Chapter 6: Jenny breaks a confidence, and poor Hero is thrust into a very strange new world.
“Jenny, what do you mean?” I asked again, “Why would I need to be careful?”
Jenny looked at the floor. “Do we have to talk about this, right now?” She gestured at the bags of take out, “We could do lunch first?” Her voice had taken on a pleading note.
I stared at her. “You can’t say something like that and not explain it. What do you mean about being careful? Or is it just your dislike of Kyle?”
She shook her head, and the curtain of her hair fell like gold between us. I waited until she lifted her head. She looked ready to cry.
“I wasn’t supposed to tell you.” She took a shuddering breath and continued, “Dee made me promise a long time ago.”
I bit my lip to keep from interrupting. If I just sat silently, Jenny would keep talking. She couldn’t stand silence. It took a lot of effort on my part. I wasn’t comfortable with the brittle silence between us. We’d been inseparable since elementary school, and I had thought that we’d always shared everything. Knowing she’d also been hiding something from me hurt. Dee, Jenny, and even Kyle, had everyone lied to me for my entire life?
Finally, Jenny broke the silence with another shuddering sigh and a sniffle. “Don’t be mad, Hero. I had to promise. She wouldn’t let me come around if I didn’t and I was just a kid. And you know what my homelife was like.”
I furrowed my brow, that didn’t sound like Dee at all. I couldn’t picture her making an eight-year-old promise something so huge that more than twenty years later she still wouldn’t talk about it. Seeing the conflict on Jenny’s face had me wondering if keeping quiet was the best idea, even if it was the only way to make Jenny tell me the truth. I couldn’t stand watching her cry and she was crying and I was just letting her. But I was hurt too. In 24 hours, I’d learned that the two people I trusted most in the world had lied to me.
She looked at me with her red rimmed eyes, and I almost broke, but I had to know what she was talking about. And I knew she’d find a way to avoid the topic if I left it drop now.
“You’re not going to believe this anyway. She made me promise to never tell you what I am.” Her voice fell to a whisper.
I frowned, “What do you mean? What you are?”
Jenny gave me a weak smile. “No, it doesn’t make sense, and even after I tell you, it still won’t make sense. Dee always said she was waiting for the right time, but now it’s too late.” She paused and blinked back more tears, “I’m not human.”
I blinked and sat stunned. I opened and closed my mouth more than once trying to think of what to say.
“I know you don’t believe me, and probably just think I’m crazy, but it’s true. I’m not human, and Dee wasn’t either.” Her voice was so quiet I could barely hear her.
I swallowed and took her hand. She wouldn’t meet my eyes, and she was still crying. “Jenny, what are you talking about, no one can be not human.” I wondered if maybe she was crazy. With her abusive childhood, her reaching adulthood and being a little nuts would be understandable, but claiming to not be human was something else in entirely. “Jen?”
She wiped at her eyes, and sat up a little straighter, “I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true and Dee knew it right away. She was afraid I’d hurt you. It took a long time for me to convince her that I would never hurt you. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Jenny, how could you hurt me? We were what eight when we met. How could you have hurt me then?” My mind didn’t want to function. I simply couldn’t process the conversation at all. I must be misunderstanding something. Maybe Jenny meant figuratively, she wasn’t human. I still wasn’t sure what that would mean, but at least it kind of made sense.
Jenny pushed her hair back, and let her eyes travel back to the floor. “Because of what I am and what…” she paused, “Dee knew that I could have really hurt you then, I still could. At first, she didn’t believe I wasn’t trying to hurt you, but eventually I convinced her.” She finally pulled her eyes back to mine, her face expressionless. “It’s going to sound crazy, but I’m a siren.”
I sputtered, literally. I may not be the most articulate of people, but generally I can form words. I narrowed my eyes, “Wait? You’re a what?”
Jenny tried to smile but couldn’t seem to manage it. “A siren. Like in mythology. You know, the bird women that sang and lured sailors to their deaths.”
I heard the words, but I really couldn’t process what she was saying. “So, you’re telling me you’re a bird that kills sailors?” Saying it didn’t help at all, in fact, I think it made it worse. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Jenny nodded weakly. “Well the myth stuff is mostly just myths. I don’t kill people. I just, um, feed off of their lifeforce.” She was watching me, her gaze flicking over my face.
I was left dumbfounded. My best friend was absolutely crazy. She’d gone around the bend. She was all I had left, and now I find out she’s nuts. “And Dee knew this?” I couldn’t keep the disbelief out of my voice. Seeing Jenny flinch at my tone, I wanted to cringe. But she couldn’t really expect me to believe that my Aunt Dee, the Ph.D holding obscure book editor believed that an eight-year old girl was a siren, a mythic bird-woman who eats people’s lifeforce, could she?
Jenny bit her lip, “I’m telling you the truth, well mostly. It’s kind of complicated.” She paused. “I’m only half-siren; my dad was human. It’s pretty rare, and well it was part of the reason I had so much trouble with my family growing up.” She looked at me her eyes beseeching me to understand, “I was always an embarrassment to my mother, a shameful accident that sullied her perfect bloodline.” Jenny’s voice dripped disdain at her family. “They always wanted me to prove I was really one of them.” She shook off the thought.
I chewed on my lower lip, wondering what I was supposed to do. “So, your family problems came from you being half-siren?” I sighed, “Jenny, I can’t even say that out loud without thinking it sounds crazy. Stuff like that doesn’t exist.”
Jenny gave me a weak smile, “What do you want me to say? You don’t have to believe in it for it to be true.”
That was it for me, I felt my control slip. “Really? That’s your explanation?” I rose from the couch and started pacing the living room. “You tell me that the big secret is that you’re some killer canary?”
Jenny at least looked chagrined. “It’s not a joke. It’s true and Dee knew about a lot of things that people believe don’t exist.” Her voice was gaining strength, and she narrowed her eyes, “I’m trusting you with my deepest, darkest secret,” she pointed to her chest, “My biggest secret! And you can’t even pretend to believe me. You can’t even try.” Her voice had risen.
I turned to face her, “Jenny, you’re asking me to believe that you’re a monster, who would believe that?” I was shouting now.
She stood up and shouted back, “I am not a monster! And you should believe me, because it’s true. Have I ever lied to you?” She must have caught my expression because she back-tracked, “And I didn’t lie about this, I just never told you.”
I laughed then. It was a bitter, hurt laugh and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to scream at her or break into tears. “But this is crazy! We’re screaming at each other over fiction, Jenny. Or is this a joke and I just don’t get it?”
Jenny glared at me a minute and then sat heavily on the couch. She buried her face in her hands and her shoulders heaved. She was completely silent, but I was sure she must be sobbing. I took a step towards her, but she spoke, her voice muffled through her hands, “Stay there. Just stay a minute.”
I froze, she didn’t sound like she was crying. And I wondered if I should call someone, like, like Kyle. I vacillated between wanting to grab my phone and going to try and comfort the still silently sobbing Jenny. Until I realized that she wasn’t sobbing. Her shoulders were still shaking, but they were shimmering or melting or bending into unnatural angles. It made my stomach twist to watch her, and I had to look away.
“Hero?” Jenny’s voice came from the couch. At least it sounded like her, but it sounded more. Almost like she was singing.
I looked up and saw Jenny, and felt my knees grow weak and I hit the floor. It wasn’t possible. It wasn’t Jenny sitting on my couch. It looked like her, but massive gossamer wings had sprouted from her back. They weren’t exactly bird wings but they weren’t butterfly wings either. The more I looked at them the more it seemed that they gave the feeling of wings, without actually being wings at all. And they seemed to almost float behind her, like a pale, shimmering veil. I could still see my couch through the wings.
I forced myself to look away, to look at her face and it had changed too. Her features were sharper, harder. It was still Jenny, but more… predatory. Her eyes seemed to glow, to luminescence, casting blue light over her face.
“I told you, Hero, but you didn’t believe me.” Her voice flowed like honey, and I really wanted her to keep talking. I wanted to listen to her forever. And her face fell, “Oh, Hero. You’re supposed to be immune. You must be immune.”
The sadness in her voice made me want to weep. It was like the most heart-rending dirge in existence. I couldn’t find any words, and I realized that if I spoke, I couldn’t listen to her anymore. A small voice in my head reminded me that this was just Jenny, and that my response to her voice was wrong. This was just Jenny.
Jenny lowered her head to her hands again, and I did cry this time. I watched the shimmering and melting of her shoulders as long as I could. Finally, the twisting, nausea overwhelmed me and I had to look down.
“Hero?” It was Jenny’s voice, her real voice again.
I forced myself to look up, to look at her through my tears. She was Jenny again, and the sound, the song of her voice was gone. “Change back,” I whispered.
Jenny shook her head, “No.” She looked sad, “I didn’t think it would affect you. I always thought you’d be immune.” She slid from the couch and joined me on the floor. She wrapped her arms around me. “Hero, please snap out of it?” Her words were a plea.
I heard the pain in her voice, the hurt, the tears. This was Jenny, my Jenny. Not the bird-creature that had been sitting on my couch. I shook my head, already feeling the emotions from the song fading. “How can this be real?”
Jenny let go of me and sat back on her heels. She looked into my eyes, “You are immune, well mostly.” I could hear the happiness, no the joy, in her words. “Maybe it was just a response to the first time. Or maybe it’s just us being friends.” She seemed to be considering the possibilities.
“I don’t get it, what happened?” I shifted away from her, suddenly feeling, for the first time in our friendship, uncomfortable with her touch and her eyes on me. “What are you?” My voice was barely a whisper. I could still hear the echo of her voice, but the response that it invoked was growing more distant.
She sighed and laughed. “I told you, I’m a half-siren and you are immune! I knew it. I told Dee you would be.” She was almost giddy. “She wouldn’t let me even try, but I knew it.”
I rubbed my forehead. Suddenly this was all too much. Jenny wasn’t human, Dee knew about it, and she was gone so I couldn’t ask why she didn’t want me to know. My world had gone from terribly dark and hopeless to weird and unfathomable in five minutes. The only thing I was sure of was that I was in over my head and was afraid I was going to drown.
Jenny rose and I listened to her rummaging around in the kitchen. I remained sitting on the floor, too stunned and confused to even think straight. Jenny returned and pressed a glass into my hand. I coughed a little when I swallowed the first sip of vodka. I looked at the glass and shrugged before downing the rest of the alcohol.
Jenny sat cross-legged on the floor next to me, sipping from her own glass. I could tell from her body language that she was struggling to be patient with me, but she was ready to burst.
I ran my hands through me hair, “Ok, so tell me this again.” I couldn’t believe I was asking for her to repeat the insanity, but I found myself asking anyway.
Jenny grinned. “Ok, my mom is a siren, and I’m a half-siren. Dee knew a lot about the Preterworld, well she and your grandmother did.”
I interrupted, “Wait, stop.” I frowned, “I’m pretty sure ‘Preterworld’ isn’t a word.”
Jenny laughed, “Preter, from preternatural. Kinda like supernatural, but less derogatory.”
I shot Jenny an, I’m so lost look, because I couldn’t even find the words to ask for an explanation. How could a woman with wings, a siren, think supernatural was a derogatory term?
“Ok, supernatural is all mysterious, higher-power related. It’s like make-believe stuff. Stuff that can’t be real.” She was very matter of fact.
I nodded, “Uh huh, like a woman with huge shiny-rainbow bird wings, sitting on my living room floor.” I didn’t want it to sound so harsh, so derisive, but it did.
Jenny arched an eyebrow at me, her lips twitching into a grin. “Exactly. Preternatural is like more, more than natural but still possible and therefore real.” She seemed quite pleased with her definitions. “It’s like me. I’m not make-believe or unreal. I’m just outside of what’s natural, what’s expected. But I’m possible.”
I cocked my head at her and took her barely touched glass from her. I took another swallow of vodka. “So supernatural is rude, because it implies a siren couldn’t be real. Even though, I don’t think that anyone believes that sirens exist or are possible.”
Jenny pouted, “Just because people are stupid, that doesn’t make us not possible.” She eyed the glass I’d taken from her. Whether she was considering taking it back or just checking how much I was drinking, I wasn’t sure. “Can I go on now?” she asked.
I shrugged. “I guess so,” I said, and took another sip.
“Dee knew a lot about the Preterworld. She was a really powerful hecate.”
I held up my hand, “Wait, Dee was what?” I was starting to get a little overwhelmed with all of the vocabulary. If I was going crazy, I guess my subconscious had a larger vocabulary than I did.
Jenny shook her head, “Um, hecates are like witches. They can totally do magic and stuff. Like spells and…” She let her voice trail off. Maybe she saw my expression shifting from disbelief to outright scoffing.
All of this was just too bizarre. “Uh huh, Dee was a witch, with a fancy name.” I tried to keep the disbelief out of my voice and failed. “And she never mentioned that, or like rode on a broomstick or had a pointy hat?”
Jenny hrumphed but ignored me. “They don’t call themselves witches, it’s just the closest description I can think of.”
I raised an eyebrow at Jenny, “So, Dee is, was, a witch. How come she didn’t tell me?”
Jenny shrugged. “It would have been easier if Dee had explained everything before…” She paused and her expression darkened a moment, “She kept a lot of secrets. She worried about you.”
“Worried? Like I’d object to her being a…” I paused trying to remember the word Jenny’d used, “a witch?” Vocabulary of my mental breakdown wasn’t my strong suit.
Jenny shook her head, “No, she didn’t think you’d be all anti-hecate or anything, she just wanted you to have a normal life.”
I’d finished Jenny’s vodka and still wasn’t feeling any more comfortable with this conversation. Maybe it was all a dream? Maybe I was in a coma from getting knocked out at Dee’s yesterday. That would explain everything. And when I woke up I’d tell Jenny all about this wacky dream because that explained everything.
Jenny cocked her head at me, “So are you thinking dream or coma?”
I sighed. I guess if you knew someone as long as she’d known me, it was pretty easy to guess what I was thinking. “Um dream, but coma is a good idea.” I stared at my empty glass a minute and finally sighed. “This is all impossible to believe. I mean some secret supernatural,” I paused when Jenny shot me an annoyed look, “sorry, preternatural world that my aunt Dee was involved in.”
Jenny rose from the couch and offered me her hand. She helped me stand up. “Maybe this is a conversation that’s better had over coffee and not sitting on the floor.” She led me to the couch and headed toward the kitchen. I listened to her rustling around and the water running.
She came back with a glass of water and handed it to me.
I sipped at the water, thinking. My thoughts went back and forth between acceptance and complete disbelief. It would be easier just pick one and stick with it, but one choice made me crazy and the other made my best friend crazy. Thankfully, Jenny seemed willing for once to sit in silence and just let me think. Eventually she got up and returned with a cup of coffee.
I held the cup still trying to understand everything that Jenny had told me. Dee had been involved in a secret supernatural world and was some kind of witch, and I didn’t think that Jenny meant Wiccan-Girl-Power witch at all. Dee had decided to keep all of this from me, to let me have a normal life? That seemed to far-fetched. Dee was all about knowledge is power and knowing stuff being important.
Maybe Dee hid her witchness from me because I wasn’t one of them. We weren’t blood relatives, and maybe me being human was a problem. I finally broke the silence, “Did Dee hide this from me because I’m not, not a hecate or a siren or whatever?” The longer we talked the less bizarre it all started to sound, and that worried me. Jenny’s transformation was fast becoming too easy to dismiss as hysteria or infectious delusion or something that I could pretend was rational. “Was the big secret just because I’m human?”
She grew pale. “Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.” She looked away. “Forgive me, Dee.” She whispered.
“So you’re not human, not really. I wasn’t supposed to tell you that either. Dee always said she would when it was time.” She put finger quotes around time.
“Wait,” I interrupted, “Dee promised that she was going to tell me,” I paused and began counting off things on my fingers, “first that she was a hecate,” the word felt weird to say, but I kept going, “Second that you’re a siren, and finally that I wasn’t human?” I waved the three fingers at Jenny, “That’s a lot to kind of put off telling a person.”
Jenny nodded, “I know. We argued about it for years…” her voice trailed off, as I stared at her wide-eyed.
“You guys talked about this?”
Jenny looked abashed, “Yeah, I started asking her about when she was going to tell you about the time we were 16. She always said she wanted you to have a chance, a normal life, a human life.” Jenny bit her lip, her eyes sad, “She thought it would be better for you not to be burdened with it all.”
I knew that Dee was a surrogate mother for Jenny, and I knew that they’d talked and done stuff without me, but somehow the idea that they had kept this huge secret from me made it worse. It was a betrayal, a lie. “So what I am? Frankenstein’s monster? Maybe a werewolf?” I finally asked.
“You’re a lemuria, and a very powerful lemuria if you’re immune to me.”
I blinked, picturing the raccoon-monkey animals from the zoo. “Wait, I’m from Madagascar and have a raccoon tail? Uh huh, I think I would have noticed a tail.”
Jenny frowned at me, and began to dig through her purse. She pulled out the pictures from the wedding, the missing ones with the weird purple orbs. She waved them at me, “No, that’d be dumb. You see dead people.” She glanced at the pictures, “And on camera too. I’ve never heard of that before.”
I took the pictures from her and glanced at them again. “Some glitter on my camera lens means that I see dead people?” I shook my head at her, “I’ve taken pictures for years, and no ghosts.”
“That was Dee’s doing. But you can talk to ghosts, it’s what lemuira do.”
I set the coffee cup down. “So, I can talk to dead people, like with a crystal ball and stuff?”
Jenny shrugged, “I guess this is a lot to deal with? But I don’t think you need a crystal ball.”
I just nodded. This really was becoming far too much to process. I had a million questions screaming around my head, but all of them seemed more ridiculous, more crazy than the last. But them one more question occurred to me, “Wait, you only told me all of this because of Kyle.”
She bit her lip and looked at the floor, “Yeah, Kyle…” She let her voice trail off and she wouldn’t look at me.
“Jenny, what is Kyle?”