Jill chased her now in nightmares almost every time she tried to sleep. She remembered it all so vividly: a quiet sound, her stumbling, turning around and bumping into Jill, who had a big stone in her hands. There was a pause, and then Jill tried to attack her again, no sign of confusion or frustration on her face. She didn’t care about anything, that was the scariest part, Loriel thought. It was like being afraid of a zombie, or a pollen monster her prince fought. A thought of a rational thinking person you knew being so focused on killing you, without talking, without caring.
She spent a couple of days being treated by Eleanor and a kid named Jasper, talking about her nightmares to Lundy and resting, with Angela occasionally visiting. Kade visited once, too. For some time she thought they all helped Jill, but, as it turned out, not even Jack knew. She was told Jack killed her sister and went through her door, and she felt guilty, amazed, scared, jealous and overwhelmed. The fact that she wouldn’t see them ever again and she couldn’t choose to apologize made everything better and worse. She tried to write a letter to Jack, just to sort things out for herself, but it didn’t really work. She talked to Kade, and they didn’t talk about it, exactly, but they seemed to come to an understanding nonetheless. She knew Nancy found her door, too. She was even happy for her. She was also scared, because if two girls found their doors, what were the chances that the third one would, too?
Another thing that she realised after that was that she missed her parents. She hated it. Lundy told her they could arrange something, but there would be a chance of them not willing to send her back again. It was like saying goodbye to the Dust Queen all over again, and she hated herself so, so much for thinking about trying again.
She moved into her bedroom and started going to classes shortly after everything settled down. That was when she found out about Angela and Kade from others. She had an argument with Angela. They made up. They had another argument, and they decided that they would never talk to each other again. Then, suddenly, Loriel realised that she was quite alone.
She was shy even before she went through the door and she didn’t really know how to make friends with her peers after. She knew that about herself, but it didn’t bother her as much when she had Angela. When the murders started, it was horrible and scary, but it gave her an enemy - Jack - who she firmly believed was responsible, and people around her believed it too, so she often had a group of teenagers around her, like in those movies where every kid always had company. She was realising now that she didn’t really have much here except for the shared longing, for the shared hope. She wanted to do something now, to have someone, and she didn’t understand what exactly she could do to address that feeling.
So she approached Eleanor about going back for a couple of days - not back back, just… back - and maybe figuring everything out from there. Eleanor, as always, was sad, but understanding.
Her parents were stiff and polite, not questioning the official story or blaming anyone for what happened. They were gentle, compliant, and as she was looking out of the car window at the Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children that was quickly disappearing out of sight she thought of a similar calm expression on Jill’s face as she was trying to hit her.
She realised, however, as they got home and her grandmother Martha was there, fussing and talking and giving her food, but not hugging or even standing too close, that this was the opposite of a Jill situation. They were scared of her. Or not scared, exactly, but very cautious, because of course they were, she was their mentally ill, unstable daughter, who decided to visit them without a warning. She sat there, and ate, and didn’t talk, as she felt something in her chest leave her, like air, making her feel smaller, lighter and sadder.
The lintel below the porch light was long gone, of course - she knew that they were working on the house soon after she was gone, soon after her tantrum over it, so she wasn’t surprised that everything changed. She shouldn’t have been surprised.
She didn’t unpack her things and she didn’t change her clothes. She went to her room with an understanding that she could never find what she was searching for here, and she could never call this place home, even more so now than after coming back from the Webworld. Eleanor West’s Home would have to do. She sat on her bed and cried, quietly, until she had to take her glasses off and breathe, trying to calm down. She didn’t want to cry. She didn’t want to feel that way. She wanted…
She stopped squinting, and the world shocked her once again with its sizes and shapes, not at all suited for her sharp eyes. She sighed, going for her glasses immediately, and the world was bearable once again.
At first, she didn’t allow her brain to acknowledge this “except”, didn’t try processing the information her most valuable body parts gave her. She sat in silence for long seconds, heart beating faster and faster. Something was wrong, but it wasn’t. It was wonderful.
She leaped for the small place between her bed and the wall, not even hearing the sound of her glasses shattering somewhere behind her. The door, the one that she remembered, the one that she dreamed of for so many months was right there, and at first she was afraid that her hands were shaking too much for her to knock. She managed.
By the time it opened, by the time it pulled her in and she was standing on the steps of her home, she was fully sobbing, struggling to see clearly, but it was definitely there. Even through tears she could see the intricate decor of her surroundings, the ornament of the big doors and all those little trails that spread around the place like a web. She remembered how they seemed random, convoluted, when she first got here and learned to see them. The memory made her want to laugh now.
She spent some time drying her eyes and breathing, feeling the always calm weather and the softest light of the sun. It was an early morning now in her kingdom, and she didn’t see anyone as she was walking. She knew, though, that very soon that would change. She could go to the palace and wait for somebody there, that was the safest option. Instead, she chose one path, the path she knew the best, and went to see her garden, their garden, that she missed so much for so long. It was as beautiful as she remembered, tiny leaves of the plants moving under the lightest of the breezes, flowers forming complex patterns that had to be deciphered. There, in the midst of it all, the Queen of Dust, her queen, was sleeping in the rocking chair. She looked very tired and weak in her sleep, and Loriel felt like she was going to cry again, so she came closer and lightly touched one of her arms instead. Slowly, the Queen opened her eyes, and she looked like she didn’t see Loriel at first, or, more likely, didn’t believe she was there and not a dream. Loriel knew the feeling.
- Oh, - the Queen said, somehow putting all the pain, and hope, and joy into the quietest of the sounds.
And then they wept, and hugged, and talked, and Loriel was loved, and listened to, and cared about again. Loriel Youngers was finally, finally where she was supposed to be.