The old Laundromat had closed down six days after the night Lily and Donna stayed at his apartment. He hadn't expected the place to stay open very long, what with how high the expenses were and how few people actually used the facility. The proprietors had closed shop without warning, themselves having struggled to keep it open during the last few months of its operation. They'd come in a half an hour before closing, handed Tracy his last paycheck – not even enough to pay his month's rent. They'd apologized and said they'd put in a good word for him wherever he went, but he knew that he was out of options. So many establishments had already black-listed him because of the immigrations mix up, and even more had caught wind of the terrible rumors flying about from his tenure at the Laundromat. He didn't know how anyone could expect him to get a decent paying job anywhere in the city after those mishaps.
He had no way of transferring cities, either. He supposed that he could use his last check to catch a bus out of town and stay at a motel for a few nights until he found something, but he knew that there wasn't the promise of work, and winter was coming. If he was caught on the streets by the time the first snow settled, he'd be frozen over. It was just another one of those miserable surprises, nothing more than a punch to the gut that left him sick that night, anxiety inevitably getting the better of him.
He lay awake in bed that night, unable to sleep with one thought running through his head: it was okay if he couldn't sleep. He didn't have to get up for work tomorrow. He didn't have a job. It was something that gnawed away at him more and more every second, guiding his train of thought in the most undesirable directions he could imagine, plaguing him until he exhausted himself in his worry, until his eyes couldn't stay open any longer and he fell into a fitful sleep at five in the morning.
They'd showed up at his door the next evening with a movie, takeout, and sympathetic smiles, and even just that was enough to brighten his week, to pull him from the dangerous rut he'd grooved himself into the last two days. They sat on the old chair in the sitting room and she'd put the movie in as he sat with Lily – he didn't really register much of the movie, and Donna could tell. She saw the distant look in his eyes, the way he seemed to look through the television. Curled up on the couch next to him and her daughter, she hit the pause button on the movie, looking over at the man who was startled out of his stupor by the sudden absence of noise. He looked over at her. "Everything okay?" he asked softly.
"I don't know, you tell me. How're you going to hold up?" the woman asked. Tracy felt his face flush, looking down at Lily, who was playing with the remote that her mother had placed on the couch besides her.
"I'll – I'll manage," he said, though he wasn't exactly sure if it were true or not. "Maybe find work inJeffersonCounty."
"You know, my husband was a fairy, and Lily's a fairy, and up until a few days ago, I thought fairies were make believe, stories that parents tell their children before bed. I'm just," she laughed absently, "I'm just a silly old human and I know nothing about my daughter, about what she is. And I think Lily was wrong, the other night. She had it backwards. We need you."
Using the wooden chopsticks, Tracy pulled wearily at the noodles in the carton. He wanted nothing more than to stay with Lily, the poor dear, having to grow up a fairy on the human plane. Even if she was only half fairy, it was still going to be difficult. But come next week when he couldn't pay rent, he'd be evicted and on his own, and with no one hiring – or more accurately, no one hiring him – in the county, he had to take the shot in Jefferson as soon as he could, covering as much ground as possible before the winter set in. "I – I wish I could help, Donna. I do. I know how hard it is to be out of your element like this but… I have to get going. There's a lot you can do for her, even as a human. She needs a good mother, someone understanding enough to get through those difficult years of haywire magic, and I know you can do that for her. I'll help as much as I can, but – cards on the table – I'm going to be pretty much useless. Especially if she grows wings. Hard to tell at her age, without the proper equipment. Don't have any of that, obviously."
Lily's face lit up, "I'm going to have wings, like Daddy?"
"Very possible," he told her, though he could see her mother blanch at the notion. As a first time mother, 'wing care and treatment' probably wasn't covered in the training books. He gave her a sad smile. "It'll be okay, they won't come in for a few years."
Donna stared at him for a moment, thoughtful. "Can I ask you a question?" Her brow had creased and the gentle smile had fled from her face. It worried him a bit that her demeanor would change so suddenly, but he expected it from a mother who'd just learned her daughter was a fairy. He'd do his best to ease her worries.
A beat passed between them, and she took the remote from her daughter, who had just changed the hue to coat the picture in a deep blue, making it look as if the scene took place underwater, perhaps just to put some space between her and the looming question. "What happened to your home? Fairyland, I mean." She asked quietly. He felt his heart give an uncomfortable thud in his chest and he sighed. It was a question that was bound to come up sooner or later, what with her daughter and him and the episode he'd had last week.
"We weren't the only ones," he started. "There were a lot before us. Dragons and leprechauns and trolls… they all disappeared, because people stopped believing in them."
Donna's eyes went wide, eyebrows arching up her forehead. "Just like that?" she asked softly.
He shook his head. "I wish. No… it's not as quick and painless as they make it sound, like it all happened in the bat of a wing. It's… it takes a long time, because everyone puts up a fight. No one wants to be disenchanted, you know – that's what it's called. So there's this thing that comes to your plane of existence and it's hungry, it's always hungry, and it feeds on magic. All of us – fairies, dragons, leprechauns, mermaids – we all need magic to survive. It's like… you humans have blood, air and food, and that's what you need to live. We need all that too, but we need magic, we need people to believe, or else it can take everything from us. And it takes our magic, from the world, from the air, from our bodies, and it's horrible. Once it makes it into your world, there's no getting it out. Even if there's just a trace of it left, it breeds in disbelief, and it eats your world from the inside out. I didn't stick around to watch it happen."
Lily went still in his lap, not daring to move a muscle the whole time he spoke. She folded her hands in her lap and seemed to shrink. "The bogeymen," she added; Tracy nodded in agreement.
"That's right, little Lily," he continued, "and you were right about them eating my dreams, too. But they can't hurt us, now." He bent over and hugged her gently. "They're gone."
"Is that it, then?" Donna asked quietly, "They're just going to eat everything here too?"
"No. the Human plane is safe. You lot don't have any magic for them to feed off of. And I hate to say it, but this place is like home to them. All the disbelief and foul feelings here, it's the prefect breeding grounds, like a lake to mosquitoes." Tracy picked Lily up from the sofa between his knees and set her in his lap. Even as a human child, it would be expected for someone of her age to be frightened of these monsters – children were so much smarter than adults, they knew that there were dangers lurking in the dark that the grown ups couldn't see.
They were hyperaware, keen to every thing that happened around them – sometimes things that couldn't be seen or heard or touched, things that had to be believed. That's where the magic came from, created and used in a continuous cycle that fed both worlds. They were pure, untainted by the lies fed to them over the years of their adolescence. No such thing as Tooth Fairies. He scoffed lightly. "Children stopped believing, and Fairies stopped existing. All except for a few of us, according to Lily."
She nodded enthusiastically. "Some of them even remember, too! They're the lucky ones, like you Mister Tracy!"
He smiled sadly and nodded. "I wouldn't exactly call myself 'lucky' at the moment, sweetie. I've got a lot on my hands at the moment, and things are going to get pretty tough. You might not see me for a while, okay?"
The young girl scrunched her face up in disapproval. "You can't go!" she protested. He sighed. He didn't want to go, but what choice did he have? "Ask him mommy!" she pleaded, reaching over and tugging on Donna's sleeve.
"Ask him what?" she prodded, a look of confusion forming on her face. Her daughter could be so cryptic sometimes, but at least now she knew why.
"What you were thinking about asking him in the car!" Her eyes went wide for a moment before she remembered Tracy's explanation about how younger fairies had such an excess of magic, so much that sometimes it literally burst forth from them, unsure of what else to do. He'd said that Lily didn't have quite that much magic, but it was more than enough to facilitate her uncanny abilities. Donna's face softened, and she smoothed down her daughter's hair, a small smile playing across her lips at her antics. "Ask him." She urged, her words drawn out in a whine of impatience.
The woman looked up at Tracy, who was rather confused. "Ask me? Ask me what?"
"You don't have to leave, you know." She said. "It's just me and Lily, at home. We could use you around. What do you say?"
Her words processed slowly, each individual syllable taking forever to make sense in his mind. He was caught off guard, and he didn't know what to say. He was shocked speechless, literally, and it took him several minutes just to find his voice, during which Lily laughed happily at his reaction, chanting "It's a yes! It's a yes!" through her giggles.
The nod started out slow at first, but gradually picked up speed as he realized what had just happened, eyes widening. The little girl shrieked happily as he hugged her before planting a friendly kiss on Donna's cheek, bubbling an endless stream of gratitude. The blaring sound of the movie interrupted him as Lily hit the play button. He couldn't help himself from grinning like a fool as they all sat a little closer, the worry in his chest dissipating and something truly brilliant filling the space it left, something he hadn't felt in years.
Tracy was a caseworker. He always had been, and it really was what he did best. The hours were long, and sometimes he was called in on a bit of an emergency, but very rarely did he mind – the pay was good, and he liked his clients well enough. It was always a good feeling, being able to help someone out of a jam, being able to point people in the right direction and better the community. Sure, there was a lot of paperwork involved, but really it had always been that way, lots of paperwork, lots of people.
People, not fairies.
Things had turned around when he started living with Donna and Lily. Everything seemed less of a burden – people recognized him as a stable part of society – he recognized himself as part of the Human plane, now, almost a person of mixed heritage. He had roots in fantasy, but was slowly sowing the seeds of a life amongst humans.
He was finally free of that dead-end job, free of that miserable apartment, free of the burden of not knowing who he was, and suddenly things just got better. He found a job, a well paying job that started off as simple secretary in child services. He knew that's where he belonged, helping children. It was almost impulsive, for him, and he was accepted due to his previous tenure as a caseworker and the fact that the agency was in need of a good secretary.
It was only a matter of time before they realized his strengths in working with others, with children, with families in need of help, and up the metaphorical ladder he went. He earned a good living, and between his and Donna's income, their haphazard family lived comfortably. It was funny, that only a few years ago Tracy had been convinced that the human plane was a terrible place to be; he pitied those few good people in the world, and he would have laughed had anyone told him this would be his life.
Lily came bounding towards him when he walked through the front door – He got home much later than the girls, who both ended their day at three thirty. Lily was a third grader, now, a big girl, and Donna was a teacher at the local elementary school.
He gave her a quick hug before her mother called for her. "You still have homework to do!"
Tracy sat with her at the kitchen table, helping her with her math homework – she seemed to be having trouble mastering the double-digit multiplication, but they'd have that fixed in a tick, wouldn't they, he told her. It was a long and grueling process, but they kept at it until she could tackle and double-digit numbers he threw at her. She tucked the worksheets away in her school folder and pulled out a black and white map of the Unites States, dragging with it a pack of Crayola crayons to color the individual states. Her scarlet red scribbled acrossGeorgia. "Mister Tracy," she said, filling in the thick black lines, clutching the crayon in one fist. "When am I going to get my wings?"
He furrowed his brow and pressed his lips into a hard line. Donna joined them at the table, having too been curious about her daughter's development. He wrung his hands together for a moment before plucking her from her seat and bouncing her on his knee. "There's this thing called 'Fairy Evolution.' It says that sometimes fairies get wings and sometimes they don't. And because your mum isn't a fairy, there's that to factor in and – and humans don't have wings… So even though your dad did…"
"So I'm not going to get wings?" she asked, looking up at him.
He sighed. "They would have come in by now, sweet heart. M'sorry."
"It's okay," she said, reaching for the crayon. "You don't have wings either, Mister Tracy. You're still a fairy. So am I!"
The man felt a smile spread across his face, swallowing back a lump in his throat and ducking down to kiss her temple. "Yes you are, Lily. Yes you are."