"Relax," Molly reminded her daughter.
"That's, like, the tenth time you've said that. I'm trying," Alyssa said, not unkindly."
They were quiet the rest of the ride downtown. On the way home, both of them sipped iced coffee (or coffee-ish – interestingly, Molly couldn't drink coffee later than noon without losing sleep) drinks with lots of foam, sugar, and cream. And Molly suddenly asked her daughter, who had sunglasses on to help with the setting sun's glare, something.
"Honey," she started. "Do you ever read anything like fairy tales?"
"Sometimes," Alyssa said. "I really like Charles de Lint's stuff, and his is... well, it's kind of like fairy tales. Oh, and a lot of the urban fantasy is like that, but I haven't read any of that in a while. Too many Ursula K. Leguin books to go through, you know?"
"Sure," Molly said, because she didn't really understand what that meant, though the authors names were all familiar by now. "Well, in the books, what happens when a goblin or fairy or someone tricks someone into something like a contract?"
Alyssa didn't look over (she was that tense of a driver – didn't trust herself to look away from the road and she always complained of headaches later, and no wonder, either), but she looked like she was thinking hard for a minute. "Well, usually the person either gives them what they want or they suffer nasty death or retribution. Because all the fairies and things seem to care a lot about their rules, and if they say you owe them something, you owe them. And then, a lot of times they hurt people even without the contract-type things, like that movie about the Brothers Grimm? Ew."
"But some people, like in Rumplstilskin, don't they kind of escape the contract? Keep their baby?" Molly asked. She was looking over at her daughter and trying to keep her voice in check.
Alyssa shrugged. "They still fill out the contract, just not the way the person meant it originally. That's why legal documents and congress bills are so long. And why people always get tricked by genies, like in Fantasy Island. The guy says, 'I want seven beautiful females to adore me night and day,' and the genie gives him seven female Labrador retrievers."
"So someone tricks the genie."
Alyssa made a funny face. "More like the genie tricks them. He has to fulfill the wishes, but he doesn't have to give them exactly what they want."
Alyssa started talking about one of the interstellar books she really enjoyed on the way back, and thankfully there were no incidents related to the car. Thankfully, too, there was no insomniac in her apartment.
It was out in the garden two days later, another day off of work, after no word or sign or mountain-fresh smell from the Insomniac-guy, that Molly had an idea.
She had been tending her cucumbers, like usual. She was very sure that this year, they would give her good fruit, not-too-bitter, like before. It had taken her a couple years of regulation of nutrients and safety precautions without choking the things. Molly had stood up to stretch out her knees and maybe break for lunch.
She wasn't good at tricking people. She didn't even like confrontation. But when she remarked proudly, "You're like my little babies," to the cucumber plants, she thought of something.
He came in the morning, four days after perching in her bedroom, like he'd promised. He came to the garden, though Molly had, by this time, arranged for Alyssa to be at her friend's house, where the friend happened to have two older brothers and a stay-at-home mother. People all around her. Meanwhile, Molly had done the only thing she could do. She'd pulled one of her darling cucumber plants out of the ground, given it a white window-pot, and gotten another sheet of bug netting to veil the whole thing.
But he didn't come alone. A rather scary-looking woman with deep wrinkles, white hair, and nails much longer than necessary, but apparently a woman nonetheless, stood by him. Like with the Insomniac, whose name she still did not know, there was something very different in the way that woman looked and in the way she felt. She was plump, though not quite round, and held a big, old book in her hand. But the air around her was like the air in a desert, that same timelessness in her dark blue eyes. Molly would have said that the women was like a rock – no, a boulder or some crazy formation of stone. Yes, that last one was most accurate.
Insomniac looked angrily smug, as if one could manage both of those emotions. "Where is your daughter?" he asked, each word louder than the previous and separated with a pause like cold wind.
Molly smiled. "You know, what's funny is that I don't remember ever saying that I would help you." This caught the old rock-lady's attention, whose gaze snapped towards Molly in a way that made her take a step back.
"You never promised a daughter?"
"Certainly not," Molly said. And Insomniac-guy was starting to look angry. Almost as angry as the white-haired woman-thing. Her voice raised as she asked him something in a language Molly had a hard time even recognizing as a language except that he answered back in the same raspy sounds. Then they both looked at her, though Insomniac seemed a little reluctant.
Molly was coming to realize that the man had thought she was someone to be taken advantage of. And she had a feeling that it was more to be cruel than to actually help himself. This made all the difference in the world.
The old woman was speaking to her, but Molly wouldn't take her eyes off the man. He wasn't wearing his glasses, today. She realized he actually looked … like what she knew him to be. Whatever that was. No lumberjack clothes. Instead, he wore some kind of white linen pants and a green vest over … nothing. His chest was bare beneath it and there was, what looked like, a nest of twigs in his hair.
"Listen to me, human girl," the old woman said. "What did you say to this man at your place of work."
"I said, 'Let me know if I can help you with anything else.'"
Insomniac was staring at Molly, too. She didn't know which of them would look angrier to passerby. But all she could think was, why didn't I raise this question earlier?
The rock-lady asked, "And what kind of help did you give him before?"
Molly started to answer, and then stopped, half forming the letter 'h' with her mouth. But when she thought about it, she hadn't actually helped him with anything. She'd pushed a button that brought her supervisor, and he pointed Insomniac in the direction of the raw honey.
"Why have you been bothering me at all?" Molly said, taking a step forward. Then she spoke to the old lady, whose expression was just as grumpy as it had been a second ago. "He said that he was having trouble finding the raw honey. My manager showed him where it was. Then I said what I said. Then he demanded that I give him one of my daughters to marry! Now that doesn't really-"
"Quiet." The woman's voice could have made fingers-on-chalk-board tremble. "I am supposed to marry someone to you, Kiornath,and this woman seems to be speaking the truth when she says she has promised nothing to you."
There was murder in that old woman's eyes, or maybe something worse than murder. Molly was very glad that this was the first, and hopefully last, time she met people – things – like these.
"Kiornath? Is that your name?" Molly grinned, and knew that the Insomniac Mountain Troll guy couldn't like it. She moved over to where she had prepared one of her cucumber plants. Originally, she hadn't been thinking that she could get out of the whole mess. But she didn't ever want to have to deal with these creatures again. She picked up the pot and placed it on the ground in front of Insomniac and the old woman.
"Well, I can see that you've both spent some time preparing to come here and have a wedding and all, so how about you have this child in marriage?" Molly said, grinning. She had probably never grinned like this in her life. Sticking it to someone who tried to screw her over... was something she'd never done before.
"Excuse me?" he said, but the old woman was smiling, or something like it.
"Yes, this will do fine."
"That's not her child! It's a vegetable!"
The old woman looked like she would hit Kiornath, but didn't. "You will either marry this living thing which the woman truly calls her child, for she has cared protectively for it since its defenseless time, or you will come with me to Gi-yonshkl-ban." At least, that's what it sounded like, because that last word was something with more sounds than she could recognize as possible by the human vocal system.
Looking petulant, Insomniac nodded. Then a glare was turned her way. "I will marry it. What is … her name?"
Molly honestly tried to think of one, but the only thing that came to mind was what she said to her plants when tending them. "Darling." Insomniac rolled his eyes.
Despite the remarkable nature of these people-creatures, the wedding ceremony was rather simple. Afterward, the old woman nodded once (still not smiling) to Molly and glared at Insomniac. "You should thank kind women like that, sir."
She left the garden, walking around to the front lawn and out of Molly's view around the side of the house. Insomniac was left alone with Molly, a potted cucumber plant, netted veil pull half back, in his hands.
He seemed to chew his lip for a minute, trying stare a hole through her face. "That creature – what you might call an old woman – would have exacted pretty terrible revenge on me had you not given me something to marry."
Molly thought about this, and about she hadn't even needed to do any of this in the first place. "You owe me then. I probably should have let her have you."
His eyes said, But then I would have hated you forever and come back.
Molly did not want that. Not his hate so much as his visits. Again, she said, "You owe me."
He almost smiled, it seemed; really, just a quirk of his lips. And nodded once, looking down at the plant. "You know my name. If you need something, call me. I do not guarantee I will help, though."
Molly thought for a second. It was hardly important, but she wanted to know... "What are you?"
He grinned, then, the same grin from before that looked like it would rip her apart. "Is that what I will owe you? An explanation?"
She shook her head and stepped back. "I was just curious."
"And I'm secretive. Like most of my kind."
He walked away, the same way the old lady had. Truly, there had been no show of impressive, magical, fairy-type powers that would prove scientifically to Molly that the Insomniac-guy or the old woman from the desert were odd creatures, not anywhere close to being human or of the modern-day. But she knew they were.
Molly went to work the next day, coming home a little sad but also a little proud to see a cucumber plant missing. And when Alyssa came home from her friend's on Sunday, she gave her daughter a hug.
A/N: This is where I would highly appreciate reviews. The (one-shot) story is complete here, and this is the ending I want. But I'd really love to hear any suggestions on how to make it smoother. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Awesome suggestions? You know what to do. And please do it. It makes writers happy.