Cat spent the next couple of days waiting for Gran to be in better spirits, but it seemed like she was perpetually moody after their encounter with Rosaria. She wanted to ask about Silverfur, but every time they got close to the subject, Gran would find some work for Cat to do and disappear.
This time, Cat’s busywork was dusting the creepy stuffed animals in the study. She held the feather duster as far from her as possible and gently brushed over the head of what looked like a chupacabra. She sneezed.
This is ridiculous, she thought to herself, tossing the duster on the table. How is this supposed to help with tracking Silverfur?
She left the study and listened carefully. A crashing sound came from the kitchen. Cat rushed over, knife out, and saw Gran searching through the pots and pans cabinet. Gran glanced up, giving Cat a curious look. Cat quickly put her knife away.
“Whatcha doing?” she asked.
“Making lunch,” Gran replied. “Have you finished dusting already?”
“Almost,” Cat replied slowly, sitting at the counter.
Gran nodded and set a pot on the stove. She looked around some more cabinets before pulling out spaghetti.
“Gran,” Cat began. “We still need to talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Gran said. “Unless you mean about the potions shelf that needs to be dusted. You can do that after you dust our fluffy friends.”
Gran gave Cat a curious look, and Cat sighed.
“Stop playing dense,” Cat said. “You know I wanna talk about Silverfur, and you keep sending me away every time. It’s not very subtle.”
“I’m not sure what Jules told you,” Gran said and then sighed. “As far as we’re concerned, he’s just an illegal traveler and convicted murdered that needs to be caught.”
“Ms. Peregrine hasn’t told me anything,” Cat replied. “She said it’s your story to tell. C’mon, Gran, I’m not an idiot. I know there’s something personal here.”
Gran poured water into the pot and turned on the flame. She walked over and sat on the stool next to Cat with another sigh.
“It’s not a story I like telling,” she said.
“I know,” Cat replied. “But I can’t help if you keep hiding things from me.”
Gran stood up and grabbed a dishcloth before sitting down again. She began scrubbing at the counter.
“You know, I was never supposed to be a Guardian,” she said slowly.
She glanced up, and Cat gave her a confused look.
“My older sister was,” Gran continued, looking at the counter again. “And she was an amazing Guardian. I honestly don’t know how she did it. She was a Guardian, a wife, a mother, and she had a day job in town so that no one thought she was suspicious.”
“What happened?” Cat asked.
“I was… twenty-eight at the time,” Gran said, her eyes growing distant. “I had dropped out of college a while ago to start traveling and selling my art. I wasn’t doing too bad either. I used to stay here with my sister when I was between art shows.” She smiled. “I said I was here to visit my sister and new niece, but I think I spent almost every day at the library.”
She didn’t have to say why she spent so much time at the library. Cat already had a feeling she knew the reason.
“I helped out with Mare-Bear, too,” Gran said. “Sometimes my sister needed a sitter while she was on Guardian business.” Her eyes grew cloudy. “It was in June… no… July. A little boy had been hiking with his parents when he wandered off. He was just a mortal boy, but it was in the woods. My sister and brother-in-law joined the search party, and I stayed home with Mare-Bear.”
Gran fell silent. Cat couldn’t tell if it was the light, or if her eyes had started to water. Gran cleared her throat and blinked a few times.
“The alarm went off after sundown,” she continued, and looked over to Cat. “Meaning a dangerous monster was out there. It wasn’t rocket science figuring out what an alarm ringing as soon as a full moon appeared meant.”
“Werewolf,” Cat said softly.
“I left Mare-Bear with Jules,” Gran said with a nod. “And I went to find my sister to warn her.”
Gran fell silent again. She turned at looked out the window and pointed towards the distance.
“It was about a mile or two that way,” she said. “The werewolf had already found my sister and her husband… He was dead, and she was protecting this… bleeding little boy.” Gran gave a small smile. “And she was taking on this werewolf one-handed pretty much. It didn’t even seem like a fair fight… So when she told me to take the boy home and treat him for his bite, I didn’t even question her orders.”
A tear slid down Gran’s cheek, and she brushed it away quickly. Cat reached a hand out and put it on Gran’s shoulder. Gran shrugged it off.
“I should’ve stayed with her,” she said. “Or gone back to her immediately… Instead, I was so confident my sister could take him, I stayed with the boy and helped Jules treat him.”
Gran fell silent again.
“We found her body the next morning,” she said finally. “Laying next to her husband… so peacefully.” She shook her head. “He somehow got the upper hand… and she had no backup.”
“Gran,” Cat said slowly. “It’s… not your fault, you know.”
“Not a day goes by that I don’t regret it,” Gran said, shaking her head. “I should’ve gone back to help her. I never should have left.”
She stood up and walked over to the stove. Cat watched her salt the pot and then throw in some spaghetti.
“Anyway, after that, I had to become the Guardian,” she said. “And I took care of Mare-Bear. It took three months to track down Silverfur and ship him off to another realm.” She looked over at Cat. “Honestly, I should’ve removed him from the living instead of this dimension.”
“Why didn’t you?” Cat asked.
“I was young and idealistic,” Gran said. “I thought banishing him would subject him to a lifetime of suffering and regret, which I thought would hurt him more than death. Obviously, I regret this now.”
Cat nodded slowly.
“And, anyway, I had my hands full with Mare-Bear and the kid,” Gran said. “The little boy had to have his memories hidden so he didn’t know he was a werewolf. And the first few full moons were confusing for him, to say the least.”
Cat remembered the first werewolf she had met in the forest.
“Was that… Mayor Castio?” she asked.
“How… long ago was that?” she asked. “Because… Mom is only, like, thirty-something now… but if you were twenty-eight when this happened…”
She trailed off. Gran looked like she was twenty-eight, like, at least four decades ago. She wasn’t great at math, but things weren’t adding up.
“I… might… have,” Gran said slowly, flushing slightly. “I mean, I’m pretty good with potions, you know. I might have taken a few aging potions to look older. It’s easier flying under the radar when you’re an old lady, you know.”
“And no one got suspicious?”
“I can manipulate perception enough around me,” Gran said. “Mortals here remember there were two sisters before with an age gap. They just don’t remember me being the younger sister, and, with a little magic, no one thinks too hard on anything to do with our family. And as time went on, I could just make myself a little older each time. No one’s caught on yet, at least.” She winked. “I’ve still got the capability of anyone in their prime. Looking older just helps me do weird things and move around with less attention.”
Cat didn’t know what to say. She was saved from the trouble of looking for words, as Gran moved to the stove. Cat watched her quickly cut vegetables and throw them into a pan. She added a container of cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of oil. A few minutes later, Cat had a bowl of pasta in front of her.
“Gran,” Cat said slowly, sniffing the food just before putting it in her mouth.
“We were having a moment and you ruin it by trying to poison me?” Cat asked, standing up and moving towards the trash can.
“It’s just the fork, dear,” Gran replied. “And what better time to test you? I’m not one to throw away a learning opportunity.”
Cat sighed and changed out her fork, putting the poisoned fork on the counter with a mental note to clean it later and scooping out the bit of food the death fork had touched. She took a cautious bite and didn’t die. Always a good sign. She ate silently for a few minutes, watching Gran. Gran didn’t seem too keen on starting a new conversation either.
“So,” Cat said slowly. “Why do you call Ms. Peregrine Jules?”
“When I met her, she had a different name,” Gran replied calmly. “She’s changed her names several times, you know. She has dramatic tendencies, but Jules is the only name that seems to fit her well.”
“What book is Jules from?”
“Juliet,” Gran clarified. “I’m sure you can guess the story.”
Romeo and Juliet. It seemed she had a bit of the tragic love story to go with it, too, Cat thought, but she didn’t say it aloud.
“Why’d she change it?” Cat asked instead.
“Which time?” Gran asked with a smile. “She was… I can’t remember her name when we first met, but soon after she had changed it to Jules. And then—” Gran hesitated and cleared her throat—“well… after I became the Guardian, she began organizing the Vampires Inter-Dimensional Relocation Program to help other vampires settle into this world and deal with any problems that could arise. After that, she started calling herself Peregrine,” Gran explained slowly. “But… she’s always Jules to me.”
“And you two are…” Cat said, trailing off with a pointed look.
“Comrades,” Gran answered.
Cat could have sworn Gran’s cheeks had turned a little pink.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” she continued. “But there’s nothing going on. We both have jobs that keep us very busy.”
“I’m sure there’s a balance between work and… you know,” Cat said.
“Not when you’re a Guardian,” Gran replied shortly. “My sister might have been able to find that balance, but… I’m not her.” She gave a humorless smile. “She left big shoes to fill, and I can’t afford any distractions.”
Cat wanted to press her further, but Gran held a hand up to silence her. Her expression had suddenly clouded over. Cat gave her a concerned look. Gran tapped her ear, a sign that she had heard something. Cat strained her ears. There were birds outside, a fan that she had left on in the living room, and… a creaking sound.
She reached for her hairband, and Gran nodded. She saw Gran slowly pull her cane close to her.
A knock on the door sent them both to their feet. Cat’s dagger was out, but the grip Gran had on her cane seemed to loosen.
“What is it?” Cat asked.
Gran looked confused, and she motioned for Cat to put the weapon away. She slowly walked towards the front door. Cat followed.
“There’s only one person who could have made it through the protective circle and to the front door,” she said slowly.
“Did you invite Mare-Bear down?” Gran asked.
Cat’s heart sank. She looked through the peephole at the front door. Sure enough, there was Mom, tapping her foot impatiently as she knocked on the door again.