July 27, 2016 by Lyn
Sometime between 1987 & 1993
“Summer camp,” DJ said cheerfully. “You know, tents and bugs and swimming in the lake and other kids Ty’s age.”
“Human kids. Normal, every-day human kids.” Penn eyed DJ doubtfully. He was a nice guy, but he never seemed the most practical, especially when it came to his oldest child. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Charlie frowned across the table at his wife. “Summer camp, surrounded by a bunch of other kids? Someone’s going to find out, Aza.”
“Maybe in a few years,” she argued, her voice calm. She was always so damn calm. “But right now, unless they start playing doctor – and Jamian knows better than to do that, he’s a bright kid – no-one’s going to be able to tell him from any other boy.”
“Besides,” she added, a finality to her voice that Charlie knew better than to argue with, “he needs to be a normal kid once in a while.”
“It needs to be around normal kids once in a while, Penny.” DJ kissed the top of her head affectionately. “It can’t grow up thinking that our little island here is all there is to the world.”
“Isn’t that why you raised it down here?” She would like the time alone with DJ, without a rambunctious child underfoot, but she wasn’t sure any child who had grown up comfortable with the pronoun it applied to itself belonged unsupervised around normal human children.
“When it was a baby, the idea made sense. But I’m beginning to worry that Ty is growing up with a skewed sense of what life is like. Maybe being around more normal children for a little while will help fix that.”
Penn wasn’t so certain anything could sway Ty’s deep-seated Ellehemaei mindset, but DJ was the child’s mother (she tried not to think about that too much, especially now that she was carrying the man’s child herself) and had final say.
Aza was the kid’s mother, and she had final say, so Charlie shut up and kept his feelings on the matter to himself. Summer camp it would be, and let Aza deal with the consequences if it blew up in her freak’s face.
Freak or not, Charlie felt some responsibility for Aza’s son. He helped him pack his duffle bag – “don’t worry about what your mother says, you’re going to want clothes you can wreck. Take something she likes for when we come to pick you up” – and had a quiet word with Aza – “don’t cry when we drop him off. You’ll only get him started, and the kid cries too much anyway.”
“You’re trying to turn him into a man like you,” she complained, but quietly. She didn’t want to look at that one too hard.
“I’m trying to teach him how to be a man,” he agreed. Lord only knew if the kid actually had a father – Aza was determined to be vague on the topic – but he certainly didn’t have any dad but Charlie.
Blithely oblivious, Jamian hopped into the car, ready to go off to the grand adventure his mother had promised him this would be.
Blissfully oblivious to his mother and Penny’s concerns, Ty bounced into the car. “Do you think I’ll get to learn arts and crafts? Will there be a place to swim? Are there going to be wild animals? Maybe I’ll get to see a bear! Do you think there will be bears, Penny?”
“Big bears,” she agreed, keeping her smile wide enough to reassure the kid she was joking. “Ty, remember. If anyone asks…”
“DJ is my father.” He grinned at her. “I’ve got this, Penny. Hum- Norm- People don’t always understand how things work. So I’m a boy, DJ is my father, and you’re my dad’s girlfriend. Faeries aren’t real and I don’t know anyone who can shapeshift.”
Penny hid a flinch, grateful DJ was too busy driving to notice. “That’s right, sweetie. You’ve got it.”
“He’ll be fine,” DJ said, the pronoun slipping oddly from his lips.
“He’ll be fine, Aza. Stop fretting.” Jamian had bounded away from them, off to the casual supervision of a teenaged camp councilor with nine other rambunctious boys to oversee.
“I’m not fretting,” she fussed. “I’m just… remembering that he’s growing up.”
“It’s sort of what kids do,” Charlie said, mostly to distract her. It worked, she smacked him ineffectually on the arm. He laughed, shaking it off. “Come on, honey, let’s go get ice cream. I saw a place down the road.”
At the ice cream stand, they sat a table over from a slim, effete-looking man and his heavily-pregnant, pretty girlfriend. Glancing over at them, Charlie wondered if his stepson would be like that as an adult. Would he be lucky enough to find a tolerant, understanding girl – she looked like an artist; maybe he should tell Jame to go after artsy types when he got old enough.
She caught him looking at her, and held his gaze with cold, clear beryl-green eyes. Oh, she wasn’t impressed with him! He nodded politely, and turned back to his wife and his ice cream.
“What’s wrong, love?”
Penny blinked, and turned back to DJ, smiling faintly. “Just an echo,” she murmured. An echo, a shadow of a time yet to come, not strong or clear enough to be a premonition, but her echoes and whispers grew clearer the longer she spent with DJ. That man staring at her was going to be important, somehow, in Ty’s life; he’d cast a shadow on Ty’s happiness.
She turned back to her ice cream, trying to shake her feelings of dread.
“Hi, I’m Ty.”
Neither child was suffering remotely from anything like feelings of dread, and, indeed, had forgotten most of their parents’ warnings the moment their cars pulled away. When the sandy-headed kid bounced up next to him, Jamian just grinned. “That’s a funny name. Like bowtie?”
The kid never paused. “Yeah. Or necktie. Or something. Tee-why, Ty. What’s your name, Socks?”
“Shorts.” He grinned at the joke. “Do you think we’ll get to fight a wolf?”
“Nah. Wolves aren’t native to this part of the country. Maybe a dragon, though.”
“Dragons don’t exist,” Jamian scoffed. A little more wistfully, he added, “but it would be really cool if they did, wouldn’t it?”
Ty grinned. “It would. Then we could be dragon-fighters! And jab them with our spears!” He picked up a stick from the ground – long and pointy, longer than either of them were tall – and jabbed it in the air.
Jamian picked up his own stick – shorter, but thicker and sharper, and scanned the woods off to his left. “And maybe they’re right off in the woods,” he said softly. The other kids were talking about baseball, or something. Dragons sounded much more fun. “Right off there, behind that lumpy lump of rock.”
“Oooh. That thing sticking up –” he pointed at a wide leaf of elephant’s-ear – “that could be its ear. And I think I can hear its tail thrashing against the leaves. It’s angry. It wants to eat these kids, and it knows that we’ll stop it.”
“Guardians of the camp, that’s us.” Jamian liked the sound of it. “Guardians of Camp Calm Willow. Protectors against angry dragons.”
“Angry hungry dragons.” Ty jabbed his stick at the woods again. “Come on, Sir Shorts! We should go slay the dragon before he can attack!”
“And take his boots!”
“Woah, woah, mighty hunters. Let’s slay the dragon after lunch.” The councilor stopped them, grabbing the back of Ty’s shirt as he kept moving towards the forest. “I’m sure the mighty Smaug won’t come out until later. Dragons are crepuscular, you know.”
“It means ‘awake at dawn and twilight.’ And blasphemy of blasphemies! How have you not heard of the mighty Smaug?”
A week later, when their parents came to pick them up, the two boys were much better educated in the nature of Tolkienian dragons. They were also, as is the nature of small children at summer camp, filthy, looking like refuges from Lord of the Flies; Ty’s curls hung in matted strings, a bird-(dragon-)bone woven into one lock. Jamian had a wicked-looking red wound down one calf, a battle-wound from a wild fight with Smaug’s great-grandson (a particularly wicked thorn bush).
“See you later,” Sir Shorts said, as he high-fived Sir BowTie one last time.
“Later,” Sir BowTie agreed, running off to greet his “father” and heavily-pregnant not-quite-a-stepmother.
“Mom! Charlie!” The filthy Jamian, who had nevertheless remembered to wear the “nice” shorts and shirt his stepfather had suggested he pack, ran up to his parents. “Look! I found a dragon-finger!” He waved the tiny bone happily at his horrified mother, oblivious both to her horror and to Charlie’s relief.
“Well, what did you expect, Aza?” Charlie murmured. “You sent the boy away to summer camp.”