Grace Thornton had lived upstairs for decades. It got so she was a fact of life to the other residents. She watched children and took soup to sick students cramming for exams. “A nice old lady,” the others said, “a good woman.” The landlady, they said, could raise rents based on Grace Thornton alone. The building got a reputation as a better place to live than most.
Then the wizard moved in.
Oh, he didn’t say he was a wizard, but Willa Collins on the first floor, whose job it was to be nosy, found him out, listening to him chat with a friend outside. “A wizard!” she hissed, jerking her curtains back across her window. “The man must be crazy!”
Grace rather agreed with her at first. Anyone who called themselves a wizard couldn’t be entirely there. The young man kept to himself, though, and caused no trouble. He kept odd hours, but Grace learned from Elsa Scott, who lived one floor below her and was generally a much more reliable source of information than Willa Collins, that he was a private investigator. He found lost children, Elsa explained, and brought them home.
Grace warmed to him immediately. Such a young man couldn’t be that bad, she reasoned.
Of course, the Collinses on the first floor complained that their electricity shorted out, and that it was the young man’s fault. Grace didn’t see how this was possible, unless perhaps the young man was an amateur electrician, and surely the landlady wouldn’t let anyone like that move in. She protected her investments, after all.
“They’re just overreacting,” was Clarence Quinn’s opinion. He lived across the hall from Elsa. “Nobody can fuc—er, futz up the electrics like that unless they try.” No one swore in front of Grace anymore.
The Collinses moved out after a month of flickering lights and melted ice cream, Willa hauling her youngest child by one arm. Grace waved goodbye and told no one that she was relieved to see them go.
They were replaced by a nice, quiet young couple who said little and kept to themselves. Grace went down once to see if they needed anything, and was politely but firmly rebuffed. She shrugged, and went to collect her mail instead.
The young man from the basement stood at the top of his stairs, frowning at the clear blue sky. Grace eyed him, puzzled, as she collected her mail.
“Hi, Mrs. Thornton,” he said, without looking down.
“Hello,” she said, and walked over to him, and blinked. “Goodness, you are tall, aren’t you?”
He looked down, then, and grinned at her. “I get that a lot. How are you?”
“Quite well,” she said, craning her neck to look him in the face. For some reason he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “And yourself?”
“Good enough. Finished up a case yesterday.” He leaned back against the railing, casually bringing his head lower so she didn’t have to look quite so far up.
Considerate, she thought, approvingly, and said, “Congratulations! You find lost children, yes?”
“Among other things.” The young man hesitated, then said, “Mrs. Thornton, I feel like...okay, this is going to sound weird. Things are going to get a little...strange...tonight. You might want to stay in.”
Grace laughed, to cover a sudden uneasiness. “I never go anywhere, young man,” she told him, and patted his arm. “But thank you for the advice.”
The young man nodded, and went back into his basement apartment. Grace went upstairs, and did not look outside all night, not even when the storm hit and lightning struck very close to the building.
He came limping back a few days later, and told the curious only that he’d been in the hospital. Looking at him, Grace could believe it; with that clunky cast on his hip and bandages everywhere else, he could hardly have been on vacation.
Over time, Grace made it her business to find out about the young man. He was a nice boy, kept to himself. He acquired a girlfriend after a while, a tall, sultry woman with dark hair and eyes, the kind of woman Grace had always envied as a girl. A good woman, and she made a good compliment to the young man’s dark, angular good looks, but somehow Grace preferred the small, sweet-faced woman who came less often.
A few years on, the dark-haired woman stopped coming, and the young man stopped leaving his apartment. Grace worried for him, enough that one day in February she was not terribly surprised to find that she had made much more soup than she could possibly eat. She stirred the leftovers thoughtfully, then turned the gas off, put the cover on the pot and made the trek downstairs.
Then young man didn’t answer her first knock, nor the second. After the third, though, she heard an explosion of impressively foul swearing from within the door, and a moment later the young man tore open the door. ”What,” he began, then stopped, and blinked. “Oh, hello, Mrs. Thornton.”
“Young man,” Grace said sternly, “do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
He laughed, a dry sound with absolutely no humor to it. “As a matter of fact, I don’t,” he said. “Can I help you with something?”
He looked horrible. Haggard and lean and skinny. Clearly he hadn’t been eating well, and—Grace peered past him into his apartment—he’d been taking about as much care of it as himself. “Yes,” she said, and profferred the pot. “You can eat as much of this as you can manage. I’m so forgetful, I made nearly three times the receipe. Just kept adding things because I couldn’t remember if I’d put them in or not.” She laughed, a rueful little chuckle that invited him to join in, and added, “Not that it’s bad soup. It tastes quite good, if I do say so myself.”
The young man did join in, and Grace felt a private surge of triumph. “Thanks, Mrs. Thornton,” he said, “but I’m not really hungry.”
“The soup,” Grace said, pointedly, “keeps very well. Mind you wash the pot before you bring it back.” She thrust the pot into his hands and headed back up to her apartment, ignoring the plaintive, “But, Mrs. Thornton...” that drifted up after her. That young man was just like Harold, really, had to be bullied into everything.
A day later, the pot, clean and washed, sat next to her front door. Grace took it in, and thereafter made certain to bring him food at least once a week. He always put up a token fight, but against Grace’s determined efforts he didn’t have a chance. Well enough, really, because when he finally started going out again, he’d needed his strength. Grace never found out the details, and wasn’t sure she wanted to know, what with the impressive black eye he sported. But he was smiling again, and that was all that really mattered, wasn’t it?
I was late. Again.
That’s always how it starts, isn’t it? I’m late somewhere and I miss all the fun. Except this time it really honestly wasn’t my fault. I was ready a good hour ahead of time. It wasn’t my fault that Mouse ran off with my jo staff, or that Julia lost her necklace and required me to look for it with her, like I’d even know where it was, or that Dad called as I was heading out the door to ask where Mom was, something else I didn’t know. Julia took the phone away from me and told me to go or I’d be late, so I did.
The El was running on time for once, so I managed to get where I was going only a minute or so behind, and I wasn’t the only one coming in after the arranged time. Simon Allende, a good friend of mine and fellow Warden-in-training, popped out of a cab right when I turned onto the street, checking addresses.
He called my name and waved at me, and I ran over to give him a hug. Simon is probably my best friend outside my sister and her boyfriend, and it’s ridiculous when you think about it that I’ve only known him half a year. Mom got so fed up with the phone bill that first month that I was reduced to begging Dad for permission to walk through the Nevernever to Ohio. It didn’t work (it never does) but Simon is fortunately not burdened with live-in parents and therefore can come and see me any time he pleases. When he’s not working, anyway. He’d never met my family, though he’d seen my father from a distance, but then it’s hard to be involved in the White Council and not have heard of Harry Dresden.
Greetings done, I asked, “Is this the right place?” and gestured at the martial arts dojo we stood in front of with my staff. The duffel bag with my aikido uniform and magical paraphernalia slid down my arm and caught in the crook of my elbow before I could hitch it back up on my shoulder.
Simon took it off me (a move that would have earned anyone else bruised ribs for misplaced chivalry, but Simon does that to everyone) and nodded. “I think so. I hope so. We’re already late and I don’t want to get glared at.”
“He won’t glare at us,” I said, “because we’re not the last. Trevor Pertwee just turned the corner. Quick, get inside, I don’t want to talk to him.”
He made a face. “Neither do I. Go on, hold the door for me, I’m carrying shit.”
“My shit,” I said, but held the door.
Simon hustled in, and I followed him, biting my lip. I really didn’t know if Morgan would glare at us or not; we were late for an exam, after all, and late Wardens cost lives. Even if this was a rather different exam for me than it was for anyone else in the room.
That still confused me. I’d had a lesson with Morgan earlier this week, which was when I’d first heard about the exam, and he’d told me that it wasn’t going to be a test of my physical defenses, but rather my mental ones. “You show your feelings on your face,” he’d said. “Any opponent could read you like a book. I want you to work on that this week, and at this exam you’ll have a slightly different purpose. If you can keep a straight face the whole time, you pass. If not, we’ll talk.”
So I was supposed to keep from betraying my emotions during this exam. Okay. That wouldn’t be that hard. Even if someone made a particularly stupid mistake, I wouldn’t laugh at them. In a dojo, that invites painful correction, and ridicule as soon as you make a mistake of your own. They don’t kid around in dojos. This one wasn’t for aikido, my discipline, but that didn’t make it any less strict.
I shook my head, collected my thoughts, and realized that Simon was standing waiting for me, just inside the second door. “You coming, Mags?” he asked, holding it open, my duffel on his other shoulder.
“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry. Woolgathering.” I walked in, took my duffel back, looked around the dojo’s main room and just about fell on my ass with surprise.
Taking it one detail at a time, the dojo was fairly standard for American ones. One single large room with wooden floors, white-painted walls and calligraphed scrolls hanging between the windows. Lots of light, lots of space, and mirrors along one wall. This one had a few practice weapons lining the walls, a loft with the sensei’s office in it, and changing rooms under the loft. Thirteen men and women between the ages of twenty-three and forty-six milled around by the changing rooms, all in loose, comfortable clothing, and one or two meditating rather than chatting. My fellow trainees. I was the youngest (and certainly the shortest) at twenty; Simon, twenty-nine, was somewhere in the middle. That, however, was not the startling part.
Commander Donald Morgan stood at the other end of the room in the combat camouflage he preferred. That wasn’t the startling part either. He was responsible for us and he’d arranged this little exam. He was also watching me closely, but I knew he was just trying to assess my part of this little game.
No, what shocked me was that standing next to him, in wraparound jacket and hakama, her hands folded over the top of a jo staff twin to mine and a faint smile on her face, was my mother.
No more than half a second went by in startlement. Before anyone else noticed I bowed to Morgan, letting my hair fall forward to hide my face until I got control over my expression. What in hell was my mother doing here? Okay, deep breath, all answers will come in time. For now, cover.
To that end, I elbowed Simon. “Bow, stupid,” I told him. “Show respect for the dojo and your commanders.”
He did as he was told, though nowhere near as gracefully as I did, if I do say so myself. ‘Course, I’ve been practicing aikido since I was about five years old, and the bow is second nature by now. Not that I ever have a chance against my mother. She taught me, so she knows all my tells and little weaknesses. My mother can wipe the walls with anyone in my family, but then no one ever said Karrin Murphy wasn’t totally badass.
Have I mentioned that I have the world’s coolest mom?
Anyway. I had my expression under control by now, so when Simon and I headed back towards the changing rooms, he didn’t ask me what the display at the front was all about. Instead, he asked, “So who do you think the blonde is? Surprise opponent?”
Damn Morgan, anyway. I shrugged, and lied. “No idea, but you’re probably right. Maybe she’s our exam or something. Some Warden we’ve never met?”
Simon frowned, wrinkling up his nose the way he always did when he was thinking. “No, don’t think so. There aren’t that many, after all...well, you should know that.”
I did. The only reason my father ever made Warden was because they were running very, very short on thugpower. “Yeah, but whoever said we know them all by sight?” I asked, pulling aside the curtain on one of the changing rooms at the back. “I’m going to change, watch my staff for me?”
“If you were anyone else I would take that as a come-on,” he told me, taking my staff. “I’ll guard the door, and I’ll even braid your hair when we get out. I get the feeling this is not an exam where you want your hair in your face.”
I blew a strand of my dark, wavy, totally unmanageable hair out of my face and rolled my eyes. “You’re probably right. Thanks.”
I heard Morgan start to talk when I was halfway into my uniform, and rushed through the rest of my change. As soon as I got out, Simon caught me and drew me up towards the front of the crowd, where I could see while he French-braided my hair with quick, careful fingers. This is why I love Simon. If I wasn’t a lesbian I would marry him in a heartbeat. But alas, such things are not to be.
Mom was watching us, I noticed, and I groaned inwardly. Hello, interrogation. At least she already knew about Simon, and knew I was gay. I am far too busy to put up with parental matchmaking.
“...second exam in arrest and defense procedures,” Morgan was saying, and I dragged my attention back to him. “The difference today is that your opponent is not a wizard, but mortal. This is Captain Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Force. She has been kind enough to volunteer her time to play fugitive for us.”
Murmurs broke out in the crowd of trainees behind us. I didn’t look around, being too busy concentrating on keeping my face steady and mildly interested in case anyone looked at me, though I had a hard time doing that when I heard Trevor Pertwee, the least flexible, most arrogant fop it has ever been my displeasure to meet, say just a hair too loudly, “Well, this’ll be easy.”
I didn’t lose my composure. I did, however, gain a new appreciation for my mother’s poker face. She didn’t react at all to Trevor, or to any of the others. ‘Course, none of them knew who she was, or what she knew about wizards. It was possible not even Simon would connect “Karrin Murphy” with me or my father. It was probable several people were in for a rude shock.
...which would be why my mother was there to begin with, I realized suddenly. Some of my fellow trainees had been getting a touch too arrogant with the improvement they made in their abilities. Mom would knock them down a peg or twelve. Mom is good at knocking people down pegs, but then I guess she has to be. We Dresdens tend towards arrogance at times, especially Julia and Dad.
But I digress. Rude awakenings were shortly to follow, and I got to see them, but I couldn’t react beyond inwardly. Damn shame. I was sure that some of the expressions on the others’ faces, naming no names (and by that I meant Trevor), would keep me giggling madly late into the night if I let them.
Morgan quelled the murmurings with a lifted eyebrow, then continued, “Your assignment today is to take Captain Murphy down. You are not to injure her, as the Senior Council has given you orders to take her alive and unharmed. You are also not to allow her to escape. Any questions?”
Predictably, Trevor stepped forward. “Are we allowed to use magic?”
“Of course you are,” Morgan said. “Magic is one of the more versatile weapons in your arsenal and you shouldn’t refrain from using it unless doing so would cause harm to yourself or others. Any other questions?”
The floor stayed silent, and Trevor smirked. “With your permission, Senior,” he said, “I’d like to go first.”
Arrogant bastard. Until we made full Warden, none of us had any right to address Morgan as anything other than “Commander,” except me, but I’d known his son since before I could toddle, and I still called him Commander in company. I could have decked Trevor for that presumption. So could several other trainees, judging from the incredulous and angry looks he was getting. Morgan only smiled ironically and gestured for Trevor to take his place on the mats.
Trevor dawdled onto the mats, made a perfunctory bow, and launched right into battle. “Vincio,” he said, almost drawling, and spun his hand in a lazy circle, casting a binding spell. He turned to Morgan with a smug smile.
First and last mistake. The spell slid right off the protections Dad had all over Mom, and she didn’t wait for Trevor to notice. She got him in the ribs with a solid right hook. He folded over her hand and she threw him, then stalked off the mats. “These are your trainees?” she asked Morgan, in her best contemptuous tone. I winced on reflex.
“One of them, anyway,” Morgan responded. “Can anyone tell me what Pertwee did wrong?”
Trevor struggled to his feet, red in the face. “She cheated!” he gasped. “She’s warded against magic!”
“And can you say that everyone you arrest will not be?” Morgan asked, in much the same tone Mom had used. “You were the one who didn’t check to see if your spell held. If you do that in the field I don’t have much to say for your life expectancy. Allende. Up. Let’s see if you can do better.”
Trevor went red and stumbled off the mat. Simon took his place, and though he didn’t manage to take Mom down, he did a much better job than Trevor did, and when he did go down he yielded with good grace.
Mom reacts much better to people like that, and she gave him a hand up and some advice. “Your left side is weak. Did you have an accident?”
Simon nodded. “Snapped a tendon in my knee two years ago, and I still don’t have full strength back.”
“Best work on getting it back,” she said, and patted his shoulder. “Not a bad effort overall, though. Who’s next?”
I went up next to last, and almost took Mom down. I have no illusions about it, either; she was tired from going through fourteen Warden trainees and not quite paying attention. I think if I’d have gone last I might have gotten her. As it was, no one took her down, though I and another trainee named Jacqueline Wright came closest, and no one did as dismally as Trevor. His teacher was going to get a hell of a talking-to.
“Well,” he said, when the last of us had been thrown and slapped the mat in submission. “That was less awful than I had expected.”
Several of the others looked up in hope; I kept my face blank.
“I will be the first to admit that this was not an entirely fair match,” he said. “Captain Murphy has been practicing aikido for longer than any of you have been alive, and you know what they say about old age and treachery.” Mom snorted at that, and rolled her eyes, but said nothing.
“However,” Morgan said, and his voice suddenly sharpened. “I am disappointed in your attitudes. While most of you learned from Mr. Pertwee’s dismal performance, I was not unaware of your comments before this exam began.” He leaned forward. “I had assumed you had learned better than to judge by appearances from Commander Luccio’s example. Clearly, you have not.”
A general sheepish look went around the room. I know, because I watched. As surreptitiously as I could, I mean. I wasn’t the one being scolded yet but I definitely still could be.
Morgan pinned every last one of the trainees with a withering glare, including me (for good measure, I guess, unless I’d really messed up and didn’t know it), then waved his hand dismissively. “Go away and report back to your teachers. Rest assured I shall be having a word with them.”
I winced in shared pain. The wizards the White Council chooses to be teachers can be absolutely terrifying when they feel their students have not learned the lesson properly, mostly because they know what awaits said students if they don’t learn as they should. Especially anything involving attitudes. My fellow trainees were going to have a hard time, especially Trevor.
Call me heartless, but I found it difficult to care about Trevor.
“Margaret,” Morgan called, over the noise and shuffle of students leaving. “A word, please.”
I shrugged an assent and went to change. I’d intended to stay anyway and cadge a ride home off Mom before she went to work. I’m not broke, but I’m also not well-off enough to waste money on the El if I don’t have to.
When I got back out, the others had all gone and Mom was eyeing me with a grin on her face. “Well, Mags?” she asked. “You looked happy when I threw the first kid.”
“A display of grace and artistry I was privileged to witness,” I said, padding up towards her and Morgan. “Also, he’s obnoxious.”
Mom wiped her face with a towel and nodded. “He deserved to get taken down a peg. Nicely done, by the by. I was watching you when you came in, and I don’t think anyone else noticed you recognized me.”
“You did?” Simon said unexpectedly, from behind me. I spun on my heel, startled.
“Where the hell did you come from?”
He hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “The bathroom. I wanted to give you moral support through the talking-to. You recognize her?”
My mother arrived at my shoulder without making a noise. So much for my five-one lie; in stocking feet we were exactly the same height. “Introduce me?” she asked.
I shrugged, and resigned myself to an unorthodox meeting. “Might as well. You were going to meet him shortly anyway. Simon, this is my mother, Karrin Murphy. Mom, Simon Allende.”
“Ma’am,” Simon said, and belatedly came to attention.
“Ah.” Mom eyed him sharply. “So you’re the one we spent three hundred dollars in long distance phone calls on.”
I blushed. “Mom!”
“Ladies,” Morgan said, barely suppressing a grin. Bastard. “You did very well, Margaret, though you did slip a bit at the beginning. You covered nicely, though.”
“Thanks,” I said, having long since given up on getting him to call me by anything other than my full name. “Mom, please don’t do that in front of my commander.”
Mom looked mildly offended. “I am your mother. It’s my job to embarrass you.”
Simon coughed into his fist, looking seriously amused. Bastard number two.
“Margaret,” Morgan said mildly. “I am trying to give you a debriefing. If you would please pay attention.”
“Right, sorry.” I about-faced and stood at attention. I know, I know, wiseassery, but I’m a Dresden. If wiseassery got people killed Dad would have been dead long before I was ever born.
Morgan rolled his eyes. He’s used to this from us. “As I was saying. You did very well overall. A vast improvement from last week. I did catch you smirking at Mr. Pertwee’s regrettable actions, and while that reaction is understandable I expect you to keep such feelings hidden in the future. Wardens must present a united front at all times.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, as deferentially as I could. I really do look up to Morgan. Regardless of his history with my father, he’s always treated me with respect and consideration. I intend to deserve said respect and consideration. If there’s one thing I don’t want, it’s Dad’s history with the Council.
He gave me a smile, and I knew I wasn’t completely in the suds. “I agree that Mr. Pertwee has a bit of a superiority complex. But he will be your colleague and he will be a good one. At least try to treat him as such.”
I nodded again. “Yes sir.”
“Don’t look so downcast, Margaret. You did very well. I’ll see you at next week’s lesson.” He patted me on the head, one of about two people who can get away with that without losing a hand, then turned to pick up his own things. I went back to my mother.
I’d been intending to rescue Simon, but it didn’t seem to be necessary. He was standing respectfully back so Mom could see his face without craning her neck, and avoiding her gaze no more than someone who wanted to avoid a soulgaze would. Mom, in turn, was laughing and shaking her head.
“I swear, it’s one hundred percent true,” Simon was saying, as I came up to them. “And I will never involve Maggie in any such thing, no matter how amusing it might turn out to be.”
“What?” I said. “You’ll never involve me in what? You suck and I hate you.”
Mom grinned unexpectedly. “Oh, by all means, involve Maggie. Just don’t let me find out about it. Are you finished?”
I nodded, and leaned my head on Simon’s arm. “I am duly chastised. And praised, I think.”
“You think?” Simon adjusted his stance so his arm was a little more level. See why he’s my friend?
“I don’t know,” I said, thoughtfully. “This praise thing is new. It confuses and frightens me.”
Mom snorted. “Oh, please. You think I didn’t hear your father praising every single tiny thing you ever did?”
“I was five,” I said, with as much dignity I could possibly muster. “Plus, it’s Daddy’s job to spoil his little girls rotten.”
“How unfortunately right you are.” She stretched, and added, “I think I’m going to hit the road. I’m still due in to work this afternoon.”
“Can I hitch a ride home?” I asked.
“Of course,” Mom said, then crooked a finger at Simon. “You come too. My husband will want to meet you, and so will Julia.”
I groaned. When I’d thought about introducing Simon to my family, my sister had not entered the mental picture, and for fairly good reasons. My mother as usual read my mind and grinned at me. “Forgot about Julia, did you?”
“I didn’t forget,” I said. “I’m in denial. Besides, Arthur will kill him if she tries anything.”
“Shouldn’t that be if I try anything?” Simon wondered aloud.
I shook my head. “No. Trust me. If she tries anything. Come on. You’re in the suds now, so you might as well come clean.”
“What happened to your hand?” Christa asked.
“Hmm?” Her mentor, pastor and friend Joshua Croft looked up from the papers spread out over his desk and blinked. “What about my hand?”
Fair enough asking, she thought. She wouldn’t have asked herself if she hadn’t been so bored. She’d finished her homework (school, Sunday school, and magical) and grown weary of the book she was reading. Ordinarily she could watch the kids on the playground next door, or at least count cars going by, but it was raining so hard today she could barely see the lilacs outside the window of Josh’s office, much less the road or the playground. So she’d turned to studying Josh instead.
Not like he was hard to watch, her teacher. He looked barely older than she was, though Christa knew he was a little under twice her age. Handsome, in a geeky sort of way, with glasses, thick eyebrows, and a nearly constant smile. He also had a scar on the back of his right hand that he’d never explained and she’d never asked about until now.
“What happened to it?” She got up from her little table and chair by the window and came over to his desk to poke at it. “How’d you get that scar?”
Josh (he refused to be called Mr. Croft or Pastor Croft, on the grounds that he was no more holy than anyone else in the church and that it made him feel old) looked down at his hand as if he’d never seen it before. “Oh. I fell on a nail when I was a kid. Zach was furious with me. He had to miss a baseball game to walk me to the emergency room.”
She glanced at the picture of his oldest brother, then eyed the scar doubtfully. “You fell on the back of your hand?”
Josh shook his head, and turned the hand over. The small circular scar on the back of his hand was matched by a slightly larger circle on his palm. “It went all the way through.” He smiled at her suddenly. “I think they heard me screaming in Memphis.”
Christa almost asked what Memphis had to do with it, before she remembered that he’d grown up in Tennessee. “Oh. Must’ve hurt.”
“It was the single most painful experience of my life thus far. Have you finished your homework?”
He would ask that. “Yes.”
“All of it?” he asked.
She scowled. “There’s no need to sound skeptical. Yes, as it happens, I’ve finished all of it. Can we get to the practicals now?”
Josh shook his head, and shoved his glasses up his nose absently. “In a minute. I’ve just got to finish the paperwork for the social next week and then we’ll work on magic, all right?”
“Okay,” she said reluctantly, and let him get on with it, going back to her chair and staring morosely around the office.
It wasn’t as if she hadn’t already memorized it back when Pastor Drucker had been in charge. Of course, Josh had changed it a bit, hiding the sickly green wallpaper with overflowing bookcases, removing any sign of technology except for a fifties rotary phone, and (the most interesting change of all) removing every religious icon except for a single Jesus-less cross. The old pastor’s widow had had a fit.
Christa rather preferred it. She had to deal with Jesus staring at her in sermons anyway, so why should she have to deal with it getting lectured? Not that Josh lectured her anyway.
She was getting sidetracked again, and neither Pastor Drucker nor his widow had anything to do with her lessons right now, except probable disapproval.
Bored, bored, bored... she stared at Josh’s college and seminary degrees, displayed on the minuscule patch of wallpaper he’d let live. She’d seen them a hundred times before, but she’d never really read them. University of Chicago, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, one Joshua T. Croft...
...oh, now, wait a minute.
“Josh?” she said, into the silence, suppressing a fit of giggles.
“I’m almost finished,” he said, absently, and scribbled something on the top sheet of paper.
“That’s not it,” Christa said, and this time the laughter in her voice must have gotten through, because he looked up at her, a question in his eyes. “You have a middle name?”
The puzzlement didn’t go away. “It’s Trevor,” he said. “You’re full of questions today.”
“That makes two I’ve asked,” she said, “and that’s not the point anyway. Do you have any idea how heretical you are?”
Josh frowned. “Elaborate, please.”
“Well...” she had to pause to hold in a giggle. “Your name’s Joshua T. Croft, right? JTC? And you’ve already had one hand pierced by nails.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Josh said, with great dignity, “and I’m going to finish this paperwork.”
“You’re three nails and a lance away from Cruxifiction,” Christa said, and giggled again. “I call dibs on Mary Magdalene. But where does that leave Abram?”
He chuckled, though he didn’t look up. “Probably holding off the entire Roman army single-handedly. Or else several thousand years earlier fathering children on handmaidens.”
“Chris is so fond of pretending he’s not related to you...that makes him Simon Peter, right? And Zach can be Matthew the tax collector since he likes working for the government. Hey, will you walk on my swimming pool?”
Josh tossed his pen at her. “Hush, Mary. Aren’t you supposed to be washing my feet with your hair or something?”
Christa snorted. “Yeah, right. Different Mary, o pastor and Biblical scholar.”
The pastor and Biblical scholar wasn’t paying attention, being busy scrabbling in his desk drawer for another pen. “Seriously, hush. I’m almost finished. Half a page more and... no, you know what, go outside and practice your shields.”
She threw his pen back at him; it skittered across the desk and into his hands. “It’s raining.”
“I know,” Josh said, using his ‘I’m-not-stupid’ voice. “I said practice your shields. Keep the rain off you. Oh, and be sure to stand somewhere where you can’t be seen from the road.”
Christa rolled her eyes, but went. And later that evening, suffered an unexplainable fit of coughing when the family thanked Jesus for supper.
Me: ...speaking of eBay, anyone want my uterus before I sell it there?
Boy: *raises hand*
Choco: ooh! I do!
Me: In a jar? Not to plant babies in?
Choco: NO! want to make a uterus hat!
Boy: I'll make a hat out of-
So I was thinking about my character Jen, and talking to Puck, which usually results in character development anyway. This time it resulted in character punishment, mostly because I am cramping.
It's actually been established history that Jen always had painful periods (she's on birth control for more reasons than the practical), and also that she had an utterly miserable pregnany, hence the reason Arthur is an only child. So I figured she must have a gynocological condition that she's never really had the time to check out, or the inclination, since the birth control stops the symptoms and it doesn't interfere with sex.
Turns out, after much research, that I decided she has ovarian cysts. They wouldn't form while she was on birth control, but they would and do cause incapacitating cramps for up to three days. Now, since she's been on birth control since she was fifteen, they wouldn't affect her until she started trying to get pregnant and thus went off the pill. But once she does...hooboy. We're talking curled up in bed around a heating pad unable to move because it hurts so much. Someone's getting frogmarched to the gynocologist.
Fortunately, the cysts she has pretty much only cause painful menstruation and occasionally irregular bleeding. They're not malign, she will not develop ovarian cancer, and they will not interfere with her pregnancy. I think the morning sickness is just a family curse, as is the high blood pressure in the final trimester, and everything else is either psychosomnatic or stems from the fact that for the first time in her life she weighs over 135 pounds.
So, all told, I just like being mean to my characters.
Also, Josh speaks in a Southern drawl when he's woozy on painkillers, highly upset, or both. Otherwise he speaks like the majority of people around him. Apparently he's a good mimic.
Thirty Reasons Why Christopher Eccleston and Paul McGann Are Hotter than David Tennant