Fionn Clanless sat in the parlor of his new home, looking around at the shiny polished woodwork and blossoming apple branches outside the window. The big bay window to his left looked out on the front garden, which, as a boy he would have thought an unimaginable treat. None of the houses he lived in had gardens, except for Granddad’s in Ireland, where Granny kept roses. He heard soft footsteps and the tap of a cane behind him.
“Fionn, my boy,” said a voice. He turned to look at the elderly lady who had just entered the room.
“Yes, Miss Lucy?” he rose from his chair politely, self-consciously combing his fingers through his long blond hair.
“It didn’t take you long to unpack.”
“No, Miss Lucy.”
“You didn’t come with much.” she said quietly.
“No,” Fionn shook his head. “When I left four years ago, my father’s family took almost everything I had. The Meridians helped me back on my feet, basically everything I have is from them.”
“You have good friends.” Miss Lucy sat down on the sofa. “Is there anything you need? What can we do to help you?”
A loud burst of fanfare resounded down from the hallway. Fionn and Lucy jumped and turned to look at the door. Down the hall marched Fred, leading his small flock of pet ducks behind him.
“Oh, it’s Tuesday, isn’t it?” mused Lucy. Fionn looked confused. “Three times a week, Fred takes his pets to play in the pond.”
Fred switched his music off. “Hey, Fionn! Do you need any help unpacking? I can help you when I get back!”
“No, Fred, that’s all done.”
“Well good!” He turned back to Lucy. “Sera went into town with Mae, she’ll be back soon she said.”
“Good, I’m glad! The girl needs to get out a bit more than just to ballet.”
“We’ll be back later.” Fred turned to his ducks and raised his hand. “Atten-hut!” He switched his music on and began chanting cadence with his ducks trailing behind.
Lucy smiled and shook her head. She patted Fionn on the shoulder as she left the room. “I’ll go make us some tea.”
Miss Lucy disappeared, leaving Fionn alone. He looked down at himself, dressed as he was in black. He wondered how Lucy had come to trust him so soon, he had only met her a few weeks ago after walking Fred and Seraphina home from church. It was dark, and they were so new to the area… He couldn’t bear to think of them out on their own, even in this rather nice suburb. He expected to walk them to the door and that would be that. He would see them at church. And he did, but it became so much more! Before he knew it, he was practically one of the family. How had this happened so suddenly? Ejected from one family, only to find two more! He would make sure to be worthy of the honor set before him.
Fionn lay on the floor of the parlor in his very lightest top and trousers trying to get some relief from the heat. He thought getting out of the city meant to escape the heat! He looked at Seraphina, draped semi-dramatically on the sofa. She wore a pair of black cotton shorts, a black “Sailor Moon” tank top, and was using a fan to cool herself. She put her hair in high ponytails to get it off her neck. Fionn had braided his for the same reason.
“I can’t wait for the sun to go down.” Seraphina moaned. “The hot asphalt smell is giving me a headache.”
Llew and his girlfriend Isabella Rodreguez entered the room at that moment. Isabella took one look at the pair and said “I was about to ask how my two favorite Goths are doing, but now I won’t bother.”
As one, Seraphina and Fionn gave whines of discomfort.
“I hate to complain, but this house is an oven!” said Seraphina.
“Most of these big ol’ houses are, which is why a lot of these houses get central air.” observed Isabella.
“Can’t afford it. Before you say, “What? You’re rich!” This house is also on the register of historic places, and let me tell you what, you don’t want to mess with the state of New York.”
“Yeesh, you’re right.”
“So, flopping in heat exhaustion is our only option.” Sera snapped her fan closed. “Who wants a nice cold smoothie?”
Fred and Harry appeared at the door in khakis, pith helmets, and false mustaches. Seraphina raised her head.
“Fred, what are you doing?”
“Harry and I were just observing how bally hot it is here in India.”
Seraphina smiled “Don’t those mustaches itch?”
“Profusely. Harry, ol’ bean, what do you say to a tiger hunt?”
“There’s no tigers in New York.” observed Fionn, confused.
“There are at the zoo!”
“Well, hanging out at the zoo would be better than sweating our brains out here.” said Seraphina. “I’m for that, Harry, go get The Heap started.”
“Don’t call her The Heap!” scolded Harry. “She’s sensitive.”
“”Sensitive?” Harry, that thing is older than most of us in this room! It left sensitive sometime around 1990.” proclaimed Isabella.
Harry squinted at Isabella, playfully offended for the sake of his beloved GMC. “Our chariot awaits, ladies and gentlemen."
Seraphina put the finishing touches on the display of jack-o’-lanterns in the bay window at the front of the parlor. It was Halloween night, and she and all her friends were throwing a costume party for some of the kids in the neighborhood. A new tenant, Oliver Davies had moved in over the summer; he was an introverted fellow, even quieter than Fionn, but he had come alive a bit planning the party. Seraphina had modified some of her ballet accessories and made herself a bat costume. There was a knock at the door, Fred answered it.
“Hey Isabella, hey Jimmy! Wow, what a great costume!”
“Thanks Fred, give me a hand, will you?”
Seraphina stepped to the parlor door to see Fred helping Isabella with bags of candy. She was dressed as a spider themed-Day of the Dead skeleton woman with traditional “sugar skull” makeup on her face.
“You look great, Iz!”
“You too! Where’s Llew?”
“Upstairs, Fionn’s helping him with his costume. They’ve been so secretive about them.”
Jimmy, dressed in a pretty nice suit, fiddled with his tie in the background.
“What are you dressed as Jimmy?” asked Fred.
“Scariest thing known to man: a lawyer.” said Jimmy. “What about you, Fred?”
“I couldn’t decide whether to be Batman or Frankenstein, so I decided to do both.”
“Frankenstein's Monster.” corrected Oliver, coming down the stairs, dressed as the Fourth Doctor.
“And you must be Pretentious Man.”
Oliver rolled his eyes. “You all look amazing!”
“Now we’re just waiting for Llew, Harry, and Fionn.” said Isabella.
“Wee!” cried a voice. Harry slid down the banister in an eccentric suit and oversized top hat. He landed off the end of the rail with a “ta da!” pose.
“Lookin’ good, Harry! Mad Hatter?” said Seraphina.
“Yep, I’ve been working on it for a while.”
Llew came clanking down the stairs, dressed in a chainmail tunic with loincloth and furry boots. Seraphina struggled to stifle a laugh.
“What are you made up as?”
“Conan the Barbarian. I have to say the loincloth is a bit breezy, though…”
Fionn came down next in beautifully detailed black armor, carrying a spear and a short curved sword. Isabella and Seraphina both came closer to examine the costume.
“This is fantastic! What are you supposed to be?” asked Isabella.
“A dark elf prince.”
“How did you do the armor? It’s so lightweight. I’ll bet you could dance in this.”
“It’s pleather over cosplay foam, it’s not that hard-”
“Hush, our costumer couldn't have done better and she went to school for this!” scolded Isabella.
“Hey, don’t we have a party to prepare for?” said Jimmy.
“Oh, yeah.” coughed Seraphina. “The kids’ll be here any second, let’s go!”
Seraphina sat on the sofa in the darkened parlor, illuminated only by the glowing Christmas tree. It was quiet here, and all the noise in her head seemed very far away now. She caught movement at the corner of her eye and saw Fionn sliding into the room.
“Couldn’t sleep?” she asked.
“No. Couldn’t you?”
She shook her head. “My head’s too noisy.”
He nodded and sat in the armchair. “Mine too.”
They sat in silence for a while, watching the tree. Seraphina lay back against the arm of the sofa nearest him and reached out for his hand. She took it and held it. Slowly, Fionn wrapped his hand around hers, sliding from his chair to kneel at her side.
“When I was a little girl I used to sneak out of bed and sit right by the tree at night.”
“I was a good girl, I didn’t go poking at any of the presents. I would just lay under the tree until I fell asleep.”
“What self-discipline,” teased Fionn.
Seraphina fell silent for a while. “You know, when I was little I wanted more than anything to not be in this world. I wanted to go someplace else.”
“Why is that?”
“I didn’t have the words to explain what I felt about my parents’ deaths when I was little. I never felt safe, or okay. I know Fred didn’t either. I wanted to escape, and I thought that if I could go to another world, I would be safe.”
Fionn was shocked she was being this open with him. “Go on.”
“No matter how I wished, I never found the way to Narnia, or Neverland, or Middle-Earth. But I know why.”
“They’re not real?” Fionn said with a smile.
“Well, that, and I was supposed to wait for something better, right here in this world.” She turned to look at Fionn. “A dark elf prince.”
He shook his head no. “Sera…” He turned his eyes to the carpet. “You’re too good for me, Sera.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it.”
“You know what I am. You know what my father is, a blood-soaked gangster who lives on the misery of others.”
“But you’re not him.” She pushed his head up with a gentle touch under his chin. “You’ve never been him,” she sat up and pulled him to sit beside her. “You are Fionn Clanless, not Oran Clanless, and I think I love you.”
He swallowed hard. “I… I think I’ve loved you from the day I set eyes on you.”
"That's so corny," she laughed.
"But it's true. I saw you in the church, fearful and shy, and dressed in black, like me. Like I was meant to find you."
Seraphina slid her fingers between Fionn’s. “Like we were a matching pair.”
He pulled her to him, gently wrapping his free arm around her. “My Angel.”
“Gosh, you like to lay on thick, don’t you?” She rested her head on his shoulder. “I like it though.”
Fionn cuddled her close, smiling to himself. He raised one hand and smoothed her hair down, still holding Sera’s with the other. She sighed sleepily and sat still. The clock began to strike three, and he considered what was happening and what time it was. He thought fast, he wouldn’t let carelessness tarnish their reputations.
“Sera, oughtn’t you go try and sleep?”
“Mmm? Yeah, good idea.” They stood up slowly, Fionn waiting until she was steady before letting her go. She wobbled to the door, then turned to look at him.
Fionn looked out the window at the apple blossoms nodding at the parlor window.
“Ollie was right, look at the apple tree! Singing to it and giving it applejack did make it flower bigger than ever!” cried Fred.
“Well, I don’t know if wassailing it actually does any good…”
“Oh, tush!” scolded Fred.
Fionn was slightly startled when a hand touched his head. “Morning, handsome.”
Sera placed a kiss on his temple and sat down on the sofa. He put out his hand and took his girlfriend’s, she gave it a gentle squeeze. What a life he had now; a life he never dreamed of a year before. Friends, family… a home, for the first time, a real home. He glanced around at the gleaming woodwork, the shining antiques, and Seraphina, who still blushed when she caught him looking.
“Breakfast! Come and get it!” called Miss Lucy.
Fred and Oliver dove out the door. Seraphina followed, towing Fionn behind her.