She knew he was from the wrong side of the tracks. But, honestly, when he gave her that cheeky grin and his eyes went all warm and tender just for her, it was hard to care. It didn’t matter that she was from the best part of town and owned dresses worth more than the entire building the apartment he shared with his family was in, not when she lay in his arms and they spent the night looking up at the stars. She wished, sometimes, that he had been born into her world, but she knew in her heart that he wouldn’t be the same person if he had been. He would be like the other boys, the ones who spoke only of things he derided as frippery and pretended they knew how the world really worked. She didn’t care that he was from the wrong side of the tracks, but her mother and father would. They wanted her to make a society match, to marry for the betterment of the family. But she looked into his dancing eyes and then leaped wholeheartedly into them, drowning in a sea of soft green. They promised things they couldn’t and believed their own lies. The railroad tracks had never seemed all that wide, but they were worlds apart. Two worlds that collided and threatened to keep moving to part again. Until the day she appeared at the door of his apartment with a suitcase in her hand, tears in her eyes, and his child under her heart.
The Patriarch's Ball was upon them. 400 strong, the elite would gather to display their marriage-bait like so many cakes dressed in silks and lace, sending the girls from gilded cage to gilded cage without so much as a by-your-leave. Cora wanted none of it. She was no pretty songbird to be caged, to be sure. Betsy stood nearby, head down and hands clasped before her.
"Miss Cora, your mother was insistent."
Cora turned away from the window and her musings upon the sea and sighed.
"Bess, if she's so insistent on dressing up a doll and sending it off to the ball, then someone ought to tell her to go to the store. I hear they have new ones that walk about and don't talk back."
Bess raised a hand to cover her mouth and tried to hide her giggles as Cora fell into a chair dramatically. Bess let Cora pull her in and smiled sadly.
"Your mother would throw a fit. And we both know where that would lead."
Cora kissed Bess gently on the forehead and sighed, her melancholy returning.
"I wish I could at least pretend it wasn't true for a few hours. But I suppose the dreams would only make the cage worse."
Pulling away, Bess went to the gown on its stand.
"You'll look delightful in this, Cora. I'm jealous of the men you'll dance with tonight."
Cora stood as well and went to stand beside her maid.
"I'll look like an over-decorated pastry and I doubt I'll be able to breathe."
"Will you tell me about it this evening?"
"If I don't fall asleep on my feet, you know I will." Cora brushed her fingers against Bess' hand and smiled. "I will say, if I had a sensible gown and could bring anyone I wished, then I would enjoy spending an evening dancing with you, Bess."
Bess looked down and demurred, a blush on her cheeks.
"I don't know the steps."
"I could teach you."
Bess shook her head less in disagreement than in bemusement.
"Your mother will be looking for you soon, Miss Cora. Let's get you ready."
When the formality returned, Cora's shoulders slumped.
"Only to keep you out of trouble, Bess."
It seemed like forever before Cora returned home sweaty and exhausted, but flushed with excitement.
"You would never guess the gossip, Bess. Scandal positively abounds."
Bess smiled, coming to help her young mistress with her gown.
"Is it political, financial, or social this time?"
"Social." Cora raised her arms to let Bess get to the laces on the side of the corset. "A married man caught with an unmarried girl. Worse yet, he'd been lying to her about the state of his marriage and the state of her future."
Bess paused in her unlacing for a moment.
"That's…cruel of him."
Her tone was soft and surprisingly emotional. Enough that Cora turned to look at her.
"Miss Cora," Bess paused uncertainly and Cora turned, letting the open corset hang.
"Bess, you don't need to call me Miss. You never have to be that kind of formal when it's just you and me. I love you. You know that."
Bess looked away.
Cora reached out to pull Bess into her arms and Bess pulled away.
"What's so different between what you say to me and the lies of that gentleman to the young lady? You tell me you love me when you and I both know we have no future together. You have to marry one of the young men of Mrs. Astor's court and I'm nothing but a maid." Bess was crying and she didn't even realize it. “You have to find a husband that suits your station. Even if I were a man, I could never do that and we both know it.”
“And we both know I don't want a husband.”
Cora tried again to gather Bess close to her but Bess was having none of it.
“Do you plan to tell your mother that? Or your father? How do you suppose they would take that news from their eldest daughter? You would end up in a marriage as soon as your mother could arrange it and I would end up on the streets or worse. Women who admit to this kind of thing end up in asylums, Cora.”
Cora’s hands dropped to her sides. Opening and closing her mouth a few times, the words that always came so easily failed her. After a long moment of silence, she spoke uncertainly.
“We could run, live together in freedom.”
“And poverty. You know nothing outside these walls. The best we could hope for would be millwork in Massachusetts.
Cora tried to open her mouth again, tried to protest, but Bess was already working on her laces again.
For a moment there was only the sound of fabric rustling and quiet concentration.
“Will you be needing anything else before bed, Miss Cora? If not, I’m going to pack this away and start in on the mending.”
Cora felt like there was a chasm stretched between them, one she didn’t understand. And yet, she could the more she thought about it. She hung her head, trying to keep from crying.
“No, Bess. Thank you. I…I think I’m going to turn in early.”
Maybe in the darkness, the realization would hurt less.
That was the only word that went through my mind as I watched her step out of the thrift store dressing room. God fucking dammit. This is the part where, normally, our fashionista cheerleader heroine would be thinking check plus for your hard work, your frumpy best friend is going to get the useless jock of her dreams and ride off into the sunset as prom queen. Well, except for one pretty major detail. I did not want her to go riding off anywhere with Darren McAndrews, scum lord extraordinaire. I wanted us to be the ones riding off into the sunset together. Yep. One makeover later and the cheer captain is pining desperately over her formerly fashion-challenged best friend since kindergarten.
The words slipped out of my mouth and Lily’s shoulders slumped.
“Does…does it not fit?” She sighed a little and looked so sad. My mind was racing in five thousand different directions. “I really thought we had it that time.”
“No, no. Lils. It fits. Perfect. Great. Amazing. You look amazing.”
The words were tripping over themselves in a jumble to get out of my mouth and I felt like there were spotlights trained on my face. I knew from the heat rising to my cheeks that I must be blushing. Oh yes, this was rapidly entering worst-day-ever territory.
That was when the floor dropped out from underneath me. Okay, not really. Lily walked over and touched my arm, a concerned look on her face. I tried to be relaxed, calm, not buzzing with some stupid pile of hormones I only half remembered from biology. She must have said something else because she was looking at me like she was waiting for an answer.
“Y-you shouldn’t go to prom with Darren.”
For a moment, we both stood there and I wondered if this was what going crazy felt like. Like I didn’t have control over what was coming out of my mouth.
“He’s an asshole and a lech and a creep and…and…”
No, I was wrong before. This was what it was like to lose control. I grabbed my best friend and I kissed her right there in the back of the thrift store with tears in my eyes and my hands shaking. She looked startled but then her expression softened.
“You never said. Not a word. Not the slightest hint.”
I flailed. I honestly flailed.
“I didn’t know!”
Then she took my hand and her little smile nearly killed me.
“I’d love to go to prom with you, Kat. Assuming you’re asking.”
The first thing Lysandra did was belt on a sword stolen from her brother. If she succeeded, he need never know. If she failed, it would never matter. The second was to tie a cloth over her eyes. It was hard to be certain when she would meet the monster, so it was best she be protected. With any luck, the patron of Athens would be with her. Or maybe the Goddess of Love, given the nature of her quest. Taking a breath, she began to feel her way through the rocks that led to the cave. She was certain she would find what she was looking for there.
It was slow going, that sightless progress from beach to cave. Lysandra stopped twice, certain she heard movement but never once daring to adjust her blindfold just in case it was the monster. Her questing hands found stone before her and she nearly jumped out of her own skin when it moved, falling backward.
“Lady of Wisdom, please let that not have been her I just knocked over…”
A voice sounded from behind her, disturbingly close.
“The Lady of Wisdom has no place on my island. And neither do you.”
Lysandra didn’t turn. It would have done her no good. She let her hands fall to her sides and tried to keep from shaking.
“Neither does Pelagia.”
She wished for a moment that her voice had sounded more fierce, more determined, less afraid. But there was nothing she could do now. Snakes snapped all around her head and Lysandra knew that Medusa had come right up behind her. For a long moment, they both stood there like that. Then Medusa spoke, her voice low and dangerous.
“Do you know what happens to the people who come here?”
Lysandra licked her lips nervously.
“They turn to stone. When they see your eyes, they turn to stone.”
“Which is why you wore a blindfold, clever Athenian girl. Then you know the girl you’re looking for is stone. So why are you here?”
“Because I think you know how to turn her back.”
Lysandra listened to the shifting behind her as Medusa considered her words.
“Assuming for a moment that I could, why would I? Why would I restore any of them? What do you know about any of this?”
Medusa grabbed Lysandra by the arm and the girl screamed. Clamping her free hand over her mouth, Lysandra felt hot tears beginning to soak her blindfold.
“I don’t. I don’t know anything beyond the stories. They…they said you were a monster. I just came to rescue Pelagia. Because. Because I love her.”
When Medusa spoke, there was distaste in her voice.
“So, of course, you carried a sword to face a monster. Everything becomes clear. Once, I was as human as you, girl. As it happens, I can do what you wish, but it will be for a price.”
Lysandra’s heart leaped into her mouth and her pulse hammered in her ears.
“I’ll do it. Anything you want, I’ll do it.”
“There’s spring on the island. Use the water from that to wash the stone off of her and only her. Then take your Pelagia and go tell them that I am dead. I don’t care what story you tell, but make it convincing. I’m tired of would-be heroes trying to test themselves on me. I just want to be left alone.” Medusa let go of Lysandra’s arm. “I’ll be in my cave, so you can take your blindfold off. If you swear to the deal.”
Lysandra didn’t hesitate.
“I swear it on the River Styx.”
Lysandra had tucked the sword back among her brother’s belongings before she and Pelagia went to the agora with their news.
“I tell you, the gorgon Medusa is dead.”
Lysandra stood on a low wall, hands on her hips.
“And who slew that monster?”
“Was it you, girl?”
Lysandra glanced at Pelagia at her side and then smiled, spinning a tale no one would ever forget.
“Not I. It was a hero, a demigod named Perseus. I can tell you exactly how it happened.”
Peter had told Wendy that girls didn’t get to Neverland nearly as often, they simply didn’t get lost like boys did. And he was right. And he was wrong. Baby girls don’t get lost. It’s the older ones who sometimes find themselves straying. It starts when they put their hair up and let their skirts down. Some of those young women find themselves walking down the roads they were forbidden to tread, dreaming the dreams they were told to never have. Sometimes, these young women puzzle out which is the second star to the right and sometimes they go back to help the lost girls left behind.
Meredith wouldn’t say she was lost, though her parents certainly would have if anyone had asked them. She hadn’t felt lost since the day years ago when she had first climbed aboard the ship that had appeared at her window and the Captain had promised her she was safe. Now, she fished in the pocket of her trousers and pulled out a silver compass. With luck, tonight the lady moon would guide them to another lost girl so they could bring her home. The needle spun for a moment as she laid it level in her palm and then pointed steadfastly. With a smile, Meredith nodded and shouted back.
“Captain! She shows due west.”
The Captain was a tall woman with wild curls, bold manners, and a fierce protective streak when it came to her crew. She smiled now at Meredith and turned to the woman who stood at the helm.
“We chase the setting sun, then. Merry, keep us on course.”
Susan had done everything right. She had put up her hair and let down her skirts. She had discovered makeup and boys and followed all the rules. The problem was simple. She wasn’t happy. She was cold and confused and distant. Sitting up at night in her room, Susan read by the light of a single candle. Or at least she had been until she heard the knock on her window. She held her candle with care as she opened the window onto the strange scene that met her. A ship hung in the air by her window and a person leaned over the rail to smile at her. The impossible ship was one thing, but the person was entirely another. They had short hair, cut nearly like Susan’s elder brother had just gotten his for military service, and wore a white shirt and trousers. Despite all that, Susan was utterly certain that this stranger was a woman.
“So, you’re the new lost girl.”
The woman reached out a hand to Susan with a wry smile on her face.
“Blow out your candle, but you can bring the book.”
For a moment, Susan hesitated. None of this was possible. Something, though, in that woman’s eyes drew her. Then the words truly sunk in.
“I’m not lost. I suspect you may be since your boat is in the air and not the sea.”
The woman laughed and leaped over the rail to climb in Susan’s window.
“The whole crew’s lost. And we’re not. And the lady moon sent us here to find you.” The woman showed Susan a silver compass which pointed inexorably at her no matter how she moved. “Which means you’re one of us. I’m Meredith, by the way. First mate.”
“I’m Susan. And I’m afraid I still don’t understand what you’re going on about. I’m not lost, regardless of what the moon may or may not have told you.”
Meredith tucked the compass back in her pocket and sat perched on the windowsill.
“Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in the life they have lined up for you? Like maybe you want to be someone other than a daughter and then a wife and then a mother? Like maybe you don’t want to be kissing boys?”
Susan’s head snapped up and her voice was shaky when she spoke again.
“How can you know that?”
“Because I was like you when the Captain came for me.” Meredith ducked back out the window, holding her hand out. “Come on, Susan. Come be a lost girl and find yourself.”
Susan only spared a brief glance backward before blowing out her candle and reaching for Meredith’s hand.
“I don’t have to wear trousers, do I?”
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
Meredith helped her over the rail and they stood together on the deck as the ship turned towards the second star to the right. Susan watched as the lights of her childhood home vanished behind them, turning away when she could only see darkness below her. Then she reached for Meredith’s hand.
“Will you help me? Until I know the ship and the crew and how things are?”
She added the second part in a rush, a blush coloring her cheeks. Meredith smiled and kissed Susan lightly on the cheek.
The moon gilded the ship and the women who crewed her silver as they journeyed through the night, and she smiled. Another of her daughters had made her way home.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
Elena was tripping over the words, struggling to get them out. Worse yet, in the mind of Gemma, her girlfriend wouldn’t meet her eyes. Nothing good came of stammered, awkward confessions with zero eye contact. She resolved, though, not to fall into the trap of assuming she knew it was the worst. After all, would Elena be this upset if she were ending things?
The blonde scuffed her sneaker against the ground and then sighed.
“It’s…complicated, okay? And a really long story. But, I really really want to be completely honest with you because I love you.”
Gemma reached for Elena’s hand and then pulled her closer.
“Whatever’s wrong, you don’t need to worry, Lena. I promise.”
Again, Elena paused. Then she kissed Gemma lightly on the cheek.
“Nothing’s wrong exactly.” After another short pause, she met Gemma’s eyes. “I’m not human. Well…I used to be. I’m a vampire. Have been for a long time.”
That set Gemma back and she looked her girlfriend over incredulous. Elena was a petite blonde with a preference for pastels and floral prints who’s worst vice was a near-addiction to thin mints.
“A vampire. You.”
Elena pouted just slightly. Then she opened her mouth, releasing her fangs in front of another person for the first time in her preternaturally long life.
“Believe me now, Gem?”
“I daren’t stay long. I just had to see you.”
Elizabeth’s hands trembled just slightly as she spoke, her eyes downcast. Lady Lillian reached out one hand to seize the hands of her former maid.
“Lizzie, dearest Lizzie. You know what Father said he would do if you returned.”
There was fear in her eyes and tender concern in her words, but Elizabeth just smiled.
“I care not. I would die a thousand deaths if it meant I could see you the once more. And someday, your father will not be able to come between us.” She hesitated a moment. “You could leave with me, Lillian.”
A sharp intake of breath. Lillian squeezed Elizabeth’s hand tightly.
“You don’t know what you’re saying. What that would cause. Father would never allow it.”
“Then don’t ask for permission. Or forgiveness. I will always love you, Lillian. The question is whether or not that would be enough for you to give up all of this.”
She gestured broadly as the country estate and swept her hand out to take in the tennis courts and gardens and even Lillian’s clothing. For a long moment, Lady Lillian looked away. Her eyes took in every piece of this world that was all she had ever known. Finally, she took a step towards Elizabeth.
“Only but let me fetch clothing that will go unnoticed in the city and we will be away.”
Lillian pulled Elizabeth into her arms and kissed her gently. Someway nearby they heard the baying of hunting hounds and the young women sprang apart.
“I will wait for you after dark, Lillian. By the old apple tree.”
With one last lingering handclasp, they parted with dreams and hopes and fears rich in their minds.