“It’s so sweet of you guys to come in to see me,” Morgana says, and there’s chitchat about parking and public transit and changes in the neighborhood, the resentment casual and quiet now, ten years on from the move, but her hug is tight enough to tell Arthur there’s something wrong. He wonders if Gwen feels it too, but her smile stays warm while his falters.
“Sorry it’s just coffee,” Gwen says. “Got to make the most of our adult time off before next week.”
“Kindergarten graduation,” Arthur says with a grimace.
“Oooh! That sounds completely adorable and completely unnecessary.”
“The ceremony will be cute, I’m sure. It’s the after…”
Morgana chuckles as they sit down. “Oh, I hear you. Summers when Aithusa was little were always a shock. I don’t know how I would’ve survived if you two hadn’t been there to help out.”
Gwen shakes her head. “That was a gift for us, you know. Having her in the house helped us be sure we wanted kids. Even with everything else going on.”
“It’ll be good to spend more time with Tom,” Arthur says, partly for Morgana’s benefit and partly because he needs to remind himself. “It’ll be awesome, I can’t wait. I’m excited for the school year to be over too, and I know I’m lucky to have a job that lets me stay home with him in the summers, I just…I might get a little stir-crazy come July.”
“Or, you know, late June,” Gwen adds sweetly.
“But before you know it he’ll be getting ready to leave you forever.”
Arthur nudges his sister. “Last I heard Aithusa was planning on staying in New England. You’ll see her every other weekend.”
She gives him a look. “I know you’re used to thinking of me as the dramallama of the family, but I live with a teenager and a Nimueh now. I am the picture of calm and measured decisions.”
Gwen smiles fondly. “How’s the college search going?” she asks.
“Oh, it’s fine. Slow. We’re starting the big tour next week.”
“But no aha moments so far?”
Morgana shakes her head.
“That surprises me," says Gwen. "I think of Aithusa as someone who makes up her mind and goes for what she wants.”
Morgana’s mouth twitches, but she doesn’t answer. “It was love at first sight for me and Mt. Holyoke,” she says.
“For me it was love when I got Holyoke’s financial aide package.”
“That’ll make a difference for us too. I guess we won’t know for sure for a long time yet.”
Gwen takes Morgana’s hand on the table. “You’re holding up okay, though?”
Morgana’s got tears in her eyes when she looks back at Gwen. Arthur knows how that goes, sometimes being asked if you’re okay is the tipping point, and then suddenly you’re not. “Yeah,” she says. “It’s…a lot of changes. Lots of stuff to get used to.”
“Better make the most of this last year with her at home.”
Morgana nods, “Just,” and forces a smile, “It’s just that going on college tours with Nimueh makes me realize that Nimueh is really fucking pushy, that’s all.”
He recognizes the relief in his sister’s voice. It’s an old trick of hers – reveal something embarrassing to avoid the subject that’s actually scaring her. He takes the bait, lets her vent about girlfriend troubles for the minutes they have left. What else are brothers for.
“N and A can’t make it,” says Morgana’s text. “Still want me?”
“Always,” Arthur answers. “You can take home leftover souffle. Text Gwen she’s picking you up.” He’s annoyed that his phone’s autocorrect doesn’t add the accent but it’s too much trouble to do himself, what with the mushrooms in the frying pan. Arthur appreciates the chance to cook a grownup meal for grownups (along with Tom’s favorite fish sticks) but is just as glad not to have to deal with Morgana’s girlfriend, Nimueh of the intense stares, who still holds on to every stupid disagreement that’s come up between Arthur and Morgana, even though most of those are from long before Nimueh even came into the picture.
Tom takes the news harder.
“But why can’t Aithusa come?!” he demands when Gwen and Morgana join them in the kitchen.
“When people get to be around Aithusa’s age they…tend to want to spend a lot of time around other people their own age,” says Gwen.
“You mean she doesn’t want to see me anymore?”
“Of course not, Tom, don’t be silly,” says Morgana. “Listen, your mom and I were talking on the way back from the train station, and I was saying, what if you came and stayed with us for a few days? Maybe for a long weekend.”
“You’re an angel, Morgana,” Arthur says quietly while Tom jumps up and down, clapping his hands.
“I thought we should check with you first but Gwen assured me it wasn’t necessary.”
“We can go up to the cabin,” Gwen says dreamily. “I’d only need to move a few appointments to clear Friday the 13th. Nobody actually wants to see their doctor that day anyway.”
“And then I get to see Aithusa?” Tom asks, just to make sure.
“Aithusa and Morgana and Nimueh,” says Arthur.
“You get to see Aithusa and me!” Morgana says cheerfully. “And maybe Aithusa’s new special friend, if he’s in the mood.”
“He?” says Arthur, while Tom says, “What’s a special friend?” and Gwen says, “Oh, honey.”
“Yeah,” Morgana says with an obviously false shrug and smile, “Nimueh and I broke up, um, a couple days ago. I know you’re all gonna be super torn up about it. Tom, Aithusa’s started dating a boy from school named Daegal. I bet you’ll get along great. People like him almost as much as they dislike Nimueh. So, did I hear there were sautéed mushrooms?”
It’s Gwen’s turn to put Tom to bed, but when Arthur offers to go instead Tom agrees, and Morgana looks desperately grateful.
Tom asks him to read There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon, a gift from Aithusa when he was three.
“I’ll bring it with me on my trip, and she can read it for me.”
“Or you can read it yourself,” Arthur says. Tom has the book more or less memorized, so he does most of the talking as they page through it together.
After they’ve finished Tom’s quiet for a minute, and then says, “Mr. Trimble says there really is no such thing as dragons.”
Arthur’s never been a big fan of the book for this reason, much as he appreciates the gift, and the metaphor. He doesn’t want to be like the mother in the book who doesn’t believe her son about the dragon in his room. On the other hand, there’s science, and he doesn’t believe in lying to his kid. He’s always hated conversations about Santa Claus too. “You mean back in the winter, when you were learning about dinosaurs?” he says, because sometimes asking Tom questions works better than trying to give him answers.
“Yeah. But then Aithusa told me there was. Only dragons are like, real in a different way than dinosaurs.”
“We have fossils to prove that there were dinosaurs.”
“Because dinosaurs are extinct. They lived millions of years ago. Dragons aren’t extinct, though, that’s how they’re different.”
“That’s an important difference," Arthur agrees. "Well, we have dragons in books, and I guess we always will. I’ve never run into a real one, but if you ever do you just need to let us know, okay?”
Tom nods solemnly. “I will, Daddy.”
He drives Morgana back to her apartment. At this time of night it’s a quick half-hour drive, easy enough to make him think he should go see her more often, he should go with Tom, and with Gwen, and alone, he should be there to support his sister all the time, and not just when it’s convenient for him, or when her life is falling apart.
“It was a long time coming, I mean you could all see that. I’m surprised it took this long, to be honest. And I’m sorry, I know sometimes she could be really rude to you two and I shouldn’t have let her get away with so much of, I mean, okay, so I agree with her on almost everything, deep down, but I can’t understand why she always needs to have the last word, and wants everyone else to admit that she’s right –“
Morgana talks and Arthur listens, as he did after the breakup with Mithian three years ago, and the one with Morgause before that, and he’s sorry he wasn’t there when Sophia and Vivian broke her heart, or the one time she experimented with a boy and ended up pregnant. He’s sorry that, the first time a girl broke Morgana’s heart, Arthur didn’t care. He was so in love with the girl Morgana brought home from college, so thrilled every time she looked at him, that he didn’t give a thought to the way Morgana was looking at her.
“Thanks for giving me a chance to catch up with Gwen tonight, too. It had been a long time. I mean, since I’d talked to her alone.”
“You know how it goes, sometimes I just need girl talk, for my girl problems…”
“But I hope sometimes you also want Pendragon talk.”
“As long as it’s not with Dad.”
They laugh, because they have to.
“It wouldn’t ever have come to anything. You know that, right? Even when she first agreed to come home with me that Christmas I think she…”
“Loved you like her best friend in the world?”
Morgana hesitates. “She says she wasn’t sure, back then. Everyone was experimenting and I was fucking hot. You realize that I was hot, right?”
“I slept with like ten girls the month after you two got together. I was not starving for choices.”
He’s parked outside her building now but she doesn’t move to get out.
“I’ve still got it, too. I don’t need fucking Nimueh.”
“You really fucking don’t.”
“But I’ll control myself while Tom’s visiting, I promise. Aithusa could use some stability anyway. I could use some stability.”
“You know you can count on us, on me. Anything you need.”
“I know that, Arthur,” she says, and hugs him awkwardly in the car.
“Oh and speaking of Aithusa, dating a boy? Are you serious?”
Morgana laughs softly. “Daegal really is a sweetheart. You’ll have to meet him soon. Good night, Arthur.” She kisses his cheek before she leaves.
“So,” says Arthur the next time they get together, on the sidewalk patio of the gay bar two blocks from her apartment, “within ten minutes of getting home from your place, my son was correcting my pronouns.”
“Yeah,” says Morgana, releasing a long breath. “We kind of figured it would go like that.”
“Aithusa’s agender, he says, so you should say they and them. And my first thought, I admit, was no way, that’s crazy –”
“And your second thought was, how is my son so much smarter than me?”
“That came up eventually, but no, my second thought was, we just saw you a couple of weeks ago, and you would have said something.”
“Well, I hadn’t discussed it with Aithusa, I wasn’t going to –“
“And after that I was trying to go back, and remember the last time you called Aithusa she.”
“With you?” She thinks. “I’m guessing that was around…seven months ago?”
“When we were all together at Christmas.”
“Right, they asked Nimueh and me to switch a few weeks after that. I think they must have made a New Year’s resolution, to start telling more people.”
Arthur shakes his head. “It sounds like you’re talking about a group. Aithusa and her friends asked you.”
“It does sound like that at first,” says Morgana, unimpressed. “You get used to it.”
Arthur nods and takes a swig of his beer. “I loved seeing Aithusa at Christmas,” he says. “I thought she was turning out to be exactly the kind of dapper lesbian I’d always expected her to be.”
Morgana glares at him.
“I mean, I felt sort of guilty about that when she was four, but the signs were there.”
“Don’t be an essentialist pig. Look, you were wrong, okay?”
“I was wrong, yeah.”
“Not that I didn’t think the same thing myself,” she adds in a smaller voice, “for, you know, most of my child’s life.”
Arthur waits for her to take a long drink, look around the bar, and look back at him, before he says, “I wouldn’t have gone on being wrong for so long if you’d told me.”
“You don’t get to make this about how you were wronged, Arthur.”
“That’s not what I’m doing!”
“Then you’re using the wrong words.”
“Okay! Sorry. Apparently I’ve been doing that a lot. Just, expect better of people, all right? Have higher standards. Gwen and I may be married and…more or less straight and living in the suburbs, but we’re not exactly June and Ward Cleaver. I have trans students and she has trans patients.”
“Aithusa’s not trans.”
“I know, my six-year-old explained that.”
Morgana nods slowly and sighs. “I remember Aithusa telling me about the classroom supplies fund that all the other parents had contributed to. It was awkward.”
“I teach high school, I can handle awkward. So, whatever reason I’ve given you to think I can’t handle having a nonbinary …relative, including my difficulty in forming that last sentence, whatever, I apologize. I’m just saying, going forward, please believe I’m going to be the best fucking uncle that I can to Aithusa. And, you know, corresponding sentiments from Gwen, that I’m sure she’d express much more articulately and sensitively.”
Morgana cocks her head to the side and looks at him, touched. “You really don’t resent my family’s corrupting influence on yours, do you?”
Arthur can only laugh. “You and Aithusa are my family,” he says simply.
“You and Gwen are doing things…really differently. It’s hard not to take that as some kind of judgment, I guess.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling. But we’re different people, Morgana. So how’s this. I’m glad you and your kid took care of my kid last weekend, and I’m glad both of you trusted him, and I’m glad he has both of you in his life, and I hope I get to see Aithusa soon too so I can tell them so.”
Morgana grins. “You practiced that speech, didn’t you?”
Arthur nods. “Of course, I had to, but I said it right, okay?”
“Sounded okay to me. I’ll talk to the kid.”
“Put in a good word for me, will you?”
“Yeah,” she says, “Yes, Arthur, I will.”