Part 7 of 7
She continued: “He’s a very unique bird, I didn’t find anything with colours even close to his.” There was an odd quality to her voice that set Cody on edge. A far too gentle smile appeared on her face. “He’s beautiful.”
Kenny pretended to preen at the compliment, flapping his wings out to show them off, but Cody could feel his emotions not lining up with his behaviour. Kenny was as wary about her behaviour as Cody was.
He followed Kenny’s lead and faked a smile, not giving his mother and inking to his true feelings. Did she really only decide she still liked Kenny now that she’d confirmed he was ‘special’ and ‘unique’? It left a sour taste in his mouth. If Kenny had been any other bird, something more normal, would she have continued to ignore him?
Cody had the sickening feeling that she would have done much worse. There was a reason he’d packed up all of his stuff before he broke the news to his parents.
Cody’s fake smile broke off when his father walked into the room. He glanced at Cody, looking uncomfortable. Cody tried not to let it bother him.
His father focused his attention back on mother. He seemed to be steeling himself for something. “Your mother wants to come over,” he said, no small amount of strain in his voice.
Dread pooled in Cody’s stomach. Grandmother was the most invested out of all of them in Kenny being a phoenix. His parents had managed to keep her away for the last three weeks, but they must be out of excuses. Grandmother could tell something was wrong, and she wouldn’t be deterred.
“Where’s dear Kenny?” was the first thing grandmother asked when she saw him. Kenny was in his room, waiting for when Cody told her. There was something piercing in her eyes. It gave him chills. It was like she already knew what was going on.
He hugged her stiffly and directed her to the couch. His parents sat down on the sofas on either side of her. Cody didn’t sit, he stood in front of them, his attention focused on his grandmother.
She watched him intently in a way that starkly reminded him of his mother. They were very different in almost every way, even in looks, but suddenly Cody could clearly see this woman as his mother’s mother.
Cody put his hands in his pockets to hide their shaking. He didn’t want to do this. Grandmother didn’t rush him. She knew he would talk eventually. She knew something was wrong, just not what, and she would wait and stare until he told her.
He took a deep breath, thought back on how he told his parents. He had Kenny in his pocket then, but he was too big to hide in there now. Still, he could feel Kenny’s emotions through their bond, and that was all he needed to get through this. Just tell her, rip it off like a band-aid and get it over with.
“Kenny isn’t a phoenix.”
Grandmother stiffened from her relaxed recline against the couch. She froze of all movement. She didn’t seem to breathe, didn’t even blink. After long agonising seconds, she blinked. An odd smile quirked her lips, but her eyes were desperate. “That’s a joke, right?” she asked, just like his father. “Cody?” Her eyes pleaded with him to give in, to just tell her he was joking, but he couldn’t lie now. He whistled, and a moment later Kenny flew into the living room. Cody held out his arm for Kenny to land on.
He turned back to see grandmother’s already pale face had lost all colour. Her eyes roved over Kenny in the exact same way mother had done.
Kenny hadn’t changed much in shape, but the few slight changes made a world of difference. The pink feathers on his neck were much fluffier than his previous red ones. They made his neck less slim, gave him a build more similar to an owl. His beak was still the same long blunt crow’s beak. The tips of his tail and wings were an almost luminescent green. His feathers sparkled in the light of the oil lamps.
“Where did you get that thing?” grandmother spat. The hateful tone caught him off guard. Even Kenny trembled slightly in his hold.
“This is Kenny, like I said.”
“It can’t be true…” she whispered. “Don’t you see how the feathers glitter? Didn’t you see the colours?” She whirled on his mother, who looked as terrified as Cody felt. “Haven’t I thought you anything?! Haven’t you thought him anything?” What was she talking about? The only thing mother refused to tell him about was-
“That thing is a fey creature!”
In his mind, he recalled how closely his mother watched Kenny’s feathers, how she compared their colours, watched them glitter in the sun. He looked at her. Tears streamed down her face. She never told him of the fey legends. He never knew if she just didn’t think them worth knowing, or if she was too scared. He had an idea of the answer now. All he knew of the fairy-lands were the warnings he’d picked up from grandmother and the few books that mentioned them. The topic didn’t come up much otherwise, what with the fairy-lands being so far away.
“How could a creature from the fairy-lands get here?” mother asked, her voice raw with tears. “Cody met him in a store in town, how is that possible?”
“Fey are cunning creatures, I’ve told you.” Grandmother said. “I can see it in your eyes. You knew, you just didn’t want to see the truth.”
There was a heavy silence for a moment. Cody held the arm with Kenny on it close to his chest, his other hand stroking over his back. Kenny wasn’t surprised. Only relief flowed through their bond. Kenny was no doubt happy that Cody finally knew. If only Kenny could talk, then this wouldn’t have come as a surprise to Cody either.
But next to the relief, next to the lack of surprise, was something else. Kenny sent soothing emotions down their bond, like he was anticipating something worse, something more worrying. Cody pulled Kenny closer in response, tense in anticipation of what might come next.
The oppressive silence was broken by his father’s hoarse voice. “But,” he said, “fey creatures can’t form familiar bonds.”
Cody froze. His breath caught. Nausea threatened to overwhelm him. It probably would have if it weren’t for the comforting emotions Kenny was sending him. If it wasn’t for the soft croon that rang through the room.
He saw the same sickening realisation flash in his father’s eyes. Venom entered his grandmother’s expression, aimed fully at him this time instead of at Kenny. “No, they can,” she said. “Just not with humans.”
Before they could do anything, he ran. He didn’t bother to look when he toppled over the coffee-table with a crash. In the hallway, Kenny shot off his arm and up the stairs while Cody took the front door. The door swung open and slammed against the outer wall of the house.
He didn’t pause to check if he’d broken anything. He looked left and right, his panicked mind struggling to figure out which way he should go. Right, the fastest way out of the village. He couldn’t stay here after all, not after this.
The door slammed shut, having bounced off the wall hard enough to swing all the way back. Lights turned on throughout the street. Neighbours he must have woken by accident. He heard his mother’s wail through the open window. The window of his room. Kenny flew out of it, Cody’s backpack clutched within his claws. Cody was very glad he hadn’t unpacked it yet.
Fey creatures can’t form familiar bonds.
Fey creatures can’t bond with humans.
The thoughts swam through his mind like a mantra as he ran. It was impossible. It didn’t make any sense.
And yet it did.
As he ran, the luminescent pink and green feathers of Kenny flying out in front of him, a hysterical laugh escaped him. A fey creature.
A fake phoenix for a fake human.
No wonder his parents never loved him. He was never their child in the first place. Who in their right mind could love a changeling? Who in their right mind didn’t realise they were a changeling?
It should have been impossible.
But it wasn’t.