NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.
Tumbleweed Motel ~ Coldwater, N.M.
The cake was still warm when Dr. Kavanaugh cut a big slice from one end and topped it with several generous pats of butter. Morgan eyed it suspiciously. Butter on chocolate cake didn’t sound terribly appetizing.
“Trust me on this,” Dr. Kavanaugh said. “It’s delicious, and it’s good for you.”
“Good for me. Yeah. Sure.” Morgan rolled her eyes. “Chocolate cake and butter are definitely health food.”
“You’re thinking like a human.” Dr. Kavanaugh buttered a slice for herself. “Think like the fae you are. For our kind, butter absolutely is health food. Our bodies work differently than humans’.”
Morgan wrinkled her nose. She didn’t like thinking about the fact that she wasn’t human.
“Lean into it,” Dr. Kavanaugh advised, as if she’d read Morgan’s thoughts. “Denial won’t change anything. It will just make you sick and unhappy. The sooner you accept who and what you are, the sooner you can start building the life you want within those parameters.”
“Easy for you to say. Nobody’s telling you you’re a war goddess. I think a regular bean sidhe has a better shot at building the life she wants than a supposed goddess who’s supposed to fight a shapeshifter that wants her dead.”
“Bitching about it won’t make it not true,” Grandma Sandy said. “Listen to Dr. Kavanaugh. Eat. Take care of yourself.”
Mom laughed incredulously. “Is my mother-in-law fighting with my daughter to get her to eat chocolate cake? Is that what is happening here?”
Morgan gave her a dirty look.
Joey accepted the helping Dr. Kavanaugh handed him and took a big bite.
“’Srehry goom,” he said around a mouthful of cake.
“Joey, I have no idea what you just said. Empty your mouth before you talk.”
Mom raised an eyebrow. Morgan ignored her and picked at her cake. She was usually patient with Joey, but she had enough people nagging her without him weighing in on something he didn’t understand. It wasn’t about the cake or the butter itself. It was about the constant reminder that she wasn’t really human. If I’m not really human, then I’m not really a person, she thought. She wanted to cry, but she wasn’t going to give anybody the satisfaction.
“Sorry, Morgie,” Joey said, smacking his lips as he cleared his mouth. “I said it’s really good.” He pointed to Morgan’s cake. “Try it.”
With a longsuffering sigh, Morgan took a bite of the cake. She hated to admit it, but it wasn’t bad. Not as good as whipped-cream frosting, mind, but not bad, especially with the butter starting to melt on the warm cake. That warmth she’d felt when she ate the shortbread in Bill’s barn was back, energizing her.
Dr. Kavanaugh was watching her from across the table, an expectant look in her eyes.
Morgan refused to look at Dr. Kavanaugh. She was still mad. She wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like it was Dr. Kavanaugh’s fault that Morgan wasn’t human. Dr. Kavanaugh wasn’t human, either. She was trying to help. Everybody was trying to help, but nobody understood. Not really. Morgan was supposed to remember something she wasn’t sure she even wanted to remember. If she didn’t remember it, the monster that killed Daddy was probably going to kill her and her whole family. No pressure there, she thought.
How was she supposed to remember something that happened hundreds of years before she was born? Apparently she couldn’t even be trusted to remember something that happened two years ago. And if she did manage to remember the monster — what then? Would she stop being herself and become this battle-goddess thing Dr. Kavanaugh kept talking about? It was hard enough being a bean sidhe.
She kicked the leg of her chair. She knew she was pouting like a little kid, but she was too scared and frustrated to care.
“Morgan, you’re acting exactly like I do when my blood sugar is low,” Mom said. “Please eat. Things will look better when you’re less wobbly.”
Morgan scowled, but she took another bite. Almost as soon as she swallowed, the butter worked its magic again. She’d rather chew off her own leg than admit it, but she liked the feeling.
Dr. Kavanaugh waited.
“OK, so maybe you’re not completely full of crap,” Morgan allowed.
“Coming from you, that almost feels like praise,” Dr. Kavanaugh said, grinning. “I know you hate being wrong.”
“It’s still weird,” Morgan grumbled. “Who ever heard of butter on chocolate cake?” She took a third bite, trying to conceal her enthusiasm. The more she ate, the more she liked it, and she was pretty sure she’d crave cake with butter when it was gone.
Mom laughed. “And yet, my weird kid is eating it.”
Dr. Kavanaugh was watching Morgan a little too intently for her liking. She had a feeling questions were coming her way. She wasn’t ready to answer them.
Right on cue, Dr. Kavanaugh spoke.
“I think you’re strong enough to discuss this now,” she said. “What broke your concentration and made you cry this afternoon?”
Morgan shoved the rest of the cake into her mouth. She wasn’t supposed to talk with her mouth full. Maybe if she kept her mouth full, Dr. Kavanaugh would go away.
“Morgan, answer your principal,” Mom said, her voice stern.
Morgan glared at her, chewed, swallowed, and reached for the knife to cut herself another slice. She definitely didn’t want to discuss this in front of Mom. It would break her heart.
Grandma Sandy pulled a chair close to Morgan’s and sat down, putting her arm around her granddaughter’s shoulders. Leaning close to Morgan’s ear, she whispered, “If I get your mom out of here, will you tell Dr. Kavanaugh?”
Morgan took a drink of milk, thinking. Dr. Kavanaugh wasn’t going to leave her alone about it. Mom definitely didn’t need to hear it, and while she was pretty sure Grandma Sandy would understand, she didn’t think she should hear it, either. She nodded reluctantly.
“There’s a good girl.” Grandma Sandy kissed Morgan’s cheek and stood up. “Sierra, I’ve run out of arthritis pills. Would you mind running me to Santa Rosa to pick some up before the store closes?”
“Do you really need them now?”
Grandma Sandy shot Mom a pointed look. Mom sighed. “I’ll get my purse.”
“Thank you, dear.” Grandma Sandy winked at Morgan as soon as Mom’s back was turned. Morgan gave her a weak smile in reply.
As soon as they were out of earshot, Dr. Kavanaugh spoke. “Enough stalling,” she said. “You know I’m not going to judge you, whatever you tell me. What happened? I need to know, because the shapeshifter used it, and if it used it once, it will use it again.”
Morgan cleared her mouth and took another drink of milk. Setting down the glass, she spoke. “I forgot Daddy.”
“How do you mean?”
Morgan closed her eyes. “I was flying above the battlefield, and I had control of the fog. I pictured it turning into ropes, like Wonder Woman’s lasso, and I was going to use them to keep those two men from killing each other, but then I started –” she stopped. How was she supposed to tell this without crying?
Dr. Kavanaugh hugged her. “You started what?” she prompted.
Morgan sniffled. “I started thinking about superheroes, and how cool it was that I had kind of a superpower, and then I thought, ‘If I get superpowers like Wonder Woman, this might almost be worth it’ — worth having that thing stalk me, I mean — and then I realized what I was thinking, and I knew I didn’t deserve those kinds of powers, because nothing could ever be worth losing Daddy. But for just a second, I — I forgot him, and I thought it was worth it, because I forgot what it really cost. I forgot that thing killed Daddy to get to me.” She began to sob in earnest. “What kind of daughter am I? How could I forget? Daddy died because that awful thing wanted to fight me, and all I could think about was how cool my power was.” She pushed her plate back, lay her head on the table, and buried her face in her arms.
Dr. Kavanaugh rubbed her back gently, letting her cry it out. “Sweet girl,” she said, her tone soft, “when were you then?”
“What?” Morgan’s voice was muffled as she spoke into the tabletop.
“Were you here and now when you were thinking that?”
“No,” Morgan mumbled.
“Were you somewhere in the future?”
“No. I was on that battlefield again.” Morgan shivered. “It was awful.”
“You were on that battlefield, hundreds of years before your daddy was born. You didn’t forget him. You just went to a time before he existed.” Dr. Kavanaugh pulled Morgan’s hair back and began to massage the muscles at the back of her neck. Morgan relaxed a little. ‘You can’t mourn somebody who hasn’t happened yet,” Dr. Kavanaugh assured her. “You were learning to use a tool that might help you bring down his killer. You got excited when you saw its potential. Your daddy would be proud of you, Morgan. He wouldn’t want your sorrow to hold you back.”
Morgan whipped her head up suddenly. “You don’t know my daddy!”
Dr. Kavanaugh smiled, her expression calm. “No. I don’t know your daddy. But I know your daddy’s reputation. I know he was a good man. I know he took care of his family. I know he loved his daughter. I know he was proud of her.” She looked Morgan in the eye. “Do you think he’d want his beloved daughter to give up on bringing his killer to justice because she felt guilty for getting excited about a new ability that might help her do just that?”
Morgan rubbed her temples. “I guess not,” she said. “But it just felt so wrong. It was like I was making light of something serious.”
“Making light of things is how we survive, Morgan. You weren’t making light of your father’s death. You were just caught up in the moment, using your powers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You can miss your daddy and still be happy when you discover something about yourself that might keep you safe and help you avenge him.”
“But isn’t my power the reason he died?”
“Absolutely not.” Dr. Kavanaugh’s voice was gentle but firm. “Morgan, look at me.” Morgan reluctantly met her mentor’s eyes. “Your father died because a sociopathic monster decided to kill him. You are not responsible for the actions of your enemies.”
Morgan tried to believe her, but she couldn’t. Not quite. Dr. Kavanaugh cared about her, and she meant well, but she didn’t understand. If Morgan hadn’t been what she was, Daddy would still be alive. If Morgan hadn’t been born, Daddy would still be alive. No amount of rationalizing could change that.
“If you won’t forgive yourself for existing for me, do it for him,” Dr. Kavanaugh said. “As long as you let this eat at you, you’re not going to have full control of your powers. If you want to avenge him, you need to be operating at full strength, and that means letting go of the guilt and pain that are clipping your wings.” She gave Morgan a reassuring hug. “Fly, little Morrígan. It’s your birthright. Fly.”