(To read the entire chapter, click on the title)
“Really? That’s a good one,” Aileen laughed as she twirled the spaghetti on her fork. “This is good,” she said slurping a long noodle into her mouth and leaving a red smudge of sauce on her chin. “You must have read my mind. I was in the mood for pasta tonight. What is that spice? It’s addictive.” As she chewed, she used her spoon and fork to twirl another forkful.
Va sat back and shook his head at how cute she looked and at the absurdity of their situation. He would have never imagined himself sitting here having to convince a human of his existence. Even as he’d explained it all, the whole thing about beings from another planet landing and existing on Earth undetected for hundreds of years did sound like something Asimov might have written, that they were shape shifters and lived much longer lives that humans probably pushed it from science fiction into the realm of fairy tale. He wanted to laugh himself, but it was his reality and now it was Aileen’s. She needed to understand just how real it all was. He thought of telling her about Cen and Vesta, but that wasn’t his tale to tell. They were entitled to discretion, and he was the one who had made this particular mess. He didn’t have the right to drag others into it. He’d stopped short of showing her his complete self because he didn’t want to frighten her, and, if truth be told, he didn’t want her to see him as an oddity. But it appeared as though it had come to that; he had to make her understand.
“So, you’re telling me all of this because . . .?” she asked.
“I’m telling you this,” he began, and then he realized that he wasn’t quite sure what he wanted other than for her to know the truth about him and to accept him. That thought was surprising. He cared what she thought because he cared about her. But there was much more to this that how he felt about Aileen, the birth of this child could effect all Revelers and, therefore, it’s birth and maturation had to be monitored. Cen had been lucky with Vesta. She’d remained hidden not only to hide her relationship with Gavin, but also to obscure the birth of her children. She had hidden her glow for years, dampened it so that even he could not sense it. When she had finally chosen to make contact with Va, the youngest of her cubs, Jon, was four and Vesta was nearly seven. Va had been completely taken with them because they looked so much like Cen with their short, strong limbs and heads full of thick hair. He agreed to help her conceal them and to be there if she needed him. She’d been lucky, maybe because they weren’t full blood, because sometimes the gift comes early, sometimes cubs are even born fully formed.
“I’m telling you this,” he began again, “because I want you to truly understand what you’re getting yourself into if you decide to have this baby.”
“You want me to understand that I’m carrying a little changeling,” Aileen grinned at him as she sipped her water. “That because you are an alien my baby might become an animal,” she said shaking her head. “Tell me Va, just what kind of animal are you?”
“I am not an animal; I am Reveler,” he said simply.
“And what exactly it that? Are their fangs? Claws? Is their fur?” she said with mirth. “Grrr,” she said holding her fingers up and curling them into claws. Her grin grew and her eyes got bigger as she continued the joke. “Fur might be nice,” she said, “I like fur.”
Va leaned back in his chair letting her have her fun.
“Maybe it is a little animal,” she laughed. “I am ravenous,” she said as she broke off a piece of garlic bread, sopped up sauce from her plate, and popped it into her mouth.
“You don’t really have to do this,” Aileen said as she sat back in her chair, an indication that she’d had enough. She let out a breath. “I told you. I’m not asking nor do I expect anything from you. It’s clear that this is an unwelcome surprise, but aliens . . . really Va?”
He didn’t move. He didn’t say anything, but suddenly and with a bewildering quickness the left side of his face was covered in a fine, dark, pelt, the hair shorter on the forehead, but progressively thicker, almost whiskery at his cheeks and chin. It blended well with his rich head of hair, a continuous flow of lustrous fur, while the other side of his face remained free of hair, clean-shaven.
Aileen stared, her mouth growing wider the longer she stared. She grabbed her water glass and took a large swallow.
“Fuck!” she whispered in awe. And then Va gave his head a vigorous shake and the fur was gone completely, as though it had never been. Aileen blinked.
“How’d you do that?” she asked.
“I am Reveler,” Va said with a shrug.
“I’ve been dying to meet you. Stem has told me so much about you,” Deena said as she led Vesta into her cozy sitting room.
Vesta said nothing, but she wondered just how much Stem had told his mother. She hoped he wasn’t the kind of guy who told his mother everything. He seemed too cool for that, but then what did she know about these Revelers.
Sunshine filled the room and a breeze played with the long lacy curtains that covered the windows. In the center of the room was a very large rug with an East Indian design on which two stuffed armchairs sat facing a long comfy couch. Vesta had expected an office, and maybe even one of those gynecological procedural chairs with legs supports, clamps and the foot pedals that the doctor uses to raise or lower the thing.
She and Deena had stood out front waiting for Cen to park the car. Deena had only said, “We’ll wait here for your mother.” Vesta was glad that she had allowed them to be silent after that. She didn’t want to talk; she didn’t want to be here.
When they’d entered the room, Deena stood back and let them chose were they wanted to sit. Vesta chose one of the armchairs. Cen took a seat on the couch nearest her daughter. Deena took the other armchair.
“So, I understand that you are beginning to experience some signs indicating that your transition is nearing,” Deena said in a cheerful voice almost as though it were a good thing. Vesta shook her head at Deena’s chirpy approach.
“You’re not?” Deena asked and Vesta wondered if she were misunderstanding her on purpose in order to draw her out.
Vesta shook her head again, but neither her mother nor Deena spoke so she felt the need to say something, to explain the meaning of the gesture.
“I mean, I am, I guess,” she muttered.
“Like what?” Deena asked as if she didn’t know. Vesta wanted to shake her head again. This woman was something with all her cheerfulness and fake ignorance.
“Hair on my,” Vesta gestured towards her back, “and a . . . nub.” She just couldn’t say it.
“The beginnings of your pelt and tail,” Deena confirmed, “And Stem suggested that you are becoming more sensitive, both psychically and physically.”
Vesta reddened, thinking god, what else had he told her, but she only nodded.
“Hummh,” Deena said thoughtfully looking directly at Vesta as though she saw too much. The look made Vesta squirm; she slid further down into the chair.
Then Deena looked at Cen and said, “You should have brought her to me sooner. She’s closer than I expected and she hasn’t been prepared.” Then to Vesta she said, “A little later I’d like to examine you to be sure, but I think that you should remain here with us.”
Vesta sat up in her seat. “I’m not ready. I mean . . .”
“We hadn’t prepared for her to stay. We haven’t even packed anything,” Cen said.
“I can’t just up and leave my life. It’s not as though I’m sick or something,” Vesta objected.
“I understand that it may appear abrupt, but your time is nearing and you need preparation. I’m sure your mother understands that it is important that we contain this situation, not just for your sake, but for all of ours.”
“I need a couple of weeks maybe. Stem said . . .” Vesta protested.
“I’m sorry, but I must insist,” Deena said mostly to Cen whose eyes were beginning to tear up.
“Momma,” Vesta said, “I don’t want to stay here.”
Her mother leaned in and put a hand on Vesta’s knee. “I’m sorry baby, but I think you need to stay.”
“But what about Dad and Jon? What are they going to think if I just disappear? I can’t just disappear. I have a life!” Vesta’s voice rose with each word.
“Your dad knows that you’ve been having some health issues. I’ll just tell him that I’ve found a place that can help you.”
“He’ll want to see me. He’ll want to come,” Vesta said slowly barely holding herself together.
It was all so sudden and scary, but a part of Vesta wanted to hide out so nobody could see how her body was changing. A part of her hoped that Stem’s mother could help her, and a big part of her was even more frightened by Deena’s sudden verdict. But mostly, she didn’t want to leave her family and friends.
“We can arrange for a visit or two early on, and then we can simply say the treatments require isolation,” Deena offered. She wanted to rant at Cen for waiting so long to bring the girl to her, but she’d never gain Vesta’s trust if she raged at her mother. “I tell you what,” Deena said instead, “Why don’t you go home and pack some things for Vesta while I show her the living quarters and introduce her to some of the others.”
Cen consoled her daughter with a sympathetic look and a hand stroking her knee. Deena gave them a few more seconds and then she stood indicating that this consultation was ready to progress to the next stage.
Mother and daughter stood, tearily hugged each other and then Deena moved towards the door sending Cen on her way and leading Vesta deeper into the huge structure.