There’s a monster under Sefa’s bed.
She’s a pretty monster. She’s a big cat, with wings and bright eyes and wicked, sharp teeth. But she’s a monster, and Sefa knows she’s supposed to tell her dad about monsters, so she does.
Dad says there’s no such thing as monsters, disappointed and cold. He tells her to be a brave girl.
Sefa goes to sleep to growling under her bed. It sounds like crying, and she dangles her hand over the edge to see if she can offer comfort. There’s wet breath on her skin, then, and she snatches it back.
There’s a girl during the day in the monster’s place, and she always looks sad. She’s a monster, she explains. She’s cursed, dangerous. Sefa doesn’t believe that, though. Her monster has never hurt her, and when she tells Monster that it makes her smile, even if it isn’t for long. It’s still a curse, and she still doesn’t like being a monster. She disappears every sunset and sunrise, won’t ever let Sefa see her somewhere in between.
But Dad says the girl isn’t real, when Sefa tries to ask how she could break the curse, so Sefa doesn’t mention it anymore.
That doesn’t mean Monster goes away.
Sefa is twelve, and she can’t sleep without Monster purring beneath her bed, or spend a day without looking for her at her side. Nobody else plays pretend anymore, or makes tea for imaginary friends. Nobody else still reads fairy tales or wonders how to lift curses, because nobody thinks they’re real. Sefa keeps her belief quiet and doesn’t talk to them much. She’d rather be with Monster anyway.
Monster still looks at her like she’s sad during the day, like she’s worried Sefa is going to leave her, but no matter how many times she encourages Sefa to leave, she always noses at her hand in the night when Sefa dares reach under the bed, and she’s the same person. Sefa won’t leave her.
“What’s your name?”
“I can’t say.”
“You should have a name.” All Sefa’s toys, when she was still young enough for toys, had names. Gwen the queen, and Merlin the stuffed rabbit that came with a top hat, dolls and animals and everything else, they all had names chosen and deliberated over. Monster has always just been herself. It seems wrong to call her that when she isn’t one no matter what she turns into at night. “Why can’t you say?”
“You have to name me. That’s how it works.”
Sefa is sixteen before she thinks to ask Monster out from under the bed. “Come up and sleep with me,” she whispers one night, when the growls that are really sobs get too loud. Sometimes Monster just purrs, but other days, days Sefa hardly sees her or days she’s quieter than usual, she seems to spend the whole night upset, and Sefa always hates herself for falling asleep.
Monster isn’t tame. When she comes out, she’s like a panther, wings ruffled, teeth bared. Sefa holds her hand out, and Monster flies to her, settling against her side, breath across her neck.
In her dreams, Sefa kisses Monster, kisses her and kisses her until they’re both breathless.
It’s well after sunrise when she wakes up, and Monster isn’t the bed with her anymore. She’s sitting on the windowsill, but she gives Sefa an assessing look when she sees her awake. “Do you have a name for me yet?” she says, but it feels like she’s asking a different question.
Sefa shakes her head and hates herself for not being good enough to break the curse. Monster just goes back to looking out the window.
She goes away for school, because Dad says she should, but she’s lonely. Her roommate is pretty and a little scary, which should make her like Monster but doesn’t, because Monster hasn’t been scary in years, no matter what she turns into every night, no matter that she told Sefa when she was seventeen that she killed someone before she fled to Sefa’s home.
Sefa studies, and calls Dad once a week. She writes a journal of all the things she’d like to say to Monster, lists of names that don’t quite settle right. She hasn’t been apart from her since she was a child, and she stacks books and mess under her bed so it feels less empty, only for her roommate to roll her eyes at her for being messy. One night, drunk and melancholy, she calls home when she knows her dad will be out and lets the phone ring and ring till the machine picks up. “Is someone there?” she asks, hearing her own voice waver, but she doesn’t even get a growl in response.
When she comes home for the holidays, Monster is waiting for her at the door, but Dad isn’t, off at work. “Have you named me yet?” Monster asks right away, and Sefa shakes her head. It’s the key to the curse, time has shown that much, and she can’t do it, can’t name her Beth or Vivian or something else wrong.
Dad comes up the drive, then, and when Sefa finishes greeting him, Monster is gone. She doesn’t like Dad, and it’s too close to sunset anyway. She and Dad have a quiet dinner, and the whole time Sefa just wants to go find Monster, name every name in a book like the miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin, but she’s afraid of guessing.
Monster is curled up next to the bed like she’s afraid she isn’t allowed on it anymore when Sefa gets upstairs, and Sefa pulls her up and wraps her arms around her, uncaring of the claws and teeth and the way she tries to scramble away. No matter what form is in, Monster is her best friend, her closest companion, and Sefa loves her. Curse or not, visible only to Sefa or not, Sefa loves her.
Sefa dreams she’s kissing Monster, that they’re in a summer field and giggling, hands on each other’s faces, breasts, hips. Monster uses her mouth, down between Sefa’s legs, and Sefa clutches at her hair, overwhelmed with the pleasure until she’s come with a cry that isn’t a name. She returns the gesture clumsily in return, wishing to be able to taste so it would feel real, until Monster reaches for her and she goes to whisper in her ear. “Why couldn’t it be the other way? In the stories, you would be human at night, so we could have this.”
Monster holds on tight, so tight Sefa can almost pretend she’ll feel the bruise later, but she doesn’t answer.
“I name you your own name,” she says as fiercely as she can, pretending she’s the brave girl her Dad always wanted. Brave girls can break curses. “I won’t make one up for you, I haven’t the right. The name you can’t say out loud, it’s yours.”
Monster smiles and whispers something in her ear.
“Freya,” Sefa murmurs when she wakes, long before dawn. There’s a human hand in hers.