Petals of the Rose
Later that night, after settling Shade and Porsche into Jerry’s apartment, Pollock followed through on her lead with Porsche’s fetch. Their Facebook conversation had given her a good lead, and just after school got out, Porsche’s fetch messaged her again to meet up. Polly invited the creature to go clubbing and got a delighted all-caps “YES!” in reply.
Shade was enjoying the banter between the two ladies. Porsche’s youthful enthusiasm and frustration played well against Pollock’s smooth and gregarious demeanor. So it provided an extra bout of quiet amusement when Porsche grew indignant over Pollock getting to go out while she was stuck indoors.
“What do you mean we’re going out? And with her!” Porsche folded her arms beneath her breasts.
“Honey, I’m going on a reconnaissance mission. You’re going to sit your pretty little ass here and keep out of trouble.”
“I’m going to go figure out what makes this thing tick, and more importantly, how dangerous it might be.”
“You’re going to go out and be social, and I’m stuck here by myself.”
“No, you’re not. Shade’s here.” They both turned and looked at him.
Shade did his best to look innocent. Sometimes it helped to have a genuine stone face.
Porsche looked back at Polly. “I hate you a little bit right now.”
Polly proferred her biggest smile in return, with sunshine yellow hair to match, with streaks of smug orange. After a moment, she offered, “Sorry.”
Shade left the room, chuckling to himself. These friends were definitely better than the isolation he’d been keeping himself in for so long.
Porsche’s fetch simply opened with “I don’t remember you,” and a suspicious, accusatory glare. Pollock found her to be cold, cruel, and self-indulgent. She kept herself to light banter. Polly managed to play it off by convincing the fetch that it was a big concert, and between access to a car and willingness to pay for everything, she lulled the fetch into thinking her a nice new friend. The fetch was a terror all evening, insulting people at the all-ages club they went to, bad-mouthing her family and friends, school, and in general being unpleasant but not inhuman. Polly was happy to drop her off at her house, secure in the knowledge that they were in no immediate danger from the thing.
Shade had a mouthful of ice cream when Jerry came into the apartment. He’d met Jerry before, and found him distasteful. A yellow tank top and shorts with a fedora and douchebag stubble marked him as part of the hopelessly trendy lowlifes of the city. His barely visible chin flip was the only greeting he ever gave to anyone. And Shade’s attempt at introducing him to Porsche fared no better, producing the same idle disinterest he had in everything and everyone who wasn’t constantly praising him.
“So where’s my girl?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Nice of her to let you hang out in my place and eat my ice cream.” He wandered into the bedroom and closed the door.
Shade and Porsche looked at each other. “That’s her flavor of the month. And I mean that. I give it another three weeks at the most. She’ll be on to the next guy soon enough.”
“Oh, god.” Porsche yawned wide, then looked around. “I’m getting sleepy, where are we supposed to sleep here?”
“On the couch, I guess.”
“Ew. I’ve never had to couch surf before.”
“Sorry.” Shade’s tone really made no apology at all. He’d been living in what was effectively a halfway house for a year, and that after he’d been a graduate student in psychology, with a life ahead of him. And then the Emperor of the Alabaster Palace came and took that away and made him a librarian in the massive, dark place that had become his home for a year and a day. His contract, he was told, was for a year and a day. And that was both true and misleading. He’d been gone from earth for four years when he came back. But that’s the trouble with faeries. Although his deal had been for a year and a day of service, he’d made no provision for a return trip home, and so he’d been cast out of the library and into the bright, uncomfortable and alien world of Arcadia with no way home.
Until he’d met others like him. Others who remembered being human once, until this accursed place had stolen that from them. Others who had even been happy with their lives here, in a sense, until they had been thrown out, abandoned, forgotten, but not given a chance to get home.
They’d all seen it; a sign in the center of the realms of the Emperor and Empress. Amidst the boards listing cities and towns, this forest and those mountains, was a single humble board that said “Earth (don’t bother)”. Word circulated among the folk of their lands that the journey back to earth was beyond harrowing, that those who tried were doomed almost before they started. But facing a land that no longer wanted or needed them, they’d had nothing else to live for.
Reflecting on this, Shade was jolted back to reality when Porsche raised her voice. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Sorry, I was lost in a moment, there.”
“Whatever.” She turned her back on him, returning to the television and the pint of ice cream she’d been enjoying before Jerry came in.
Hours later, when Polly returned, she related to them the tale of her socialization with Porsche’s doppelganger. When she was done, she ended on “We’ll just have to see what tomorrow brings.”