- This Is How It Always Is
“Anytime.” Grumwald hadn’t realized she was in pain. “Really. I have unlimited supply.”
“Night fairies are impossible. They don’t listen. At first I thought they were hard of hearing, but no, they’re just, well, flighty. Have you ever tried to reason with a night fairy?”
Grumwald grinned. She was preaching to the choir.
“Ahh, that’s right.” She looked chastened. “I’m sorry about that. It hurts so much sometimes I lose my good sense.”
“It’s okay,” Grumwald assured her.
“Let me get my wand.” It took her a minute and a half to get up from her chair. Her bones creaked like bare branches in the wind. “I should have lifted your curse years ago. There’s no excuse for leaving it. Sloppy witchery, that’s what that is. I’m losing it in my old age.”
She shuffled slow, slow, slowly across her worn floors, away from the heat and flickering light of the fire, over to the kitchen where from a pot rack hung dozens of wands in shapes and sizes Grumwald had never seen before, some topped, traditionally, with white caps or stars, others curled up into snail shells or coiled like snakes or fraying out at the ends like tangled hair. “Now, which one did I use in the first place? I can’t remember. Well, this one will do.” She gave a few tentative waves to a bright-yellow wand no bigger than his longest finger. “Now, remind me again which way we go.”
“Which way?” said Grumwald.
“Do we lose Grumwald or Princess Stephanie? I forget who you were to begin with.”
Grumwald had never thought of it like that. Losing one. Revealing which he’d been to begin with would mean conceding that once upon a time he was someone other than both, and that was what he could no longer imagine. He knew the answer—probably the witch did too—but he found he didn’t believe it anymore. And mostly, he was loath to give it up, to give them up. The idea of life without Grumwald was devastating. The idea of life without Princess Stephanie was devastating. But the idea of life being just one or the other had become, simply, unimaginable.
“I want both,” he was surprised to hear himself stammer. “Both. Grumwald and Princess Stephanie.”
“Ah.” The witch was less surprised. “That happens sometimes. Can’t give up the perks of either one. Each incarnation has its rewards. Easy then. I’ll just leave the spell, and you can keep going back and forth.”
“Not each.” Grumwald shook his head. “Both. I want to be both.”
“Both at once?” Even the witch was shocked.
“Each is good, but the back-and-forth is so tiring.”
“I can imagine. But I don’t … I don’t know how to make you both at once. I’m not even sure I know what that means.” They spent the afternoon together in her cottage discussing, looking through books of spells and potions, trying one oddly shaped wand after another. At last, her soft, gray face lit with revelation. “What if we looked betwixt?”
“Betwixt?” Grumwald was skeptical. “Isn’t betwixt just a witchy way of saying in between?”
“Betwixt is more complex, more twisted threads, more layers than in between.” She smiled at him through rheumy eyes. “Betwixt a prince and a night fairy is neither-nor as much as both-and. You see? Something new. Something more. Something better.”
“Exactly,” she agreed. “Betwixt I can do. Well, I can do my part.”
“What else is there?”
“Your part.” Of course.
“Is it hard?”
“It is very hard.”
He closed his eyes and steeled himself. “Tell me.”
“Exactly,” she said again. “You have to tell. It can’t be a secret. Secrets make everyone alone. Secrets lead to panic like that night at the restaurant. When you keep it a secret, you get hysterical. You get to thinking you’re the only one there is who’s like you, who’s both and neither and betwixt, who forges a path every day between selves, but that’s not so. When you’re alone keeping secrets, you get fear. When you tell, you get magic. Twice.”
“You find out you’re not alone. And so does everyone else. That’s how everything gets better. You share your secret, and I’ll do the rest. You share your secret, and you change the world.”
“It’s not that easy.” Grumwald felt his lungs scritching to become one in his chest. “I can’t just share my secret. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to understand. It’s complicated.”
“Of course it is. It’s life.”
“So how do I do it then? How do I share my secret? What do I tell?”
“Your story.” The witch didn’t even hesitate. “You tell your story. That is what we all must do.”
“That’s not magic,” said Grumwald.
“Of course it is,” said the witch. “Story is the best magic there is.”
Poppy could not believe that the gym could look so completely different and smell so exactly the same. It’s not that the garlands and lace hearts and glitter and confetti didn’t make the place look nice. It was more like why bother if it still smelled like socks.