Part 3

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Tired was an inadequate descriptor for how I felt when I finally set foot in my apartment, one cab ride and two more doses of benadryl later. My keys clanked on the table in my entryway and I took a long, deep breath. Portland was known for decent air quality despite its population density, but no city could be quite clean enough for a Fae. The petroleum running rampant in the air wherever we went gave us trouble, reduced only by copious greenery and the occasional slide into near earth. Sliding into near earth was like coming up for breath after a long dive – that strange kind of I was almost dying and now I’m not ecstasy, which is less pleasure than survival. I’m half water nymph, after all – I would know.

My apartment was on the outskirts of Northeast Portland in a little (emphasis on the “little”) building near the Columbia. The IFA regional office had a hotel on the premises used for visiting Fae dignitaries. As a representative of the Northwest I requested a unit reserved just for me with all the amenities of a standard one-bedroom Portland apartment – scaled down, of course.

The “scaled down” part was very important. Before taking a position as bridger I tried to live in mundane society in a tiny studio apartment in downtown. It is difficult to fully appreciate the challenges of cooking in a giant-sized kitchen if you’ve never done it. Just putting a pot of water on to boil was such a workout that I ended up ordering veggie sushi every night for two months.

Portland was good for vegans, at least. That was one of many reasons why when Fae from various parts of the world came to North America, they chose to come to Portland. It was one of the “nice” places to be one of our people.

I breathed deep, feeling just a bit lighter when filtered air scented by the many flowers planted along my walls filed my lungs. My apartment was formerly a one-bedroom suite – the living room and kitchen were decidedly hotel-like, but just spacious enough for my purposes. Ever since I became a bridger I spent half my time away between the grove and my travels, anyway. I’d taken the time to paint the walls in browns, blues, and greens when I got in, reminiscent of nature. The furnishings were otherwise entirely modern. I had a few shiny metal statues mixed in with the green. I liked my nature like any Fae, but I had my own flare for style, too.

I wandered through my sadly empty kitchen, finding only expired juices in my fridge. I settled on a tall glass of ice water, leaning on the counter while I powered up my neglected phone. I’d turned it off at the beginning of the plane ride and hadn’t turned it on since I got back into Portland. My eyes were dull and heavy while I watched the screen power up. I slipped off my blazer, tossing it in a pile on my living room floor. I’d deal with cleanup later.

There were several emails waiting for me, as well as a couple of texts from Brenna, the IFA coordinator who lived in the regional facility, inquiring about my whereabouts. She was a bit motherly, and I’d forgotten to let her know I got in safe. Oops. I replied to that text immediately.

Finally a voicemail notification appeared on my screen, and the number made me raise an eyebrow. I knew that number. It was a Nevada area code, and there was only one person in Nevada who would ever have a reason to get in touch with me.

I groaned low in my throat when I touched the ‘play’ button, speaker on.

“Hey Lee. I guess you forgot to turn on your phone, didn’t you? Oh well. Anyway, I wanted to meet up with you for dinner-” I pressed my palm directly to the center of my face. Dinner. She wants to have dinner. “-but since I can’t get in touch with you I’ll just come by.  Petals, babe.”

“Oh by the blades,” I cursed. My eyes darted to the door, knowing that Dyana would be knocking any minute. We’d bonded for almost a full year, after all – I knew her well, just as she knew me. My windows were closed but my lights were on, surely visible through the little cracks in the curtains. Perhaps if I could just shut off the lights and lock my door really fast before she arrived…

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