As most of our crew are running around at Gen Con, let me tell you a story. It Happened to Me.
So he’s me, kind of. Better job, better relationship with my — our — mom. Takes selfies and posts photos of his matcha lattes and his wife and their million adopted babies. Gross.
He’s… not married to Katrina, though. And I sort of thought we would be. I mean, I followed the scent of her hair back out of Arcadia. Rolled it around in my mouth like a peppermint as I ran, brisk and clean and full of unkept promises. When I stood in the long saltgrass by the bay to catch my breath on solid ground, real ground, the first thing I did was try to pick its scent up again. I thought I might have missed some dates, I didn’t think I’d be missing years. Well, he didn’t miss those years. He sews his button eyes back on every morning, thinking they’re eyeglasses, and kisses some other woman. She’s cute, I guess, but doesn’t seem like our type. Or maybe just not mine. It’s getting unhealthy, all this watching them go to work and scrolling through his Instagram.
And it’s not like I have to kill him, right? I could just let him keep a life I don’t even want, mothers and mothers-in-law and an associate at a nice anonymous firm. God, I was so basic. But he’s not even friends with Katrina anymore. Her life, maybe I could slip back into.
That was the logic that carried me to the doorstep of her apartment complex, loitering in the lobby, waiting for her to come downstairs. Her voice was cautious and slow, like the words were crawling around a feeling too big to speak. Anger, probably. But she said she’d come downstairs. I rocked forward and back on the balls of my feet, squeaking in my wet shoes. I’d always been a little titchy, but now I can’t bear to be still. I spent a lot of time running, my first weeks back. The continuity helped, even if it felt a little perverse.
The elevator doors opened, and I released a breath I hadn’t even realized I was holding. She came and she was so very the same that I blinked a little. Aging gracefully, I guess. A little sprinkle of white in her wiry black hair, long and full around her head. A belted dress I bought her at a street fair 10 years ago. No shoes. There was a wild look in her eyes that felt familiar, but before I could really think about it I was calling her name. It sounded high and sharp in the empty hall. Too di?erent, even though I’ve been practicing.
“Ja…Aimee?” She started to touch my face, and checked herself. Flattened out the betrayed look on her face. “What are you going by these days?”
My heart twisted. “Aimee, I guess. That’s how my roommates know me.”
“What about Lucy?” She looked increasingly less confused.
Lucy? Oh. “It’s…complicated. She doesn’t know.”
Katrina’s eyes ?ickered past me and she snorted. “Girl, you’re not complicated. I see you.”
My vision went dark around the edges. I took a step backwards, then too many forward, until we were breathing the same air. “What do you see?”
She tipped my head up to look at her, and this time I actually did. A second eyelid snapped over her eye and back again. Eyes so deep a black I almost fell into them. I did fall onto her. And I felt the soft scaling on her shoulders. Oh, Katrina.
“I didn’t…did you fall down the well after me? I never thought. Was that you yelling back to me? Oh god, I left you there. I’m so sorry, I thought it was a trick.” Words were falling out of my mouth, I might have been crying. “I would have gone back, I would have gone back, I’m so sorry.”
“Shh. If you can even think about putting a foot back into the Hedge without screaming, I’ll accept that as an apology. It’s been a minute, Aimee. Where’ve you been?”
She was smiling, a little. Not enough to get myself invited back upstairs, but enough to keep talking. “Oh, over the river and through the woods. I’m pretty sure my grandparents are dead now, though.”
She rolled her eyes. “Not what I meant. Why hit me up now?”
“Oh. Well. I’ve actually only been back a couple of weeks? And if I’m being completely honest, I spent most of that time following… him to work and hanging out outside your building wondering if I should call you.” Then I had an awful realization. “Wait. I found you under your real name. Did they… did they not replace you too?”
Katrina shivered. Now that I was looking, the scales rippled too. Like mica and cobras and the inside of shells. “She was made of glass and she wanted to fight about it.”
“I cracked her open and feathers poured out.”
“I haven’t. I mean, I didn’t. I don’t want to. Jesus, he has kids. He’s a he.”
“Yeah, I know. I went looking for you after I got back, too. I can see why you might want to leave well enough alone. Not like you wanted to be him before.”
“Well, Mom seems happy with him, and… if Lucy can’t tell, maybe it would be kinder to let her keep him? It seems cruel to just pop into her life and be like ‘Hey, your husband is imaginary and I have to destroy him so I can have a name I don’t want back. So how do you feel about a divorce and full custody of all these kids?’ I did joke a lot about blowing up my life.”
Katrina pulled on a curl. “Well, that’s not quite fair to her, either. Like, what if… she does know? Or figured some piece of it out on her own, but didn’t know what to do about it? She’d… she’d probably think she was going crazy, and only we would know di?erent.”
“Hell, I don’t know what to do with my own life. I definitely don’t have any words of wisdom to fill the pages of ‘So Your Husband’s a Fetch: Living with the Consequences of Fae Jerks.’ She’d be better o? talking to you.”
Katrina winced. And even as the door creaked open, I knew. “She was going to talk to you.”
“Aimee, we have a history. If she was going to call someone, it would have been me. I think you should talk to her, too, but she didn’t come looking for you.”
Of course they knew each other. I knew that. I must have known that. They had lives that kept happening while I was gone. People that they were to each other, through… James. Things about him they shared that I’d only know secondhand. I suddenly felt like an eavesdropper in a conversation about myself. A lacuna in their lives that was unwelcomely filled. Lucy was looking at me like her life might go up in smoke if I blinked. And she wasn’t wrong.
The rain outside picked up. Katrina’s eyes ?ickered to my left half a second before mine followed. It was like someone had run a finger up the length of my spine, at first just a nervous tickle, but getting insistent and angry.
I had not properly considered the possibility that escaping Arcadia wouldn’t be enough to keep me safe.
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