This is written to sauergeek‘s commission and a request for more about how Beryl’s father got hooked into the family.
In high school, there had been a couple people — two in every year, three in the class that were freshmen when Mark was a senior — that were just a little bit different.
Not “didn’t follow the social conventions quite right” different, not “their accent says they didn’t grow up around here” different, but somehow just a little strange, despite conventional clothes and conventional haircuts.
To himself, Mark thought of them as “shiny” or, sometimes “sparkly,” but since none of his buddies seemed to notice — and none of the sparkly people seemed to notice him — he thought little more of it.
Then came college.
Freshman year, first semester, Survey of American Literature I. She sat down next to him and smiled, and Mark was hooked.
She wasn’t beautiful, he supposed. Amy Marconi, sitting behind her, looked like a model and smiled like she wanted to show him what was under her sweater. But this girl, she sparkled.
He introduced himself awkwardly, and she was kind about his clumsiness. He offered to study with her, and she accepted — if they did it as a group with her cousin and his girlfriend.
Well, that wasn’t too un-promising, so Mark agreed. Anything to spend a little more time around that sparkle.
It was three years and more than a hundred dates — study and otherwise — before he admitted that the sparkle had been what first caught his eye. By that point, he’d met her sister, her cousins, and her parents, and he had a pretty good idea that her family had the biggest concentration of sparkle on the Eastern Seaboard.
She’d smiled at him. It was a small thing, but he could see the way it lit up her mood behind the expression. “You can sense the — ah, the sparkle?”
He didn’t say can’t everyone? because by now he’d learned that most people were completely blind and obstinate when it came to such things. Instead, he said, “your Aunt Asta has a sparkle that defies belief, but yours is more mobile and, ah, multicolored, and your cousin Suzanne has some wild night-time fireflies.”
She’d stared for several minutes. For a moment, he thought that mentioning the cousin had been a bad idea. No girl wanted the guy she was dating to notice her cousins, after all, especially not one who liked to wear scandalous things the way Suzanne did.
“You know,” she said slowly, and he braced for impact, “this means I’m going to have to marry you.”
It was so out of the realm of anything that he’d been expecting that Mark stared at her with his mouth open for a minute, possibly as much as three minutes. At least she didn’t seem surprised. At least her smile was glittering with mischief and not with anger.
“I,” he cleared his throat. “I, ah.” He rubbed his hands on his jeans. “I was hoping you’d say that. Well, I hadn’t asked, yet, and I’m not sure I’d really thought I had a chance, but I was hoping if I asked, you’d say yes, and—”
She kissed him, which blissfully saved him from having to say anything else.
“That kiss.” His wife was gone for the evening — a girls’-night-out with her sisters — which left Mark alone with his children; his youngest was at a sleepover, which left only the kids Mark felt he could be a little more honest with, and Chalcedony wasn’t really listening, which meant Mark was talking primarily to his two children who were brimming over with the sparkle.
“I mean, let’s be honest, the moment I met your mother, I was hooked.” His smile was crooked. He never minded being hooked, but sometimes he did feel a bit like a fish on a line. “The minute I realized people had sparkle, I was hooked. But when she kissed me…”
Beryl’s expression was thoughtful, like she’d never quite been kissed like that. Good, thought Mark, uncharitably. It was too early to lose her to some boy.
Stone, on the other hand, looked like he wanted to know what it felt like, and like he knew what it didn’t feel like.
Mark coughed. “So I was hooked when I met her. I was reeled in when she kissed me. But then I met the family…”
Even Chalcedony took part in the long groan. They all loved their family, of course they did. That didn’t mean they were ignorant of what their family was like, especially to outsiders, especially to men.
“Did they know?” Beryl leaned forward. “You have the sight. I mean, I think that’s what you said. You see the spark. Sparkle? I kind of like sparkle better. That’s not common, is it? I don’t know many people who can do it in the family…”
“I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t related to the family who could do it, besides me. Doesn’t mean there aren’t people who can. I mean, there’s plenty of people not related to us —”
“As far as we know.” Stone’s tone was dramatic. Then again, Stone’d had plenty of run-ins with the family lately.
“—not related to the family, as far as we know, who have some sort of power. It’s not all us — you. It just seems like it sometimes.”
“Sometimes it seems like they want us to believe that, or like the gr- like the older generation believes it, though,” Beryl offered.
“Well, the grannies like to have their story be the right one.” There was no use pretending that wasn’t the case. “And they do hold on to power. Sometimes I’ve wondered if they hold on to too much — but that’s a story for another day.” He didn’t need to be sharing family conspiracy theories with his kids. They had enough to worry about. “Anyway — no, the family aren’t the only ones with the power.”
“But…” Stone’s dramatic tone was gone. Now he was speaking slowly and thoughtfully, picking out his words and working through his theory while he presented it. “You said Mom said she ‘had to marry you.’”
“That was just—” Mark shook his head. He tried not to lie to his kids, even when it was uncomfortable. “All right, I like to think that your mother would’ve married me anyway. But yes. I always did get the impression that there was a little familial pressure going on there.”
“So — they like to have people with the power marry in. And men who marry in, uh. People who marry in, really…”
“They can get railroaded, yeah.” There was no arguing that point.
“So maybe not everyone with power is in the family?” Stone looked mildly sick. “But they want everyone to be in the family?”
“That…” Mark spoke slowly, considering that from all angles. “That would make far too much sense.”
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