what might happen? Not that I would do anything.. but.. well... never mind. Better to talk to her outside. Much safer. I guess I must have stood there for longer than I thought, because she crooked her eyebrow at me.
"Are you alright?"
I nodded. Geez, Cy. Way to make an impression, standing there staring for who knows how long? Not that I was trying to impress her, or anything.
"I just stopped by to see how Magic is doing? But if you're busy I can come back later." Then she gave me that look again, the one that gets me all flustered.
"Oh, sure. I mean, no, I'm not busy."
"Great! Where is the little rascal?"
I cracked open the front door, and out he scampered, straight to Star.
"Hi there, little guy! I brought you your favorite toy. Here you go!"
She rolled the little jingle ball playfully toward Magic, then looked up at me and laughed merrily.
"He remembers me! I meant to give you his ball, at the park, but I forgot. And looky here, I made him a feather dancer, too! He's too little to play with it right now, but when he gets a little bigger, you'll see. He'll love it!"
She fastened the feathered toy to the cabin wall and gave it a little flip with her hand to show me how it worked. I nodded my approval.
"Thanks. I was just thinking I needed to get some toys for him. He made a real mess with the newspaper ball I made for him. Bits of paper all over the floor."
We stood there on the porch for a while longer, watching Magic play. Finally she bent down to give Magic a hug, and reluctantly turned to go.
"Bye bye, Magic. Maybe I'll see you later. Bye, Cypress. Thanks again for taking Magic."She started to walk off, then turned abruptly back to me.
"Say, you wouldn't happen to like to fish, would you? I'm the best fishing guide in the village, and I'm always looking for work."
I met her at dawn the next morning, and thus began the best several weeks of my life so far. She knew the mountains like the back of her hand. Not only did she know all the best fishing spots, she could read my moods like an open book. She seemed instinctively to know when to engage me in an animated conversation, and when I preferred to fish in quiet contemplation. I got over my initial nervousness quickly; Star was so easy to talk to; I never had to worry about her putting me on the spot, so to speak.
As the days passed, and we got to know each other better, she would occasionally mention her granny. Her mom had died when she was a baby, and her granny was the only mom she had ever known. Her granny sounded like a fascinating person; I held out hope that she might know some of the history of the village. But Star continually sidestepped me, every time I suggested that I would like to meet her. That didn't keep me from trying, though.
"So, uh.." I began for probably the tenth time, "tell me a little bit about your granny. How old is she, anyway? You always make her sound ancient."
Star laughed. "That's because she is ancient. Old as the hills, she likes to say. She has all kinds of stories of what life was like, before the outsiders came..."
She must have noticed my shocked expression, because she immediately backtracked.
"... I mean.. before I was born."
Now, I am not the best at reading people, but even I could tell she had just spilled something she was not supposed to. 'Before the outsiders came?' If the 'outsiders' were the resort people, that meant her granny must be.. almost two hundred years old, at least. How was that possible?
I wanted to ask her about it, but then I saw the distraught look on her face, so I let it slide. She quickly changed the subject by dropping her fishing pole and calling out with forced excitement, "Oh, Cy! Looky here! A goldfinch! Come quick, before he flies away."
I watched as she held out a trembling arm, and the little goldfinch hopped right up onto her wrist.
I smiled reassuringly, to let her know I wasn't going to call her on the secret she had inadvertently revealed about her granny. She smiled back in relief, and I watched in amazement as the tiny gold and black bird made itself at home on her shoulder.
"How did you do that?" I asked, now totally distracted.
She shrugged gently so as not to disturb the finch.
"I guess I just have a gift."
For the rest of that day, she went on to show me more of the wildlife that inhabits the mountains.
"This here is a womrat. You want to pet him?"
I thought he looked like a guinea pig, but I guess they don't call them that here. I rubbed my thumb gently across his back, before she lowered him back to the ground, and we watched him scamper away. Little did I know, that this would be the last day of guided fishing trips.
The next morning I received a call from Louis Swete, telling me that Star would be unavailable as a fishing guide for the indefinite future. He wouldn't say why, and when I pressed, he abruptly hung up. I didn't realize how much I valued Star's company until she was no longer there.
"Where's your mistress, little Magic?" I demanded as I reached to pick up the kitten. Funny, I still thought of him as hers, even though I'd had him for months now.
"I wish you could talk, little guy. I bet you could tell me how to find what I'm looking for."
I laughed and scrunched up my face at him.
"Aww.. you are the cutest thing ever, you know that? I still wish you could tell me what's up with Star, though."
This morning I ended up at the town library, hoping to find something, anything, about the history of Old Town - something I might have missed my first dozen or so visits, that is.
I was intently studying the shelves in front of me, when the sound of someone loudly clearing their throat behind me made me jump a foot in the air.
I spun around only to come face to face with .. what was her name again... Star's cousin.. um..?
"Oh... um.. hello there... Emmaline? Hey, uh.. you haven't seen Star, have you? Can you tell her something for me?"
I was taken aback at the glare I received in return.
"You! Why are you still here? You should have given up long ago, why are you still here?" she repeated, even more forcefully than the first time.
Now, I'm usually a pretty easy going guy, but her attitude really set me off. Who was she to care how long I stayed?
"I'll stay until I find the information I'm looking for," I retorted. "My family's history began somewhere near Old Town, and I mean to stay here until I uncover it."
I saw something in her eyes that that made me change my tactic.
"Please? Do you know anything at all? Why won't anyone talk to me?"
She backed away.
"It is not for me to say. Leave me alone."
"Can you at least give me a hint?"
At this, she began to laughed hysterically.
"A hint? A hint, you say? Alright then, here is your hint."
She leaned close, and whispered in my ear," You will find your secret in the spring."
Then she walked out the library door, still cackling quietly to herself, as if she found the whole exchange a huge joke.
I turned her phrase over and over in my mind. 'You will find your secret in the spring.' It sounded so familiar. Where had I heard it before? It was from one of my journals, I just knew it. I quickly did a search of all my translated journals. Hmm, nothing. I don't forget stuff like that, how could I have been mistaken?
I then tried a document search of the whole hard drive; maybe I'd misplaced something. Ah, there it is - not in the translated journals, but in our own family's journal. My ancestor Max, a Chinese ghost had imparted the riddle to him. And he had thought the ghost had meant the Dragon Spring in Shang Simla, but what if.....what if...my mind was whirling.
Going to Emmaline again was out of the question; there was only one person I knew in Hidden Springs who might be willing to talk to me. I walked the short distance down the dirt road from my cabin to Louis Swete's house.
I was relieved when he invited me into his study. So far so good. Now to try and phrase my question so he wouldn't shut me down immediately.
"So.. I was wondering... I've been to all the springs listed in the resort guide.. but.. well.. do you know of any others? Ones not listed in the guide?"
"Why would you want to know something like that. Isn't there enough springs in the guide for you?" he growled at me.
Ack! I wasn't expecting that reaction. Or maybe I was. One thing I know, I wasn't sure how to react to his vehemence.
"Whoa.. I was just asking. What's wrong with you people? Everyone gets so upset over simple questions. If I didn't know better, I'd think you all were trying to hide something?"
I think I got through to him a little, because his face smoothed out, and he tapped his chin a few times before replying.
"Perhaps I have misjudged you, young Cypress. Star has had nothing but good things to say about you, after all. So I will say this: There are some things not meant to be revealed, except to those who have the eyes to see them."