“You can stay with me tonight,” Harriet said at the end. “There’s a box of stuff for Goodwill in the spare room, so you can sort through that, see if there’s anything you can use. I know you’ve got about a foot on me heightwise, but I think our asses are about the same size.”
Relief wrapped me like a warm blanket. Being with Harriet again was comforting. We knew each other, and more importantly we trusted each other. I hadn’t had a friend like her since then. I don’t think most folks got even one friend like that in their lives.
At her place on Capitol Hill, we split a Pagliacci’s pizza with Walla Walla sweet onions and spicy peppers, washing it down with two buck chuck merlot from Trader Joe’s.
A fireplace dominated her living room, river pebbles studding it like bristles worn down to the nub, a texture that made me lean forward in my chair, drawing my touch as the unicorn’s horn had. I stroked my hand over the round surface, letting it fill the hollows beneath the bumps where finger met palm, pressing against it, as soothing as the steady warmth washing my side, coming from the crackling pine logs.
We played do-you-remember. My face hurt from laughing after Harriet started telling stories from work, awkwardly worded ads and mistaken encounters, so I made her stop by telling some of my wilder work tales: the chupacabra; hunting the Blue Lady through the homeless shelters of Miami; the gang of Fairy con artists we’d found living on a manufactured island in the Caribbean they’d built with scams and vanishing gold pieces; the time I’d stood next to Thor himself at a White House reception.
I breathed in, feeling the last of the day’s tension unwind from my shoulders. Maybe everything would work out all right after all. The moment that Harriet’s car had pulled up had marked a change in my fortunes, a turn for the better.
“So what are you going to do?” Harriet asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe some kind of bodyguard work. I’ve got plenty of experience with supernatural threats and some one percenters worry about that sort of thing. That’s all I can think of. Not many people out there need that sort of thing, though.” The prospect of job-hunting loomed before me like a bottomless, never-mapped pit. Where to start? I’d need to buy new clothes for interviewing. I might even have to wear hose.
And a resume.
As Harriet would have said, holy Aphrodite. I’ve never met her, but I hear she’s a lot nicer in person than she’s made out to be.
Harriet swirled her wine. “Well, at least you’re out from under the Bureau.”
Her smug tone rankled.
“I’m not happy about losing the job,” I said.
“You should be.” She set her glass down on the table with a thunk, glaring at me.
I relinquished the fireplace stone I’d been rubbing my thumb over. “I did a useful duty,” I said.
“You killed things. Magical things.”
I nodded, folding my hands together in my lap, and measured out each word to a millidecibel. “That’s right. I killed magical things before they killed people and/or other magical things. And I did it, with or without your approval, damn well, if I do say so myself, for five years.”
“And yet you sneer at buffys.”
“They don’t act inside the law. I did. I was one of the people keeping the world functioning. Safe. By killing magical things that threatened that.”
Our eyes locked.
I was pissed but also thinking — what would I do when she kicked me out? There was a Ramada a couple of blocks away, walking distance.
But she shrugged. “Neither of us are going to change our minds about this. Go to bed, Emma.”
I shouldn’t have pushed, but I did. “You’re annoyed but I’m speaking the truth.”
She picked up her wine again, tilted it to examine the beet-colored wash of the wine had left on the glass as though deciphering it. Vinumancy. There are a thousand ways of fortune-telling. I was more concerned with reading Harriet’s signs.
“I’m torn,” she admitted. “And not particularly sympathetic to your side. Magic should by its nature, be wild and free.”
“Don’t spout Fairy Liberation Front speaking points at me,” I said. “They’re some of the worst. They’d cheerfully enslave humanity and not blink an eye — they’ve tried to more than once. That’s how convinced they are that they’re the superior race.”
She closed her eyes. She was counting to ten. When she was eight, her mother had taught her to do that when she was angry, before she said anything she regretted.
I wished my mother had taught me things like that.
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