Interlude: Juniper 2

“I don’t want to know.”. Juniper shook her head, not for the first time, and pressed the letter into Professor Valerian’s hands.  “Holly took… Holly has… I don’t have to have anything to do with either of them, that’s the point.  It sucks, it sucks so much, that this is the only way for me to get out of here…” She swallowed around a lump in her throat.  “I’m getting out of here?  For real?”

“Your graduation requirements have all been met.”. Professor Valerian nodded slowly.  “Juniper, you ought to—”

“I’m going to apply to Berkley, Cornell, and University of Wisconsin, Madison for next year.” Juniper felt a little bad for cutting her Mentor off.  On the other hand…  “I’m going to get an apartment in Madison and look for work in a library.  Wisteria knows someone at the big city library and she already sent her — and two of the nearby small-town librarians— letters for me.  I’m her protege.”

A glacial heartbeat passed.  Another.  Professor Valerian’s eyebrow raised.  “And here I thought you were my Student.”

Juniper winced.  She wanted to apologize.  But… “Rowan is your protege.  I’m a student that’s nearly two years past graduation.  And…”

“And Wisteria gave you a place to hide, when I couldn’t, gave you a vocation and companionship.  I understand.” Professor Valerian smiled, but there was little or no joy in the expression.  “I hope you will let me help you, too.”

Juniper returned her Mentor’s expression with one as humorless.  “Are you allowed to?”

“None of that.” Professor Valerian’s voice was suddenly sharp.  “Former Student or no, we don’t talk like that. It just makes trouble, and we have enough of that this year.”

The tone of Valerian’s voice made Juniper search her face, looking for clues. “What happened?”

“What didn’t happen?  And what did.”  She clucked tiredly.  “Nothing like what you’re thinking.  No blood, no murder, no death and no torture.  It’s just… a thousand small things that are just a little too much.  It isn’t the lightning strike that kills the oak tree.”

“It’s a thousand chipmunks and gophers.”  Juniper nodded slowly.  “I – I don’t know what to hope, so I hope that your tree stands, Professor.  You want to help me?”

“If you’re going to Madison, I’ve got some contacts there and near there.  Not all of them are fae and not all of them are what you’d call nice people, but I am owed a few favors here and there.  I can give you people to talk to, and I can find you a place to stay and some people that will help you stretch your money.  Regine will give you a stipend – I’d take it, even if you hate her.  It’ll make life easier.”

Even if?”  Juniper coughed.  “I think that goes without question.  She set up this torture chamber and she allows it to continue without moderation.  But I’ll take her money.  And the college credits and anything else she’ll provide.  My mother did, after all.”

“Are you going to see Holly when you leave?”

That was a harder question.  Juniper looked off at the bookshelves.  She hadn’t seen Holly since her twin graduated, took her two children and – and – took her three children and left. “I don’t know.  I – well, she writes to me.  I write back.  There hasn’t been much else.”  There were things Holly just didn’t understand, and Juniper had trouble trying to explain things that seemed as basic as 1+1=2 to her.  She didn’t want to do what the school required.  She didn’t want to – she didn’t want to do any number of things that seemed to make perfect sense to Holly.  “I think we grew apart.”

“You’ve had different lives, since you came here.”  Valerian managed to both sum everything up and trivialize it in a few short words.  “Write to her, I think.”

“Is that your advice as my Mentor?”

Juniper knew she was sounding sharp.  She couldn’t help it.  Everyone thought they knew how she ought to live, how she ought to get over it.  Nobody seemed to think how she felt about the matter was important at all.

“It’s my advice as someone who has spent a great deal of time talking to both of you.  She misses you, Juniper.  And she doesn’t understand.”

“She never will,” Juniper countered bitterly.  “She wasn’t the one – wasn’t the one there.”

“I would say that you ought to get therapy, but I know how you feel about that.”  Professor Valerian smiled sadly.  “Go to Madison.  Have fun at school and let Wisteria and I set up all the back end matters.  If you can, forget about this place and find a life out there.”

It had a feeling like a benediction.   Juniper wondered if the professor thought they’d never see each other again.  “I’ll write,” she offered.  “To you.  To Holly.”

“Good.”  Professor Valerian nodded solemnly.  “I’ll get you that contact information.  Be safe, Juniper.”

It was a strange thing to say, Juniper thought, when she was finally escaping Addergoole.

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