The explanation, she assumes, is that people have grown complacent.
One upon a time, it would have been far more difficult for someone like her to be sneaked into a cradle. People used to be fully aware of the dangers that her kind posed. Parents of newborns would leave traps, or set up protective barriers, or even elaborately disguise their young in an attempt to cause confusion. Humans have forgotten the old wisdom. They are no longer careful, and that is how she came to be here.
When she was young, her human parents had no idea who she really was. (They still don’t, and it’s kind of adorable when they try to bond with her. For all their faults, humans are actually very likeable.) All they know is that she was a difficult child to raise. She was incredibly sweet, and at her best she was the kindest child anyone in her acquaintance had had the pleasure of knowing. But she was also very demanding. She was a natural at manipulation, and the concepts of remorse and forgiveness seemed to be completely absent from her nature.
“It’s so strange,” she once heard her mother murmur. “She can be such a little sweetheart. But sometimes, she’s… I don’t know. Sometimes, it’s almost like she’s a monster.”
Her aunt had laughed. “Honey, you sound like every parent in the universe. Kids can be terrors sometimes! She’ll grow out of it, you’ll see.”
She was sitting at her easel at the time, demure and innocent, with a bright red bow in her hair. She had to bite her lip to keep from giggling. I won’t grow out of it, she thought, adding the last few touches of yellow to her sunlit rose garden. You’ll see.
These days, she spares the occasional thought for the child who was born with her name – the little girl whose place she stole. Every now and then, she wonders what became of her.
Most of the time, she’s having far too much fun to care.
A wicked grin lights up her face when his car glides up the driveway. She’s always had a knack for choosing them; his suit is elegantly tailored, his car is polished to perfection, and his walk hits that elusive sweet spot between cocky and confident. He’s beautiful enough and rich enough to have had everything he’s ever wanted dropped delicately into his lap. (In other words, his life is boring. Good thing she’s about to fix that.)
The first thing she does, like always, is invite him inside for a meal. This is his world, not hers, so he’s not in any real danger from her food. The more suggestible ones might become a little giddy, their attention more easily caught than usual by a flattering hemline or a well-timed wink, but its effects aren’t permanent. Nevertheless, the second he takes that first sip of wine, she feels a leap of triumph. This is how she marks the beginning. She is when she knows for sure that she has successfully ensnared a new player.
He’s going to enjoy this almost as much as she will.
“You have a lot of pets,” he observes.
Walking the dogs was her idea, but she knew he’d leap at the chance. He’s already proven to be something of a show-off. For one thing, he asked her to dance the second dessert was over. He clearly wants her to notice (and swoon over) the strength in his arms and his shoulders. He also wants her to think of him as effortlessly elegant. He wants to be seen as some living, breathing fantasy fresh from Hollywood’s Golden Age. (Well, of course he does. That’s why she picked him.)
Walking the dogs is a stroke of genius on her part. He gets the opportunity to display his dashing masculinity by keeping a straight face while the dogs pull relentlessly on his left arm, and she gets to stroll attractively beside him. She adores those goofball dogs and has no trouble controlling them alone, but, hey, he’s welcome to any hard work he wants.
“I love animals.” She lifts her face, ever so slightly, and the evening breeze shifts. After a moment, it matches their direction perfectly. Soft breaths of wind toss her hair in the most flattering way possible. “You haven’t even met the horses yet! Come back tomorrow. We’ll go riding.”
When he accepts, his outward appearance is cool and nonchalant. Hers is sweet and charming. Playing against a worthy opponent is so much fun, and the buzz of it stays with her into the night. When the moon is high and the air is cool, she flings her bedroom window wide open and perches delicately on the sill. Her bare feet lie flat against the stone exterior of the house. She inhales slowly, letting the dark green scent of the sleeping world fill her body, and she laughs.
She really, really loves her life.
Her cleverness with oil paints is the first thing to crack his smooth exterior. He is genuinely surprised at the result of her labor, and he does a terrible job of hiding it.
“That’s amazing,” he says, wide eyed.
“Oh, stop it.”
“No, really,” he insists. “It looks just like me! You have some serious talent.”
She ducks her head, cheeks flushed. “I love to paint. I always have, and I’ve been practicing for years. It’s nothing spectacular, there are plenty of people out there who have far more skill than I do.”
Yesterday, he would have been well aware that these are just words. He might not have been able to derive the hidden meaning of every last nuance, but what human could? As a species, they’re horrendous at reading tone. That said, he would have known yesterday that most of her humble little speech was just a performance. Today, not so much. The little gleam of credulity she painted into his eyes is taking root; he believes every word she says. By the end of the week, he’s struggling even more. He wants so badly to put on his usual aloof act, but he can’t. She’s too much for him. She kicks off her shoes and runs recklessly into the garden, feeling him lag behind. Her dress flutters around her bare ankles, her hair tumbles over her shoulders, and he cannot take his eyes off her.
(Okay, fine, painting is technically cheating. She doesn’t exactly play fair. But, honestly, did you really think that she would?)
Game is one word to describe what she does. Another is dance. Games have rules; dances have rhythms. This has both. She’ll happily bend a rule (or smash it to pieces, if she so desires) but a rhythm is something entirely different. Breaking the rhythm of her favorite dance – her favorite game – is not something that she’s willing to do. Everything has to be perfect, or it will spoil the fun.
He adores her, so he’s ready and waiting for the tide to shift. She could, in theory, erupt over any old thing. She could create a scuffmark on the impeccable hardwood floor and blame it on him, or feign offense over some misinterpreted compliment. But she won’t. That wouldn’t be right. She doesn’t yet know what “right” will be, but she’ll recognize it when it comes.
She invites him to a picnic in the grounds, because outside is where she’s at her most powerful. (Another unfair advantage. Oops.) She lies on her back, head resting against his legs, and lets the sunlight soak into her pores. She sings quietly, feeling the magic inside her grow stronger and stronger. Today, she thinks. He’s ready. It’s time. Today.
A sparrow flies overhead, and something in the air shifts. The beat of her dance has changed. She sits up just in time to catch a glimpse of his phone screen, which provides her with all she needs shoot him a fierce glare and storm angrily back into the house.
He follows, bewildered, and knocks hard on the main entrance. He taps against the windows, hammers against the back door, shouts her name. Her phone rings incessantly while she slips into the bathroom and retouches her makeup. The best part is about to begin.
The rest of the day is a delight.
“Who is she?!” she screams.
“No-one!” he insists. “It’s not even a she! I’ve known Lindsay since high school, he lived in my dorm! He’s in town with his girlfriend, I was texting him to—“
He buries his face in his hands. “I wasn’t texting another girl! Plenty of guys are called Lindsay!”
She hurls a potted plant at him, making a mental note to apologize to it later.
“I thought we were having fun!” she wails. “Do you even like me?”
“Of course I do! And we are having fun!”
“Then why were you texting another girl? And now you’re even lying about it! She must mean something to you if you’re lying about her!”
“Oh my god! For the thousandth time, I wasn’t texting another girl.” He picks up his phone. “I’ll call him right now. I’ll prove it. Okay?”
She lets her eyes well up with tears as she sinks to her knees. By the time he gets Lindsay on loudspeaker, her eyeliner is beginning to run.
She sulkily permits him to sleep in a guest room. He does not have a restful night’s sleep. She moves too lightly for him to hear her overexcited dancing up and down the hallway, but it still somehow keeps him awake.
The following morning, before breakfast is even finished, chaos begins to reign.
The dining room table is spread with an impossibly tempting array of food. She selects blueberry pancakes with dark chocolate chips, and keeps one eye on him the entire time. Her plan is to be as subtle as possible. If she plays her cards just right, he’s going to be the one to pick the fight this time. And her response will be like nothing he has ever seen.
As always, she does an excellent job. He’s barely halfway through his meal before she gets the opportunity to angrily smash his plate against the far wall.
Her ensuing rampage is magnificent. She unleashes the fury of hell on him in every way she can possibly think of. Dropping his phone into the fountain lacks a certain panache, but the symbolic link to yesterday’s fight makes up for that. Also, slicing and shredding his clothes is par for the course at this stage of the game, but it’s always terribly fun. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as the sound of luxury fabrics being torn to pieces. Plus, to mix things up a little, she sets his blazer alight before flinging it out the window. Behind her sobs and screams, she berates herself for never having thought to do add this particular touch before. It takes him a minute to put the fire out, and the sound of Dolce and Gabbana loafers stomping indiscriminately against the ground is really very funny.
When she destroys his portraits, it’s actually an act of kindness. Each slash of the knife, every stroke of graffiti, serves to whisk away some the cloudiness in his mind. She works her way through the hall, leaving ruined canvases in her wake, and she can hear his footsteps in the northern stairwell. His pace is changing. He’s shaking off his daze. If she wishes, she could keep her boys around forever, but she chooses not to. (She never would! It’s not like she’s evil, or anything.) An added bonus of severing the bond in this way is that she gets to witness his look of genuine alarm at her handiwork. He turns around in bewildered circles, as though he can’t quite believe what he’s somehow got himself into. Which, of course, he can’t.
While he’s busy being horrified by the ruined portraits, she slips downstairs and begins the grand finale: smashing the hell out of his car with a platinum golf club. She sobs dramatically as his headlights explode, and by the time he makes it downstairs there’s nothing he can do to placate her.
You’re welcome, she thinks, watching his banged-up car hurtle down the driveway. She can only imagine the fun he’ll have, telling and re-telling this story for years to come. She can hear it now: “Have I ever told you about my ex? I swear, man, she was insane.”
She spends the rest of the evening barefoot in the gardens, relishing in the adrenaline surge, before returning inside to prepare for the next song.
There are spaces to fill on her dance card.