Tired was an inadequate descriptor for how I felt when I finally set foot in my apartment, one cab ride and two more doses of benadryl later. My keys clanked on the table in my entryway and I took a long, deep breath. Portland was known for decent air quality despite its population density, but no city could be quite clean enough for a Fae. The petroleum running rampant in the air wherever we went gave us trouble, reduced only by copious greenery and the occasional slide into near earth. Sliding into near earth was like coming up for breath after a long dive – that strange kind of I was almost dying and now I’m not ecstasy, which is less pleasure than survival. I’m half water nymph, after all – I would know.
My apartment was on the outskirts of Northeast Portland in a little (emphasis on the “little”) building near the Columbia. The IFA regional office had a hotel on the premises used for visiting Fae dignitaries. As a representative of the Northwest I requested a unit reserved just for me with all the amenities of a standard one-bedroom Portland apartment – scaled down, of course.
The “scaled down” part was very important. Before taking a position as bridger I tried to live in mundane society in a tiny studio apartment in downtown. It is difficult to fully appreciate the challenges of cooking in a giant-sized kitchen if you’ve never done it. Just putting a pot of water on to boil was such a workout that I ended up ordering veggie sushi every night for two months.
Portland was good for vegans, at least. That was one of many reasons why when Fae from various parts of the world came to North America, they chose to come to Portland. It was one of the “nice” places to be one of our people.
I breathed deep, feeling just a bit lighter when filtered air scented by the many flowers planted along my walls filed my lungs. My apartment was formerly a one-bedroom suite – the living room and kitchen were decidedly hotel-like, but just spacious enough for my purposes. Ever since I became a bridger I spent half my time away between the grove and my travels, anyway. I’d taken the time to paint the walls in browns, blues, and greens when I got in, reminiscent of nature. The furnishings were otherwise entirely modern. I had a few shiny metal statues mixed in with the green. I liked my nature like any Fae, but I had my own flare for style, too.
I wandered through my sadly empty kitchen, finding only expired juices in my fridge. I settled on a tall glass of ice water, leaning on the counter while I powered up my neglected phone. I’d turned it off at the beginning of the plane ride and hadn’t turned it on since I got back into Portland. My eyes were dull and heavy while I watched the screen power up. I slipped off my blazer, tossing it in a pile on my living room floor. I’d deal with cleanup later.
There were several emails waiting for me, as well as a couple of texts from Brenna, the IFA coordinator who lived in the regional facility, inquiring about my whereabouts. She was a bit motherly, and I’d forgotten to let her know I got in safe. Oops. I replied to that text immediately.
Finally a voicemail notification appeared on my screen, and the number made me raise an eyebrow. I knew that number. It was a Nevada area code, and there was only one person in Nevada who would ever have a reason to get in touch with me.
I groaned low in my throat when I touched the ‘play’ button, speaker on.
“Hey Lee. I guess you forgot to turn on your phone, didn’t you? Oh well. Anyway, I wanted to meet up with you for dinner-” I pressed my palm directly to the center of my face. Dinner. She wants to have dinner. “-but since I can’t get in touch with you I’ll just come by. Petals, babe.”
“Oh by the blades,” I cursed. My eyes darted to the door, knowing that Dyana would be knocking any minute. We’d bonded for almost a full year, after all – I knew her well, just as she knew me. My windows were closed but my lights were on, surely visible through the little cracks in the curtains. Perhaps if I could just shut off the lights and lock my door really fast before she arrived…
As if waiting for just that moment, an insistent knock came from outside. I closed my eyes.
It came again. Knocknocknock. “Amelie?” A pause, “I flew metal just for you, so don’t you dare-”
As I swung open the door I had to decide what to do with my face – whether it would be appropriately un-enthused, or whether I would put on a fake smile to appease her. In my haze of fatigue I’m pretty sure it came out somewhere in between, an ineffectual medium which would not help me toward any goal.
Dyana’s appearance – silver eyes, white hair and moonpale skin – would be directly at odds with her over-the-top personality except for the bright purple wings she used to hover several inches above me. I fell in love with her wings when we first met. They had a gorgeous glow about them.
“Don’t you look uninspired,” Dyana smiled, her pale lips seemingly too large for her face. Oh muses. I didn’t hate them – it would be quite unfortunate if I did, given that bridging was a muse-dominated field – but I preferred dealing with muses only at work. A year of bonding with Dyana taught me that much.
“I…” I sighed. I wasn’t going to be able to pretend to be excited to see her, even if she was my ex-partner and the woman who convinced me to get into the bridger business in the first place. “I am, Dy. I’m exhausted. Happy to see you, though,” I struggled with the last statement. I liked Dy, and certainly would have been pleased to hear that she was planning a trip to see me. It would have been genuine happiness had she only waited another six hours to announce herself.
“Oh shush,” Dy glided past me, perching with bare feet up on the back of my lovely, white couch. I winced, shutting and locking the door behind her, leaning against it with a huff that blew frazzled strands of hair out of my eyes. “I knew that if I waited for you to get back to me it would be forever. You probably would have gone off to that meeting without even a word.”
“The meeting is-” I was about to say ‘Monday’ before I glanced at the digital clock on the wall. One a.m. “Tomorrow, technically. I would have called you back, you know that.”
Dy shrugged. “If you kept your phone on you maybe I could have caught you on your way back from the airport. Takes two to make these kinds of mistakes, Lee.”
She’d always been energetic, that was for sure. I crossed over to my chaise and threw myself into it. In my shell top with the bra sticking out, business pants, and socks, I knew I looked a wreck. I didn’t even care anymore. “I would say something witty, but my wings are already asleep. The rest of me is just standing guard.”
Suddenly distracted, Dy swooped into my kitchen with a dazzling flutter of her wings. I couldn’t see what she was doing behind the little bar – and again, I didn’t care. I was too tired to care about much of anything.
“Why are you here? I haven’t seen you in… what is it, six months now?” I asked over the sound of pots clanging and drawers opening. She’d never been in this particular apartment of mine, yet she walked around in it like it was hers. It made me smile just a little, enough that I couldn’t bring myself to tell her to calm down and stay out of my stuff.
“Eight,” Dy corrected, her head poking around the corner. “I wanted to congratulate you! And get the gossip, of course. I have some to give too.”
“And it still can’t wait till morning?”
“Well… some of it can, if I can borrow your couch.”
“Didn’t you start your own… something? Down in Reno?” I leaned forward to try to catch a glimpse of what in the five earths she was up to in my kitchen, but her back was turned to me. I collapsed back in my chair. “Surely you could afford your own hotel room.”
She rounded the corner of the bar, hands outstretched to present a steaming mug of jasmine tea. Her eyebrows raised. “Burlesque club, is what it is,” she said, carefully delivering the mug into my hands. My favorite. Damn it, Dy. “I could afford it if you want me to stay elsewhere.”
“Forget I said anything,” I sipped the tea, too hot to drink quickly. It was steeped exactly the way I liked. I shook my head. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you need.” Please just don’t let it be too long.
“Just two nights is all. I do have my own obligations. I might not be as important as my lady bridger…” she smirked.
“I don’t feel terribly important just yet. I’m still the newest member in the region.” And the only non-muse. I didn’t add that part, of course. Dyana would insist that as a muse herself she had never looked down on us other Fae, and perhaps for her, that was true.
What I knew was that muses lived by different rules, and they didn’t relish the idea of other Fae getting involved in their games.
“Do you know what the topics are?” asked Dy.
“You know I’m not supposed to share that kind of information.”
“Pish,” Dy settled back on her perch, heedless of the dirty look I was giving her feet. “How am I supposed to tell you what I know if you don’t tell me what you know?”
“I seem to recall that you were the one who customarily did the begging in this relationship.”
“Mm, good one sleepy,” Dy winked. “Have you met Caleb yet?”
Caleb was a highly influential young Fae, the bridger from British Columbia. He’d been serving with the IFA since his early 20’s, a talented muse and the son of Blackwind, who inspired Howard Hughes in the early 20th century. Caleb came from power, talent, and mundane fortune – the kind of Fae I’d always found most difficult to relate to.
“No, I haven’t,” I answered her. “Tomorrow will be my first time.”
She nodded, and the look in her eyes caught my attention.
“Something about him, then?”
“Well,” Dy leaned forward, resting her chin in her hands. “I ran in some… well, you know me, I can’t keep my hands out of the political things. I was at a march down in San Diego-”
My face soured. “San Diego? Please tell me you wore a mask.”
She waved off my comment. “Anyway, I ran into some of the… well, some of the California Fae.”
There weren’t many of those left, most of them all balled up in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. They had a bridger from there – Collette – but she wasn’t very fond of the IFA overall. She usually skyped in, I was told, and even then she rarely spoke. There were very few NorCal Fae who wanted anything to do with human relations.
“Just say it, Dy, I can barely see anymore.”
“Caleb met with somebody from the Elementals.”
“I don’t see a problem with that.” The Elementals were Fae who liked their magick – liked it more than most Fae, if you can believe that, and were hellbent on using it to distance themselves from the humans in any way possible.
The way Dy was shaking her head told me that she had a rather different view of the Elementals. “Don’t see a problem? Lee, those people are radical. They’re way out there, like I don’t think you even know. Didn’t you see how they destroyed that server farm last month? Every hard drive, nonrecoverable.”
“That was a chicken butchery and they were angry about the treatment of the soft ones,” I narrowed my eyes, trying to understand her concern through my fuzzy thoughts. I needed to sleep someday. “Even you and I vandalized a few offices during the whole textbook ordeal.”
“I don’t know, Lee. When I met them they seemed a little… tainted.”
“That’s a serious accusation,” I sat up to make my point, feeling a little off-balance. Tainted was a term we Fae used for dangerous Fae (besides the unders like the Leprechauns, who were a different class altogether thank you very much), Fae who were so twisted that they came to use their powers for violence. Violence – destruction of any kind – was obscene to us. “You can’t just go around saying that about people.”
“I wanted to warn you, that’s all,” Dy apologized, planting her feet on the floor for the first time since she buzzed in. “And I wanted to bug you, too. I missed you.”
She offered her hand to help me up, and my skin brushing hers felt so different than it ever had before. The electricity I remembered from back when we were bonded was replaced by a trail of pleasant warmth. Friendship. At least if we couldn’t be partners, we could be good friends.
In small doses, anyway. I don’t think I could have withstood her energy for long periods, even on a platonic basis.
“Alright, alright,” Dy tugged me down the hall, “I’ll let you sleep.” She paused, glancing at me from the corner of her eyes, “where do you want to go for breakfast?”