It had been three days since we’d rescued Theressa from Kraesse and his people, and we were currently all sitting around the breakfast table of the safe house. And as I looked around the table, I smiled, thankful that everyone was there, alive and free.
Theressa now looked like she was only twelve years old, courtesy of the magic green egg. The artifact had been a little more powerful than I’d realized, and not only had it healed all her injuries, it had also made her younger. Much younger.
After healing Theressa, I’d used the artifact to heal Dave as well, though I’d been careful so that he’d had contact with it for a much shorter period of time. As a result, it had healed his bullet wound and even his bad leg, but it hadn’t made him any younger, much to his relief.
I was grateful that the box had given me the egg to use, though I was still a bit confused about why. After all, the purpose of the box was to store artifacts, and not to give them out. At least not normally, and this time, the situation wasn’t the same as it had been with the feather.
Perhaps, the box cared about me and my happiness a little more than I’d thought. Maybe Dora and the other Pandoras had somehow encouraged it to help me this time. And then, there was also the possibility that the box had merely been trying to reward me for giving it all the artifacts in the storage room. Whatever, the reason, the box had helped me to save Theressa’s life, and I appreciated it.
As soon as Theressa and Dave had been healed, I returned the artifact to the box. It had warned me that it was only a brief loan, and I hadn’t wanted to push it, no matter how tempting it was to keep something that powerful.
I closed my eyes for a moment, imagining how much good I could have done, if I’d gone through a hospital with that artifact. Kraesse’s words about my hoarding artifact that could help people, as hypocritical as they were, had struck a nerve. However, I also knew that this wasn’t my choice to make. There was a reason that these artifacts were all being locked away from the world, because as much good as they could do, they could also just as much harm.
Once I’d returned the egg to the box, I’d also given it the amulet and magic wand that Kraesse had been holding. Then, we found the bell and put that in too, much to Jake’s annoyance, since he viewed it as another heirloom from his dad. Unfortunately, unlike the sword, the bell didn’t rightfully belong to his family. And when I put the bell in, I had a vague sense that the rightful owner was out there somewhere, and one day, I or my successor would give it to them.
I spent most of the breakfast, alternately thinking about that day, and considering how lucky I was. Not long ago, I’d been certain that Theressa was dead, and that my family was completely gone. But now, Theressa was not only alive, but also free of Kraesse and his people.
When we were finished eating, everyone began getting up from the table. “Great pancakes, Pan,” Jake said, giving me a kiss.
“Thank you,” I responded, blushing a little since Theressa was watching.
My relationship with Jake was currently in an odd phase, as we were sort of back together again, but we hadn’t actually talked about being back together again. He’d been worried about me during the big fight, so after we’d survived Kraesse, he surprised me with a passionate kiss. And ever since then, he’d been acting as though he’d never heard about the revelation about my original identity, and was trying to act like things were the same between us as before then. Maybe, that was just easier for him, and I was content to let things continue like that for now. However, I had a feeling that sooner or later, we’d need to have another talk.
“But not now,” I quietly mused, picking my plate up from the table and announcing, “I’ll take care of the dishes.”
“I’ll help,” Theressa offered.
“Good breakfast,” Dave told me with a nod, before he and Jake walked away. Dave no longer had any sign of a limp.
Theressa and I cleared the table without much conversation, though once we began washing the dishes off in the sink, that changed. She gave me a strange look and shook her head. I could only imagine what she thought of this situation.
“This is so strange,” Theressa said with a sigh. She looked down at herself and mused, “I’ve seen a lot of weird things during my time with Dora, but I never imagined that I’d end up looking young enough to be YOUR daughter.”
I snickered at that a little. “More like my kid sister,” I corrected her.
“I guess I’m going to have to get used to that,” she told me with a shake of her head. “No one could possibly believe that I’m really myself, and there’s no way I can go back to my old life, not like this…”
“True,” I agreed, having gone through the same thing myself.
“In fact,” Theressa continued with a sad look. “There isn’t really anything left of my old life to go back to. I’ve lost my husband and my son, so I might as well start over.”
“That makes sense,” I said carefully.
I’d already thought about Theressa’s situation, and had come to the conclusion that like me, she wouldn’t have much choice but to adapt to her new situation or go crazy. She hadn’t changed genders, and in a few years, she’d be an adult again, so this wouldn’t be nearly as difficult on her as it had been for me.
“Well then,” Theressa said, giving me a wry look. “As your newly minted little sister, I think we need to have a little talk about you and Jake…”
That was enough to make me roll my eyes in response. Theressa already knew about the artifact that had first caused Jake and I to sleep together, since I’d had to explain why I’d adjusted to certain aspects of my new gender so quickly. She’d spent the last couple days trying to wrap her head around it.
“I’m a grown woman now,” I told Theressa with a wink. “I don’t need the birds and bees speech.”
Theressa gave me a wry look. “The box protects you from many of the things that most women have to worry about. You won’t have to worry about pregnancy, STDs, or any of the usual health concerns, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other reasons to be careful.”
“You don’t need to tell me that,” I responded with a sigh. I stared at Theressa for several seconds. “I know there are risks. There are risks with any relationship. There are risks for getting out of bed in the morning or going on vacation…” I paused at that, to remind her how this started for us. “But the one thing I’ve learned, is that things can change without warning, so you have to appreciate what you have while you still have it.”
“You really have grown up,” Theressa told me in a quiet tone. “And it looks like I get the fun of doing that again.”
“I’m just glad to have you alive again,” I said, giving Theressa a hug. “I thought that I’d never get to do this again, and I’m glad that I can…even if you are a bit shorter.”
“Bite me,” Theressa responded with a chuckle.
I just grinned back. “That’s an immature response.”
Theressa snorted at that. “Well, I am a kid again, so I might as well take advantage of it.”
Once Theressa and I were finished in the kitchen, she took off, probably to go through the new wardrobe we’d bought for her yesterday. None of her old clothes fit anymore, which meant that like me, she’d have to start from scratch. But unlike me, she couldn’t wear any of Dora’s old clothes.
I went to the computer that was set up in a corner of the living room, then began to log into a few sites. I’ve spent the last couple days doing a little research, preparing for my future now that I actually had one.
Since Kraesse was no longer around to chase me, I was able to start using the new identity that Dora had set up for herself. Some of the paperwork and records for ‘Pandora Crowley’ had been stored in the hidden room, along with everything that I’d need to assume this new identity. Officially, I was now Dora’s daughter, and inherited everything that she’d owned.
Having a legal identity was nice, especially since it meant that I also had a bank account and enough money to live off for a long time. However, I didn’t have everything I needed. Not really.
My official identity already had a high school diploma as well as a college degree or two, but I didn’t have the actual education to go with any of that. This was a problem, in that one day, my lack of education could give something away, and make people suspicious of me. So because of that, I was would have to actually get that education for real, which meant, online classes, attached to yet another fake name and identity.
“I’m a high school dropout with a college degree,” I mused to myself with a shake of my head. “Now, I’ll have to earn a GED, so I can start on these college classes.”
I let out a long sigh, knowing that all of this would take a lot of time and effort, and that I wouldn’t be done with it for years. Still, I knew that in the long run, it would not only be worth it, but necessary.
“There’s no way I want to make a living as a waitress,” I said.
The, I glanced over to Jake, who was on the other side of the room, taking care of some classwork of his own. Yesterday, he’d contacted his college about his missed time, and about being able to come back and catch up on his classes. It looked like we’d both be working on our education at the same time.
While I was working away on the computer, Jake got up and came over to me. Without a word, he began to massage my shoulders, which felt fantastic. I moaned in pleasure, then turned around to kiss him.
“It’s over,” Jake said with a smile. “Kraesse is gone, so we don’t have to hide anymore.”
“Kraesse is gone,” I agreed. “But there are other people out there who want artifacts, and who may be looking for the box.” I let out a sigh and shook my head. “We might be good now, but I still have the box, and will for the rest of my life. That comes with certain responsibilities…and dangers.”
Jake nodded at that. “Then we’ll meet them together,” he insisted.
I looked Jake in the eyes, seeing how serious he was about this. “Then, heaven help anyone who comes after us and ours again.” And with that, we grabbed hold of each other in a long and passionate kiss.
“Auntie Pan, Auntie Pan,” a little girl cried as she ran to me and jumped up into my arms.
“Hello, Peanut,” I greeted Sarah as I hugged her tightly. “You’ve grown since the last time I saw you.”
Sarah was a cute little seven year old, with brown hair that was pulled back into twin pigtails. She was also my little sister, though she didn’t know this. As far as she knew, I was merely ‘Aunt Pan’, her mother’s older sister.
It had been over fifteen years since Theressa and I had both been changed, and forced to start over with entirely new lives. Sometimes, it seemed like those events had merely occurred yesterday, but other times, a very long time ago. A whole lifetime ago.
After Alexander Kraesse had died, his father followed him less than two months later. And without any heir, what was left of his organization tore itself apart with all the in-fighting, so they hadn’t been a threat in a long time.
My life had gone in a direction that I never would have been able to predict. I’d become Pandora Crowley, had worked hard to earn a degree in history, and I had taken over Dora’s business in antiques and collectibles. And of course, I’d also fulfilled the responsibilities that went with the box.
Over the last fifteen years, I’d found and collected over two dozen artifacts, including those I’d recovered from Kraesse. After the incident with Kraesse, new artifacts had been slow in coming, and had taken a lot of searching, but I had found some. Some of those that I’d removed from circulation, had been extremely dangerous, and best kept out of any human hands.
While I’d been doing all this, Theressa had been living her own new life. We’d created her a new identity as Theressa Crowley, who was officially, my little sister. I’d found it quite amusing, that I was now her legal guardian, though she’d been somewhat less amused.
Theressa had grown up all over again, taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy her youth and a second chance at life. She’d gone to college, majoring in history and archaeology of course, and she’d gotten married. Now, she had another child, Sarah.
“I’m glad you could come visit me,” I said, hugging my little sister/niece. “I’m glad you could all come.”
With that, I looked at the other two visitors who’d just come through the door. Theressa was close to thirty, for her second time, and looked quite well. Beside her was Sam, her second husband, though he didn’t know about her previous one.
Theressa had never told Sam about her previous life, or about mine. Sometimes, I thought that he deserved to know the truth, and at others, I thought that he’d be better of living in blissful ignorance.
“You have a nice house,” Sam told me pleasantly. “I’m always glad to stay in a nice place like this.”
This house was not the one Dora had lived in, where she’d been killed, but it was another one that she’d owned. This had been a different safe house, kept in case she needed it. Over time, Dora’s ghost had shared the locations of all her hidden treasures like this, and they’d come in quite useful over the last decade and a half.
“It is nice to be back,” Theressa said. She looked around with a wistful look, since this was the house that she’d mostly grown up in the second time.
“You know where the bedrooms are,” I said pleasantly.
Suddenly, Sarah squealed, “Uncle Jake…”
I turned to see Jake coming into the room, looking a little older than when we’d first met, but also a bit more dignified. Age and experience suited him.
With those thoughts, my eyes flashed to my hand, and to the ring on my finger. This was no artifact, though it was a magic ring of a different type. This was my wedding ring, which I’d been wearing for the last eleven years.
While Sarah was hugging my husband, I took the opportunity to hug my ‘little sister’. My relationship with Theressa was a little odd, but that wasn’t important. We were family, and always would be.
“I’m glad to be back here,” Theresa told me again, glancing towards Jake. “And your husband.” She paused at that, her eyes darting to Sarah, and I could see the regret in her expression.
As Pandora, the box gave me a great many benefits, though some of those could be curses at the same time. I would never age, which meant, that Jake might grow old and die, while I would remain behind, looking the same age as the first day we’d met. And since I was unable to have children, I wouldn’t even be able to give him immortality in that fashion.
I tried not to think about this, or about what might happen one day, just as I tried not to think of the magic egg in the box. All I could do was live my life and appreciate what I had, while I had it.
“Come on,” I told Theressa, and nodding to Sam. “I’ve got dinner going, so once you get your things into your rooms, you can clean up and come to the dining room.” I smiled at Theressa. “We can catch up over dinner.”
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