Indeed, for although the good Lady had shaken off the curse, there were still times she was unable to bear remembering the effects it had had on her. It was in these dark moments that she found herself wishing for the company of the Knight deStrideur more than any other. Alas, he was away from the castle more and more often of late, and the Lady Grimmedarque was forced to rely only on his letters and her good friend Lady Witchazel.
The friendship that blossomed betwixt the two Ladies during those dark times was one borne of shared experiences and parallel desires. The Lady Witchazel had accompanied the Lady Grimmedarque on the long journey leading to her curse and the shattering thereof, and while Witchazel did not know all of Grimmedarque's secrets, she held close the only one that mattered.
Rose made sure that her bags were packed. She couldn't afford to leave anything important out for the Thanksgiving 'Sburb Survivors Gathering', as Dave had dubbed their holiday get-togethers, and she was determined not to forget anything despite her excitement. It would hardly be fitting to arrive in Washington missing some vital article of clothing or necessary implement of hygiene and request a new item from her mother. Just because things seemed to have mellowed out between her and her mother did not mean she wanted the theatrics that came along with something that could easily be prevented.
The last thing to be packed up was her laptop bag. Rose still had a steady fifteen minutes before being required to head down to the car, so she transferred her current writing project onto a flash drive so that she could actually get some writing done on the flight over to Washington. She didn't bother with packing any sort of needlework project, not particularly desirous of a scuffle with airport security over her less-than-orthodox knitting implements.
Rose was hoping for a nice, quiet trip. She and her mother were able to get on their way early, which was honestly better just in the event that there was some traffic or a problem with the road. Unfortunately, it seemed that her mother had other plans.
"Rose, might I ask about your current social engagements?" The question was worded innocuously enough, but the pitch of her mother's tone caused Rose to arch an eyebrow.
"Whatever do you mean, dearest Mother?" She cocked her head to one side, feigning mild interest in the conversation. If her mother noticed the ruse, she gave no indication.
"I worry about you, dear. It's been some time since you've had to worry about being in mortal danger, I thought surely you would have taken up some new hobbies by now. You're more than capable of taking first chair in concert orchestra, were you so inclined. Or you could audition for choir, if you've tired of your violin. I would even go so far as to support you should you declare yourself a thespian and join the drama club. There's more to life than talking to your friends on the computer all day."
There couldn't be that much harm in admitting the simple truth of the matter, and it wasn't something that her mother probably hadn't already guessed. "I'm afraid that after my experiences in the game, ordinary extracurricular activities fail to captivate my interests."
Rose stared out the passenger's seat window, waiting for the silence to be broken. Her mother knew a lot, but she didn't know everything. There were still secrets that had to be kept, for her mother's sake. "I had figured as much. It's better to at least hear some confirmation on that, I suppose."
The short silence that followed was much less tense, and Rose contemplated getting out her laptop to work on a bit of writing done before her mother interjected yet again. "So tell me why, after talking about him nearly nonstop for two months, Tony's name has suddenly become verboten in the household."
In that moment, Rose had never wished so fervently for a neglectful parent. Her face remained impassive, but her brain worked quickly through all of her possible responses. She weighed each in turn and discarded them quickly, most leaving her too vulnerable to maternal insight or skirting too close to outright falsehood for her comfort. Finally, she replied, "He felt threatened by my formidable wit, which led to a semi-amicable parting of ways."
"Dear, everyone feels threatened by your wit. I'm afraid that's something you'll have to get used to."
"My friends aren't." One in particular was able to match her, and had been getting increasingly better at it as of late, too. But Rose wasn't about to admit that to her mother.
"Last I recall, polygamous marriages were illegal in most of the country. I supposed you might be able to work it out in Utah..."
That earned a raised eyebrow. "Why, Mother, are you suggesting I marry my two best friends and my brother?" Rose kept her tone light, but couldn't help the slight smile at the teasing joke.
Her mother shook her head. "When you frame it in those terms, I suppose we will have to move the wedding to Alabama." She sighed. "In all seriousness, I'm concerned about you, Rose. You went through so much, and I'm worried about your social isolation. It can't be healthy for you to be so distanced from your peer group."
"What exactly do you suggest I do, Mother?" Despite her best efforts, irritation crept into Rose's voice. "It's hardly intentional that I have a difficult time relating to my so-called 'peers.' I didn't put myself and my dearest friends in danger just for the sake of avoiding later social contact. I am, in fact, quite sure that was the furthest thing from my mind at the time."
Her mother drove in silence for several minutes, and just as Rose thought the subject was going to be dropped, the damnable woman spoke up again. "How would you feel about moving to Washington? I've found myself tiring of the long distance nature of my relationship with Roger, and I've looked at a few nice houses near the same neighborhood. You could be closer to your friends."
A quick consultation with her mental map yielded disappointing results: moving to Maple Valley would add approximately six hundred miles of distance between her and Houston. However, the prospect of being able to finish high school in the presence of at least two people she could trust was a tantalizing improvement over her current situation. "I admit, the idea holds some appeal," she said at length. "But what about this house? And your lab?"
The questions were waved away. "My lab work is easily transferable to that part of the country. As for the house, we would have to try and sell it, although heaven knows how long we'll be sitting on the property in this economy. And it isn't as though we'll be moving today. These things take time. I just thought you should be included; you aren't a flighty thirteen-year-old anymore."
It surprised Rose to find that she was still a little shocked at her mother's compliment, and it took her mouth a few moments to stumble through a suitable "thank you." When her mother smiled in response, the quiet that fell was easy and comfortable with no underpinnings of ulterior motives. Perhaps, she reflected, this would be a pleasant trip after all?
The good Lady had known of the Knight's reputation, and shared written confidences with him in the past. It was not until after the plague struck, robbing the country of both its prince and lady in waiting, that they were first able to meet. They traveled together through the darkened, empty halls of the castle in search of a cure and a way to bring back those that had been lost. And in their search for knowledge, the Lady Grimmedarque learned that the Knight deStrideur was one of the few able to match her own sharp wit.
It was the spell enabling the prince and lady in waiting to be brought back to life that stole away their memories of each other during that time. They had grown close, perhaps even had a chance at intimacy, and their budding relationship was torn away from them. From that point, although the Knight went on with his duties, the Lady Grimmedarque had trouble sleeping, kept awake by an ache in her heart she could not explain.
The Lady Witchazel, newly revived from her plague-death, helped her good friend with her heartache by placing her in a bespelled slumber. If not for the unnatural sleep, the Lady Grimmedarque would not have been able to regain the memories locked away in her psyche. While the Knight was undisturbed by a broken heart or troubles sleeping, the Lady was forced to watch on as the man she had fallen in love with ignored her and spurned her advances.
Rose and her mother were the last to arrive, though whether by accident or design (her mother did enjoy making an entrance) she did not know. Ultimately, it didn't matter. When she saw the mis-matched crew of Jade, John, Mr. Egbert, and the Striders, her heart leapt into her throat like it always did, and she couldn't keep the grin off her face. There was a moment between when she caught sight of them and when they recognized her in which she was able to track their reactions to her arrival. Jade and John shared similar expressions, their smiles wide as they rushed forward to sweep her into a tangled hug. It almost looked as if Dave might join them, but he stopped just short, choosing instead to shove his hands into his pockets and scuff at the tile with one toe.
The affectionate gesture from John and Jade warmed her heart, but it was far from the contact she really wanted and that Dave was unwilling to give. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Roger Egbert sweep her mother off her feet and spin her around before setting her back on the ground. That was the sort of romantic gesture she wanted desperately to receive, even under the guise of irony that Dave hid behind so often. Once she had disengaged from John and Jade, she turned to her brother. "Your aloofness would lead a lady to believe that you aren't pleased to see her after months of separation, Strider," she said, not quite able to keep her words from sounding a little tart even to her own ears.
He shrugged. "Sorry, Lalonde, feelin' up my ectosis ain't really high on my to-do list for the day. Better luck tomorrow, if that's your thing."
Hearing his voice was always a fascinating experience that tended to disarm her if they hadn't spoken in a while. The cadence of his vowels never quite matched up with the way he typed, and the way his southern colloquialisms slipped into his speech while they remained curiously absent from his pesterlogs always caught her off-guard. Rather than feeling stung, Rose chose to fix her attention on how nice it was to be able to hear his voice. "Yes, of course, how foolish of me to expect or desire any modicum of sibling affection from my actual sibling. I suppose I have no choice but to hope for a better tomorrow." She cast a meaningful glance in the direction of John, who now had an armful of affectionate Jade. "Or an adoption."
"What, you wishin' I'd been raised by a dog or somethin'?" Dave asked, having caught most of her meaning. "Would you feel better if I started humpin' your leg?"
Rose made a point of heaving a heavy sigh. "I suppose if that is the only way in which you know how to express fondness for your own flesh and blood, it will have to do. Just try not to make a mess of my tights, I only packed two pairs."
"Yeah, whatever." Dave pulled one hand out of his pocket, hooked his arm around her shoulders, and pulled her into what Rose had to admit was the most appalling approximation of a hug known to paradox space and beyond. It felt as if he had spent hours studying the Wikipedia entry on the "Christian side hug" to ensure he had drained the gesture of any real emotion. When he stepped back and slid his hand back into his pocket, the only thing Rose could do was scowl.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, Strider, if that's the best you can muster, I ask that you not even bother next time." She noticed that her hands were clenched into slightly trembling fists at her side, and she willed them open again. Two careless words and the movement of a handful of muscles threatened to undo her in the middle of an airport. This would not do.
Rose staunchly ignored the looks that Jade and John gave her, picking her bags up and leading the way towards the exit. The adults would get the hint soon enough, she was sure of that.
The van ride to the Egbert residence was nothing new. Bro claimed the entire middle bench of the van to himself and sprawled out on it, John's father and Rose's mother rode up front, and all four kids crowded into the back. Technically, the back seats were only meant to fit three people, but Jade wound up with a foot on Dave's shoulder, legs in front of Rose's chest, and mostly piled on top of John while they laughed about some private joke or a movie they'd seen the previous day.
Somewhere along the way, Jade had discarded her shoes and was currently trying to grab Dave's sunglasses with her toes. At first, he merely turned away, but Jade remained undeterred. When Dave took hold of her ankle and held it in his lap, she stuck out her tongue and began trying with her other foot. "Cut it out, Harley."
Jade glanced at Rose, impish twinkle evident in her green eyes, and Rose knew what Jade was up to. She nodded ever-so-slightly, just a tiny tilt of her chin, carefully avoiding looking at her brother so as not to tip her hand too soon. Suddenly, Jade shifted, and Rose took that as her cue. The back seat erupted into a flurry of motion punctuated by poorly-suppressed snorts and giggles as Rose and Jade both lunged for Dave's shades. Try though he might, he could only barely manage to keep them from snatching them away.
That was when Jade struck. "Tickle attack!" she cried, taking advantage of Dave's focus on defending his eyewear to lean forward and dig her fingers into his ribs. Rose joined in by attacking the sensitive spots on her brother's neck. Even John joined in the attack on their friend, getting lower and deftly getting behind Dave's knees, forcing him to kick at the back of the seat in front of him in order to try and avoid the touches.
"You kids stop it or I will beat your asses senseless." Bro's voice interrupted the fun, swatting at the kids without really attempting to sit up and do it properly. When John and Jade pulled away, it left Rose huddled rather uncomfortably on top of her ectosibling. She tried not to notice how his hair smelled faintly like strawberries, or how soft it felt against her cheek, but to no avail. Her thoughts were cut mercifully short, however, when she was rather unceremoniously shoved off of her brother and into Jade's lap.
The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful, and when everyone else piled out, Dave grabbed Rose's wrist to hold her back. In the few brief moments they had alone, he pulled her into a warm, full hug. Too shocked to return the favor, Rose could only try to take in how warm Dave was, and remind herself to take in a deep breath so she could smell his hair again. Sadly, he only allowed the hug to last for precious few seconds before pulling away. "Good to see you, sis."
Rose was quite certain that Dave intended to drive her crazy. It would be less painful if he continued to feign emotional disinterest in her, rather than give her such raw affection in private and go back to not caring in the company of their friends and family. Her assessment of the trip's enjoyability slipped steadily down from "somewhat pleasant" to "potentially disastrous."