Chapter 50: Ivy

Maybe it was just like, the stress of being stuck in an airport, but I was thinking more and more about murdering my boyfriend.

Ugh.

Elian was like a hyper-ass herding dog with separation anxiety or something.

I was killing time in one of the airport’s five billion gift shops–maybe I’d pick up something for Sage–and my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing.

God, if I ignored him, he’d just send even more selfies–or worse. Seeing one mole was bad enough.

…But somehow his texts were worse.

Why didn’t tragic on-set accidents happen to people who deserved it? Was there really no way I could just like, off him without getting caught?

I was actually grateful to be roped into attending a kid’s birthday party. At least Elian wouldn’t be there–not without an appearance fee.

Or maybe my plane would crash before I made it home and like, all my problems would be solved?

How could I be looking forward to and dreading seeing my family at the same time? I missed them–so much–but I didn’t want to actually spend time with them. How fucked up was that?

I took an Uber home from the airport–and was immediately greeted by a sight that pulled my heart in like, a hundred different directions.

My dad goofing off with my kid brother, both of them laughing hysterically–probably at something incredibly dumb. It was like they were in a world of their own. Maybe dads and sons had a special bond? I don’t even know.

“Hey,” I said, “I’m home.” Kind of?

“Look, Dad,” Sage said. “One of my birthday strippers showed up early.”

“Psh, promised your mom I’d only hire the classy ones.”

“…Seriously? Oh my god.” Painful emotions swelled in my chest: anger, embarrassment, guilt, jealousy. The jealousy was the weirdest part, because it was like I was jealous of both of them–my dad for being Sage’s father, and Sage for being his son.

But then Sage flung himself at me out of nowhere. “Ivy, Ivy,” he said in a singsong voice. “Knew you wouldn’t miss my birthday. We’re going camping this weekend. Just us. As a family.”

“Camping? Can’t you like, have a pizza party or some shit with your friends like a normal kid?”

“But I can get pizza anytime, sis,” Sage said. “Getting my whole family together is special.”

“…You’re a weird fucking kid, you know that?”

“I take after my dad,” he said proudly. His hug saved him from seeing my face–something I was grateful for, because my mind went in a very bad direction.

“Damn right you do,” I said, glancing at Dad. “Maybe a little too much.”

“Dominant Strider genes, kid,” Dad said to me. “No escaping ‘em.”

I snorted. “Glad I took after Mom in the hairiness department.”

I decided to leave the boy and man-child to their goofing off and went to find Mom–but not before taking a lazy detour through the house. I sneaked into Sage’s bedroom first, so different from my own.

Mom still gave him two beds for some reason–hopefully he actually had sleepovers. And friends. …Why did he have a pic of just me and him in here? It was so old.

…God, I’d been so young. Way too young for a baby, but not too old to have a baby brother.

The memories were inescapable. They were all over the house, even without the photographic evidence.

The perfect little family. Even when he was little, Sage had always been like, weirdly obsessed with me. Or maybe he was just an attention whore who liked anyone who played with him.

I found Mom in the kitchen–no surprise there. She probably helped out with bake sales for Sage too. “Mom.”

“It’s so good to have you home, sweetie.” Her mom-arms practically squeezed half the life out of me, but I didn’t mind.

Once she secured me a cupcake–because of course she had one on-hand in preparation for my arrival–we sat down at the table. “Hey,” I said, “do you think it might be a good idea to talk to Dad, maybe? Sage basically called me a stripper just now, which is so not okay.”

“You know your dad–he says things, not all of them appropriate. Your brother knows when he shouldn’t repeat them.”

“But still, could Dad not say them in front of a literal child? Maybe if you said something–”

“I don’t think this is a discussion we need to have, Ivy.”

“But–”

“You’re Sage’s sister. You shouldn’t be worrying about things like this–Sly and I are responsible for all of his parenting decisions.”

“So, what, do I get like, zero say at all now?”

“That’s the choice all three of us made,” Mom said gently but firmly, “so you could live a normal, happy life as a teenager. You were able to finish high school, go off to college.” Yeah, but not graduate, because my stupid ass took advantage of my newfound freedom to get drunk and and party nonstop. “…Do you regret it?”

Every fucking day. If I’d given Sage away–to like, a stranger or even Uncle Anders–I wouldn’t have to live with a constant reminder of my fuck-up. Or if I’d–if I’d gotten rid of him completely… No. I couldn’t imagine that now.

But I’d never forget that day–the day sealed my fate in some shitty rest stop a million miles away.

It was like Mom had chosen a “neutral location” as far from home as humanly–or fae-ly–possible. To meet her brother. Her twin. Cirrus’s dad. He and Mom both came without their spouses–Mom had wanted it to be fair, since she only had Dad.

She wouldn’t have even told him I was pregnant if not for Dad. “He should know, Clem,” Dad had said, and for once she actually listened to him.

Fox fucking Fox couldn’t you have buttoned your damn shirt for this you goddamn sex cultist

The telepathy was in full swing along with my pregnancy–a glamour hid my baby bump, but I chose to hide my telepathy too. “Mom,” I mumbled, “I’m scared.”

“It’ll be okay, sweetie,” she whispered. “I won’t let him hurt you.” But that wasn’t what I was afraid of, not at all.

Fox–my uncle–was staring at us.

She looks so much like Clem I wish I’d gotten to meet her sooner not like this

We were stuffed into the corner of the shitty diner, with a beautiful view of concrete through the window. Like the whole world wasn’t closing in on me already.

I’m a good mom not like ours I’ll make up for your son’s mistake you just watch I’ll take care of this baby no matter what

“This is really just a courtesy,” Mom said. “We’ve already made all the important decisions about the baby.”

“I discussed this with my husband and wife”–so fucking weird, to have both–“and we’d be happy to help Ivy and Cirrus raise our grandson in the fae realm. We know how humans can be…”

You remember nothing about humans nothing nothing you’re too fae

Mom’s face darkened. “Your nephew. He’s my son. Mine and Sly’s.”

My first grandchild will be my nephew instead of my grandson my grandson this is wrong Clem this is a lie I’ve never seen my son cry before and now I understand now I understand

“You won’t be allowed anywhere near the house–you or your…” Her jaw clenched. “Son. His involvement from now on is zero.”

Fox gasped. “Clem–”

“Did you seriously expect differently? After all this?”

“Stop,” I mumbled. My head was pounding. “Bio moms get to like, make decisions when they’re giving up their babies, right? Like if the adoption is open or whatever?”

“Fox, how dare you pressure my daughter after what your son did to her–”

He tricked her he tricked her HE TRICKED HER

“STOP,” I said, louder this time. To my uncle, I said, “I want my bab–brother to know his grandpa. Uncle. Whatever. And his dad–or cousin. I don’t want something like this to–to happen again.” And I didn’t want Cirrus to cry anymore.

“…I’d be grateful for that, Ivy,” Fox said quietly, “as would my son. If–if we can only see the baby as his uncle and cousin, we’ll accept those terms.”

How dare you how dare you HOW DARE YOU
Stay away from my family why can’t you leave us ALONE
You already abandoned me why can’t you do it again

“Any visits will be supervised–and my daughter will not be present,” my mom said through gritted teeth. “…Is this really what you want, Ivy?”

Of course it wasn’t. If Cirrus had been there too, I probably would’ve made a different decision. Why hadn’t he come? Was he just…done with me, after I crushed his heart? Could we have raised a baby together in the fae world?

But that was like, a decade ago now. I was an adult. An adult staying in my old teenage bedroom, which made me feel young and helpless all over again.

“Cirrus,” I whispered, “did I make the right choice?”

“Big siiiiiis.”

“Shouldn’t you be asleep, twerp?”

“I’m about to hit two digits,” Sage said. “That means a later bedtime. Mom says.”

Mom also said that she kept too tight a leash on me, and that she wouldn’t make the same mistake with Sage–that she’d let him be a kid so he wouldn’t get the urge to rebel later. Lucky him.

Well, if he went and got some girl pregnant the second his balls dropped, that wasn’t my problem. I was just his sister. “Do you want something or what?”

“Can I sleep in your room tonight?”

“What? No. You have your own room.”

“Pleaseeee? For my birthday?”

“Ugh. Fine.”

“You’re the best.” His expression of excitement was worth it.

Spending time with my little brother wasn’t like, the worst thing in the entire world, even if he never shut up. Maybe he really was more like Dad than Cirrus.

And after all these years, I finally had a use for that second goddamn bed.

I could be close to him like this.

Just for a little while.

Chapter 49: Rosaline

My curse only intensified as I advanced in years. Once, I had believed with unshakable conviction that no man would lead me to behave in an irrational manner, a victim of pheromones and overactive brain chemistry.

However, I had since identified my attraction to a specific subgroup of men.

…This subgroup’s members each possessed a lack of attraction to me in return, such as one Thaddeus Lyons. He was my mother’s honorary “brother,” and a frequent visitor to the library at which I was currently employed.

Thaddeus’s interest in vampiric and fae research materials was dwarfed only by his devotion to his long-dead wife.

“Welcome back, Mr. Lyons,” I said. “I managed to retrieve the rare tome on vampire bat migration from another branch of the library. Is there anything else I may help you find?” Not between the pages of a book, but perhaps elsewhere…

“Thank you, Miss Graves,” he said. “That will be all for today.”

A pity. He was a vampire in the prime of his youth, despite his relative human age when he had been turned; it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility for Thaddeus to possess certain urges.

Father, an otherwise rational and intelligent man, had repeatedly permitted Mother to drink his blood due to the intense pleasure it brought, and I wouldn’t be averse to Thaddeus performing a similar act…

“I would love to stay and chat,” he said, “but regrettably, the butler academy requires my attention. I’ll be fortunate if I can make time to read a single page…”

I refused to let my frustrations, sexual and otherwise, lead to a lack of productivity, and so I devoted myself to restoring order in the library. Misplaced and improperly shelved books were a plague, one with no permanent cure.

Although it pains me to admit it, not all books are worthy of the shelf space they occupy–or the paper on which they’re printed. A certain female character on the covers of his novels bore a striking resemblance to me.

Rosamund,” I muttered darkly. “The name is unlikely to be a coincidence, considering the length and depth of Xanrathos’vel’s feelings for me.” I hadn’t heard from Rowan’s nephew in a number of years; fortunate, as I would make my feelings on the matter absolutely clear.

I hadn’t read more than a single sentence within the volumes themselves, but the synopses and covers promised sex and violence in equal measure, as befitted their demonic author.

Were it up to me, the tasteless series wouldn’t be offered in the library at all; however, they were a popular request among our patrons. Would they notice if one were to go amiss…?

However, my passion for organization–and the Dewey Decimal System–won out, and I returned the books to their proper place.

Where had this interest in writing originated? Unlike me, Xanrathos’vel had never displayed a passion for reading. He likely sought only the attention and adulation derived from being a celebrity novelist.

I was grateful to return home after work. Observing my fish in their tank was a relaxing activity, one that also served to lower my blood pressure.

And Gaston never failed to improve my mood. Sometimes–albeit briefly–I wondered if I might’ve been better served by neglecting to undo Cosette and Rowan’s long-ago enchantment.

But could I have loved Gaston as much in any other form? Highly unlikely.

He remained by my side as I engaged in an activity that was often accompanied by heightened stress and frustration: writing.

I hoped to become an author of children’s books, ones that would instill a love of reading at an early age.

However, all eleven of my previous attempts were met with rejection:

Dear Ms. Graves,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider ROSIE REDGRAVE AND THE DOG OF THE DEAD. While the premise is certainly creative, we found the vocabulary to be too advanced for your book’s intended age group. Also, the subject matter may be too dark for younger readers.

However, this industry is highly subjective, and we wish you luck on your journey to publication.

How had Xanrathos’vel managed to secure a literary agent and sign multiple book deals while I was met with continued failure? Was it because he was the son of a demon king? His number of followers on social media, which I refused to partake in?

I could easily have my work published via my grandfather’s media empire; however, such a shortcut would bring me no sense of pride or satisfaction.

Thankfully, between my work and my failed attempts at writing, there remained time enough for Cosette. I worried for my younger sister. Although I was pleased to see her pursue a viable career path that suited her interests, I hoped she wasn’t inviting unwelcome attention–something I was altogether too familiar with in my youth.

Moderating Cosette’s stream alongside Rowan–and correcting people’s grammar online–was a serviceable distraction. …Rowan was far more distracted than I, however, even after the stream ended.

He was likely speaking with my sister. I envied the ease with which he spoke to Cosette; my own attempts at conversation with her as fund_childhood_literacy had been much too brief. I wanted to speak to her sister to sister, but she rarely answered the phone when I called, claiming that “no one calls people anymore, Rosaline.”

Would Rowan notice if I left without a word? The term of our contract had ended years ago; I had no reason to remain in his vicinity.

Once, I prided myself in what I believed to be exceptional powers of perception. Once, I thought Rowan did everything out of consideration for me.

But it was Cosette. It had always been Cosette. He loved her from afar, as I did, albeit in a significantly different manner.

Was this a clinically diagnosable obsession, or merely devotion not unlike Thaddeus’s to his wife? I had yet to draw a conclusion.

“Your satyr’s urges must be growing unbearable,” I said, sitting beside him. “Do you require my assistance?”

He smiled at me. “You know me so well.”

I was a more practical choice than an overzealous soccer fan who might demand too much of his time and attention–time and attention set aside solely for Cosette–or another witch who might reward his indifference with a hex.

He was a satyr, with a satyr’s needs. I had no issue with satisfying them, as they also satisfied some of my own.

As intercourse with satyrs was poorly documented, I considered myself at the forefront of this emerging research.

“Thank you, Rosaline,” Rowan said afterward, eschewing any exclamations of enjoyment or particularly tender words. “I really appreciate all your help.”

Although unintentional, Rowan Ravensbane achieved a feat no other man had ever managed: he made me feel like an imbecile.

Chapter 48: Cosette

Did “catching up” count as a date? It was only lunch, not dinner, but I’d asked Xanny to take me to the restaurant Grandpa Graham had named after me: Cosette’s.

It was fancy and all, and I really wanted to impress him, but mostly I wanted a place where we could be alone for once. Not like when we were kids, with Rosaline and Rowan and Gasbone always nearby…

“Cosette,” Xanny said, taking my hand in front of the restaurant like I was a lady or something. “So good to see you.”

“Same. So good to see you too, I mean.”

“Shall we head on in?” He leaned closer, then whispered in my ear: “I’m starving.”

The way he said it, it was like he was starving for me, which was just weird, but also kind of amazing.

But we started off with drinks: tea for him, even though he was a demon and I figured he’d want blood in a skull or something, and a plasmafruit spritzer for me.

“It’s been too long,” Xanny said. “I almost thought I’d never see you again. …But the sight was worth the wait.”

“You mean my boobs?” I made sure he got a good look at them. “They got even bigger since you saw them last–I mean, since a decade ago, not since a few days ago. As far as I know, anyway.”

His laugh made me happy. “You’re funny, Cosette. I wish I’d appreciated your sense of humor more back then.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “You can appreciate it now. My fans think I’m funny too–well, hot and then funny, but mostly when I mess up. Which I do a lot.” On purpose, sometimes, if it got me bigger donations.

“Your fans,” he repeated. “I…might’ve sneaked a peek at your channel–sleepyyswan, you said? I can see why you have so many.”

“Sex sells,” I said cheerfully. “It’s all in the algorithms, not that I understand that stuff. But I know that when I post ‘almost naked’ in my video titles, I get a lot more hits. It feels kind of weird to be wearing clothes now, honestly–I’m so used to wearing just lingerie, pretty much.”

I was pretty sure my smile was making my eyes look weird now, but hopefully Xanny wouldn’t mind, and at least there weren’t any cameras nearby.

“It does sell,” he said dryly. “My readers can’t get enough of harem life. Some of them even come up to me at signings telling me they wish they were part of my harem, if you can believe it.”

“I can. I wanted to be part of your harem more than anything,” I admitted. “I dreamed about it for years and years and wrote one hundred thirty-three diary entries about it. Your harem is probably huge by now. Is that where you get your inspiration?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Actually, I–”

“Ooh, do you base your characters on real people? Did you base one on me, even though you never got to induct me? I’m really sorry about that, by the way, but, you know, finishing school and all.”

“…I try not to. That’s a surefire way to get an author in trouble, especially if his friends and acquaintances get ahold of his books and begin to speculate–there’s always potential for unflattering comparisons.”

“Well, if you based one on me, I won’t know, on account of the never-reading thing. How’d you get started doing that anyway? Writing books, real ones. For me it was just seeing what people liked seeing me do on camera, and that was playing video games in my underwear, apparently.”

“My parents made me replace all of Rosaline’s books I’d burned as a child–she kept detailed lists of her collection.” My sister’s name made me wince. “And I ended up reading them before giving them back to her–and after my sisters destroyed whatever books I tried to read in secret, I started writing my own. I know–an odd occupation for a demon. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?”

“Who says it’s weird? I’ll click the thumbs-down on all their videos.” I wouldn’t post any mean comments though, because the world didn’t need that kind of negativity.

“Thanks, Cosette.” He took my hand. “That means a lot to me.”

“Anything for my–” He wasn’t my BFFAE, I remembered. Not like Rowan. “Friend,” I finished, weaving my fingers between his.

I really was lucky we met that day–maybe my curse was finally gone for good.

Chapter 47: Rain

I was in a really good mood ever since I found the Sun King and “rained on his parade,” as the humans say. If he had a parade, I didn’t see it, but I rained on everything just to be sure.

I waited until I was too far from the house for Sky to hear before I let my whistling become singing.

I was at the beach, where humans liked to expose their skin to the sun–not that they could lately, with all the rain. Maybe that’s why no one was here–they were worried about unexpected thunderstorms. I felt kinda bad about that.

But then I spotted somebody I knew, sitting all by herself near the end of a dock…

“Hey, Lyra. Sky said you’d be visiting soon. Something wrong?”

“I thought I was hearing siren song,” she said.

“Nah, just me. And I know my singing is terrible. Sky told me, even if she was nice about it.” I knelt behind the bench. “Why’re you so sad?”

“My parents, they are always worrying about me. I was hoping my grandfather and his Caspian would only smile and swim with me and play with Chorizo, but now they are worrying also. I cannot escape.”

“Because you’re sick?”

“I am not sick! I am Lyra, and they forget this. Even handsome dead fish doctor–first he is flirting, but then he is poking my fins and asking many questions. I thought he would poke my cloaca, like doctors do in documentaries on human mating rituals, but this is not so!”

I sat down beside her. “Yeah, pretty sure those aren’t documentaries,” I admitted, “but I’m sorry you didn’t get your cloaca poked.”

“And I am sorry to be complaining so much,” she said. “Sky, she is doing well? I wanted to visit, but I did not want to surprise her.”

“Good idea. She doesn’t handle surprises well. And don’t wear dark clothing or come at night. She’s still…different. Scared.”

“She is still Sky,” Lyra insisted, “and my friend. Please do not forget this.”

“That’s true. She’s my twin–but sometimes I treat her like a baby. Maybe I should try letting her spread her wings–like a bird. Or do you think she’ll fall?”

“You sound like egg-provider–mother,” she corrected herself. “You are sister, yes? Let her ask for your help if she is needing this, but otherwise let her swim with her own tail.”

That gave me a lot to think about on my way to torment the Sun King. I’d never been sad about or scared of anything for long, not in my entire life, so it was hard to understand how Sky felt. I’d just been mad–mad at the Sun King for hurting Mama, but that was fine, because I’d teach him a lesson.

Except he wasn’t where he was supposed to be.

Luckily, Mama said I was half-monkey and I was able to climb up to his little shack without any problems. What kind of king lived in a place like this instead of a castle or palace?

But he wasn’t up here either. He thought he could hide from me?

Not a chance. I’d hunt him down to the ends of the earth–or even inside a volcano if I had to. He wasn’t gonna escape me.

He didn’t run very far to hide from me. This looked more like the kind of place a Sun King would live–it was some kinda temple, not that he deserved it.

He was doing that thing that humans liked to do on beaches: frying himself in the sun.

Gross.

“Hey, little hurricane-mama.”

“It’s Rain.”

“Whoa, again? Guess I better hide inside.”

“I mean that’s my name–Rain. And I’ve made a decision: I’m gonna stay with you until you get your memory back. My sister needs to learn to become more independent, so.”

He closed his eyes again. “Far out.”

His amnesia had to go away eventually–at least that’s how it worked in human movies and books and stuff–and when it did, I’d be waiting.

And then he’d finally pay for what he did to my family.

Chapter 46: Sky

I was painting again. My mind was overflowing not only with inspiration, but motivation as well. I wondered what my new friend would think of my work…

Perhaps the coral was out of place, but I liked how the sparkles matched those on the lovely mermaid princess’s tail. The prince’s expression was so very tender as he gazed upon her face…

What would it be like to have someone look at me like that?

“Oh hey,” my sister said. “You’re painting again–cool. Wasn’t sure you’d be able to with all the storms.”

“I think I could’ve painted through a monsoon,” I told her. “I had far too much inspiration to let it go to waste. Doesn’t it look like something out of a fairy tale? The handsome human prince and the mermaid princess…”

“Looks kinda like you with a tail,” Rain said, even though there was no such resemblance. Sadly, my sister didn’t possess an artist’s eye. “By the way, you should probably stay inside. Think I pissed off the Sun King really bad–he might mistake you for me or something.”

“Are you certain it’s truly the Sun King?” I asked. “I don’t know why he’d be here, of all places–and you should be careful about angering powerful beings.”

“I’m not afraid of him. Not even if he has abs I could cook sushi on.”

“I thought sushi was something humans ate raw…”

“That’s dumb–who’d eat raw fish? Except for a mermaid, I guess. Or sharks. And dolphins.”

“Please be careful, Rain. I’m sure these islands are protected by their own deities, and we’re guests here. You don’t want to upset the delicate balance of the islands…”

“Hey, I got this. And sorry for making you sad again. It was good to see you smiling–like you were your old self again.”

My old self. Before…before I’d learned the truth. Before everything changed…

“It’s okay, Sky,” she said. “You’re still my sister now, got it? Even if you’re different. Anyway, I’m probably gonna go ruin the Sun King’s day. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”

I watched her stride off into the sunlight, carefree and whistling as she often did. What was it like, to face the world without fear? To confront your enemies instead of hiding from them and hoping they forgot you existed?

I considered returning to the beach where I’d met the handsome merman, but it would be crowded now, rife with humans. He had probably already returned to the sea regardless. I was fortunate humans made so many things to distract themselves from the harsh realities of life.

I loved romance, even if it was something I would never experience for myself. Or perhaps that was why I enjoyed it so very much?

But as I soon discovered…this wasn’t a romance at all! It was something unexpectedly terrifying, not unlike my own life…

“Why do humans like this sort of thing?” I mumbled, eyes mostly closed.

And then I heard a thump. Was it…inside the house?

Thump, thump, thump.

I–should I run? Or would the monster only chase me? It was coming from the bathroom, I realized…

“R-Rain?” I called. “Is that you? Did you forget to bathe before leaving the house again…?”

What if she was hurt? “I’m–I’m coming in to check on you!”

I was unprepared for the sight that awaited me.

“I was wetting for you,” said my mer-prince. “I’m glad I was able to follow your trail, since you smell like magic.”

I smelled? “What’re you doing here?”

“I fished to spend more time with you, after you saved me,” he said. “Oar you not happy to see me? If you oar, you can give me a tail massage.”

“I–I am happy. I thought–I thought you’d returned to the ocean…”

“I cannaut return,” he said. “My kingdom was stolen from me.”

“So you’re–a prince?”

“A king. King Aurelian.” The name suited him perfectly. “Will you help me reclaim it? You oar naut human–you may be powerful enough to help me.”

“I’m Sky,” I said quickly. “And I’m not.” He’d said that last time as well. “I have fae blood–and sky goddess blood as well. …But I’m not powerful, not like my sister. I’m useless.” Afraid. Small. Food for a monster.

“Water boat if I stay here until you can help me?”

“You can’t,” I blurted, grasping for his tail. It was wet and slippery… “My sister will attack you if she sees you. She’ll think you’re the Sun King, or at the very least a sun prince.” He looked like a sun prince, with those golden curls. “I don’t want you getting hurt…”

“I’m not her anemone,” he argued. “Please don’t make me leave…”

“I’m truly very sorry,” I said, “but everyone is her anem–her enemy if she thinks they have any relation to the Sun King…”

“You were naut lying about being weak,” he said. “I wasn’t shore before…”

I was trying! Rain wouldn’t have struggled…

But in the end, I managed it!

“Water you going to do now?” Aurelian asked. “Will you make me go back to the ocean, sentenced to be alone alwaves?”

I…I couldn’t do that to him. I knew what it was like to lose everything, didn’t I?

“You can watch a little bit of human television with me,” I said, “but then you have to stay somewhere else.”

“You oar going to come visit me after I leave?” he asked. He paid much more attention to me than the television.

“I…I’ll try,” I promised. I could do that much. Couldn’t I? I’d make certain the weather was nice first, of course.

He was much louder than the prince I’d envisioned in my painting, but I didn’t mind.

For once, my life felt like a lovely dream–and not a nightmare.

Chapter 45: Cirrus

The humans call me the Lord of the Forest. The ones who tell stories about me, who see me in their dreams or hear the laughter of pixies on the wind.

The roar of the past is muted here, bearable. Most memories belong only to the trees and flowers and birds, not to humans or fae or godlings.

It can be lonely here. Other than the beasts of the forest, only my family visits me.

But when I get lonely, I can delve into the past and visit the ones I love, again and again. I visit her the most. I hope she doesn’t mind.

“Hey, coz,” Sage said. He can travel freely, even here. His magic is powerful. The forest stirs whenever he arrives, leaves swaying and birds singing to greet him.

The distance between us feels too far. The roar always quiets when he’s near, but not as much as it did with Ivy.

“Sage,” I said, his name like a talisman on my lips. “You’re here.”

“Told you I’d be back as soon as I could. My mom signed me up for Cub Scouts, so I’ve been kinda busy with that, but Ivy thinks I’m lucky compared to her. She was always way busier.”

I knew that, but I didn’t say so. “She wouldn’t want you coming here on your own.”

“My mom? Or Ivy? Because I’m basically an adult now. Just need the body hair to prove it.”

“Both, I think.”

“Yeah well, it’s like my dad says–don’t ask permission, just do whatever the hell you want and beg for forgiveness later. If you get caught,” he added, “but my mom says I’m pretty much a criminal mastermind.”

I liked it when Sage visited, even if Ivy wouldn’t. Feelings of warmth glowed inside my heart whenever he was near. It was like how I felt around Ivy, but different. I wanted to protect him.

“Ivy’s definitely coming to my birthday party, by the way,” Sage said. “Got her to swear she’d come thanks to my mad acting skills. I’m gonna be an actor like her when I grow up–maybe we can be in the same movie or something.”

I didn’t know much about acting. I only knew about trying to hold back the words that would hurt others, or turning them into something pretty.

“You’re lucky,” he told me. “Acting sucks when it’s not for fun or money. Pretending like you don’t know better, when everybody else is acting like a lie’s the truth. And my mom tries to tell me not to lie–what a bunch of bullshit.”

“It hurts,” I said, “knowing things you aren’t supposed to. Things not meant for you.”

“It wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t think about it all the time. Ivy’s guilty, Mom’s worried I’ll find out. Too late for that. And Ivy thinks about you a lot, especially when she’s sad–don’t worry, my dad has way grosser thoughts, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who’s seen his own birth without a video. I’m glad I’m not a girl.”

“It should get easier, I think. Controlling your powers. Staying out of minds that should be closed to you.”

He went quiet, hugging his knees to his chest. “I know Dad’s my dad and you’re my cousin, but…is it okay if I kinda think of you as my father too sometimes?”

Was there anything wrong with having more than two parents? My mother had four; I had three. I kissed him on the top of his head, letting my response float to the top of my thoughts. His pain felt like my own, magnified a thousand times.

“You’ll come to my birthday party, right?” he asked. “I know you think Ivy doesn’t wanna see you ever again, but she’s full of shit. She really does, every time she looks at me. She thinks I don’t know why she gives me two of everything–it’s because she secretly hopes I’ll give one to you.”

I knew I should’ve refused him. Some wounds were still too fresh, too easy to reopen. But more than anything, I wanted to make Sage happy. Even more than Ivy. “…I’ll go.”

“Thanks, coz. I’ll make sure you get to spend some time with Ivy alone. I’m real good at getting into trouble and keeping my parents busy.”

I tried to quiet my next thoughts as I embraced him.

Regardless of distance or circumstance,
A father’s heart
Will forever remain
With his son.

Chapter 44: Ivy

I was so going to break up with Elian. Like, ASAP. I was.

Or maybe he’d forget he even brought up the baby bullshit? He had a short attention span if he wasn’t talking about himself.

My phone chirped. Ugh. Mom…again.

Shit, she was doing that thing where she freaked out if I didn’t respond immediately. She’d probably call if I didn’t text back now, and it was harder to lie over the phone than in text. Some actress I was.

Fine, god–I’d throw her a bone.

I did miss her.

Did she just…Mom me into going to a birthday party? Because I so wasn’t. I was an adult. An actress. I had shit to do.

…Even if I’d totally been lying about the shower and the interview.

How did she always know? Was it a mom thing, or was it like, some app she’d secretly installed on my phone to track my every move, no matter how far away I lived?

…Did I take a shower right then out of guilt, or because it was so hot and humid?

Well, whatever. I’d make plans on Saturday. Plans I couldn’t break for a birthday party. She didn’t dictate my life anymore.

…Okay, that wasn’t fair. She was my mom, I knew that. She loved me. She…made a lot of sacrifices for me.

But he’d have other birthday parties. A lot more, being fae. Missing one was no big deal.

“Finally,” Sage said. “I thought you died in there.”

“Oh my god, Sage, what if I’d been naked?” This had to be karma for me ambushing Uncle Anders the other day.

“Dad says he’ll get me strippers for my birthday, so it’s cool.”

“He did not.” Did he? Maybe it was different between father and son–and maybe I had to have a talk with Dad about some of the stuff he said to Sage…

“Gotta wait until my eighteenth birthday ‘cuz Mom says. Counting the daysss.”

“You’re not…really looking forward to seeing naked women yet, are you? You’re so young–you haven’t even hit puberty.”

“Dad says I’m gonna grow pubes and pit hair real soon,” he said, “and Mom says I already have ‘the BO of a much older guy.’ I’m gonna be a big hairy Strider just like Dad too, and he says chicks dig it.”

“You don’t know that. You’re fae. Fae tend to be slender and light on body hair.”

“Yeah well, Mom says I’m basically a little blond clone of dad, so whatever. I also swiped her phone and read your texts, and you’re coming to my birthday party, right? I know my favorite big sis wouldn’t miss it.”

“Like you have any other sisters.”

“Exactly, which is why you can’t abandon me on the sacred day of my birth. I don’t want my friends to think I’m a lame-o only child. Plus I told them you’re a hot actress and they don’t believe me. They offered me all of their allowances for a month if I trade them your autographed bikini pics. I kind of told them you wore one full-time because you live in Sulani–towel pic might count too, maybe.”

“Oh my god, what the hell. You’re practically infants. Lemme get dressed, ugh. Don’t touch anything.”

I had it so good when I was an only child, damn it. Had I really wished for a sibling all that time? This was like, a monkey’s paw situation.

“Why does he have to be so…portable?” I asked. I was glad Mom didn’t have his weird travel-magic, at least, or she’d be here every day. A normal fae’s wings would get too tired crossing oceans, but Sage so wasn’t normal.

Thank god he didn’t have telepathy–that was the last thing that kid needed. Uncle Anders basically said it must’ve been some prenatal fluke.

When I came back downstairs, I found Sage on the couch–along with a stolen strawberry cupcake, one of the ones Mom had sent me in a care package, because of course she had.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” I asked him. Maybe I’d been a little too hard on him, but seriously, what the hell was Dad teaching him? He was just a kid.

“If you think about it,” Sage said, “it’s pretty fucked up for me to have to beg my own big sister to come to my birthday party. You must really hate me.”

“Hey, I’m just really busy, and I live so far away, and–”

“Would all that even matter if you loved me?”

I didn’t know how to explain. How to make him understand. “I do love you, Sage–”

He jumped off the couch. “Not enough. Well, I changed my mind–you’re uninvited. Forever.”

Before I could respond, he reclaimed his stolen cupcake and said, “I’ll take this as a down payment on my present–you still have to get me something even if I’m your poor unloved little bro.”

Oh my god, he made me sound like a monster for missing his party–and I hadn’t even skipped out on it yet.

He took off for the bathroom, cupcake in hand–gross.

“Sage–”

But by the time I made it to the bathroom, he’d disappeared. Walked through my bathroom door and probably ended up in his own bedroom.

…I really couldn’t miss his party now, could I?

Damn it. He’d learned how to guilt-trip from the best…