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A Little Harmony
As soon as I'd arrived, I found myself wondering why I was here.
Well. Because it was worth a shot, I suppose.
And because what I wanted was something I'd always wanted: a little harmony.
My life had been hectic for a long time. I never had a stable family, and I rarely had stable friendships.
I was always given the impression that my very presence brought unrest and harm to everyone and everything around me. Perhaps that's why I struggled to push for the opposite; perhaps that's why I became a doctor.
But even after all my efforts to enter that line of work, I didn't find any rest. All I encountered was a new kind of hectic, and new kinds of disrespect.
I would always be nothing more than a filthy snake.
A peppy blonde woman at a reception desk was the first - of many, I thought it might be - to stop me.
"Um, excuse me, ma'am? Are you a...?"
"Lamia," I bluntly stated, folding my arms. "Oh, no, don't worry. I get it all
"I-I see," she stammered. "Well, I'll have to ask you to wait here for a moment. Take a sea... er, I mean..." Her cheeks reddened, and her little tail wagged nervously.
"No, I can sit just fine," I assured her, then demonstrated. I briefly considered the opposite - insisting that I didn't mind standing, and showing just how tall I could do so - but I didn't want to be thrown out just yet.
She watched me cautiously until having the realization that I noticed her staring, then picked up the phone on the desk and made a call. Somehow I felt this wasn't the way they treated all visitors.
Eventually she put down the phone, and it seemed we were both left waiting in silence.
"I'm sorry if it sounds rude, but I've really never met a lamia before," the receptionist began. "Is it ever... inconvenient having such a long tail?"
"There are worse things you could have going on around your butt," I answered.
Her tail wagged fiercely as she turned red (no doubt unbelieving a woman my age would say the word "butt"), and then all was silent again.
One of the few bits of stability I did find at the hospital was my not-entirely-official "partner," Robin. He was, well, a robin; his parents weren't very creative.
As his lack of luck would have it, his most fully-developed robin feature was his tail, which amazingly made him even more of a liability in a hospital setting than myself. He was a good guy, though. Just had to be wary of his backside.
It was nothing particularly unique that brought us together so often. Doctors commonly have to band together to address "special" cases, which are more numerous than you might believe before having the job.
We all had our specialties, and we'd be brought in as the nature of the patient dictated. I, of course, knew my snakes, and Robin knew birds. A vast oversimplification of the truth, but that was the rule of thumb typically used to assign us, so oh well.
The haphazard nature of it all made sense knowing the context. So far as I could tell, this kind of system was relatively new at the time I first started. For the longest time, hospitals were focused only on treating "pure humans"; if a hybrid came in and the problem went beyond that area, that patient would often have to turn elsewhere, which rarely ended well for them.
It was certainly true that "human" and "animal" doctors had started out almost entirely separate, and the process of union is still going at a slow pace. I recall taking a pet to a so-called "veterinarian" when I was very young - but it seems we're just now approaching the point where the same building would treat both me and him. ...And a pure human patient, of course.
Progress, I suppose.
But that's now. It's been nearly a decade since I last worked there. Things were much more chaotic then than I imagine they are now.
In fact, there was one stretch of time in particular that stressed Robin and I. It boiled down to a gang war in the area between snake hybrids and bird hybrids - so that was all kinds of unfortunate.
...Well, then again, I suppose some things haven't changed.
The door finally opened. "Miss Lamia?", a man said.
I rose from the chair. "It's Miss Kendrick, actually, but you know, how can I blame you."
"Oh!", the receptionist exclaimed. "I-I'm sorry, Ms. Kendrick, I never asked your name, did I! I must have said..."
"It's fine, dear," I told her, then turned to the man. "So, where will you be taking me?"
"To have a talk."
"I figured as much."
The man led me down a hall, along which all the doors were closed. I suspected they didn't want me going anywhere without someone watching me.
At last, I was taken to an office where a woman sat at a desk. She eyed me and sighed, then gestured for me to sit.
"...So, you're here to adopt, I assume."
"I do think it's funny how you didn't see fit to ask until now," I smirked.
"Is there any particular reason, Ms. Kendrick?"
I decided now was about the time to cut back on the snide remarks. "Well, if you must know, my mother recently passed away."
The woman's eyes widened just a little. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"It's all right, I knew it was a long time coming. But it did serve as a reminder of sorts that, well, I've long had a desire to have a child."
She scratched her head. "Ah. ...Yes, I can understand that."
"So what do you think you can do for me, ma'am?"
"I'm... well, you see..." She searched for the words. "I'm not sure I can do anything for you, Ms. Kendrick."
"And why would that be?"
why that would be. I just wanted to make them say it, so if only for a second they realized how foolish they sounded.
To do that, I would play dumb. "Would you deny someone the chance to raise a child because she "lacks experience"
The casualties of the local gang war certainly kept Robin and I busy, yes. But there was something else that was often on my mind in that time, and it remains far more memorable to me.
I don't know how I overheard this, but I did. And for the life of me, I can't remember anything else about that day, but I suppose I must have been with Robin for some reason or another.
Anyway, what I overheard was this: a man and his pregnant wife asking how they could ensure their child was not a hybrid.
I quickly slid over to the door and leaned my upper body through the doorframe. "And why would that be a concern, miss?"
Everyone in the vicinity looked at me with stunned expressions, though I want to say the doctor who had been consulted - I forget who it was exactly, but he was someone I knew - was already a bit flustered by their question.
The wife, naturally, reacted first. "Well, I just don't think I want a hybrid child."
"Uh, Nina?", Robin called from behind. "What's going on out there?"
"Important stuff," I called back to him, then whipped my way closer to the woman, who along with her husband showed extra surprise when she saw my tail.
"Quite a shame to hear that," I said. "For one, there's really no known way to influence those kinds of particulars in a birth."
"A-Are you sure?", the wife sheepishly asked. "I could have sworn I heard about -"
"No, she's right," that doctor whom I can't remember confirmed. "All those methods you hear about are bogus, to my knowledge."
"But besides that," I continued, inching closer. "It's also quite a shame you would be so opposed to having a hybrid, considering -"
The other doctor pushed me back. "Hey, uh, Nina, just let me handle this, okay?"
"And why can't I handle it?", I questioned.
"...Experience," he eventually answered, then walked away with the couple.
I turned around to see Robin, then continued talking as if they hadn't left. "Oh, and I don't have experience?"
"I don't think that's what he actually meant," Robin said. "Though if you don't get that, maybe you do
need more experience."
"Then what did he..."
It slowly dawned on me. I had been kept out of the maternity ward many times before, but...
"...Are they not even going to let me talk
to a pregnant woman? Is that how far this is going?"
"Well, babies have been known to pop out of them."
"You think this is ridiculous too, right?", I groaned. "Just tell me yes."
"Yeah," Robin shrugged. "But who listens to me besides you?"
I could only mull over it. "If that couple has a hybrid child, that child is going to be miserable if that's the kind of perspective their parents have."
"But they're not going to let a lamia do anything about it, just because they think I'd sooner eat
the kid than care for their well-being."
Robin patted me on the back. "I feel you. But that's not your job."
"I know." I paused. "Sometimes I wish it were."
"So could you not even give me a chance to prove myself?"
The woman was buckling, though still refusing to simply admit she didn't want to let a lamia near any of the children. Maybe even she realized how obvious that had been in my reception, such that she didn't need to say it at all.
She stood up with a sigh. "All right. We'll see what the children think of you."
Opening the door, she found the receptionist right outside. "Oh, Candice. You, uh... assist Ms. Kendrick."
"C-Certainly!", she replied, then led me to a large room filled with - finally - children. It certainly took long enough, finding children in an orphanage.
The room seemed to be the main place for them to talk and play in. I whipped my way around, many staring as I went by. I was looking them over as well, of course.
I wondered what they had been taught. About lamias, yes, but in general. And not only by the people at the orphanage, but by their former families - for those who had enough of one to bear mentioning.
I had anticipated that the choice would be difficult. How, really, could I know who would be happy in my care, and who would make me happy to raise? Even if they stared at me with unease now, would it or would it not mean anything later?
I merely watched the children play for some time before I realized: perhaps I should start by finding the ones who needed me most.
I found myself drawn to the corner of the room.
I never actually saw that couple again, but I was able to hear about them, mostly from Robin. That was the distance that had to be put between us.
Robin, as it turned out, handled much of the wife's pregnancy. The reasoning was that everyone but us was too busy with sick and wounded patients, and I was - well, who I was.
But I was wondering if there wasn't something more to it than that.
"Since when are you the pregnancy expert?", I asked him.
Just as I'd planned to happen in sneaking up on him, Robin quickly turned and smacked his tail on the desk. "Ow. ...Since never, but somebody's got to do it."
"Then I hope you're doing it right."
"I hope so too." He read between the lines with a look at my eyes. "Not that you can help."
I put up my hands with a shrug. "Oh, what makes you think I want to "help"? I'm just starving."
"Look, uh..." Robin hesitated. "They've had some thoughts about, you know... calling the whole baby thing off."
"...No meal, then," I mumbled.
Of course, as much as I would hide it from Robin, it got to me. It would be perfectly understandable in plenty of situations. But I could infer how the couple's sole reason for considering abortion was to avoid having a hybrid child, and it bore a hole in my stomach.
The hole went deeper when I thought of my own mother. If she had known I would be a lamia, would she have given up much earlier? Was that a choice she had? ...Would that have been such a loss?
It was getting too much for me to possibly conceal from Robin. I'm sure he knew, anyway; he knew me well enough.
"Just... do what you can for me, all right?", I instructed on my way out. I thought of saying "for the child," but...
"H-Hey, uh, Nina?"
"Well, just so you know... It's going to be a boy."
"What's your name?"
The girl looked up with a start as if I'd distracted her from something, despite having nothing to really do in the corner. Then she looked back down, ignoring me.
"A-Ah," Candice said with a gasp, coming up from behind. "Th... their name is Harmony."
"Harmony?" I briefly thought to myself. "Does she have many friends here?"
Candice faltered, as did her tail. "U-Um, well, they're great friends with me! Right, Harmony?"
Harmony looked up and shrugged. Of course, however real the friendship between her and Candice was, that wasn't the question I was asking.
Then something occurred to me, and I faced Harmony. "..."She," right?"
She looked a little surprised, but nodded. Candice, meanwhile, looked confused.
I moved over to the wall and sat beside the girl, laying my tail all the way out. Candice watched and decided she might as well do the same. We watched the rest of the room in silence, with the occasional flip of Candice's tail.
"...What are you doing?", Harmony eventually asked.
"Just watching," I answered. "Is that how you spend most of your time here?"
She didn't look like she was going to respond, but Candice interrupted anyway. "Well, no, not exactly, in fact... they're... admittedly a bit of a troublemaker."
Harmony turned her head with a quiet groan. "What kind of trouble?", I asked, ostensibly to both.
"Well, for one thing, that dress they're wearing -"
it's not "mine,"" Harmony growled.
I decided it might be wise to change the subject. "It really matches with the red of your wings."
Harmony held her head even lower, but with the slightest smile. "Thanks. ...I thought so too."
We continued to sit. Candice seemed antsy, most likely wanting to ask me when I was going to leave, but I wasn't sure of when that would be either.
"Do you want me to leave?", I asked Harmony.
want to leave?"
"Would you consider leaving with me?"
She didn't seem entirely surprised; I mean, she wasn't stupid. "I'll consider
it, yeah," she said.
With the apparent reputation she had around here, I wondered whether there was anyone else for her to consider me against.
I shifted around to face Harmony head-on. "I'd be interested to know what you'd like to do when you leave, whoever it's with."
She refused to make eye contact. "I dunno."
"Really? Not a single idea?" I lifted up one of her wings. "Have you ever flown?"
"...Nah. I don't think I can." She sighed. "Too heavy."
"Hah! And who told you that?"
She didn't even blink as she said it.
Candice was just as stunned by that reply as I was, it seemed. "H-Harmony..."
I knew then that something had to be done for this girl. And no one was going to do it but me. That is... if anyone let me.
"Candice, wasn't it?", I whispered to her.
"Y-Yes, Ms. Kendrick, that's my name," she whispered back. "Why are we whispering?"
"Could you arrange for me to adopt her?"
Her eyes went wide. "I... well, I..."
"...I'll do what I can!", she proudly answered. "For you, and for th... for her, yes!"
I stood up, then Candice's face lit up with realization. "Oh! Harmony, I know she forgot to introduce herself, but this is Ms. Kendrick!"
"She can call me Nina," I corrected. "Goodbye for today, Harmony."
"...Bye, Miss Nina."
In the days leading up to their child's birth, I was bothered many a night by the thought of that couple. Clearly abortion wasn't going to happen now - but beyond that? "It's not our job."
was the job I wanted, I found. I wanted their child to be happy; of course, I wanted all children to be happy. I felt like an idiot for failing to ever notice.
Yet from where I stood now, there was nothing I could do. Except for one thing, I realized, and spent many nights pondering over.
"Robin," I said to him one day, "could you deliver this?"
"A letter?", he said dubiously as he grabbed it from me.
"That observational prowess must have gotten you through med school."
"But not... uh... mailman school." He furrowed his brow. "Okay, that flopped. My point is, I don't know who this is supposed to be for."
"Oh, you know. A certain couple whom you have the honor of spending time with, whereas I do not."
Robin nearly crumpled it up once he realized. "They're not gonna let me deliver anything from you."
is not going to eat their kid!", I nearly shouted.
He shook the letter. "I dunno, tiny lamia eggs? ...Okay, okay, fine. But who am I supposed to say it's from, huh? All prejudice aside, it seems pretty weird that you'd
send them a letter about... whatever it's about."
I put my hands on his shoulders. "Can you just do what no one around here is capable of doing and trust
He shrugged them off. "I guess that's one thing I'm good at."
And as far as I knew, Robin indeed handed the couple the letter upon the birth of their child. Which to me was a great relief.
But I knew nothing more.
I kept returning to the orphanage daily, and was relieved to see things gradually progressing in my favor each day. At the same time, I came to know Harmony better, and all the reasons I should want her in my care.
It was true that Candice was the closest thing to a friend Harmony had at the orphanage. The boys reviled her and the girls wouldn't accept her. She was a troublemaker, yes, but it hardly seemed unfair that she stole the things she did.
Myself, on the other hand, she could warm up to. I was always unsure how to start a worthwhile conversation or entertain her, but... she seemed to merely appreciate that someone acknowledged her.
I felt even Candice, for all her good intentions, acted mainly out of pity for Harmony. Her whole life, she'd been made acutely aware of all her faults. But I respected her in a way no adult prior seemed to have done, recognized that she had so many good qualities too. That didn't just help her fondness for me; it helped her
The last stumbling block in adopting Harmony was the management refusing to believe she would want
to be adopted by a lamia, as she came to freely admit was the case. They tried time and again to explain how lamias were said to eat babies, but Harmony took that as little more than an insult to her maturity.
But eventually, they gave in. I can only assume the prevailing thought in their minds as they gave her up was "Good riddance."
Funny, since I'm sure Harmony was thinking the same.
"I'll miss you, Harmony!", Candice said with a hug. "And you too, Ms. Kendrick!"
I raised an eyebrow at that, but I don't think she noticed. Harmony replied, "I'll miss you too, Candi."
"P-Please, it's Candice!" Her eyes looked sorrowful, then lit up like usual. "...We don't have to say goodbye, you know. I'll always be a friend of the family!"
Friend? ...Of the family
That would take some getting used to, I thought.
"Just goodbye for now, then," I said on my way out the door. "And thank you for your help."
Candice bowed. "I... It was my pleasure, Ms. Kendrick!"
As soon as we were out the door, I heard Candice start bawling, and started to wonder which girl was supposed to be the child.
A couple seconds later, I realized Harmony had stopped walking behind me.
"Um... Miss Nina?"
I wasn't sure whether I should "correct" her on calling me that, at least for now, so I just turned to her and smiled.
"Are you sure about this?"
"Sure about what?"
"I mean..." She looked down and played with her dress. "Do you really want me? I know I'm a huge pest... and other things."
I choked just as soon as the name came out of my mouth. That was the moment; the moment I realized I was talking to my child. The one I'd longed to have all this time. It was now officially so.
But I had given relatively little thought to what I'd do
once I should have a child. What could I do? Only now that I had her did that become clear.
"Harmony," I repeated, a little more calmly than the first time. "I know I'm getting old. Even in my youth, I doubt I could do very much for you."
She winced. "Miss Nina, don't be so hard on yourself..."
"It's true. I can take you home and do everything I can think of to treat you right, but I can't say I'll ever be the best parent you could have. ...But I can't leave you in that orphanage, and I can't leave you in the cold. So you'll have to put up with me for the time being. I'm sorry."
"What're you TALKING about?!", Harmony shouted. "I thought I
was the burden! I thought you were going to show me how I was a bad kid, and punish me, and make me stop wearing -"
I practically fell on top of Harmony; maybe to stop her from saying any more, but ultimately to hug her.
"I don't want you to think that," I said, my voice cracking. "I would never do that. That... that's not what a mother does."
"...Okay," she quietly conceded.
"You're a little piece of harmony amid a world of dissonance," I told her, pulling my head away to look her in the eye. "One I'd dare not disrupt."
Shortly after saying that, I hoped it hadn't sounded trite. But it felt right to say - from all I knew about Harmony at that point, I knew she deserved her name.
Harmony blinked, seeming to be deep in thought. Eventually she spoke. "My, um... my old mom used to say that, too."
I blinked back at her. And briefly I considered: could it be?
I had written, in that decade-old letter, how I hoped the couple could consider their child a piece of harmony, never an accident or a mistake. How I was overjoyed for them, and so should they be.
Given the emotions shared between now and then... maybe words of that sort had made it in. Maybe they had inspired the couple... to a point.
But it didn't matter. Perhaps it meant I had failed in my effort all those years ago.
I wouldn't let that happen here.
"...Did she mean it?", I asked Harmony.
She didn't answer, but it was apparent what her answer was.
"Do you trust that I
Harmony slowly but confidently nodded. "I feel like you're the one who came up with it."
And then she was back in my arms. I was smiling; I couldn't help it, and neither could she.
"Maybe so, Harmony. ...And do you know what I feel?"
"I feel like you're going to fly."