Winter 2011, New Orleans, Louisiana
Goodbye, my almost lover
Goodbye, my hopeless dream
I’m trying not to think about you
Can’t you just let me be?
So long, my luckless romance
My back is turned on you
I should’ve known you’d bring me heartache
Almost lovers always do
— “Almost Lover,” A Fine Frenzy
Rhona was drunk. Really drunk. And Poppy was a police officer. Well, more than a police officer, a detective, a sheriff of the Vampire Court of New Orleans. She was a police officer walking a 17 year old to the police station, letting her stop every few blocks to vomit. She would have called Shelley or Lance but this was partially her fault. The kid was so out of place, a winged thing trying to burrow with demons. With Lance she could play tough but around Poppy she panicked a bit. Tried to be an adult and a daughter all at once.
“I want to call Simon,” she slurred.
“Who’s Simon, sweetie?” Poppy said, her Southern sugar barely concealing her exhaustion. The sun would be up soon.
“My…a…” She slumped. “He’s a guitarist. Was.”
“I hurt him.” She looked like she was about to scream. “And he hurt me. And I…it was just…it wasn’t him, Poppy. It wasn’t.”
Poppy leaned her up against a wall so she could look her in the eye. “This is a dangerous path, hon. Come back to me. Come on.” She reached for her but Rhona broke her hold like Ray Bolger would, all loose legs and charming flailing. “Dammit, Rhona!”
Rhona’s hair was in her face. Her back was against the brick. She didn’t move for what felt like an eternity. Then…
A voice Poppy had never heard before came from her. Pure and unearthly and melodic. Perhaps there was more than one voice. She couldn’t be sure.
“Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby”
“Rhona can you hear me?” It was definitely two voices. A boy’s. Perhaps she was just imagining it. Yet all Poppy knew was that if this song continued, her heart was going to break. She reached for Rhona again but she spun away and walked, as if in a trance.
“Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”
It was hard to explain this feeling of past and present colliding like freight trains. Poppy was sure, quite sure, that she was still on Royal Street, but she was also some place cold and dark and wooden. A bedroom in a rundown house. Rhona was there with a teenage boy. He had a guitar and a mop of messy curls on his head. There’s a sadness to him, but he’s smiling with her. His hands are beautiful as he plays, hypnotizing.
“I’m not playing it, Rho. I’m sick of it. You just like it ‘caus you’re a bluebird.” She leans back against the bed frame, makes a puppy dog face.
“I’ll play you Stairway to Heaven.”
“Noooooo!” She slides off the bed and onto the floor, giggling.
“Or Yellow or something.”
She steps close. So close but not touching. She can’t know what she’s doing. “Please Simon.” She whispers. “Please.”
And Rhona’s voice again in the present, eerie, doubled:
Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
“You have to sing it, though. I’m not singing it.” The boy adjusts the guitar and begins to play.
She puts her hand on the guitar neck, so close they could kiss. “No, you.”
He groans. “Rhonaaa.”
She begins it to guide him but clams up as if she doesn’t know the words. He sighs and begins.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me
Poppy wasn’t used to Changelings and she especially wasn’t used to this. The rawness of the emotion, the realness of the waking dream. It was like a contact high of hurt and sorrow and longing. “Rhona please stop. Rhona!”
But he was kissing her. She couldn’t stop. Wouldn’t. But she had to. She had to or the world was going to end. Poppy was sure of it.
Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh, why can’t I?
Simon moved the guitar and leaned into the kiss, lowering her onto the bed with a gentle push of his lips. She kissed him back like the world was new. (It was after all.) but then something about the boy swam in front of her. He was suddenly fire and light and heat, and it was blinding and terrifying and he was burning her. So she pushed back but he didn’t stop. Tried to scream but couldn’t. She reached into her pocket…
Poppy slammed Rhona against the wall, willing her to wake up. She just kept humming. She slammed her again and again and again. There was blood on the pavement. Rhona’s blood. Fragrant, like flowers in a cemetery. Poppy composed herself, struggling. “Rhona. Please.”
Rhona looked up at Poppy, with wet, wide eyes.
“If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow why, oh, why can’t I?”
And they limped down the street again.
“Don’t ever do that again.” Poppy said.
“I don’t want to.” Rhona replied.
“I know, honey.”
Poppy lowered her onto the cot in her office. Rhona sniffled.
“I want to call my father.”
“Rhona, we don’t know where your dad is. We’ll figure out where he went, alright?”
She clutched at Poppy, eyes sharp. “Not my dad. My father. He used to… Every time I cried he’d come. Every time.” She set her lip like a toddler. “And he’d unmake whoever hurt me.”
It was as if a storm cloud passed over Poppy’s heart. “He’s gone, hon. They’re both gone.”
“They’re all gone.” Rhona closed her eyes, gloppy tears falling.
Poppy knew she should go to bed. Dawn was breaking and the world was waking up. But she pulled up a chair next to the cot, pulled a pile of incident reports over. She opened the first one on her lap, one handed, and settled in, leaving her Rhona’s hand in hers as her eyes began to close.