Jareth had asked Isabel to greet the guests while Becky took a short nap, and it made her absolutely giddy that she was being trusted with such an important thing!
She honestly didn’t think Becky would have trusted her with it (she still often said the wrong thing to the girl’s friends; asking questions that she didn’t realise were inappropriate, or commenting on things that were apparently rude to comment on) but Jareth had said that she was the only free person with a good enough “social battery” to do it.
He’d said there was going to be at least thirty-six guests… and Isabel had to agree that shaking that many people’s hands would probably send Ken to the hospital.
So she’d agreed to do it. And was now standing out the front of the hall welcoming people and pets as they entered, all while trying her hardest to be polite and not say anything offensive.
It was proving much harder than one would think, after more than forty years surrounded by the bigots she’d called family….
She was just glad Becky’s friends were so understanding and kind, and willing to correct her instead of getting mad and yelling!
Even if some of them found her lack of education funny….
Some of them, like—
‘Orson! Honey! Hello!’ Isabel held her arms out when she spotted the young drow; who approached but didn’t reciprocate as Isabel embraced him tightly. It was Orson! One of Becky’s friends! ‘Oh, it is so good to see you! How are you? How’s the gender going? Are you still a man?’
‘Gender’s doing fine,’ Orson chuckled, wiggling out of Isabel’s grasp and reaching up to pat at the beautiful stoat on his shoulder. ‘And, yeah. Still a man.’
‘Wow! I still can’t believe it; medicine has really come so far!’ Isabel exclaimed. She knew it was, perhaps, a little strange to be so excited over someone else’s gender— But she still couldn’t believe how amazing the whole “trans” thing was!
Especially since she’d discovered that Isa was a trans woman, and it wasn’t just women turning into men— But the other way around as well!
It just amazed her in every way that people could do something as phenomenal as changing their sex. She’d always thought of it all as such a rigid thing, with very strict roles and rules— But since escaping her father she had learnt it was so much more!
The stoat on Orson’s shoulder gave a noise of greeting, and Isabel grinned and reached out to pet her.
She was Orson’s familiar, Hot Dog! A wonderful, friendly thing that often outsmarted Isabel when they played together.
‘Hello, dear!’ Isabel cooed. ‘You look so beautiful today! Did you get your fur done? Aw, and your little bow! How charming.’
‘Well, the invitation did say formal dress,’ Orson grinned, adjusting his cuff-links. ‘A little silly, but it was great to have an excuse to finally get myself a suit! Just… don’t tell my parents that this was for a mimic wedding— They think it’s a real one.’
‘This is a real wedding, though!’ Isabel argued.
‘A people wedding, then,’ Orson corrected. Then, he glanced Isabel up and down and gave a curious hum. ‘Hm. Is that dress vintage?’
‘Oh, I have no idea!’ Isabel gave a giggle, holding out her arms and spinning so the pretty green dress she wore spun around her. ‘I found a dresser on the side of the road, and this was inside! I got Ken to fix it up for me.’
‘Still collecting junk, then?’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t call anything I pick up junk!’ Isabel waved a hand at Orson and grinned; watching another car as it pulled up. ‘Almost all of it is still in such good condition! People just don’t know how to fix up furniture, anymore, and— OH! Malinka! Malinka, hello, love!’
Isabel held up a hand, leaning past Orson so she could wave frantically at the young tabaxi woman as she exited the car.
It was another of Becky’s friends— A wonderfully sweet and intelligent black-furred tabaxi who was always so patient when explaining things!
Malinka waved back, giving Isabel a friendly grin, before turning back to the car to retrieve her familiar (a little bat called Grigori) and a gift that was beautifully wrapped.
How sweet of Malinka to get Mimi and Don a gift!
Then, Isabel saw more people getting out of the car Malinka had exited. She recognised Malinka’s boyfriend, Baloney; but not the other two tabaxi who followed. Perhaps… Malinka’s parents?
Of course she knew that it was rude to assume people were related, just because of their race— But this was more than that! There were other context clues to their relation:
Besides having showed up in the same car, Malinka shared the fur and eyes of the grumpy-looking man (who awkwardly adjusted his high-collared shirt as if he thought it was going to strangle him)… and she had the same smile as the beautiful tortoiseshell woman who pushed (what Isabel could only assume was) her husband forward as she scolded him in… Russian?
Malinka’s parents were Russian! Becky’s friends certainly were worldly!
Oh— Who was that?!
Isabel reeled back as she spied a very… different looking man.
What the hell was he?!
He didn’t look tabaxi. He looked somewhat… human? But also catlike. With patchy fur, and an almost-bald tail. And… uh… hm….
He reminded Isabel of an old documentary she’d watched on late-night animal planet, where they’d pulled a cat out of a sewer drain and treated it for mange.
‘Ah, I see you’ve noticed Bojangles,’ Orson whispered, leaning close to Isabel and nudging her. ‘He’s a werecat. You should ask him about it!’
‘Becky said not to trust you, when you tell me to ask people things!’ she whispered back. ‘She said that you cause problems on purpose!’
‘No, I’m serious! He loves talking about it!’
‘He does?’ Isabel blinked, looking at the very annoyed-looking Bojangles as he sighed and brushed back his hair. ‘You’re not lying to me again?’
‘I’m not lying!’ Orson pressed. ‘Bojangles loves personal questions!’
‘Oh, you are surely lying to me, you absolute scoundrel!’ Isabel decided. ‘Malinka’s told me not to—‘
‘—Oh, shit! Benny’s already here?!’
Isabel didn’t have time to fully comprehend Orson’s question before he had rushed through the hall’s door and over to Benny Slader; a charming and wonderful orc who was brothers with Becky’s boyfriend. She watched as the pair began to chat… and then turned back to wave at Malinka again.
‘Hello, Malinka!’ Isabel beamed, pushing Orson’s fibs to the back of her mind as she gave the woman a quick hug. ‘Ah, how are you? Your dress is so beautiful!
‘I’m well, thank you,’ Malinka replied, softly. Then, she motioned to the tabaxi behind her, and chuckled. ‘These are my parents. My mother, Tanya. And my father, Baran.’
‘Yes! I can see where you get your looks from!’ Isabel beamed; throwing her arms around each of Malinka’s parents in turn— Though, she’d barely touched Baran when he let out a furious hiss; his fur puffing up and his ears pressing back as he bared his teeth at her. ‘Oh!’ she exclaimed, stepping back. ‘Oh, I see! Your father’s clearly not where you get your wonderful personality from!’
Isabel realised immediately after the words had left her that they were not appropriate, and slapped a hand over her mouth.
‘I am so sorry!’ she blurted, staring at Malinka’s parents with wide eyes. ‘That was so rude of me! Oh my god! It just came out!’
‘O, net,’ Tanya tutted, her brow raising as she shook her head and crossed her arms. ‘Teper’ ya ponimayu, Malinka, pochemu ty predupredila nas o yeye tete.’
‘Aga. U neye net fil’tra,’ Malinka responded; her ears flicking up in a humoured way that made Isabel relax a little (even if she didn’t understand what was being said). ‘No ona ne sovsem ne prava naschet papy!’
‘Ona takaya zhe nadoyedlivaya, kak i yeye plemyannitsa,’ Baran mumbled, before pushing past Isabel and heading inside. ‘Pochemu ya dolzhen byl priyti? YA luchshe ostanus’ doma….’
Malinka rolled her eyes, and lightly pet Isabel’s shoulder. ‘Don’t take it personally. He doesn’t like anyone.’
‘Oh, that’s a relief!’ Isabel gave a nervous chuckle, raising her hand to her chest. ‘Ah. I am sorry, though. That was completely inappropriate. I’ll do better next tine.’
‘You’ll get there,’ Malinka reassured, before casting a glance behind her and waving to a pair of young human men. ‘Okay. So. I’m going to head in and make sure Dad doesn’t start a fight. But we can talk later if you like.’
‘Oh! Yes! I would love that!’ Isabel nodded, stepping out of the way so Malinka and the rest of her family could get past her. ‘Have a good time, love!’
Isabel gave one last wave to Malinka, before turning back to the two human men that were approaching.
She didn’t know these two as Becky’s friends; though she was sure she’d seen them around before.
One was a tall, dark-skinned man with a very raw sort of charismatic charm to him— Ah! Isabel recognised him as a busker who would play guitar around town in order to earn a living. That was where she knew him from!
And the other….
The other was a sickly-looking man who wore a filthy fireman’s jacket. He… didn’t look quite right. His skin so washed out and ill-coloured he looked like he might have been dead!
Isabel realised as he approached that half of him, split right down the middle, was dead! He must have been some kind of reborn!
Ah, yes. That made a lot of sense. Especially when she saw the little armadillo he was carrying; a charmingly gross-looking thing, with green liquid leaking from his nose and mouth. It snuffled and wiggled in the man’s arms, and Isabel thought she remembered Becky saying something about this armadillo being one of Don’s friends.
Isabel wondered how the two had met; but only for a moment as the armadillo and his owner got close enough for Isabel to smell them.
Oh that man smelt horrid!
Like he hadn’t washed himself in months!
Oh, no, don’t look disgusted! Isabel told herself. It might be because he’s a reborn! Don’t be racist! Say hello!
‘Hello, boys!’ Isabel greeted, forcing a smile on her face as she greeted the pair. ‘It’s nice to meet you—‘
‘—Oh, no!’ the undead boy scrunched up his face when he saw Isabel, and reeled back. ‘The last thing I needed to see today was a second Becky!’
‘Ro-Ro, be nice!’ warned the other man, nudging the first man before he held out his hand to Isabel. ‘Hey there! I’m Zombi. This is Romero. And of course, the actual invitee; Tex!’ the armadillo let out a very wet sneeze as he was named, and Zombi pet him on the head. ‘So… are you Becky’s… mother?’
‘Ah, no, that was my sister,’ Isabel felt herself give a nervous laugh as she shook Zombi’s hand. ‘I’m Becky’s aunt, Isabel. Are you friends of Becky’s?’
‘Eugh, gross! No way!’ Romero gave a disgusted snort, and slipped past Isabel into the hall. ‘I’m only here for the free food!’
‘Ro-Ro!’ Zombi called after Romero, before rolling his eyes and shaking his head. ‘Ah. Don’t worry. Him and Becky just kind of have this… thing between them. A mutual disrespect? Apparently it’s been going on for years! But he’s not going to cause any drama or anything.’
‘Oh… uh… alright,’ Isabel didn’t understand it (mutual disrespect? Did he mean this boy was her niece’s enemy?) though she didn’t pry as Zombi shrugged and headed into the hall; she was too distracted by the next guest who stepped out of their car—
The most beautiful, kind, lovely, and sweet person Isabel had ever known!
Isabel let out a joyful squeal and rushed across the parking lot to throw her arms around the wonderful orange tabaxi; pressing a kiss into her greying snout as she did.
It was Moon!
Isabel’s most wonderful girlfriend!
Then the sound of laughter, followed by a car door slamming loudly, came from Isabel’s side and she glanced over to see Moon’s cousin, a young man who went by the nickname Cheeto, leaning on his car and winking at the pair.
‘Hey there, Isabel!’ he greeted, holding up a neatly-wrapped gift box. ‘Where do I put this?’
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