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Heritage

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

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Silberman's Books. Sunday, December 13, 2015. Noonish.

 

Collapsed in her chair in her office and feeling trapped behind her grandfather's desk, Lynn Epstein wondered exactly why she was so eager to own a small business during the holiday rush. Precarious stacks of cardboard boxes full of books, dvds and games that couldn't fit in the backroom filled every available inch of floor space, further increasing her sense of confinement.

 

Between running the store, finals (thankfully over), and hitting the streets with Gretchen, the changeling felt liked he hadn't slept in months.

 

"I need a break," she sighed. Then a thought hit her; rummaging through the garbage on top of her desk, she finally found her Android phone and placed a call to an old friend.

 

"Hey Taylor,  it's Lynn; is this a good time? "

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Taylor was not in costume as she was enjoying the post Halloween lull in supernatural antics. Instead, she was curled on the living room couch, working on a long overdue translation for some of her freelance contacts when the phone rang. In the distant, she could hear the shriek of JJ's giggles as his father tried valiantly to keep their nocturnal offspring on a diurnal schedule during the weekend.

 

As the phone rang, Taylor called out, "I've got it," and went to pick up the line. Her voice was warm as she answered, "Oh, hello, Lynn. No, I'm not busy. Is everything alright?" 

 

It was probably a sign of Taylor's lack of social life that her first thoughts were mystic problems rather than small talk.

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Lynn laughed as she scratched the back of her head; she recognized that tone of voice.

 

"No, no, it's nothing like that, it's just-"

 

She sighed deeply.

 

"I've got the holiday blues real bad; the store is a madhouse, and it's Hanukkah and I miss my kids. I just...I really need to do something stupid and normal, y'know? Like get drunk and play Laser Tag or something. You ever feel that way?"

 

You miss being a kid, she thought to herself; the last time you were in Freedom, you were young and recently married, and before that you were an Interceptor sharing a clubhouse. Somehow she was back home, and she'd never felt more alone.

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"Well, not quite that way, but I know what you mean," Taylor said as she shifted on the couch, pushing her laptop away. She caught the deeper timbre of Jack's voice upstairs as he caught their son again in what Taylor mentally called 'vampire tag' in the back of her head, "I mean, I wouldn't trade my life now for anything but Jack's awfully busy and the kids keep us hopping when we're not busy with, you know, politics and super heroing respectively."

 

She sighed then, a little wistfully, before giving a shake of her head. Taylor reached out and shut the laptop closed, her voice lightening, "I can't get drunk, though, and I'm a terrible shot."

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The changeling laughed and shook her head as she sat up in her chair. "Oh my God, dude; you're completely useless!" She chewed her lip for a few seconds as she drummed her fingers on the desk, deep in thought. 

 

"D'you wanna maybe...like, just go for a walk somewheres? Go out to Wharton, or maybe somewhere farther out? Maybe I just to need to get out of the city for an hour or two to clear my head. Does that sound like a plan?"

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"We can do that. Did you want to go right now?" Taylor asked as as she glanced towards the stairs once more and then went to start putting away her papers. She'd learned with a rambunctious five year old in the house to not leave work lying around if she didn't want it embellished with crayon. "Jack's already watching JJ and I imagine the teenager won't emerge from his room any time in the near future. He's heavily in avoiding us today and might still be asleep to be honest."

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Lynn groaned and covered her eyes in sympathy. "Oh God, the 'Fortess Bedroom' years; you are in for a bumpy ride, my friend! Soooo many arguements through that door, though for me, it was Ruthie, not Zach; he was just a little dumpling."

 

She sat up and peered at the antique clock on the wall. "Uh, if now is okay? How 'bout we meet somewhere in half an hour, give us time to tidy up and put out any fires. Is Wharton okay, or is there somewhere else you'd rather go? We could meet by the front gate, then hit one of the hiking paths."

 

As she spoke, the elfin brunette was quickly scanning emails to see if there was anything that required her immediate attention.

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"You know me. Its easy to meet literally anywhere." Taylor said with a laugh, "I just have to let Jack know that I'm stepping out for a bit and I can meet you at Wharton within a second. It'll give me a chance to push food through the teenager's door and say goodbye to the family that's willing to communicate in something other than grunts and long suffering sighs. I'll be there in a half an hour." 

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"Cool, I'll see you there. Later!" Lynn answered a few emails while sending a thought her assistant's way.

 

-Hey, Gretch! I'm stepping out for a bit to hang with my friend Taylor; you and Kiki got the store covered?-

 

-Uh, yeah, we've got this. Please do me a favor, though; can you at least be seen physically leaving the store? It makes it so much easier to lie about your whereabouts than if you're inexplicably hiding in your office all day.-

 

-Ooh, good point; I'll try and remember that!-

 

-Just keepin' it real.-

 

After making a big show of leaving, Lynn appeared just under  half an hour later at the front gate to the Wharton State Forest, wearing cowboy boots, comfy jeans, a red flannel shirt and olive green down vest. A black Stetson was tipped back on her head, and a large Thermos hung from a shoulder strap. She was making small talk with the ranger on duty as she waited for Taylor to arrive.

Edited by Heritage

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Although Taylor didn't appear out of thin air, she did round the path wearing what she'd probably been wearing at home. In jeans and a light sweater, wearing sneakers, she looked not unlike a lost college kid wandering out towards the woods. Life in her bubble for the last few years had been rather removed and her blending skills were rusty. Still, she offered a dimpled smile to the ranger that only enhanced the perception of youth before turning it on the fae. 

 

"Did I keep you waiting too long?" Taylor asked, apology in her tone, "JJ was more reluctant to say goodbye than I thought he would be. It's hard to predict with him these days. I think its the new school."

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Lynn shook her head. "Nah, it's all good; gave me and Ranger Ted a chance to catch up! Bill and I used to come here all the time."

 

The ranger nodded and smiled. "Well you two have a good hike. And I'm sorry for your loss, Miss Epstein."

 

The changeling smiled wistfully. "Thank you, Ted. Alright, these boots were made for hikin'; let's head on in."

 

Lynn chose a nice two mile loop and they headed off; with the very mild winter Freedom was seeing, it looked a bit more like fall than winter, with the bare trees and damp leaves squishing underfoot.  Once they were clear of the front gate, she sighed and shook her head. 

 

"Ah, separation anxiety; so not fun! Nothing tears at your heartstrings like a kid who doesn't want his mommy to leave. What school is he starting at? And speaking of which, I need to see me some pictures of that adorable little imp, stat!"

Edited by Heritage

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"Nicholson - it's a sort of Junior version of Claremont. Elementary for kids that might not mainstream so well," Taylor said with a small, bemused smile as she was well aware at this point that her family was abnormal even for abnormal. As if to add to that, she gave a small, apologetic shrug, "I'd have to conjure up an illusion for you instead. Like Jack, the kids don't show up in mirrors - or cameras. Occasionally, I shell out to get portraits done because otherwise, I don't have any of those sorts of things to put up around the house. Fortunately, the house lends itself well to having old fashioned oil paintings. I keep meaning to see if one of my super science friends can figure out some sort of work around."

 

She shrugged and tucked her hands in her jean pockets, "Thankfully, they take that and the fangs in stride at Nicholson. I am hoping that Stesha ends up sending Ammy there next year. JJ adores her and I think she's generally a good influence."

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Lynn winced and thumped herself on the head.

 

"Duh, I forgot about that! Boy, that's going to make things like driver's licences a challenge, though I guess people like us have workarounds for transport."

 

The changeling paused to breathe in the damp air, then continued.

 

"It's awesome that Freedom has a school like that; wish we'd had a Nicholson on Bill's world. Our kids grew up kinda feral; a little of formal school here and there, lots of tutoring, some home schooling. We traveled so much the early years, it was hard to have any sort of consistency."

 

She smiled at a memory.

 

"But we always read to them; that part never changed."

 

Then she got a faraway look in her eye.

 

"Ruthie became a pilot, a damn good one. Zach took over the family business, runs a bounty hunting firm with twelve agents. And Jon-Jon...well, they can't all grow up to be good guys..."

 

Lynn's face crumpled into a mask of regret as she trudged along In silence.

Edited by Heritage

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"Jack has several workarounds for such things. Some of them even semi-legal," Taylor offered her assurances on that, her dimples flashing in amusement briefly before catching Grim's sudden mood shift. She was at least used to the fae's mercurial nature by now, so she shifted gears, offering a sympathetic, "Did you want to talk about that? I imagine it's probably a little rough having had years go by and jumping back in like nothing's changed."

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The changeling nodded as she conjured up a stick to gently whack the trees as she passed by them. "It is, yeah; the hard part is when you wake up from a dream of home, surrounded by your family, but then you're still here. The idea that that life is starting to feel unreal, like I never had those kids or a husband. I'm a creature of two worlds now, not really fitting a hundred percent in either one."

 

She covered her face and groaned. "Urrrgh! You know what, let's change the subject." She turned to Taylor and smiled, doing her best to chase the clouds away. "How's work? Done anything cool since I last saw you?"

Edited by Heritage

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"Immortality can be a burden. Especially with mortal relatives," Taylor agreed quietly, content to let the subject drop. Her small, nuclear family might all have their own brand of immortality but the Chuns, save Taylor, were all still very, very human. She smiled, those dimples flashing in her cheek, "You know me - same day, different... You know. People punch holes between dimensions and I put them back where they're supposed to go. Met a teenage godling a couple of months ago. Set. Nice kid this time around - though now the teenager and he have some sort of... thing going on. Jack hates it, but really that's practically tradition now for his side of the family. His sire still shows up to spit names at me now and again when she grows bored enough."

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Lynn actually laughed out loud at that.

 

"Wow, Set? That's the Egyptian god-slash-goddess of the Twittersphere, right? I think Gretchen showed me some YouTube clips of her...him, whatever; both aspects of the Divine Flirty One."

 

She shook her head.

 

"Boy, if you ever have any daughters, Jack would become every teenage boy's nightmare; this voice coming out of nowhere in the middle of the night-"

 

She cupped her hands over her mouth and lowered her voice into a fair imitation of Avenger's sepulcharal tones.

 

"'Zachary Ferguson! Never return to the house of the Farettis again!' Then the poor kid wets his bed..."

 

She laughed again. 

 

"Actually, I'd pay good money to see that."

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"I think he identifies based on the gender he's currently presenting," Taylor provided helpfully. She smiled, the gesture brief but bemused, "I met her in her feminine aspect but I think that she's met Huang in both genders. Regardless, the more determined that Jack is to end it, the more determined his son is to go forward with it. Sometimes they're a bit too much alike."

 

As to the idea of Jack's intonations, Taylor laughed, "We're unlikely to have any more children at all considering the miracle that JJ was, but I don't think Jack would be any more protective with a girl, honestly. He tends to terrify without prejudice."

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Lynn shrugged as she unscrewed her Thermos and poured herself some coffee that smelled of hazelnut and rich cream. "Well, at least he's an equal opportunity frightener." She laughed as she imagined Jack dealing with Set. "Colt always kinda freaked out when I turned into a guy on the job; he had a hard time making eye contact, and he got all squirmy. At first, I used to mess with him, but then I had to accept the fact that it unnerved him a bit and it wasn't cool." She shrugged. "After that, I was strictly professional."

 

The changeling was quiet for a while, seemingly content to sip her coffee and enjoy the outdoors and Taylor's company. Finally, she cleared her throat. "Hey, y'know, there's something...I need to talk about with someone, or my head is gonna explode." She squinted over at her friend. "Do we do dating advice? Are we at that level yet?"

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Taylor arched one dark brow, "Uhh, sure? Though I should remind you I am not perhaps the best source for relationship advice. Jack was really my first serious boyfriend. Our first date involved psuedo-werewolves and, uhm, making out in the car." That was a heavily edited version of that particular story. "And then I didn't know he was a vampire for an embarrassingly long time. We got engaged and married super fast. I mean - don't get me wrong - I love my husband and there's no one else I'd rather be looking at eternity with... but I can't exactly claim that I followed my best judgement to get there." Taylor gave a little wave of her fingertips and sighed, "But sure, I'll give it my best shot. Who's the guy?"

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The store owner nearly laughed with a mouthful of coffee, but barely caught herself. She nervously rubbed a hand on her thigh as she considered the question. "Yeah, well, that's kind of the thing. I'm not...I'm not a hundred percent sure of what my feelings are; there's a lot of overlap and confusion, and I just-" She stopped, closed her eyes and squeezed her hands into fists. "It's Gretchen, Taylor, possibly; Gretchen is 'the guy'." Placing the Thermos on the ground, she began to pace back and forth across the path, her boots crunching in the dead leaves as her hands darted about like angry sparrows.

 

"I'm not...I care about her, Taylor, I care a lot. I worry about her and want to protect her, but I'm also proud of her when she's strong. But it's...are these just weird mom feelings? Because...I'm old, compared to her; I'm like grandma old. And, maybe I'm just looking for someone to protect, y'know? Like a, like a weird case of empty nesting or something? Plus she works for me, so there's like ethics stuff. And, she's a girl, which I've-" She dropped down into a crouch and covered her face with her gloved hands. "Oh, my head feels like it's on fire..."

Edited by Heritage

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Taylor blinked once, confusion and surprise on her feature although both quickly faded to alarm as Lynn started to wind up. Taylor, despite herself, seemed to ever be at ground zero for other people's emotions. She fluttered her hands uncertainly, "Oh, well, I.. uhm... Am I really the best person to ask about this? Okay. Okay. Hmm." Taylor frowned, stilling her hands with the nervous gesture of fiddling with the amulet at her throat. 

 

"Uh, I am almost positive that 'weird mom feelings' and 'potential romance excitement' have zero overlap so, I would say no. They're not anything maternal." Taylor said, the frown between her brows deepening, "But, I mean, you're both her real-world boss and her super-hero mentor and it seems like if you were going to do something, uh, more, then you should probably let her have her own identity as a super hero and not be reliant on you for her income? Because that'll make it weird. Also, probably super unhealthy."

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Lynn stood up and paced around some more, still covering her face. "I know, I know." She ran her fingers through her hair. "She's not completely dependent on me for income, but she's the one who came to me offering to be my assistant! And she actually has gotten my head back in the game and doing good work again." She stopped, put her hands on her hips and gnawed on her lower lip. "It really has become more of a partnership, which I like. And I do encourage her to go out on her own; she always knows she can call me, but more and more she can handle herself on her own, which makes me so damn proud of her."

 

The changeling paced over to a nearby tree, and leaned up against it. "I never had any girl friends in school; I never had many friends period, but I really hated the other girls, mostly." She sighed. "The other night, Gretchen sent over 'What are you doing', and I said 'watching this really bad movie on Netflix' and she asked, 'which one'. So I told her, and then we...just watched it together, in different apartments, getting all drunk and bitchy and making fun of it. And I wished...I wanted her to be next to me on the couch, y'know? I wanted her head resting in my lap..."

 

Lynn looked over to Taylor, a mixture of confusion and ache in her eyes. "I've never been with a girl, like that; I've never...I mean, with Divine, if you wanted her, that just meant you had a f###ing pulse, but this..." She bit her lower lip. "Not since Bill have I really clicked with someone; where I felt, 'Ah, well, he gets me.' Someone who can look me in the eye and say, 'You're so full of s###,' but coming from a loving place." The fae smiled and sadly shook her head. "I really miss that."

 

And then she was back up and pacing again. "So, what do I do? Do I fire her from a job she loves? Do I...I mean, i don't even know if it will work out! Maybe I've been reading the signs all wrong and she hates me! What if we're not compatible? God, this used to be so much easier when I was just a dumb kid!"

Edited by Heritage

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Taylor's nose scrunched up once at the mention of the Greek goddess, "Pulse not necessarily required with Divine," she commented, her humor dry but at least it was there. After five years of marriage, she was more secure with Jack than she'd once been. Giving a short, sharp shake of her head, Taylor dismissed the matter and moved onto the more pertinent matters at hand. Her dimples flashed in her cheeks as she added with a small grin, "You are vastly mis-remembering how easy it felt at the time. By orders of magnitude."

 

Her smile fell away and she shrugged, tucking her hands into her jean pockets although Taylor long ago had stopped feeling things like cold. "I am pretty sure finding an equal footing with someone means not making a bunch of decisions on their behalf. You shouldn't fire her, no, that's really not any better. I think you probably want to talk to her and lay out the issues as you see them." Taylor shrugged slightly before adding, "But what do I know, I jumped in blind and that worked out despite everything. I do know that back when Jack and I were having the rough patch, the only reason we came out the other side is we started finding a balance when the world wasn't ending - in those rare few moments. Now, of course, we have a teenager to keep us on our toes."

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Lynn was quiet for a while, which was rare for her; at length, she nodded. "Yeah, talking needs to happen." Then she smiled and indicated the path with a jerk of her head. "Shall we move on?"

 

She continued to be thoughtful for a time, then changed topics again. "So, what does the future hold for the Faretti clan? Any long term plans, or do you take it day by day?"

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