Once Mr. Fiore, his warlocks, Valerie, and Prudence had departed, I found myself vainly struggling with the urge to fidget. It was time to talk to Megan and Emma, but I didn’t know what to say. Especially with Melvin and that other faerie — Bertram? — standing around. Fortunately or not, depending on how ready I was, Megan took care of that.
“Melvin, Bertram, I think that Emma, Abby, and I will require privacy for a bit. Since we’ve concluded the oath-taking ceremonies for today and I am not expecting another envoy from the mortal realms tonight, feel free to spend some time on your own interests.”
Bertram gave Megan a low bow that was made even lower by his lack of height. “Do not hesitate to call on me should occasion prompting need or desire to do so arise,” he said before leaving through the archway that led deeper into Megan’s kingdom.
Melvin just gave a smirk. “Ditto,” he said. His eyes caught mine, and even though he wasn’t pushing thoughts I could read the subtext in that gaze. It implied quite clearly that he was going to spend some time figuring out how to insinuate himself into my shadow court… or, possibly, figuring out how to catch, psychologically torture, and sexually violate any misguided notions I might hold of him not being out to catch, psychologically torture, and sexually violate me.
I was just as glad that Megan was in-between myself and him. I clung nervously to her arm. I may have even hid behind her a little. I barely had a second to relax over Melvin’s departure. “Come on,” Emma said. She marched through the archway right after Melvin did.
“Emma!” Megan called in a scolding protest, but Emma was already gone. Megan grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the arch. “I know she’s upset,” Megan muttered, “but she knows we’re supposed to stay together!”
“Really?” I asked as Megan pulled me toward the archway. “Can’t you push to her from just about anywhere, here?” I’d managed to push essence to faeries that hadn’t even been in the same ‘room’ when I’d needed to dump some of Archarel’s essence into my future army. Although, I really didn’t know how efficient that transfer had been. And I should really find out from Reid how my donor faeries are replenishing themselves. It would not be good if I was undermining Megan’s ‘peaceful, ethical coexistence’ plan by not paying attention to the faeries I did have explicit control over.
“I… well… Yes,” Megan said. She stopped next to the arch. “I just worry,” she admitted. Then she took a deep breath and turned back to the archway. “Come on,” she said right before pulling me through.
Stepping through the archway brought us to what looked like a more spacious recreation of Megan’s room from Mrs. Butterson’s house with some of Emma’s blankets spread over the bed and a second vanity. Emma had already gone and pulled one of the vanities’ chairs out and turned it. She sat down as we came in.
“Well?” Emma said. “Have a seat.” I took the other vanity’s chair. Megan sat on the edge of the bed.
“Um. Nice place you have here,” I said banally.
“Thanks,” Megan replied. “I’ve been practicing glamours.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes,” she said. “You’re both very nervous. Let’s skip the small talk, though, alright?”
I swallowed nervously. I wasn’t sure how to get started: Emma had handled most of the relationship ground rules talk between Hans, herself, and myself. Megan looked just as uneasy as I felt.
Emma sighed. “Okay, I’ll start. Even though I already thought it at both of you. Abby, you’re my girlfriend. So is Megan. I shouldn’t have broken up with her, but I was afraid I would get hurt if she left me for you, Abby, or that she wouldn’t do something that would make her happy if I stayed with her. But I am poly, so you’re both going to have to accept that or break up with me: your choice.” She scowled. “And Abby, I know you’re sort of leaning toward being polyamorous yourself. Or at least experimenting. So I hope that’s okay. And I don’t have a problem with it if you two decide to date each other. And Megan told me that she doesn’t have a problem with dating me and maybe you, too, but frankly: she needs to be the one who talks about that now.”
I felt a little off-balance. On the one hand, I was relieved that I wasn’t being put on the spot. On the other hand, the entire conversation felt surreal. I mean: Megan? I was still coming grips with dating Emma and Hans and maybe Benjamin — and also Melvin and Pips being creepy pseudo-suitors. I hadn’t even really started thinking of Megan as anything other than who she’d always been to me: my best friend. I mean, I’d started thinking about all the implications of her having a crush on me and being a changeling and a faerie queen and probably having fed off of my aura for the entire time we’d known each other, but I hadn’t started internalizing any of that. I still felt the same about her as I always had.
Well, crap: Maybe I would’ve been better off if I’d gone next, after all. That seemed to sum up what I was going to have to explain, anyway.
But Megan was already starting to reply to Emma and myself. “So,” Megan said. “Um. Abby, I… I haven’t been completely honest with you. I mean, I have about everything that matters! But I thought… I…” She took a deep breath and started over. “I need to tell you why I didn’t share everything. And I really, really hope you can understand.”
Megan took another deep breath. “I was afraid, too,” Megan said. “My folks… I mean, the people who raised me… they’re really conservative. My aunt… When I was a little girl I would visit her on the weekends. She would teach me artsy stuff. She taught me painting and her friend — I called her Aunt Jane, even though we weren’t related — showed me how to do some sewing and knitting and things like that.”
Megan swallowed and looked at Emma for support. Emma nodded in a way that made me realize she’d heard this story before. From Megan’s leyline I could already tell that wherever Megan was going with the non sequitur about her aunts was somewhere painful, and I wanted to just be there to support Megan through her recollection. But witnessing that exchange between her and Emma… it hurt.
It didn’t stop me from wanting to comfort Megan, or wanting to know what it was that she had to tell me — but that hurt was there, too, and it was really, really distracting in addition to everything else. I knew I didn’t have any right to know anything Megan hadn’t been comfortable sharing with me, but it still hurt to realize that someone she hadn’t known as long as she’d known me probably still knew her better.
“Anyway,” Megan said, “one weekend I went to the kitchen to get a snack and caught her in there kissing her friend. And I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to interrupt, because I knew it was important because my dad would tell her she needed to find someone and get married all the time. I remember thinking: ‘Huh. I guess if she can kiss girls or guys then she has twice as many chances to get married. Go aunt Rose!’ And I liked Aunt Jane. She was neat. So I just went back to the other room to keep doing my drawing.”
Megan looked at me. I don’t know what she saw. I sat impassively, suppressing my growing desire to say or do anything to derail the awkward and uncomfortableness that I knew was going to hit when Megan’s story concluded. Even without knowing the specifics, I could see where it was going.
I don’t know what Megan saw on my face — but it didn’t really matter, since she could probably see both my sympathy and my anxious discomfort perfectly well through our leyline.
Megan’s searching gaze eventually locked on my eyes. Her focus brought her leyline further into focus, too. I could see the anguish in her eyes and feel the internalized, inescapable childhood guilt through our connection. “Then the next day at church… during the fellowship hour after the sermon… Dad got on her about finding a husband again. And I just… I didn’t know. I was trying to stand up for her! I told him that she didn’t need a boy because she could just get married to Aunt Jane because they were in love because I’d seen them kissing.”
Megan’s eyes shone with unshed tears. My heart wrenched for her: I could feel the guilt and self-recrimination she’d carried her whole life over this one incident. Emma and I were on our feet almost simultaneously. But despite my superhuman speed and reflexes, Emma reached Megan’s side first. She knelt beside the bed with her arms wrapped around Megan’s waist. I climbed into the bed and wrapped mine around Megan’s shoulders.
“Dad got so angry,” Megan said. “Aunt Rose, too. And… And everyone got so angry, and I didn’t know why and… Mom took me away. We sat in the car until Dad came out. But Mom wouldn’t talk to me while we waited, and by the time Dad got there I was too scared to ask anything.” One of Megan’s hands found Emma’s hair; the other curled up to cling to my arm. She ducked her head down against my shoulder — I felt her shoulders tremble in my arms as she sniffled back a sob. “When we got home… I didn’t know what to do, or say, or… and everyone was unhappy, and I just wanted it to stop and then…”
Megan’s breath caught. “Oh God,” she stammered. “I just realized… I hadn’t thought about this since… oh, God.” Her hand tightened painfully on my arm and her chest jerked like she wanted to throw up. “I thought I was just trying to comfort my father,” she choked out. “So everyone would feel better. So I could understand why everyone was so upset. But I fed on his aura, didn’t I?” Megan started rocking. “I was a kid. I didn’t understand anything. How could I think I understood when… I thought… In college I thought I’d picked it up from living with them, but I pulled it out of his head. That very first time. That was when I started thinking that my aunt was sick and disgusting and some kind of abomination against nature and God and… oh, God.”
Megan started sobbing in earnest. I did my best to hold back tears of my own and just kept holding her. I felt so damn helpless. And horrified. I couldn’t imagine — but I didn’t have to. I could see and feel exactly what Megan was going through, and the remove of the leyline was just barely enough to keep me from breaking down over it, too.
When Megan finally continued, it was only after dozens of false starts that were rendered unintelligible by her sobbing. Finally she managed to take a ragged — but complete — breath. “I never visited my aunt Rose again after that Sunday,” she said. “I never even tried to. I didn’t see her at the church, either. I never talked about them. No one did. But I didn’t try to visit them and didn’t talk about them because I didn’t want to feel like that again. I didn’t want to… I loved my aunt Rose. And my aunt Jane! But I could always tell when someone was talking about them or Dad was thinking about his sister because it made me feel so…” Megan looked up at me, and she was a picture of vulnerability.
“I didn’t see them again until the funeral,” Megan whispered. “It was right before we graduated. I never even would have known about it, except the executor of their will tracked me down. They thought Dad had stopped me from seeing them. They didn’t know that I’d never tried. That I felt the same way about them as he did. Except I didn’t, and I didn’t understand why — except then… I thought maybe it was that I was making excuses for myself because I knew that there were girls I wanted to kiss, and maybe I was just saying I loved them and they weren’t bad people like everyone else thought because I didn’t want to have to say I was a horrible person.”
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I didn’t know what else to say.
Megan didn’t seem to have even heard me. “I didn’t think they were disgusting when I saw them at the funeral,” she said. “I was glad that they’d had each other, that they’d gotten to be happy and together before the end. And I was so mad at my father, and my mom, and the church — and myself. Everyone I’d ever known who’d thought those things about them. And then… Dad was there. At the funeral. Not because he cared. I could tell. Just because, even if Aunt Rose was a ‘god forsaken gay’ she was still his sister and appearances had to be kept — and she and Aunt Jane had been rich.”
“And by then I’d realized that I didn’t just like you as a friend,* Megan continued. “So when I yelled at Dad — about not telling me about the accident, or letting me say my goodbye in the hospital, or telling me even about the funeral, — I threw it in his face. I told him that I liked girls, too, and called him a bigot and… and… I accused him, in front of everyone, of just being there because he thought his sister must have left him some of her money because ‘she didn’t have anyone else,’ since Aunt Jane had been in the car, too. And I knew I was right… I didn’t know how I knew, then, but I knew.”
“First he told me that I was wrong. About the money, and about liking you. He tried to yell at me that it was Aunt Rose’s fault for twisting me by doing perverse things in front of me when I was a kid. He claimed he was just there because someone had to pray for his sister — and never mind her friends and neighbors who’d actually cared about her and shown up. And I just got angrier and angrier with him.” Megan’s voice had dropped to something that wasn’t a whisper, but wasn’t any louder than one. “I think maybe I was channeling all of the anger of everyone else who was there,” she said softly. “At the time, I thought it was just from years of repressed self-hate and shame and guilt bubbling up, but now….?”
Megan swallowed. “He told me to never show myself at home again. He tried to make up some bullshit about corrupting my little brother, but I just sneered in his face and told him that his house was a place of bigotry and hate and had never been a home to me or anyone, and that my home was in the city and would never be with my ‘family’ again.” She shivered, and let go of myself and Emma in order to wrap her arms around herself. “I stormed out.”
Megan’s lips quirked in a weak attempt at injecting self-effacing humor into her narrative. “Their poor lawyer. He had to track me down again to actually inform me of the contents of Aunt Jane’s and Aunt Rose’s wills. They hadn’t been able to adopt. He told me that he’d talked with them a lot, and they’d talked about me often. Even though they’d only had me on weekends, and only for a few years, I was the closest they’d ever had to a daughter. They’d left me everything.”
Megan laughed, but it was a forced, bitter thing. “I didn’t have to worry about being able to support myself,” she said, “and that was what made me realize I hadn’t been worrying about how to support myself. I’d been worrying about what would happen if I…” She swallowed and fixed my gaze with hers again. “I was terrified of what would happen if I told you I was interested in you. I didn’t think I could take it if you told me to go away like Dad did. If you looked at me like I was disgusting and perverted and… So I didn’t. And I wish I had. Except that then I might not have met Emma. But… you know what I mean, right? I wish I’d told you about this back when I first realized I wanted to. I wish you’d been with me when I’d met Emma, and that maybe if you and I were together then we could have both started dating her. And… I just wish I’d done better,” she concluded, her voice fading to a whisper again.
I was stunned into silence. I was still trying to deal with all of the emotions Megan had shown me while recounting her perspective of the crush she’d never told me about, and the extenuating circumstances that had led to her silence.
But even though I was too overwhelmed to formulate a coherent response, it didn’t follow that my autopilot was under the same restriction. “I’m so sorry,” I said quietly. I didn’t even try to rein it in, because even if I hadn’t put those words together consciously they were still the absolute truth. I sat back until I wasn’t hugging Megan so much as holding her by the shoulders, forcing her to look at me. After all, it was my turn now.
“You’re my best friend,” I said. “And I never told you, but I always thought you were really sexy. I mean, I’ve had fantasies about you and…” suddenly hit by what I was saying, I made an embarrassed protest: “well, except I wasn’t in them!” And then I realized how that had to sound and winced. “But I wasn’t in any of my fantasies,” I valiantly tried to explain. Oh god, I am making myself look like a real catch here, aren’t I? “I mean… ” I cringed. “Um, let me start over please! I’m fucking this up.”
I heard Emma snort. She was looking up at me from Megan’s lap. Megan nodded for me to try again, which brought my gaze back to her. I started blushing fiercely and tried desperately to remember what I’d thought to say earlier. “You’re my best friend and I haven’t had time to think of you as anything else,” I blurted. “Maybe — probably — I can. But I only know you as Megan, my friend. All of the rest of this stuff? Megan the changeling, Megan the faerie queen, Megan the bisexual, Megan the suitor… None of it has had time to sink in!”
This time I swallowed back my nerves. “I thought… I thought I should be guilty about dating Emma after I found out you were interested in me,” I said. “Or at least that people would think that I should feel guilty about it? But I don’t. Because she hit on me, and I said yes to it, and things snowballed from there and that has nothing to do with the fact that you wanted to maybe ask me out, too.” I managed a wan smile. “Except now you know that I like girls, too, so you don’t have to be scared to ask. And maybe… I mean, if you ask…” I could feel heat radiating off my cheeks. I had no idea what I was doing with one girlfriend — I would be hopeless with trying to have two. It was insane! Except, of course, I kind of sort of had two boyfriends, so why not two girlfriends?
It would probably be sexist if I didn’t even things up. And I wasn’t about to be a bad feminist over this. So I squeezed my eyes shut and shoved out all the words.
“If you ask the only way I’ll say no is if I totally freak out because I’m having a panic attack because it’s me, and not because it’s you, but if recent experience is any indication I’ll probably just say ‘oh, fuck yes take me!’ except I’m a freak so who knows so you know what, we should just skip that whole scenario and I’ll do it instead.”
I opened my eyes and breathed heavily. I’d done that thing where I talked without breathing again — but that didn’t actually make me need to breathe heavier to catch my breath, since I didn’t really have breath to catch. No, I was just starting to hyperventilate. I looked into Megan’s eyes and Megan looked back at me. I could tell that she was a little stunned and still trying to parse everything I’d thrown out there in one big lump.
Unfortunately, while she was processing my gut was twisting up in anxiety. Finally — after about half a second — I just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Well?” I blurted. “Megan, will you go out with me?”