Aaron didn't look up when the door slammed, and he didn't look up when the engine outside revved up, making the gravel crunch. He sat in blue t-shirt and a pair of black cotton pants, his hair still damp, smelling faintly of flowers from the shampoo. It had been a bad week for him so far.

A bowl of organic – they had to be organic, because Mark wouldn't eat anything else – apples was sitting on the wooden table, so he took one, and absentmindedly began to eat it as he ran over the situation in his head. No more roommate, and no more goddamn bizzare music blaring at five in the morning, but also no more halved rent. Jesus. It wasn't that the rent was particularly high, but he'd just been laid off from work at the music store; it had gone out of business, and he was one of the last employees to stick around and manage the store while the owner, Ned, got high or whatever the hell it was he did in the back room. Ned was a crazy bastard, but at least he had been organized, and good at keeping the books. He just wasn't very good with people; he tended to end up scaring them into shaking, tense lumps within a few minutes of meeting them. Aaron smirked, and tossed his apple core in the trash. Ned was gone, now, to Alaska with a chick. They'd been together for nearly two years, so Aaron figured that if she had been able to stand Ned that long, they were in no danger of breaking up.

Aaron sighed, and scratched his nose. It was just his luck that today would be the day Mark finally moved out. Said something about the government, and alien invasion. Mark was a little bit under-medicated, in Aaron's unbiased opinion. But hey, at least he hadn't listened to godawful pop music. That was always a saving grace.

Midden was named after the place he was conceived, or so his mother claimed when she was tipsy on the elf wine Father served her. It was a silly name, but not too unusual in his family. She was a human, and Father was an elvish sort. They had both been servants in some grand Unseleigh household. Father was one of the Unseleigh, and he had earthy skin, like golden dirt, and long, shiny red hair. He could light things on fire by snapping his fingers, or, if he was really mad, just by glaring at it. Ma used this to her advantage, and she often had him help if she was cooking a flambé. They were embarrassing parents; always kissing each other and making lovey-dovey faces across the table. It was probably why they had had so many children. Five was a large number even for a human family, and for an elf, it was unheard of.

"You ought to visit Earth," his mother had said. "Midden, are you listening?"

"Yes, Ma," he said, chopping up vegetables for stew.

"Your mother grew up there, you know," Father said, poking his head around the wall that lay between the workroom and the kitchen. Ma threw something at him and he laughed, catching it with his teeth. She smiled. It turned out to be a jalopeño, and he yelped, ducking swiftly back.

"It's true," she whispered in a conspiratorial voice. "I came here because I had a knack for spotting the Seleigh and Unseleigh, so I talked one of them into giving me a job. I loved to travel when I was young," she added, nodding at the shelves cluttered with strange pots and masks and tokens. "Went backpacking across Australia, up through Indochina, and all the way up to Russia. It's part of your heritage, sweetie. You see what I'm saying?"

Midden nodded politely, though he hadn't the foggiest notion of where Australia was. Or, for that matter, where Russia and the Indochina region were. He just kept on slicing onions. His mother couldn't do it; it made her eyes water. A little weird – Midden supposed that pureblooded humans were all like that – but what the heck. She was Ma, and she would do as she pleased.

"So your father and I have decided that you ought to learn about it the best way possible. Instant immersion for the summer."

"I've always wanted to go!" his sister, Ammonia, piped up. "Ma, can't I go first?"

"Ammonia, aren't you working on your spellcasting? Weren't you supposed to enchant something with an intermediate level spell by tomorrow? Let me check the clock… well, you do have about ten hours left, but I suppose you want to sleep…" Midden's Ma trailed off when she saw that Ammonia had already dashed off to her room. She smiled to herself, a smug expression on her face. Midden pretended not to notice it, but it made him smile, too.

"Am I going to be staying with someone?" he asked hopefully. "Like Aunt Lucille, or maybe one of Father's relatives?"

"Only in the case of an emergency," Ma said firmly. "I've got their contact information and a few maps in the kit I've packed."

"Camping?" Midden asked wretchedly.

"I was thinking more along the lines of mixing with the locals," Ma said. "Make some friends. If you do end up without a place to stay, though, sleep during the day in a library or park or something, and you can probably use the restroom in said library to wash up."

"Food?" he asked weakly.

"Oh, honestly, Midden. I'm sending you off in summer. If you don't get a job soon enough, you can forage. Jewelweed, wild berries, pinecones; need I continue? The plants we have in my special corner of the garden all grow wild there, in the Northeastern states. And as long as you don't take a noticeable amount, there are plenty of gardens and farms, even some dairies."

"Ma!" Midden yelped. "That would be stealing."

She winked at him. "What they don't know won't hurt 'em, kiddo."

There was a small explosion from the general direction of Ammonia's room.

"What did you do, Ammonia Smith-Yvesteyn?" Ma hollered, hands paused over a bowl of half-mashed potatoes.

"Wasn't me, Ma!" Ammonia yelled. "Came from Cheddar's room!" Midden rolled his eyes and kept on chopping up onions for the shepherd's pie. Ma was gone, brandishing a potato masher and muttering about wayward sons, and the price of ceiling repair. Things would only get more hectic when the twins got home.