By Cassidy Ayers
The tree nymph Simyda sighed in relief as she pushed through the front door of Enchanted Blooms, the flower shop on the edge of Waytown, a sizable suburban center settled in a long valley in the East Coast of the United States, where summers are sweltering and winters are abysmally cold. This early morning’s November air was frigid and Simyda was happy to be in the warm flower shop and out of the wind.
The store wouldn’t open for another few hours, but her boss, a middle-aged, polo-obsessed satyr named Roland, had called her and asked her to stop by and help with the poinsettias. They were supposed to play Christmas carols on command, but apparently, some of them were stuck on the first few notes of “Jingle Bells”. Simyda had been working at the flower shop for four months, after classes and on weekends, but she’d already proven to be adept at enchanting the flowers. Christmas was two months away and people were
already starting to get into the spirit. The shop needed as many flowers as they could get.
Her feet scuffed over the green carpet as she crossed the darkened shop and rounded the long worn counter before slipping through the beaded curtain that led into the brightly lit back room.
Three long tables that ran down the room, each one crowded with jewel-bright flowers and lush succulents and greenery. Small clouds the size of apples zipped around the room, watering flowers and diving in and out of water buckets. Here and there along the aisles, tall sunflowers sprouted out of plastic pots. Their heads radiated sunlight and illuminated the room. In the middle of it all was Roland, standing next to one of the tables where many poinsettias were clustered. He reached out to cup in his hands the red leaves that crowned one of the plants.
“Laetus adulantem cantabo,” he intoned. Simyda could practically see the words drift from his mouth like steam as they floated down and twisted around the leaves and small yellow flowers in the center of the plant. Roland dropped his hands to his sides with a sigh. He reached out and tapped one of the leaves twice. The scarlet leaves lifted slightly and began to swing lazily back and forth.
Ting ting ting, ting ting tiiing… The notes trailed off and the leaves drooped. Roland threw up his hands and bleated in frustration.
“It still isn’t working?” Simyda asked, smiling sympathetically as she shed her coat and scarf and hung them on the coat rack next to the door.
One of Roland’s eyebrow climbed toward his receding hairline. “What do you think?” He sighed as he scrubbed a hand over his face and scratched at his beard, which was starting to turn grey. “I’ve been trying for the past hour, but they just won’t listen to me. I’ve never had such an unwilling crop before.” He made a shooing gesture at the plant and waved away the enchantment.
“Well, that’s because you’re being too forceful about it,” Simyda said as she rounded the table and stood next to him. “Plus, you’ve been pretty stressed lately, what with all the preparations for Christmas. They’re probably picking up on it. May I?”
Roland nodded and stepped away, his hooves clopping against the cement floor as he motioned gratefully for her to make the attempt. She heard him mumble something about how a college junior double-majoring in enchantment and botany shouldn’t be less stressed than him, but she ignored him as she moved to stand in front of the poinsettia, the wooden table creaking as she leaned against it. She reached out and cupped the poinsettia’s leaves in her hands, just as Roland had.
“Laetus adulantem cantabo,” she said softly. She willed the words to drip from her mouth like droplets of water. They collected in her cupped hands, pooling and washing over each other before trickling into the soil and nestling themselves among the roots of the plant like beads of silver.
Once the words had settled themselves, she pulled her hands away and Roland reached out from where he’d been looking over her shoulder to tap one of the leaves. The plant tentatively perked up and began to sway back and forth. It sang softly at first, but grew more confident with every note. Somewhere around “’oer the fields we go”, Simyda tapped the leaf again and the poinsettia settled back into silence, its leaves held high with pride.
There was clapping from the door and both Roland and Simyda looked over in surprise to see a harpy standing in the doorway, the beaded curtain swaying behind her. She was taller than both Simyda and Roland, although she looked to be around Simyda’s age, and had short, spiky hair. Here and there, her cheeks were peppered with small feathers in the way that other people had freckles. She wore a lightweight green windbreaker with a hole in the back to allow her huge russet wings to move without impediment and from the waist down, her hawk-like legs were bare and plumed to mid-thigh in clay-colored feathers that matched her wings. Behind them fanned a wedge-shaped hawk’s tail that reached all the way down to her ankles.
“Ah, Brand! Just in time.” Roland stepped away from the poinsettias and motioned for her to join them. “Simyda, this is Brand, our new delivery girl. Brand, this is Simyda. She’s our best enchantress,” he said with a small smirk as Brand rounded the table.
“Don’t let the others hear you say that,” Simyda chuckled as she pushed away from the table and extended a hand to Brand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Brand smiled warmly as she grasped Simyda’s hand. “Likewise. That was some impressive spellwork.” The harpy’s hands were rough and calloused, but her grip was surprisingly gentle.
Simyda grinned as she took her hand back and self-consciously tucked one of her thin dreads behind her ear. “Thanks!” Then, because she felt that she would return a compliment, “I like your wings, by the way.”
“Thank you,” Brand said as she beamed back.
Roland rolled his eyes, but both girls could clearly see the small smile that tugged at the corner of his mouth.
“And we aaarre,” Roland flipped the sign on the front door of the shop to Closed, “free!”
Brand grinned as she grabbed a broom from behind the counter and began to sweep up the scraps of red and pink ribbons and flower stems that were littered everywhere, the talons of her hawk-like legs scratching against the carpet as she shuffled around the shop. “Thank god! I thought Christmas was bad, but that,” She shook her head. “Today was pure chaos.”
Simyda laughed as she emerged from the back room and began to count the cash in the register. “This might have been a particularly busy Valentine’s Day, but just wait until Mother’s Day,” she said as she shooed a couple of rainclouds away from her work. “You wouldn’t think that Mother’s Day would be worse than Valentine’s Day, but it so is.”
“I don’t even want to think about Mother’s Day yet,” Roland huffed from the front of the shop as he pulled shutters down behind the windows.
“Ditto,” Brand gravely replied as she stooped to sweep her pile of scraps into a dustpan.
All the other employees had already gone home for the night and a peaceful, tired silence fell over the three of them as they tidied up and got the shop ready for tomorrow.
“Alright, guys,” Roland said as he closed the register with a sharp ca-thunk. “I think we’re all good here. Go ahead and head home. I’ll take care of the rest. Simyda, don’t think that I’ve forgotten about your upcoming midterm on magical biology,” he said as he braced his elbows on the counter and gravely shook his finger at her with a smirk. “You’ll be on raincloud wrangling duty if I hear you’ve gotten anything below a B.” His eyes sparkled with amusement.
Simyda gasped in mock horror as Brand chortled. They both thanked him and said goodbye as they grabbed their coats and headed out the door.
Brand laid a hand on her arm as they walked out into the golden sunlight, their shadows stretching down the sidewalk beside them.
“Do your parents want you home right away?” Brand asked as Simyda looked up at her inquisitively, squinting slightly against the light. “I found this place the other day that I really wanted to show you.”
Simyda grinned. The two of them had grown to be good friends over the past month and they had taken to hanging out with each other on the weekends and sharing their favorite restaurants and hang-out spots with each other.
“Nah, she’s said that I can stay out until nine and it’s only–” Simyda glanced at her phone, “–seven thirty. I’ll just shoot her a quick text so that she knows where I am.”
The two of them walked for a few minutes while Simyda tapped away on her cell phone and the golden hour turned the bare trees bronze. Simyda sent her message and slipped her smartphone into her pocket.
“So, where are we headed?” she asked as she looked around at the tall brick and stone buildings and ornate streetlamps that had yet to be lit.
“It’s a surprise,” Brand replied. She pointed to a bus stop up ahead of them. “Though I will tell you that we need to take public transit. It’s too far, otherwise.”
Simyda frowned slightly. “I can’t go more than a few miles, remember? Any more than that is going to make me sick.” Every tree nymph’s life force was tied to a tree when they were born and that tree became the anchor for their life. Any nymph could transfer their life force if it became necessary, but it took a lot of energy and time. Simyda’s tree was a thin silver birch that stood in the backyard of her family’s home. Her campus had a small grove of trees near the student housing for the use of any tree nymph students, but Simyda’s house was within walking distance, so she’d decided before her freshman year to live with her parents for another four years rather than pay to live in a dorm.
“Don’t worry, I remembered,” Brand assured her with a small nod as they came to stand beside a lamp post next to the bus stop. Brand smiled down at her and her gaze was so fond that it almost made Simyda’s heart skip a beat. “It’s just inside the city limits, so you’ll be safe.”
Simyda hummed and nodded. “Good.”
The two of them stood in silence for a moment. Simyda stuffed her hands in her pockets and scuffed the sole of her well-worn sneakers against the ground. Brand fiddled with one of her wings, smoothing rumpled feathers into place and flicking the occasional leaf scrap out into the street.
“So, how about that one lady, the really tall one that came in around noon?” Simyda said, breaking the silence.
Brand snorted, letting her wing go so that she could turn and lean back against the lamp post. “The one that wanted an entire bouquet of forget-me-nots?”
Simyda nodded and chuckled as she glanced at the rooftops across the street. “Yeah! You know, I’ve never seen a customer complain about a flower’s size before.”
They talked for a while, jumping from one topic from the next as they waited for the bus.
“So, how’re classes going?” Brand asked as she pushed off the lamp post and began to walk along the edge of the sidewalk as if it were a balance beam, her claws scraping against the cement.
“They’re going well,” Simyda replied, smiling as she watched her friend’s antics. “Bio is kicking my ass, though.” She glanced at the quickly setting sun with a grimace.
Brand sniggered, her eyes still on the curb at her feet. “You’d better start studying or you’ll end up having to wrangle those little cumulus bastaAAH!” Simyda turned to see Brand almost fall of the curb, her claws digging into the cracks in the pavement as her wings shot out in an attempt to regain her balance. Simyda reached out to help her, but she quickly righted herself. A passing car beeped at them in irritation. Brand waved after it with a cheerful grin, making Simyda snort.
By the time the bus arrived, the sun was almost to the horizon. They boarded, walking past a stooped old lady with a small green dragon on a leash and a sleeping elf as they made their way to the back of the bus. Brand sighed in frustration as she saw that the seats wouldn’t work with her wings and tail, so she stood in the aisle. They always seemed to run into this problem when they tried to go anywhere, whether they used public transportation or someone’s car. Harpies were one of only two sentient species in the world that had wings, the other being seraphim, so not many companies thought to make accommodations for them. Simyda found this a bit ridiculous, seeing as the only thing that winged person needed was a gap at the bottom of the back rest for their tail feathers and primaries to poke through. There had been campaigns lately for all public spaces to have wing-friendly seats, but it hadn’t gained much ground. Simyda glanced at the bus seat for a moment before electing to stand next to Brand rather than sit.
The harpy beamed, the small feathers on her cheeks puffing out in happiness.
The bus drove for several minutes, past townhouses, parks, and businesses until it finally stopped at a park situated where the tall townhouses and apartment buildings gave way to the suburbs.
“This is it,” Brand said, an excited grin on her face.
Simyda followed her down the aisle and hopped off the bus onto the cracked sidewalk. She glanced around taking in the road that sloped away through the last of the townhouses and the park in front of her. They stood at the top off a long sloping hill, their view of the rest of the valley partially obscured by a line of trees.
“It’s over here,” Brand motioned for Simyda to follow her and the two of them strolled through the park, passing a playground and even a small pond. Brand occasionally bumped Simyda with her wing as they kicked at errant wood chips from the playground and dead leaves that strayed into their path.
“There it is,” Brand said, pointing ahead of them. Simyda looked and a grin spread across her face as she saw their destination. Ahead of them was the end of the paved path, right where the trees stopped. Just beyond it was a wooden park bench overlooking the hillside that sloped down and leveled out below them. As Simyda came to stand beside the bench, she could see suburbs spread out below her. Beyond them, many miles away, sprawled acres upon acres of farmland. To the left and right, the mountains that bordered either side of Waytown stood tall and in between them, settling itself at the end of the valley, was the setting sun. It was only almost completely below the horizon and the light was no longer blinding, graciously allowing Simyda to view the fantastic colors that spread across the sky like pigments in cerulean water. Cardinal red and burnt sienna melded with bright yellow and colors that she didn’t even have names for. She looked up and back, watching how the light blue of the horizon faded into cornflower and then into a deep indigo.
Simyda let out a laugh then, pure and awe-filled. She looked to Brand, who was grinning back at her.
“It’s beautiful,” Simyda breathed as she looked back to the sunset and sat on the park bench. “I’ve never seen it unimpeded before because of the buildings.” She scooted over on the bench, motioning for Brand to sit next to her.
Brand sat carefully, making sure that her tail feathers stuck through the back of the bench and that her wings stuck out over the back. “I found this place when I was out flying the other day,” Brand explained. “I knew you’d like it.”
Simyda hummed happily and nodded. They sat in companionable silence for a while as they watched the sun sink lower and lower.
“What’s it like?” Simyda finally asked, looking over at her friend. “Flying, I mean.”
Brand smiled blissfully, her eyes dancing as she chuckled and stared up at the approaching darkness. “It’s amazing. It’s like…” She pulled her hands out of her pockets and gestured as if she were trying to shape a ball of clay. “Ok, remember that carnival ride that they brought to the festival in the park a few months ago? The one that put you in freefall for a few seconds before bouncing you back up again?” Brand asked as she sat up and turned to look at Simyda, who nodded. “It’s like that feeling that you got in your stomach as you fell, but a bit less because you aren’t falling, really. You’re holding yourself up there, even though every single force of nature is trying to bring you down. It’s like… feeling power, freedom, courage, and safety all rolled into one, with an amazing view to boot.” She grinned down at Simyda, who smiled back.
“It sounds amazing,” Simyda sighed. Brand hummed and nodded happily as she settled back on the bench and turned her gaze back to the horizon, a small smile still lighting up her face.
A few minutes passed before Simyda started to shiver. She pulled her coat tighter around herself, her breath blowing out in a puff of white that stood out against her dark skin.
“You cold?” Brand asked.
Simyda nodded and gave a small chuckle. “Yeah. If I’d known we’d be coming out here, then I would have grabbed a scarf this morning.”
“Sorry, Sim” Brand said with a grimace, but Simyda waved her off.
“It’s fine. I don’t want to leave just yet,” she said as she tucked her chin into the neck of her jacket.
Brand looked down at her friend and hesitated for a second before lifting her arm. “You can lean on me if you want,” she said, and Simyda could have sworn that her tone was almost hopeful.
Simyda smiled and leaned into Brand’s side, resting her head on the harpy’s shoulder. Brand slung her arm around Simyda, pulling her closer as she cupped one of her wings around her as well. The sun had disappeared several minutes ago, but the horizon was still painted with faint pastels as the indigo of the night sky slid closer and closer, like a great eye gradually falling shut under the weight of oncoming sleep. Despite the encroaching darkness, Simyda wasn’t afraid. She looked up at Brand, feeling more content than she had in a long time.
“Can I kiss you?” The words were out of her mouth without warning and she clapped her hand over it, her body going stiff and her eyes widening as she realized what she’d done. She hadn’t meant to say that, even if she’d wanted to.
She looked up at Brand with wide eyes. The harpy was staring down at her in surprise, but they softened into what seemed to be relief. Brand ducked her head so that she was looking right into Simyda’s eyes, her wing draped over the two of them to make a canopy.
“Yes,” Brand murmured, a soft smile stealing across her face as Simyda’s eyes widened even more, then softened. The smaller girl pulled her hands away from her mouth and closed the distance.
Simyda loved weekends. Weekends were when she got to be woken up at eleven o’clock by the warm sunlight streaming through her and Brand’s bedroom window. Weekends were when it took her a few seconds to realize that she was awake and that her back was pressed against Brand’s chest. Weekends were when she got to turn over and lazily wrap an arm around her girlfriend of three years, burying her fingers in the feathers that are between Brand’s shoulder blades as she fell back asleep. Weekends were when Brand would drag her out of bed at noon to make eggs and toast in the small kitchen of their cheap apartment. Weekends were pure bliss, plain and simple.
That morning was not a weekend.
“Come on, Sim, time to get up.”
Simyda groaned as Brand gently shook her awake. She squinted up through the early morning light at the harpy, who stood next to the bed fully dressed and ready for work. Simyda seemed to remember requesting five more minutes of sleep the first time Brand had attempted to wake her, but she had no way of knowing if that had been actually five minutes ago or half an hour. Brand held out a plate of toast and pomegranate seeds to her, motioning for her to sit up.
“Here, I made you some breakfast. We have twenty minutes until we have to leave, so eat up.” She kissed Simyda’s forehead as the tree nymph sat up and took the plate. Simyda hummed and leaned into the contact. Brand left the room as Simyda began to scarf down the food, popping the sweet kernels into her mouth as if they were candy. She could hear the harpy moving around in the kitchen, probably preparing their lunches for later that day.
Simyda sighed and set the empty plate on the nightstand. She steeled herself as she reached for the lamp next to it, squinting even harder as the bright artificial light filled the room, illuminating the pile of dirty laundry spilling out of the basket in the corner and the overflowing bookshelf that stood next to their small nightstand. Simyda hauled herself out of the bed and stumbled into her Enchanted Blooms polo and khakis, nearly falling over as she attempted to put her socks on. She grabbed a hair tie from the top of the dresser across from the bed and pulled her thick black braids up into a bun. As she headed towards the door, she glanced out the window into the backyard of the apartment building, where she could just see the thin dogwood that had hosted her life force since the day that they’d moved in about a year ago. The landlord had been happy to let her use it, promising to warn the other residents to not let their children climb in it. The process had only required a few minutes of chanting at each location, but it had been an extremely uncomfortable and tiring experience. The only way that she could describe the feeling of carrying her own soul from one location to another was that it felt as if she’d been carrying the weight of the sky.
She shook herself and patted her cheeks with her cold hands as she walked out into the hallway that connected their bedroom to the living room. She was still half asleep as she shuffled through the doorway that led the adjoining kitchen, giving Brand a brief kiss as she made a beeline for the coffee pot. The two of them moved around each other as they grabbed lunch fixings from the magnet-covered fridge and prepared thermoses of coffee. Simyda brushed her hand across Brand’s wings whenever she passed her and Brand did the same across Simyda’s back, each silently letting the other know where they were.
“You ready?” Brand asked as she slid their lunches across the cream counter and packed them into paper bags.
“As ready as I’ll every be,” Simyda said with a huffed laugh as she took her lunch bag from Brand, her other hand holding her thermos. “Do you remember last year’s Fourth of July?”
Brand snorted and began to laugh. “Oh my god, the drunk dwarf!” she exclaimed, laughter painting her voice bright. “How could I forget that?” They exited the kitchen and passed the wing-friendly arm chairs and sofa in the living room as they made their way to the door. “Do you remember how many flowers he ordered?”
“No, but I remember that he wanted lilies that were ‘the exact color of rubies’,” she said, attempting to do air quotes with two full hands as they headed through the living room. “That, and we had to call the cops in order to get him out of there.” She chucked and shook her head wryly as she struggled through the front door.
The two of them headed down the linoleum stairs and out the front door to where Simyda’s car was parked on the street. Simyda pulled Brand down for a quick kiss before climbing into her car. The cramped space didn’t agree with Brand’s wings and tail and while they’d looked into getting a wing-friendly car, they’d been way too expensive to consider. Instead, the two always parted ways on the sidewalk and met back up at the shop. Brand watched Simyda drive off and headed back into the house. It was always easier to take off from the roof than from the sidewalk.
The rest of the day was hectic as all hell. Simyda manned the registers with Grim, a female satyr with white and brown goat legs and curly brown hair who was one of the other enchantresses for the shop. She and Roland had been the only other people available to work on the Fourth of July.
Whenever business died down enough, Simyda would go to the back and enchant as many flowers as she could. Simyda found that the most efficient and easiest way to enchant was to use a method that matched the desired result. If she wanted to make a flower sing, she would chant. If she wanted it to make its own miniature weather patterns, she would sprinkle it with tinctures or potions. For an explosive holiday like the Fourth of July, Simyda relied on candles. Sometimes, she burned spells written on thick cardstock and swept up the ashes to bury in the flowers’ soil. Other times, if there weren’t too many leaves in the way, she would drip the melted wax from specially made candles around the plants. She bustled back and forth across the tables, careful so keep any flames away from the flowers as she made pink-tipped succulents spit heat-less colored sparks and red and orange mums fire their petals upwards like mini fireworks. Simyda always liked this work the best and she relished her time in the back while she could.
She rarely saw Brand as the hours passed. The harpy would pop into the back of the shop, grab arrangements from Roland as he made them at the station in the corner by the beaded curtain, and dash back out again, planting a kiss on Simyda’s cheek as she rushed past. She and Brand got to eat lunch together at noon, but their half hour flew by so quickly that it felt like it had never happened.
The only upside to the hustle and bustle was that the eight hours passed quickly. When closing time finally rolled around, Simyda was well and truly ready to go home and take a nap with Brand. She found the harpy in the back room talking with Roland after she and Grim had finished closing the shop.
“We’re all done up front,” Simyda declared with a happy smile as she strolled down one of the aisles towards where they stood by the door. “You ready to head out, babe?”
Brand smiled down at her. “Almost. I just have one last delivery to make and then I’ll head home.”
“It should only take you a little over half an hour,” Roland said with a decisive nod. “They’re about halfway to the next town, which isn’t too far.”
Brand nodded and looked back to Simyda. “I’ll meet you back at home, okay?”
Simyda smiled and nodded as Brand bent down to kiss her briefly before taking a bouquet from Roland and pushing through the door. Simyda saw her take a running start across the outside parking lot, but didn’t see her take off before the metal door slammed shut.
Simyda and Rolland grabbed their coats before following heading out back as well to where their cars were parked behind the shop. The drive home through the relatively empty streets was short and as soon as she entered the apartment, Simyda shambled into the bedroom, changed into her oversized sleep shirt, and fell into the bed, tugging the heavy comforter up to her chin. Within minutes, she was asleep.
Simyda woke to the sound of someone pounding on the front door of the apartment. She sat up, wearily rubbing her eyes as she peered around the dark room. There was just enough moonlight coming through the window that she could see that the other side of the bed was empty.
Simyda frowned at the smooth covers, wondering if Brand was in the bathroom or grabbing a snack from the kitchen. She climbed out of bed and hastily pulled on some sweatpants from the pile of dirty laundry in the corner. She shuffled through her open door into the hallway, glancing into the empty bathroom and kitchen as she passed, her arms hugged tightly to her chest. The light was still on in the living room from when she’d come home and it made her sleep-crusted eyes squint. Simyda was starting to get apprehensive as she approached the front door, where someone had started to knock again. Brand wasn’t the kind of person to forget her key. She leaned forward and as she peered through the peephole, her blood ran cold.
On the landing outside the door stood a policeman, a tall cyclops in full uniform.
Simyda threw back the locks and pulled open the door, staring out at the man with her lips drawn into a thin line.
She desperately hoped that she was over-exaggerating and that nothing had happened to Brand, but her entire body was electrified with the feeling that something was deeply and horribly wrong.
The cyclops stared at her for a moment, his single eye conveying something like apprehension. Maybe it was pity.
“Are you… Simyda Moore?” he asked, glancing briefly at his notepad.
Simyda nodded, her entire body tingling with worry.
“Do you know a harpy by the name of Brand Hayes?”
Simyda clutched the door frame as the floor seemed to drop out from underneath her. Her fingers ached as they dug into the wood.
“What happened?” she asked, her voice just above a whisper. She was afraid to hear the answer, but at the same time, she desperately needed it.
“She’s going to be okay, ma’am,” the officer assured her, his hand held out reassuringly, “but she is in the hospital.”
“Oh my God,” Simyda groaned, pressing her hand over her mouth, “When you said that, I thought she was…” She shook her head and straightened. She was still afraid, but a tiny marble of hope had built itself up among the fear. “What happened? Which hospital is she in?”
The officer hesitated. “Would you like to go inside and discuss this?” he asked, motioning towards the interior of the apartment.
Simyda nodded hastily and stepped aside to allow the officer to enter, closing the door after him. She motioned for him to sit on the couch. He glanced over the picture frames above it before he sat and his single eye softened as he saw the pictures of Simyda and Brand smiling back at him. He lowered himself onto the edge of the seat as Simyda ignored the two armchairs and grabbed the other end. She turned to face him, her hands clasped tightly in her lap.
“What happened?” she asked again, her fingers gripping each other so tightly that they burned.
The officer glanced down as his notes and seemed to gather himself before he looked back at her. “Your,” he hesitated, “partner?” Simyda nodded and he paused for a moment, as if he were considering how he should continue. “Your partner was hit with a firework as she was flying through the farmland further down the valley. Some idiot managed to get his hands on the real thing and set it off in his backyard.”
Simyda gaped at him. “Oh God,” she murmured, covering her mouth with one hand as she hugged herself with the other. “Oh shit ohshit ohshit.” She balled her fist against her lips, crushing them against her clenched teeth as she tried to contain he panic. “She crashed, didn’t she?” Simyda was horrified as she looked back at the officer. If the firework had hit her wing, even if she wasn’t flying very high…
The officer nodded. “By some miracle, the fall only gave her a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder, but her wing…” He paused and fixed her with a single-eyed stare as he learned towards her and rested his elbows on his knees. “Listen, I want you to know the full truth, but it’s going to be difficult to hear. Do you think you’ll be able to handle it?”
The word “NO” chased itself though her mind and knocked against the roof of her mouth, but she took a deep shuddering breath and locked it away. “I want to know,” Simyda said with a decisive nod, blinking hard to keep her tears at bay.
The officer nodded back. “The firework hit her directly in her left wing, causing her to sustain many broken bones, internal bleeding, and third-degree burns. Onlookers called an ambulance when they saw her get hit and she was rushed to the hospital in Reverend.” Simyda’s heart sank as her throat closed around a frustrated sob. She squeezed her eyes shut, as if that could block out the news. Reverend was the next town over, making Brand completely unreachable to her. The farthest that she could travel was to the borders of Waytown, and even that made her slightly sick. “The doctors there rushed her to the OR. Before I came here, they were still determining the best course of action, but it looks as if she might lose her wing.”
Simyda’s eyes flew open and she stared at the man in shock. “No!” She jumped up and began to pace, her fists pressed to her breast bone. “No, they can’t!” She spun to face the officer, desperation written into every line of her body as tears streamed down her cheeks. “They can’t! Brand makes her living flying!” She gestured sharply to the ceiling and the pictures on the coffee table that Brand had taken from the air. “That’s her life! They can’t take that from her… They can’t… They can’t do that…” She sank into one of the armchairs as the first sob hit her, her body convulsing as she rocked back and forth. Her fingernails dug into the back of her other hand, leaving long scratches in her dark skin. The officer sank down to kneel beside her and placed a hand on her shoulder, unable to comfort her as she mouthed “They can’t… they can’t… they can’t…”
Simyda had managed to calm herself down a while ago, but the occasional shuddering breath still made her entire body shake. She’d been embarrassed to have someone see her break down, but having the company had been comforting nonetheless. The officer came back into the room from where he’d been grabbing a glass of water. Simyda took it from him gratefully and took several gulps as he sank into the armchair across from her, his elbows propped up on his knees.
Simyda set the glass on the coffee table next to them. Her hand shook, causing the water to ripple and slosh.
Simyda squeezed her tremoring fingers between her thighs as she shuffled to the edge of her seat, her gaze resolutely fixed on either the floor or the officer in front of her.
“Thank you for your help, Officer…” Simyda frowned before giving the officer an smale apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, I never asked for your name.”
“Officer Thomas, ma’am,” he said, nodding to her with a soft smile. He sucked in a breath and rubbed his thumb against his single eyebrow as he glanced around the apartment. When he looked back at Simyda, he held her gaze. “I’m sorry to have to ask this, but I prefer to be blunt when it comes to the safety of other.” He straightened a bit. “Are you in danger of harming yourself?”
Simyda’s eyes widened at the question, but after a moment of silence, her features softened. “No,” she said, shaking her head as the corner of her lips turned upward. “I promise. Brand needs me right now. I’m not about to hurt my chances of helping her.”
Officer Thomas nodded, his eyebrow scrunched in on itself to create what Simyda assumed was the equivalent of a furrowed brow. His lips lifted into an understanding smile. “Ok.” The armchair creaked underneath him as he stood and Simyda stood with him, abate a bit more shakily. He extended a large, calloused hand to her. “I have to get heading back to the precinct, but the hospital knows to contact you with any news they might have.”
Simyda clasped his hand in hers, thanked him, and bid him goodnight as he headed out. She closed the door after him, the soft clatch-thunk practically echoing through the silent building. She locked the door once again and crossed back to her chair, collapsing into it with a shuddering sigh. She clutched her forehead as a thousand different half-formed thoughts and worries scurried back and forth through her mind.
“Come on, focus,” she groaned. “First things first.” She took a deep breath and reached for the phone on the coffee table. She held it as she clicked through the contacts and selected one of the few numbers on the list. Simyda sighed and scrubbed a hand over her face as she listened to the line ring.
“Hello?” a half-awake voice croaked over the line.
Simyda grimace, remembering the time. “Sorry for calling so late, Roland. I-” She rested her head in her hand as her lips pressed into a thin line. “Something’s happened.”
Roland had been shocked and horrified at first, but the man was like a rock whenever you needed him, steadfast and dependable. He’d agreed to head over to the hospital right away, without question, and Simyda couldn’t be more grateful. That had been three hours ago.
Simyda stared at the phone on the coffee table from her perch in her armchair, her knees pulled tight up against her chest and her shoulders hunched forward. She hadn’t moved much since she’d called Roland. Only the slow movement of her head betrayed that she was fully conscious. Her gaze meandered from the phone, to the pictures on the wall, to the furniture, and back to the phone.
Occasionally, she would glance at the door and hope that Brand would walk through it at any moment. She would pinch herself, wondering if this was a nightmare. Sometimes she would cry, but her tears seemed to be running low. What replaced them was an emptiness and bone-deep exhaustion that, when she wasn’t looking, dragged her into a shallow and dreamless sleep.
Simyda woke to the sound of her phone ringing. Still half asleep, she clumsily grabbed for it, hit the “accept call” button, and pressed it to her ear.
“Hello?” she asked, rubbing at her eyes as she glanced at the sofa and wondered why she had fallen asleep in the living room.
The realization hit her just as Roland said, “She’s out of surgery.”
“Oh my God!” Simyda exclaimed as she pulled the phone away from her ear. The screen declared that it was two in the morning. Her chair creaked in protest as she shot to her feet “Oh my God! Is she okay? What did they do? Did they fix her wing?”
There was heavy silence on the other end of the silence and Simyda’s heart grew heavy with it. “They couldn’t save her wing,” Roland said, his voice somber. “I’m sorry, Simyda.”
“Don’t be sorry for me!” Her hand gripped her braids so hard that she felt as if she would tear them out. “Be sorry for Brand! How’s she going to work? Flying is her life, and she just lost it because some jackass with a firework shot her–” Her voice broke and she shakily ran a hand over her face as she collapses back into the chair.
“It’s going to be okay, Sim,” Roland promised, “The shop’s been doing well lately and I’m sure we have enough money saved up to get a delivery van. You two have been essential to this business for the past three years and I’m not willing to let either of you go that easily.” Simyda could tell that Roland was trying just as hard to not cry as she was. “And as for her wing…” She heard him take a shaky breath. “It’ll be tough, but we both know that Brand’s a tough woman. She’ll get through this, I’m sure of it.”
Simyda’s smile was small and broken, but it was there all the same. “Thank you so much, Roland. Call me when she wakes up, would you?”
Simyda bid him goodbye and set the phone back on the table. She closed her eyes and let the grief, worry, and overwhelming relief consume her.
Roland visited the hospital every day and Simyda would Skype Brand at least twice a day when she wasn’t at work. Her girlfriend continued to improve. Her shoulder and arm were healing well and she’d managed to avoid any infections. Simyda knew that she was depressed and that she missed her wing, but Brand still managed to see the bright side of things and she told Simyda every day that she knew that things would turn out okay eventually. Some days it seemed forced, but for the most part Simyda tended to believe her.
Three days after the surgery, Brand called Simyda while she was at work. Simyda strode out into the back parking lot, hitting accept even as she sped through the back room.
“Hey, babe,” she greeted, bouncing on her toes and watching starling fly overhead as she tried to keep her voice calm. “What’s going on?”
“They say I can come home in two days!” Brand yelled. Somewhere in the background, Simyda could hear someone telling Brand not to strain herself.
“What?!” Simyda exclaimed, her mouth jumping into a huge grin. “No way! Oh my God, babe, that’s incredible,” she laughed, turning to look back at the door, her hand over her heart. “I’ll be sure to tell Roland. He’ll pick you up when you get out. Oh! He’s also promised to sneak you some of my homemade soup tonight,” she said, her heart so light
that she actually did a spin in the middle of the parking lot. “Oh, this is amazing, sweetheart! I can’t wait to see you.”
“Me, too,” Brand said, and Simyda could hear her smile over the phone. Brand paused and Simyda could hear Brand’s door close in the background. “I miss you,” she said softly.
Simyda could hear the shard of brokenness in her voice and it made her entire body heavy. No matter how good a front she put up, Simyda knew Brand was mourning the life that she’d lost.
She wanted to say that everything would be okay, but she also knew it wasn’t. It wouldn’t be for a long time. She wanted to say that they’d get through it, that she’d help her. She wanted to ask, isn’t enough to be alive? Isn’t it enough that I’m here? More than anything, she wanted to demand that Brand tell her how to fix it all and for her to actually have an answer.
What she said was, “I miss you, too.” And then, “I love you,” wishing beyond reason that that phrase would be enough.
“I love you, too.” And the shard was still there, stabbing Simyda’s heart through the cold glass screen of her phone.
They said their goodbyes and Simyda hung up. She slipped the phone into her pocket and stared at the sky for a moment, squinting against the lowering sun. With spots in her vision, she turned and headed back inside.
Simyda started down at the weed-infested sidewalk from where she was seated on the top step of her building. Her hands fiddled compulsively with her phone, occasionally turning it on to check for messages, despite the fact that she hadn’t felt it vibrate. She glanced up the street, her eyes darting over the brick apartment buildings and occasional pedestrian as she watched the passing cars and tried to spot Roland’s green Kia Soul.
Both he and Brand had texted her as they left the hospital. Roland had sent a quick, “Leaving now, be there in 20 minutes,” while Brand sent, “We’re headed your way, sweetheart! I can’t wait to see you! Love you! <3” Simyda had smiled down at her phone and immediately gone out to sit on the front stoop.
Simyda glanced down at her phone. Twelve thirty PM. Twenty minutes had come and gone ten minutes ago, so that meant that they were due to arrive at any moment. As soon as she had that thought, she looked up and glanced to the end of the street to see Roland’s car turning the corner. She grinned and shoved herself to her feet before slipping her phone into her pocket and jumping down the steps to stand near the curb.
She watched as Roland pulled up and parked behind her own car, her eyes fixed on Brand in the back seat. The harpy was sitting sideways on the seat, probably so that her incision wasn’t pressed against the seat back and so that her tail feathers weren’t crushed against the upholstery. She was grinning through the window at Simyda, her hand already on the door handle as she prepared to clamber out of the car.
Roland finally put the car into park and Brand immediately threw her door open and ducked out onto the sidewalk. Simyda stepped forward, her mouth twisting in on itself as tears pricked at the corners of her eyes, and wrapped her arms as tightly around her girlfriend as she could without hurting her. Brands right wing reached forward to wrap around her, creating a warm half-cocoon, but her left side was just… empty. Simyda could feel the bandage under the shirt that Roland had brought to the hospital for her. It reached all the way from her shoulder down to her lower back. Underneath it, Simyda knew that there was a healing incision that marched like railroad tracks from Brand’s shoulder blades to the bottom of her ribs. She buried her face into Brand’s neck, blocking out the rest of the world and her own wet gasps as she tried to listen to the harpy’s heartbeat. She could feel how Brand leaned slightly to the right, the weight of her remaining wing dragging her to the side. Brand had already told her about the weight that she’d have to wear in a special harness on her back in order to avoid any damage to her spine, but she wouldn’t get that until the incision had healed fully. In the meantime, there would be more doctor’s visits than they would be able to count. Simyda would have to work extra hours while Brand was stranded at home, staring out of the windows in their apartment at a sky that sky would never be able to know in the way that she had before. There would be sleepless nights. There would be pills and medication that Simyda wouldn’t be able to pronounce. There would be phantoms pains and PT and hospital bills and therapy and stress and tears and tears and tears and tearstearstearste-
“Hey,” Brand breathed into her ear and the thoughts racing through Simyda’s head suddenly stopped, like a pot of boiling water that is suddenly pulled off of a stove. “It’s okay, I’m here now. It’s going to be okay.” Brand’s voice was weak and tremulous. Simyda hadn’t realized how hard shed been gripping Brand, nor how hard she’d been shaking. Brand’s shirt was soaked against her cheek. She made an effort to loosen her grip, but refused to pull away. Not yet.
“I love you,” she choked out as the sharp point of Brand’s collar bone dug into her chin and her pulse thundered next to Simyda’s ear. “I love you so fucking much.”
Brand’s wing tightened around her and she could feel the harpy shaking, too.
“I love you, too.”