She picked up after the third ring. “Arachne’s Web Wooing, can I help you?”
“Harriet?” I said.
There was a long pause, during which I reconsidered calling. Maybe I should just hang up. But as I started to, she spoke. “What do you need, Emma?”
“I…” How could I say it? How could I say I lost my job and then my apartment and so I know I said I’d never speak to you again but you were my best friend once, so I called you? This had been another terrible mistake in a day full of them. “I…”
“Tell me where you are,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”
Harriet Jones had grown up in the house next door to my paternal aunt’s. When I’d moved in at twelve, one parent dead and the other declared a shameful legally unfit, she’d taken me under her wing, was my buddy through all of horrible high school. She’d held my head the first time I drank too much, and I’d nursed her through three shattered hearts and helped her TP all of their houses. Until a few years ago, I’d never envisioned not having her as part of my life.
But when I’d joined the Bureau, she’d objected. I don’t know why, if she’d thought I wasn’t serious about it all and was never going to go through it, but the day that I signed the contract was the day that we’d parted ways.
It wasn’t that she hated Supernaturals. It was that she liked them too much.
I was a nerd. Harriet was a super-nerd. She knew the names and history of every single Dragonball-Z character, she read more than she talked, she had a 50th level mage fighter in the D&D game spanning our four years in high school, run by Bobbie Patnaude. Every spring she went to Norwescon dressed in panda ears and carrying a replica of a Stormtrooper laser pistol. When they news of the Supernatural had arrived, she’d been beside herself with joy, and quickly become one of the people that we at Bureau called “groupies.” Not ours — groupies of anything connected to the Supernatural, whether it was one of the Fairy rock bands like Sidhe-Sells or the vampire software created by the hacker who went by the name Dracula’s Scion.
“I’m going to be interacting with them every day, that’s what you’re jealous of,” I’d told her that last day. You don’t get to be someone’s best friend without getting to know exactly where to insert a verbal blade. I regretted it the minute I saw the expression on her face, but much like the moment I’d pushed the protester, the die had been cast and I pushed ahead, not caring what the roll was.
That was how it had all happened. I said something regrettable, she said something even more more regrettable, and it all went downhill from there. Or, as with my favorite British expression, it went pear shaped, though I’m still not exactly sure what that means. And then there had been last words and radio silence through the years since then.
So why had I even bothered calling her?
Because I knew deep in my soul that she’d do exactly what she did. Her Prius pulled up to the curb fourteen minutes after she’d hung up, and even if she hadn’t bothered locking a single door behind her, it’d still be surprising that she’d gotten there that fast. She wore a black leather jacket that looked exactly like the one I was wearing and that made me smile, because I knew she’d gotten it in the same shop I had, one of our old favorite shopping haunts.
She’d put on a few pounds, but even I had, and I was pretty sure she’d been leading a more sedentary life than I had. She’d put her geek smarts into putting together a dating service for her kind, the most successful of its kind, with catchy, memorable ads that managed to combine cute and geek and smart. I saw her photo from time to time in the news, coupled with various local bachelor software magnates, but she didn’t show any sign of settling down. She’d always been the independent type and my guess was that she was holding out for a Fairy Prince. She paused when she saw me, and I’m sure that same last moments flashing through my head were flashing through hers. So I stepped forward. Her face softened and in a minute we were hugging.
She looked at the smouldering building behind me. “Is that your place? Holy Aphrodite, Emma, what happened?”
“That’s not even the worst of it,” I said. “I lost my job too.”
She gaped at me. “What?”
And something in her expression put me over the edge. So, first graduate of the Supernatural Postgrad Defense and Discovery Program, slayer of five vampires and two werewolves, able to negotiate in Dwarvish, Hobgolbin, and broken Fae, and a perfect exemplar of today’s strong, capable woman, burst into tears.
Harriet knew what to do. She steered me towards her car and before I knew it we were back at her office, with the “Closed” sign up on the door. I protested when she took the phone off the hook too, but she shrugged. “Most of my clients prefer to reach me by e-mail anyway.” She poured hot water into two mugs and added tea, blackberry sage for mine, cinnamon jasmine for hers. I wondered how long she’d been stocking my favorite tea. The thought made my heart warm a little. I could always count on Harriet.
The whole story came tumbling out, from the look on the protester’s face to the sound of the sirens of the fire engines arriving to put out the remains of my home. It still shamed me to admit that I’d be fired, whether or not I considered it fair, but Harriet had seen me through the worst of things, from getting my period at the prom to being the person who lost our team the Math championship sophomore year.
And despite how horrible the day had been, there was something worthwhile in all of it if it had managed to build our friendship back together.
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