Dawn arrived, much to everyone’s chagrin, except, of course, Mom and Dad.
The door to Rachel’s room drifted open. “Oh, honey.”
A muffled groan drifted out of the bed. “Huh?”
Rachel popped an eye open. Wearing Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts, Dad looked down at her. Next to him stood Mom in a sundress and wide-brim hat.
Rachel groaned. “I take it you’re leaving.”
Mom answered, “That’s right, dear, but we wanted to say goodbye.”
Rachel burrowed under the pillow. “Ugh, I can’t believe this.”
Dad pulled the pillow back. “If you need to reach us, just let Tim know. He set up a way for you to talk to us.”
Rachel peeked from just above her blankets. “You expect me to rely on Tim’s magic?”
Mom frowned. “I understand he doesn’t have the best reputation wielding magic, but I’ve seen him do it successfully. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have you rely on it.”
“Have fun at camp, and remember we love you,” Dad said.
“You’d love me more if you took me with you.”
“Sorry, but that ship has sailed,” Mom said, then flashed an amused look at Dad, and they both laughed. “Or should I say that ship will sail to Coconut Island at noon?”
“Oh, good God,” Rachel groaned into her pillow. Her parents patted her blanketed form and then left.
Rachel rolled over and pulled the sheets over her head. Perhaps she’d wake up and find it all a dream.
Three hours later, someone kept poking her in the back. What now? Something round and wet licked her neck. “Ewwww!” She rolled over. Oscar, her pet pig, squealed at her. “Oh, what do you want?”
His pink-skinned form jumped down and scrambled toward the door.
“I get it; you want to eat.”
Oscar threw his head up and down.
“If you think I’m making waffles, forget it.”
Snuffling carried on into the hallway. Rachel stumbled out of bed, grabbed a robe, and headed toward the door. As she approached the top of the stairs, though, Oscar glared at her with narrowed eyes.
“Don’t worry, I won’t eat any bacon.”
He squealed and skittered down the stairs.
In the kitchen, she found Tim sitting slumped over on a stool in front of the stove. He perked up. “Good morning, Princess. Did you see your parents before they left?”
She nodded, then drifted over to find some instant gruel. Oscar raced into the kitchen, slammed into a stool, and knocked it over. Rachel barked at him, “Oscar, settle down. I’ll get you something.” She reached up, grabbed a large bowl, and set it on the floor.
Tim frowned. “Is he always like this?”
“Only when he is hungry.”
“How often do you have to feed him?”
“Pretty much all day.”
She poured the instant gruel into a bowl, but Oscar, being Oscar, couldn’t wait and dove in. He snuffled, bit, and chewed the boxed manna with wild abandon.
Tim watched Oscar eat, then scratched at his beard. “That reminds me, I must send my ex-wife an alimony check.”
Rachel looked up. “Say, you’ve never told me about your marriage to . . . What was her name?”
“Lilith,” he said with an involuntary shiver. An awkward silence grew between them as Rachel poured a bowl of instant gruel for herself.
“Well? Tell me about her. How did you meet?”
Tim sat silently, then frowned and shrugged. “I was summoning demons.”
“Good lord, why were you doing that?”
“I needed someone to fill out my taxes.”
“But you don’t earn anything.”
“What difference does that make? Anyway, I summoned a demon, and this beautiful woman showed up instead.”
“Ah, so that was Lilith.”
Tim shot an annoyed look at her. “Uh, no. Anyway, this woman was incredibly horny.”
Rachel nearly spit out her gruel. “Oh my gosh. You did not just say that!”
“Yup, she had horns all over her head and was pissed about being summoned. That’s when she tried to eat me.”
Rachel stared at him. “What did you do? Zap her with your wand?”
“I wish. Instead, I screamed like an elementary schoolgirl and ran for the door. But when I threw it open, there stood a pale-faced, raven-haired woman with looks that could kill.”
“No, the demon took one look at her, opened a portal back to Hell, and disappeared.”
“I thought as much, so I invited her in.”
“So, was it love at first sight?”
Tim looked at the ceiling. “Love is such a multi-faceted word; I’m not sure it is the best one to describe that situation.”
“I guess this part is PG?”
“So, what made you want to marry her?”
“Since she was already living with me, I figured, why not?”
“Wait, back up a bit. How did you end up living together?”
“Pretty simple. She wouldn’t leave.”
Rachel chuckled. “So, how was the marriage?”
“At first, it was okay, but then she started nagging me, criticizing everything I did, like she was trying to change me. Then she crossed the line, so I got rid of her.”
“What line was that?”
“The one I drew on the floor to protect myself from demons. Lilith crossed it, and she disappeared. Turns out she was a demon, after all.”
Rachel looked askance at him. “Really? You didn’t notice she was a demon?”
“I should have been suspicious given all the demon-like behavior, shoe shopping, obsession with Yankee candles, romantic comedies, and a dog-eared copy of 50 Shades of Offwhite.”
“I’m not sure that qualifies as ‘demon-like’ behavior.”
“It does in my book, so there.” He blew a raspberry.
She shook her head and sat, picking at the gruel before her.
“What’s bothering you? Is it because you must go to summer camp?”
“What exactly is the problem?”
“What if I don’t fit in, and none of the other girls like me?”
Rachel glared. “What’s so funny about that?”
“Okay, fitting in is just another way of being compliant. Or, in other words, being fake just to satisfy others. As opposed to being liked, which means having people enjoy your uniqueness. You can’t have both.”
“I can fit in or have friends, but not both?”
He shook his head, “No, you misunderstand me. Someone will like you if you are genuine, kind, and polite. Those who lift you up and are honest without being mean are real friends. Those who want everyone to act as they do, say what they want to hear, and participate in reprehensible or cruel behavior are not people you want to ‘fit in’ with anyway. Chances are, you’ll find someone you can get along with.”
“I suppose you are right,” Rachel replied. “I just don’t want to spend all my time figuring out who is honest and who is fake.”
“The process goes a lot quicker if you stay true to yourself. The longer you put on airs, the longer it takes to find someone who can be a friend.”
Rachel finished her gruel. “Do you have a lot of friends?”
“I have a few,” Tim replied. “Probably no more than a handful, but I trust them. That is the one thing I require above all else. I can handle someone being critical if they are honest. But if they can’t be honest, I don’t have time for them.”
A resounding series of thumps came from the front door. “Were you expecting someone?” Rachel asked.
Tim shook his head. “Not until tomorrow. That’s when Mustypants is supposed to come over and escort you to Princess Summer Camp.” More thumps came from the front door.
“Are you going to get that?”
“Why not you?”
“Because I’m twelve, and you’re the adult.” She tried not to add “sort of.”
Tim shrugged. “Ah, well, I can’t.”
“I tried to use magic to get rid of my bed head but sneezed as I finished ‘on my body set my hair,’ and now I’m stuck to my chair. It should wear off in another few minutes. Can you get the door?”
Rachel rubbed her eyes. “Honestly, how do you take care of yourself?”
“It ain’t easy.”