The Fairy King -8- How Real Can It Get?

Megan considers options and strategies and makes a decision on who she really wants to be. Then, what could be more real than making pancakes for your parents?

Part 8 - How Real Can It Get?

by Wanda Cunningham

Chapter 16

Reality Check

The silence in the house seemed so strange after the noise and confusion of the dream-memory. I lay in my bed, trying to think about my situation, trying to plan what I should do.

How many wishes had there been? I'd counted them once before. I'd made the first when I wished that I knew what the dog was thinking. Hmm? Had I been thinking about being able to talk to animals when I wished I knew what Cerebus thought?

I couldn't be sure, too much had happened since then but all the rest of the wishes had followed quickly. Molly had made the second when she wished that I could come over to play with them by which she meant she wished I were a girl. Mom, third, had wished I were more like Phoebe; Phillip, fourth, had wished I would say yes to being his girlfriend; Dr. Estevez, fifth, had wished he could help me make a decision and Daddy, sixth, had wished that I would make an attempt at living as a girl.

That one bothered me a lot, why would Daddy wish something like that except that it fit in with the other wishes? I'd been his son for almost fourteen years, his sudden desire that I become his daughter had to be magically induced. Didn't it? Had my father regretted the decision when I was a baby to correct my appearance and raise me as a boy?

I thought about what Mom had said about she and Daddy being worried about how I might turn out. They had some reason to have doubts, apparently, but I knew that a lot of kids at school had thought I must be gay and called me names and even worse, sometimes. But to find out my own parents had noticed something really embarrassed me. And now that whole problem had vanished, like magic. Ha.

"I'm not gay," I whispered, "but I'm not sure I'm completely happy about it, either." I grinned at my own joke and suppressed a giggle. Alone there in my bed, wearing a borrowed nightgown, I felt very confused about what I should be doing and what I should be feeling. A little humor and silliness made it more bearable.

The really frightening things to consider taunted me though; first, was any of this real? Had I imagined all the fairies and magical happenings? There didn't seem anyway to know for sure, I had to trust my own senses and memory to some extent or curl up in a ball and let the world hang itself. I had to act as if I believed in fairies or admit I must be crazy. And I didn't really feel crazy.

But believing in the magic brought up the second most frightening consideration. If magic were real, what were its limits? How could I know how much of my past, even my own memories, had the six wishes altered? All of it, none of it? I couldn't decide so I left that alone for the moment.

But, why had any of the wishmakers made those particular wishes? Had Molly set the pattern; causing later wishes that reinforced hers more likely? Six wishes had been made and granted, each one I remembered being accompanied by bells and those mysterious bouts of weakness. Three more wishes and only the last one can undo what has been done and only if Tintabelle makes it herself. At least that was the best sense I could make of the song I remembered her singing.

She'd probably be willing to wish me back to being a boy -- but then she'd want to marry me. A fate I had dreaded before but now seemed doubly horrible. And that was odd, too, but true; as a girl, I had no desire to marry another female; it felt actively icky. Definitely more icky than thinking of myself as a girl.

Almost as icky as thinking about turning back into a boy, I realized.

So, what could I do to wreck Tintabelle's plans for me? And preferably, I admitted, leaving me to finish growing up as Margaret Eden Bartlett.

The remaining wishes seemed to be the only hope I had for unraveling things. Saving the last for Tintabelle, I had to figure out how to use the other two wishes to make things come out okay.

Wait a minute--I tried to remember the words of the poem. Must the last wish be Tintabelle's?

I got up quickly and turned on the light over my desk, I shivered a bit in the cool of the morning--and shivered more from a different reason when I noticed again the nightgown I wore. I grabbed my robe, still blue and only knee-length, from the back of the door where Mom must have put it last night. More warmly dressed--even in August, early morning can get cold in the mountains--I sat down at my desk and booted up the computer.

First, I tried to reconstruct Tintabelle's song from my dream. With magic, every word probably mattered so I had to get it just right to have a chance to know what might be done with the remaining wishes. I worked at concentrating on this task though a hundred other thoughts tried to push their way into my brain. I had intended to go out looking for the Fairy Queen this morning but this seemed more important and more likely to be useful. That thought gave me a bit of pause.

Just what did I hope to accomplish? After I managed a first draft of the song, I sat there in my sister's borrowed nightgown with my own short blue robe over it and tried to puzzle out just what would be the ideal outcome from all that had happened.

Changing back to a boy and avoiding marrying Tintabelle had seemed like the obvious thing to try for when I first discovered what had happened. But--and perhaps this simply resulted from the magic worked on me--I no longer really wanted to be a boy. I kept running across that astonishing conclusion and this time I let the seemingly inescapable realization paralyze me for a very long time.

What about my situation could possibly be improved by changing back to a boy? Well, I wouldn't have to learn how to be a girl; even with magical help that task looked daunting, what did I know about being a girl? Not much, I admitted to myself. But more painfully, what did I know about being a boy? Well, quite a bit more, actually, along with the knowledge that I wasn't very good at it.

I'm not agressive or even very competitive. Physically, I can't do most of the things boys are expected to do. I don't have much interest in most pursuits considered distinctly masculine like sports, cars, the military, or even girls. At least, not in the way that most boys were interested in girls, I decided. Lately, I'd sort of pretended to a masculine interest because, well, people expected it? My real interest had always been more in being friends; when I'd been small, all of my friends my own age were girls. And I really hadn't had many close friends since about the third grade.

Being sick a lot had caused some of that, but a basic incompatibility with what people expected of a boy had a lot to do with it. Even if none of this magic stuff had happened, maybe I would have been better off if I'd discovered that I'd been a girl all along, just as Dr. Estevez seemed to think.

And again, a recurring thought paralyzed me with its implications. This time, I decided to think it through more thoroughly. What if everything that seemed to be caused by magic had a perfectly normal explanation? What if I had actually been a girl--or what was the word Dr. Estevez used?--an intersex--all my life? What if I'd been imagining all of the magical explanations for things?

I tried to consider if there were any evidence of magic that could be confirmed by someone else without an explanation that fit into a conventional world view. Weather balloons or swamp gas or something? I couldn't think of anything, really. The behavior of the squirrels, perhaps, but squirrels are famously freaky in exactly that way.

I can talk to animals, I should be able to prove that, I decided. But proving that I had once been an actual boy seemed impossible. The magic--if magic were real--had covered the bases of probability too well. And if magic were not real then maybe I should tell someone about my imaginings because I really would be loopy in that case.

I felt confused and stressed out but I didn't really think I could be crazy in that way. And I'd actually had some experience in being crazy.

Once before, I had had hallucinations that had seemed perfectly real at the time. A bout of bronchitis had put me in the hospital six years ago; the bronchial infection had turned to pneumonia and my chronic asthma had kept me on the edge of hypoxia--oxygen starvation--nearly all the time. I had come very close to dying. I didn't remember much of anything from that time but my parents and the nurses and doctors agreed, I had conducted extensive conversations with people no one else could see.

And I'd never doubted the reality of what I thought was happening, apparently. I'd been so sure of my invisible visitors that I insisted everyone else should be able to see them, too. Or at least, that's what others told me about that time, my memories were faded and distorted and influenced by the reports of family and staff who had seen me conducting one-sided conversations.

One of my nurses thought I'd been visited by angels. My dad told me that from listening to my monologues, he had concluded that I had written myself into some of my favorite cartoons, movies and television shows. My mom agreed to a degree, but also she had overheard me talking with my maternal great-grandmother, a woman I had never met since she had died before I was born. "You called her, 'Nana Emily', just as I did when I was little," Mom said. "It spooked me a bit, but you asked me questions for her and I tried to answer them honestly. It only happened once."

That one remained unproven also. Had I actually been visited by the ghost of Mom's grandmother or had my literally fevered imagination constructed the visit from family tales? My mother understood such a possibility, "I talk to my characters all the time," she admitted, "when I'm awake, I know I'm talking to myself but when I'm half-asleep it seems very real."

"You've inherited Vicky's fabulism," Dad had commented. I looked the word up and found out it meant 'telling invented stories'.

Had I invented the Fairy Court and the Curse of Nine Wishes as a tale to tell myself to explain what was happening to me? It seemed possible and by Occam's Razor it ought to be accepted as a first hypothesis. I didn't want to believe it but it might be true.

So, how could I test it? It's really hard to prove a negative, the non-existence of fairies, and therefore my invention of them. Turn it around then, test the hypothesis by trying to prove it false; try to prove that fairies really did exist.

It probably wouldn't be easy. I'd seen 'I Dream of Jeanie' and 'Bewitched' on Nick at Night; people who can do magic can make it look like non-magic. I didn't know why the fairies might want to conceal their existence from mortals, but if they did they probably could. So proving fairies actually do exist, let alone that one of them had cursed me, was going to be really difficult. It seemed almost certain that no one would believe me without proof or even be willing to help me get proof.

That was the real problem with that hypothesis, all the courses of action it suggested looked difficult, impossible or likely to get me locked up. My initial dismissal of that idea still looked correct. I would be better off to keep behaving as if magic were real and fairies did exist and could curse one with a song.

I'd finished recreating the poem/song/curse/spell while I thought and I read it over several times to see, first, if I had it right and second, if it suggested any way I could get out of my difficulties.

Three more wishes. And if they're going to be undone, if I'm ever to be a boy again, the last one has to be saved for Tintabelle. But if she uses it to change me back to a boy, she'll probably force me into marrying her. But I didn't really want to be a boy anymore.

The answer came to me slowly.

Each wish had to be made by a different person and Tintabelle could only undo things with number nine. I didn't think she could make any wish but the last but if she made an earlier wish, she would be unable to use number nine to turn me back into a boy since the wishes were one to a customer. Or, get three other people to make wishes and use up all nine; either way, she would have no wish she could use to change me into marriage material. I shivered. I'd be stuck as a girl but I wouldn't end up as Darren Number Three.

I saved the file I'd created as "9wishhex.txt" and did some more thinking. I had discarded the idea of proving whether or not all this was real but the thought kept coming back.

Did it really matter?

I could drive myself nuts trying to prove I wasn't crazy. Sure, if my memory and senses were playing tricks on me, the reality might be that I'd been halfway between being a girl and a boy all along. And now, puberty might be the pudding that proved the postulate; I've got breasts, I like boys, therefore I am a girl. It scared me but not as badly as the idea of being married to someone with the powers of a minor godling.

I turned off the computer.

If magic were real, if Tintabelle really were the Queen of Woods and Meadows, fine, I didn't dare ignore her. She could be dangerous, Samantha and Jeannie with a mad on. If I got the opportunity to prove the reality of her existence, good; but I couldn't afford to act as if she didn't exist until I knew for sure.

If she weren't real, my worst case scenario might be spending some time in a rubber room. But if she were real, the sky might be the limit for what could go wrong. I might end up finding out if King Fritharic had always been a frog. Logic and practicality, my father's touchstones, demanded that I treat the fairy magic as real until proven otherwise.

The safest thing I could do would be to stay away from her, use up the wishes and hope she forgot about her crazy idea of marrying me. If she didn't get the ninth wish, she couldn't use it to undo all the others and I'd be stuck as a girl. Still a scary thought but the life it promised looked better to me now than it might have last week.

I walked over to my dresser and looked at myself in the mirror. I still looked like me but then again I didn't. As a boy's face, mine looked like a failure: chin too round, no definition to the forehead or jaw, almost a child's face. As a girl's face, though--I stared for a moment then couldn't help smiling. I really was prettier than Phoebe.

The frilly neckline of the nightie made me look more feminine and when I opened my old robe I could see my little titties "making tents" in the nightgown. I turned my face this way, then that. I ran my hands through my hair. "I'm a girl," I said aloud. I shook my head at the wonder of it all.

Then I frowned. "I'm going to ask Mom if we can go somewhere and get my hair styled," I muttered, turning away from the mirror.


Chapter 17

Signature Pancakes

I took a quick shower, taking a bit more care washing than I usually did. Then I dressed myself in my new role. I didn't have a whole lot of choices but this took some time. I picked a pair of ruffled panties; though I cringed a bit, I figured I might as well get myself really into this and get used to the idea. They actually felt very nice.

I put on the bra next and I padded it out a bit with a pair of thin white socks, fresh out of the package. It didn't seem to take quite as much padding as yesterday and I worried about that for only a moment.

Next I put on a pair of green slacks, decorated with little red and yellow roses at the seams high on my hips. Then a cream pull-over blouse with more roses where the pocket ought to be. I looked at myself in the mirror and decided that these items looked as good on me as they ever had on Phoebe, if not better.

I experimented with the jewelry, finally choosing a simple gold chain necklace and the same charm bracelet I had worn last night. I looked the makeup over but decided against it without more lessons, then I spent five minutes trying to recreate what Mom had done with my hair last night. I finally settled for something serviceable but less than stylish, put on my socks and sneaks and headed downstairs.

It was early still, Mom and Daddy would likely not be up for an hour or more, so I poured myself a glass of milk and puttered around the downstairs for a bit. The family photographs displayed in frames on almost every horizontal surface in the front room caught my eye and I examined them.

Mom fancies herself a photographer and a lot of these were candid shots of some skill rather than just studio heads and amateur snapshots. A little annoyingly, in more than half of those featuring me, it could be considered a toss-up as to whether I looked more like a sissy or a tomboy. I stared at one of me in a particularly silly pose, looking over my shoulder and smiling at the camera with a popsicle in my mouth. Too cute.

"Gah!" I said. "No wonder I got the crap beat out of me so often." Had the pictures always showed such ambiguous images? Maybe. Again, I couldn't be sure that the photographs and my own memories hadn't been altered a bit by the magic. Maybe the effect would spread and spread until no one remembered a male me? I shivered a little and put all the pictures back. Not one of them would be a dead giveaway, I reflected with a bit of dismay, none of them showed an unequivocally male me; in the ones where I didn't look ambiguous, I looked like a tomboy.

I rinsed my milk glass and left it in the sink, something I hadn't always remembered to do in the past. Would I now? Maybe I should start breakfast? Wisely, I decided I would be out of my depth in the kitchen but resolved to pester Mom to show me the basics.

Thinking of Mom, I wandered over to the corner of the dining area she used as an office. I took some blank sheets of paper from her printer tray, and a few pens back to the dining room table. I started trying out writing my new name. "Margaret Eden Bartlett" about a dozen times, it seemed like a nice name for a girl like me, though I squirmed and shivered the first few times I wrote it.

It kind of fit me, though, or the person--girl--I would like to think of myself becoming. Nice solid, upstanding names like "Margaret" and "Bartlett" sandwiching the much spicier, "Eden." I heard myself giggle but I didn't care.

Next I wrote "Eden Bartlett" all over another paper. I tried different ways of writing it, some all flowery, some sort of brusquely efficient. The one I liked best had a few flourishes and looked very sexy, I thought. Did I want my signature to look sexy, I wondered. Why not? More giggles.

I covered another page with just my new initials: MEB, over and over again with each letter drawn carefully as a modified heart; point down for the M, right for the E and left for the B. Really cute, I decided, maybe too cute. I overlapped the letters a bit to disguise exactly what I had done a bit more and I really liked that version so I turned the page over and drew the monogram another twenty or thirty times in different sizes and using different pens.

On another sheet, I wrote "Megan Bartlett" maybe twenty times, using the heart-shaped capitals. I knew that would be what Mom and Dad would call me now and I kind of liked it too. Not as sexy as Eden, not as solid as Margaret but a fun sort of name. I would have worn pigtails as Megan when I was small, if I'd been Megan when I was small.

I even wrote "Daisy" a few times on a piece of paper, drawing a little flower for the dot on the i. But I mushed that paper up and buried it under a lot of other trash in Mom's waste can. My face felt very hot; the Daisy signature had been so embarrassingly cute, I didn't want anyone seeing it and especially not Daddy.

When Mom came downstairs a few minutes later, I was doing something even more embarrassing. I'd written several versions of my new names with different last names, Daniels and Clark. I don't know why I did that but when I heard Mom on the stairs, I shuffled that paper into the stack and had the one with Margaret Eden Bartlett on top.

"G'morning, hon," Mom said. "You're up early."

"Nervous, I guess," I admitted. I sat awkwardly at the table, wondering if Mom would say anything about how I had dressed. She had pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a large, loose t-shirt, what she usually wore to breakfast.

"You look nice, sweetie," Mom said, with a smile. "I had the oddest dreams last night," she added.

I rolled my eyes, "Believe me, they couldn't have been any weirder than mine."

She grinned, "I suppose not. Want to help me fix breakfast?"

"Sure," I agreed. "I thought about starting without you but I really don't know the first thing about how to do it?"

"Then I have to start teaching you," she said. "What have you been doing there?"

"Uh," I showed her the top couple of papers. "Practicing signing my name so I don't forget and...you know?"

She nodded. "Good idea. It's a pretty name. Megan."

I blushed and she ruffled my hair. I pushed it back a bit, "That reminds me, can I get my hair cut today?"

She nodded. "Better hide those papers from your father, he'll tease you terribly. But, yes, I think a trip to the salon is in order."

I shivered a bit as I gathered the practice signatures and disposed of them. Then I joined Mom in the kitchen and we talked as she showed me how to make pancakes. "It's going to be your first trip to a salon as a girl," she commented. "I think you'll find it a rather different experience than when Ethan went with me."

"I guess, so." I wanted to ask her lots of things but I could only think of one at the moment. "Do you think they can do much with my hair right now?"

"Sure," she said. "It's down over your collar and it covers your ears now, plenty to work with. Have them give you some bangs and feather it so it fluffs up nicely, then just a more feminine cut in back and around the ears. You'll look super, honey."

"That word still bothers me just a bit," I said.

"What? Honey?"

"No, feminine." I shivered and Mom laughed. "I'm getting used to the idea that it applies to me a little at a time."

"You're doing fine," Mom said. "Look, we'll feed your dad, then you and I will go out for the rest of the day. Shopping, a real girl's day out."

"Uh, I would kind of like to go see Molly and Dolly for lunch at three?"

"All right. We'll keep this first outing short, get your feet wet though."

I grinned nervously, amazed that I was actually looking forward to a trip to the mall with Mom.

"All right, now dear, I'm going to tell you the secrets of fluffy pancakes," she said. "Then only you and I and Phoebe will know."

"Huh?"

"One secret, and lots of people know this part, is separate part of the egg whites out and beat them with a little water to make them fluff before adding them to the batter." She showed me how to separate the eggs, putting the yolks into the bowl where we had measured out flour, sugar, salt and baking powder already. "But the real secret, our little family secret," Mom said, opening a cabinet and pulling down a bottle, "is this. Extra Light Olive Oil."

"Olive oil? In pancakes?" It sounded weird to me, but what did I know about cooking?

"Extra light is the olive oil that has had most of the olive taste removed, but it is much better than any other oil at making light and fluffy pancakes," Mom explained "Don't use 100% or Extra Virgin Olive Oil or the pancakes will taste weird." I giggled and nodded after she showed me bottles of those two. "Extra Virgin is for making salads, 100% is the cheapest kind and I use it for sauteeing vegetables and making croutons."

Her explanations demanded a hundred more questions but I kept quiet and beat the egg whites fluffy as she told me, just a few seconds with a fork, then we mixed all the ingredients, milk too, together in the big blue bowl. "Here's another secret," Mom told me. "Once you've got everything thoroughly blended, stop stirring! If you stir too much, the pancakes will be tough, like restaurant pancakes usually are."

"Wow," I said. "There's lots to remember."

"You'll get used to it when you've done it enough, now I can get a break from cooking all the time without letting your father sacrifice cow parts in the backyard." She grinned at my expression. "Just remember, you don't always have to eat your mistakes." She pointed at the garbage disposal.

I giggled and felt relieved, she'd guessed exactly what had worried me.

I knew how to crisp bacon in the microwave so I did that and poured tall glasses of orange juice and milk and set the breakfast bar, including putting out the butter and syrup so they wouldn't be ice cold. Mom supervised. She showed me how to test the griddle to see if it was hot enough; just a drop of water and watch it skitter away. "Have your spatula and plates ready but wait to start cooking the cakes until everyone is at the table. Use a quarter-cup measuring cup to dip out the batter and pour on the griddle. You can make eight cakes at once on this griddle and by the time you pour the last cake, the first ones will be almost ready to turn. Watch for the bubbles, I'll show you. Turn them all in the order you poured them and they will be nearly ready to serve by the time you turn the last one."

"Uh, huh," I said, a bit dazed. I stood there, holding a spatula in one hand and a measuring cup in the other, staring at the griddle as if it were a math final.

She laughed and gave me a quick hug. "Your dad can cook when he really wants to and he taught me the last secret of making great pancakes."

"There's more?"

"Yup." She went to a cabinet and took down another big bottle, this one full of dark brown liquid. "Mexican vanilla. It's stronger than the stuff you get in regular grocery stores and cheaper, too. You have to go to a Mexican grocer to get it but a bottle this size lasts a long time and you'll use it for lots of things. Just before you start grilling the cakes, add a teaspoon of this and stir the batter a few times; remember not to overstir."

I blinked but grinned. "No wonder I think everyone else's pancakes are terrible."

"I make good pancakes, too," I heard Daddy say on the stairs.

Mom met him at the bottom. "Of course you do, when you don't decide to experiment with orange peel or squashed bananas. But your specialty is pecan waffles." They kissed and I probably made a face.

Daddy laughed. "How you doing, punkin?"

"I'm making pancakes," I said, unnecessarily.

"You look cute with flour on your nose," he observed.

"I've got--Mom! Why didn't you tell me?" I looked in the dark mirror of the upper oven window, yes, I had flour along one side of my nose and up into my eyebrow. I brushed it off quickly while my parents laughed.

"I wanted Alec to see how domestic you looked," Mom excused herself, still laughing.

"So cook, already," Daddy said.

"Go ahead, honey," Mom said. "Remember the vanilla."

I grabbed the vanilla bottle and instead of measuring out a teaspoon just sloshed some into the batter and stirred three quick times. Then I dipped out helpings of batter and poured eight pancakes. "Mom, could you put the bacon on the plates?" I asked.

"Sure," Mom said cheerfully. Dad sat at the long breakfast bar and just watched. I flipped three pancakes each onto two plates, served Mom and Dad, flipped the last two cakes on my plate. I had just enough batter to scrape out of the bowl for one last larger pancake for me. While it browned, I rinsed the mixing bowl, measuring cups and spoons and put them in the dishwasher. Then I flipped my last cake onto my plate and joined my parents.

Those were absolutely the best pancakes I'd ever had and I laughed and wriggled with the joy of making something that came out so right. Mom beamed at me and Dad winked, and just then I felt very happy to be learning how to be a girl.


Next - [Darling Megan]

More [The Fairy King]



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