Tim & Audrey Had a Daughter Named Fae
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Chapter II.I

"I think that, to a lot of us, he was more than just a friend, or an acquaintance. From what I have seen and experienced, it is clear to me that my dad was so deeply involved with the lives of so many people, that to take him out of the picture would be violating some piece of their own identity. Seeing his smiling face come into work every day, or come home from work every day, was like a shot of espresso for so many of us. He was also an idol for our community. We can only hope that in his absence, we will carry his spirit, and it will be as though he never left. May the vacuum where he once was pull us together, closer than we have ever been. I believe that is exactly how he would have wanted his life to go. From all of us here, goodbye, Tim. Rest well. Lord knows you need it."

There was a chuckle. For some, it was genuine. For others, it was forced. For even more, none comes at all. That there was a chuckle at all gave me some sense of peace, though. I stepped down from the podium, descended the wooden steps, and walked down the aisle maybe eight rows. I sidled past my brother, Anders, and once I was seated, Alex's hand reached for mine and we interlocked our fingers. The gesture was automatic. I almost didn't even notice it.

Byron Bird replaced me at the podium, and pulled the microphone a little downwards.

"Does anyone else have words for Tim?" The crowd was silent. "I believe it is time to finally let go. Tim, may our love accompany you into whatever happens next."

He stepped down and made his way to a crank, which he then slowly turned. The rope it was attached to began to lower the suspended wicker casket into the ground. Some sobs were let out. For the sake of their privacy, I didn't look to see who they were. Somberly, and mostly silently, Tim Wilson was lowered into his grave, his final resting place to forever be shaded by redwoods and covered by pine needles.

Byron Bird picked up a guitar propped up next to the stage, sat on the steps, and began to play something bittersweet. For a few moments, nobody moved, but it was at some point clear that the ceremony, the Western ritual of death, had concluded.

Whenever they were ready, people began to stand, and a murmur arrived like the hum of an electric car. To my left, Anders closed his eyes, and took one deep breath. He then stood up, and exited the aisle. Alex and I soon followed after. The three of us slowly shuffled along with the crowd, our steps carrying us only a few inches at a time while the eldest and most mournful of us oozed like poured molasses all along the line. It took minutes for us to finally exit the rows of white fold-out chairs, and be free among the rough dirt and towering bars of red bark.

Alex leaned in, near to my ear.

"I'm going to go talk with Hagi."

"Alright, if I don't see you I'll assume you went back to the car."

We kissed, briefly, like feathers passing over each other, and then he let go of my hand and weaved his way through the ambling crowd in search of Hagi. To the right of the rows of chairs was a line of picnic tables, on which was an assortment of homemade pastries, soups, meats, salads, chocolates, fruit bowls, pastas, casseroles, cookies, brownies, and everything else under the sun. From the traditional to the eccentric, it was all just as edible as it was decorative. I circled the tables to get to the opposite side, where the only thing I felt I could keep down — a slow-cooked mac and cheese — drew me towards it.

Eating didn't sound very appealing, no. But it was something to do.

"Hey," someone with an old, phlegmy voice said behind me, "you gave a really great speech just now."

I forgot to respond for a moment as I scooped aromatic cheddar onto my paper plate. "Thank you."

"What you said about the vacuum, that really struck a chord with me. I've been undergoing something of a spiritual awakening recently, and it's really enlightened me to just how much time I've spent meandering from place to place, you know? Basically half my life has been finding myself, and I'm not even sure I'm there yet, but I'm getting there."

The final scoop of macaroni plopped down onto my plate, and I stepped to the side to let the next in line come up.

"I spent a lot of time worrying about what people thought about me, like uhh, like I was always putting on this front, right? And when all you are is the front, well, that's all you are. And so I discovered, right, that I was totally being this front to, to myself, right? So I feel like very recently I've sort of… woken up, is one way to put it."

I replied with an "mhmm", eyes downcast towards a salad I was sluggishly transferring to my plate.

"And just now, I'm really discovering who I've been this whole time. Who I am, when I'm not trying to put on a face for people. Especially a face for myself, you know? I bet you know. Maybe that was insensitive. Sorry to bring it up."

I barely registered him as I painted my lettuce with a salad dressing, the label of which I hadn't bothered to read.

"But I think it's, like, some kind of divine sign, right? Not that I really believe in divinity, but that's not a necessary conversation right now. I just mean… when I got that letter, inviting me to the funeral of Tim, right, I was like, 'Tim Wilson? He's dead?' Tim, I probably would attribute Tim with my first step towards finding me, right…"

I looked up, and there I saw Robin. My baby half-brother, sitting with his back against a tree, right next to where, at this very moment, dirt was being shoveled onto Tim's celestial bed. He stared at the process. I could see, even from this distance, the uncontrollable orange of his beard and mustache, contrasting as it did with the mature cocoa-brown of his hair. I'd never seen him grow it out before. I knew he hated it. He hated how he'd have to dye it to get one flush color.

"I mean, we got off on the wrong foot, sure, but after that, well, that was the first time I'd ever even had the right foot, you know? Right? So, I heard he was dead, and I thought, 'Tim Wilson? He's dead?' And I knew I had to come, I had to drop everything I was doing and show up. Hadn't heard from him, or about him for that matter, since I moved out New Jersey to help with Grandpa."

Robin wanted the big beard, the mountain man beard, just like Tim had. It was his dream from the beginning. When he was little, he got excited that his hair was transitioning from orange to brown, closer and closer to Tim's color and texture. For some years, he had the dream that he'd one day get the same, scraggly mess. But hormones hit, and a look in the mirror…

"Anyways, I think you're right. This vacuum, I think it's gonna bring us together. We haven't really lost Tim. He was just a teacher, and we all graduated, you know? Now we gotta take his energy, and bring it out into the world, right?"

Not only was the hair coming in the wrong color, but it was pencil thin. Nothing scraggly. From this distance, I spotted the single orange dot of a goatee. Alice told him that it was a look carried from the men in her family. Anders looked so much like Tim already, Alice was proud to be getting some true Özdemir blood back in the mix. Of course, Robin religiously started shaving after that. Well, until then.

"It was nice talking with you. Keep writing good speeches, Fae. I hope to see you around."

The mention of my name brought me back to reality. I turned to see a man, maybe Tim's age, walking away through the crowd, a pair of yellow jeans and a red button up shirt that stood out so starkly with the black standards that I could follow him all the way until he was obscured by a dip in the hill.

"Thanks," I said, a little too late. "I hope to see you too."

I took my plate with me to the nearest chair I could find, and just sat down. It was difficult, that was certain. Very difficult to process everything. Tim was dead.

That posed some problems, of course. That meant that Anders, Robin, and Alice were all going to be working at half steam. I really wondered how my step-mom was going to handle the library. It was so hard to tell if people were recovering or not. Each of us kept to ourselves, for the most part. I was of course especially distant, living in the shed. We didn't even technically sleep in the same house.

Robin sat and stared into the filling hole. No, we really didn't all sleep in the same house. We never would. Ever again. Someone will always be sleeping in the hole. There would always be the unfilled spot in the queen sized bed. The right side where no one slept anymore. The armchair in the living room that wouldn't have the slumbering snowman any longer. But there was Robin. Sitting, back against a redwood tree, with the orange mustache and the cocoa-brown hair. I wondered if he would ever look up, ever make eye contact with me. Sometimes, people can just tell when they're being watched. Sometimes, there's just that intuitive connection, when each are aware of the other at all times. A telepathic wavelength that each had grabbed onto.

Robin only continued to stare into the hole.

Someone sat down next to me.

"Are you doing alright, Faeowynn?" It was a gentle alto voice. I turned, and recognized Ingrid Esau, the newest captain of the Castaways. Realizing I was talking with a Supervisor, I plastered on the politest smile I could.

"I'm holding up." Never had the best relationship with my dad, anyways, I finished in my head. But I wasn't going to say that to a Supervisor.

"I'm glad to hear it, but don't be afraid to take some time off."

"Can't really afford time off, can we?"

"It's a rare luxury to be sure." Time passed. "I was meaning to ask if you're going to make it to the meeting this next Sunday."

My eyes passed over their shoulder, and saw that Robin was no longer alone. Someone tall and covered in a dark purple dress was kneeling next to him. They were drawing his attention, somehow breaking through that mold and tearing him away from the grave.

"Ms. Wilson?"

"I don't have much of a choice, do I?"

"Your attendance would be greatly appreciated."

I saw Robin give the towering woman that same polite smile that I had given Captain Esau.

I replied: "Is now really the time to talk about this?"

Ingrid straightened her back and took a deep, pitying breath. No words were spoken. I thought that the purple woman might have reached into an unseen pocket and pulled out a small violet box, motioning for Robin to take it from her.

"I mean," I started to fill the silence, "all I handle are finances. I can be filled in on any decisions later. I don't have to be there."

"You and I both know that's not true." My eyes finally turned to her, trying to discern whether or not that was a threat of some sort, but once I beheld her sullen look, her tired stare, and her buzz cut that was becoming less than buzzed…

"What's not true?"

"You've picked up almost half of your dad's previous duties. You were in the process of that even before he died. You're integral. What are they calling you? Chief Financial Officer?"

My smile was almost genuine. "I don't think CFO applies unless you have stockholders."

Ingrid's smile back was almost genuine, too. "You do have stockholders. They're called the Supervisors."

"Mhmm."

"You're not required to be there, but the bigger presence that Wilson's Wildlife Solutions has, the more sway you will have in decision making, and the more important your individual positions, the more important your words. You're a very bright woman. Your opinions are wanted at the meeting. Albert Westrin, Laura Irvin, and your brothers are already confirmed to be there."

"You talked to them first?"

"They responded to their emails."

I stared down into my plate. "Ah."

"Please consider showing up. I'm on your side, you know."

Once again, the corners of my lips folded up almost on their own. "I know."

She smiled that concerned, unhappy smile, stood up, and left.

My stare returned to Robin. He was once again alone. So close was he to his previous position and demeanor, I thought that the tall purple woman must have gone right through him, like a hawk's wings cut through air. I wondered why his sitting there drew my attention so magnetically. Without answers, I started to become uncomfortable with my own steadfast gaze. I turned it away and down towards my plate. The macaroni glistened with grease, the salad with dew. They looked impeccable, sitting there on my lap. I almost wanted to eat them. But then, I realized, I hadn't brought a fork with me.

The tenor tones of Alex's voice nearby brought me to attention. I turned around to see him saying his goodbyes to Hagi, whose bright smile seemed completely at odds with the situation. She spun around to walk towards the food, and Alex continued in a straight line towards me. I stood up, and walked to meet him.

"When are you thinking of leaving?" he asked.

"Sooner rather than later."

"Alright. I'm thinking we could go now. Get something to drink maybe. Coffee sounds great right now."

I plastered on the politest smile I could. "Sounds good."




It was Sunday.

That meant there was a meeting.

That day, I woke up, I checked the date, and I wished with all my might I could stay in bed. Anders, who believed the best alarm clock was good food, had already apparently stopped in and left me a hot bowl of spaghetti, but it was across the room. I would have to get up to get it.

Damn you, I thought to myself, for working for my best interests.

For the first time since Tim's funeral, I properly dressed and maintained myself. Hair was combed, a shower was taken, teeth were brushed for the full two minutes, and a dress was picked out to look, above all, professional. Not tight and showy, not frilly and puffy. Slick. Simple. Green, which I just felt was the most appropriate color. I pinned my hair back, taking some inspiration from Alice's acorn-bun, and winced slightly. Anything that wasn't showing off my long hair made me feel a bit boyish. However, and a little smirk crossed my face at the thought, I could deal with a bit of boyishness. That I was a woman was already obvious to everyone — and, most importantly, everyone included me.

With a modicum more confidence than I expected, I walked out of the shed and into the main house, where Anders was putting some kind of soup in thermoses.

"Hey, brother."

"Hi Fae," he smiled at me.

"This is the third day I've found you cooking."

"I think I'm picking it up. It's a ritual when you think about it."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. You've got instructions, and ingredients, just like candles and incantations. If you really lose yourself in it, it's got all the parts to make up something… somnolent. Keeps my mind in the now."

"You sound like your mom."

Anders gave me a glance and a huff of amusement, and then turned back to the thermoses with funnels on them. I trusted my brother not to spill, but a pot that wide being used to pour made me antsy. I tried not to think about it.

"It's broccoli cheddar," he said, "we didn't have much in the house but I remembered having something like this one time so I looked up a recipe and here we are. Thought it would be nice to share after the meeting — it will be around dinnertime, anyways."

"That's very nice. Thank you."

Footsteps from the walls told us that the youngest sibling was coming down. Sure enough, Robin turned the corner, mouth slightly pushed up his face like he just smelled something mildly unpleasant.

"Hey, whatcha makin'?"

"Broccoli cheddar soup."

"Sweet."

"You look sharp, Robin."

I wasn't going to say anything, but he did. It looked like he must have shaved his facial hair just this morning, and donned his avocado-green suit and tie. His hair was trimmed, he looked like he'd gotten a good night's sleep, and his skin was smooth from a fresh showering. He'd also put on some pine-scented deodorant, though its strength made me wonder if he was confusing a meeting for a date.

"Thanks. You gonna put anything on or are you going in your jammies?"

Anders, in his polo and dress pants, gave a genuine chuckle. "I hadn't dressed yet."

"I can tell." Robin glanced at me, but said nothing. "So, nothin' 'bout my posture, bro? Am I standing correct? Ready to present?"

Anders turned while closing the third and final thermos. "Yeah, man, looks good!"

"Alright. I think I'm ready."

"Have all your talking points in order?"

"Not on notecards like you probably did."

Anders chuckled again. Robin smirked. Robin glanced at me again, but said nothing. Then he turned around and headed for the lounge. "I'll be playin' Doom till it's time to go."

"Sit up straight to keep your suit tidy."

"I will!"

Anders turned to look at me, and I looked back.

"He knows me better," he said at a much lower volume, "it's been tough."

I nodded, and made a noncommittal hand gesture like I was waving away what he just said. A sign to communicate something like: Not a concern; to be honest, I didn't even notice.




I pulled into the parking lot of Wilson's Wildlife Solutions. Not much had changed since my first ever visit; the parking lot was still much bigger than any dirt parking lot should be, furnished with avocado streetlights. The building itself acted as a shield to a casual observer. From the front, you couldn't tell that the whole thing was U-shaped, and in the nook of that U was where all of the mystical, magical animals were kept, just outside of the public eye. Not that any eyes here in Boring were considered "public", in the large scale of things.

I parked right next to Robin's purple Chevy that the brothers had driven up in together, vacated as it was, and sat in the car for a little bit, trying to get into the right headspace for the meeting. We're all on the same side, I kept trying to convince myself, we're all looking for the Shelter's best interest.

Tim was dead. That posed some problems, of course. So far, in his absence, each "department" (as loosely organized as they were) had been largely in charge of themselves. No new animals were caught. No new enclosures designed. We had downsized. For the past month or so, all we were doing was taking care of the animals we already had. Even ones scheduled to be released had been pushed back. No progress was being made. No fundraisers were being held. The Shelter was stagnant. Stagnation was not sustainable. We are all on the same side, I told myself, we are all just trying to get through.

There was a knock on my window.

Just a little bit startled, I turned to see that someone was leaning down to look in the window of my car. On first glance, I read them as a woman wearing a dark purple dress, a mourning veil, and a pair of contrasting yellow gloves. If it wasn't a strange sight already, it dawned on me that they were leaning down… to look into the window of a truck.

Underneath their veil, I saw a pleading smile. More than caught off guard, I turned my car on without starting the engine and rolled the window down.

"Hello?"

The smile turned to a genuine, mature kind of grin. One that reminded me of how my mom would smile when I was a little kid, and had to have something simple explained to me for the first time. Briefly, and without my knowing it, I let down all my defenses, and entirely ignored the strange approach of this towering woman.

"Hello, Faeowynn."

The warm tones of her voice thinly masked a storied life so thick that when its hints reached my ears I twitched. The first word that came to mind wasn't old, but ancient, in strictly the historic sense; like I was the child being told how the apple trees came to be by the village elder, I could not picture anything to do except to sit and listen.

"I'm sorry to have missed you at the funeral," she continued, her every breath carrying a down blanket and draping it over my shoulders, "but you left before I had finished talking with your brothers. I have been meaning to contact you, but the usual paths are not so private. I'm sure you must know why."

I nodded, hanging onto each word for dear life, and at the same time wondering why exactly I was doing so.

"So I'm here to give my condolences. Sorry again to keep you before a big meeting. I just wanted to tell you that things are going to be okay, and that life goes on. Oh, and to get to know a bit about you, of course." She chuckled, but it came out like the buzz of a hummingbird siphoning nectar from a massive conical flower. "I've heard a lot about you."

I tried to bring up thoughts, sentences, responses, but in her presence I almost felt like I shouldn't say them. Like I was being understood on some deeper level that occluded the need for words.

"Your dad told me that you like white chocolate. So, here," she was suddenly holding a box that seemed to apparate from nowhere, "take this."

It was a purple box with golden-yellow trim. I was reminded of something instantaneously, but was so overwhelmed that I couldn't figure out what it was.

"I hope to see you soon. And please, if you could talk about me only when you're out in nature. Somewhere quiet and secluded, if you catch my meaning."

I nodded before processing the oddities riddled within the request.

"Goodbye, Faeowynn. Have a nice meeting."

As she stood to her full height, I felt like I was four. It didn't seem ridiculous that she was so tall because all adults were tall. So were counters and chairs and tables. She began to walk away, and the spell began to dissipate. Suddenly, I was Faeowynn again. The woman. The grown-up. The CFO of WWS.

"Wait," I managed to sputter out. The woman half turned back to me, and I hoped that through the mourning veil eye contact was being made. "Who are you?"

Her mature grin returned, and she only said: "A friend of your dad's." She lifted her veil, and revealed two eyes that hit like a train. They were perfectly circular — not almond, not held open wider than usual, but genuine, circular eyes. They couldn't be called eyeballs either, seeing as they laid flat against her face, somewhere between piscine and doodled. Just white, and then a blue-gray iris, and then a pupil that was as black and warm as cat fur. She winked, pulled the veil back down, and then disappeared somehow. It wasn't clear to me where she had gone — she didn't slip behind a tree, she didn't sink into the ground. She didn't puff into smoke. She didn't go out in a flash. She was just suddenly gone.

I felt as if I had just gotten out of bed. The comfort of the warm pillow against my cheek had vanished. The blankets around my shoulders were cast aside. My walls were back up, my defenses rearmed. I blinked several times, and creased my brow. Why had I let that happen? Why didn't I ask more questions?

Why didn't I ask more questions. I suddenly remembered being on the boat on the water, Dad explaining why he was going to leave Mom and I. To go to Oregon. Where the trees are. Where the city isn't. I remembered that I hadn't asked enough questions. That I accepted too quickly. That there was a lot of growing up to do.

I shook myself. No. That wasn't where I needed to be.

I looked at the box in my hands. Now I knew what it reminded me of. It was exactly like the box Anders found tucked away in the pantry, the hot white chocolate that he made for me the day I got back from writing. I wondered. Could it really be?

I pulled the lid off, and sure enough, inside was a stash of white chocolate truffles. They looked, and smelled, and, I soon discovered, tasted exactly like those I had been stashing for years. It was perfect timing. I only had a few left. Those chocolates that were just below saccharine, at the very limit of what was still acceptably sweet. And it made them perfect.

I limited myself to one, and was about to close the box, when I noticed something. Taped to the bottom of the lid, the ceiling of the box, was a letter. It had a yellow envelope and on it was penned in curly purple cursive: Open Me at your Earliest Convenience. I reached for it, but…

I closed the box, stuffed it in the glove compartment, and exited the car. The meeting was soon to start. I couldn't afford to be late.




The room was like many others in the Wilson's Wildlife Solutions headquarters, if a bit more sparse than all the rest. There were no cabinets, no desks, no ornaments. It was a utilitarian rectangle with a hardwood floor and mint green walls. A long oval table took the role of the centerpiece, and along its sides were tens of ergonomic chairs. It had two entrances from the hallway, and when I stepped through the leftmost one, I was greeted by a plethora of powerful faces.

The left end of the table was familiar. My half-brothers, Anders and Robin, sat opposite each other, Anders on the closer side and Robin on the farther. To Robin's right, Albert Westrin, affectionately referred to as Old Al, had knitted his fingers together and placed both hands on the table in front of him, leaning forward in expectation. To Albert's right was Laura Irvin, the forefront of everything aquatic that happened at the Shelter. I took the seat right of Laura (on Ander's left) when we made eye contact and she motioned me over. Once I sat down, I looked to the far end of the table, to those I had to fight not to categorize as "the competition".

First were the three I recognized best: Captain Ingrid Esau, Director Sophia Turner, and Site Director Edgar Holman. Esau tried to make eye contact and flash me a smile, but I pretended I didn't notice it. My eyes focused more closely on Turner and Holman. Turner, mostly.

When she saw me come in the door, she turned expectantly towards Holman, whose eyes silently followed me until I had sat down. I pretended not to notice. Just like how I pretended not to see that it was four minutes after the meeting was supposed to officially start. On a better day, I might have apologized. It had been a while since I had one of my better days.

Holman cleared his throat, and mumbling stopped abruptly.

"Good afternoon everyone." He emphasized afternoon as if we were bordering on the evening. "Now that we're all here, the meeting can begin in earnest."

Holman looked like the next United States president. I had never seen him wear anything except a full suit and tie, dress shoes and thin black glasses. He was all business, top to bottom — which was, by my estimation, maybe five foot eight inches. Absolutely average height. He made up for it with his presence. Site Director Edgar Holman lived up to his name. I'd noticed that my heartrate jumped up some beats per second any time I saw him. He had never been anything but reasonable, but there was something in his eyes and dyed black hair that reminded you that the Supervisors had a downplayed name. Supervision was maybe number three on their priority list, and even though Holman had ensured us that there were people higher up than he was, I never saw them. In the world of Wilson's Wildlife, Holman was at the absolute top of the pyramid. Even higher than Tim Wilson in most ways.

He continued. "Our weekly meeting, starts, as always, with a report of…"

The meeting made up for the many missed meetings of the previous weeks. They hadn't stopped completely, but attendance had been intimately thin. In fact, Anders and Old Al were just about the only regular attendants. Anders handled everything financial in my absence. Old Al filled them in on the maintenance (and, to a lesser extent, the wellbeing) of the animals.

"Down by the Boring Lava Field, we have heard reports of an albatross with about twice the wingspan of anything recorded before. Unfortunately, it also seems like it may be inserting itself into the local history, as evidenced by…"

Tim may have achieved his ever-wanted look of mountain man before he passed, but Albert had perfected it. He reminded me heavily of John Muir; an old, tall, fit figure, for whom only the color of his hair and some wrinkles around the eyes gave way to the secret of his age. Much like how huge thugs are given nicknames like Pinkie to contrast with their imposing, intimidating stature, the "old" in Old Albert's name was an outright lie.

"…in conclusion, though we hope to one day be able to accommodate all animals, we think this one may be too much for us to handle."

"I see," Ms. Turner responded, inspecting the original town charter for the mention of an albatross being hailed as the town's symbol, "if it also inserts itself into the memories of those that see it, it's possible that we are dealing with…"

Sophia Turner was blonde and beautiful in that middling sort of way. Attractive on such a level that the attractiveness wasn't worth speaking of; that run-of-the-mill baseline look that everyone with a modicum of good genetics has. It was only remarkable because it hadn't changed at all in years. Based on Tim's accounts, and my own firsthand experience, she couldn't have been younger than 60, and yet there she was. Unchanged. Unaged. Eternal. She wore a cottony black dress and had the largest stack of files and papers in front of her out of anyone at the table. A pen in her left hand was tapped against a file. Tap, tap-tap. Tap, tap-tap. It made no noise, but I saw.

Always, before and after meetings, Turner would be counting some unheard beat. Not elegantly. Not portraying any deep understanding, or hinting at some unseen mastery. I was certain she thought no one ever noticed. But I noticed.

"…which, as an aside, might make it something to transport somewhere other than Site-64. If you could," she tapped the man to her right and handed him some note she had written during the conversation with Albert, "assess who might be best suited to take the bird, and remind me to write up a URA for it."

Sophia liked to stick close to someone whose name I had never picked up, but recognized as "The Scribe". Whenever he wasn't talking (he had a wonderful economy with words) he was rocking, ever so slowly and ever so subtly, back and forth. His calming crib-like motion was completely at odds with the machine-guns that were his fingers. I had learned somewhere that court reporters use shorthand to keep up with the speed of conversation. I genuinely believe that this man didn't. In his most mythical moments, he had even taken breaks to look something up and bring it to the meeting, then returning to his transcription without missing a beat. How could he, while still keeping up with conversation? Was there some magic transpiring? Whoever he was, he had been on my very short list of people-I-know-but-haven't-talked-to-but-desperately-want-to-talk-to for years.

The Scribe nodded and stuffed the note into his pocket, and, like with every meeting, I felt like I missed something particularly important.

The meeting continued in such a fashion. Most of us were silent. I spoke up only when money was involved. Anders made some comments about fundraisers. Holman directed the conversation and brought up new talking points whenever the previous ones lulled. Mostly, the discussion bounced back and forth between Albert and Turner, for obvious reasons. Nothing had happened for weeks.

Eventually, Holman found the right time to address the elephant in the room.

"Tim's passing has posed some issues." My ears pricked up as if I was hearing something I didn't already know. "It appears that the previous founder and head of Wilson's Wildlife Solutions did not create any contingencies in the event of his untimely death, which has put Wilson's Wildlife into stasis. Today, we hope to collaborate on the appointing of a successor to Tim Wilson's legacy."

The room tensed. Eyes passed between eyes like window-shoppers passed between novelty dresses. Throats were cleared. Ties were straightened. Glasses were adjusted. Pens were twisted. Even the Scribe's tapping went silent.

"I imagine," Holman continued, "that you have come prepared with a suggestion for who might take the reigns?"

"With all due respect," Laura uncharacteristically spoke up, "with our infrastructure in freefall, we haven't had much communication beyond bare necessities."

"Understandable." He didn't sound like he understood.

Laura swallowed. She was a truly odd looking woman. For an organization that so celebrated the outdoors, Laura was of course sometimes excluded, as lupus more or less kept her indoors. She was consequently pale, fragile, and a little slow moving. Much like Tim, she couldn't exert herself much, though unlike Tim, she didn't try to push it. She was especially fascinated with deep-sea marine life which made her position at the Shelter somewhat amusing. But, then again, Boring was somehow host to just about every animal under the sun — and, conveniently for Laura, that included some that technically weren't.

"S-still," Laura regained her composure, "I think that there are obvious candidates. For one, anybody who isn't at this meeting is likely not integral enough to the organization to be considered."

There were grunts of agreement. She seemed to ease up, her shoulders lowering on her frame. She proceeded.

"Westrin and I have been in close contact, and we know that neither of us want to take the helm. Al says it would begin to conflict with the time he spends on his family's farm, and I want to stay close to the surface in terms of the aquatic enclosures. Sorry to speak for you, Al."

He put up his hands and shook his head once.

"In any case, that leaves the Wilsons."

Robin smiled, but turned to try and hide it. Anders and I didn't noticeably change. At least, I hoped not. If I had put in any thought, I would have expected this, but I hadn't been doing much thinking lately.

"If I may," cut in Old Al, "I would like to first address that the most important quality of a leader is willingness. If any one of you," Al looked at each of us siblings in turn, "would like to step up, you would get priority. Or, at least, that's my vote."

"That sounds reasonable," Holman chimed in.

Robin, sitting across from me, looked straight at Anders. I turned to my right, and for a moment I saw Tim in his face. The roundness of it, the brown eyes, the brown hair. For a second, I was looking into the face of the San Diego diver, but then it was gone. Robin was right. Anders was the natural successor to Tim.

Anders saw both of us looking expectantly at him. He took a deep breath, scooted his chair slightly forward, and leaned in as if into some invisible mic:

"I think the best thing to do is to look at this objectively. I can not speak for Robin or Faeowynn, but I know that I am willing to step into his shoes if and only if everyone agrees that I am the best for the job. I suspect I am not."

"Who do you suspect is?" Said a voice with the exact consistency of curdled milk.

To Holman's left there sat another man whose name I had never picked up; to be clear, a man whose real name I had never picked up. It was obvious enough to anyone that Dr. Yana was an alias. Why? Because Yana was inscrutable in the most literal sense of the word. His face was exactly like the patrolman's from what felt like so long ago — while you didn't get such unease from looking at it in the moment, you would later be completely unable to recall a single detail. Did he have long hair or short hair? What color were his eyes? Was his nose wide or thin? Did he have a discernible ethnicity? These are the questions that one may ask oneself hours after leaving his presence. Once you noticed it the first time, you never forgot, and so from that point on he was not Dr. Yana in my brain, but was instead flowered into Anonymous Yana, commonly called Anon for short.

Anders looked at Anon and responded: "Both my brother and my sister. They have qualities I lack. Robin, for one, might work the hardest out of anyone in the entire organization. He has been on the recovery team for maybe four out of every five animals we shelter, and he regularly fills in for anyone having a sick day. He rivaled even my dad himself for amount of time spent on the premises. I don't think there's anyone else more dedicated to Wilson's Wildlife Solutions."

Robin looked very pleased with himself, but said nothing.

Captain Esau raised her hand just slightly. "I second this recommendation."

Turner looked at her like she had no idea what she was talking about, but the glare was so hidden behind the facade of professionalism that I was even surprised at myself for having caught it.

"What about Faeowynn?" Anon prodded.

"Simple," Anders responded, "she's the most booksmart woman I know."

There was the smallest of pauses before "booksmart", which made me uneasy, but I didn't peg Anders for a liar. It was my turn to smile, ever so slightly, ever so modestly.

"Are either of you willing to step up?"

"I am on the same page as Anders," Robin said, surging with confidence and glancing at Captain Esau every couple seconds or so, "I think we should consider everything first." His speech was cleaner, more enunciated than it was at home. Sharp. Presentable.

"Let me be transparent, then." Holman flicked through a file. "A conference between the board of directors at Site-64 yielded a suggestion of our own. Seeing as you are caught between three candidates, it is our suggestion that Faeowynn Wilson take Tim Wilson's place as the head of Wilson's Wildlife Solutions."

A needle began slowly poking at the soft exterior of my heart. Holman made eye contact with me, but the suggestion did not come with a warm gaze. He was still completely business. This is not because I like you, his eyes read, left to right, I have different reasons.

"For what reasons?" Laura chimed in.

"Many," Turner responded in Holman's stead. "We believe that Ms. Wilson is practical and efficient. She has more than excelled at handling the finances of this organization, and has experience leading teams and organizing groups." I do? I asked myself. Then I remembered my old job in New York. It felt like it was from a different reality entirely. Next I asked myself: They know about that? To which the answer was: Of course they do.

Turner flipped through her files until she found the paper she wanted, and continued while reading from it.

"Since her taking the position of Chief Financial Officer" — for the millionth time, I wondered if that was really an accurate title for my job — "Wilson's Wildlife Solutions has increased its revenue by roughly 60%, which has then been spent on improved enclosures, better benefits for its employees, and greater publicity, which in turn has led to bigger turnout for fundraisers and an increase in both local and anonymous donors. Of note is that all the duties that Ms. Wilson now handles were duties handled exclusively by Tim Wilson before she arrived. Over the course of her seven years at Wilson's Wildlife, Ms. Wilson co-opted many more of Tim Wilson's responsibilities, including but not limited to: most record-keeping, database organization, writing checks for employees, keeping tabs on people's hours and sick days, assessing whether Wilson's Wildlife needed to hire or not and for what positions…"

The list felt like it just kept going. At first, I had to wonder. Did I really do all that? Were those all my responsibilities? But as I traced it in my head, the answer came up very clear. Yes. I did all of that. Suddenly, I had a new perspective on my position in the Shelter. I was an amoeba, slowly enveloping and digesting Tim's position. Did I really spend so much time at the Shelter? Yes. Did I really oversee so many different aspects of the company? Yes, yes I did. Chief Financial Officer felt less and less applicable as the list continued. By the end, it felt like finance wasn't my main occupation, but instead a third or less of my total power.

I looked around at everyone who was just as surprised as I was — and who had more right to be than I did. Albert was beginning to smile. You couldn't see his mouth from under his beard, but a wide grin showed in his cheeks and his eyes. I wondered why he was so happy, and then wondered why I wondered that. Was there something wrong with me being so cut out for the job? Why was I surprised he enjoyed my commitment?

Laura's expression remained unchanged except for raised eyebrows. Anders, to my right, looked just as contemplative as he had before. Captain Esau mimicked Laura, and briefly made eye contact with me.

Esau's change of approval did not lose itself on Robin.

"…searching for new properties when appropriate, reviewing critter profiles for mistakes or missing information, and more."

Sophia Turner took her eyes off the paper and looked around at the table.

"To be frank," Anon cut in, "when you look at what Ms. Wilson was responsible for, you begin to question how much Tim Wilson was doing at all."

Holman glared daggers into Anon's eyes, and the needle increased its pressure against my heart.

"Tim Wilson and Faeowynn Wilson shared many of these responsibilities," Turner responded, "but there were very few things for which Mr. Wilson was the sole source. Upon review, the Site-64 Board of Directors concluded that Ms. Wilson has unrivaled dedication to Wilson's Wildlife and an impressive work ethic, not to mention the proficiency with which she carries out her duties. It is our sincerest opinion that Faeowynn Wilson is the most fit for the position as head of Wilson's Wildlife Solutions."

The room was silent for a moment. What response was appropriate? The way Turner had delivered the ideas, it was like a coronation speech. It felt inappropriate to object. Especially in my case. What was I supposed to say? Was gratitude in order? I didn't like feeling in competition with my brothers. Did anyone else have as well-articulated a case for anyone else? Why did I not feel pride in all of this?

The needle felt like it was just about to pierce straight through.

Albert straightened up, cleared his throat, and said: "You've successfully swayed me. I think Fae would be perfect for the job."

Captain Esau winced. "I'd like to change my vote as well."

"Are we voting so soon?" Holman asked.

"I have nothing more to say," Laura offered.

"Ditto," Anon's acidic drawl corroded through the air.

"Hold on, hold on," Robin scooted his chair in, and took a deep breath, "I-I fail to see how Anders has done any less for the Shelter."

The room remained politely silent. Robin cleared his throat.

"He very modestly suggested his siblings, but he's underselling himself, I mean, Anders has practically been preparing to take over Dad's job. On days when Dad was sick, Anders basically took over his responsibilities wholesale. Not piece by piece like Faeowynn, but really, all of it, for as long as Dad was out. It's also important, from every leader, to have charisma to them — I, I mean, Fae is smart, she's practical, she's efficient, sure, you're right, but is she a leader? Dad was a leader. Dad was the type of person who creates a community, not just a team. He makes it feel like a family. Not, not everything is about numbers, you know. You can't qu-quantify Dad's impact on the type of people he attracted to this organization, or the happiness that people got just from his energy being around. Hell, for that reason, I'd nominate Old Al here, but if it's going to be one of, of us, then it should be Anders."

"With all due respect," Anders responded, "I don't feel particularly charismatic."

"You don't?"

Anders sighed. "Not like a leader. I'm an introvert, not an extrovert."

"What are you saying? You're… it's… you've got this zen, man. It's not Dad's Santa Clause, jolly fat guy energy, no, but, you've got your own… I couldn't imagine a better brother, it's — you've got his face, for Christ's sake!"

"Robin Wilson, if you could please calm down —"

I don't know of a single time when "please calm down" actually did anything, but apparently Turner thought it would accomplish something. It didn't.

"And this isn't to mention seniority. Did Fae grow up around the unusual? The magic of Boring? The Supervisors? Whose had more experience here? I'll tell you who, it's me 'n' Anders. We've been here for over thirty years. Fae arrived less than ten ago. You can't be serious, thinking she knows more about this organization than me and Anders do."

Something in me winced every time Robin said "me and Anders" instead of "Anders and I".

"On the contrary," it had been a while since I heard Anders sound irritated, "Faeowynn has been in businesses much larger than ours and handled organization on a much broader scale. Whether or not your business is in insurance or magic animals doesn't change the basis of the job. The ground level is different, but the managerial position is almost exactly the same."

"What are you doing, bro?" Robin stood up. "You're just going to roll over 'n' let this happen?"

Anders stood up in turn. "Let what happen?"

"He's our dad!"

The needle drew blood.

Anders put a hand on my shoulder. "Yes. He is."

"And you." Robin looked directly at me, now. "You're not gonna say anythin', are you."

I opened my mouth to speak, and then realized I had no idea what to say. Robin took this as confirmation, and took his eyes from mine to Anders', and then from Anders' to Holman's.

"I'll excuse myself."

Holman made a gesture that read: go right ahead.

Robin walked out of the room, so slowly and calmly that you might imagine he was taking a bathroom break. As soon as the door closed behind him, his steps became louder and faster down the hall, until at some point you could hear nothing. Robin was gone. The meeting went from ten to nine.

Anders sat back down. "My apologies."

"I understand," Holman empathized. But did he actually? I could never tell. "Let's return to the task at hand. Ms. Wilson, this suggestion would be futile if you were not prepared to take the position. Do you offer yourself as a candidate for Head of Wilson's Wildlife Solutions, and thereby accept all associated duties and responsibilities until either your resignation or passing, assuming we vote in your favor?"

I couldn't help but put a hand over my chest. "I do."

"All in favor of Faeowynn Wilson taking Tim Wilson's place as Head of Wilson's Wildlife Solutions?"

Holman raised his own hand, demonstrating the method by which the vote was held. All but Laura and Anon raised their hands. That was seven of nine.

"That sounds conclusive. It is unfortunate how unorthodox this election has been. Faeowynn Wilson, I look forward to collaborating with you on the future of Wilson's Wildlife Solutions. I imagine our relationship will be just as fruitful as when your father held your place before you. Our next meeting will cover a standard process by which to pass on the title of Wilson's Wildlife's Head, at which point Faeowynn will be officiated into the position by means of a paper of our collaborative design. Any further topics before we adjourn this meeting?"

No one spoke up. A few shook their heads.

"Good." Holman stood up. "I hope to see you all next week."

The Scribe closed his computer, and everyone began to stand. Anders whispered: "I'm going to go catch up with Robin. Sorry." He left before anyone else, and I had to wonder where to go. For the moment, I was a statue. I stood in place just behind the chair in which I had been seated. What now? What do I do now?

I didn't have time to answer that question before I felt a slap on the back. Old Al beamed at me. "I think you're going to do great."

I smiled back at him. Slightly. Modestly. "I'm sure I will."

The hand over my chest clenched into a fist. At that moment, the needle had pushed straight through.




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