Chapter 25: The Grandparent's Scones
April 2011, Scones
"Sweet Pea, please be nice to your grandmama."
You nod frantically, "And remember to pronounce it right; 'grand-mu-mah'- emphasis on the 'ah'." They gawk at you. "You know, just, sound English."
"Darling, do you have to do this every time we go to tea with my mother?"
Until the day she stops wincing every time she hears an American twang? "Yes."
Rosy eyes the door of the taxi and you place a protective hand over her exit strategy. "Mummy, my underwear might be itchy but that doesn't mean I'm going to throw it out the window."
"Rose! Don't talk about your panties in public! Your grandmother glares at me too much as it is!"
Henry chuckles, "Well, maybe she'd be a little more refined if you'd stop letting her watch Chris Rock do stand up?"
Your daughter shakes her head, "Basic human right. It should probably be put in the Geneva Convention." She's a weird kid, a tiny, tiny creepily intelligent- "Though, of course, that would probably only work for as long as he's alive… But comedy is art and art is immortal, right?" weirdo, who is now talking about time. Literally, the concept of time; "Eternity is a really long time, isn't it? Do you think you can set something up for eternity even if it's impossible? Is eternity possible?"
The taxi driver raises his eyebrows at you in the mirror and you try to look innocent- it's not weird that a girl who looks like a toddler knows about human rights and time and… can bend cutlery like play-dough. Right?
Sure there isn't. It's absolutely fine that your five-year-old is more articulate than you. You don't feel like your authority is undermined, you don't feel horribly insecure, you're an adult!
The problem is that no one has ever spoken to Rose as a child. Ever. Faith started it with banning baby talk, Henry continued it with reading to her from the newspaper and the posh prep school cemented the damn problem by rewarding her eloquence. So now her head is too big for her (admittedly under-sized) body and she's bored to tears by other children. Not even inflicting the Huntington Bimbos on her has affected the matter- other than she now has a taste for bossing around 'silly people'.
Rosy engages the taxi driver in a conversation about which country produces the best comedians and whether societal pressures can ever truly be overcome.
"Being intelligent isn't always a terrible thing." Henry leans over towards you, speaking softly over her back.
"I know. And I love our daughter, even if she…" You check she's not listening, still engrossed in a 'grown-up conversation', "occasionally… slips into the annoying side of precocious. It's just… I'm supposed to teach her things." You pout and he takes your hand, laughing quietly.
"You've got oodles to teach her, Darling, don't worry."
You snort, "So do you, Darling Fortescue-Darling."
"Why thank you Darling Summers-Fortescue-Darling." He shares your frown, "We really do need to have that discussion."
"Why don't we just make a new surname up? You know, like…"
"Flowerbum!" Rosy giggles with her cheekiest grin. For a second you're a little taken aback with the reminder that your child is actually a child. "Flowerbum-Vaginaface!"
Seriously? This is the day she picks to be inappropriate?
"My knickers match my dress." She cheerfully informs the taxi driver, "Would you like to see?"
You both grab a shoulder and haul her back to sitting. "You win." Disturbingly adult beats child exhibitionist.
"They have bows on- see?"
Thirty-five minutes, one attempted change of underwear and three 'I wish the ground would chew me up' moments later, you're sat trying to avoid the gut reaction to stick your little finger out as you drink from a tiny teacup.
She says 'welcome' like it's a curse, as if it is the last thing she might ever want to say.
You say 'scones' and Rosy giggles, slapping your knee as if it was your intention to be funny. "Stop it Mummy, you'll make me choke!"
Charlotte Fortescue-Darling, your future mother-in-law and the scariest creature you have ever come across, frowns. "Still calling you 'Mummy'?" The voice is pleasant but the question is rhetorical and you get the feeling it's more of an insult.
She took you aside at the Fortescue Family Gathering last week and 'suggested' that Rose might instead call you 'Ma-ma'- supposedly it's just more polite.
You're sitting on a 'sofa'- never say 'settee' or 'couch'- in the 'drawing room'. Henry is wearing a 'dinner jacket' even though it's warm. Later the maid, Mary, will give Rose 'ice' (the 'cream' is apparently superfluous) with her 'scone'. Get any of these words wrong and the 'staff' glare at you- The Family themselves don't seem to expect anything better.
"The Spencer-Bluethals have a boy in the same year as Rose, do they not?"
"Uh…" You scan the list of stupid surnames in your head, putting your teacup down, "Maybe…?"
Rose giggles, shaking her head so her curls bounce, "Heck is in the year above me. He has such lovely hair, its like spun gold, Grandmama."
Charlotte smiles indulgently. "He's inherited that from his Grandfather, the first Hector, such a lovely man…" Henry raises his eyes at his mother's wistful sigh but Edward, her husband, barely notices.
"I think Heck is very handsome."
Henry bristles slightly- no boy will ever kiss his 'Little Pea' if he has his say. He pats her knees as if his weak, human hands can keep her here.
She wants to be a grown-up, desperately. She wants to control who she sees and when.
Rose, working on her Perfect Little China Doll image, looks gorgeous in a red velvet dress with creamy lace collar and waistband. You hadn't noticed earlier but she snuck her pearl necklace on and hid it beneath her clothes until she got here. It's very weird to see something circling your child's neck that could have solved all your money worries years ago.
Mimtal threatened a mini diamond ring for 'her day' as a bridesmaid and you threatened physical pain back.
"Rosy, sweetie, your grandmama doesn't want to hear about… boys."
Edward, head buried in the newspaper because the 'guests' are family and therefore don't count, changes the subject before Charlotte can chastise you for the 'sweetie'. "I say, Charlotte, it is getting particularly late- the poor child is probably famished."
"We're waiting." She reprimands, "For Beth's family." Damn the double name thing. Damn 'Beth' as a name actually- and damn them for pretending you were christened 'Elizabeth' and not named after your mother's dog.
You swear, can almost envisage the moment, that some kind of demon possessed you when you picked up the phone and stupidly, very stupidly, called Kennedy.
When Charlotte had graciously requested the presence of 'The Summers Family' for this month's afternoon tea it hadn't crossed you mind that Faith wasn't included. Though now you wish it had because, come on, she's Faith! If she does turn up (and that's definitely an 'if') it'll probably be on the back of a motorbike with leather pants and a bottle of Jack and… you have really got to stop stereotyping her. There's just as much chance of her being in nothing more than a long scarf and harem pants (which you really didn't think anyone could look good in until you were invited to Xander's barbeque last summer. And also; wow).
So yes, you're prepared. You have fully imagined every possible scenario. In fact, you're so damn convinced she's not going to turn up you haven't even told Rose there's the slightest possibility.
Kennedy didn't sound too optimistic and Angel couldn't be reached thanks to a slight case of disappearing off the face of the planet! Bastard. Not even a simple 'oh, by the way, Buffy, if you're thinking of locating Faith any time in the next month I won't be able to help you' note. Melodramatic bastard.
Not even Mimtal knows where either of them has gone and he can usually be relied on to find the cute, strappy sandal you accidentally left in an alternate dimension.
"I'm sure they'll be here soon." Battering down a blush is impossible- especially when faced with a woman whose eyes could probably cut through stone. You'll never be good enough.
Charlotte is beautiful in that refined-yet-sturdy way. The kind of woman who, in a war-type situation, would probably band the women together and beat off the enemy with wooden spoons, all the while chastising the others for having a hair out of place. Rose adores her for being unwavering in everything and makes sure to sit extra still next to you every time Charlotte looks her way.
It's just the two of you on the hard sofa, sitting on the edge because she's too small to bend her knees otherwise and you're so tense a small tap would probably knock you over.
Rosy smiles prettily and asks for the monogrammed 'table-napkins' to be placed a little closer. Charlotte nods in approval but then… her eyes dart beyond you and… and there's this look. A look of genuine happiness. A look of welcome. A look you've sure as hell never seen before.
"Oh darling, I'm so sorry, has Mary mixed up the days again?"
There is nothing in your life that could have ever prepared you for what you see when you turn round. Hours of training with Giles; wasted. You are the slayer least equipped for surprises.
But then this one is rather big.
"Actually," Faith smiles happily, accepting a hug from the woman least likely to smile at her own children, "I'm here as Buffy's guest." Her shiny, dark hair swings from its posh ponytail as she turns her head to grin at you.
"You know Beth- Buffy?" Charlotte studies you with a modicum more respect.
You're still a little shell-shocked. She looks like an Old Hollywood actress crossed with a Ralph Lauren advert. Getting close, there's probably a smell of money about her. Rose bounces beside you, silently begging to be allowed to leave the sofa. "Go on."
"Aunty Fay-Fay!" She's lifted, swung round and placed lovingly back on her dainty little feet. They put their hands on each other's necks and Eskimo kiss.
Charlotte lifts an eyebrow. "You're the 'Aunt Faith' we've been hearing so much about?"
"It's…" Faith waves dismissively, "A nickname. Like 'Gigi'."
They share a respectful silence while you roll your eyes.
Dawn, standing slightly behind Faith in the doorway, looks more than a little dazed too. She distracts herself with silently complimenting your hair. You push the dark strands off your face and mouth back a 'thanks'. The blow dry was expensive but paled in comparison to the cost of having your hair dyed back to its natural dark brown then both highlights and lowlights being put in.
It makes you look just slightly more like Rosy with her glossy curls and warm skin tone.
Now you're a cute little brunette family and your 'sisters' actually look like they could be related to you. Which, again, is a bit weird. Only slightly less weird in that you're supposed to look like one of them.
Charlotte waves Henry up from his place on the sofa so that Faith may sit closer to her. "Have you heard from Chess since Florence?"
"No, nothing- aside from those beautiful anniversary cards she sent out."
There's another respectful silence during which Dawn looks progressively more confused. She slinks around the grieve-fest to stand next to you on the side of the sofa furthest away from Charlotte and Faith. "Who are we talking about?"
"'Whom'." Rosy corrects, whispering back over you. "The proper pronoun is 'whom'."
"Girls!" You push them both back slightly. Their sibling rivalry can be incredibly trying at times- despite them not actually being sisters… and also seventeen years apart in age. "Can we please concentrate more on the fact Faith is speaking in a freaking British accent?!"
Charlotte turns her beady eyes towards you, "What are you three whispering about over there?"
"My knickers," Rose smiles, the perfect picture of innocence, "They itch."
The three real British people freeze. The fake one winks at you despite having heard everything thanks to her damn Slayer ears.
Dawn nods in respect, "Well played."
"Well…" Charlotte coughs, visibly shaking it off and back to stone, "Have we all met before then?" Ostensibly, having slept with her doesn't mean you've actually met British Faith. "Oh." Seeming to notice Dawn for the first time, Charlotte pats her husband's shoulder and glares until he folds his paper up. "Darling, this is Dawn Summers; Bethy's younger sister."
You snort again at the 'Darling Darling' thing but cover it with a cough.
"That's what my friends call me." Dawn quips, moving to shake Edward's outstretched hand.
He smiles, the way he does with all American women before he actually gets to know them and how rubbish they are at formal conversation. "How d'you do." Which isn't a question, so don't answer it. "And are you the youngest sister or is Hope?"
Faith looks nonplussed at being referred to as such. Dawn takes her hand back sharply, a little pissed at being told 'Hope' could look younger than her. "Me. And F- 'Hope' is only our… half sister. We didn't even meet her until she was in her teens." She gives Faith the nastiest smirk she can muster and doesn't notice Charlotte's relieved look.
"Ah, of course, I didn't think you were that well connected, Beth."
"Uh…" Really? Do you actually have to muster the energy to buy into whatever the hell game Faith is playing now? Though you may have to smack Dawn later for making it more complicated; as if your Father/Mother/Previously Unmentioned Parental With Vague Relation to You actually flew to England, had a British daughter with 'connections' and then flew back to have another American daughter without anyone noticing…!
Weirdly, that does sound like something your father would do. Jackass.
"Sure. Hope grew up…" You try to read from her expression what exactly she wants you to say but she's busy attempting to burn a hole through Henry with the Slayer Laser Gaze she thankfully doesn't possess. "Somewhere… else."
'Hope' gives up on the laser gaze and moves to murdering him with a killer watt smile. "Mummy adopted me when I was younger than Rosy." She reassures, seemingly reminding your in-laws.
Edward nods with a look that seems unsettlingly like pride. "Always a good woman, Pêche, she had such a big heart."
"Such big other things too." Charlotte grouses under her breath. You share a shocked look with Faith- is her creepy made up world actually real?! Her shock seems to be more in that someone would be rude about her mother in her presence. No, wait, 'made up mother'. And it doesn't really matter because you weren't meant to hear it, you only did because you both have slayer hearing, and-
"What big things does she have?" -so does Rose!
You gulp, "Nothing, nothing she just-"
"Heart." Edward emphasises, thinking she's misheard.
There's a moment of uncomfortable silence.
Your shoes hurt.
"Speaking of bleeding hearts…" Hope launches into an anecdote about people you've never heard of but her presence seems to draw everyone in as if she's a magnet and no one much cares that they're absolutely stuck to her.
Rosy cuddles Mimi, her mouth falling open in absolute awe as she watches the most mesmeric adult she's ever known pull the threads of her audience's attention and weave them into a story of love and humour and gentle jibes.
Even Dawn slows to stillness, smiling unconsciously, her eyes lighting up every time Hope glances her way.
She is catty but friendly with it. She doesn't say anything she couldn't in front of the actual person. When she cuts a glance to Henry with a sarcastic taunt about heirs to hotels the others laugh as if it's the first breath they've taken for hours. You smile and she waves a hand coquettishly to demonstrate someone else's love for useless ornamentation, watching you watching her.
Rose giggles at things she doesn't understand. Dawn laughs over a parent she knows doesn't exist. Henry chuckles in self-deprecation as she describes his antics at a party she must have been in prison for. Charlotte corrects a date but laughs anyway. Edward congratulates her on a reported comeback to a man that's probably never met her.
You let her continue until finally, with one concluding laugh, she snips the bindings and they fall back, laughing then sighing. The delicious tension is cut off and they float, tether less. Breathy sighs sail around the room.
Charlotte remerges as if from a dream, smiling serenely at your family.
The Honourable Hope Lyonne, daughter of the Viscount of Avalon, smiles back.
Brought up in the 'Home Counties' but going through a rough patch in her teens- running off to America- meant she never had a proper 'coming out' party. Something Charlotte is eager to fix, despite Hope being 26 now.
Did she say all that just so you'd know? Is she letting you in on her joke- on her game? Or did you just pick those things up because that's who she is right now, incredibly unguarded?
The front parts of her hair are curled to perfection, her make up is flawless, and there isn't a scrap of black material on her. And yet she doesn't seem uncomfortable, doesn't seem to have noticed that this isn't really her.
"And how is darling Florrie?" You look perplexedly at Faith and Charlotte happily fills in the blanks, sounding slightly smug that she knows something about Faith you don't. "Hope has just taken in a young girl- she was a reckless teenager but we've managed to turn her around, haven't we?" She winks and you choke on your tea.
No way in hell did she just wink!
Dear God, the world is truly screwed up!
"Oh snap…" You mumble quietly and uselessly, hoping Dawn hears and saves you. Faith has practically stolen Tavi's personality!
Is it weird that the new university-level course in psychology you've been doing online actually makes you more fascinated than creeped out? Or are you just used to this now? Do you no longer expect her to be rational?
When you were younger that look in Faith's eyes used to make your heart bubble with happiness. Now it's known as 'IT' and isn't quite so fun.
For you anyway.
"Mama, wi-! Uh… Ho-…" Rose frowns, "Aunty Fay-Fa-… uh…"
Go ahead, Faith, confuse your daughter just that little bit more. "You can call her whatever you want, Rosy."
"'Fay-Fay' is fine, Rosebud." Hope's pearly white teeth sparkle in the daylight.
The room is decorated to make the most of the light from the French doors leading out to the expansive garden (despite being still technically in London) but there's a softness from perhaps the furnishings or the thin linen curtains, hung behind the gathered, heavier ones, that makes the scar on Faith's neck seem almost a trick of the light.
You wear your hair down to cover yours and try to remember not to pour the milk in first. Damn complicated tea service!
Rose beams at the attention being on her again. "Might we go somewhere on the weekend? Just us? Somewhere amazing like- like when you took me to the place with the friendly monsters and all the kitties?"
If that is some kind of reference to kitten poker you're going to… well, probably yell a lot and in a really high, annoying voice with spitting! Except you've never quite worked out how old guys and gym teachers do that- it's really hard to talk and spit at the same time…
Hope suggests the Aquarium and Rose squeals, clapping her hands together, "Love, love, love! Oh please Mummy?"
"Yes, please, Buffy, let me take my favourite niece out?"
You shrug, watching the girl you've always loved but never really known. "Sure… Fine. Ok."
"But not too many sweets this time, Sweet Pea." Henry raises an eyebrow. "Just because you can talk your Aunty Faith into buying you naughty presents doesn't mean you should. You know better than that."
Rose shrugs, "No I don't. I'm five."
There's a ripple of laughter. Hope pours everyone more tea, putting the milk in second and shunning the sugar bowl. She makes a show of offering Rose a cup then remembering she's only five.
Rose thinks it's hilarious, she loves the new accent, the matching pearls, the faked etiquette. To her it's all a game.
You smile and pretend to think the same. But you have no idea if Faith thinks it too.
Your elegant slip dress suddenly seems too loose and you worry if you stand it'll slip right off.
A warm, strong hand slips into yours. Henry's smooth palm caresses your coarse one as he sits beside you. "It's alright." He lets you hide your face towards him while you wipe away a tear of frustration. Without even knowing what the matter is he always seems to calm you.
"You don't even… I'm sorry."
"It's alright. I'm here." His strong shoulder props you up for a second and despite knowing you could snap that arm with your little finger it still makes you feel a little better. If you asked he would fight all your battles. Probably wouldn't win… but he'd still try.
You met in February, three years ago, in Scotland, when it was so cold your breath almost froze to tinkle down upon the floor as a thousand tiny droplets of ice. The condensation inside the windows turned to splintered ice and the world outside seemed somehow even more beautiful for being viewed through a broken mirror.
Irrationally- but understandably- you were deathly afraid of Rose's plump-yet-tiny hands becoming stuck to the ice and then having to pour boiling water over her to free them. Every new parent has their thing and you'd never really been over the top on sanitizing her 'personal bubble' (a la Faith) so it all evened out.
She'd been reaching out for one particularly long, and enticing, icicle- growing from where the orange squash bottle had sprung a leak on the top shelf and then frozen before even a drop of it could touch the marble floor. You'd grabbed her and yelled; more from fear than anger of course but enough to make her bawl. A new slayer was being shown around that day and her family- almost ten of them- was with her. They'd heard the commotion and sent Henry, second cousin once removed, to investigate.
For a brief second you'd almost apologised to the 'potential customer'- for both the screaming and the bright green snot- before realising you didn't actually much care what he thought. You're a mother first and a slayer second. Sometimes you just forget that.
He'd been very sweet about the whole thing, raising his voice over the wailings of a poorly child in shock to offer you a monogrammed hanky. Rose even calmed down when he engaged her in a 'who can pull the funniest faces' competition while you snapped off every icicle in sight.
Rose had been two then and a sickly child who'd spent her second birthday in hospital and went on, a month later, to almost die while you shared takeaway food with Faith and let yourself get sucked into pretending things could be normal.
It took just under two months, after flying to Peru to kill the thing that hurt your daughter, for Faith to again walk out of your lives. The whole time you kept in contact with Henry, who visited often to see his cousin and sent word through his aunt, who donated to the school. In no way was it the type of conversation during which you would spill you soul about your difficult 'sort-of-ex' but he always asked about Rose and you were happy to tell him. You even told him, because he just happened to call whilst you were crying your eyes out, about Leah having found your little girl bashing her own head against the door in distress.
You left out that she was calling for her 'Fay-Fay' and that her super-powered skull broke clean through the wood.
His soothing tones counselled you that such a thing was normal for a child who'd been though so much- being so ill can be a very damaging thing for someone so young.
Everyone else blamed Faith. Of course.
They blamed her without you even having to say… without having to tell them that when Faith had trashed your room, when she'd beat you until you just had to fight back or risk loosing you life… she'd done it all in front of her screaming child. Rose had folded herself up into the small space underneath the bedside cabinet but cried loud enough to be heard through the castle.
Once Faith had been thrown from the room (and over a banister to the floor below) you'd locked the door, barricaded it though you knew a slayer could still break through, and hid with your daughter under the bed. For a week. You fed her on the stash of biscuits next to the TV and tried to pretend it was all a game, while you healed broken bones and wished your black eyes away.
That was May but it took until September for you to actually listen to yourself and leave Scotland.
"Do you need to have a word with her? I have to break the news that Ardy's walked away from his second engagement this year, anyway… you two can slip out in the passive aggressive blame laying." He smiles gently and slides his hand across your back. "You look gorgeous in peach."
You hum a 'thank you' and don't believe him.
"It's true." Your hair slips forward slightly, despite the expensive hairspray that you really can't feel. "The new hair… the dress… you look like a woman I can't afford." Say what now?
He smiles, reaching to push your hair back. You bat his hand away, "Did you just call me a prostitute, Mr Darling Darling?"
"No, of course not." His mouth drops open, scandalised. "Unless you're up for a little 'Pretty Woman' role-play?"
Your eyes flick between his cheeky grin and his, still oblivious, parents. "I cannot believe we're discussing this here…! But yes."
"Boots and everything?"
"Boots and-" The smile on your own face suddenly registers. Your heart warms. "Cute. I see what you did there." Hope stares at you, hearing everything but caught in a trance- not sure whether she actually is your sister or not. And if so, exactly how wrong do the wrong feelings feel? "I'll talk to her."
She squeals slightly as you grip her arm and try to 'elegantly' drag her from the room. "Is that a 'no' to the boots?" Henry calls out after you.
"We'll see!" The confused faces of the others are left in the drawing- breakfast- day- … that big white room facing the garden. You pull Faith into the hallway and force her to look at you. "What the hell are you doing here?
"Saving your bony white ass." She pouts, rubbing the bruises-to-be.
"Your ass is white too!"
"Yeah," Hope shrugs, "but it's not bony."
"Oh fuck off, you could bounce a quarter off my-!" A pause, "So not the point."
Her eyes wander off down the corridor and you snap your fingers in front of her face.
"Faith, why are you here?"
"Fine, 'Hope', why are you here? Why are you…? Faith, are you really- Faith? And please, drop the accent." She blinks four times then cocks her head to the side and blinks twice. "I don't speak Morse Code."
"Telegraph. I'm hungry." She replies, still with a perfect Oxford English pronunciation.
Hope plays with her necklace, as if to remind you of just how wrong this situation really is. "And… Pearls? You're wearing pearls?"
She shrugs like it's no big deal and leans back against the wood panelling, dangerously close to knocking down a priceless painting, "They were a present from Lottie."
"Lottie? You call… her Lottie?" You point back the way you came as if there is another sixty-year-old, uptight daughter of a Duke floating around the halls and acting positively perfectly at all times. Actually, there probably is. A nicer one. Come to think of it… you should probably have Willow check her out.
There's an unkind twinkle playing in Hope's eye as she smirks, "Well yeah, what do you call her?"
"I can barely squeak out a 'Mrs Fortescue' and you call her Lottie?" You move to stand opposite her- not daring to touch either the fabricked walls or the antique wood that Hope seems to be so comfortably rubbing up against.
"Well that's probably why she hates you- she's the Darling, it's Edward who's the Fortescue."
Both names are better than yours. All three trump 'Lehane'. "No it's not! We were just at the Fortescue Glorified Picnic and I met her sister.
"Who's married to Edward's second cousin." She snorts, as if it's obvious, as if she's known these people her whole lives, "Her other sister…" She pauses and swallows hard, "Her other sister is married to… to Gwen's uncle but that doesn't make Charlotte a Savidge."
You pause to work that out.
It's a long pause.
"My future mother-in-law is the sister of the aunt-in-law of the posh slayer you ki... uh, 'stopped from killing me'?"
Faith shrugs, "Believe me, I felt that same horribly uncomfortable feeling you have right now when I found out my Dear Aunt Charlotte's son- who, by the way, is not my Dear Cousin Henry- is banging…" She waves up and down your pretty coral dress, "You."
Breaking this down is giving you a headache. Are you talking to Faith or Hope or…?
Your own words echo in your mind; 'get help, then we'll talk'
Does overhauling your personality count?
"I'm just having a little trouble here, coming to terms with you being so damn pally with the family I'm marrying into- generally the super wealthy aren't that lax about handing around the friendship bracelets!"
"Rich." She grins, "Not 'wealthy'."
"Don't make me hit you."
Though it might be a good way to get some sense back into her. Maybe you should just take her home? Put her to bed and hope she sleeps it off? Sometimes being around Rosy helps calm her down but you're not too sure how long you can keep pretending this is just a game. There is, of course, the possibility that she's only slightly off her head and is just exaggerating the problem in some kind of misguided attempt to be 'useful'. "I'm hungry."
"I know, sweetie." You pat her cheek distractedly, considering the pros and cons of just leaving with her- Henry can take care of Rose and Dawn can handle excusing the two of you. She is the one who started this whole 'sister' thing after all (and you, a little bit, when you told Rose to call Faith 'Aunty'). "I'm just working something out and then I'll get you something to eat. Maybe we can have some of those scones." 'Before we go'.
She shakes her head, "Scones." She repeats, with a short 'o' that almost sounds like an 'a'. And a hint of Bostonian.
You search her eyes to see if it's just the accent that's changed. "I'm pretty sure it's 'sco…nes.', at least… I think it is… I've kinda been avoiding saying it. I'm waiting for Charlotte to offer them to us so I'll know what to say. Rosy's getting sorta antsy though…"
Faith frowns, "I've missed her."
So that's the way this is going? Annoy her out of it? "You're going to the aquarium this weekend aren't you? That's a day out with just the two of you. Of course, if you're going through a… phase… I can't leave you alone with her so I'll have to come too. And Henry. Henry." You emphasise like a crazy person.
"But I haven't seen her in months, B."
Screw her and her indignation, "And she hasn't seen you, F. Where the hell have you been?"
"I-…" She stops to consider, attempt to remember. "Everywhere I guess."
"Everywhere and anywhere, right? The whole world over as long as its not here. Not with us."
Her eyes taunt you- whether cruel or kind you can't tell. "You have Henry."
"Because you're not here- don't pretend he foisted you out."
"No, you…" She blinks. Fifteen times in a row. Each time as if she's counting.
You wait for her to get angry. To hit you. You wait for her to be vicious. To hurt you.
The master bedroom of the New House (how can it still be called that after all this time? Fourteen months and it still isn't 'home') had to be completely re-carpeted in a pattern you forced Dawn to spend five days searching for. It had to be replaced perfectly. You stood in the doorway and watched Xander pull up the one stained with your blood. Henry didn't even question why he had to fly one of your friends in to do it and couldn't use his own workforce. Faith helped to lay the new layer and the corners on her side of the room are still a little off, her cutting wasn't exactly straight and you have to remember not to pass a certain point in your stockinged feet. But you don't mind.
She lost her mind and spilt your blood then tried her hardest to make it better.
But she's not Faith right now. She's Hope. And Hope is apparently an idiot. With a very British accent; "Gosh, in this light you look just like… oh, you know, that, ah, American news presenter… oh, Katie Couric!"
"And we're done. Get out of here."
"But I'm still hungry! I am ever so looking forward to those scones."
You sigh deeply at her not joking. "I just meant the corridor; 'get out of the corridor'. Go."
"Oh good- I still need to have a lovely chat with Rosy, we have so much to catch up on!"
Rose was not, by any means, one of those children who fell into floods of tears on her first day at 'Big School'- but then she never really cries in front of other people, not now she's older. In the past year she's cried twice in the presence of others and four separate times you've paused on the stairs, hearing tiny sobs float up from the cupboard underneath.
If she falls and hurts herself she internalises the pain until she's alone.
It's odd. And scary.
The last time you saw her tears Faith should have wiped them away. Her 'favourite aunt' had stayed for a week after her fifth birthday and the Angel Delight debacle- they'd been inseparable the entire time and it had been a struggle to push her through the school gates every morning. You made sure Faith was there, every afternoon, to pick Rose up again and the gasps from the other parents (nannies) at the speeds such a tiny child could achieve, while running across a playground into open arms, made it all worthwhile.
For the first four days Faith stayed with you while Rose was in school, seemingly enraptured with your 'normal life'; happy to run errands and help Sassy load the dishwasher. The two of you loved the sudden addition to the family and even Henry began to come around to her. He called her 'charming' and 'droll', laughed at every sarcastic comeback and her impersonations of your painfully British neighbours.
On the Friday you sent her out for milk.
This is the first time you've seen her since.
Rosy's face that last day broke your heart. She was the first one out of the classroom, running full tilt towards the gate then slowing and finally stopping, in the middle of the playground. Your look must have filled in the gaps of the empty space beside you. Seeing her face near crumble- that wobbling bottom lip and those rapidly blinking eyelids… you'd hated Faith right then.
The tears had come first, then loud, angry sobs.
She'd been inconsolable. Not even Bliss, putting their temporary spat on hold to give her a bear hug, had cheered her up.
You bought her an ice-cream, even though it was November, then a cake, then a toy then… but it didn't matter. It didn't matter because it was you giving her those things, not Faith. She'll happily take a twig from faith.
The tears had dried up by supper, she'd schooled her features into the Perfect Little Girl again and didn't even wince at Henry's casual, "Won't Faith be joining us?"
Sassy's look said it all; 'I told you so' and you'd wanted to hit her, for always being right.
"So go talk to Rose. Go tell her… more exciting stories of 'society life'."
She turns to go back then turns at the last minute. "B?"
"I love you."
You wish you could have her again, have her clean and fresh, stripped down of the layers of experience.
And you wish there was some kind of assurance that doing that would make a difference.
"I love you too."
Faith smiles. Your Faith. The real girl. "Don't let your husband-to-be hear you say that, I wouldn't want him to break his hand on my face."
It seems that you know each other so well, are so very intertwined as souls, that even when you break her heart she'll still smile at you, still joke. To her you will be together one day- everything else is immaterial.
A little voice rings out from the drawing room; "But Mama Zoo says it's ok!"
Henry coughs uncomfortably and loudly. Faith clutches her stomach, unable to stop laughing at the horrified look on your face. "Shut up, shut up, shut up!" You hiss, "This is so not the way I wanted today to go!"
"Oh relax." Faith swans back to the others, slipping seamlessly into 'Hope', "My, what an… ethnic name your nanny has, Rosy."
"She's Japanese." Your daughter nods, missing completely the difference between 'Mama Zoo' and 'Marmazu'… which probably isn't a real name.
Then again, neither is 'Hope Lyonne'.
You retreat to the bathroom to wash your face and practice the calming breathing exercises you didn't give a shit about when actually giving birth.
Rose is snuggled on Faith's lap by the time you make it back and everyone seems just that little bit more relaxed to have her around. Henry is speaking quietly to his mother, explaining the situation with his 'reckless' (i.e., not a university graduate) brother, Arthur, but looks more amused than worried. Even Charlotte, keeping one eye on the happy little twosome on the sofa, seems more resigned than angry. "At least that means only one 'Wedding of the Year' to plan. Unless, of course…?"
It takes you embarrassingly long to realise she's teasing. "Oh! Yes, no, we're still on for October. Promise."
"Very well, I have a phone call to make. Please do excuse me if I raise my voice." She smiles in near-exclusively Hope's direction. "Beth dear, would you please fetch your sister from the terrace- she's taking in the air."
You stare blankly.
"Smoking." Hope fills in, smiling sympathetically.
"She's a little way past the rhododendron."
You smile, nod and try to work out what the rhododendron looks like. And whether you can think of another word with more 'D's in.
"I really wish she'd stop doing that…"
Dawn snickers, blowing smoke in your face, "Maybe if you weren't such a gaymo your daughter wouldn't be so bloody confused about who her mother is!"
"I'm not gay! I have a fiancé! He's male! We have sex!" Her shoulders tremble with humour and the chill of a not-very-warm day.
She shrugs off the pashmina you wrap around her shoulders. "And Faith has sex with anything that walks. Doesn't mean she's actually attracted to…" A flush spreads across her cheeks, "Never mind."
What?! "Oh holy… please tell me you haven't-!"
Dawn snorts in surprise, "No! God no!" She waves away the smoke, shaking her head in disgust, "I'd never… Faith's like a sister to me! I've just… seen her with…" She shudders, "So not important, you don't need to know this stuff."
Weirdly, the first thought is not hurt over her sleeping with someone else or even curiosity as to whom that might be but… concern that she's using protection. Slayer Healing might be pretty amazing but it can't fight off all gross viruses at once.
"She's ok, B." Her eyes are oddly sympathetic but her face stays cool. Still so pretty, so youthful- with that sweet moon face and the big blue eyes you've always adored. When you were little, in that fake-past the monks created, the two of you looked so very different people were always surprised when you said you were sisters.
"So… how just stupid do I look here?"
"More than a little." She giggles and it's delightful- the most endearing thing you've seen her do in years. The cigarette is stubbed out and she nabs the pashmina back. "What? Don't look at me like that, I'm cold- have you seen what I'm wearing?!" You scrutinise her thin navy-blue, linen dress. "Yah, yah, point taken." She grumbles, in a near-perfect British accent.
"You've been here too long- you're getting overly optimistic about the weather."
The clouds crack slightly and a few rays of light break through, illuminating the pretty, manicured lawn and structured flowerbeds of the formal garden.
"Or maybe no-"
Raindrops hit your nose and your little sister smirks. "I bet you miss California now."
"Well…" Your eyes slip past her and through the doors to Henry; who's sitting back, on the sofa, watching his little girl gush to her grandfather about, most probably, her doll-slash-clone. Apparently Mimi now also refuses to eat eggs- because chicks are cute. Chicken is fine- they're ugly anyway. "There are some things I like more about England."
She chuckles once she's turned to look. "The two of you are fast approaching disgustingly cute, I hope you know that."
"I think I can live with it. You're just jealous because you're single."
"No, I'm just jealous because I value my stomach contents."
You bash your shoulder against her and don't say you've missed her. There are probably only a handful of times, since she moved to London to be near you, that she's actually been herself- your sweet little Dawnie.
She dropped out of University in October '08 (only after you'd paid for the new year) and swore it was just a 'year out' to help you with Rose. You'd left Scotland a month earlier- Rose had refused to go back into the Purple Room after Faith trashed it- and Henry was sweet enough to offer a suite in his father's London hotel at a cut-price…
Which is how you came to be living in a beautiful, ancient square in the centre of London, with a toddler, a teenager and being taken out to dinner every day by a dashing man with a wide smile.
It was never in the plan to start dating him- it was never even your intention to look at any person in a romantic light ever again.
Maybe it had just been too long since someone had treated you as a person- not as a mother or a slayer or… an obstacle standing in the way of… whatever it was Faith wanted to do that day. Yes, you're still a little bitter. The point is that it was different; being taken to fancy places for delicious ice cream and trying foods you'd never even heard of before and then having someone listen to you (about something other than tactical battles)- truly listen, in the attentive way of someone who really did care.
And when he spoke you were enraptured; his voice, his life, his knowledge… Henry is fiercely intelligent but so subtle with it that although there's a gravitas about his presence it's buoyed by humour and light-heartedness. He takes more pleasure in bringing out a thirst for knowledge in other people than in showing off his own. Around him you feel in control. And not because you have to be.
"Thank you, by the way- for talking me into saying yes to that first date. You were right, he is amazing."
"Well duh." Dawn smirks while she shivers. "I do have great taste."
"Which would explain why you're currently single…?" For the last three years. Except for that older guy who… hangs around her sometimes… the rich one who… pays her rent and… ew, forcible mental block!
"I have high standards. It's hard to find a guy my age who meets them."
Please dear God, don't let that be her way of confessing!
"There is someone I've-"
"Hey!" You point insistently over her shoulder, "Look, they're all standing up! Let's go inside and find out what's going on!"
She blinks. "You're so transparent."
"Shut up and get inside."
"Close the door!" Rose orders from the other side, finger pointing and tiny scowl solidifying.
Dawn yelps, "Sorry!" and does so.
Rosy walks closer, now with her patented 'you're an idiot' face on. "I didn't mean you have to stay outside, I just meant 'close the door'."
"Oh." Dawnie blushes, "Right." She opens the door and lets you go first so she can whisper insults back and forth with Rose- only once she's made sure Faith and Charlotte are nowhere to be seen. "Cow."
"Dawn!" She flushes again under your glare. "Don't call her that. And Rosy, it isn't nice to use the word 'retard'."
"Not even to people who are actually, medically retarded?"
"No! And Dawn doesn't have… those kind of… problems."
Your daughter rolls her eyes in the perfect imitation of you. It might almost be funny that at one time you were scared she'd be behind the other children, that she wouldn't learn things quickly.
She doesn't look like there's anything wrong with her, not really. In fact, Rose looks more like someone has taken her picture on a computer and reduced it using the corner tab. Oddly, being properly proportioned seems worse for her than her body actually being that of a toddler's. Without the baby-chub and extended stomach no baby clothes fit properly and she seems more like a 'tiny slip of a thing' (Edward's favourite saying) than she might otherwise.
"Well she is at least an idiot. It's raining and she was holding the door open."
"Bit of rain never hurt anyone." Edward mumbles from, again, behind his newspaper. Henry folds his section up with a smile.
"Grandmama said I had to give… her a tour of the house."
"Rose, please refer to your aunt with a name- and one that isn't either offensive or disturbingly truthful." Henry chides. "And Dawn- well… you're actually not that much younger than me so please just act your own age."
"Fine." They answer in unison, taking each other's hands and stomping off.
He sends a bemused look after them, "Why…?"
"Don't ask, I don't know."
"Are you alright?"
You accept the steadying hand on your shoulder. "Probably not. I'll tell you about it later. Now I have to go on a tour of a house I've previously been lost in for over an hour."
"Quiet or I'll make you wear the boots. For the wedding."
"Mm… Not entirely sure you can find any 'cute' ones in my size…" You laugh at his imitation of your voice. "That was awful, wasn't it? Please still marry me."
As if you'd choose your husband based on his ability to mimic different languages… your wife maybe.
But not your lovely husband. Not the man who you feel, perhaps a little idealistically, can make everything better. In your mind Henry can make all the grey clouds go away. Because with him it's simple; you stand at that altar, promise him your love and slide comfortably into a life of baking cupcakes to fundraise for the school and having a job you actually love and have chosen.
Henry gives you the option to choose.
Faith takes away your choices.
It's not as easy as just saying 'I do' to her. She knows you love her, or- or the sane part of her does… she knows you'll always help her; that she can run to you when it all gets too much or she's done something wrong or when she just wants a hug and some companionship. And you hope she knows that if it was different; if you weren't both slayers, if Rosy wasn't ill, if you didn't have to put the fate of the world before her (because God knows, when you're around her you can't think rationally), then you might not mind the lack of options.
If you were just two normal women- girls- girls because that's what you were when you fell in love, as worldly as you both pretended to be. If you were just two normal girls then you could have coped. You could have lived with this… thing, you could have lived with 'it' and not minded but- no, of course you would have minded! But you would have managed.
If you were just some California Teen with a sunny smile and divorced parents who spoilt you horribly then you could have held her light, protected it. But instead you're… you're two lights- two brightly shining, ass-kicking lights. Which means that you need someone to come home to as well, you need stability, you need a rock.
Henry holds down the fort while you jet around the world, saving the day.
You turn thirty next year but it feels more like sixty. You've done so much and there's always more, always more to do, always more pressure.
Sometimes you think your brain might explode; you'll be sitting in a meeting with all these fancy Latin verses flying around the air and Giles explaining the Fifty Thousand Things You Have To Do or why A Hundred And One Things Have Gone Wrong Today and; 'POP!'
You'll be dead.
Which weirdly sounds relaxing.
Except then there's Rose to think of and all the things you need to do for her… and…
If you can't love Faith properly because of the job then you can't love Rose properly either!
Which is why, tomorrow, you have a meeting planned with Giles. Eleven o'clock. You're going to retire. For real this time. You're going to run away and be done with all of it.
You're going to be a mother. And bake cakes. Lots of cakes.
"Yeah… yah, sorry, I'm- I just keep drifting off today." He nods, checking your body over. "It's ok, we didn't fight." Meaning Faith is too out of her mind to form a fist. And you're too tired to fight back. "I… I actually feel… kinda… faint."
Which is odd because you once ran along crumbling rooftops with a through-and-through stab wound. The scar on your front is much uglier than the one on your back.
"Probably just need to eat something."
"I'll go ask Mary to hurry it along."
Mary is the housekeeper and Cornish, which, for some reason, everyone says with an extra inflection in their voice- as if they're some race of amazing, magical people. "Have you ever seen Mary do magic?"
"Once, we were snowed in at the Country House for Christmas and she kept twenty people fed for two weeks on fresh food." It clicks in his brain, "Oh! Oh. Oh?"
"Sounds pretty likely to me."
"How amusing. Might be why Magda's finally pregnant after trying for so long- she did keep complaining about it in Mary's presence. Which, as a big brother, I find quite disgusting… mucus and all that."
He shudders and you laugh, "There's a little more to it than mucus. And you'd better be there for the delivery when we have children." A blush spreads up his neck. "What?"
"Nothing, nothing, it's just… did you say you're feeling faint?"
"Y-" Faint? As in, 'Magda fainting at the picnic'? As in, 'Oh dear, I've fainted in front of Giles, I must now run around the world with Satsu in an attempt to hide my magical pregnancy'? "Oh crap. Please tell me you didn't say… anything to Mary?"
"I might have mentioned how nice it would be to have more children" He winces.
"You are so never seeing me in Pretty Woman boots again."
"I think you over-emphasise my kinkiness." You shake your head and back away, pretending not to listen to him.
A thump echoes down from upstairs- which is surprising in a house of this size.
"Darling, as much as I love that pout, would you please put it back in and go check Rose hasn't thrown Dawn through a wall." Which is actually completely possible for a super-powered child!
"I'm still not talking to you." You trudge out of the room but lighten your steps once he can no longer see you. A baby wouldn't really be the worst thing in the world. You'd like a little blonde girl called Joy… or maybe a boy? After all, Henry's a man and it's not like you can have a son with Faith- not implying that you intend to ever again have a child with Faith or be in a situation with her from which a child would result. Ever. Ever. Ever. Again. Honest.
No, really, honest.
Might be in that kind of a situation with Brad Pitt if he ever… or Daniel Craig… though he seems to have got a little weird looking recently… oh! Or Bat For Lashes (who's real name you can never remember but who is completely amazing live) or Anne Hathaway… or, of course, Angelina Jolie, with the dark hair and the dangerous eyes and… you're sort of predictable.
And over-thinking having babies with other people… oh God, there's a list in your head, rapidly forming; 'the best person to have your next baby with'! You're so pregnant.
Shit. But maybe you should be concentrating more on checking the child you've already got?
It seems you spend most of your time here just wandering around- attempting to find people.
There are five floors and six staircases. The stairs at the back of the house lead from the kitchen up to three bedrooms and a bathroom that are totally cut off from the rest of the house except for one small 'secret' doorway at the back of a wardrobe. At family parties the children can normally be found running in a huge circle up the kitchen stairs, through the wardrobe, along the corridor, down the grand staircase, through the reception rooms and back to the kitchen- where they begin the whole thing over again.
There is a section of attic that, in the same way, can only be reached by one, hidden staircase. Unfortunately, it looks exactly like the other staircase to that floor and you've, more than once, walked into someone else's bedroom (Charlotte insists the whole family stays at the house for important events, no matter how close you may live).
You find yourself on the second floor, going by just 'feeling' alone, knowing it'll pull you towards Rose if you just let it. Handy for those moments you loose your child in the park; all you have to do is close your eyes and walk.
Little wisps of conversation drift down the corridor to you, Rose and her mother. You creep closer to the library.
"One more time." Faith murmurs.
"My mummy is called Bethy, my daddy is called Henry, my aunty is called Dawn, my other aunty is called Faith, my nanny is called-" Rose stops and there's an impish giggle, "Zoo!"
You round the corner to see her on her back, squirming away as Faith tickles her. "Say it right, you naughty, naughty little girl!" She's still using her 'British' voice but Rosy seems neither to mind nor notice.
"No, no, Fay-Fay, no! You'll wrinkle up my dress!"
"I'll stop when you stop laughing!"
Rose laughs harder. She notices you in the doorway and looks, for a split second, as if she wishes you weren't. For her the time spent with Faith is precious, a gift. She'd jump off a bridge if Faith told her it was the right thing to do.
You try not to think about it. Just like you try to ignore that every time Faith doesn't show up when promised there's a new cut or a new bruise or a new burn.
Nothing should hurt your daughter that badly.
"Still laughing, Ro-Ro!"
Faith turns and smiles at you. It is 'Faith' now. The voice is just pretend.
"I'm going to wee! I'm going to wee!" Rosy giggles, still wriggling away.
You wait for her to stop, to let Rose get up. Her fingers keep moving, keep tickling but on a body rapidly starting to shudder under laboured breaths. Dawn stands from the window seat, noticing the catch in air, the purpling face, dropping her book. You charge in like a mother bear. "Faith! Stop!"
It's just a gentle tug, just a gentle pull of her arm, but she still lands hard. "Ow! B!"
Rosy chokes, catching her breath, still grinning. "Ha, I win!"
For a long moment Faith just stares at you, open mouthed in betrayal. "I woulda stopped."
There's no trace of any accent but her own and you nod as if you believe her.
Faith has two voices; her conscious voice, which is full of Boston Bad Girl Bravado and her unconscious voice- the one she uses with Rosy. It's hushed but deep, seeming to echo round her mouth and rumble into your chest. At times she might even be called 'soft spoken' though it's a voice that demands respect. She is her most prolific, her most intelligent, when talking to Rose.
Though she isn't exceptionally smart, or even stupidly well educated like your daughter, Faith has a presence about her of knowing exactly what she's talking about.
That's why it's so hard to know when she lies.
"I know, but she's had some trouble recently- with her lungs."
Rose glares at you, as if sharing that is akin to crowing about the time before potty training when she peed on Giles' floor (which was actually rather funny). She doesn't want Faith to know because that's real life and being here isn't. Visits to the doctor and a permanent note to get out of PE aren't fun.
Dawn steps in to save you; "Rosy? Your tour is crap."
"Swearing is the only way the under classes can express themselves." Your daughter announces to the room in general.
You raise an eyebrow as Dawn swears behind Rose's back but she doesn't put the finger down.
Your daughter has spent enough time here to be able to show you all around the house- correctly labelling every room. She knows she belongs here, doesn't really remember a time when Henry wasn't her 'Daddy' but doesn't question her attachment to Faith either. Every time Rose sees her older carbon copy she rushes up and puts her hands on Faith's neck, making her do the same. It's most likely just a throwback to spending her first five months near-permanently strapped to Faith's chest but it still hurts that your daughter's favourite parent is a woman she barely knows.
'Hope' corrects Rosy on her pronunciation of the family motto and the girl who hates amelioration merely repeats it properly. You think it's a lie- all of it; the healthy glow, the smiles, the ease with which Hope struts around the house.
"This is the nursery." Rose spins in the centre of the large, light blue room. Three tiny, child beds line either side of the grand window. "Grandmama says at Christmas Persephone, Charlie and I can have our own room rather than being in here with the babies!"
"Boy Charlie or Girl Charlie?"
"Charlotte silly- she is the cousin closest in age to me."
Little Charlotte is nothing like the grandmother she's named after- despite being over a year older than Rosy, and almost twice as tall, she's happy to be second in all games. She makes you think of Tara; always trying to keep the peace, genuinely not minding having to settle. Her mother, Magda, has inherited the true spirit of the Darling women in that you're never quite sure if you've offended her. Perhaps you always have. Charlie's smiles break up the harshness of her face- those high cheekbones and the family nose.
"Besides, I like her much better than stinky Marceline." Dawn giggles as her niece practically spits out the name of her least favourite second cousin once removed… or something. "She's bilingual for goodness sake- why do we have to always speak French to her? And must she wear her hair in those stupid plaits?"
"You really dislike her, huh?" Hope chuckles, pausing from pulling random toys out of the chest.
"Yes! Her maman cut my hair ribbon in half just because Marceline 'simply has to wear matching ribbons either side!"
You lift her up and spin her around until she laughs again. "Only because you and Charlie hid all her own ribbons."
"That, Mother," She grins, planting her tiny hands on either side of your face. "Is neither here nor there!" You're surprised by her kiss and then by the second. Rose is not known for her displays of affection.
"I'm hungry." Faith frowns in a worryingly carnivorous way at the teddy bear.
Dawn catches your eye and nods, again coming to your rescue; "So… who do you think can run faster along the corridor?"
"What?!" Rose blinks in outrage and squirms until you let her down. "Me of course you pleb!"
They dash out of the room at exactly the same time thanks to long legs and slayer blood.
"Let's hunt a bear!"
You pull the stuffed toy out of Faith's hand and sit her down on the bed beside you. She giggles when it's lower than expected and you both bounce. "Not sure there are bears in England, Fay." She frowns, "Sorry, 'Hope'." The frown doesn't dissolve. "Never mind then."
"Pear. Do you have a crossbow?"
"Not one that I'll let you hold right now. When did you last sleep? Or eat for that matter?" She merely smiles, rubbing her hand up and down your thigh. "No…?" Not even a hint. "Ok, you really can't hear me, can you?"
"I think it tastes better than chicken."
Her hair brushes across your arm as she kisses your neck, you push her back with a sigh and hold her there. "You've eaten a bear before?"
"More blood." Which sounds hideously wrong when said with a sexy British voice and bedroom eyes.
"I feel like I'm in a Bond film." You search around for something to give her to eat- a stupid idea as of course there isn't anything in a nursery that hasn't been used since Christmas… and it also unfortunately leaves your back to her.
With her front pressed suddenly flush to your back and her hands rubbing circles around your hips it becomes so much harder to breathe…
She laughs sweetly, sounding more like Rosy than the girl you once spent eight days in a row in bed with and it's enough to shake you out of yourself. The room is pretty and bright and she honestly has no idea why you're pulling away from her. You draw symbols on her palm to make her smile. So like Rose it hurts.
You're so afraid, so very afraid, that your little girl is going to be just as… different when she's older. So she needs a stable life now. She needs a father who comes home from work every day and pays her his undivided attention. Faith loves her daughter but she's not exactly any good at helping with homework and you can't do it all by yourself.
You need help.
Her fingers trip across your skin and you brush them off with the most patient smile you can muster. "No more, F, no more fooling around. I have to make this work."
"'Fooling around'?" She glides her eyes up your arms, level with her hands. Sometimes, when she's like this, tactile sensations become incredibly heightened. You take her hands off your shoulders and rub your fingers across them in the hope she'll concentrate.
It's a coward's escape. Telling her things when she can't answer back… it's gutless and wrong but so much easier. "I have to grow up now. I… I might- I'm probably pregnant." You try to hold her eyes, "I'm sorry."
She shakes her head, frowning, trying to get through to you. "No, no, no! B, I-"
"No. Faith, I'm done with you breaking Rosy's heart."
A sigh, slightly impetuous, largely disconnected, rolls from her and you get the distinct impression a part of her has no idea you're even speaking. "You're done with me?"
"I don't mean it like… you're family, Faith. Always. You can be the best aunt there has ever been in the… entire history of aunts, but I can't let you fail at being a mother."
She takes her hands back and pops a section of the pearls in her mouth. "I o'h uh garther!"
"Take those out your damn mouth."
"I'm not your father."
You grin, wryly, "Wow, off your head and still creepily intuitive."
"Pearls. Faith. Take the pearls…"
The door to the hallway swishes open again. Henry smiles at you, "Mother says the scones are ready. Finally."
"Ha! 'Scones'!" Faith stares blankly back. "No? Nothing?" You wave a hand in front of her face, she follows it and giggles.
"You have big hands."
"No, I have really, really tiny hands."
She snatches your hand and holds it closer for inspection. "You do not!" Henry moves closer, almost like he's drawn in- by this thing he's never seen before.
"I do so. Here-" You hold her hand against yours, "Yours is bigger than mine."
"Is she…?" His eyebrows climbing ever higher, Henry watches her fawn over your hands and the discrepancies between. "Is she stoned?"
Faith shakes her head, "I'm a human being. And I'm hungry."
Hunger always seems to make it worse somehow. "Well then, lets get you a scone."
She drops your hand and snorts. "Pretty sure it's 'scone' there Buff."
Henry's mouth drops open as she casually saunters off. Yeah, this is pretty much what life is like with Faith. You chuckle unsympathetically. "And she's back."
"Is she… ok?"
"Don't mind Faith, she's just a little highly strung."
"Oh no, I get that Faith is slightly… off, it's just that I've never seen Hope being so-"
You choke, "You've… met 'Hope' before?"
"Darling," He smiles, "My mother very rarely even deigns to speak politely to new people- Faith makes her smile, and I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth." 'Politely'? Really? That's what he calls the speech she gave you when you first met? Granted, you still don't really understand the whole thing… it was mainly about Americans and your… lack of intelligence… but it was insulting!
"And the name thing?"
"My family called me 'Squeaky' for the first twenty years of my life; I'm not in a position to judge." You nod vaguely, the tiredness dripping from your shoulders and out to the tips of your fingers as he lays his hands upon you. "It will be alright."
"I know, I know… God, it's just…"
"Hey, we all have crazy relations hidden somewhere, that you still look after her is a testament to your kind heart."
His kisses are soft and devoted. He thinks you're a much better person than you are. Henry doesn't know you make her worse, he doesn't know you threw her out, he doesn't know you forced her to have a child you then don't let her see.
Only… that last bit isn't really true. It's easier to believe it's your fault than to think she doesn't care. When Rosy is older you'll hint that it's you if she ever asks- you'll say you kept Faith away.
"Mm…" You mumble, in that way that says 'you don't really know'.
"It's true. Don't discount yourself, Bethy."
"I'm not, I'm just… I guess I spent too long with other people saying I was this one, great, amazing slayer that it made me see… it made me see all the ways I wasn't perfect. The ways I'm not good enough."
"You don't have to be perfect all the time. You can let me help you. Just ask."
Being in love with her is tiring. Being in love with him is easy.
The seven of you sit around the table, passing jam and clotted cream. Charlotte catches Dawn in her web, spinning enchanting tales of debutant balls and chaperoned dates with exotic Princes. 'Hope' butts in occasionally, gently teasing and making Henry blush. Rose giggles, jumping in with the adults, and for the moment her arrogance seems sweetly amusing. Edward slips an extra scone onto his plate and winks at you conspiratorially.
It works. Oddly it works.
You might have actually done the right thing for once.
But then Rose accidentally calls Mary 'Mummy' and Charlotte leans over towards Faith, lowering her voice meaningfully, "An awful lot of mothers for a child without a father."
Henry coughs uncomfortably. Again. Then shares a small, embarrassed smile with you. You really need to work on that with her- he thinks she's just confused because calling him 'Daddy' is so new. Which wouldn't really explain why her problem is with mothers but you're willing to lie by omission.
Rose chews on her lip, considering across the table, "Aunty Fay-Fay?"
"Do you think knickers with bows on are prettier than ones with flower pictures on?" You bat her hand away from showing hers off again.
"No idea. I don't wear any."
Henry, unbelievably, reaches faster than you do, "No, no, Rose- you leave those where they are."
"But they itch!"
Edward sighs and looks over the top of the newspaper that has, once again, become attached to his face. "If they itch, buy her silk ones." In England there is a 50 percent tax on those earning over £150,000 a year. No one seems to have noticed. "To go with that remarkably pretty dress."
Rosy practically glows under the compliment, "It has a very big skirt, doesn't it? I think it makes me look like I'm in Little Women." She slips down from the table to turn quickly and show how it flies out.
"Oh, you like that film?" Charlotte warms marginally.
"No," You chuckle along with Henry as Rose swells with pride, "I like the book. I've already read it."
Edward nods his head in a very measured way that somehow reminds you of Satsu. "And you're only five?"
"Five and four months." She smirks, "I'm just short for my age."
"Of course, of course." He nods, taking her in all seriousness.
Rose spins again for her grandfather, showing off the huge bow at her back.
Faith nods appreciatively, simply acting as 'Hope' now that she has food in her stomach- nearly thirteen scones to be exact, with cream and 'jam'. "That's a cute dress."
"It's…" You lean slightly closer and lower your voice for slayer hearing only, "one of Mimi's."
"The doll?" She whispers harshly instead, barely moving her lips and smiling all the while, "My daughter is wearing a toy's clothing?"
You turn your head away to watch Rosy, knowing no one else can hear your near-silent conversation but not wanting to just sit there staring at her like an idiot. "Hey, this morning we didn't have an argument about her having to wear a pink dress with a duck on." Because toddler clothes really are that bad. "I'm charting this one up as a win."
Faith glances at the pearls around your left wrist and you glance at hers.
She's covered her scars with designer jewellery. Just like you.
"Those bracelets are absolutely stunning, Halo, I must say, I've never seen you without a gorgeous set."
Seriously? Faith's fake personality has her own silly nickname? Really?! "Oh, thank you, Lottie- Shrewy bought it for me."
Who the hell is-?! Oh fuck it, let Faith have her fun. You're an American Alien. "Rose, cutie, you wanna bit more jelly?"
Henry chuckles, knowing exactly what you're doing.
"The word is 'jam'. Mother."
'The phrase is 'bite me'. Child' "Of course it is, silly me."
Faith frowns, not used to Rose being rude. "Rosy, don't be like that. Your mother needs someone to be nice to her when Dawnie and I aren't around."
"But you're seeing her this weekend, when you take me out to the aquarium, you can be nice to her then."
"Uh… actually," Faith freezes for just a second, "I'm not going to be… I don't think I can make it." She implores you silently but for what you're not sure.
Rose disciplines her expression into one of interest, "Oh really? Are you going somewhere special?"
You wish she'd run around and scream. Pull down the curtains and be naughty.
At your weekly coffee meetings, Tavi fills your mind with funny stories about The Daughter Who 'Won't'- Bliss' new favourite word. She's a rollercoaster of five-year-old emotions; she loves, she hates, she kisses, she kicks.
Your little girl it seems has memorised etiquette books. You're her mother and you have no idea what she's thinking.
About the only thing she has in common with Bliss is being brunette… and the occasional potty-mouthed outburst. They met on their first day of pre-school/nursery/reception/kindergarten/whatever that thing kids in England go to before school at the age of three. As the only two children not crying- Rosy because she was desperate to learn and Bliss because her parents were in their third messy year of divorce by then and her pre-teen heartlessness had already set in- the two girls had bonded over a joint love of purple marker-pens and disgust at the smell of fake banana.
A week later they had their first argument over who got to play with (boss around) which Huntington Twin.
Three days after that they had a joint temper-tantrum when moved to separate activity tables.
It's been the same way ever since.
Bliss would cry but Rosy just gets frosty. And you wonder if there'll be a new bruise tomorrow.
You raise your eyes to Henry and, after checking Rose has had enough of the scones, he makes your excuses. "School tomorrow and we need to add the finishing touches to Rosy's- but which I mean 'our'- farmyard project. Someone didn't think it was important enough to bother doing during the week."
"It's a papier-mâché pig, Daddy, it's not like I'm actually learning anything from it."
He finishes buttoning her coat and pulls her beret down over her eyes as she continues the complaints. "You are! Today it's just a papier-mâché pig but tomorrow it could be a papier-mâché world and then a papier-mâché scale model of the UN Constitution and if you refuse to make them then… then you'll go to University completely unable to papier-mâché, recite the laws of Europe, find Romania on a globe or correctly label all parts of a pig's anatomy!"
"Why" Rosy sighs, uncovering her eyes, "that would be just awful."
You jostle her side, "'Awful' is slang young lady."
"Sometimes mother, slang is appropriate."
Henry stares, "Did our daughter just use ironic sarcasm?"
"I blame this entire thing on you."
"I think you're right to. This is a terrible condition for which we must seek urgent medical attention!" He hauls her up and over his shoulder so her little white, tight-covered legs fly about in the air.
"No, Daddy!" She laughs, "Too high, too high, I don't have wings! Mummy, make him stop!"
You pat her bottom, "You got yourself into this, Ro-Ro, shouldn't be such a smart-alec! Is it very serious, Doctor?"
"I'm afraid so," Henry nods gravely then winks at Mary as she holds the door open. "There may even be call for a new brain…"
"But I like my brain!"
An old couple passing on the pavement give your little brunette family indulgent smiles. You smile back, proud in their look. "And I like my sanity but you're awfully trying for it." Maybe next year you'll be an even cuter family of four?
"Ro-Ro!" You turn as one to see Faith in the doorway, cheeks pink in the cold. "249 days 'til Christmas."
Rosy giggles, though it's now her backside that's turned to Faith, "I'll count down!"
Henry turns again so that Rose might blow kisses and wave goodbye.
As you turn to leave Faith throws a 'thank you' in your direction and you wave your own goodbye.