Saturday, April 14, 2018

Not keeping it a secret (urban fantasy hero story)

[Entirely original.  Something I've been thinking about on and off in various flavors since the munchkins started watching Trollhunters.]
[Notes for depiction of depression, discussion of potential accidental gaslighting, and discussion of the potential for true accounts to be misinterpreted as delusions.]

The door opened and Julie looked up to see Justin walking into the kitchen with his head hanging in a way that she hadn't seen since his doctors had found an antidepressant that worked.  She wasn't just worried for her son, she was surprised.  Everything had been going well for Justin lately, and given that his closest childhood friend had recently moved back to town, it seems like things should be even better.

She waited a while to to see if Justin would say something on his own, but he just went to the fridge and poured himself a glass or orange juice.  That he didn't shake the jug before pouring was a bad sign.  Given how much Justin loved pulp, he had to be very bad, be it apathetic or straight down emotions, to just fill a glass with whatever remained at the top after the juice had had a day to settle.

When he sat down across from her, never even raising his eyes to look at her, and completely ignored the orange juice he'd just poured, Julie decided that she'd have to ask.  She never liked it.  She preferred to wait for him to tell her things on his own.

She sighed, stood, took the glass of orange juice, got a funnel, and asked, "Did something go wrong with Emily?"

"No," Justin said in a completely flat voice, head and eyes still pointed downward.  "Everything is great."

Julie poured the glass of orange juice back into the jug.

"Maybe everything's great with Emily," Julie said, and that was a relief --the two had been so close before Emily's family was forced to move away to find work, and Emily had been the only one who could break through Justin's depression and bring out real, honest, joy-- "but something is most definitely not great."

Julie closed the jug, shook it, and re-poured a glass of orange juice.  In that time Justin said nothing.

Julie put the jug away, set the glass of now-pulpy orange juice on the table in front of Justin, and went back to sit across from him.

For a bit Justin didn't react at all.  Then he picked up the orange juice, carefully in both hands as though he was afraid he'd drop it or thought it would be extremely heavy, and slowly took a drink.  Then he carefully placed it back on the table, let his arms slide off and drop to his sides, and said, "Thanks."

"No problem," Julie said.  "Could you please tell me what's wrong?"

"It's just . . ." Justin started, but after a while it became clear that there was no end coming.

"Well, if you can't talk to me about it," Julie said, "maybe you can talk to Emily."  One of the things that Julie was hopeful for regarding the return of Emily was the possibility for Justin to have a normal human bond that wasn't tied to all the things associated with 'Mother and Son'.

"You two were always so close," Julie said: "the inseparable 'Em and Sam', which I've never understood by the way."

Pretty much the only thing Emily or Justin had been willing to say about why Emily called Justin "Sam" was that it wasn't because Justin disliked his given name.  That had been a relief to learn because, at the time, kids at school had been teasing Justin over being "the little J" of "J and J".

"'Justin' doesn't have a one syllable form," Justin said.  "We couldn't very well be 'Em and Jus'."

The statement had been delivered in same flat tone as everything else, Julie was confident it wasn't a lie, and it doubled what she knew about the whole 'Sam' question, but she knew that Justin was still dodging the primary reason.  So she said so:

"That might be part of it, but you're still hiding the lion's share."

For the first time, very slowly, Justin started to look up.  For all the wrong reasons.

"I'm not trying to pry," Julie said quickly, raising both hands in a gesture of 'Wait, let me explain.'  "I was just making a comment.  You're under no obligation to tell me everything that goes on in your life, and I trust you to tell me the things I need to know."

And his head began to return to its previous, limply hanging, state.

"I'm just saying . . ." what was she saying?  "You say things are going well with her now, and you've trusted her with things you keep from me.  So, maybe, if whatever's wrong is something you don't feel comfortable telling me, you could talk about it with her."

"That's the problem."

That was completely uninformative, but at least they'd reached the point where he acknowledged there was a problem.

"What is?" Julie asked.

Then, like a switch had been flipped and Justin transitioned from 'Power Save' mode to 'Overpowered to the point that electricity is arcing in places it ought to never arc' mode, Justin was looking up, speaking quickly, loudly, and with clear frustration, and animating his emotions with gestures:

"I can't figure out how to tell her!  How am I supposed to just drop, 'Hey, while you were gone I discovered that magic was real and somehow stumbled into the role of super-powered protector of a thriving colony, which sits at the junction of three of the most important magical North American trade routes, of mostly mythological beings and assorted magical people' into a conversation‽

"She and I are getting along great, it's like the time we were separated never happened, which pretty much makes her my best friend in the whole world, and I'm hiding this huge part of my life from her and I don't like it but I don't know what to do about it!"

Julie wanted to ask if he'd considered a direct approach, but couldn't get a word in and soon found her question answered anyway.

"If I tell her without proof she'll think I'm insane.  If I tell her with proof she might think she's insane.  I consider it a stroke of incredible luck that you didn't immediately go to the doctor and demand to be put on antipsychotics after how badly I bungled telling you!"

Given how upset . . . no, wrong word.  Tormented?  Maybe, maybe not.  Given how bent out of shape Justin clearly was about the whole thing, Julie knew she had to bring out the big guns.  Fortunately she knew just what kind of ammunition to use in situations like this.

"Badly bungled," she said, "but better butchered babbling," Justin actually smiled a bit, in spite of clearly trying not to, "than deceitful disinformation demanding damning designs of distortions and," Justin laughed, which was good because Julia was approaching her alliterative limit, "deceptions."

Justin looked down again, but this time he was so visibly alive and had a smile on his face.

"Thanks," he said.

"Always," Julie said.  "It's what mothers are for or some such."

Justin drank some more orange juice.  Julie thought for a bit.

"So, basically," Julie finally said, "all we have to do is figure out a way to introduce Emily to the unseen world without unintentionally gaslighting her, right?"

Justin nodded.

"I'm sure we can think of something," Julie said, "and if we can't do it on our own, it's not as though there's no one who would help us think it over."

There were trolls, fae, witches, wizards, wer- and wif- and non-binary mennwolves, imps, no less than seventeen spirits vying for the right to become the spirit of the house Julie and Justin were currently sitting in, hobs, and other things she had trouble keeping track of who would all be willing to offer ideas, some of which would doubtless be good, though not all of them would to it for free.

That Justin was the first outsider chosen as sentinel in almost two hundred years made many of their new acquaintances wary, and some downright hostile, but being sentinel also brought a degree of social and institutional support that had allowed Justin to actually handle the responsibilities of defending a hidden colony from a civilization he'd never known existed and allowed Julie to look out for her son while he occupied that position.

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