Was it my imagination, or were horrible, horrible things happening to my body? Horrible things I didn’t specifically request from Mister Chutney-Worthington, who had almost become a distant memory…I’d been dreaming of him quite often as of late. I never wanted to wake from those beautiful, butler-filled dreams (which also occasionally served as wedding cake-topper inspiration).
I especially didn’t want to wake from those dreams when my clothing began to squeeze me most uncomfortably. Had I…after all these centuries…gained weight?
Absolutely not. I refused to consider it for a single heartbeat. And so I used my improperly fitted clothing as yet another shopping opportunity with Penny, at a shop that specifically catered to Modern City Women with refined tastes such as mine.
The vaguely familiar woman who worked there told me that the owner had a penchant for “chicks like us” (clearly she recognized me as another Modern City Woman) and therefore carried a special selection of garments that might suit me–and in my favorite colors, it would seem. This truly was one of my favorite shops in the city, and not only because of the male employee dress code.
It would seem that I had gained weight in certain other areas, as Lysander’s gaze had demonstrated time and time again, so I felt it best to find better support for those as well. My back was aching abominably lately…
When I asked Penny if she’d noticed any of my weight gain, she gave me the strangest look.
“It’d be weirder if you didn’t gain any weight,” she muttered. “You’ll lose it later anyway. Probably.”
What lovely reassurance from a reformed ragamuffin who was now as dear to me as a sister. I offered to buy her new clothing and a good brassiere as well (not that she requires much of one, but Byron seems happy enough). However, she told me that the “experience alone” of shopping with me was enough for her. That was very sweet, but one day I’ll help her understand the point of shopping.
I was glad to get Penny out of the apartment, at any rate. Byron had been stuck to her like a flea on a bat, and Lysander…I would have to have a talk with Lysander when I had more time. He seemed to have developed an almost unhealthy fixation on his younger sister’s private life, but a girl her age needed some privacy and a life separate from her elder sibling. If only planning the wedding didn’t keep me so busy, or make me so very tired…
Everything seemed to be going well enough, at least. Until…until the day Lysander unleashed the curse upon our heads. What had possessed him to touch my phone? Didn’t he respect a woman’s secrets? I rose from my coffin to hear a sinister knock upon the door to the apartment.
I had no patience for his ensuing apologies. “Open the door, Lysander,” I whispered. “If you don’t, they’ll simply find another way in.”
I was relieved that it was only Penny and Byron (the latter of whom was apparently dressed for one of the strange games they seemed to enjoy playing), but I knew my relief couldn’t last for long.
I instructed Byron to follow me to the balcony, uncaring of the sun, though at least the overhang and umbrella provided a measure of protection. Lysander and Penny exchanged looks as we left them behind, but they were better off not knowing the details of the curse for as long as they could remain ignorant. But Byron could no longer remain ignorant, not anymore.
I pointed to a horrific sight on a nearby roof, announcing our doom.
“Be on your guard, Byron,” I whispered. “I hope you always remember everything I’ve done to protect you. I only wanted to keep you safe for all these years…to give you a chance…”
And then the curse was upon us. They were upon us.
“Hey,” Byron said. “Bats in the city.”
But they weren’t bats. They weren’t bats at all.
He was the first to show his true form. It was even worse than the last time…I couldn’t bear to look.
And wherever he was, she was never far behind.
Together, they were the Blackwell family curse.
“My little bumblebee,” Lord Bartholomew Blackwell said. “All grown up and fixing to have little bumblebees of her own. Your mama’s jubblies were even bigger than yours are now, back when you were in her belly.”
“Don’t call me that,” I hissed. “And don’t ever say jubblies in polite company.”
“But you already banned all the fun words, Bummy.”
“Don’t call me that, either.”
“Never.” The thought made me shudder.
“Oh, I never thought I’d see the day,” Lady Corinne Blackwell said. “Our little girl, already fit to burst. She must be having twins, don’t you think? I wasn’t half this big when I was this far along. I don’t think we could take her in the RV right now–not with the weight limit.”
“I’ll never step foot in that flying metal deathtrap,” I snapped.
“Our girl was always slow to adapt to the changing times,” Lord Bartholomew said.
“I wouldn’t say that, hon,” said Lady Corinne. “Here she is all set to raise a baby on her own, without a husband in sight.” She looked at me. “We’d be happy to babysit for you as much as you want, sweetheart. We’re your parents, you know.”
I wish I didn’t know. If the physical resemblance weren’t there… “Why do you keep speaking as though…as though I’m…carrying a child? I would never engage in such–such shameful behavior before marriage. My being pregnant is an absolute impossibility.” I couldn’t look at her, and not only because she was many centuries too old to be wearing shorts that short.
“Sweetie, is that a joke? I could wipe a tear from my eye…our little Blackwell girl finally learning how to tell a joke at almost four hundred…I’d wondered a few times if she wasn’t a Blackwell at all. Well, I reckon she wasn’t until we went and made things legal after she was born…”
I gasped and remembered our audience. “Don’t listen to her,” I told Byron. “Don’t listen to either of them.” For some reason, it was easy to forget him, dressed as he was. “I would never demean myself in such a way. I’d never…I’d never give birth to a bastard.”
Lord Bartholomew sighed. “My little girl’s still got a complex about that, does she? No shame in being born on the wrong side of the blanket. Well, not anymore. Times have changed, bumblebee. And we made things official way back when–you threatened me at fangpoint to see the records yourself when you were about as big as that unicorn over yonder.” He pointed at the stuffed toy that was inexplicably on the balcony–perhaps a present for Penny from Byron. I’d have to teach him how to shop properly for a young woman’s gifts later.
“I’m confused,” Byron said. “Bianca, who are these people?”
“Who’s this handsome ninja?” asked Lady Corinne. “Hon, how long’s it been since we split a ninja?”
“Depends on which way we split him, snugglefangs. Centuries, at least. In the mood for another? I’m game if you are.”
“That is your son,” I snapped.
“That’s our Byron?” Lord Bartholomew asked. “He’s so big now. How’s my favorite little man?”
“I’m sorry,” Byron said. “I don’t remember you at all. I always thought my parents were dead, or maybe on a sailboat…”
“Didn’t you get all our postcards?”
Byron looked to me for support. But how could I possibly support him now? It was too late…I’d tried so hard to divert their attention from him. I’d had all those postcards sent to that faraway shack so he’d never see them, and they’d believe they could visit us both at any time…
I’d specifically chosen to stay in Forgotten Hollow forever because of its strict zoning laws prohibiting recreational vehicles, but I’d made a fatal error. Multiple errors: letting Byron leave, and following him…and not using a more secure password on my phone. How could I have been so careless?
“They must’ve gotten lost in the mail,” I lied.
“Some things never change,” Lord Bartholomew said. “Like the postal service. Carrier pigeons were more reliable, if you ask me.” He grinned at Byron. “No harm done. We’ve got eternity to catch up on everything we missed–got a hug for your papa?”
“I think so,” Byron said. “Since I’m not an orphan.” He would’ve been better off as an orphan.
Their hug sickened me.
“You better have one for your mama too,” Lady Corinne said.
“I do,” Byron said eagerly. “I like hugs. I used to hug Count von Batstein all the time since I didn’t have any parents to hug. Or a girlfriend.”
“Hon, he still has that giant bat we gave him,” she said as she wrapped those shamefully bare arms around poor, corruptible Byron. “Isn’t he just the cutest?”
“Hard to say, but he’s half yours, snugglefangs.”
“Let’s see just how cute he is now. Take off your ninja mask, sweetie.”
Byron listened. To these strangers. He never listened to me right away…and I’d practically raised him myself!
“This is my face,” Byron said. “I hope you like it.”
Lady Corinne squealed. “Oh, hon, would you just look at our son! Isn’t he a handsome devil?”
“The handsomest,” agreed Lord Bartholomew. Byron grinned like an idiot at their shallow praise. “Fill us in on what we’ve missed, my boy.”
Byron proceeded to tell them embarrassing stories about his childhood–stories I would never deign to repeat unless I were blackmailing him. They laughed and patted him on the back as if he were some sort of comedic genius and not a poor, unfortunate victim of the Blackwell family curse. There was nowhere safe to look…even their feet offended me.
I was fortunate I wasn’t pregnant…at least I could return to hiding after the wedding. No child of mine would succumb to the Blackwell family curse.
But as I watched Byron speak to our parents, his face more animated and his smile wider than it had ever been with me, I knew for certain that I’d already lost my brother. It was a different sort of joy from when he was with Penny, but it was joy all the same.
Their laughter sliced through my unbeating heart. They were the ones who belonged with Byron, not me. I was the one who didn’t belong in this family.
And now my little brother would never need me again.