The Lion Knights


Public phones are a dying breed, but there are still some left in O’Hare airport. Doug, with Gus huddled by his side, crouched over one, dropped in the coins, and dialed. It bothered him that it had taken him so long to remember the number. He had had to check it with Gus. (“’S natural,” Gus had assured him. “I called your place a lot more often than you did, after all.”)

It was early evening. The family ought to be home. He didn’t want to leave a recording. She picked up on the fourth ring. “Hello?”

“Mom? It’s Doug.”

An inhaled shriek. “Doug!? Doug! Oh god! Oh, qīn’ài de!” (“Darling.”) “Where are you? Oh god! Is it really you? Are you all right? Where are you?”

“It’s me, Mom,” he assured her, though he did not feel entirely certain he was telling her the truth. “I’m at O’Hare. I can be home in a couple of hours. Uh, you haven’t moved or anything, have you?”

“Oh god!” And she was just weeping. “No, no! We haven’t moved. Oh, are you all right?”

He didn’t want to answer. “Are you all right? Is everybody okay? Dad and May and Amy and Sam?”

“Yes, yes! We’re fine! Oh! Wait till they hear!”

“Is– Is Yéyé still alive?” This was his grandfather.

“Yes, yes! Oh, he’ll be ecstatic!”

Gus, bending over the phone with Doug, his cat-ears well able to pick up her voice, gave an air-punch. “Yes!”

“Who’s that?”

“It’s Gus, Mrs. C. I made it too.”

“Gus! Oh, Gus! Your folks will– Oh, I don’t know what to say! Your folks– Are you all right? Are both of you all right?”

It was the third time she had asked. “Mom, we’re– We’re all right but– But we look different.”

“Oh god! Have you lost–?”

“We haven’t lost any parts, Mom.” He curled his tail around his shins. “It’s not ... horrifying.” Thanks to the glamour. “You’ll know us when you see us.” Thanks to the glamour. He and Gus had planned this part; it still seemed unavailing. “Some things happened to us. It’s like ... body building. We’re bigger. It’s ... very odd. A long story. I’ll tell you when I see you.” They had resolved to tell and show their families all. Lies would be exhausting and pointless, and their families deserved the truth, even if it pushed them across the Sundering.

“Oh, qīn’ài de! Oh, darling. Yes! Get here as soon as you can! Oh, and Gus?”

“Yes, Mrs. C?”

“Have you talked to your folks yet?”

“Not yet.”

“Tell them to come over here. Oh, please! I want to see how happy they are. I want us to all be happy together!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Doug promised to hurry home as soon as Gus had called his family, then hung up. “She’s going to order some massive take-out feast, I know it,” he said to Gus with a watery smile.

Gus gave him a warm smile back and a hug with one arm as he started inserting coins with his other hand. “We’re home, zhījĭ!” But he paused before dialing and looked up and down the concourse. Doug did the same. Bright, industrial, modern, mundane. It did not fit. His family's apartment would be dear and familiar, but it would not fit.

“Okay,” Gus replied to the unspoken observation. “But we’re as home as we can be, for now. With the folks who love us. That’s a lot.”

“That’s a lot,” Doug agreed.

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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2022