“Dad, you don’t understand! Harrowhark Nonagesimus! Sulfurous witch extraordinaire? Gothic bone bitch? Crazy fucking sadist? Only my worst enemy since the dawn of time?”
“I hear you Gideon, but I still think you’re making a big deal out of nothing.”
Gideon was sprawled out face first on the floor of the store. Her parents, actively walking around her body, were still unpacking and cleaning the place as Gideon whined into the wooden slats. They didn’t seem to sense the gravity of the situation.
“Nothing!” Gideon’s head shot up to look at her dad who was polishing the glass display cases along the back wall. “I’ve been her humiliating play-toy since middle school; how is us getting put together ‘nothing’!” She let her head drop back down to the floor with a thud .
Her dad made an exasperated sigh. “M, you talk to her.” He disappeared into the back workshop as Gideon’s mom appeared and took a seat on the floor next to her daughter.
“I don’t wanna work with her Mom,” Gideon whined again. Dammit, she was starting to sound like a child.
Her mom’s hand came to rest gently on her shoulder blades. “I know hun. I understand why you’re upset, but your dad has a point. You and Harrowhark are adults now. Why-”
“That doesn’t matter!” Gideon’s whine interrupted her. “Are you forgetting all the shit she did to me senior year? We we’re both adults then, why is it different now?”
“Gideon, you two have been at each other’s throats for years now. Maybe this is a chance for you both to set aside your differences and try to be a bit more civil.”
Gideon twisted up into a sitting position across from her mom. “Our differences can’t just be set aside Mom. It’s not that simple. Harrow thinks she’s a princess just because her parents are doctors and she lives in a gazillion story house and all that crap. She looks down on everyone, especially me.” Gideon moved next to her mom and rested her head on her shoulder. Her mom’s arm circled around her back in a comforting hug.
“Do you feel less than Harrow?”
“Of course not!” Gideon scoffed. “Why would you think that?”
Her mom shrugged gently. “Well if Harrow gets under your skin because she has all these big fancy things I can’t help but wonder if it’s more because you wish you were like her. Big house, fancy clothes, expensive life.”
Gideon shook her head. “I have a great life Mom. The last thing I want is to be more like Harrow. I mean I get into enough trouble now, imagine what I’d be like if I had Harrow’s connections!”
She laughed and gave Gideon’s arm a squeeze. “Then why does she bother you so much hun?”
“I don’t like people thinking that I’m beneath them.” The words were out of Gideon’s mouth before she could think about them. “I mean the jokes, the taunting, stealing my stuff, having her friends knock into me in the halls, and that stupid Griddle nickname are all her ways of saying I’m not as good as her. And that’s just not something that I wanna let slide ya know?” Her mom carefully nodded. Gideon kept rambling, “If I ignore her she tries harder to get a reaction and when I give her one she keeps poking till I wanna strangle her! She’s a fucking psycho!”
“Sorry.” Gideon stood up off the ground and flopped into the more comfortable chair by the counter. “I was so ready to get rid of her,” she mumbled. Her mom stood as well and Gideon looked up. To her surprise her mom was smiling . “What?”
She laughed. “I just find it interesting what you said. All Harrow does is try to get your attention. Back when I was in school-”
“A hundred years ago,” Gideon joked. The back of her head got gently smacked.
“ Anyway," her mom continued, "when I was in school if someone kept trying to get your attention by teasing or joking or taking your things, the common consensus was that they had a crush on you.”
Gideon let out an involuntary hiss of displeasure. The thought made her want to crawl inside a hole and spontaneously decompose. Harrowhark? Into her ? Gideon would sooner bang a skeleton than Harrow. A skeleton might actually be less bony than Harrow. Not that Gideon was against bony; Cytherea was slightly bony. Why was she obsessed with the word bony all of a sudden? Harrow was the one who loved bones. She wanted to be a skeleton doctor or something. Maybe a skeleton overlord. Or a skeleton dictator. She’d wear a uniform in all black (like her soul), and maybe the bones of her enemies as jewelry. Carry a bone sword- ooh a bone sword would be awesome -and have everyone chant her name as the national anthem of Skeleton-landia or whatever. Harrow-ville. Nonagesimus Town. If Teacher wants to make the ‘death advisor’ title fit her he should put her in something tight. Really show off those bones...
She would have dwelled on the idea a bit longer had the sub Naberius had given her not been threatening to come up. Gideon went to nonchalantly brush her hair to the side when she became aware of the heat pulsing off her face.
Her mom's grin widened a bit as she covered her laugh. “Thinking about it Gideon?”
“Don’t even joke like that Mom!”
“Mom, Mom! Listen to me! Gideon . Nav . Do you get it now? I’m stuck with Gideon freaking Nav!” Harrow was sitting in her car just off the fairgrounds with her mother on the other end of the phone. Granted it could have been a wall on the other end for as little interaction her mother was giving her.
“Harrow, I don’t have time for this nonsense again!” That tone usually deterred Harrow from speaking to her mother, but right now she didn’t care. She had to vent to someone about this crime against humanity! Even if it was a person who wouldn’t care.
Harrow thonked her head against the steering wheel. “This isn’t nonsense! I can’t work with Griddle in my last Ren Faire. Aiglamene says there’s ‘no switching’ or whatever and I just really want my last year here to be perfect. And perfect means no annoying redheads who don’t know a femur from a tibia!”
The other end of the call was silent. Harrow waited a few seconds more before lifting her head to check if her mother had hung up on her. As usual, she had. Without consulting her common sense, Harrow hit redial.
“Harrow,” the strained voice growled, “a word of advice, if someone hangs up the phone it means they are done listening to you.” Her mother’s tense voice plainly showed her desire to strangle Harrow through the screen.
Harrow flopped back against the leather seat. “Mom please, for once be a parent and listen to me. You always wanted me to open up about my life to you and now I am , so maybe appreciate it a bit more?”
Her mother scoffed. “If I knew how pathetic your life was I would never have wanted to hear it in the first place. You take after your father so well in that regard: not a damn thing interesting about you.”
“At least Dad likes me,” Harrow bit back.
“I wouldn’t make an argument for that but go ahead.” Her mother rose to the challenge as normal. Harrow wasn’t in the mood for another argument about why her parents should love her, so, taking a piece from her mother’s book of tricks, she hung up. Then unceremoniously punched the steering wheel.
With one hand slightly throbbing, Harrow drove home. Her road was silent as per usual. None of the neighbors were ever home; they were all out doing shit. Traveling, doing important jobs, going to fancy parties, meeting new connections: all the stuff Harrow wanted to do.
Instead she had wrongly (in her parent’s opinion) decided to take a gap year before college. So now it was just her and a big empty street. Harrow pulled into the driveway of the renovated Gothic mansion where she lived. It had either three or four floors, Harrow hadn’t been past the second floor in years so she wasn’t sure, and a backyard that spanned from the pool house to the distant treeline. The back windows faced the mountains, the sunrise, and the forest. The front windows faced the street where no lights came on and no cars passed by.
Harrow’s room faced the street.
“No you’re not allowed to switch rooms! For once be happy with something we give you!” Her parents found fault with everything she did, everything she said, everything she thought.
Harrow wanted to go to medical school? She must be trying to prove she’s better than them.
Harrow wanted to travel the world? She must want to get away from them. (That was true but beside the point).
Harrow wanted to be loved? She had the world what did she need love for?
Harrow wanted to like herself? Why should she, she’s a failure, a worthless leech who stole her parent’s dreams.
The seven-foot door groaned in annoyance as Harrow hauled it open and stepped inside. The entry hall had been dusted recently and smelled bitterly like Lemon Zest. She felt around in the dark and put her black cloak in the coatroom. No one was ever home so the electricity stayed off. The only light came from the candles that marched down the hallways and perched on the window sills. Harrow padded down to the kitchen. Her boots made no sound against the thick black carpet underfoot. A faint burnt smell told her the maids had just vacuumed as well.
The kitchen had overhead lights that left small dots on the crystal floor. It was like the world’s suckiest disco. Harrow opened the restaurant sized fridge to find it mostly empty, as usual. She tore off a handful of lettuce and let the door slam shut.
After the half a mile hike up to her room Harrow was out of lettuce. Her room was just as dark as the rest of the house, but more lived in. Her bed wasn’t made (because she was just gonna sleep in it again anyway), medical books were spread across her desk, anatomy posters were taped to the walls (alongside a couple rock bands she listened to when she needed to feel), and her dirty clothes were dropped by the bathroom door. Would it kill the maids to bend over and pick them up?
No, but it wouldn’t kill you to just put them in the laundry either , Harrow’s reasonable brain snapped.
A cold shower, half an hour of staring at the wall, and some cravings for cake later, Harrow tried to call her parents again. Skipping her mother’s contact (which was unapologetically named Nonabitchmus) she went straight to her father’s.
He answered with a curt, “What Harrow?”
“Hey Dad, ca-can we talk?”
“I’m busy Harrow, maybe when I get home.”
Harrow bit her lip to steady her voice a bit. “When’s that gonna be?”
Her father heaved a sigh that punched her in the chest. “I don’t know. I still have two more operations to do here before I catch my flight to Kenya tomorrow evening. It depends how much help they need at the clinic until they hire more doctors. It could be a week or a month, perhaps even more.”
“It’s just that Mom won’t be home until next week and I-”
“Harrow please don’t start this again. You’re mother (he spat the word), and I have very important jobs. Listening to your problems is not one of them.”
Harrow nodded although he couldn’t see her. “Understood.”
“Good.” Harrow waited for him to hang up, but he didn’t. Another gut-rattling sigh. “Fine. You have five minutes Harrow, go.”
A whole five minutes of someone’s attention?! Harrow’s mind spun trying to comprehend it as her mouth started going.
“Well, since I’m taking a gap year until college-I know Dad, I’m a bitter disappointment-I decided to audition for the Ren Faire again. And tonight I found out that I got a role as some royal war advisor to the king. It’s a super big role, and I’m actually excited about it I guess, but they have to pair me with a knight, Cavalier, or whatever.” Harrow took a precious second to steady her next line. “I got Griddle as my Cavalier Dad.”
“The Nav girl!”
His silence on the other end told her he still didn’t get it. “Redhead? Tall? Kinda butch? Inhumanely annoying? Half the grade thinks she’s sooo hot cause biceps are uh attractive, I guess. Sweet and stupid? Makes being a dumbass a sport?”
“Her parents own that cheesy sword shop at the Canaan Faire.”
“I remember them from that dreadful open house gala at the school that your mother dragged me to.” She could hear her father rolling his eyes. “You’re right, their daughter is rather slow-minded.”
Harrow hissed at the comment. “She’s not slow-minded you ass,” she snapped. “She’s just a dumbass about anything other than swords. ”
“No! I still have three and a half more minutes! Now, as you should but probably don’t know, Griddle and I have a long standing antagonistic relationship. So I don’t see how I’m supposed to enjoy my last year at faire when I’m stuck with the one person who makes me remember how much I don’t have.”
Her father laughed on the other end of the phone. He laughed . “And what does Nav have that you don’t?”
“Mental stability, friends, hope, a life, the love and support of her parents to name a few.”
“Those are meaningless things Harrow,” he said through chuckles. “Look how far you’ve come without any of that! Top of your class, scholarship to the best medical school in the country, connections to the biggest names in the business, not to mention a large mansion you live in by yourself most of the time. All those emotional things would have held you back the way they did everyone else at your school.” He stopped talking and Harrow heard the beeping of his pager on the other end. “I have to go Harrow. I believe this was a very productive conversation.”
“But I still have a minute and forty-five seconds!” Harrow protested.
“Another time Harrow. Goodnight.” Her father hung up. Harrow stared at the end of call screen until the phone went to sleep and she was staring back at her reflection. She brushed a strand of her black pixie cut off her forehead and another unpleasant emotion popped into her mind: envy .
Why couldn’t she be pretty? Ianthe was pretty in a snow queen kind of way. Coronabeth was pretty in a gender-bent Ra kind of way. Camilla was pretty in a deadly assassin who seduces people to kill them kind of way. Griddle, well Griddle was effortlessly gorgeous . Just another reason Harrow couldn’t stand her.
Maybe this Faire is actually what I need , Harrow mused. If I spend more time with Griddle maybe I can finally find some flaw. She’s gotta have one! The thing that makes her miserable like me. Eight years I’ve spent trying to find her weak spot, but now I have to truly dedicate myself to it. Study her, watch her, observe the Nav in its natural habitat. There’s no way Griddle is 100% perfect. I mean she already has the perfect life, perfect body, perfect hair, perfect friends, perfect talents, perfect face; she has to have one thing wrong.
Harrow curled up in her monstrous bed and tucked her stuffed skeleton into her chest. The only stuffed toy her parents had permitted her to have because it was ‘educational’ about bones. It had scared her at first, but she had grown to love it over the years.
With a gentle sigh Harrow crashed into a deep sleep. Her mind swam with a hundred thoughts. The lines she had memorized before leaving the fairgrounds, the research paper Sextus had asked her to help him write about ancient medical practices, the pile of unread crime scene analysis books she had bought...
And as usual, she thought of Gideon Nav.