Some days you do the best you can just to keep it all afloat. Gladdy and I settled down into a hard-working routine--me trying to finish my e-book project, and her trying to unravel the alethiometer prophecy, such as it was (next up: tea leaves).
Of course The Shelf is a major drama bomb these days, but for the moment, things were humming along smoothly. And then Anna sidled up, looking shifty:
"Did anything come for me in the mail?"
I'd gotten some junk, a bank statement, a BABY BABY PLEASE COME BACK subscription entreaty from Entertainment Weekly, and three little packets. "In the mail? Who would send you som..." But there it was, the second packet: ANNA DOLLERIOUS. I am not even kidding you, this actually happened.
She snatched it from my hands, checked to be sure I hadn't opened it yet, and ran off. I was about to chase after her when here came Faramir Two, who looked a bit tense.
"Do you have a moment to talk?"
"Yeah..." I said, straining to see where Anna had gone. "...sure. What's up?"
"Well... first of all, did you hear about the squirrel?"
"Yeah, the one you shot in the tail?"
"I meant the squirrel yesterday."
"There's another vengeful squirrel?"
"No, it's the same squirrel... well... that one is the same squirrel."
As it turned out, Squirrelly McArrowtail was still pissed off about that whole incident, and of course there was something of a feud going on; that's why Serafina had wanted a bow of her own.
"Except that... she's sort of in her own world these days," Faramir said heavily. "Not really paying attention, which is not very effective strategy for someone protecting a child."
"Particularly a little shitkicker like Lyra, God bless her. I'm sure she's loving this whole feud thing."
"Well, exactly." Serafina, it seems, was spending more and more time in the woods, gathering who knew what, and lately she had been sneaking--trespassing!--into the Assholes' yard. "She spends what time she can in their flower beds," he said in some perplexity.
"What in the world is she after?"
"Well, she hasn't brought in enough for me to be able to tell--flowers, mostly, it seems. You know. From the flower beds. As you do. But of course the beagle chases her off before she can gather much."
Galadriel, startled, looked up from the rune she was doing a reading on. "Someone's going to get killed out there," she said faintly. I wasn't sure if this was just a terrible beagle-induced feeling or a conclusion she had drawn from the reading itself.
"Sometimes I wonder if she means for something like that to happen--if she means for it to happen to me. Indirectly. Or by negligence." He sighed. "Honestly, if she wants me dead, I wish she'd just go ahead and do it herself. It's all the same to me if she wants to commit murder by squirrel, but--there's Lyra to consider. She might get caught in the middle." He hesitated. "That's the thing--the squirrel has friends, it seems. And I think they're mobilizing."
I stared at him for a moment. "Well, that's it. Lyra's staying inside from now on. Serafina can take her own chances if she wants." I paused, biting the inside of my cheek. "Although I'm getting concerned about this gathering business. I mean, if she's willing to brave the Hound of the Asservilles... look, you and Legolas keep an eye on Serafina. Someone else can play swords with Lyra indoors--we'll keep her occupied somehow."
Keeping People Occupied was kind of the theme of my week. White Arwen and the Aragorns (have you heard my new garage band, White Arwen and the Aragorns?) were somehow managing to keep the Sparklerosa running (as it turns out, the hands of a fug healer are actually quite good with baby ponies), and Clarice was doing her best to keep Little Edward vertical. Since it was drizzly (read: no sparkle-inducing sunshine), I set Little Edward up in my sister's windowsill with his easel and some art supplies. I'd put him there in hopes that he could look out and paint a nice landscape the way Helm's Deep Aragorn had suggested (happy little trees!), but he spent a lot of time just staring listlessly. So then I got him a little pony radio. In cleaning out my closet (again. Some more), I was finding more pony paraphernalia, including bits of the Paradise Estate and furnishings. And thus, there was a little pony radio (much like the pony toaster I had put in Bella's kitchen). I don't really know how these things work, but apparently there's a pretty good '80s station on it, and Little Edward tried to console himself with that, the '80s being his favorite musical decade and all. (As it is mine. I find it odd that he’s a hundred years old and has the musical taste of a woman born in the ‘70s, but there it is.) Which was great and all... until KPNY wandered away from a New Wave block into a sad wilderness of ballads. And that's when he started meebling along, softly at first--a little Foreigner, a little Whitesnake, a good bit of Phil Collins, even some Def Leppard. Obviously Richard Marx was involved; I think that goes without saying. Let us not even speak of old-school Celine. And I don't know if you've ever heard a sparklepire sob along with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" (I suspect the odds are against you on that one), but it is a truly harrowing experience, let me tell you. For some reason, what really did him in was "Hello"; he broke down in the middle of "Is it me you're looking forrrrrrr...," because of course, no one was ever looking for him. At this point he let out a piteous, shuddering sob-gasp, which was so upsetting to everyone present that I finally tucked him back into the stable and suggested he use that as his studio. I mean, at least no one could see him suffer in there.
So, you know... so much for art therapy.
I didn't like the idea of him just stewing in his own misery in there all by himself, so I did try to get him to spend some quality time with his piano. Of course I had to get Bella out of the way, since it's a scant three feet from her kitchen, so I sent her downstairs under the guardianship of Purple Arwen to visit her new BFF Pokey again (she had named the cactus Pokey after an ill-advised impulse to lean up against the pot so as to whisper to--his? her?--sympathetic leaves). Arwen occupied herself by examining the lower pantry cabinets, but of course she heard pretty much all of Bella's confidences, most of which involved angst about not having the right kind of butter for the next batch of croissants and a soupçon of complaint about That Weirdo for flavor. I was really hoping that Arwen would bring her back upstairs while Little Edward was still playing--maybe Chopin and Satie could speak for him better than he could speak for himself, who knows--but I guess Bella's freesia scent preceded her, because he vanished in a jangle of keys before she'd even gotten down the hall. I try, you guys. I TRY.
So once I got Gladdy settled in with her tea leaves, I went to check on him. I fully expected him to be curled up inside the stable, maybe sobbing a bit; maybe I could take him for a walk or something, or Helm's Deep Aragorn could try to give him another pep talk. Except that when I got there, the windows of the stable seemed to be... papered over? But sort of haphazardly? Papered over with crazy, that's what it looked like. Not good. I knocked on the roof, but he didn't answer, so I lifted it up (it's hinged at the back), and I admit that I was holding my breath a little. And then I saw that he had not been painting landscapes at all.
"None of them are good enough," he moaned. "None of them..."
"Oh, honey... no. We have to... oh. Oh. Pointilism? We gotta take these down. Come on now, let's put them in your scrapbook where no one else will see..."
So I set him up on my sister's bed with the scrapbook that sturmclan, Scrapbooker Extraordinaire, had sent him. He curled up on the comforter and dry-sobbed a little bit at first--Reader, I confess, I was getting a bit fed up with the whole abject despair thing--but finally settled down to paste his Bella portraits down in some semblance of order. I daresay he found it a bit soothing, which was good, because I was concerned that he was nearly caught up with Tonner Edward on the Downward Spiral Into Crazy. Speaking of whom, a certain vampirus scintilla maximus strolled by just then.
"Very nice," he said, craning his neck just the slightest degree (the super vampire vision, you will remember). "Perhaps you can stick some of them up on your refrigerator, next to his report card."
My eyes narrowed. "You're in a good mood." Particularly since I had, you know, flung him from the room and perma-banned him from Little Bella's presence.
"Well, since he's been rejected--"
"He wasn't rejected! He didn't even give her a chance to reject him!"
"No, he couldn't even manage that much before he fell to pieces, could he?" I then got the distinct sensation that he was trying (again) to dazzle me. "I can always improve on a bad first impression. He can't even finish making one. So it seems to me that it's only a matter of time before everyone realizes that I'm the only one for her--I know, you give me that look, but he can't even function. I can wait until she comes around. I have nothing but time."
This was horrifyingly logical--or at least, that's what charm can do, I suppose: make the illogical sound completely reasonable. And his reasoning might have wormed its way into my brain had he not gloated one step too far: "Maybe he can scrapbook our wedding."
"OKAY, THAT'S IT."
I had a vague impression that everyone was staring at me slack-jawed--Tonner Edward as he leaned against the dresser with a frozen sneer, Little Edward with a sketch of Bella in one hand, White Arwen braiding Sundance's tail, Fugagorn with the dessert fork mid-pitch, Clarice with a wisp of Easter grass hanging out of her mouth--as I charged from one room to the other:
"Bella, you got a moment? Because you are coming with me."
"Um, could you wait until I don't have croissants in the oven--"
"No, I can't. NOW."
"Holy CROW, where's the fire!"
"Look--you remember that guy from the other day? The one who--"
"Screamed at me and ran away?"
"Yes. That one. Well. He is really, really upset about that and so you and he are going to sit down and have an entire conversation, no matter how long it takes or how many times he does try to scream and run away, because I WILL hold him down until he does it, and you ARE going to sit and listen to him."
"Yes," I said, putting her down at the top of the stairs (well, a good length away from the stairs themselves, in case she should fall over). "So SIT."
I stormed back to my sister's old room, plucked Little Edward from his scrapbooking by the scruff of his plastic coat--better not to tell him, not to give him time to freak out, I thought--and marched straight past Tonner Edward.
"Where are we going? What are we doing--!"
"Come on, Sparkles, you got a date with destiny."
And I set him down on the carpet in front of Bella. He went white (well, whiter) and shrank back into himself.
Apparently thirty seconds had been long enough for Bella to recover her bad attitude. She stood up to face him, and--I have to say, in retrospect, I cannot blame her for feeling put out. My sister's told me what a bitch croissants are to make from scratch, and Bella had been slaving over a tiny stove all afternoon only to have me march in, snatch her off the tableshelf, and demand she talk to someone who, not unreasonably, gave her the heebs.
The Littlest Bella shifted her weight to one emphatic foot and put her hand on her hip. "Look, weirdo, I've got three minutes left on the timer, so what is your DEAL? MAKE IT FAST."
Yeah. Good job there, me.
And then I stood there, stricken with absolute horror as The Littlest Edward, pale and tremulous, gaped like a trout for a few terrified moments and then finally his mouth opened and HIS BRAIN FELL OUT:
"I--I love you--you are the most beautiful girl I have ever smelled--your chocolate eyes--your chestnut hair--you taste like flowers--I mean, I think you would taste like flowers--I mean, if someone bit you--I mean--uh--you--yes--you're all I think about--your scent--your heart beating--the things you would say when you're asleep--following you everywhere--catching you every time you trip over something--I want--I want to watch you sleep and listen to you breathe and keep you safe and sniff your hair all night every night forever."
(A tiny "oh god" squeaked out of my throat.)
Bella stared at him. Finally, after a long... stunned... pause, she said, "... WHAT."
"I--I know I'm not good enough for you--"
"GOOD ENOUGH--you freak--what is WRONG WITH YOU?"
He stood on the precipice of losing someone he had never even had, forever--he had utterly given her the wig. There was no going back. He said it.
"I--well--you see--I'm--" He closed his eyes, exquisitely pained: "A vampire."
And then he hung his head in shame.
Bella stared at him. Then she stared at him some more. Then she said, her voice husky with fascination, "Really?"
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