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A Birthday Gift from Death

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You look around the . . . the island, for lack of a better word, and you see a little house. There’s a woman moving her ladder and working on the roof, and she doesn’t seem to really notice you at first, but then she turns to look in your direction and the nails she’s holding in her mouth just fall out and onto the ground, and she drops her ladder; and she just stares at you, eyes wide, and you recognize her eyes, because they look just like yours.

“Mama?”

She just keeps staring at you for a moment. You can just, just barely see that she’s starting to tear up as she runs over to you, and she drops down to the ground and hugs you.

I hug her back. I-I’m holding her as tight as I can.

“Little duckling,” she says, and you can hear her kinda laugh through her tears as her shoulders shake. She pulls away to hold you at arms length and her smile falls. “What are you doing here? You’re so young, you shouldn’t be here-”

And at that moment she notices Kravitz behind you, and tears start to stream down her face as she prepares herself for the worst.

“I pulled some strings. Her body is still very, very much alive, I assure you. She’ll be able to return to the physical realm and continue her life there safely. But after a few vacations with Taako, well, I figured . . . I figured it would only be fair to bring her along and introduce her to her mother. As a birthday gift.” He’s sorta shifting uncomfortably, because he knows that you can’t stay for more than an hour or so before somebody notices that you shouldn’t actually be here, but he keeps it under wraps.

And Julia, your mother, she looks back to you, and she cups her cheek in her hand, and she smiles again. “Happy birthday, duckling.” She sighs. “I-I’m sorry this is the first one you’ve been able to spend with me.” And she kisses your forehead and you kinda chuckle a little.

I tell her that

“It’s okay. It’s not your fault, Mama. I’m just glad I get to meet you, and spend time with you in the first place.”

She smiles a little when you call her that — when you call her “Mama.” She scoops you up in her arms and sits down in the grass with you in her lap.

“What’s your name?”

“Angelina-Rose Burnsides. Papa said you wanted me to be named Angelina if I was a girl, so that’s what he did.”

She kinda smiles a little more at that.

“And how is your Papa? Is he doing okay?”

“Yeah! He started dating Uncle Taako — he’s an elf wizard, he’s cool — and they’re really happy. Uncle Taako really loves him and Uncle Kravitz.”

She sighs, but it’s more relieved than anything.

“I’m glad he’s happy.”

“Me too.”

I kinda pause for a minute and say

“He still misses you a lot, though. And he wanted me to tell you that he loves you.”

“I know he does. And I love him too.”

“He said you’d say that, and he told me to say it again when you did. He loves you.”

She really starts to laugh at that.

“That’s my Magnus, alright. You’re funny, Angie.”

And then she leans in and whispers

“You get that from me.”

“Angiero.”

She kinda cocks her head.

I laugh a little, uh, nervously? Like, I’m afraid I offended her-

You didn’t.

Oh, I know that, but Angiero doesn’t. Anyway, I say

“That’s what Papa calls me, anyway. It’s Angie, but with the “ro” from Rose tacked onto the end. You can just call me Angie if you want, though.”

“Nah, I like Angiero. Has a nice ring to it. It suits you.”

So, you two spend the next hour getting to know each other, swapping stories, cracking jokes, but eventually Kravitz comes over to the two of you and says

“Angiero, we should get going. I hate to cut this short, I really do, but I can’t get caught bringing the living to visit the dead, and the guards are going to swap shifts soon.”

And Julia kinda sighs and gets to her feet, and she picks you up too, and she dusts you off and kisses your forehead again-

I’m crying.

Jesus, okay. You’re crying. Great. Uh-

A lot. I’m like, choking on sobs, about to break the fuck down. It’s not pretty.

Julia sees this and kneels down in front of you again and takes your hands, and she says

“Don’t worry. We’ll see each other again. I promise. Hopefully it won’t be too soon, but this isn’t goodbye forever. Okay?”

I nod, kinda like, gasping and trying to stop crying, only I’m not doing a very good job  because I’m like eleven.

“Okay.”

And she gives you another hug and kisses your forehead again.

And Kravitz holds out his hand for you to take so he can take you back home, and you turn around, and Julia is smiling and waving at you. What do you do?

I say

“I love you, Mama.”

And then I go home with Kravitz.