Warning: This is mostly fluff, but includes a few touchy topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features anxiety, unresolved loss, reference to past child death, albino traits, hugging of a non-huggy person, doubt over boys playing with dolls, past child prostitution and other sexual abuse, self-consciousness over superpowers, nonviolent demonstrations of butterfly knife, wariness of new connections, exhaustion, and other angst. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"To See a Doll of Yourself"
[Saturday, May 16, 2015]
Shiv paced around the front room
of Blues Moon, watching Mrs. Nice
stack up her tubs of doll stuff.
Her granddaughter Shaneeq
helped her with the tubs.
sat on the floor, with
a doll in one hand and
a truck in the other.
Nobody else was there
on a Saturday morning,
until Zipper showed up.
"Good morning, everyone!"
the teleporter said. "Are we
ready to go to the party?"
"Yes we are," said Mrs. Nice.
"Here, I'm told that food is
a proper tip for teleporters.
Chocolate Coconut Energy Bars
seemed like a good choice today."
"Yes ma'am, thank you very much,"
Zipper said as he took the tin.
Shiv swallowed, trying not
to drool at the sweet smell.
He'd just had breakfast.
"Okay, everyone crowd in close.
Put a hand on your tubs," Zipper said.
"Take a deep breath, close your eyes,
breathe out ... and here we are!"
Shiv opened his eyes to see
the familiar living room of
the Finn house, with Edison
and Elisabeth already waiting.
"Hi, Shiv!" said Edison,
bounding over to greet him.
"Hey, Monkey," said Shiv as he
ruffled the back of Edison's shirt.
"Well, I'm off to fetch the rest of
your party," Zipper said, flitting away.
"Good morning, everyone, thank you
for coming," said Elisabeth. "Please
make yourselves comfortable."
"We will," said Mrs. Nice.
"Shiv, give us a hand
with the setup, please."
She had a tub of doll bodies
already made up, just waiting
to have hair and faces put on,
and another of doll skins and
different types of stuffing.
There was a whole tub
of doll hair in all colors,
and another of clothes.
There were sewing tools,
doll makeup, and other stuff.
It was ... actually kinda cool.
Mrs. Clementine would have
loved this party, he realized with
an unfamiliar pang in his chest.
Zipper went back and forth,
dropping off kids with or
without an adult in tow.
Taran Robertson was Asian,
a toddler with black hair and
eyes, his caramel skin dappled
with many dark brown spots.
"Wow, you're an appaloosa,"
Shiv exclaimed, trying not to stare.
Taran just giggled. "No, I'm a doggie!"
"Taran has canine traits," his mother said.
"That's why he looks the way he does."
"Hm, not dalmatian, because they have
spots about the same size," Shiv mused.
"His are all different sizes, like freckles
mixed in with the bigger spots. I
dunno a word for that, though."
"Merle," said Elisabeth. "You see
that in collies and several other breeds."
Lilyanna Norling had white-blonde hair
and eyes more lavender than blue.
"That's a pretty name," Shiv said.
"It's half mine and half my sister's,"
she said. "Before I was born,
my mommy got hit by lightning.
She and my twin sister died, so
Daddy smushed our names together."
"That sounds ... pretty awful,"
Shiv said, looking away from her.
"Oversharing," said her father Birk,
tapping Lilyanna on the shoulder.
"Sorry," said Lilyanna. "Was I
telling too much? Daddy says it's
rude, but I think it's just easier
if people already know stuff."
"That's, um, I think if you stop
right there, it'll be okay," Shiv said.
"Okay," she said. "Are you a 'bino too?"
"A what?" Shiv said, shaking his head.
"I don't think I've ever heard of that."
"Albino," Elisabeth murmured.
"I hadn't thought of it before,
but you do have the look.
That raises some concerns."
"Like what?" Shiv squawked.
"We can talk about that later,"
Elisabeth said. "Let's not
rain on the party today."
"Fine, whatever," Shiv said.
It's not like he wanted
to talk about that shit.
"That's okay, you can still
be my friend," Lilyanna said.
"I don't have many friends
who look like me. It's nice."
She hugged him around
the legs, then flitted away
to look at all the doll stuff.
Shiv was maybe breathing
a little too fast himself.
He could understand why
Lilyanna had glommed onto him,
though. He'd gotten teased plenty
for his looks, and he was hardly ever
around anyone who looked like him.
Lilyanna was like a tinier, girlier version
of Shiv himself, that was just weird.
He kind of liked her anyway.
She said what she thought.
Even when it was creepy,
Shiv could respect that.
Brighton Ikenberg came next.
She looked about 7, ordinary
except for pink and blue streaks
in her long wavy blonde hair.
She peeked at the tubs of doll stuff,
then made a beeline for the bookcases
that lined the walls of the Finns' house.
"Go ahead," Elisabeth encouraged.
"Maybe you'll find some inspiration
for what kind of doll you want."
Soon Brighton was perched on
a floor pillow with a pile of books
by her knee, as happy as could be.
If Brighton was nearly normal,
Neela Ramachandran definitely
was not -- she had cerulean skin
that made Shiv's fingers itch
for his creme pastels.
She watched everything
with a wary, resigned look
that made Shiv decide not
to ask if he could draw her.
Neela reminded Shiv of
the Indian girls that he'd
seen around campus clad
in saris of bright silk.
Instead, she wore
a violet blouse over
a hot pink skirt, both
decorated with gold.
She was accompanied by
a man who looked like a priest,
even if not the usual kind.
Shiv edged away from them
and looked for Zipper.
The teleporter arrived
with another little girl in tow.
Ebi Debenham had dusky skin
and coils of long black hair accented
with streaks of blue, green, and mauve.
"Hi," Shiv said. "If you want to look at
doll things, they're in the tubs over there."
Ebi promptly sat down with the hair tub
and began taking out skeins of yarn,
one at a time, to line up in rows.
"Careful," Shiv whispered.
"Some grownups don't like
when kids play that way."
"I know, but how am I
supposed to decide if I can't
sort them first?" Ebi said.
"Do you want to see all of
the materials before you
choose?" Elisabeth said.
"That's fine. You can sort
them any way you like, just
put them back in the tub when
you're done. I think the others
are looking at doll bodies first."
Ebi shrugged. "As long as
there are brown ones, I'm
not picky," she said. "Hair
is harder to find, and I need
all kinds to match mine."
"Yeah, you got lots
of colors going there,"
Shiv said. "It's pretty."
Ebi smiled at him, freckles
disappearing into dimples.
"You like my hair?" she said.
"Most people think it clashes."
"They're ninnies," Shiv said.
"You got soft to bright shades
of each color. Blue, green,
and purple-pink are next to
each other on the color wheel.
Then your base color is black,
so they really pop against that,
but it doesn't mean they clash."
"Oh, do you know colors?"
Ebi said, bouncing in place.
"Yeah, some," Shiv said.
"I like doing art stuff."
"Can you help me pick
yarns that match my hair
and look good together?"
Ebi said. "I don't know
where I should start!"
"Well, first set aside
all the warm colors,"
Shiv said. "Those are
red, yellow, and orange.
Yours are all cool colors
except for a little pink."
Ebi sorted warm from cool
and that narrowed it down.
"Here's a pretty purple,"
Shiv said. It had a twist
worked into it with thread.
"This turquoise matches
that one," Ebi said. "Right?"
"Hold 'em together," Shiv said.
"Do they feel about as thick?
Do they twist the same way?
How do the colors look?"
"I think these are the same
except the colors, and they
look nice together," Ebi said.
"Then keep 'em," Shiv said.
"Oh hey, here's mauve."
"Pretty," said Ebi. "I think
this is enough. I don't want
to make it too busy."
Shiv left her rooting
around for a black wig
to dress up with the colors.
Just then, another boy arrived,
this one a little younger than Ebi
with fair skin and short ginger hair
streaked in wild crayon shades
of yellow, orange, and red.
Fire elemental, probably.
A lot of redheaded soups
had abilities in that field.
"Are you sure that boys can
play with dolls?" he whispered
as he looked up at Zipper.
"Yes, boys can play
with dolls," Shiv said.
"I'm here as a volunteer,
and Taran's over there
looking at doll bodies.
What's your name?"
said the younger boy.
"Will they really have
the right colors?"
"Kid, we just dumped
half the hair box," Shiv said.
"All the warm colors are
in a bunch because Ebi
needed the cool ones.
Knock yourself out."
Carney scampered over
to see what Ebi was doing
and paw through the yarn.
Mrs. Nice, Shaneeq, and
Zina were cuddled together,
half buried in doll bodies as
they helped the children choose.
Then Elisabeth drifted past
with Brighton in tow and asked,
"How are you doing, Shiv?"
"Okay, I guess," he said.
"They got a lot of yarn.
I helped Ebi find some."
"Looks like she found a wig,"
Elisabeth said, and pointed.
Shiv turned to see Ebi waving
a long-haired doll wig made of
thick, squiggly black yarn. In
her other hand, she clutched
the new colors to be added.
"Brighton, let's go help Ebi
find a body," Elisabeth said.
Shiv hung back a little.
It was kind of nice to be
at a party where he could
chip in some from the sides
without getting dragged
into the thick of things.
Zipper appeared with
a tall girl who looked about
twice as old as Brighton,
She had dusky skin
showing through a coat
of fine, pale hairs with
blonde hair and tail.
Her face was horselike,
and two ears twitched
at the top of her head.
The woman on the other side
of Zipper looked like a social worker,
which made Shiv step back, but
the girl was hugging her, so
maybe that wasn't all bad.
"Folks, this is Abilene Lapp,"
said Zipper. "Be gentle, okay?"
Shiv looked at Abilene's ears
flicking rapidly back and forth
and her tail clamped to her butt,
then realized she was nervous.
It was just like reading the horses
at Tolli and Simon's place, really.
So Shiv went to move shoes away from
the nearest door where some folks had
left theirs, then checked to make sure
that the door itself was unlocked.
"Okay, you got a clear path to
the door here if you need it,"
he told Abilene. "Go straight
through the other way, and it
lets out the back of the house."
She blinked at him, her ears
suddenly pricking forward.
"How'd you know I was
thinking about exit routes?"
"Always have an exit strategy,"
Shiv said at once. Then he thought
a little further. She might not like it
if he called attention to horse stuff.
"You, ah ... looked a little nervous."
Her ears flicked, then came
right back at him again.
"Most people can't read me
anymore," she said softly. "It's
not so bad at Mustang Sanctuary,
but off the ranch, it's a lot harder.
Do you keep horses, then?"
"I don't, but Tolli and Simon have
rescue horses, therapy horses,"
Shiv said. "They're easy to read.
I dunno why people have trouble."
"Interspecies communication takes
time to learn," the social worker said.
"Some people can understand cats
or dogs as well. It just depends on
which animals they've encountered."
"Yeah, I can do cats too," Shiv said.
"I don't like dogs much, though."
"I like cats," Abilene said.
"We have barn cats at home."
"Alley cats, where I come from --
there's this courtyard next door
that they get into," Shiv said. "I
put food out so they don't starve."
"That's nice of you," Abilene said.
"Do you -- do you think the doll lady
will have anything that looks like me?"
"Yeah, sure," said Shiv, waving at
the tub of doll bodies. "She brought
all kinds and colors. I know I saw
some horse and cat ones in there."
"Oh, that's good," said Abilene
as she headed for the tub.
"Why are you even here?"
Shiv blurted. "You are
way older than the others."
"I never had a chance
to play with dolls like
other kids," Abilene said.
"I started working when
I was six years old."
Suddenly Shiv realized
that she reminded him
of his foster sisters and
how they'd been used.
Working meant sex work
and she'd been six years old.
Fucking goddamn hell.
"Right then," said Shiv.
"Let's go find you a doll."
He shouldered his way
through the small crowd,
making a path for Abilene
who didn't seem like the sort
to break way for herself.
"Look, Shiv! I finded me!"
Lilyanna crowed, showing
him a doll with pale skin.
"Great," said Shiv. "Go on
over there --" He pointed.
"-- and find you some hair.
Abilene needs to pick a body."
"Okay!" Lilyanna said,
and scampered away.
"Here, look, somebody's
already sorted these in piles,"
Shiv said. Probably Ebi, since
she'd done the same with yarn.
"Melanin tones, crayon tones,
multicolors, primal soups,"
Ebi explained, pointing
to each pile in turn.
"Let's see what we got
in primal soups," Shiv said.
There were cats in shades of
brown, gray, or white along with
patchwork cats in red or blue.
"Here's a horse!" Abilene said.
"But it's black, and I'm white."
"I've got a gray one," Shiv said.
"Is that light enough? You got
that pale hair over dark skin."
"I don't know," Abilene said.
"Maybe hold onto that one and
keep looking for a white one?"
They began making a row of
horse dolls from dark to light.
"This one's white ... ish,"
Shiv said, holding it up.
The doll's body was human,
but it had a horse's head, with
simple tubes for arms and legs.
The ends were done in beige cloth
with white polka-dots for hooves.
"I love it," Abilene said, and
hugged the doll against herself.
"Okay, does everyone have
a doll body now?" asked Mrs. Nice.
"If you do, hold it up so we can see it."
Everyone waved their dolls in the air.
"That's great," said Mrs. Nice.
"Have you all picked out hair?"
Most of them had, but not everyone,
so she pointed to the hair tub.
"If you don't have doll hair yet,
please pick it out now," she said.
"If you have yours already, come take
a number. That's the order I'll make
the dolls. If we don't finish all of them
today, that's okay, we can set a time
to finish your doll another day."
"What if we don't have hair yet?"
Brighton asked. "With the numbers?"
"After you find hair for your doll, then
you come get a number," said Mrs. Nice.
"I want to start on assembling dolls, so I'm
beginning with people who already have
both a doll body and the hair for it."
They drew numbers. Taran got
the piece with one spot on it.
"It looks like Taran goes first,"
said Mrs. Nice. "For the rest of you
with both parts, we have other things
you can do while you wait for me --
or you can ask someone else to help."
"Doll clothes," Zina said, pointing
to a tub. "Tops, bottoms, shoes,
and stuff like hair ribbons too."
"I have some other accessories
here," said Shaneeq. "There are
hammocks, backpacks, masks,
tablet computers, sleeping bags,
diaper bags, and baby carriers."
"We bought some accessory sets too,"
said Elisabeth. "There are school supplies,
science tools, and adaptive equipment. I
also have printables for doll books and
games if you want to make your own."
"How many clothes?" Ebi asked.
"One dress? A dress and shoes?
Or do you mean like a whole outfit
with top and bottom and everything?"
"That depends on whether you want
anything else," Shaneeq said. "Everyone
gets at least one full outfit. If you choose
other things, it's just that outfit. But if
you want all clothes, then you can have
a capsule wardrobe to mix and match."
"If you tell us what you want, we can
help you choose things that will be fun
and safe for your age," Elisabeth said.
A soft tug at Shiv's sleeve made
him look down. It was Lilyanna.
"I got the biggest number, so I
have to wait," she said, holding up
her doll. "Will you put my hair on?"
"Let me see," Shiv said. Lilyanna
had found not yarn but a doll wig
made from shaggy white fake fur.
"Yeah, maybe. I'll ask Mrs. Nice."
The old woman had opened up
the doll makeup kit to draw spots
on Taran's doll, and yeah, that
was going to take forever.
"What do you need, dear?"
Mrs. Nice said without looking up.
"Lilyanna wants me to put the hair
on her doll," Shiv said, pointing out
the pieces. "Is there like a special way
or do I just sew it on however it goes?"
"There are different ways," said Mrs. Nice.
"I believe a backstitch would work well here.
Do you remember how to do that one?"
"Yeah, I think so," Shiv replied.
Over the last several days, she had
shown him a few different stitches.
"Put the wig on the doll, part the hair,
and then sew around the head in rows.
Make sure to go through both layers,"
said Mrs. Nice. "You'll need to use
a mattress needle -- a curved one --
and some heavy-duty thread."
Shiv could probably do it with
a straight needle, because he
could hold it with his superpower
even inside the doll's head, but
the curve would make it easier.
He dug into the sewing supplies
and found a packet of curved needles
in various sizes, then took the smallest.
Then he held the button thread against
the doll's body to see which matched.
The body itself was still blank, without
even a face yet, waiting for Mrs. Nice
to draw, iron on, or embroider one.
Shiv put the wig on the doll.
"Is this how you want it?"
he asked, showing Lilyanna.
"Yes, please," she said.
"Okay," Shiv said. He used
a few pins to hold it together,
bending them into circles
with his superpower.
Lilyanna bounced on
her toes and made
tiny excited noises.
"Your superpower is
so cool!" she said.
It took Shiv a little while
to get the hang of moving
the needle through the cloth,
but then it went faster.
It wasn't actually hard
to do, just took attention.
As he worked, he tugged
on the wig occasionally
to make sure that it would
stay put, but it never budged.
"How are you doing here?"
Elisabeth asked, coming over.
"Shiv's putting on the hair
for me!" Lilyanna said.
"That's very nice of him,"
Elisabeth said. "Do you
know what else you want?
We have doll clothes and
all kinds of other things."
"A doll dress like this!"
Lilyanna said as she pulled at
her own black-and-red plaid flannel.
"I think we have some cloth like that,"
Elisabeth said. "We might need
to make a new dress, though --
I don't think there's one in the tub."
A portable sewing machine whirred
as Shaneeq made something.
Finally Shiv finished sewing on
the hair, and showed it to Lilyanna.
"It's great," she squealed,
jumping up and down ...
and raining sparks.
Shiv said. "Don't
light the rug on fire."
Lilyanna's face crumpled.
"I didn't mean to do it."
"Yeah, I know," Shiv said.
"Mine makes metal things
buzz when I get antsy."
Lilyanna sniffled, hands
raking at her hair, which had
fluffed up from the electricity.
"How bad is it?" she said.
"You look like a dandelion puff --
oh hey, no, don't cry!" Shiv said.
"Mine does the same darn thing,
goes all flyaway if there's a storm.
That's why I got a way to fix it."
Lilyanna gave him a suspicious look.
"Fix it how?" she said as she held
her hands protectively over her hair.
Shiv heartily approved of this caution.
He dug into his pocket and brought out
a tiny tin. "Here, get you a dab of this,"
he offered. "It's shea butter with honeysuckle,
smells nice and it'll flat your hair down too."
Hesitantly Lilyanna dipped a finger in it,
then looked up at him for advice.
"Rub your hands together until
it melts," Shiv said. "Then comb
your fingers through your hair
so that it'll lie back down."
Lilyanna did the best she could.
"Did it work?" she asked him.
"Yeah, mostly," Shiv said.
"No mirror, so you missed
a few spots. C'mere."
She pressed herself
against his front.
Shiv dipped a finger
in the jar, then smoothed
the last few cowlicks.
"There you go, pretty
as you please," he said.
"Thank you," Lilyanna said, and
hugged the stuffing out of him.
"Okay, let's take your doll
to Mrs. Nice and see what
she thinks of it," Shiv said.
Mrs. Nice had covered the face
and arms of Taran's doll with
brown spots, and was now
working on the chest.
When Shiv showed off
Lilyanna's doll, Mrs. Nice
did the same thing that Shiv
had done earlier, tugging
on the doll hair to test it.
"You done good," she said.
"I won't have to touch it up at all."
Shiv ducked his chin, but
couldn't stop smiling.
"Thank you!" Lilyanna said,
flinging herself around his legs.
It was getting to be a habit.
"Can you do the face now?"
"Uh, no," Shiv said. "I don't know
how to make doll faces, sorry."
"Well, if you want it ironed on
or drawn, Shaneeq can do that,"
said Mrs. Nice. "If you want it
embroidered, then you'll have
to wait your turn with me."
Lilyanna shuffled from
one foot to the other.
"I dunno ..." she said.
"Do you got a pattern book,
or pictures, or something else
to look at?" Shiv asked Mrs. Nice.
"Oh yes, right over there," she said,
pointing to a tub full of booklets.
Shiv hunted through the bin,
only to have Ebi tug on his shirt.
"If you want faces, the books
I'm not using are over there."
Sure enough, she had
a face book spread over
her lap, but there were
plenty more in the pile.
Lilyanna, however, plastered
herself against Ebi instead.
"Can I share your book?"
"We don't have the same kind
of doll," Ebi pointed out.
"But you can still sit
together," Shiv said.
"Here, this looks like
a good book for yours."
Lilyanna had chosen
a doll with a flat face,
while Ebi had gotten
the Waldorf kind with
more shape to it.
Shiv pointed out
the similarities and
them, and what details
might look nice on each.
Ebi wanted hers embroidered,
so she would have to wait for
Mrs. Nice, but Lilyanna found
one that could be painted on.
They still had to wait for Shaneeq,
who was working on Brighton's doll.
"Are we having fun yet?" Shiv drawled,
rolling his eyes over another delay.
"Yes!" Brighton said. "To see
a doll of yourself is very weird
and very neat at the same time."
Shiv jittered out of the way,
suddenly feeling overwhelmed.
The girls let him go without
complaint, so he could
hang back and watch.
They chattered and
giggled as they waited
for Shaneeq to put
faces on the dolls.
"How are you doing?"
Elisabeth asked as
she came over to him.
"I'd forgotten this,"
Shiv said quietly.
Elisabeth asked him.
"How much dolls can make
people happy," Shiv said. "I
used to live with this old lady
who collected them, and all of
the little girls in the neighborhood
would come over to play with
Mrs. Clementine's dolls. I'd lie
upstairs and listen to them giggling."
"That's a good memory," Elisabeth said.
"I'm glad that today reminded you of it."
"Yeah ... me too," Shiv murmured.
Eventually he drifted over to where
Abilene was cutting yarn to make
a mane and tail for her horse doll
with yarns in several shades
of white, cream, and tan.
Then he noticed the bags
of stuff piled beside her.
"Whatcha got?" Shiv said.
Abilene grinned and set aside
her yarn. "None of the other stuff
grabbed me, so I got lots of clothes,"
she said. "You wanna see them?"
"Sure," said Shiv. The clear bags
were full of all different colors.
"So first I got cowgirl hats and
boots in brown, pink, and purple,"
Abilene said. "There's an outfit with
shirt and jeans, leather vest and chaps.
Then this one's mostly pink but it has
a horse blouse too, and a straw hat."
"Those will mix and match well,"
Shiv said. "The denim skirt would
go with anything the jeans do."
"There's another jean skirt in this set,
a matching top with a pink vest, more jeans,
a red shirt with silver stars printed on the front,
then a blue-and-lavender top and skirt pair,"
Abilene said, then opened up the last bag.
"Here I have blue-and-white starred pants
and t-shirt, red-and-white pants, and
a tank top with a heart flag."
Shiv stirred them around a bit,
matching up new outfits.
He put the leather vest
over the horse blouse
and the blue jeans with
brown boots and hat.
The red top went with
the red-and-white pants
and the pink boots.
The lavender outfit
got the pink vest plus
the purple boots and hat.
Finally Shiv reached over
and dropped the straw hat
with its pink band onto the doll,
who was wearing a white dress
dotted with tiny pink flowers.
"You're really good at this,"
Abilene said, startled.
"Yeah, I got a lesson at
Shrewd Dude," said Shiv.
"It's fun to mix and match."
Abilene looked down at the yarn.
"Most people don't want to play
with me, unless it's, you know,
sex games," she sighed.
"No way," Shiv said,
shaking his head so hard
that his bangs flopped in
his face. "I don't like
that sex shit either."
One ear tilted toward
him, then away again.
"Did they do you too?"
Abilene wondered. "It
happens to a lot of people."
"Yeah, until I learned how
to defend myself," Shiv said.
His butterfly knife flickered
into his fingers, opened and
closed, then disappeared
back up his sleeve again
before anyone else saw it.
"Anyone touches me now,
I'll fuckin' cut them," Shiv said.
"Good for you," she said fiercely.
Her ears pinned back, then perked.
Shiv didn't know why he'd told her
that stuff. Most times, he kept
his mouth shut about it.
She knew what it was like,
though, and she reminded him
of some foster sisters he'd had.
That was ... not nothing.
Then Zipper arrived with
a big picnic basket that
gave off delicious smells.
Shiv bounded to his feet.
"Dude! What did you bring?"
"Lunch from the Maldives,"
the teleporter said, grinning.
"You can help me set it out."
A card table was duly produced
and soon covered with food.
"Eww, what is that?" Carney said,
wrinkling his nose at the dishes.
Shiv had spent enough time
with the Finns that he actually
recognized most of the dishes.
"Who likes tuna salad?" he said.
About half the kids raised their hands.
"Okay, this is mas huni and it's
basically tuna salad with rice and
coconut," Shiv said, which made
them dig into it more eagerly.
"Who likes hot pockets?"
More hands went up, and
Shiv said, "Bis keemiyaa is
like hot pockets with egg and tuna."
"I can't eat meat," Abilene whispered.
"Is there anything safe for me to eat?"
"Yeah, try the fruit," Shiv said, passing
her a long platter. "Looks like we got
papaya, mango, melon, passionfruit --
don't eat it all, I want some too."
Abilene laughed and shoveled
some of the fruit into a dish for him,
then filled her own plate afterwards.
"You can have dessert too," Shiv said.
"Handulu bondibai is rice pudding
with coconut and stuff like that. I
don't know the ball things though."
"Dhonkeyo kahuku, banana fritters,"
Zipper said. "They're a lot like
donut holes, but banana."
"Oh, I'm having some of those,"
Shiv said, grabbing a handful.
He slopped some of everything
onto his plate, then backed away.
The kids were bouncy and shrill
with excitement. Even Elisabeth
had a hard time keeping a handle
on Edison, he was so wound up.
Once they all got food, though,
it quieted down considerably.
Shiv retreated to a corner
with his lunch. The tuna tasted
rich and sharp, the various fruit
sweet and juicy. He loved
the banana fritters too.
He was finishing
his rice pudding when
Abilene came over.
"Do you want to help me
cut the yarn?" she asked.
"I still have a lot to do, since
I need a mane and a tail,
not just regular hair."
Shiv gobbled up
the last of his dessert,
then said, "Yeah, I can
come and cut yarn."
He stacked his dishes
on the table, then followed
Abilene back to her spot.
She showed him the pieces
of cardboard that Shaneeq
had given her to measure
the yarn with -- you wrapped
it around the card and then
cut it loose with scissors.
"I already did the white and
the eggshell for the mane,
so that leaves the cream
and the tan," Abilene said.
"Hand me one," Shiv said,
and she gave him the cream.
He wrapped it around the card,
eyeballing the amount based on
the piles she had already cut,
then carefully snipped it loose.
Abilene set her tan pile
beside the cream strands.
"Now we need to make
the tail," she said. "This
uses a longer card."
Shiv glanced around
the room as he wound
white yarn on the card.
It was starting to settle down;
Taran had already gotten his doll
finished and headed home.
Mrs. Nice had moved on
to Ebi's doll, adding strands
of colored yarn to the dark wig
and embroidering the face.
Elisabeth and Edison were
helping Carney choose
clothes for his doll.
Shaneeq was painting
the face on Lilyanna's.
When they finished
cutting yarn, Abilene
and Shiv gathered it up
so Mrs. Nice could sew it
onto the horse doll.
They had to wait for
Ebi's doll to get done.
As soon as Mrs. Nice
handed over the finished doll,
Ebi hugged everyone goodbye
and got out of their way.
"I have the mane, and Shiv
has the tail," Abilene said,
setting down a handful of yarn.
Shiv followed suit, watching
as Mrs. Nice picked up a few bits
at a time, mingling the colors.
She started sewing around
the ears, so the horse would
have a proper forelock, then
worked down the neck.
The mane strands were
long enough to braid, if
Abilene wanted to do that.
Shiv left them leaning over
the horse doll, and wandered
into the kitchen to wash dishes
for a bit, the familiar task
soothing his nerves.
It was hard being around
so many new people, even
if he kinda liked some of them.
"Too much fun?" Elisabeth asked,
coming alongside to dry the dishes
and put them into the cabinets.
"Yeah, maybe," Shiv said.
"It's a good party, though."
"Enjoy as much as you like,
and duck out whenever you
need to," Elisabeth said. "You've
done more than enough already."
Shiv shrugged. "Said I would."
"I know, I just wanted you to hear
that I appreciate it," Elisabeth said.
By the time he came out, Abilene
was gathering up her stuff to leave.
She gave him her vdress and
a fleeting hug. "In case you want
someone to talk horse stuff," she said.
"Uh, yeah," Shiv replied. "Thanks."
Brighton and Edison were on
the floor, picking up bits of yarn.
Before long, Brighton's doll
was all done, and then she left.
Neela and her priest were
gone, too, though Shiv hadn't
actually seen them leave.
Lilyanna sidled up to him.
"Edison says you can do
tricks with your superpower."
"Edison's got a big mouth,"
Shiv muttered. "But yeah, I can."
"Will you show me?" Lilyanna said.
Her father was right there, watching.
That was ... not ideal, for this.
Lilyanna didn't pester, though,
just stared at Shiv with big lilac eyes
until his resolve crumpled like a cheap cup.
"Don't freak," Shiv said as he took out
his butterfly knife. "It's just for show."
Shiv turned so that nobody else
could see it, then twirled the knife
in his fingers, passing it from
one hand to the other.
He wasn't going to drop it,
but he made sure that it angled
away from his audience, because
they didn't know he wouldn't drop it.
Lilyanna watched him with shining eyes,
hands over her mouth to keep from
squealing and attracting attention.
Kid knew how to keep a secret.
Shiv wasn't about to do any of
the fancy tosses, because that
really would get noticed, but he
turned in place and passed
the knife behind his back.
At last he closed it with
a final flourish and then
slipped it up his sleeve
where it belonged.
"That was beautiful!"
Lilyanna said. "I wish
I could do that too."
"Nope, no way in hell,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.
"Your hands aren't grown enough
to do things like that yet -- you'd
cut yourself, and that sucks."
He flipped his hand over,
pointing out a thin scar.
"See that?" Shiv said.
"First time I fooled around
with a butterfly knife, I cut
myself. So then I bought
a trainer -- works the same,
only not sharp -- and practiced
until I could do the tricks right."
Lilyanna's father Birk relaxed a little
from the panicky look he had gotten
when she hankered after Shiv's knife.
Maybe Shiv could stir him up just a bit.
Heading into the kitchen, Shiv rummaged
in the drawer that now held spare silverware
for him to scavenge as raw materials.
He came up with a silver spoon
so old it was totally black.
Shiv twisted a bit off the end
and chucked the rest of it
back into the drawer.
He knew the shape of
a butterfly knife like he
knew his own hand bones,
and he molded the silver
into a tiny working replica.
"Psst, you got a necklace chain
I can have?" he asked Elisabeth,
tilting his hand to show her
the pendant in his palm.
Her eyebrows went up,
but she didn't protest.
"I'm sure I do," she said,
heading deeper into the house.
A minute later, Elisabeth returned
and spilled a silver chain into
Shiv's hand. "Here you go."
Then Shiv went back to Lilyanna.
"I made you this," he said. "It's safe --
don't even bother trying to sharpen it,
because silver won't hold an edge."
He'd made sure of that, rolling
his superpower around the tiny blade
to keep it dull, even though it was
no bigger than a fingernail.
"It opens and closes, just like
mine does," Shiv said, showing her.
"It's got a bite handle and a safe handle,
see here? They're both labeled."
He had put a miniature B and S
on them, along with his touchmark
at the base of the blade, although you'd
probably need a magnifying glass
to read any of those marks.
"It's so pretty," Lilyanna said.
"Is that really for me?"
"Yeah, but it's up to
your dad when you can
wear it," Shiv said. "Silver's
not something most people
want to wear every day."
Not where he came from,
anyway, though maybe
nice people were different.
Shiv strung the pendant on
the chain and said, "Now you
can wear this either way, but
keep it closed like this and
nobody will know what it is.
Then it's your secret."
"Can I try it on?" she said,
turning to look at her father.
"Go ahead," Birk said.
"You can wear it home,
then we'll find a safe place
to keep it in your room."
"Put it on me, please?"
Lilyanna asked Shiv.
"Clasps are hard to do."
"Yeah, they can be," he said
as he fastened the necklace
on her. "There you go."
"Thank you!" Lilyanna said,
hugging him thoroughly.
Shiv had about used up
his week's quota of hugs,
but he didn't have the heart
to scrape her off of him.
"It's about time for us to go
home," her father said.
"Go say your goodbyes,
and remember to thank
Mrs. Nice for the doll."
Lilyanna's new doll had
turned into the very image
of her, flannel dress and all.
She scampered away to say
goodbye to the handful of
people who were left.
"Thank you very much for
your kindness to my daughter,"
Birk said. "She doesn't have
many friends yet. Other kids
tend to make fun of her."
"Yeah, I know how that
goes," Shiv grumbled.
Lilyanna trotted back to them,
with Elisabeth trailing behind.
"Thank you for coming to
our party," Elisabeth said.
"I hope you had a nice time."
"We certainly did," Birk said.
"We'll be sure to stay in touch."
Lilyanna tugged on Shiv's sleeve.
"Can I have your dress so we can
talk again some time? I like you."
Shiv froze. What the hell?
"Vdress, dear, and that might
be a bit much to ask of Shiv,"
said Birk. "He doesn't seem like
the world's biggest people person."
"Yeah, I don't really ... give it out
like that," Shiv said, looking away.
"Of course, there's another option,"
Elisabeth said smoothly. "Birk could
give you his vdress instead, just in case
you'd like to catch up with them later."
"Okay, that's -- I can do that," Shiv said,
holding out a hand for the slip of paper
as Birk hastily jotted down his vdress.
"Bye, Shiv," said Lilyanna. "It was
really nice meeting someone like me."
She squished him around the legs again,
then bounded away to find Zipper.
Shiv watched them go, feeling
all jumbled inside. He should
probably help clean up, but
couldn't find the energy.
"Are you worn out?"
Elisabeth asked gently.
"Yeah, I think so," Shiv said.
"I haven't done much, but
I'm already exhausted."
"Shiv, you've been helping
for hours," Elisabeth said.
"Of course you're tired now.
Did you at least have a little fun?
Meet some new people who
you enjoyed talking with?"
Shiv thought about Ebi and
her candy-colored hair, Abilene
and her equine body language,
Lilyanna even paler than himself.
"I think so," he said. "I mean,
I managed to talk with people
and not bite anyone's head off."
"That's good," Elisabeth replied.
"Everyone needs company sometimes."
"It was ... different," Shiv said. "Birk's
right, I'm not really a people person."
"And Lilyanna?" said Elisabeth.
"She seems quite taken with you."
"Hits a little too close to home,"
Shiv admitted. "I think I kinda like her,
though. I'm not used to having anyone
around who looks like me. Lilyanna
is so ... if I had a sister, she'd look
like that. What she said, it's nice.
Not being the only one, you know?"
"I know," Elisabeth said. "Well,
you've got their contact information
if you decide to reach out later.
Don't push yourself. You've
done more than enough today.
You should be proud of yourself."
Shiv didn't know what the hell for,
unless it was not making a mess
or pissing someone off or ... okay,
yeah, this went way better than
parties usually did for him.
That made him feel
even tireder than ever.
"Long day," he admitted.
"Why don't you go downstairs?"
Elisabeth said. "You can stretch out
on a couch and relax, take a nap if
you need one, and head home later.
I'll wrap up here, don't worry about it."
"Sounds great," Shiv said, and
let her usher him to the basement.
The couch was big and soft, and oh,
someone had left a pillow covered in
grass-green Microfyne at the end.
The other throw pillows were
cableknit: one cream, one gray,
and one lime green, each with
a different knotwork design.
Shiv wrapped himself around
the Microfyne pillow and
sighed into the soft fluff.
Elisabeth didn't try to touch
Shiv, just lifted an afghan
from the back of the couch
and drifted it over him.
He ran his fingers over
the bands of green and
cream, finding the rings
of the cableknit pattern
worked into the stripes.
Elisabeth padded back
upstairs to finish clearing
away the remains of the party.
Shiv could hear soft chatter
up there, but not enough
noise to bother him.
He curled deeper into
the soft green afghan and
let the world drift away.
* * *
This poem is long, so the character, location, and content notes will appear separately.