Once upon a time in a land not unlike our own, there lived a young woman who wanted to see the stars.
“I gotta tell you, it’s pretty darn boring around here sometimes,” the young woman would say, even though her best friend, Blaine, was a vampire, which would make anyone else’s life interesting.
Blaine wasn’t a dangerous vampire, and that is one of the ways the land where she and Blaine lived WAS unlike our own. In this civilized land, vampires could go to the grocery store and buy pasteurized blood in bottles, some of them flavored with flavors no one ever thought of until they did, some as obvious as cherry vanilla and others not as obvious.
But about the young woman being bored: It was because her mother had been an explorer, although how much of one wasn’t clear until the day they found The Traveler.
“Guinevere,” Mom would say, “this is a vast and wonderful place, and there’s more to reality than these four walls and the sky above.”
And so the young woman wanted to see beyond these four walls and the sky above. That’s where all the trouble began, although years later she would tell people it was also where her real life began.
But she would not ever tell anyone else that her name was Guinevere. The only reason Blaine knew was because he heard Mom call her that once, earning an embarrassed roll of the eyes and a glare that would have made Mom’s blood curdle if it hadn’t made her laugh out loud instead.
Guinevere Prudence Thompson hated her name. Hated it. Never mind that she was named after an Arthurian queen and a Beatles song.
“Call me G.P.,” she insisted one day. “I don’t want to be — that name — so call me G.P. instead.”
“Jeep?” asked her incredulous mother that first time.
“OK, Jeep,” Mom grinned.
She told her friends just to call her G.P., too, but it wasn’t long until — just like Mom and the military’s “general purpose (G.P.) vehicles” before her — everyone just shortened it to Jeep. And that kind of grew on her. Eventually.
By the time her mother called her Guinevere in front of Blaine, G.P. was rather fond of the name Jeep.
“Mahhmmm,” she growled in a manner that would be menacing if there was anything at all in the world that could make Mom feel menaced.
“What?” she grinned. “It’s your name. It’s a beautiful name.”
“It may have been a beautiful name in the 14th century when you were born,” Jeep said. “But my friends call me Jeep, and Blaine is my friend.”
Mother had a way of laughing that could disarm a stegosaurus. It was full of music and adventure and a happiness that came from living life just the way she had always dreamed. And when she laughed, even Jeep couldn’t stay furious.
“I promise, Guinevere,” Blaine said, as soberly as he could manage as he struggled not to smile in the face of Jeep’s fury and Mom’s laughter, “I will never call you by that name.”
“You just did.”
“I will never call you by that name again, G.P.,” he said, quietly and sincerely, for Blaine was nothing if not quiet and sincere.
Blaine was tall and round — no, he wasn’t overly plump, but he had an oval face that suggested roundness all over, although his softness was simply because he didn’t care to tone his body into buff — let’s just say he was tall with an oval face that always looked a little sleepy. It was something about his eyes: Blaine just never seemed to have his eyes completely open, and his eyebrows could speak volumes and often did.
The other thing about Blaine is that he always seemed to have a little smile, as if he knew something funny about the most serious situations. The word for his face was droll. Yes, that’s it: He had a droll face. He viewed the world with a droll outlook. Blaine was unflappable. And droll.
Jeep had long, straight red hair with a face neither too narrow nor too pudgy, not the most beautiful young woman ever, but certainly very pleasant to look at.
Her eyes were a remarkable green color, green as the ocean on a clear, bright sunny day, and they were constantly in motion, darting here and there and seeing everything there was to love about wherever she was and wherever she was going. It was odd, in fact, that she felt bored, because she was the kind of person who found life interesting all the time.
And honestly, Jeep didn’t worry about what she looked like. She went about life because it was fun to be alive, and she didn’t trouble herself wondering whether she was pretty or pleasant to look at. And that, truth be told, is what made her pretty.
Now, Jeep Thompson lived with her mother in a house in, as I mentioned at first breath, a land not unlike our own. Mom rarely talked about Jeep’s father, but when she did, it was with a sweet smile and a faraway look that seemed to be replaying fond memories.
“No, of course not,” she said one day when Jeep was 17 and asked if she ever got angry that he wasn’t there. “I will always love your father.”
“So where is he?” Jeep insisted, because she was in a mood where it would be nice to have a dad around and she didn’t seem to have one. “Is he dead?”
Mom sighed at that. “No, he’s not dead,” she said. “I think I would be able to feel it if he was, if you know what I mean,” but of course Jeep didn’t know.
“Well, then, where is he? What happened?”
“I’m not really sure where he is,” Mom admitted. “Someday, when I can, I’ll tell you the whole story.”
“When you can? You mean when I’m old enough to understand or something?”
Mom looked in Jeep’s eyes with an expression that seemed to say that she really, really wanted to tell her the whole story right then and there.
“What, did he disappear on some top-secret mission and you’re not allowed to tell me? Come on, Mom.”
“Yes, he disappeared,” her mother said. “And it wasn’t top secret, it’s not that I’m not allowed to tell you. It’s that it’s best I not tell you until the right time.”
“That’s not mysterious or anything.”
It was quiet for a very long time, and then Mom repeated, “Someday, Gwin, when I can, I will tell you the whole story.”
“Do you promise?”
Then Mom smiled a very, very, very strange smile and said something very odd.
“Not only do I promise,” Mom said, “I already have told you the whole story.”
“When?! I think I would have remembered something like that.”
But Mom just kept smiling that very, very, very strange smile.
“I love you, Guinevere Prudence Thompson.”
“Don’t call me that!” Jeep said. “I love you, too, but I don’t remember you telling me about Dad.”
“I know,” was all Mom said. But then, a moment later, she said something that was even odder.
“I want you to know,” Mom said carefully, “that it’ll be OK. You will go through so much, but you’ll be OK — and I’m so sorry for what you have to do.”
“What do I have to do?”
“It’s a long story, and I can’t tell you now, but I have already told you what you need to know as you go along.”
“That doesn’t make any sense at all!” Jeep said.
“Not today it doesn’t,” Mom agreed. “You got angry — you got very angry at first when I told you — furious, actually — but when you hear what it is, at least you’ll understand.”
“I don’t remember any of this.”
“Of course you don’t, because I haven’t told you yet.”
“Um, going in circles a little much, Mom?”
A big, sad smile now. “You’ll figure it out, I promise, and then you’ll save the worlds. I’m so proud of you.”
It appeared at the time, however, that Jeep would have to figure it out for herself, because shortly after her 18th birthday, her mother died.