I did it.
I got to the end this afternoon in a (relatively*) final way, made a copy** AND SENT IT TO MERRILEE AND MY EDITOR.
You’ll excuse me if I take the night off to have a nervous breakdown.***
* * *
* Athough I’m already looking at the beginning again and thinking, okay, wait, that can come out.
** Which involved putting all the pieces back together in one file. The elderly mews laptop gets slightly less out of breath if the document I’m working on is shorter.
*** Oh, all right. Have a snippet.
* * *
Ran and I didn’t think a lot about it at first when Mom said she was bringing this new guy home. She did occasionally bring guys home—or, better, we’d all go to a restaurant: neutral ground, and somebody else cleaned up after—although she hadn’t in nearly a year, so whoever he was was going to be a little bit interesting for the novelty. But she was so matter-of-fact as the day got closer it was starting to make me twitchy. By the day I wanted to hide the salad or lay the tablecloth (yes, a real tablecloth and in the real dining room) face down or something, just to break the circuit, as she went zinging around the kitchen like she was the most organised person in the world, which she isn’t. We had a joke, Ran and Mom and me, that she used up all her organisation at work. But the way Mom was behaving was the first clue that Val might be more important than the other (few) guys we’d met, so I was probably already on the wrong channel with him when the doorbell rang.
Also I’d been thinking why were we having him over for dinner for this first meeting? I like having someone else doing the cooking—someone other than Mom (or me. Although quite sane people will come to dinner when I make my spaghetti sauce). Val didn’t have much money—Mom didn’t quite say this, but I figured it out. And she wanted to show him what a happy little family we were. Well, he could have cooked us dinner, couldn’t he? At his place.
So I was already feeling kind of unplugged about Mom pretending we were supposed to believe it was no big deal about this Val person coming over. And when she sang out—and I mean sang, it was disgusting—for me to answer the door when the bell went, I think I was going to dislike him even if he was a billionaire with a private island big enough for a wild animal sanctuary and a really cute son who was just my type.
But when I opened the door . . .
It was like there was more than just Val there. As if he was twice the size of a human person, or there were two of him, or something. It was really dark out, in spite of the porch light, and at first I couldn’t see his face. I was frightened. I didn’t like being frightened. I’d been frightened enough about almost everything since Dad died.
And there was something wrong with Val being too big. Something wrong with the dark—with the shadows. In that first shock I don’t think I noticed there was something wrong with the darkness—it was February, it still got dark early, it was nearly seven p.m.—that it was shadows. If I’d noticed they wiggled I might have just slammed the door on him.
“I am Val,” he said in his funny voice, and stepped forward (and I got my first eyeful of his clothes sense, which was pretty frightening all by itself) and I stepped back like he was a big ugly cobey-unit goon with a zapper and I was a homeless loophead, and now in the light of the hall I could see him plainly, see that he was short and hairy as well as having a funny voice, and I’ve seen orang-utans that wore clothes better. I didn’t recognise Val’s accent but that wasn’t surprising. The Slav Commonwealth is like ninety countries, some of them no bigger than your front yard, and every one of them has its own language.
He was smiling at me. It was a hopeful sort of smile and I didn’t like it, because it probably meant this dinner was important to him too, and I’d already decided I didn’t like him. Or his big (wiggly) shadows.
The darkness, or whatever it was, had seemed to retreat a little, or maybe press itself down nearer the floor where it wasn’t so obvious, as he stepped forward. I actually peered over his shoulder as if I was looking for someone, or maybe something, but I couldn’t see anything, although the nearest streetlight seemed farther away than usual. I looked back at him and I thought his smile had changed. He was looking at me too hard behind the smile. I thought of all those fairy tales where once you invite the evil magician over your threshold you’d had it. But I hadn’t invited him. He’d just come in, and I’d given way. Did that count?
Hey. This is Newworld. We don’t have magicians in Newworld, evil or otherwise. . . .
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