Sebastian got up early in preparation for his early morning visitor. The visitor herself did not as yet know she would be seeing him, hadn’t yet made up her mind but he was quite certain that she would come and he was seldom wrong.
He drank his coffee, a smooth, nutty-flavored homemade brew, ate a couple pieces of toast with honey, along with six pomegranate seeds. Breakfast completed, he showered and changed into a pair of linen slacks and loose cotton shirt. He never wore synthetic fibers when he was working as it sometimes interrupted the flow of energies.
He’d just finished his morning meditations when the woman came. He felt her hesitate on the other side of the door before pushing the doorbell. The sound chimed throughout the room, courtesy of the small speaker mounted on one of the many shelves in his living room. He got to his feet and strode to the door, a small, compact man whose thin, elegant frame and aura of assurance made him appear much taller than his actual height of five foot nine.
Moira blinked at the man who answered the door. He was not what she expected. She wasn't sure what she expected exactly. Maybe someone more exotic-looking. Someone older perhaps? Judging by his clear, youthful complexion, this guy was what? All of twenty-one? He had fine-boned, almost delicate features; a sort of androgyny that she supposed some might find attractive. His head was shaved, leaving nothing but the barest hint of dark hair. Their eyes met; big brown eyes locking onto cool grey and she felt a small frisson of alarm at the base of her spine. She had a brief impression of something smooth and cold and utterly ancient then the man's lips lifted into a smile so warm and welcoming that the impression was instantly forgotten and the tension in her shoulders eased.
Sebastian's silent appraisal of his visitor was swift and missed not a single detail. She was an attractive woman, mid-thirties, in fashionable jeans and jacket with a taut, trim figure that showed signs of recent weight-loss. Her nails had been bitten to the quick and her makeup though skillfully applied, could not conceal the drawn, hunted look that overshadowed her features. She was barely holding it together. Her distress was a palpable thing; worming its way past his defenses and into his psyche, like a tongue compulsively probing at a cavity again and again.
Moira drew in a breath. It was now or never. She didn't believe in psychics or whatever it was this man claimed to be but desperation had brought her to his door. "Are you Sebastian Tailor?"
"Yes and you're Moira Taggert. You've come a long way. Please, come in and let's see if I can help you in any way."
It was his voice that decided her. Pleasant sounding and somewhat formal but without accent or affectation. She followed him into a spacious, tidy living room. Rather spare on the decor she observed but there was a beautiful Turkish area rug, a plush, cozy-looking sofa and matching armchair situated in the middle of the room. And shelves, shelves everywhere. They lined all four walls of the room and were crammed with more books than she'd ever seen outside of a library.
He ushered her over to the sofa, took the armchair for himself then waited for her to speak.
"My daughter's missing," Moira said, deciding to get right to the point. "And my friend Jess said you might be able to find her...that you have the Gift." A little spasm crossed her features and one corner of her lips twitched the tiniest bit, as if she'd had the impulse to laugh then at the last second decided against it.
"Missing?" It was an invitation to elaborate.
"Kidnapped." As she said the word, spat it really, she seemed to deflate. Her whole body sagged forward and she dropped her face into her hands for a moment before looking back up at him with tear filled eyes. A torrent of words followed.
"We were in the park. My daughter Mandy and I. There was this huge pile of autumn leaves and she and some older kids had been diving into it all afternoon, playing hide and seek. Eventually the other kids left and it was just her. S-she didn't want to leave, she was having so much fun burying herself in the leaves but it was almost dark so I called to her and when she didn't answer I went to get her." Moira's eyes were unfocused now, remembering. "At first I was mad, thinking that she was hiding from me, sulking because she didn't want to go home then when I started yelling for her and she still didn't come I knew. I must have searched that pile of leaves at least a hundred times then I spent an hour searching the whole park, calling for her but she was gone. I couldn't understand it, I still don't---how she could just disappear? I was sitting right there not more than a few feet from her on the park bench. There wasn't anybody nearby. Just me and her and the trees."
Moira was caught in the loop, swiping absently at her tears with trembling hands as she replayed that day again and again in her mind, trying to recall something that she might have missed. Some clue as to how or when her daughter had been taken. But she could not seem to see past the dawning terror and overwhelming feeling of panic that had gripped her on that day.
"How old is your daughter?" Sebastian's voice, calm yet authoritative roused her from painful reverie.
"She's four, kind of small for her age with dark, curly hair and brown eyes like mine."
"Her date of birth?"
"June 21st 2007."
"How long has she been missing?"
Moira's lower lip quivered. "Seven months, six days and twenty-two hours, give or take."
"What is her full name?"
"Amanda Imogen Taggert."
"What is her favorite color?"
"Her favorite; I don't see what---"
"Humor me Miss Taggert. Some of the questions I will ask may seem irrelevant or absurd but they are nevertheless important."
"Teal. Her favorite color is teal."
"Does she have any distinguishing marks or minor birth defects?"
"Sebastian watched her lips purse slightly before answering. Something about that question had upset her a little. You mean like a cleft palate or third nipple or something?"
"Yes, or a sixth toe or finger. Was she perhaps born with a caul?"
"No nothing like that. There were no complications and no defects, thank God."
"Nothing you had removed?" he prodded gently.
"What about a birthmark or melanoma?"
"She did have this weird bluish birthmark when she was born, sort of like a broken star but it faded away on its own after a couple of months. My grandmother says I had the same mark when I was born and that it faded away just like Mandy's did."
"Do you recall having any peculiar aches or any soreness of joints on the day she disappeared?"
"Um, I remember feeling a slight cramp low in my abdomen, kind of like when I'm having my period but it didn't last long."
Sebastian had been leaning forward a little. Now he sat back and closed his eyes. Devoid of expression his face was mask-like, his body gone completely still. He looked eerily like a life-sized sculpture that someone had dressed in casual clothes.
Watching him, Moira could not prevent a little sneer from curling her lips. Was this part of the act? She wondered. Is he going to channel some voice from the beyond next?
"Nothing so dramatic Miss Taggert," Sebastian said softly, making her start. "I'm simply processing at the moment."
Involuntarily, Moira hugged herself, her heart kicking at her ribs. Did he just read my mind?
Sebastian opened his eyes, a smile ghosting his lips. His voice was still gentle as he said, "I'm not insulted Miss Taggert. A good dose of healthy skepticism is both natural and wise. Can I get you something to drink? Some tea perhaps? It might help you relax a little."
Moira was still getting over the fact that he'd seemed to read her mind. If it was a trick, it was damned good one. Then the rest of his words penetrated the jumble of her thoughts. She didn't want any goddamned tea. She wanted him to find her daughter. She said, "What kind of tea do you have?"
"Chamomile, Oolong, Earl-gray, lemon and mint as well as several blends."
"Chamomile I guess."
"Chamomile it is. Sit tight Miss Taggert. I'll be right back."
Sit tight. Moira smiled. The expression seemed incongruous, coming from this strange boy-man, yet oddly comforting.
She had wandered over to one of his many book shelves and was looking in quiet awe at his prodigious collection (books on anatomy, astronomy, chemistry and physics were all jostled together with romance novels, occult books, children's stories, philosophy and religious tomes) when he returned with two steaming cups, complete with saucers, in hand.
She took the proffered cup, noted the exquisitely painted floral pattern---Limoges, she thought impressed---and settled back onto the sofa.
He waited until she'd taken several sips then said, "You have something of your daughter's. A crayon I believe, in your purse. May I see it please?"
Cup met saucer with a slight clatter. Hands trembling again, Moira set the tea aside on the coffee table in front of her then reached for her purse. It had wedged a little into a corner of the sofa and she had to tug at the strap a little to get it clear. He knew about the crayon. Oh God. Oh God. No one knew about the crayon. Jess was right. He was the real deal! Hope soared in her breast, made her heart thump painfully. She fumbled with the clasp, fished the treasured possession from its nest of soft tissue and handed it to him.
Mandy's favorite crayon---teal blue, worn down to a couple of inches with use. She'd slept with it under her pillow every night since Mandy had been gone, while cradling her daughter's favorite doll in her arms.
Sebastian saw it all very clearly and his heart contracted with sorrow. Then he saw the child, perfectly preserved in her mother's memory; a sweet, wild-rose cherub of a girl with a big imagination and merry laugh. He saw something else as well.
Shit, he thought. It was just as he'd feared. The child had not been abducted by human hands. His eyes flickered to Mandy's mother. She was staring at him intently, fingers tightly laced. A vein pulsed rapidly in her throat and her mouth was slightly agape. She believed him now. Believed he could help but would she believe the rest of what he had to say?
He sighed deeply, uncurled his fingers and handed the crayon back to Moira. She tucked it back into her bag and looked at him expectantly.
"I don't have good news," he told her. And as her face started to crumple he hastened to add, "She's alive and unharmed but is no longer in this realm."
"What the hell does that mean?" Moira demanded. "Look, I don't need this cryptic, mumbo-jumbo bullshit. Just tell me where my daughter is and how I can find her."
"I will Moira. Please be patient, I need you to answer a few more questions. The child's father, who is he and where did you meet?"
"What has her father got to do with any of this? He doesn't even know she exists. Please, if you know something... I miss my baby Mr. Tailor. I miss her so much." Her eyes were brimming again, her nostrils flaring in agitation. "You don't know what it's like, not knowing; to have this hole that nothing can fill, that turns you inside out. I want her back! Do you hear me? I need to hold her, to smell her skin, to hear her laugh again. I j-just need her to come home. Why won't you help me?" Her eyes were wild as she added, "Please, please, I'll do anything. Pay anything, to get her back!"
Sebastian grabbed one of her hands in both of his, ignoring the widening of her eyes and the quick inhalation of her breath as the contact sent a jolt through them both. "Be careful," he warned in a low, grim voice, eyes boring into hers. "Be very careful with the words you say. Never make such a vow unless you absolutely sure that you intend to keep it. Now pay attention and tell me what you know of Mandy's father."
"He, we..." Moira swallowed. It pained her to talk about the man who'd impregnated her, how foolish she'd been but Sebastian's hands were cool and comforting and his eyes were so very large and dark (wait, that wasn't right...) and reassuring.
"I met him at an office party. I work for an advertising company and we were celebrating the firm's twenty-five year anniversary at this club called Alessandro's. He came as the date of one of the senior ad-execs but we got to talking and hit it off right away and well, um, he ended coming home with me. He was gorgeous and knew it but he was also a terrific conversationalist---witty and charming as hell. Anyway, we spent the night together and I was sure he would call but then I never saw him again."
"Was there anything unusual about that meeting? Anything at all? Did he say or do anything strange?"
The sex was unusually good, she thought but didn't say then blushed as she remembered that he could read her mind. "No, not that I can recall."
"What name did he give you?"
"Galen. Galen Smith."
"Did you ever try to get in touch with him?"
"Well yeah." Boy had she ever. Her brow wrinkled as she recollected how difficult it had been to find out anything about him, how he'd seem to pretty much disappear after that night. "I called the number he gave me but kept getting a wrong number and Google didn't turn up any results, so then I talked to Stephanie---that's the woman he came with---but she didn't seem to know who I was talking about. I thought she was just mad at me, for poaching her date you know? And that's why she pretended not to know him. I said some really bitchy things to her because by then I'd found out that I was pregnant and she wouldn't speak to me after that, so I talked to some other co-workers who'd been at the party to see if anyone else knew him and where I could find him but they all seemed to have trouble remembering him. Just that that he was tall and extraordinarily good-looking and that he and I had danced together for half the night. But then almost everyone was kind of shit-faced after the party that night so I let it go."
"The pregnancy, did it come as a surprise?" He'd tried to phrase the question as delicately as he could."
"You mean...?" She blushed again. "He didn't wear a condom but I was on birth control. I just assumed it'd failed. I mean, I'm not the first woman to get pregnant while on birth control."
"Tell me, where was your birthmark located?"
"Top of my right thigh. Why?"
"Where was Amanda's?"
"On her lower stomach." She frowned. "I don't understand. What has birthmarks got to do with my daughter's disappearance?"
"Steponac rac breic yure motasbac," Sebastian whispered and let go of Moira's hand.
Moira blinked in confusion. While touching him everything---sound, sight, touch---had seemed clearer, sharper, more there somehow, as if she'd been tuned into a higher, stronger frequency. Now she felt dull and lethargic and her temples ached. Step on a crack, break your mother's back. Is that what he'd said? Why had he quoted some silly little children's rhyme?
Her head cleared and she saw that he was looking at her intently. He looked drawn and tense and she suddenly felt sorry for him, knowing that she was the cause. "D-did you get the answers you wanted?" she asked hesitatingly."
"Not the answers I wanted but the answers I needed, yes."
"Good. That's good. Now, will you tell me where my daughter is and how I can get her back?"
"Yes. I have something to tell you Miss Taggert that is going to be difficult to believe but is nevertheless the truth. Your daughter's part faerie and so are you. The being who took her was most likely the man who impregnated you, either him or one of his Kin. I can try to get her back from Otherworld but it'll be no easy task. Once she's returned, I'll need your help to bind her to this world or they'll come for her again. You must promise to do everything I tell you, exactly when I tell you. Do you understand?"
Sebastian was unsurprised when his client sat back abruptly on the sofa, putting as much space between them as possible. Very few people were accepting of the supernatural. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, even if they possessed supernatural tendencies themselves.
Moira's retreat was mental as well as physical. Gone was the fragile hope she'd begun to nurture and her expression was swiftly turning from astonishment to disappointed rage. Her mouth worked silently for a moment then she grabbed her purse and said in a tight, choked voice, "Go fuck yourself Mr. Tailor. Do you have any idea how crazy you sound? You really had me going there for a minute. I actually believed that you could help me. And don't think I'm going to pay you either, y-you heartless piece of shit!"
She shot to her feet. Sebastian, seemingly unaffected by her tirade ordered her to stay. "Sit," he told her and she did. Nothing was physically holding her back; she simply lost the will to leave.
"I'm sorry to impose my will on you like this Miss Taggert but I can't let you leave. Neither of us will have any peace if you do." He spoke in a quiet, implacable tone, grey eyes looking into and through her in a way that raised goose-bumps on every inch of her skin. "You're afraid and that's okay. But I need your cooperation and your understanding if we are to get your daughter back."
"But you're talking about fairies," she protested. "Beings of light and magic and stuff. Wouldn't I know if I was one of them?"
Sebastian's smile was patient. "The human mind has a remarkable ability to rationalize or suppress that which it does not understand. Belief or disbelief Miss Taggert, is a choice we all make and has nothing to do with the truth."
Taking up his still steaming cup of Oolong, he took small, fortifying sip. Sensitive as he was, the use of psychometry was often emotionally draining and a talent he avoided using except when strictly necessary. It didn't help that the woman's dual nature had thrown the carefully maintained vibrations in his house into disharmony.
"Here's what I know," he said, setting the cup back on the table. "You don't wear a watch because watches stop working when you wear them. Sometimes they even run backwards. Most electronic devices, in fact, won't work properly in your presence. It's why you're the only one in your department with IT on speed dial and why you don't have a computer at home. You're allergic to silver. Sometimes you lose time and objects frequently go missing in your house or are not where you left them. You can predict the weather with unerring accuracy and every full moon for the past twenty-six years you've had the same recurring dream. Your daughter, Mandy, possesses all those traits as well with the exception of the recurring dream. She also has a strong affinity with animals---they seem to gravitate towards her---and she can revive dying plants with a single touch."
Moira stared at him, her mind whirling. So he knew all that stuff. That didn't mean that she was part fairy or whatever. Still, something was niggling at her; trying to unbury itself from her subconscious. It was something to do with her mother. A memory from her childhood that she'd worked hard to repress.
She'd spent a good portion of her childhood looking after her mother. There'd been some complication when she was born and her mom had never fully recovered. Her earliest memories was of a thin, delicate woman with a cloud of soft, black hair, a face that was somehow regal even in sickness and the loveliest, kindest eyes she'd ever seen. Moira had been devoted to her mother, forsaking friends and play to spend hours at her bedside. Reading to her, brushing her hair as carefully and as tenderly as her small, chubby hands could manage, fetching her water or fresh pillows or anything that would make her more comfortable. When she was older, about seven or eight, she'd helped her grandmother with the feeding, bathing and giving of medicine.
When her mom passed away, the day after her ninth birthday, Moira had been inconsolable. She'd loved her beautiful, fragile mother with a fierce, almost obsessive love.
But these were false memories, Sebastian saw. Naomie Taggert while fragile had not been beautiful (hers had been a wasting sickness and it had ravaged whatever looks she may have had). She had not been kind. She'd openly and repeatedly blamed her daughter for her ill health and had made a virtual slave of her daughter, despite her own mother's objections, practically chaining the child to her bedside with her increasingly irrational demands. Moira, starved for her mother's love, a love forever denied at death, had suppressed the years of verbal abuse and beatified her in her mind.
It was coming back to her now and he was sorry. However directly or indirectly, he disliked causing pain.
"She called me a changeling," Moira said, talking mostly to herself, "Told me that I was cursed. She even told me that she'd tried to have an abortion but that the doctor had botched it up somehow. But Grandma Rose said it wasn't true, that I was special and that someday my father would come for me. Only Momma made me swear I'd never leave her and when Grandma found out she was mad, so mad. She yelled at Momma and I cried 'cause I didn't want her to get sicker." Her face blanched with remembered hurt but she was too emotionally wrung out to cry. "I went to her that night after all the fighting, to try and comfort her but she threw her piss at me and said it was my all my f-fault."
Sebastian sipped his tea, giving her time to compose herself. When she looked at him again, he was relieved to see that the channels were clear, her mind now open and receptive.
"I don't know what you have in mind Mr. Tailor but I know that I can't live without my daughter. I'm ready to do whatever you tell me."
"It'll require some sacrifice," Sebastian said gently. "And I feel I must warn you that even if we're successful, your daughter won't quite be the same. Time and the laws of Faerie are quite different than that of this realm."
He got to his feet with fluid grace, plucked a book from a nearby shelf and placed it in her hands. It was a book of nursery rhymes.
She raised her eyebrows at him in question.
"Yes, nursery rhymes. Quite a few of which are actually incantations. You can reacquaint yourself with them all on the way."
"Where are we going?" Moira asked nervously as she followed him out the door.
"To see Mother Hubbard," Sebastian replied.
He made it sound like they were headed to Starbucks but Moira was still trying to wrap her mind around it all. "Mother Hubbard, as in Old Mother Hubbard, the one who couldn't find her dog a bone?"
"Yes, she owes me favor." His teeth flashed in a brief smile. "But I wouldn't call her old, if I were you."