Your mother and your brother

Ingleside is easily one of the largest houses in and around Glen St Mary. When they moved in, my parents had two children and one on the way, so while they couldn't have known quite how big their family would turn out, they must had had an inkling that only a large house would do.

It's a handsome house with a large garden and a veranda at the front where, weather permitting, a sizable part of family life took place. Right now, alas, the veranda is not occupied by a family member but by a young man I've never seen before.

I stop at the bottom of the steps leading up to it and look at the man lounging in one of the wicker chairs.

"Hello?" My greeting comes out as a question.

The man starts visibly and looks around, evidently in search of who has spoken. After a moment, his eyes land on me and he gets up from his chair quickly.

"Oh, hello. I don't think we've met," he remarks.

"No, I don't think so," I agree, slightly warily, as I walk up the steps to stand opposite him.

Upon closer inspection, I peg him to be in his mid-twenties, probably around Shirley's age. He's pleasant looking with a kind face and a somewhat shy expression. He is also magical. A dwarf, to be exact.

I wonder what brought him here.

"You must be one of the sisters," he muses, smiling awkwardly. "Nan is brown-haired and you're too young to be Joy, so… Di?"

"No." I hesitate. "I'm Rilla."

"Rilla!" The surprise in the stranger's voice tells me that he knows quite a bit more about me than I know about him.

I narrow my eyes slightly. "And you would be…?"

"Oh! Of course! So rude of me." If possible, his smile grows ever more awkward. He even scratches the side of his head. "I'm Pat. Patrick Brewster. I'm, uh… I'm here with Walter."

So that explains that, then.

"Hello Patrick Brewster," I greet him, letting my backpack slide to the floor. "You wouldn't, by any chance, be able to tell me if a family member of mine happens to be inside?" I nod at the front door to Ingleside.

Pat nods eagerly, but doesn't get a chance to speak. Instead, there's a new voice joining the conversation from behind me.

"I'm here." It's Walter and when I turn to look at him, I know.

He knows that I know, the moment we face each other. I can see it in the way his face pales and in the way his eyes widen. It's not exactly fear that's apparent in his features, but certainly… apprehension.

"Don't tell them," he blurts out before I even get a word in. "Just please… don't tell them."

I could play dumb and ask what I'm not supposed to tell anyone, but that would be akin to calling Walter a fool. Just as he knows that I know, I know what he's asking me to do – or not to do, as it were.

"Um, excuse me?" asks Pat timidly and I turn my head slightly so I can look at both of them. "I don't want to… I mean… You said… You said it was…" He falters and trails off.

Briefly, I frown at him, confused by his reaction. He's a dwarf, after all, so surely this doesn't concern – Oh! That's what he means.

"No worries," I quickly assure him. "No-one as a problem with Walter and you dating. That's perfectly alright."

Pat breathes out heavily. "I just thought…"

"It's okay." Walter walks around me and places a hand on Pat's shoulder. "My parents are looking forward to getting to know you. There's nothing to worry about."

"Then why did you ask her not to tell them?" Pat wants to know, clearly still not getting it. And how would he?

Walter's eyes meet mine. I raise an eyebrow slightly, not so much a challenge as a question to find out whether Pat, at least, knows.

Turning to Pat, Walter explains, "She has a… what did Jem always call it? A magic radar?"

The question is directed back at me and I nod, if grudgingly. It always did feel too much like Jem making fun of me whenever he called my one solitary sort of magical talent by a funny name like 'magic radar'.

"She can tell when someone is magical and what sort of magical beings they are," Walter continues, looking at Pat again.

"I know you're a dwarf," I inform him, quite matter-of-factly. "I also know that Walter here has started practicing witchcraft since I last saw him."

Because my magic radar, or whatever one wants to call it, has been going witch, witch, witch ever since my brother arrived on the scene.

Pat looks from me to Walter and back again. "Is that… bad?"

"Not necessarily so," I reply, "but in a family of fairies…" I leave the sentence hanging.

"No-one has a problem with me being gay, at least no-one in the family," adds Walter. "However, I don't think they'll be very enthusiastic about me practicing witchcraft."

"So, those rumours about fairies and witches not getting along are true?" asks Pat curiously.

Walter grimaces. I nod.

"It goes way back," I explain. "I'm starting to think a lot of it is really just rivalry, but fairies and witches don't trust each other as a rule."

"But you seem to be alright with it," points out Pat.

I could, I suppose, tell him about Ken and his family and about how I've already met at least three witches who proved themselves to be very different from the witchy stereotype as taught by fairies, but that would surely lead to questions from Walter and I haven't yet decided what to answer to them.

Thus, I simply shrug and answer, "I'm no real fairy. I don't count. Sorry."

"You won't tell them though, will you?" asks Walter and suddenly, he looks as uncertain as I've ever seen him.

The thing is, while I am surprised to find quiet, mild-mannered Walter to be dabbling in witchcraft, I'm not as surprised as I perhaps should be. My brothers and I share the experience of growing up normal in a magical home. Jem and Shirley firmly made their lives in the human world, but Walter always had a sort of otherworldly touch to him that befits the son of a fairy. There's no such thing as a male fairy, but if there was, he'd surely be a lot like Walter. Is it such a surprise, then, that he's striving to learn and practice the only sort of magic available to him – witchcraft?

"I don't see why I should tell anyone," I tell him with another shrug. "I don't expect to be staying long anyway."

"What did you come for?" Walter asks, his curiosity taking over now that his fear of discovery has abated. "It's a bit unexpected."

Yeah, don't I know it.

"Answers, mainly," I answer cryptically. "Explanations, if I can get them."

I can see that both men would really like to know more about all the things I'm not saying, but they're both far too polite to pry. Seeing as I'm disinclined to share, that puts us at a bit of an impasse and leaves us standing silently on the veranda for a moment, facing each other but not knowing what to say.

"So, what is your skillset? Are you a writer?" I ask Pat, mainly so as to say something at all. Walter, after all, is the poet among us, so with Pat being an actual dwarf and Walter's boyfriend, it makes sense for his skills to lie in the literary field.

"I dabble in writing," Pat answers modestly. "I'm studying English at university."

"Pat is a TA for Prof Ryerson," adds Walter.

I raise a single eyebrow. "Don't you tell me he's your student!"

Because Walter is a doctoral student of English literature with said Prof Ryerson and in that role, also teaches courses himself. And if Pat is a teaching assistant…

"Not my student!" Walter is quick to correct. "He's a graduate student and I'm only teaching undergraduates. We met because we're both working with Dr Ryerson. There are absolutely no conflicts of interests!"

His genuine horror at me possibly thinking he'd have a relationship with his student is almost a little amusing. I reach out and pat his shoulder reassuringly. "It's okay. I'm just teasing you."

"You're worse than Jem," mutters Walter and looks at me darkly.

"No, I'm not and you know it," I inform him blithely, for when it comes to teasing, none of us can hold a candle to Jem.

"No, you aren't," Walter admits grudgingly.

"Jem's our older brother," I tell Pat.

He nods. "Yes, I know. He's a vet and married to Faith who's a social worker. They live down in Charlottetown with their little boy."

"That's accurate," I confirm. Privately, I wonder what, exactly, Walter has told him about all of us. Or, more, precisely, what he hasn't told them.

I don't get a chance to ask though, because just then, there's someone calling out from the garden, "Walter, darling! I didn't expect the two of you this soon!"

It's Mum, unmistakeably, and I suddenly feel my heart beat a little faster. My brothers and my father, I can face relatively easily. With my mother and my sisters, it's always been that much more complicated.

With Walter shielding me from her view, Mum hasn't yet noticed me, so she chatters along cheerfully as she walks towards the veranda. "We're so glad to finally meet you, Pat. Walter's father will be home shortly and I expect you'll also meet a few of his siblings over the coming days. Most of them don't live far."

"He already met Shirley," Walter tells her. He's still standing between Mum and me and I have a feeling he stays there deliberately.

Pat having met Shirley does actually make sense, come to think of it. The youngest of my brothers is working as a Mechanical Engineering Officer for the Navy and as such, is attached to CFB Halifax. I sometimes suspect Shirley of not having minded being posted to CFB Esquimalt instead, but the Atlantic Fleet it was and thus, he didn't make it much farther from home than Walter did.

"You'll meet Di and Hannah later today and I'm expecting Jem and his family to come over tomorrow if he doesn't have to attend to a calving cow at the last minute," Mum tells Pat as she ascends the stairs to the veranda. I know that within seconds, I will be in her line of sight and –

And sure enough.

She stops dead in her tracks and I can feel her look at me incredulously. "Rilla?" she whispers.

I take a deep breath. "Hey Mum."

There's a brief moment as Walter quietly moves to the side, before I suddenly find myself wrapped tightly in Mum's arms. At first, I don't really know what to do, but then I catch Walter's eyes over Mum's shoulder and he motions for me to hug her back, so I do. It feels… not wrong, per se, but definitely awkward.

When Mum pulls back again after what feels like minutes, her eyes look suspiciously watery. She touches my face with both hands and I will myself to stand still.

"You're really here, aren't you?" she asks me with a shaky laugh.

"It looks like I really am," I confirm, feeling more awkward by the second.

Briefly, Mum touches my cheek again, before turning towards Walter and Pat.

"I apologise, Pat. I'm terribly rude to ignore you like this. It's just that it's been a while since Rilla came home the last time from her travels. You mustn't think me silly, please." She shakes her head to herself.

Pat shakes his head quickly. "Not at all, Mrs Blythe."

"Please, call me Anne," she asks him. "And now, we must all go inside and see whether there is still some of Susan's cake left. Today is a day of celebration and we must observe it accordingly."

She places an arm around my shoulder, as if afraid I might spontaneously disappear if she lets go of me. As she steers me towards the door leading into the house, I just have time to grab my bag. Pat, I notice, picks up my backpack and I briefly smile at him in passing.

A minute or two later, we're all inside and firmly established in the living room with plates of cake on our knees that Mum called over from the kitchen. I know Mum wants to ask what made me change my mind and come back after all, but she was raised by Aunt Marilla and no-one raised by Aunt Marilla could ever truly forget their manners. Thus, she brightly carries on a conversation with Pat, asking him about his studies and his family and his favourite past-times. It certainly serves to put Pat at ease, proving once and for all that he doesn't have to fear not being accepted as Walter's partner.

Me, I sit quietly and eat forkfuls of cake. It's Susan's famous gold-and-silver cake, as rich and delicious as ever. As always when eating it, I am reminded how it was a gold-and-silver cake that I once threw in the brook flowing through the village, simple out of embarrassment for having to carry a cake anywhere at all. It wasn't exactly my best moment, but in my defence, I was no older than five and had preciously little understanding of how the world worked.

Half an hour, a slice of cake, two cups of tea and many niceties later, Walter gets to his feet, motioning for Pat to do so as well. "I thought that Pat and I could take a stroll through Rainbow Valley before dinner. At least that's if you don't mind, Mum? Rilla?"

"No, not at all," assures Mum, standing up as well. "Just try not to be late for dinner. Susan prepared steak and kidney pie before leaving to visit her sister and knowing her, there will be more enough to feed an army."

"There always is," agrees Walter with a smile.

Susan, housekeeper and good soul of Ingleside, never quite adjusted to all of us children leaving the house and is has thus become a bit of a running joke that she always prepares much more food than necessary. With Di and Hannah still living at Ingleside and several of my other siblings having settled nearby, there's usually someone around for dinner, but even so, there's not as many of us as there used to be. The amount of food Susan prepares for every meal never adjusted to the reduced number of people though and since no-one ever went hungry at Ingleside in the first place, there's always more than enough food.

With Walter and Pat having left in direction of Rainbow Valley, that leaves just Mum and me inside the suddenly too large living room and all of a sudden, the awkwardness is back. I twirl the empty teacup between my hands and try to look anywhere but at Mum.

She, alas, has other ideas. Walking over to sit beside me, she plugs the teacup from my hands and places it gently on the coffee table.

"I'm very glad that you came back," she tells me carefully.

"It's… it's good to be back," I reply, because I feel it's what I should be saying. "I won't be staying for good though. It's just… temporary."

I don't want to be cruel, no, but it's important that she doesn't get any wrong ideas. I came for answers. I haven't returned to stay.

Mum shakes her head, smiling sadly. "No, I didn't think you came back for more than a visit. Can I still be happy to see you?"

"I suppose so." Even as I say it, I know it makes me sound like a petulant teenager. I dislike it, but there's no taking it back. There's just something about being here, I guess, that throws me right back to my teenaged past in the worst possible way.

"When I invited Carl to come here, I hoped you'd accompany him," Mum tells me.

I look away from the empty teacup. "I thought you did."

"Your father and I were worried about you when Carl contacted me about what has been happening in Edinburgh," Mum continues. "Is it true that someone attacked you?"

By now, I know, of course, what Carl told her and what he kept to himself. She knows of Miranda, of her disappearance, of the other potential kidnappings and also of the attack in the alley behind the bar. She does not know about the witches I've kept company with or the role they played in this whole situation.

"Yes, it's true," I confirm, because there's no point denying it and anyway, I hardly have a chance of getting answers if I keep everything to myself.

Mum hums in thought. "Why do you think that happened?"

"I don't know," I tell her truthfully. "Carl told you about the disappearances, didn't he?"

"Yes." Mum nods. "He told me about the new demon whom you helped and who disappeared from your apartment."

"From our locked apartment," I stress. "The door and all windows were locked from the inside. She couldn't have gotten out of there on her own or by non-magical means."

"Witchcraft?" asks Mum.

I hesitate. "Witchcraft or magic. One of the two."

The implication of what she asked and what I'm saying are, of course, clear. Her mind immediately went to a witch as the possible culprit, whereas I responded by reminding her that a fairy's magical powers would certainly also be up to the task. If Mum is surprised, however, by me pointing away from witches as the natural culprits, she doesn't let it show. Instead, she merely looks thoughtful.

"Carl also mentioned other beings who seem to have disappeared in unnatural ways," she remarks.

"We don't know if there's a connection, but we think there might be," I confirm.

"Do you think the attack on you was also connected?" she wants to know.

I shrug, then nod slowly. "I believe so. If someone is out there targeting beings with not yet fully formed magical powers… we thought they might be interested in me as well."

"We?" repeats mum quizzically.

"Carl and I," I reply, recovering quickly. Much as Walter has no desire to let his dabbling in witchcraft be known, I don't necessarily want to talk about being in cahoots with a whole family of witches.

"It makes no sense, of course, given that there's no magic at all in me," I continue and can't help my voice starting to sound a little bitter. "After all, much thought and action has gone into wringing some magic from me with no success."

Mum sighs. "Rilla, darling…"

"However," I continue, cutting across her, "whatever is wrong with me, I'm still your daughter and as such, there's fairy blood in me. Maybe whoever is behind these disappearances thinks I can be of use to him – or her, I suppose."

"Sweetheart, no-one ever tried to wring magic from you," Mum tells me gently.

We remember that differently, clearly, but there's no use dwelling on it now. After all, it's water under the bridge, as they say, and anyway, if I allow myself to delve too deeply into past hurts, there's too much danger of getting caught up in emotions and losing sight of what I came here to do. I'm here for answers and that's all that matters.

Thus, I brush off her remark in a somewhat curtly manner. "Be that as it may, I'm wondering if you think there could be something to that theory."

Mum blinks. "Which theory?"

"The theory of someone out there thinking of me in the same terms as a newly-minted demon and a shapeshifter who just came into his powers," I elaborate. "I'm wondering if I might, indeed, be of a similar use to them."

"I don't know," replies Mum and it sounds truthful.

I take a deep breath. "I guess what I'm asking is… was there ever a moment in my life when you thought I might be magical after all?"

There's a long moment of silence. I feel my heart beat in my throat.

"I don't… I don't want to rip open old wounds," Mum finally states, her voice quiet.

"No old wounds," I lie. "Just answer the question… please."

Mum hesitates, then sighs. "You never showed any magical powers, not since your birth. Your sisters came into their powers bit by bit, but you never did. We thought you might just be a little later than they were, but with time, we realised that you didn't have any magic."

For a second or two, everything stills. There's a melee of feelings in my stomach, churning uncomfortably, and I can't even begin to tell them apart. There's leaden disappointment for sure and also… betrayal, I think, and… could it be a sliver of relief?

No magic for me, then. Just the same old normal, ordinary Rilla.

Dimly, I'm aware that Mum is still talking. There are many gentle words about acceptance and pride and love, but they wash over my head. I've heard them before, many times, but the days when I could bring myself to believe them are long past.

"Mum," I interrupt her after what feels like minutes.

She starts when I cut across her like that, then shakes her head sadly. I think I can see her suppress a sigh. "Yes, darling?"

I came here for answers, I remind myself. I don't know how much good they still are in light of the reassurance of my utter ordinariness, but now that I'm here, I might as well try to get as many answers as I can.

"Mum," I repeat slowly, "have you ever heard about The Fifths?"

The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'Walk away' (written by Kelly Clarkson, Chantal Kreviazuk, Michael Maida and Kara Dioguardi, released by Kelly Clarkson in 2004).

To Guest:
As requested, here's some interaction between Walter and Rilla, short though it is. There are definitely also Gilbert scenes coming up. Next chapter has more Anne, but we'll get some Gilbert before May is over and then, again, he'll feature prominently again in a chapter at a later date. He will, I think, allow us a glimpse into his own mind to better understand how he's dealing with the more special aspects of his family. I can definitely already tell you that he wasn't hoodwinked though. He knew what he was signing up for and he's one of the rare men who're actually okay with it =).

To DogMonday:
Rilla resisted going back to Glen for quite a while, but in the end, there was no avoiding it. As has become clear by now, I think, she has very mixed feeling about this place, but given her nomadic experience in the past couple of years, it still remains the only place where she ever put down roots and thus, the place that technically remains her home. The people living there definitely play a large role in that, because these are the people she's known all her life. That's her family, the Merediths, but also people like Mary Vance. Rilla doesn't like her much, just as she's no fan of her in canon, so her description of Mary is biased, but I think she's a very interesting character and also one that really embodies the Glen in a way. She belongs to that village, so she was an easy pick as the first person Rilla runs into.
There's truly no such thing as a "normal person". Some people try harder to stick to a socially accepted impression of what constitutes normalcy than others, but the truth is that everyone has quirks and oddities that only serve to turn them into an individual person. It's really what makes us different and interesting, but some people are more open to leaning into it than others, so they might appear to be less "normal" than people who try to uphold more of a front of what societies think of as normalcy.
Oh, we're all in for a ride indeed! At first, we're following Rilla as she tries to figure out a way forward and tries to get answers, but we'll definitely see the pace pick up soon. And yes, there'll also be Gilbert soon ;). He gets a shorter scene in two weeks and then there's a whole chapter dedicated to his relationship with Rilla later on. Both are all written and wrapped up, so I can promise them with certainty!