“I have to maintain my home, Etienne.” Bridget was tired, and frustrated, and starting to wish she could just live in her own home, period, not… here, where hallways and walls and doors didn’t always connect in the same ways, where armor and swords had suddenly become part of her home décor, and where there was a garden composed entirely of glass roses.
“Why would you do that, when you can live here? You said you needed to keep your job; you didn’t say anything about having to live out there.”
“I will live here, on occasion. Often. Perhaps always, eventually. But I have to keep my house.”
“But, why? I understand Toby’s predilection for living in the human world, she’s a changeling –“
“And I’m human, in case you managed to forget?”
“ – But why in the world do you need to maintain a human residence?” Etienne finished, ignoring Bridget’s statement. “You can come and go as you please from here, and here is so much more comfortable…” Etienne trailed off as Bridget glared at him. He wasn't entirely sure why they were having this argument again, but he also wasn't very awake; he'd been spending a lot more time up during the day than normal, this summer. Late afternoon still counts as day, and too early, he thought.
Speaking slowly and as if to a small child, she said “I am the head of the Folklore department at one of the foremost universities in the United States.”
“And?” Etienne sounded genuinely puzzled.
Bridget finally softened just a bit. “You haven’t spent much time in the human world since… us, have you?” She knew that she and Chelsea had brought a level of chaos into Etienne’s life that he hadn’t counted on, but damn it…
Etienne shuddered. “No. None at all, save when there’s been trouble.”
“There are expectations.” Bridget continued to speak slowly.
“I host the departmental holiday party, and the beginning of the year party. I have job candidates over for dinner. I simply have coworkers over for drinks. I am expected to entertain. I volunteer with the PTA at Chelsea’s high school.” Etienne didn’t even know what a PTA was, but now was not the time to say so. He was also unclear as to why Chelsea had to keep attending high school, but that had been another argument he was unwilling to repeat at the moment.1 “And have you forgotten that I work with folklorists, who are among some of the most suspicious and overthinking people on this planet – if I simply sell my house and move somewhere that I’m never willing to tell anyone about, someone is going to wonder and we’re going to be back where we started. How long did it take me to figure out what you were?” Bridget sighed, with her hands on her hips. “I must keep my home. We must keep up a front.”
“Fine. Fine. We’ll sort it out, though I don’t know if Sylvester is going to be pleased. But, let me pay it off, at least.”
“Now why would you do that?”
“Because I have more money than I could spend in many human lifetimes? Because then you don’t have to worry about it? Because I’ve invested well and I’m happy to use some of it on you.” Because I feel guilty for leaving you. Because I feel like I abandoned you and Chelsea for 16 years, even if you keep saying that was your fault. Just because.
“And what do I tell the IRS when they ask how I suddenly was able to pay off my house in Berkeley?”
“The tax people, Etienne. You’re not that dense, and I know you pay more attention than that to the human world.”
“Bess, I do know who the IRS is.” Etienne was trying not to sound aggravated, though he wasn’t entirely successful. “I meant, what do they have to do with paying off your house?”
“When you have an influx of cash that large, government agencies notice. And then they ask questions. And if there’s one thing we don’t want people doing, it’s asking questions.” Bridget’s voice rose a little at the end.
“Oh. We can have April fix that.” Etienne looked relieved, as if suddenly, all of their issues were resolved. He had thought, standing in Bess’s living room, that this was going to be easy. What folklore professor wouldn’t want to come live in Fairyland? He’d discovered quickly, however, that wanting something didn’t make it easy. A lesson that I should have already known, but we forget these things. I had a nice, easy, settled life… well, kind of… well, okay, maybe not, but it was settled in its own way… and then…
“April?” Bridget interrupted his inner dialogue.
“She’s… she’s a long story. But she fixes our paperwork for us.” And how grateful are we for April; this was a lot more complicated before her.
“Fixes? Paperwork? Do I want to know?”
“How do you think May is able to exist in the outside world?” Bridget had been slowly meeting what felt like everyone in the world, as she settled into life in Shadowed Hills. She’d been a little puzzled at Toby’s twin “sister”, but had not asked too many questions at the time. However, it had been clear that something wasn’t quite normal there. (As if anything about this situation is normal, she mused).
Bridget rubbed her temples and walked into the open kitchen to start the electric kettle for a cup of tea. That, at least, worked fairly normally – she had been able to plug the kettle into the wall and make tea with it. Though, she wasn’t sure that the power in the knowe came from any power grid she’d been familiar with. Like a lot of things in her life lately, she hadn’t asked, as long as she could have hot tea when she wanted it.
She was working out what to say next when Chelsea breezed into their quarters. “Hi Daddy. Hi Mom.”
Bridget moved over to kiss her daughter; even though Chelsea had been back safe for weeks, Bridget was still being clingy – and thankfully, Chelsea was happy to humor her. “How was practice?” Chelsea might not be able to work on her magic presently, but there were other skills she could learn (such as swordfighting). (Oh, that had been a fight, with that round going to Etienne.)
Chelsea grinned back at her mom. “Awesome! Quentin says that I’m really improving, and that I need to schedule more time with dad or Uncle Sylvester.” Chelsea was adjusting to life in Shadowed Hills much more easily than her mother.
Etienne came over to put an arm around Chelsea’s shoulders and squeeze her tight. “I think we can arrange that.”
“Meantime, Quentin wants to know if I can go to the mall.” Chelsea looked hopefully at first her mom, then her dad.
“Of course you can” said Etienne, at the same time Bridget said “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Chelsea had grown used to her parents having these sorts of encounters in the last few weeks, and so she just shrugged and said “I’m going to take a shower while you two sort it out.”
After Chelsea had wandered down the hall to her room (reflecting to herself that when you lived in a magical knowe, having your own bathroom was suddenly much more achievable), both of her parents sighed.
“That is a wonderful child that you raised.” Etienne broke the ice first after a long moment of quiet.
“She is.” Bridget paused. “The mall?” Her voice held a warning note.
“You can’t protect her forever.”
“She was just stolen by a mad Cat Sidhe and a crazy fairy queen. I think some caution is allowed.”
“For how long?”
Bridget had no answer to that, so she took another tact. “Who will maintain her illusions?”
“Quentin can handle that for a couple hours. He’s turning into quite the illusionist.”
“And if they have any trouble, they both have Toby in their phones. Not to mention being able to call the knowe and get her own personal knight, and by extension, my liege.”
Bridget still wasn’t quite sure what to think of Toby, but she had stopped using words like fairy bitch and admitted that Toby had been very helpful at the beginning of June. “Fine. Chelsea can go to the mall.” Bridget remembered that she had put on the kettle, which had long since turned itself off, and clicked it back on again.
“Bess. Will you come here?” Bridget walked over to Etienne reluctantly, tensing then relaxing as he put his arms around her.
“We likely should have discussed child rearing techniques and ground rules before I moved in with you, eh?” Bridget chuckled.
“We did do this backwards.” Etienne’s chuckle was a warm purr that Bridget felt as much as heard, as she was pressed against his chest.
They hugged in silence for a moment, before Etienne asked “What is your schedule this week?” Bridget had been working from home (or at least, the knowe, which was not clicking as home for her yet) for most of the summer, but he knew the semester would start soon.
“I need to start keeping office hours again, and there’s a variety of committee meetings… I can share my Google calendar out with you…” Bridget paused for a moment. “Right. That won’t work. We really have got to get you online.” Hooking Bridget up to the knowe internet access so that she could work had been the second order of business; the first had been setting her and Chelsea up with Summerlands enabled cell phones.
“I can get Quentin to help me with that.” Etienne inwardly winced, but this was going to take compromise on both their parts.
“Then I can print out a copy of my schedule for this week for you.”
They stood there holding each other a moment more. “We’ll figure this out.” Etienne finally said. “I know this has been hard on you. You've had to compromise more than I have.”
“It has been the epitome of culture shock.”
Etienne kissed her forehead at that, and then found himself kissing her, something that he still couldn’t believe he could do again after sixteen years. And Bridget found herself kissing him back. “You’re right. We’ll figure this out.” She grinned up at him.
“Shall we go… figure this out?” Etienne waggled his ears at her, something that never failed to make her giggle.
When Chelsea emerged from her bedroom, her parents were no longer in the living room, and she assumed they were settling their differences as they normally did. She giggled, and left a note on the living room bulletin board: “Off to the mall. Home late evening.”
1. That one went something like “But she has obligations here, and she’s not human.” “She can’t just disappear from high school – do you want to deal with the SFPD again?” “We can work around that.” “I will not have my daughter be uneducated. I know there’s fae teenagers attending college. I met Cassandra.” “But she can’t maintain her own illusions.” “You people can punch holes in reality and cross realms – surely you can make her a charm to cover up her ears.” They’d had half a dozen iterations of that argument since Chelsea and Bridget had moved into the knowe.