Bee found Beth sitting on the front steps, looking up at the night sky even though there were no stars. She was smoking; she must have stolen a cigarette from Wholenuther. Hortense, their host, looked as though only the purest of water and food had been allowed in her body during the sixteen hundred years she’d been on Earth, so there was no way the cigarette came from her. Wholenother, on the other hand, wouldn’t have missed one smelly cigarette if it disappeared from his jacket.
“You smoke?” Bee asked, sitting down gingerly on the step.
Beth tapped the ashes into Hortense’s rosemary and shot her a glare. Bee shivered. She still wasn’t used to seeing her eyes in another girl’s face. “Since I was your age. Maybe even younger.”
“Why?” Beth repeated. “Our parents have been running around the world our whole lives, hunting down magical whatsits and getting into fights with ancient magical beings, and you need to ask why I smoke?” She took a long drag. “Oh, yeah: because you actually saw them occasionally.”
“They never told me about you.” Yet another question to add to Bee’s growing list of things her – their – missing parents never told her. “If I knew, I would have wanted to meet you.”
“They never even told me they had you. I guess I would’ve been, what, four?” She flicked more ashes into the garden. “Let’s see: from age four to six, I was in seven different foster homes; then I ran away and was in an orphanage for a while. Maybe they just couldn’t find me. We’ll go with that.”
Bee knew exactly where she was at that age: with Grandma Susan, before she died, then the Allens. Then her parents had gotten an apartment in Boston when Bee was seven. They’d lived there together, all three of them, for almost a whole year. Then her parents got a lead for another expedition, and it was back to the Allens. Bee had cried for a week.
But she didn’t tell Beth any of this – she suspected it wouldn’t help. “I’d be mad, too,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
Beth grunted and stubbed the cigarette out on the flagstone step. Slowly the icy breeze began to clear the air around them.
“How did you know they were missing?” Bee asked eventually. “Mom stopped writing to me, so that’s how I knew, but if you weren’t in contact – ”
“I overheard some Remnants bragging that the Carsons had finally been ‘brought in.'” Beth pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders. “I questioned them, but they didn’t know much, so I started checking out the Markets. That’s when I ran into you.”
Bee decided not to ask what Beth meant by “questioned.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…why did you come looking for them?”
“You mean, since they clearly don’t give a damn about me?”
“They do, too,” Bee said stubbornly. “You’re their daughter.” They had to care, didn’t they? They must have had their reasons for separating their children, for keeping each other secret. But Beth was starting to annoy her – she was twenty, an adult, and here was Bee trying to comfort her when it ought to be the other way around. Even Wholenuther had been more sympathetic, and Bee’d had to pay him to help her.
“Guess we’ll find out when I find them.” Beth stood and stretched. “Hortense is probably gonna be mad that I got ash all over her garden, huh.”
“Ah well. I’ll be out of her hair soon.”
Bee jumped up. “You’re making it sound like you’re going to keep looking alone.”
“Yeah. Duh. No offense, but you’re new to this, and Hortense may be Remnant but she’s just a gardener.”
“Wholenuther might be good at tracking his kind, but he’s only going to stick around as long as he’s contracted. I’ve been on my own for a while; I can handle this.”
She started to go back up the steps.
“What about me?” Bee cried. Beth froze, her hand on the doorknob. “We could find them together. We could start to be a family.”
Beth looked back, her expression obscured by the shadows of the porch. “I don’t know what that is.”
She pulled open the door, bathing them both in cozy golden lamplight. Sighing, Bee sank back to the steps.
Beth hesitated again, framed in the doorway. “But I guess I’d like to find out.”