Petals of the Rose
Filling the Hours
Two days later, Pollock packed her things and said goodbye to Jerry. He hadn’t taken her “borrowing” of his car for the entire day well. She had a hard time expressing to her compatriots how little this bothered her. They all walked on eggshells for a day until she explained that she’d been in and out of relationships for years, and it honestly didn’t matter much. She lived for the excitement of the new love, the magic of a new inspiration to provide. She couldn’t count the art pieces and songs created in her honor on both hands and both feet. So what if she just couldn’t see herself settling down? It was fun, and there was always someone new to take care of her when she needed it.
So she just couch-surfed with some other changeling friends while the other Lost stayed at the shelter. It took very little explaining to the Hospitallers to get them to take Porsche back in even though she’d turned them down previously. She stopped in regularly to check on them, to go out to eat or to help explain more detail about the community that the Lost had built. Of course, the Hospitallers were already offering a lot of that, but they had a different take on a lot of things than Pollock herself had, and she couldn’t stand not to be involved in the lives of her friends.
Pollock looked forward to the day of the next Court. It was a monthly event, but every three months the season changed, and Court was a much grander event. It was a chance to introduce her friends to the community, for them to join a seasonal court if they so choose—although come to think of it, Shade had joined Winter when he first got back, but she didn’t remember him mentioning ever going back to Court again—and a chance to see what life as one of the fae really consisted of outside a halfway house.
She saw herself in an ugly skirt and a worse top. She saw herself coming home from school. She watched, disembodied, as she pushed open the door to her room. Inside, it was an unbelievable mess. Her mother had gone through all of her things and thrown away or stolen things that were important to her. Her dream self screamed. Her mother appeared. She listened to herself give a diatribe about her lack of privacy and how unfair it was to go through her things. She heard her mother protest that she hadn’t done anything, and saw her flee from her unpredictable daughter.
Her dream self shrieked and tore through the room, looking for and not finding things she wanted. In Porsche’s view, her dream self started to come apart at the seams. She saw her fetch revealed as a poorly built simulacrum, a thing of loose leaf paper, apple cores, empty makeup containers and beach sand. It was all animated by a scrap of darkness that Porsche somehow recognized as a piece of her own shadow. The fetch wailed and threw itself on the bed, crying fake tears and sobbing with imitation angst.
In her sleep, Porsche smiled.
Pollock was visiting the safehouse one afternoon when she stumbled into a conversation between Rajah and another of the shelter inhabitants about faeries in the human world and why humans can’t see the magic all around them. She showed him the same trick she showed Porsche by drawing down the Mask all around her. She felt it like a tight skin, touching her all over. It was uncomfortable, but it illustrated the point. A moment later, she let it go, returning to her true appearance.
Rajah reacted with surprise. “I can see why you have no problem getting dates. You’ve got this emo Rainbow Brite thing going on. Hold on.” He went to the bathroom of the safehouse. It was tagged with insults, curses directed at the lord and lady Keepers who stole the changelings who had passed through, dirty poetry, doodles, and unintelligible scrawls. One drawing of a Keeper was violently scratched out with the words “Don’t do that!” nearby. The mirror was remarkably free of such things. As she watched, Rajah repeated the trick. He learned quickly.
In the mirror, Rajah looked at himself as the Mask portrayed him. Over his shoulder, Pollock saw a disheveled, unshaven black man. His hair and beard were stubble. The armor and clothing he wore had the appearance of bits of metal and bone sewn haphazardly down to a Korean War-era army jacket. His baggy pants looked like a plastic bag that had holes poked for legs. He wore no shoes and without feline feet, he just looked like he walked on the balls of his feet all the time, leaving them filthy.
“Oh, my god. Why didn’t anyone tell me I was walking around looking like a crackhead?”
“I’m sorry, sweetie, I never thought to check how you look to humans.”
“I even look like I stink.” He started pulling off articles of clothing and casting them aside into the tub. Although he looked at his armor with reluctance, he seemed to decide that he was better of without it for now. Pollock politely ignored his nudity as he again inspected himself in the mirror.
Rajah’s body was toned and lightly covered in short fuzz. In places, it was lighter than others, giving him his tiger-like appearance. His ears were pointed but not catlike, and he had large canines that lent to a feral appearance. His tail swished and slashed back and forth agitatedly. “Help me find something to wear.”
They went out to buy some clothes for Rajah, using the last of the cash that Pollock had gotten from Jerry before he dumped her. On the way, she explained the way the Lost divided themselves. “See, hon, you’re a beast. You’ve got animal features, right? Like a tiger. And there are a bunch more like that with all kinds of different animals. Some aren’t nearly as recognizable. Weren’t your troops in the Empire like you?” Rajah nodded. “All beasts.
“Then there are elementals. They’re like beasts but with inanimate stuff, okay? Fire, water, stuff like that. Porsche is one of those. They take on qualities of different natural stuff. Oh, and wood, so I guess plants are elementals too.
“Now, Shade looks like a stone gargoyle, but he’s actually a darkling. All of the ones that creep in shadows. Also banshees, some that just look dead, stuff like that. They thrive on darkness and night.
“Jellyman, that guy we ran into picking up the car, is an ogre. Trolls, monsters, other stuff like that all fit. Usually they are big, and sometimes they are dumb, but don’t you make the mistake of telling them that to their faces. Because they are usually strong enough to throw you through a wall. Saw that happen to a guy who cheated at cards once.
“There are also wizened. The dwarves, the gnomes, the elves and stuff, they’re all wizened. I don’t know where the name came from, but they are tinkerers and builders and workers. I heard a rumor that they do half the actual work of making the Freehold run. Don’t know if it’s true.”
“Okay, Crayola, but what are you, then?”
“Me? I’m one of the fairest of them all.”
Rajah snorted. “Nice. What’s that mean?”
“I mean we’re called the fairest. Fair as in beautiful. Because we are. Beautiful.”
“Hey, don’t blame me. That’s what we’re called, and that’s what we are. Supermodels and sex objects and everything everyone wishes they were. Or that’s the theory at least. I don’t worry too much about it, I just dig the looks guys give me.
“Anyway, it doesn’t come up all that often. It’s not like we’re classist or anything. It just helps us talk about each other in a way that everyone gets.”
“I getcha. Like how it’s easier just to say ‘that black guy’ than to say ‘that guy with the wide-set nose, curly black hair and dark skin.’ Humans are so friggin’ sensitive about shit like that.”
“I know, right?”