|To Tame a Phooka
Author: Crazy Talk PM
She only wanted to help. She didn't mean to drag a fellow volunteer down into a faerie kingdom with her. She didn't mean to have winged royalty after her head. But hey - at least her resident Brownie is a good judge of character.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Romance - Words: 2,469 - Reviews: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 05-05-10 - id: 2803921
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Spitting mud was not the most ladylike thing Kassidy Golding had ever done. She repeated the crude move twice more before getting to her knees to sit in a more respectable crouch on the soggy edge of her dad's old pond. Then she turned her attention to the desperately-wriggling animal clutched a little too tightly in her hands.
The little green frog stared back at her in abject terror and she loosened her grip slightly. Just enough to not break the poor little thing. She hadn't spent an hour chasing it (and its brethren) around the pond to let it get away so easily.
Very carefully, she shifted the animal so it was held in just her left hand. It immediately started trying to fight its way out of her grubby fist. She gave it a warning squeeze and it stayed still.
Wiping her dirty lips with an even dirtier forearm, she squeezed her eyes shut and planted a kiss somewhere near the face of the wildly protesting amphibian. Opening them again, she read disapproval in the frog's eyes. "Be grateful I'm not French," she told it quietly before opening her hand and letting it hop away.
That move triggered wild applause, as her mother and father, standing well back, celebrated the culmination of the yearly tradition. Now, at least, she didn't have her siblings watching, too. She spit again as she got to her feet, her knees creaking at the unwarranted exercise.
Kassidy shivered in the spring breeze, more from disgust at the slime coating her body than from cold. "I feel more like an April Fool every time I do this," she told her parents with a grin. Her unfortunate birthday, coupled with an equally unfortunate frog-kissing tradition and a stubborn refusal to accept facts had led to her being the butt of many a family joke.
Throwing her arms around her parents, she made sure to get as much mud from herself to them as possible without making it obvious. She failed, since they both laughed and even participated in the muddifying process.
They walked back to the house with Kassie's arm around each of their necks, even though she had to stretch a bit to get her dad.
"You know, I'm getting way too old for this shit," she told them once they'd gotten into the kitchen.
"Are you going to stop?" her dad asked from his position leaning on the fridge.
"Of course not." She grinned. "There has to be a frog prince. And of course he lives in your pond. Believing anything else would just be silly!" She thought back to the first time she'd done this…She had been seven, and her mother had read her the old fairy tale before bed. The next morning, all dolled up for her party, she had gone prince-hunting.
Happily for her, the guests had not yet begun arriving, and her mother managed to get her cleaned up and presentable in time. Even now, at twenty-five, she was still grateful to her for letting the hunt go through to its inevitable end. Either one of her parents could have picked her up and carried her inside, effectively ending her dreams of royalty. Instead, they indulged her silliness.
It was official now – she was twenty-five. The kiss had legitimized the event.
"I've gotta go, soon. The pals and I are celebrating."
Her mom nodded. "Go take a shower. You did bring something to change into, right?" She nodded. Of course she had. Why would she ever visit home – especially on her birthday – without bringing several spare outfits? She hadn't done that since she'd moved out.
Running upstairs to change, the smile faded slowly from her face. It had been a lighthearted day with her folks, but the seriousness of her situation was not too far from her mind. Or theirs, she was sure. But she would worry about that after her shower, she decided, stripping off the filthy t-shirt and cut-off shorts and stuffing them into a plastic bag to be washed later.
She had to force herself to not bolt into the bathroom. Apparently one never loses the habits learned from having two older siblings. Races for the bathroom and bitch fits for the hot water were treasured memories, but she had to remind herself that they were just that – memories. There was not going to be a Jacob barreling around the corner holding a towel with one hand and his cell phone with the other, elbowing Anna out of his way. Kassidy had had an advantage – her bedroom was closest to the bathroom. The disadvantage? Being the youngest.
The shock of hot water on her skin had the same effect as flipping a light switch – her train of thought stopped in its tracks and let off some steam as she watched the water reveal trails of skin, carrying away the mud. It was strangely hypnotic watching her body reveal itself, inch by inch, fingers and toes being last to be exposed. A clean wash cloth and some jasmine scented soap finished the job, and she began to work peach-scented shampoo into her hair (the ponytail hadn't been much help). It was during the rinsing of the hair that she felt something unusual sliding down her back, her side, and finally down her leg, where it stuck somewhere just below her knee.
Bending down to look was a bad idea, since gravity – bitch that it was – sent some residual lather straight into her eyes. She bit her cheek to keep from cursing. She was still curious what it was – probably a leaf – but would have to wait until her eyes stopped stinging to get a proper look at it.
Luckily, it didn't seem to be going anywhere. Despite holding her hair back with one hand, Kassidy still squinted cautiously as she bent and turned her head to get a better look at the mystery object. It was a clover. A regular, normal, totally ordinary three-leaf clover. She plucked it off her skin and glared at it. If it was going to be a clover, it might at least have been a lucky one.
She had never been a very lucky person, though, so it was only natural that inanimate objects that had nothing to do with anything weren't going to be lucky for her, either. It was such a sad little clover, all soggy and droopy.
Kassidy turned off the water and wrung her hair out before pulling back the curtain and stepping out. Drip-drying was, of course, an option, but toweling off was both faster and more sensible. Having done her stupid move of the day, she set herself to rational mode for the rest of the evening. There wasn't too much of it left, anyway.
The towel wrapped toga-style around her body, she went slowly back to what was once her bedroom. It was the guest room, now. Her brother's room had become a library. Her sister's a craft room. The former was full of their mother's vast collection of books, crammed into three mismatched bookcases and standing in waist-high stacks along the walls. The latter was where their father had set up a metal and clay workshop, complete with a kiln. She grinned at the thought of how the massive thing must have been wrestled up the staircase. Hauled in by parts, perhaps.
Sentimentality was not something her parents really believed in. Their only indulgence in it was in her old bedroom. Anna's bug collection stood on top of the dresser, a zebra swallowtail butterfly its crowning glory. A few of Jacob's model airplanes were suspended discreetly in the corner opposite the bed. And on the wall opposite the dresser hung the pride and joy of Kassidy's early years. The four foot tall, three foot wide oil painting of My Little Pony was the eyesore of the room. Twenty years after getting it, she was still inordinately proud of it. For one thing because it was an oil painting of one of the original My Little Pony toys. Which one, she couldn't remember anymore. Really, though, how many of those exist to begin with? For another because, at the age of five-and-a-half, as she was certain to specify, she had managed to save enough allowance, birthday, and chore money to afford the mammoth thing.
Saving was one of her better traits, and she was more grateful for it now than even at five-and-a-half. She got dressed quickly, slipping a tea-length blue dress over her still-damn body, remembering panties only after she had it properly adjusted. At least it wasn't a pair of jeans. It wasn't until she was brushing her hair out that she noticed the clover still clutched in her right hand. The thing just got sorrier with every minute. Looking around for a place to put it down, she finally just stuck it in her overnight bag, zipping it shut after. She stared at it for a long moment, trying to figure out the logic behind the move. Finally she just gave a mental shrug. Maybe she was more sentimental than her genetics would indicate.
Pointedly not thinking about it anymore, she hoisted the bag over one shoulder and went downstairs, leaving the lights on as she went. It was one of her petty rebellions growing up, and had stuck with her.
Her parents were both still in the kitchen, but this time with tea and cookies. Her mother, Jenny, was perched on the countertop with a cookie in one hand, a cup of tea in the other, and her feet propped on the back of her husband's chair. Kassidy's dad poured her a cup and invited her to an unoccupied chair. She grabbed a pair of cookies and hopped up next to her mom, instead.
"So I have something to tell you," she blurted. Taking a hasty sip to let them respond, she immediately burned her tongue. No one responded. "What? No comment?"
"Nothing to comment on yet." Her dad slowly leaned back and her mom took her feet off her chair. Nothing else changed.
"I lost my job." No sense beating around the bush. There wasn't a nice way of putting it that she could come up with.
"Why?" from Jenny.
"Budget cuts." She shrugged one shoulder uncomfortably. "One teacher is being cut from each grade level. I was one of the lucky ones." She didn't go into detail about how everyone had seen fit to console her, secretly grateful that it was her instead of them. Or about how there were probably going to be more cuts next year.
"So what happens now?"
She took a big bite of cookie, savoring the chocolate chunks, before answering. "I finish out the school year. That's a little under six weeks. After that, I am going to Ireland for two months."
That was what it took to get a reaction. Both sets of eyebrows shot up, and they exchanged the same kind of look that they had when she bought the painting. The same kind of look that they had when she started kissing frogs.
Her mother recovered her voice first. "Why are you going to Ireland?"
"To volunteer with an organization that runs a day care for underprivileged families in and around Belfast." She took a cautious sip of tea, and was delighted to not injure herself. "I'll be living in a little cottage outside of town. It's beautiful."
A moment of silence stretched into a minute. Then two. As it began to creep into its third minute, her father asked, "What will you do after Ireland?"
"I don't know." It was an honest answer, but not a very desirable one. "At the very least, it'll look good on my resume, right? I've decided not to worry about it until after I come back. I'll have a few weeks of summer to work with, anyway."
Another stretch of silence was punctuated by the steady tick of a gold-rimmed oval clock on the wall.
"Weren't you going out with your friends tonight?"
"Yeah. I am. In a little bit. I've got time."
"Will you come back to visit again before you go on your trip?"
She shrugged with a half-smile. "I don't know. Probably not," she said honestly.
Her mother nodded. "Come along with me." She hopped down off the counter and put her cup down in one motion, holding out her hand to her daughter. That one crammed the remaining cookie into her mouth and took it.
She was led back up the stairs and was grateful she'd left her bag downstairs. It would have been irritating to have to drag it back again. She finally finished chewing by the time they arrived at her mother's library – a place she'd been used to calling "Jacob's room."
"Why are we here, Mom?" she asked, licking chocolate remnants off her teeth.
"Wait a second and you'll see." She wiped sweaty palms on her thighs, a gesture all too familiar to her youngest, and reached for a small black jewelry box on the middle shelf of the farthest bookshelf. She blew the dust off the top and proceeded to have a minor sneezing fit, punctuated by curses. "Don't tell your dad," she said, wiping involuntary tears from her eyes. "He doesn't know I talk like that."
They laughed, and Jenny opened the box, pulling out a black silk cord with a large chunk of something hanging from it. She dumped it silently in Kassidy's hand. It appeared to be amber, about the size of a baby's fist. It was a beautiful honey color – and would have been clear as glass if it weren't for the fact that it was carved. The basic oval shape was the least of it. Leaves, vines, and strange symbols adorned all parts of the little chunk. Jenny took it back and looped the cord around her daughter's neck. "My grandmother brought it with her from Ireland. It might be good for it to see its home again. She always said it was from the Old Kings."
Unexpected tears sprang to Kassidy's eyes, and she couldn't even blame them on sneezing or dust. "Thanks, Mom." The words were forced around an odd lump that she swallowed back.
The two women exchanged a long hug. "I'll see you soon, girl. Go have fun."