Delta sees Julie in the home office almost every single day after she gets home from work. She’ll get inside, say that “hi honey, I’m home” with some nice irony, and then find her wife sitting at the computer, researching herself while Esther sits quietly in her lap.
Day in and day out, she tries to figure herself out. Calling with her parents, the lovely Khatrees out in Augusta, and trying to learn more about where she came from. Weeks pass, and nothing new comes of it, but Julie is relentless.
Delta sort of wonders if she might already know the answer. Pink hair, pink eyes, and somehow causing a pregnancy through no intention of her own... But without Eryk here, there is simply no way to know the answer for sure. Eryk lived on another world, even met the secret deity controlling everything, and he might have known better insight. With his location a mystery, though, it means Julie is all on her own here.
Suddenly, Delta wishes she had paid more attention to Eryk’s rambling about his life on his fantasy world.
While Julie is unable to find anything special about her origins, she does become increasingly invested in the powers that seem to manifest themselves at times.
If Eryk were here, this would be simple. But he’s not here, so it’s an entire journey that Julie must take on her own.
She studies meditation techniques. Exercises in New Age religion, psychotherapy with controversial doctors. A diet as close as possible to the “haven root,” which Delta remembers Eryk saying many thought caused pink hair. None of this actually produces any results. Nothing is triggered, and no mysteries are solved.
The months go by, and the pink comes in on Esther’s tiny little forehead. Delta grows more in love with her daughter every single day, even though she’s starting to get really rambunctious running around the house all the time, yelling about what they’re having for dinner or things she heard on TV. It’s the terrible twos, just a little bit faster than most. She might be a little bit different, but she’s still an amazing baby, enough to melt even our most cynical heroine’s heart.
Julie’s taking a break this semester, and Delta’s working from home for a while. So they’ve spent a whole lot more time together. A little bit less intimate when Esther is here to poke into every situation, but that’s okay. Delta has just been happy to help her wife.
If she can discover herself, all of this will have been worth it. If she can’t, then it will still have been worth it anyway, because of the time they got to spend together.
One day, a few months later, Delta visits the Bacalls, with Esther in tow. Just a few blocks away, but she hasn’t visited since after Esther was born, not too long after the road trip with Eryk and Francis had ended.
And so, when she enters, she’s greeted by warm hugs and overbearingly happy feelings from Mr. and Mrs. Bacall. They’re doing well, thank you very much. Yes, I’m good, she says. These two were and are better parents than her biological ones ever even attempted to be. She honestly feels guilty about how little she has visited.
The house is nice, still a bit small and quaint with little knick-knacks on the walls and tacky paintings by Thomas Kinkade, but brimming with nostalgia for the time where she called this very place home. She hoped Esther liked it, but that girl probably didn’t even notice anything from it.
“Esther’s so big now,” Mrs. Bacall says. “You’ve been feeding her real well, I guess!”
“Yeah, it’s surprised all of us.”
Delta lets the girl down and immediately she goes and runs over to the living room to begin jumping on the couch.
“Esther, that’s not okay,” Delta says with a dry tone that reveals she has said this countless times in the past. The child complies with her mother and sits down like a normal person.
Across from her are two unexpected guests—Taylor Bacall and her daughter Victoria.
“Hi, Delta,” Taylor says.
Delta uses an immense amount of effort to keep from grimacing, picking up Esther, and walking right out the door. Julie may have latent powers or something, but Delta is truly the strongest being in the world at the moment.
“Hello,” she says.
“Who’s that girl?” Victoria asks.
“That’s Delta’s kid, Esther. She’s your cousin. Legally, at least. But not legally enough to be able to get into your trust fund! Want to play with her?”
Victoria hopped off Taylor’s lap and ran upstairs with Esther in tow.
“What’s even up there?” Delta asks.
“Oh, just those anime girls Francis used to buy,” Mrs. Bacall says. “They make for good dolls, even if they can’t pose or anything.”
“Can’t believe he just up and left all his thing,” Mr. Bacall grumbles as he sits down on a chair. “So irresponsible of him.”
Mrs. Bacall goes into the kitchen and brings back and assortment of snacks and teas. None of it is up Delta’s alley, but she takes them out of courtesy for these nice people, and also Taylor sort of.
“That’s actually why I’m here, sort of,” Delta says. “Where did Francis go?”
Mrs. Bacall sighs, and tries to stop her husband from ranting, but it’s too late.
“He up and disappeared,” Mr. Bacall begins. “I don’t know what in the heck got into him, but he just snapped or something. Right after you all returned from that big trip. He was around for a few days, then went off, left his cell phone and computer and everything.”
Delta scrunches up her mouth. “He’s, um, okay, isn’t he?” He hadn’t contacted Delta even once since they returned, and now she sort of knew why.
He shrugs. “He’s still doing that online video game malarkey, so I guess he’s not too fine.”
Mrs. Bacall nods along unhappily. “We wish the best for him, but sometimes he can’t be reasonable. Maybe one day he’ll come back and get a real career...”
Taylor sits up straight and points at her parents. “Oh, stop being so mean to France!” she shouts, with only a little bit of playfulness in her voice. “He’s the number one streamer on the number one streaming platform. He makes almost as much as Victoria now!”
“Almost as much as a preschooler,” Mr. Bacall corrects.
“You don’t get it, do you? France is great. He tries his best and does everything right, and you still won’t be proud of him. He’s extremely famous now. Like, he’s streaming right this very second, and he’s got half a million viewers.”
“Streaming now?” Delta asks.
“Yeah. You know what, I’m going to show you. Let me just log onto Mixer here...”
“I thought he was on Y-Cast,” Delta says.
“He got a ten-million-dollar contract,” Taylor says, beaming with pride just as the Bacall parents were shockingly unimpressed. Delta hadn’t actually bothered to look Francis’s streaming stuff up since he disappeared. Maybe she could have found more out about Eryk’s own disappearance if she just reached out? But... Almost certainly no. She couldn’t imagine any world where he would enthusiastically reply to a message out of the blue like that.
Also, it was cute that Taylor cared so much about her brother. She was a bitch, but a passionate one.
Taylor pulled up Mixer on her tablet and showed the ongoing stream from Bac-Nation headquarters.
Instead of an icon of Francis in the corner like usual streams, there was a 2D animated character who sort of looked like Francis, but in anime style, moving and bobbing in-sync with his words.
Oh, God, Francis is a Vtuber now. Delta suddenly completely understands Mr. and Mrs. Bacall’s shame.
“Let’s gank in the bushes!” Francis’s anime self shouts. A chat bar on the side scrolls by so quickly it’s impossible to see anything of it.
Francis plays Dungeon Core Saga Deluxe, an open world action-adventure game that also has persistent PVP elements in it when adventurers cross paths. But Delta doesn’t know that, because she isn’t a complete nerd who plays video games.
“Bac-Nation, this one is for you,” Francis says as he violently decapitates a fellow player, a cutesy cel-shaded anime girl. His voice is peppy and bright, without a hint of bitterness behind it.
Which is all the more reason for Delta to suspect that he isn’t happy whatsoever.
“Gosh, that game sure is violent,” Mrs. Bacall says. “I wish he’d play nicer games. Like that farming one with the goth girl and the cute redhead.”
“So he’s not living here, and we don’t know where he lives now, but he’s still a massively popular streamer?” Delta asks. “Why did he do this?”
“He cut us all out,” Taylor says. “We treated him like dirt, and now we’re getting our just desserts.”
Well, DELTA sure hadn’t treated Francis like dirt.
If he was upset enough to run away without even telling his best friend, things really must have been bad between them, and she never even realized. They always did dramatic stuff like this together. He would have never went away without at least telling her where—
Then it hits her.
She knows where he is.
It’s so obvious that she feels like an idiot for not checking earlier. All these months, and she could have just gone there.
Of course, she doesn’t tell the Bacalls. That would ruin the entire thing and truly make Francis hate Delta forever. So she enjoys her tea and snacks quietly and lets the topic drift back to Esther, the beautiful baby who seems like she’s really mature for her age.
And, in the back of her mind, she makes plans to borrow the car in a couple days.