Some moments in life you remember forever.
One time, when I was five, my parents told me that we were going on a trip. I looked outside the window, at the grey November sky smothered with clouds, and decided that I wasn’t going. My dad brought me a pair of aviator shades, then he took my right hand and my mom took my left, and together we walked down a long hallway deep into our inn. At the end of the hallway an ordinary door waited. We reached it, it swung open, and summer exhaled heat in my face. I shut my eyes against the bright light, and when I opened them, we stood on a street paved with stone. Tall terraced buildings rose on both side of us, and straight ahead, where the alley ran into a street, a current of creatures in every color and shape possible surged past the merchant stalls while a shattered planet looked at them from a purple sky.
Then there was the time when I first arrived at my own inn. It was early spring. The trees stood mostly bare except for the evergreen Texas oaks that only dropped their leaves when they felt like it. I had driven slowly, looking for the right address, and when the old Victorian came into view, I almost drifted off the road. Big, ornate and nonsensical the way Victorians often are, the building jutted against the morning sky, a dark ruin left to rot. Shingles had fallen off the roof and siding peeled from the walls in chunks. Brown weeds choked the grounds. I knew it would be bad, since the inn lay dormant for decades, but I didn’t think it would be that bad.
I pulled into the driveway, got out, and circled the house, looking for any signs of life, reaching out with my magic, but finding nothing. I was losing hope with every step. And then, I rounded the corner. There, bright against the backdrop of oaks and pecans, twelve apple trees bloomed, branches heavy with blossoms. It was the moment I realized Gertrude Hunt still lived.
Today was such a moment. It didn’t have the vivid colors of Baha-char or the fragile beauty of the apple trees, but I would never forget it. Sean Evans stood in our bedroom wearing an innkeeper’s robe.
“Mirror,” I murmured.
Gertrude Hunt shifted its magic in response. The wall in front of us liquefied, snapping into a mirror. We stood side by side, he in the copper-colored robe I’d sewn for him and me in the blue robe my mother gave me.
Sean was taller than me by a head. The robe covered him from his neck to his toes, but he’d left the hood down. He was very handsome, my Sean. He’d spent a long time trying to win a hopeless war. It left scars even his body with its accelerated regeneration couldn’t heal, and the shadows of its memories still flickered in his amber eyes. But when he was alone with me, like now, his eyes turned warm and inviting, his posture lost the coiled readiness, and he relaxed the way a man would in the safety of his own home.
I studied our reflection. Innkeeper robes came in a variety of styles, but these simple ones were our daily uniform. We looked like a couple. My parents wore robes just like this, except my father preferred grey and blue.
I never thought I would have this. When I was younger, I had imagined myself as an innkeeper of a successful inn, but in my dreams, there was never anyone standing next to me. My parents were still missing, my sister left to marry a vampire marshal on a faraway planet and took my little niece with her, my brother still wandered the Galaxy, but I had Sean. He loved me and I loved him. We were no longer alone.
The blond innkeeper woman in the mirror smiled back at me. She looked happy.