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Mixed-Up Files

by Sophia Jirafe

[Story Headers]

On their second night in the museum Margot finally relaxed enough to get a little sleep, putting down the flashlight and the book to lay her head down next to his. Richie kept watch, though not for wandering security guards. Behind the glass walls around them were animals, huge looming terrifying things. Worse, they weren't even like the ones at the zoo in the park, looking nice and furry while their keepers fed them, but dead, stuffed, with awful glass eyes.

Margot loved animals whether they were alive or dead. She liked their fierce claws, their thick fur, the way they didn't talk like people did. Margot thought animals did talk, of course, and sometimes she'd show Richie the play she was writing for her next birthday. Margot said that animals liked to talk about geopolitical conflicts, and dinner, and that if they adopted someone else's cubs they never ever called them anything but their own cubs. Margot also said that she knew how to talk back to animals, but Richie wasn't so sure about that.

Animals had brought them here, even though in Margot's book Claudia and Jamie went to the art museum on the other side of the park. Margot said that Claudia was just being lazy, because she wanted to sleep in a nice bed, and anyhow security was tighter at the Met. Nobody cared about all these rooms full of dusty things in glass cases, baskets and blankets woven by someone far away, dead stuffed animals, and Margot was right. They only saw a watchman once during their stay.

Richie pulled his hat down a little tighter over his ears, because he thought he heard something behind him. It was always better not to hear things, if there had to be noises. He laid down next to Margot, trying to see if she was asleep. He reached forward, poking her nose, touching her eyelashes where they lay against her cheek. She didn't move. He drew a line down her nose, like a little ski jump, and into that funny dent above her nose. Mom had once told him what that dent was called, but he couldn't remember. He touched her lips, which were a little chapped because she was always chewing them while she read.

Margot opened her mouth and bit his fingertip, just hard enough to hurt.

"Grr," she said.

"I heard something," he said.

"What was it?" she said, her words slurred around her clenched teeth.

"I don't know. I think one of those bears is moving around."

Margot let his finger go and rolled over, flicking on the flashlight to play around the room.

"None of them have moved," she told him, rolling back. She turned the flashlight back off and the loss of light made the darkness darker, so that he couldn't see anything but little spotty lights everywhere.

"Okay," he said.

"Are you scared?" she asked.

He wanted to say Yes, I'm terrified, there are dead bears in here and Mom and Dad don't know where we are and I missed a tournament yesterday, but he knew that the only reason she'd picked him for this was because she thought he didn't get scared.

Are you afraid to run away? she'd asked, her face so serious. Do you mind sleeping on the floor and not having showers? Do you have any money?

The money had come from Chas's safe, because everyone knew the combination, but they hadn't taken very much. Just enough to buy crackers and little boxes of juice and flashlight batteries, and anyhow, Margot said that too much money was making Chas neglect the plight of the serving class. She meant Chas's dalmation mice, and Richie had a funny picture of mice dressed up in little pink suits like Pagoda, serving them dinner.

Are you afraid to leave them? Margot had asked him, and Richie was, a little. Sometimes it was hard to get Mom and Dad to talk to them, or remember they were there, and it seemed like if they were gone for too long maybe they'd forget altogether. And then Chas would get his room on the top floor.

"I'm not scared," he said. "I just thought I heard something."

In the slowly clearing darkness, he thought he saw Margot smile, but that was impossible. Margot never smiled.

"I miss them too, kind of," she said.

"What do you miss?" he asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Chas making us play Monolopoly so he can beat us. Mom reading to us out of her books. Pagoda cooking samosas for us. Dad... um, Dad singing to us, I guess. I like it when he makes up songs."

"Like the swiss cheese song."

"Yeah. What do you miss?"

"My easel," he said. "Kind of my tennis racket. And Mom and Dad kissing us before bed."

"They kiss you?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Don't they kiss you?"

His vision cleared now, he saw her shake her head.

"Mom used to, but when I went to school I told her not to do it anymore. Dad's never kissed me."

He knew this was wrong, somehow, but there were so many things Dad did differently with Margot. Probably because she was a girl. She sounded sad, though, and he didn't want her to sound sad.

"I'll kiss you goodnight, if you want," he offered.

She was quiet.

"Okay," she said.

He rose up on an elbow and hovered for a second. Forehead? Cheek?

"Where, um, where did Mom used to kiss you goodnight?" he asked.

"On the lips," she said from under him. "But I was just a child then."

"Okay," he said, not moving.

"You can kiss me on the lips if you want," she said after a second. "Or on the cheek."

He deliberated, then bent down to kiss her on the mouth quickly. He missed in the dark and kind of caught the corner, coming away with a little mint-flavored chapstick. She didn't really kiss him back, much, but she pursed her lips against his long enough for him to tell they were warm and soft.

"Thanks, Richie," she said as he laid down again.

"When are we going home?"

"When things are different."

"How will we know they're different?"

"I'll just know."

"Okay."

She picked up her book again, and turned on the light.

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Fandom:  Other (The Royal Tenenbaums)
Title:  Mixed-Up Files
Author:  Sophia Jirafe   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG  |  gen  |  5k  |  07/20/04
Characters:  Margot, Richie
Summary:  Geniuses and taxidermy.
Notes:  Adoptive!hetcest. Written for pearl-o during a week of kisses.

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