Vampire Code: Rocket the Vampire Slayer

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Eyes store power. Even babies know this. Watch them track the gaze of an adult. They understand it’s through our eyes we shoot energy, and they haven’t forgotten that energy is pure light.

Cathy returned from her conference with onezero’s one thousand mothers carrying the knowledge that her and Brennan’s son Rocket had come here for a reason. When worlds connect through rifts in oak and granite or lines forged from steel, sometimes an unexpected hero answers the call.

It would likely be years before he’d be pulled into action, this she understood, but nevertheless, it was time now to get him ready for what would come.

Cathy spent hours each day with him. While the twins formed their own universe of stories, jokes, and make-believe, Cathy taught Rocket to dance, sing, talk, count, name the birds, chase the crickets, and follow trails in the morning dew.

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He required extra sleep each day to absorb all he was taking in.

While Rocket napped, Cathy spent time individually with Sparkroot or Florinda. Even then, the conversation often turned towards Rocket.

“Can you guess what he do, Ama?” Sparkroot asked.

“He who, Sparkie?”

“He Rocket. Know what he did? He climbed the tree.”

“Mmm. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

“Naw. It was fine! He climbed up and then he climbed down again, and then he climbed up and down.”

“Did you ask him what for?” Cathy asked.

“Yeah. He said ‘High’s good.’ He likes to go up.”

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Sparkroot took his big brother duties seriously. He read to Rocket from his homework book while Rocket slept, “so he’ll get a head start on history.”

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He held long, involved conversations with him, somehow managing to decipher Rocket’s invented language.

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One afternoon, when Cathy needed to take Sparkroot in to San Myshuno to pick out a new violin, Brennan offered to watch Florinda and Rocket.

“That would be great,” Cathy said. “Give you a chance to see your other kids.”

Brennan, who made no secret that Sparkroot was his favorite, spent little time with his daughter and youngest son.

“We’ll have a blast,” Brennan said. “I’ve got it all planned out.”

He didn’t tell Cathy he’d be taking his children to the Rattlesnake Lounge for Guys’ Night Out.

She got the story from Florinda the next day.

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“We had a blast, Ama!” Florinda said. “There was this guy with no face in the monk’s robe. And Jade was there! He’s got a cool hat. Do you think Rocket should get a hat like that?”

“He could if he wanted,” Cathy said. “So what did you do there?”

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“Oh, I told jokes. You know Little Green’s uncle J.P,? He was there!”

“And did they like your jokes?” Cathy asked her daughter.

“Oh, sure. I told the one about ‘How did the vampire die? He accidentally ordered stake and eggs for breakfast!'”

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“That’s not a bad joke, Flor.”

“Well, Jade thought it was stupid. ‘They don’t die by eating,’ he said. Then the no-face guy said the undead can’t become dead but they can become nothing, and J.P. said nothing is worse than death.”

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“He’s got a point,” Cathy said.

“Then, I asked the no-face guy how someone becomes undead, and he said, it wasn’t really the kind of question a little girl should be asking, but if I wanted to check back with him in ten years, he’d be glad to explain.”

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“And where was your ada during all this?” Cathy asked.

“Oh, he was at the bar, laughing with guys,” Florinda answered.

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“And where was Rocket all this time?”

“Oh, I didn’t see him when No-Face and I were talking. I think maybe he was outside running around. But No-Face told me something interesting. He said my little brother was the one who understood better about undead, dead, and nothing than anybody. And if I really wanted to know, I could ask him, once he learned how to talk. But when I asked him how he knew my little brother, he wouldn’t answer. He said some mysteries best stay mysterious. What do you think, Ama?”

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“I think I should call your ada and have a word or two. I’m not sure about Rocket running around unsupervised.”

“But he wasn’t unsupered all the time!” Florinda said. “He came inside and said, ‘Aba too kay’ to Ada, and Ada understood and got him milk in a sippy cup!”

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“Well, that’s something,” Cathy said.

“Then Rocket came and sat by me and Anderson–you know him, right? He’s a friend of Little Green’s mom from way back.”

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“Sure, Anderson, Wade, and Jade were the park boys,” Cathy said. “And did Rocket behave?”

“Oh, yeah! He told us a story about something. I could only understand ‘Quacker doo-doo’ and ‘puffer stuffy.'”

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“It must have been a troll story,” Cathy said.

“Yeah, that’s what I figure,” said Flor. “So Ada came with his coffee and I told the story about the troll under the bridge, and everybody loved it!”

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“Did you have fun, though, Flor? It sounds like kind of a weird evening.”

“Oh, Ama!” replied Flor. “I had so much fun! I never had funner! And Rocket had fun, too, even though he was outside running around half the time. I told Ada that I want me and Rocket to come to every Guys’ Night Out, and next time, you and Sparkie can come, too, and we can have the Stuckey-Tea Family Night at Guys’ Night!”

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“Well, that could be our new tradition, I suppose,” Cathy said.

“And maybe No-Face and J.P. will be there,” said Flor, “and all the guys. And it’ll be just as great as it was last night.”

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New World Symphony: Takes a Troupe

“I don’t know how you do it,” Jaclyn said to Cypress.

“Do what?”

“Stay married. To the same person. And not only that, live with him, day after day after bloody day.”

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Cypress laughed. “We’re happy!” she said. “I love McRae. He makes every day fun.”

“I love Davion, too,” replied Jaclyn, “but that doesn’t mean I want to be around him every single day. I’m getting tired of feeling like my wings are clipped.”

“But you’re free, right?” Cypress said. “My mom always said that in the right love, you find you’re free, and that’s what it’s like for me with McRae.”

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Jaclyn walked Cypress and Sempervirens out to the road.

“It’s not how I feel it,” said Jaclyn.

“Why don’t you come over tomorrow?” Cypress suggested. “I’ll show you the garden.”

“We can have ice cream!” Sempervirens said.

“For ice cream, I’ll come!” Jaclyn replied. She knew that Cypress really wanted her to get a taste of their style of domestic bliss: two tents and a kitchen in a big meadow. It wouldn’t change how she felt, Jaclyn knew this. But they were neighbors and friends, and she knew her love of freedom was in no danger of being persuaded away.

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She woke in a far better mood. The birds were singing, she was alone in her big bed, and she wasn’t expecting Davion to call or drop by.

She loved Davion, there was no doubt about that. And it had been her idea that he become her boyfriend. It wasn’t him–it was the whole “being a couple” thing that brought her down.

But this morning, with the sun shining on the empty road and not a single letter or bill waiting for her in her mailbox, she felt free!

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Sparkroot and Florinda Tea ran over the hill and through the meadow and dropped by just as Jaclyn was washing up the morning dishes.

“Are we too late for tea?” Sparkroot asked.

“You’re just in time for elevenses!” said Jaclyn.

“Ha! I told Ama we’d get our something to eat here! You’re always eating!”

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Jaclyn chuckled. “Can’t do to let one’s stomach grumble, now, can it?”

“I think that must be why you’re always happy! You always have something yummy and sweet to look forward to!”

“Well, I’m not always happy,” said Jaclyn, “but I did just get a fresh jar of marmalade that will taste absolutely delicious on a toasted muffin! And that’s something to smile about, certainly!”

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“We can’t stick around too long, Spark,” Florinda said. “We’re going to Little Green’s. You wanna come, Auntie Jac?”

“Why, I certainly do!” replied Jaclyn. “I was headed over that way myself. Shall I toast the muffins so we can eat and go?”

“Yes!” shouted Sparkroot. “With marmalade!”

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Sparkroot and Florinda’s ama was there to join them when they arrived at the big meadow.

“I brought over some basil seeds,” Cathy said.

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Sempervirens and Bryant Cho were having a conversation about family domestic arrangements.

“So, I live with my mom and dad, and you do, too, right Bryant?”

“No,” he said, “I live with my sissy and my ma.”

“Oh. Well, Jennifer and Bridget live with their mom but not their dad, and their dad lives with Mikaela’s mom but Mikaela’s dad lives with Pierce and Pierce’s mom. Whose mom does your dad live with, Florinda?”

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“Nobody, right, Ama?” said Florinda.

“That’s right,” said Cathy Tea. “Your dad lives by himself in his white and blue house and we live in our house.”

“But he comes and visits,” said Florinda.

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“We don’t even live in a house,” said Sempervirens. “We live in two tents, a kitchen, and a meadow!”

“When I grow up, I want to live in a forest! And I want all the moms and all the dads and all the kids to live together!” said Florinda. “Then, it’s not so complicated! You want to see your ada? Fine! He’s right there!”

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“That sounds a lot like my people’s way,” said Jaclyn. “My mother’s people, they lived together in tree-tops, all the elvene, and every man was your Osi’Tan, and every woman was your Osi’Nys. Selde were raised by the troupe.”

Florinda  imagined what that would be like. The more she thought about it, the less sure she was that it would really be something worth wishing for. Maybe she didn’t want to live in a forest with the whole tribe.

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Sure, it was fun to see her ada now and then–but not too often. Sometimes, their house was more peaceful when he was at his house and not visiting over.

And she sure wouldn’t want him to help raise Little Green or Bryant. What if he yelled at them, the way he sometimes liked to yell?

On the other hand, if they were raised by the whole village, then that would mean that she could also be raised by Little Green’s dad, Knox McRae.

Florinda thought that she would like that. Knox was a very kind and gentle man.

“Can I stay the night?” Florinda whispered to Little Green.

“Sure!” said Sempervirens, and they asked all the adults if it was OK.

After her mom and Sparkroot left for their home, and Jaclyn left for hers, and Bryant walked up the big hill to his house, Florinda sat in the kitchen with just Cypress, Knox, and Sempervirens, as if she were part of the family. Knox asked, “Would you like something to eat, Flor?”

He said it with such a kind voice, and his eyes were soft and gentle, too, and he smiled a real smile.

While she sat at the table with her stuffed potato, Florinda pretended, just for a moment, that this was her home and that he was her uncle–or maybe even, her dad, and that he always spoke to her with so much tenderness and kindness., without ever raising his voice. What a different world that would be!

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New World Symphony: Young Apprentices

An old photograph hung upstairs above Jaclyn’s bed, left by previous tenants from a forgotten time.

She never knew who the people in the photograph were or why they were important. But two things stood out to her: the the tall woman in the center and the flock of children surrounding her.

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This mysterious tall woman seemed somehow distinct from those around her.

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When she looked closely at the face, it felt familiar. Could it be a long-lost relative?

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Jaclyn had never heard of any of her kin coming to this land in distant times, but she couldn’t deny that something about that figure resonated with her.

Perhaps, every few generations, an emissary comes, infusing rune into this green land, teaching the children ways to keep magick alive. She knew that was her purpose here–perhaps this same calling had drawn a great aunt who laid down the path that Jaclyn now followed. Now that she thought about it, she’d heard hushed speculation surrounding her ama’s aunt, Neticia, whose disappearance posed a mystery.

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When considered an extension of a family tradition, her own calling seemed more significant, somehow.

Evening or morning, when it was time to meet, Jaclyn never had to call the children to her: somehow, they simply knew to come.

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One evening, Laurel Haas, Bryant Cho, and Sparkroot and Florinda Tea arrived.

“We’re ready!” said Sparkroot.

“Ready for what?” asked Jaclyn.

“Stories!” said Bryant.

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Before they filed inside, Sempervirens ran up to the door.

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” she called. “Now we can start!”

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“I’ll tell the first story,” said Laurel, and she launched into a very long tale about a poodle who had wandered into the South of France looking for the Royal Library.

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“I know what book the poodle would read!” said Sempervirens. “The Precise Poodle’s Pedestrian Guide to Puddles of Paris!”

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After each child told a tale, it was Jaclyn’s turn. She had pockets full of stories, for her father, uncles, grandfathers, and great aunts were forever finding themselves in pickles that they could only escape through intentional acts.

When Jaclyn finished her story about the time her great aunt Bonny befriended not one, but five honeybees and gathered enough honey to sweeten the village’s tea for the whole long winter, it was time for the children to leave.

Florinda Tea lingered at the chess board.

“Can I stay a little longer?” she asked, and she and Jaclyn played chess together late into the evening.

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Around midnight, Florinda grew hungry.

“I forgot to eat supper!” she said. “I was so excited to come!”

“I’ll make you a snack,” Jaclyn said.

When Florinda came inside, a bowl of herbs and fruit waited for her.

“It tastes a little bitter,” said Florinda.

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“That’s just at first,” said Jaclyn, heading upstairs to leave the girl to eat her poppet salad alone. “Once it begins to work, you will taste sweetness.”

Florinda knew that her mother had eaten here, the day she found out she was pregnant with her and her brother. Her friend Little Green ate here often, and so did Green’s mom, Cypress. It must be OK to eat food that sparkles a little and tastes a little bitter at first, especially if it tastes sweet after.

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When the bowl was empty, Florinda had to admit: poppet salad is delicious!

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New World Symphony: The Goat-Hoofed Man

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“We have the same hair!” Florinda said to Jaclyn.

“Of course we do,” replied Jaclyn.”We come from the same stock, sure as can be!”

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“How about me?” said Sparkroot, hopping up onto the stool next to his sister. “I come from the same stock, too!”

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“Not you!” said Jaclyn. “You come from wizardry!”

“Yeah!” replied Sparkroot. “Like magic, huh?”

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Just then Brennan stopped by. He’d called to check up on the babies, and Cathy invited him over. “You’ll be surprised,” she told him.

“Surprised by our little family? Why, nothing my loved ones could do would surprise me,” he answered with a laugh.

But when he entered the kitchen, he jumped.

“Whoa! What happened to my peanuts?” he said.

“Ada!” said Sparkroot. “It’s just me!”

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“What was your ada like?” Florinda asked Jaclyn. “Is he like my ada?”

Jaclyn laughed. “My ada was a funny little fellow. Not that much taller than you and Sparkroot, actually, with a long wooly brown beard and hands like a little bear’s!”

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“Tell us more about your ada!” said Sparkroot.

“One day, my ada took a walk in the woods. Usually, his trail led him through the woods and into the meadow. But one day, the woods kept going further and further, darker and darker, until my ada looked around and he was quite lost in the mist of the forest.

“He heard a rumble and a crack, like the sound of a great tree-trunk splitting open, and then, he heard a violin.

“‘I ain’t a feared a no wobbly music!’ my ada said. But this was no ordinary music. This was a tune that had the power to take ahold of a man and never let him go. This was music that could dance a man to bits!”

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Sparkroot hung on every word. How could a man get danced to bits? And who could play such powerful music?

“My ada stared, and this man in a long coat the color of wine began to walk right towards him, playing the violin the whole time. He had a dark beard, this man did, and eyes shone brighter than the sun itself.”

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“Oh, Jaclyn,” interrupted Brennan, “You look mighty cute when you tell that tale. Maybe sometime you could tell me a bed-time story.”

Florinda laughed. “Anybody would be the luckiest of all to have Jaclyn tell the goodnight story!”

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“Now, Brennan Stuckey,” said Jaclyn, “I’ll not have you interrupting my story just because it makes you nervous to hear about a mysterious man in a wine-colored coat with eyes brighter than the sun. And I’ll certainly not sit by quietly while you interrupt me with a lame old flirt, Mr. Tea. That’s quite enough from you, sir.”

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Florinda hopped down to see if her violin were in tune, and Sparkroot jumped right up into the empty stool, so he could hear the story all the better.

“Go on!” he said. “What happened next?”

“Why, next,” said Jaclyn, “that swarthy gypsy man, for that’s who he was, began to play the violin, faster and faster, and my ada began to get all turned around and snarly-brained.”

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“The gypsy man played into the dark, and my ada kept dancing, around and around that old cracked oak tree. And in the darkest part of the night, the bears came out, drawn by the music, circling and circling.”

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“All night long, the gypsy played, the bears circled, and my ada turned and danced and grew dizzier and dizzier, and the bears circled and circled.”

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“And what happened next?” Sparkroot asked.

“Next thing my ada knew, it was morning, and he was leaning against the old oak tree, but the oak tree wasn’t split. The only thing split was the empty jug of mead beside him on the forest floor.”

“Was it just a dream then?”

“That’s what my ada thought,” said Jaclyn. “For he searched the ground all around, and he didn’t see a single footprint from a single bear, and he would have for it was all damp and muddy around. The only footprints he did see were very strange, indeed. The right print was from a man’s riding boot. And the left print?”

Brennan began to clap loudly. “That’s the best folk tale I’ve ever heard!” he said.

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“I didn’t finish yet,” said Jaclyn.

“Yeah, Ada,” said Sparkroot. “We need to hear what the left footprint was!”

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“The left footprint was a goat hoof,” said Jaclyn.

“Folk tales and fairy tales!” chuckled Brennan nervously. “The stuff of foolish nonsense!”

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“And that’s the story’s ending sure as the beginning! I’ll be off then,” said Jaclyn. “Ta!”

After she left, Brennan tried to still the nervousness he felt. He couldn’t explain it. All he knew was that he really had no patience for such make-believe. Superstitions and nonsense!

“You know, Spark,” he said to his son, “these kinds of stories really aren’t to be taken seriously. They’re not like stories about Babe Ruth, for example. They’re make-believe.”

“OK, Ada,” Sparkroot replied. “If you say there’s no such thing as a goat-hoofed man, I’ll believe you. But bears are real, right?”

“Not in New Orleans,” Brennan replied. “And not even here in Windenburg, either. The bears were cleared out long ago.”

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Brennan couldn’t shake his feeling of unease. After the kids settled in for their afternoon nap, he paced the living room, feeling first his right foot on the ground, then his left foot. Such nonsense! Two feet, ten toes. He wiggled his toes. All there! Who could believe the nonsense that such a silly woman could tell in her idleness!

He went in to look at his son as he slept, with his two feet in his two sneakers, like an all-American kid. He glanced down at his own two loafers. Stuff and nonsense! He didn’t even like the violin!

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When Cathy came into the kitchen to dish up snack for them, Brennan lashed out.

“What was that woman even doing here? Why do you have her over? Are you going to let anyone tell any old nonsense to our children? I don’t want my boy growing up believing in fairy tales!”

This was the second time he had yelled at her. The first had happened shortly after their marriage, when they’d met Jaclyn, Davion, and Wade at a nightclub. Cathy began to suspect that Brennan really didn’t like her friends.

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“Oh, phooey,” he said. “I lost my temper.”

He looked at her with a sheepish grin, and she tried to smile back. The smile didn’t reach her eyes.

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He did the dishes out of contrition.

It didn’t take away the sting.

Cathy thought. She knew this about Brennan, that he was capable of this. It was one of the reasons she’d wanted them to live in separate houses, to minimize the occassions when this could happen.

This was likely the root of Sugar’s anger, Cathy realized. Sugar’s Aunt Poplar. What had Sugar told her about her aunt?

“My aunt Poplar, God-rest-her-soul, that was a lonely woman,” Sugar had said. “She meant well enough, and I truly believe that she loved my mother and even me. And she was the best friend of my sweet sister Salix. But I’ve got to tell you, our home was nearly ruined time and again by Poplar’s verbal abuse. Eventually, when I was old enough, I lay down the law. ‘I won’t have you yell at me, or anyone I love,’ I told her. But we’d already been stung.”

Knowing Brennan, and Sugar had made sure to get to know this man before Cathy married him, Sugar likely learned that he was prone to these types of outbursts, too. It’s not the type of thing that anyone would want to expose a child to, especially if they’d experienced it in their own childhood. No wonder Sugar felt upset that Cathy was making a dad out of Brennan.

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Cathy wasn’t sure what to do. She loved this man. She loved their kids more than love itself.

She wasn’t sure if she could protect them from sometimes getting lashed with harsh words. And she didn’t want to keep them away from their father.

Maybe they could learn, what? That love is enough? That sometimes those you love might say things that hurt? That there’s more in this world than harmony and peace? That somebody may have shortcomings and foibles, and might even hurt you, but that didn’t mean he didn’t love you, and it didn’t mean that you had to stop loving him?

She wasn’t sure what they could learn. She wasn’t really sure what she could do. She figured that sometimes, there might be harsh words and tears. And sometimes, they might be like every other happy family.

And no matter what, she’d be there, to hold a safe spot when the oak tree cracked.

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New World Symphony: The Midwife of Childhood

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Jaclyn came over first thing the next morning.

“Twins, huh?” she said.

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“Yeah,” said Cathy. “I thought you were going to be there! Aren’t you the midwife?”

“The midwife of childhood,” said Jaclyn. “I sent onezero to help with the birth.”

“And she did a fine job,” said Cathy. “But holy cow! That was so hard! My back still aches. I can’t wait to get back on the yoga mat.”

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Jaclyn shook as if lightning jolted through her.

Asta pas ta rolley!” she said. “That’s one powerful earth shudder.”

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“You OK?” Cathy asked.

Zowa ka bunga! Did you feel that? The magnet poles just did a somersault, and now the topsy turvy has gone top-right again!”

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“What are you talking about?” Cathy asked.

“Never mind,” replied Jaclyn, excitedly. “No time for explanations, not that there are any and not that you’d understand them even if there were! Let’s get in there and finish up this putting-right-of-everything that’s already been put-to-rights!”

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The nursery lay nestled in the quietness of drowsy babies with breath that smelled like breast milk, and Jaclyn settled into the peacefulness of the still morning. Oh, the rightness was even more right than it had ever been!

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She well understood the responsibilities that came with her position of ushering these babies into childhood. It was a forever type of bond, with lessons and apprenticeships that couldn’t be rushed.

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It was up to her, the fate of each one, and these two, created from the mixing of brightness and shadow, would stretch the very lexicon of rune that she knew.

But she wasn’t worried. What she didn’t know, she would invent. All it took was a quiet mind and an active heart.

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She listened. Way far off, fairies sang, too faint for words to be distinguished, but she could hear the feelings.

A dark oak
stands 
at a bend in a road.

A stone well
waits
in a garden node.

Bring the two,
Mix them well,
Music and moonlight
and a silver bell.

Now the doubling
Twice combined
Ends the troubling
Of those entwined.

Peace and madness,
Trouble and sight,
Stir with gladness
Make all right.

The infants transformed in pas de deux.

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Florinda looked like a child from Jaclyn’s own home, with her shock of copper hair. She would learn fast, this little one.

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Sparkroot smiled with the glee of a wizard’s apprentice.

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At this moment, neither child knew anything but the happiness of this wide world, the golden meadow, the bright morning, the sparrow’s song, and their mother’s love. They were freshly hatched from rune.

Jaclyn knew she couldn’t protect them from broken hearts, the cruelty of others, the boredom of busy work, or the sadness of friends, but she could help them remember this.

She cast a quick spell, spoken softly, so only their hearts would hear:

Morning always
as at night
stars in flowers
moon like a kite

Freeze this moment
Hold it dear
Sorrow, tomorrow
Remember here.

The children smiled wildly, then danced out of the room.

“Look at you,” Cathy said, when Sparkroot skipped up to her in the hall. “Such a little sparkle you are!”

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New World Symphony: Delivery

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Cathy played through the night. Brahms’ intermezzos on piano in the parlor gave way to Bach’s partitas on violin in the garden.

She thought over Sugar’s fury while she played. What had made her so angry? She knew Sugar disliked Brennan–he had a habit of lashing out at people and he genuinely seemed to enjoy the misery of others.

But we’re none of us perfect, Cathy thought. We all have our complicated patterns and our foibles and follies, and to love someone even knowing their limitations, that was something, wasn’t it?

But Cathy suspected there was more to it than that. She herself suspected Brennan’s true origins–she was never taken in by his backstory, though he still believed it without hesitation.

“I’m from New Orleans,” he was fond of saying, and every time he said it, Cathy smelled rose-water and sulfur.

When onezero woke, Cathy sought her out.

“Do you think there’s reason to worry?” she asked her friend. “Was Sugar right in her first response, and did I do something wrong and irresponsible in getting pregnant?”

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onezero wrapped her in a big hug.

“When we combine two to make one,” said onezero, “the result is something entirely extraordinary! It’s not the mother, it’s not the father. You are bringing in something new, and that’s always something to celebrate.”

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They sat in the garden while the sun rose.

Cathy had to admit that, if she tuned in to how she felt, everything felt so very right. Sometimes, life steps up and asks you to follow, that’s how she felt–and here she was, following as best she could.

“After all,” she said to onezero, “this just happened! It wasn’t something I planned. It’s not something that could be expected.”

“Exactly,” said onezero from the easel at the edge of the porch. “Like when my dad was taken by the thousand. Who would expect that? That’s not anything that could be planned or expected.”

“And look how that turned out!” said Cathy, with a smile. “You’re the best surprise there ever was!”

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onezero left after she finished her painting, a portrait of a Madonna which they hung upstairs. “Call me when it’s time,” onezero said. “I’ll come in a jiffy!”

Cathy spent the late morning painting a childlike drawing of a tiny being–half fairy, half bird. The innocence of the painting charmed her.

This might be my last time alone for a while, she thought, savoring the solitude and the quiet. We make our peace, she thought, hoping to remember this during the busy days that would be sure to follow the baby’s delivery.

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In the afternoon, while she was relaxing with a computer game, the contractions came.

I can do this, she thought, remembering to breathe.

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But the second contraction came with such fierceness, as if she were tearing inside, and she wasn’t sure she could do it. She couldn’t get ahold of Jaclyn. She called onezero.

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onezero arrived with sadness. Cathy couldn’t ask what was the matter–every ounce of concentration was spent breathing through the pain.

delivery15

“I knew it wouldn’t be an easy birth,” onezero said. “I could feel it. Are you all aright?”

Cathy couldn’t answer.

“I wish Jaclyn were here,” onezero said.

delivery14

They made their way back to the nursery.

“Oh! It’s going to be all right!” onezero said. “I just felt a shift. There’s nothing to worry about! You can push now!”

delivery13

And onezero was right.

In fact, she was doubly right. Two babies were born, a son and a daughter, and both were healthy, each one with ten fingers and ten toes, and two eyes, and one nose.

“They’re lovely. What will you call them?” onezero asked.

“You name them,” said Cathy. “You’re their godmother.”

delivery12

“Me and Jaclyn,” said onezero. She closed her eyes for a moment. “Jaclyn says that the little boy should be called something… something that you had in your sandwich. Fireflies? Something sparkly.”

“Sparkroot?” Cathy asked.

“Exactly!” said onezero. “Sparkroot and Florinda.”

delivery11

onezero took out her cellphone. “We need to remember today,” she said, snapping a photo of the two of them. “I mean, of course we’ll always remember, but this will help us commemorate, too.”

delivery10

When onezero left, Cathy spent time with each baby, feeling that warm weight rest in the crook of her arm, as if her body had been built for this.

Sparkroot had eyes the shape of his daddy’s, but they twinkled with a spark all his own.

delivery09

After she’d nursed the twins and tucked them into bed she called Brennan.

“We had two,” she said. “Do you want to come meet them?”

delivery06

“It’s really something,” he said. “Are they exactly alike?”

“Well, one’s a girl and one’s a boy, and one has lighter skin and one darker, and their eyes and smiles are shaped differently, but they’re exactly alike in that they’re both ours.”

delivery05

Brennan felt proud and surprised. They weren’t much to look at–they both looked the same to him, sort of like little peanuts, and there wasn’t much of them, and they couldn’t really talk yet, could they, but they’d grow into something. They’d grow into actual people, his children, and that was something.

“I’m a dad,” he said.

delivery04

He wrapped his wife in a hug. “We really did it!” he said.

delivery03

“I’m a dad!”

She held him, and to her, with his beating heart and hot skin, he felt in her arms like a little boy who’d come home from school with a first prize in the science fair, bursting with excitement and pride.

delivery02

She went into the kitchen to prepare a late-night snack for them, and when she finished, she found him at the computer, posting onto the Forums, “I am the proud papa of twins. Who says a poor boy from New Orleans can’t hit a home run, twice?”

delivery01

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