The green room was boisterous. I wasn’t totally surprised, but I’d also spent the last month taking a break from media appearances, mostly flying with Tobias. It was nice, flying and not worrying about being Dracon-beamed out of the sky.
A month was also a really long time to spend most of my days as a bird. Even a bird hanging out with Tobias.
So I was secretly glad when I got the text from Cassie asking me to come to New York to do a little press for her book. She wanted to be there, but there was some international free the whatevers that she couldn’t miss, and she was no good at press anyway, or so she keeps insisting. I didn’t have to--Marco was always up for press; he was basically our spokesperson, but Cassie knew I’d actually read the book.
Besides, Marco wasn’t the only one who’d bought a nice place with a lot of acreage for privacy; celeb life ain’t cheap. When my agent found out I’d be in New York for a few days, he said we could squeeze in another endorsement if I wanted to be the new spokesperson for Dove beauty...I had a feeling I’d be acquiring an extremely photogenic dove in the near future.
I should’ve guessed why it was boisterous when someone mentioned Marco. Then he walked in and I had to stifle a laugh. It was completely ridiculous: women a foot taller than him on either side, sunglasses, hair done just-so, meticulously tailored Hugo Boss, a jacket that literally sparkled with tiny metallic threads woven in, the works. He caught my eye and lifted his sunglasses, handing them to a redhead on his left. “Rachel! I see you escaped the clutches of our feathered friend once again.”
“Someone mail you a glitter bomb again? Or did you lose a fight with an arts and crafts store?”
He grinned. “This is just my shining personality, Xena.”
I rolled my eyes. “Are you promoting Cassie’s book with me?”
He shook his head. “I was already booked.”
“Ohhh, the stupid dog tricks bit, right,” I said. “Good for you, stepping right into your comfort zone.” He didn’t have a chance to respond, because that’s when the announcer called me on.
After the show and the inevitable thank yous for saving the whole world from brain-stealing aliens (it had been over a year, but there was always someone, and we’d decided in one last barn meeting that we’d all try to be accommodating when we did something with an audience for the sake of appearances and because it still felt nice after three years of fighting secretly), Marco asked if I wanted to catch up. I didn’t have anything else planned, and his pied-a-terre was a short walk past my favorite non-Chinatown Chinese place in Manhattan, so I said yes.
“You need their Szechuan shrimp in your life, Marco,” I said as I sat down to open my take out. He had lo mein, and we were splitting an order of dumplings. He speared one of the dumplings with a chopstick.
“Need is a pretty strong word there, Rachel. I try to reserve it for things like sports cars and a vacation chateau a metro ride from Paris. Which I’m looking at, by the way.” Marco looked thoughtful as he chewed on the dumpling. “Do you think I could get France to give me Versailles on a rent-to-own basis?”
“Yeah, right after Egypt carves your name on the Great Pyramid,” I replied drily.
“You know Jake told me a senator contacted him about having his face carved into Mount Rushmore?”
That stopped me in my tracks. “Seriously?”
“We live in a crazy world, Rachel. I tried to warn you guys back when it all started, but Cassie was all ‘save the earth’ and Ax was all ‘the Yeerks are evil’ and you were all let’s do it!’ And now here we are, four years later, your cousin who is my best friend--who I can still beat on any video game--could end up on Mount Rushmore because we turned into animals and defeated a bunch of aliens.”
“Not to mention, some genius thought you were the right pick for a Chevy endorsement.”
“Their motto is ‘Like a Rock. And I rock,” he shrugged.
“Pffft. How many of those things did you go through shooting that commercial again?”
“Well they’re not built Ford tough.”
I shook my head. “That’s such a lame joke. How many of your dates have you had to explain it to?”
Marco sighed. “Most of them. Tell me, Rachel, why are all the smart, pretty girls interested in red-tailed hawks instead of me?”
I grinned. “You just answered your own question.”
“You really love spending all that time with a guy who eats mice for lunch? I know you guys love each other and all, but honestly, you want to spend the rest of your life in the middle of nowhere sitting on some eggs or whatever birds do in their abundant spare time? I love flying too, but you honestly don’t want to die of boredom after a week of just that?” He wasn’t joking now; it was genuine curiosity.
I didn't answer right away, because he wasn’t the only one wondering the same thing. I love Tobias, but if I hadn’t gone back home each night to sleep, I also know I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I had spending all day as a bird. It was easy to be together when it was snatches here and there between battles and school; day in, day out, it wasn’t the same. Not bad, just...not the same.
“It’s not non-stop exciting,” I finally said, “but there’s enough of that when I’m here or LA or wherever.”
Marco nodded. “Fair enough. I get it,” he said seriously. Then he cracked a smile. “So do you guys do it as birds? Like, how does that even work?”
“Of course not! We’re different species!”
“So humans, then. What are you going to do when it starts getting weird because his human morph is like, half your age?”
“I am not having this conversation with you.”
“I won’t tell anyone! Swear to God, I won’t even include it in my tell-all memoir.”
“I know you won’t, because I’m not telling you anything about whatever sex life Tobias and I have--or don’t have.” Shit, I thought. That last part was already too much information.
“Don’t have? Innnnteresting,” he said.
“Oh shut up.”
“Look, you guys do you. Or don’t. I’m not judging. But if you ever want like, a friends with benefits kind of situation, I’d be open to it.”
“I’ll let Tobias know you’re interested,” I smirked. “I don’t know that you’re really his type, being so short and not his kind of bird and all…”
“HOW DARE YOU. My osprey morph is GORGEOUS.”