lb_lee: A happy little brain with a bandage on it, surrounded by a circle and the words LB Lee. (Default)
[personal profile] lb_lee
The Magical Girl House
Series: Magical Moonbeams
Word Count: 2600
Summary: Former Moon Princess Marge decides she needs to move out, and that her past history is weighing on her more than expected.
Notes: This story was actually bartered in exchange for [personal profile] nevanna mending my favorite shirt.  It is now good as new and she did a fantastic job!  Hooray for Nevanna!
A black and white portrait of Marge in her work clothes: an apron and a bandanna tied over her hair.  Her round, freckled face is equipped with a dead-eyed customer service stare.

Life seemed to have finally settled for Marge, former Moon Princess and current barista. She’d been at Homescross long enough to feel totally at home with her job and her customers. Not only that, but she’d spent enough of her free time wandering around the sprawling patchwork world to feel pretty steady in it.

As an informal roleplaying site, most of Homescross’s activity was done in certain areas: the coffee shop, the high school, the college. (There were also the more fantastic areas, Superburbia or Underhome, but Marge never went there.) Precious few players thought or cared about the infrastructure or manpower needed for these places to exist—where the coffee shop’s coffee came from, where the school personnel got trained. And that was fine. It meant the NPCs of Homescross could get some privacy from readers’ and players’ eyes and go about their ordinary lives in relative peace.

Marge liked ordinary. She liked to watch the architects of Number 4 Privet Drive build new houses, or sit in the garden to watch one of Charlotte’s many nameless descendants catch flies. It pleased her to think that she was now one of the anonymous crowd of characters never named or remembered, from stories nobody had published, sold, or told. She was no longer Princess Margaret, avatar of the Moon Goddess. She was just a chubby, freckled, anonymous barista, working behind the scenes of every coffee shop fanfiction ever made. In a way, she would have as long a life as any famous fictional person—because as long as there were coffee shops in fiction, they would need baristas.

But something didn’t feel right.

“I don’t know what,” she groused to James on their lunch break. “I feel like I’m missing something.”

James chewed his sandwich thoughtfully. “Maybe you need to get out more?”

“I get out! I’ve seen more of Homescross than you have!”

“Yeah, but you’re always alone. Or with me. Customers don’t count; they’re not friends.”

Marge couldn’t really say anything to that. Coyote and the Stefanopolos family were customers. She hadn’t seen the Lucky Duck since the craft fair—if he even counted as a friend. Asides from James, she couldn’t really think of anyone else.

“It’s not that I don’t want friends,” she grumbled. “I just don’t want to bring them home.”

Silence. She heard her own words, crossed her arms. James looked at her with gentle concern and put his sandwich down. “Is something going wrong with…?”

“No.” But that didn’t sound right. “I don’t know. It’s… complicated.”

Marge still lived with her Aunt Edna and Uncle Ron. In the story they’d been trapped in for so long, they had been narratively compelled to abuse her, just as she’d been narratively compelled to smile through it. But Marge knew that they’d never wanted to do those things; she’d seen their tears as they were forced to harm her, and even now, Uncle Ron carefully made her every stick of furniture by hand, unable to look her in the eye. Since they’d escaped to Homescross, the horror had come to an end, but--

“I’m not mad at them,” she said. “But I think they wish I was.”

She stared at her dimpled callused hands, clasped tight in her lap. She made it a rule to never discuss what had happened in those awful days. When people heard, they wanted somebody to blame, be it her, Edna, or Ron, and Marge didn’t want that. They’d all been trapped in an ugly story, but that was then. This was now. It was over, and there was no point in dwelling on it…

“Have you considered maybe moving out?” James asked. “I mean, you can now.”

Marge sighed and rubbed her eyes. She felt tired. “I think that’d be a good idea.”

Ron and Edna took the news calmly. They had apparently seen this coming for a long time; they just hadn’t wanted to push Marge out as though they hadn’t cared. Now that she’d brought it up, though, they were fully supportive. (Relieved?)

“Would you like us to help you pack?” Aunt Edna asked, her round face placid and open instead of the twisted sneer the story had forced on her. “Or would you rather do it yourself?”

“I’ll do it myself,” Marge said, loving the freedom of choice. “Except the furniture; I’ll need help for that.” She knew that Uncle Ron would do a good job. “But first, I need to find a place.”

“One of your own?” Aunt Edna asked.

Marge thought a bit, then shook her head. “I don’t think I could handle living alone yet. Might as well save the money.”

Fortunately, Homescross Coffee was like all shops of its type and attracted every flier and ‘roomie wanted’ poster in town. At her next shift, Marge took down the numbers of all the ones that looked promising, and set herself to calling every single one of them. If she waited, she worried she’d psych herself out of it.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of housing interviews. Tiny apartments, big townhouses, party pads, business households, co-ops and ‘oxygen share only’ places. None stood out as particularly terrible (except one party house, inhabited by former Chosen Ones whose lives seemed to have ended at adulthood) but none seemed quite right. Marge had been a barista and an eavesdropper long enough to have heard plenty of roommate horror stories; she didn’t want to contribute to their number.

Still, she hadn’t interacted with so many people since she left her book. It was exhausting. She finally took a day off from work to recuperate from all the socializing, and when she returned, there was a new flier. It read, “Quiet household of former female protagonists, 3 adults, seeks one more. No pets, drugs, or fans please.”

“Who put this up?” she asked James, but he didn’t know.

Intrigued, Marge called the number on the flier, and that weekend, she came for an interview, at the end of a chain of others.

The house was divided into two flats. It looked a bit old and creaky, but solid, and it was painted an intriguing shade of turquoise. Marge approached the flat on the right and rang the bell.

“Coming!” someone called from inside.

While she waited, Marge glanced at the mailbox. Attached to it was an index card, and written on it in clear script were ‘A. Liddell’ and ‘Gale family.’ Oh dear. That sounded far above Marge’s own protagonist qualifications; hopefully there wasn’t a certain level of classic status required for tenants or she’d be in trouble.

But before she could worry much, the door opened on a short, curvy young woman with bright red hair and overalls, spattered with paint. Deep smile lines were around her mouth.

“Oh hi!” she said. “You must be Marge, right? I’m Dorothy. I’m sorry, I was fixing something up and lost track of time. Come in, come in!”

While Dorothy called for Tip and Alice and tried to scrub the paint off her hands, Marge took the flat in. It’d obviously been inhabited by at least one of the three for a long time; every available space was cluttered with pictures, knick-knacks and art. Everything looked a bit old and worn, but in decent enough condition, and the place was clean. In the kitchen, a new chair stood on a dropcloth, partially painted.

Dorothy led Marge to an ancient striped rocking chair in the living room, which proved to be creaky but comfortable. A rather stern, imposing-looking woman with long dark hair and glasses pinched to her pointy nose sat with a laptop in one chair, while a tall, rangy person in a checked shirt made room for Dorothy on the couch. Dorothy sat down, kissed their cheek, and clapped her hands together.

“Okay, let’s get started! I’m Dorothy, this is my partner Tip/Ozma, and that’s Alice. Welcome to the magical girl house!”

“Don’t call it that,” Alice said. She was eyeing Marge with skepticism—and possibly displeasure. “So. Who are you? Impress me.”

Marge tried not to squirm. She’d served coffee to the gods; surely she could handle three of the most famous protagonists in all children’s literature. “My name is Marge. I was Margaret from Princess of the Moon.” It felt slimy to even say.

It got a reaction from the others too. Dorothy looked alarmed. Tip outright flinched.

Alice showed no physical reaction, but when she said, “I’m sorry,” Marge got the sense she was being sincere, even in her flat, acerbic voice.

And with that, it all spilled out: the story, Aunt Edna and Uncle Ron, what they’d all had to do, their frantic escape to Homescross, the replacement Moon Princess, the Sun King following her, how Marge could never quite feel at ease for fear of some other character trying to haul her off back. All in a rapid-fire shrill monotone that was far different than her usual voice, in work or at home.

On some level, Marge was horrified that she was giving her whole life story to these strangers who were surely very uncomfortable, but she couldn’t stop. It was as though a dam in her was cracking apart faster than she could put it back together.

When she was done, she hadn’t started crying, but her nose was stopped up and her eyes were watering. When Tip held a checkered hankie to her, Marge took it, sniffed, “thank you,” and blew her nose. She wanted to be mortified, but there wasn’t enough emotional room yet; she was too busy trying to keep herself from crying. Everything inside her was seething like a storm.

After some uncomfortable silence (unbroken except for Marge’s sniffing), Alice cleared her throat.

“What are your cleaning needs?” she asked.

Marge was deeply relieved to change the subject. Heart racing, positive that she’d flubbed everything, she fumbled and staggered her way through mundane concerns like the thermostat, and when they told her they’d get back to her, she couldn’t leave fast enough.

She stood on the porch, breathing hard, blinking fast. Automatically, unable to think of anywhere better to go, she fled to her bastion of strength: the coffee shop. Surely, if there were customers, she could put her work face on and the storm would pass.

But there were no customers. Only James.

“You don’t have to clean,” he chided as he shoved a complimentary pumpkin spice chai in her direction. “You’re not on today.”

“I ruined it!” Marge ranted, ignoring the mug. If there were no customers, she told herself, then she was free to scrub the counter as viciously as she wanted. “It was a nice place, with other protagonists, and it was cozy, and I ruined it!” Her voice still sounded strange.

James tried to console her, but it didn’t work; the storm inside her had hit a peak. And it was strange, Marge knew she was overreacting, that there were other places to live, but couldn’t seem to control herself. Everything seemed to be falling apart inside of her, and the coffee shop wasn’t helping. Finally, she keeled over on the counter and started sobbing.

“I’m sorry--” she wept. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me...”

James hovered above her, as though unsure whether to hug her, talk to her, or leave her alone. At any moment, a customer might come in, and then they’d be in trouble.

Finally, he went and grabbed the phone. With an unusually decisive expression on his face, he told Marge, “I’m going to call Aika to cover the rest of the shift.”

“Okay,” Marge sniffled.

“And then we’re going to go somewhere else. Okay?”

“Okay,” Marge mumbled into her arms.

“Okay. There are two places we can go tonight. We can go to your house, or we can go to mine. Which sounds better to you?”

Even though she was in no condition to make complex decisions, Marge was still relieved that James had given her a choice. It reminded her that no matter how upset she was, no matter how terrible everything felt, she wasn’t in her book. Even though she was falling apart, she knew she could still tell James to take her home and leave her alone.

But she didn’t want to be left alone. She didn’t want to deal with her aunt and uncle’s concern, or the reminders they inevitably, involuntarily brought of her past. James was her friend, and he was asexual, and at that moment, she wanted to be with him.

“Your house,” she said.

Fortunately, Aika had even less of a life than Marge did; she was available, and raced over on her scooter to take over the last chunk of the shift. Marge was still weeping, but she grabbed her jacket, took James’s hand, and let him lead her out.

She was barely aware of the journey there; she just piled into his rusty, irritable Honda and cried until they arrived in the head of his writer, a teenage from Montana. She’d never actually been there, but she was in no condition to notice the surroundings—she was vaguely aware of large ranch house, furry rugs under her feet, and pictures of James and his writer all over the walls.

“She visits me a lot. Not tonight, though,” he said as he wrapped Marge in a quilt and plopped her on a leather couch in a style she had never seen outside Westerns. “I said I needed to help a friend.”

“You can do that?” Marge asked. She’d never been able to communicate at all with her own writer.

“Sure. She’s busy at college now anyway. I hope she doesn’t forget me.” He pressed a mug of cider into her hands—the helpless gesture of an alarmed barista. “But let’s not worry about that, huh?”

Marge sniffled. She could feel more crying coming on. “Hug me,” she said, and he did.

It seemed like forever, but eventually she cried herself out and calmed down. She drank the cider. They spent the remainder of the evening very quietly, playing cribbage, and Marge slept on the couch, bundled up tight in the blanket.

When she woke up, she felt drained and flat, but no longer actively upset. It was still very early, and she didn’t want to wake James, so she got up, cloaked herself in the quilt, and made herself some tea. James, of course, had many different flavors; she decided to try a mysterious ‘orange cream rooibos.’ Then she tiptoed out to watch the sun rise on the porch.

Now that she was awake and calm, she could see where she was more clearly. A plain of grass extended in all directions, with llamas, sheep, and other animals wandering. All of them ignored her, thankfully. It was quite cold outside—presumably the weather was based off Montana—but between the quilt and the tea, Marge didn’t mind. She sat, and enjoyed her drink, and watched the sky turn pretty pastel colors. That was how James found her later.

“Hey. How’re you doing?” he asked, sitting down next to her. He was dressed in thick flannel pajamas and carpet slippers.

Marge snuggled deeper into the quilt. “I think all this was bothering me more than I thought.”

“Yeah.”

They didn’t need to say anything else. They sat in companionable silence until it was time to go to work.

Marge took a break from the house-hunting for a while. She didn’t want to have another crying jag at an interview. So it came as a surprise when she got a call from Alice a few days later.

“You want me as your roommate?”

“We think you’d be a good fit,” Alice said. “And we know what it’s like to be a magical child protagonist.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Marge said.

She hung up and started packing.

Notes: The Dorothy and Tip/Ozma in this story are based off erinptah's fanfic, "The Gender Ninja of Oz."

Date: 2017-04-17 01:21 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
*applause*

Date: 2017-04-17 10:25 pm (UTC)
arashi_untumbled: (window)
From: [personal profile] arashi_untumbled
whoa.

this is the first thing i've read in this series, but i love the setting and i definitely wanna read more!

Date: 2017-04-17 10:41 pm (UTC)
arashi_untumbled: (not-me with pizza)
From: [personal profile] arashi_untumbled
noted, thanks! if i get an idea i'll definitely throw it at ya.

Aww

Date: 2017-04-17 10:31 pm (UTC)
azeroeth: star destroyer above desert planet (Default)
From: [personal profile] azeroeth
I just read this series today and I love it. ^_^ Your characters are so nuanced and adorable. And the metafictional narrative is totally awesome.

- Archalleone

Re: Aww

Date: 2017-04-17 10:42 pm (UTC)
arashi_untumbled: (not-me with pizza)
From: [personal profile] arashi_untumbled
yeah the metafictional part was what really made me double take the most - in a good way, like hey, people are talking about this! but the whole setting is really intriguing and made me wanna know more.

Re: Aww

Date: 2017-04-18 01:13 pm (UTC)
alatefeline: Painting of a cat asleep on a book. (Default)
From: [personal profile] alatefeline
Thank you!

Date: 2017-04-18 06:46 pm (UTC)
nevanna: (Books!)
From: [personal profile] nevanna
This was wonderful! You did a great job of showing all the ways that, even though Marge is thriving in so many aspects of her new life, her past is still affecting her emotionally (the bits about her relationships with her aunt and uncle were particularly striking; I like that not everything is perfect between that family, and I think that you included just enough of the lingering horror without going over the top). I love the line about James giving Marge a choice, and how important that was for her. Their friendship continues to be wonderful (as are the little glimpses of his relationship with his writer, of course).

Thank you so much for writing this story.
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