For kelkyag‘s commissioned prompt.
The dragon next door studied me, its claws flexing and settling down. Pinned between my shame and my discomfort, I was growing testy, feeling like a small creature in the regard of a much larger predator – which, of course, I was – with a rather reasonable urge to run and hide.
But Zizny wasn’t the enemy. Zizny was my very nice neighbor, and grown women did not run and hide from their neighbors. Instead, I coughed, and regarded the dragon calmly. “You seem very interested in our past.”
“I have been thinking quite a bit about my own,” it admitted. “And also, after a conversation with the Dapples down the street, I have been realizing that I am as guilty of making assumptions as any of the small races are.”
Only to dragons and giants are centaurs considered a small race. I spared a thought to wonder what they considered the tiny races (the nano-scale? Our terminology predated such terms, although it was possible dragons could not focus sharply enough to deal with the tinies). But there were other matters at hand, so I put that aside for another day. “Assumptions?” Anything to avoid talking about my family, please.
“Assumptions. For instance, that the centaurs were a family group.”
I admit, I felt a little smug. Only, I need to point out, because I’d made such a stupid mistake when it came to the Smiths and gender, and was still feeling the need to redeem myself.
The smugness just made me feel guilty, though, and I admitted “I’ve done the same. I suppose we all do; Smokey Knoll is a… very varied area. It’s hard to find two households from the same culture here, any given culture.”
“Indeed.” It dropped its jaw in either an invitation to climb inside or a parody of a laugh. “I thought all humanoid races were the same for quite a while.”
“I’ve found a tendency to overlay human society and perceptions onto other races,” I could admit comfortably now. “Gender roles included.”
“I think it’s a common habit,” it nodded. “Especially when your race is the dominant one in an area. Humans living in the dragon caves up north have often adjusted to our habits, as much as they can, so we attempt to do the same here.”
“I’d noticed,” I smiled. It would be interesting to live in a dragon cave; I could imagine that Sage would love it for his research. Maybe when the children were grown… I sighed.
Zizny blinked, far too perceptively for my comfort. “I will be sad when Jimmy flies the nest,” it admitted quietly. “There are so many predators out there that I cannot protect cx’za from.”
I nodded. “Yes. I worry about the decisions Jin will make, left on his own.”
Another perceptive glance. “You did not make good decisions when you were his age?”
“I didn’t have a lot of room to make decisions when I was a teenager.”
“No? Someone else made them for you?”
“My parents. My grandparents.”
“The same ones that you did not invite to your wedding to Sage?”
“The same,” I agreed tiredly. “That was one of the first decisions I made on my own. That was Rule Three.”
“I’ve been curious about your marital ‘rules’ for quite some time,” it admitted. “Tell me, what is Rule Three?”
“Rule Three.” I smiled wistfully, remembering. “We hadn’t been dating long, Sage and I, but I was having a bad time of it. I kept running into things where I’d say ‘my mother’ this and ‘my mother’ that, or if it was really bad, ‘my grandmother.’ It had to get really, really bad for me to mean Grandmother Austen, my father’s mother. Usually I meant the one who was paying my tuition to the Pumpkin. It wasn’t so much that I lived in fear of disappointing her as that I knew, without a doubt, that everything I’d done since being conceived was a disappointment. Grandmother O’Reilly is like that.” Even all these years later, it made me wince to think of it.
“Impossible to please? Judgmental?” Zizny asked, in what I thought was a sympathetic tone. “She sounds like a very difficult woman.”
“That is a very, very good way to put that. Very apt. She never approved of my mother’s marriage to my father – my dad’s family is dirt poor, what Grandmother O’Reilly would call ‘trash.’ I was a failure in her eyes just existing; she sent me to the Pumpkin in hopes that it would either kill me or, somehow, redeem me.”
“A lovely family.”
“She’s the best of the lot. But she was hanging over me in my head, this specter of everything I was doing wrong, and I know it came out in how I acted, in what I said. Finally, after the nine hundredth or thousandth time that I said ‘my mother’ or ‘my grandmother,’ Sage sat me down and had a talk with me.”
“‘I am not dating your ancestors,’” he said. And that, even now, made me smile. “‘I am not dating your mother, and I don’t want to marry her. I want to marry you.’ And that is how he proposed to me and instituted Rule Three all at once.”
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