July 27, 2016 by Lyn
Year One of the Addergoole School
It took Ginger Cayenne a week to end up crying in Maureen’s kitchen. The former madam was patient with the new teacher as she sniffled, supplying her with ginger snaps, laced coffee, and tissues before finally asking, “Now, what’s wrong, dear?”
“Everybody hates me,” the girl sniffled. Maureen was almost relieved; she hadn’t been sure the girl was aware of the tension.
“They don’t hate you, dear,” she answered gently. “You’re just… young.” Really, really young.
Her hand fluttered uncertainly up to her hair. “Young?” she complained. “You make me sound like a teenager.”
She was going to have to be blunt with her, then. “The pretty boy assisting the Director? Ambrus? He’s the next closest in age to you on the staff, and he’s pushing forty.”
“…oh…” Ginger was, if Maureen recalled correctly, just over thirty. “Is that why no-one wants to talk to me?”
Here it comes. Mo hoped she could straighten things out now, before Regine caught wind of the problems. “Who have you been trying to talk to?”
“I thought I could talk to Agmund or Sang Ki, since we all teach languages, but,” she sobbed again, “they didn’t want to give me the time of day. And Drake shut the door in my face!”
Not surprising, but Mo was going to have to have a word with the menfolk. “Have you tried talking to Mike VanderLinden?”
The girl blanched, and clutched her coffee mug so hard Mo thought she’d break it. “He’s a full-blooded Daeva,” she whispered reverently. “I didn’t think he – err, it – would want to talk to me.”
“Whoever put that bullshit in your head, get it out of there now,” Mo snapped, succinctly and much more rudely than she normally would have. “Whatever you were taught up there, we don’t put up with that here in Addergoole. We don’t want anyone putting it in these kids’ heads that they’re any lesser than a full-blood – which means acting that way yourself, too.”
“Talk to Mike. But, if you want to gain his respect – and everyone else’s – do it in public, Ginger. If you’re going to go to bed with him – and, eventually, we all do – make him work for it. That will do wonders for your reputation.”
Maureen nodded definitively. “Good, that’s settled. Now, as to the rest…” Stop wearing so much perfume, make-up, and hairspray. We can smell you a mile off. That could wait. “Why did you come here, Ginger?”
The girl deflated – and there was a lot of her that looked deflatable, that hair and those … breasts. “You don’t think I should be here, either.”
“I didn’t say that.” Maureen had spent the last twenty years surrounded by temperamental Ellehemaei and their children. Only that allowed her not to snap. “But it will help to know why you came here.”
“Oh.” She blinked, blew her nose, and gulped her doctored coffee. “I grew up travelling with my parents. My father is a halfbreed from Daeva and Grigori lines, a social historian and scholar. My mother…” She gestured at a battered, well-loved book she’d been carrying in her purse: The Aphorisms of Kherishdar, by M.C.A. Hogarth. “My mother is a decoration. She’s very good at it.”
Ah. Maureen glanced at the proffered pages of the book, and then back up at the woman. “I see.” And she did. Not bright enough to follow in her father’s footsteps, too bright to not want to; not pretty enough nor patient enough to be what her mother had been, but too pretty not to want the attention.
But Ginger wasn’t done yet. “We met so many Ellehemaei when I was growing up. We went so many places, and everywhere, my parents would talk to other Shenera Endraae, to Faded, to halfbreeds. We talked to humans, too, to scholars and historians and those people who walk the line between human and Faded – but everywhere we went, we were surrounded by other fae. I went through my Becoming at fourteen.” She flushed, and took a long drink of her coffee. Maureen realized – and was surprised it had taken her this long to realize – that they’d never seen the vivacious woman with her Mask down. “My Mentor took me away from my parents for three years. I’m a slow learner,” she added dryly.
Or her Mentor had been an ass. It happened more than Maureen liked to think about. “Did your Mentor spend time around other Ellehemaei, as well?”
“All the time! It turns out that Spindle was actually an academic rival of my father’s, but leaning a little more heavily on the social lend of things than the historian end. So she really liked introducing me to people. I’m not as good as Spindle or my mother,” she added sadly, “but I made friends pretty quickly, even considering my… well, my Change.”
Maureen made sure her lack of comprehension showed on her face. Understanding this was going to be important to understanding this woman. And, for the sake of Addergoole West, someone had to understand the poor girl.
Ginger whimpered softly. She looked around herself twice, clearly wanting to be sure they were alone, and dropped her Mask.
“Ah,” Maureen murmured. That had to have caused her some issues – from the knees downward, both legs were fused together in a long, serpentine tail.
“Yeah.” She put her Mask back up hastily. “Some people were fine with it, or at least pretended to be. But I’d gone from being rather pretty to rather monstrous.” She frowned, and stared woefully at the bottom of her cup. “Spindle thought it was nice, and so did some of her friends. And if I kept my Mask up, I did pretty well.”
“Your Name?” Maureen prompted softly, even while she took a mental note to hunt down a certain social historian and cause her horrid pain.
“Ah.” She smiled a little. “I guess it’s not that hard to guess at. ‘Some Like it Hot,’ you know. I’m good at being friendly, better at being ‘friendly;’” she made the air quotes around the word, “and known for being a little sharp of tongue. Sassy.” She took a deep breath. “But it was all when I went to bed with the Shenera Endraae who had been Spindle’s Mentor. Talked him into bed, fair and square, but, ah, apparently he wasn’t expecting quite what he found under my skirt.”
“Oh, honey.” Maureen scooted her chair around to hug the girl. Regine had a knack for finding the broken and soul-bruised ones and collecting them here. It was a little surprising, considering the woman’s total lack of empathy.
Ginger made a choked noise that sounded like swallowing a sob. “Oh, I… I don’t want to start crying again, Lady Maureen. I’m sorry…!”
“There, there.” Maureen patted her shoulder gently. “That’s what I’m here for, dear.” She handed her a tissue, and waited for the rest of the story.
“Thank you.” She sniffled into the tissue. “I got tired of it. So when I earned my Name, I went back to the human world.”
Mo nodded. Many of them did – but most of them hadn’t had a childhood surrounded by Ellehemaei, the way Ginger had.
“I thought, with humans, none of them would ever ask me what was under my Mask. None of them would ever have to know. I went to college. I got a job teaching – I had such extensive experience with languages in their native countries that people would overlook my age and, ah…” she patted uncomfortably at the low cleavage of her blouse. She had, Mo noted, completely shed the fake French accent in lieu of a much more beautiful one that wandered across the globe. “It turned out I was very good at teaching languages and cultures. And I enjoyed it. I really loved teaching.”
“But?” There had to be a but; the story had to end up with her here.
“But after a few years, I missed talking to other Ellehemaei. I missed people who understood. I missed being able to talk about a culture in reference to the Ellehemaei of both sides who had settled there, the difference between say, a Daeva who had settled in France and one who lived primarily in Italy. I missed people who could say ‘Ginger Cayenne, so, how spicy are you?’ and know what they were talking about.” She smiled wryly at the last. “Not that I didn’t get jokes, until I started going by Ginny Cane.”
Mo nodded. They all had gone through their share of name-contortions through the years, to fit more comfortably into the human world. And “Foxglove” was not a very common name, either. “So you missed people you could be honest with.” And Regine had used that to rope her in.
“Honest, yes, but I wanted people I could talk to. People I could share ideas with, argue about… you know. Ellehemaei scholarly things. I know I’m not brilliant, at all, but… I thought I was good enough to talk to.”
Ouch. But Maureen knew what Ginger was talking about. They could be nice men and women, but when they got talking, all of them turned into the worst snobs. It had taken a few well-placed comments before they had begun to treat Maureen as anything more than a glorified servant. “All right, dear,” she said slowly. “I know you have already had a Mentor. But perhaps, Addergoole being what it is, you wouldn’t mind an apprenticeship in dealing with difficult people?”