Wendy Sparrow’s Servants of Fate series came out over two years ago. At that time it was made up of three novella-length stories: Stealing Time, Taking Time and Keeping Time.
Today we are excited to share a new addition to the Servants of Fate family, a short story entitled “Saving Time”.
Where the first three, longer, stories all focus on some of Father Time’s son’s, this short story features Father Time himself. Spoiler-free, it stands on its own so even if you’ve not yet read any other Servants of Fate stories, you should be able to follow and enjoy this one. We hope you do!
Flinging the door open was of small comfort in a realm where nothing could be broken and noise was muffled, but the current situation demanded it. Father Time’s mood had been black already, and the hags’ summons had made it worse.
Suddenly, as he stomped inside the hut, he had an armful of soft, warm female It momentarily stunned him. Despite the light impact she had on him physically, her impact on his senses was immeasurable. It had been lately and, by lately, for one such as him—that’d mean the last century or so. Soft. Feminine. Sensual. Coming here was a feast for his senses and a temptation. It only had increased over the last three years.
Was it his frame of mind? Or had something shifted between them.
Sera laughed throatily against his chest and pushed backward. She gazed up at him, her brown eyes dancing. “In such a hurry to meet with the pushy biddies, Kairos?” she asked.
Damn, she was beautiful. Not in an elegant, untouchable way, but in a way which radiated vitality and life. Her willowy body was pleasing enough, even in her simple garb—an ivory peasant shirt that showed off her olive complexion and a flowing, copper skirt. Sera’s energy was chaotic and should put him off, as his was as plodding as time itself, but it didn’t. It drew him in. She made the term “magic” in all its archaic and mythological implications roll around in his mind. Sera’s lips pursed in a repressed smile, distracting him from the contemptible mood he’d arrived in, until the low hum from the attached room caught his attention. Right. The Fates.
They’d summoned him—the wielder of dominion over time and space on the mortal plane—him.
His foul mood returned.
Kairos grunted under his breath in irritation—sounding mortal and old. The hags weaving in the nearby room were to blame for every one of the lines on his face. A hint of self-consciousness tinged his thoughts. Did Sera see him as old? He shut his eyes and drew in a deep breath. He was immortal, eternal… age was an impossibility. This was just the way he looked, and it was fine—it was good. Recent events had certainly made him feel more paternal and perhaps that contributed to this… melancholy. No, not melancholy. He felt bereft of something. He could be anywhere, hold time in his hands, summon anything to his fingertips and it no longer pleased him. There was an absence in him that no summoned object could fill.
His wardrobe suited his mood. Kairos had left behind the black trench coat he favored, but his pants, shirt, and boots were as dark as his hair.
“Take off your boots,” Serendipity said with a nod at his feet.
He cast her a dark look that softened as their eyes met. Somehow, without changing, she’d grown more alluring. There was wisdom in her gaze—and arrogance. The arrogance intrigued him.
“Take them off,” Sera said.
Kairos froze and met her gaze. Oh, right, his boots. “Why? There’s no dirt in this realm. What could I possibly have on my boots?” It was impossible to be angry with Sera, but his frustration was building.
Sera raised her eyebrows and folded her arms. It was as if she’d learned how to scold him from the hags she lived with.
“I can’t remove them by will, not here.” His powers had limitations in this realm. Limitations that chafed if he thought about it. The Fates treated him like a son… a son they despised and wished they could disown, but he was their only child. Or maybe they just treated him like a child. A wayward child.
“Yes, so you’ll actually have to take them off.” Her expression suggested he was lazy.
“What’s wrong?” Sera asked. “You haven’t got the time?”
“Fine. I’m taking them off.” He bent down and unlaced his first boot. “Why was I summoned?”
“Hmm?” she asked, her tone breathy as if her thoughts were elsewhere.
Kairos glanced up and noticed her focus on his back. “What?” He straightened and looked at the back of his legs.
Meeting his gaze, Sera shrugged with wide eyes. “Sorry. What?”
Shaking it off, he returned to his stupid task, yanking at his laces. “Why was I summoned?”
“Why were you summoned?” The amusement was clear in her voice. “The last three years don’t seem reason enough?”
He’d seen the Fates in the last three years though. They were nasty and crotchety and, no, they hadn’t taken kindly to his behavior and intervention in his sons’ lives the last few years, but what was today about?
“It’s not the time for sacrifices,” he said. Typically, the servants of the Fates only drew their ire at the end of the year when they were required to sacrifice a soul in exchange for the positively changed fate of other mortals. Damn, why had he willed on boots that had to be nearly completely unlaced to be removed? It didn’t help that his fingers were clumsy at the task, both because he rarely did it and due to the woman watching. He could almost feel her gaze on him.
What kind of idiot couldn’t untie his own boots?
And why was she fascinated with his attempt?
“Maybe it’s not about that,” she said.
“So, they just summoned me for a chat? That seems…” Well, he didn’t know what it seemed. Improbable. He was here for a reason. The Fates were fickle and ill-tempered. They didn’t chat. The last lace whipped free of his boot, and he twisted to see her staring at his back, no, his backside. “Sera?” He squinted. What was she…?
Her gaze met his. Sera smirked and pointed toward a corner. “Put them there.”
Kairos felt her attention like a hot fire as he moved to do as she asked. What was she up to? Was she flirting with him? Was she, as they said in the mortal world, checking him out? Dumping his boots in the corner, he leaned against the wall. “Why did you have me take off my boots?” She never had before.
Sera waved an elegant hand at the wall where a red lace shawl appeared on a hook. She lifted it off and pulled it across her shoulders. “What? Is it so wrong to ask you to remove your shoes while enjoying our hospitality?”
“Oh. I see.” Maybe she was picking up mortal habits from her forays into the mortal world.
Speaking of which, Sera dragged her hand down through the air, opening a portal in the fabric of time and space. “I’m kidding. I was just enjoying the view.” With a saucy wink, she stepped into the tear and waved over her shoulder. “Have fun with my mothers.” The tear in time stitched back together behind her, but he remained, frozen, watching where she’d been.
Serendipity was an enigma to him. She had been since she’d joined the Fates and began what amounted to a lifetime of servitude. He’d wheedled her story out of the Fates over the years. In her mortal life, Sera had loved tragically and completely. When she’d been spurned, Sera had thrown herself from a cliff, only to have her fate snatched from beneath her.
Inexplicably, the Fates had brought her to live with them and had, in essence, adopted her. Serendipity became an intercessor on behalf of mortals and, lately, on behalf of his sons and her presence in this realm outside of time and space had ushered in a golden age among mortals. Humans were gifted with serendipitous happenings like they never had before. In exchange, she lived with sightless hags who spent their time nagging her and fighting her at every turn.
And now they wanted to talk with him.
Kairos stared at the space Sera had stepped through. What would it be like to love as she had—and presumably still did—even if it’d been unrequited? Too often lately, he envied mortals their pain and passion. Seeing his sons find love left him morose. He took joy in their happiness of course; they were his sons but lately, he felt detached and on the outside of his own life. If he wasn’t with them or Sera, the power—the days—everything he did was rote movement. As the ticking of a mortal clock, he moved as was expected through the planes. Tick-tock. There. Tick-tock. Here. As time marched on, so did its so-called father.
With a sigh, he straightened, strode toward the room and opened the ornate door.
The looms made a soft shooshing sound as the three black-clad figures bent over them and wove the fabric of time on earth. Nona, Decuma, and Morta—in all their time together he’d never been able to tell them apart. Sera called them by name, but their aged, haggard appearance was so ingrained into their visages as to create a sort of similarity between the three sisters. He’d never say so aloud, but all immortally ancient crones looked alike to him—they were wrinkles held together and hidden by black cloaks.
There was a momentary pause as the Fates registered his presence. They didn’t turn to look at him—there’d be no reason to as they were all blind. The work resumed without their acknowledgement of his arrival.
Holding out his hands, Kairos said, “I’ve come in answer to your summons.”
The crone at the farthest giant loom snorted. “Impatient,” she said.
Her sister at the next loom nodded. “Aye and arrogant.”
“Dramatic,” the final sister pronounced. “Always has been. Always will be.”
Kairos had never had a conversation with them. They spoke to each other and he was the interloper eavesdropping, trying to ascertain their purpose. This was another reason he’d never bothered to figure out which was which. It seemed ridiculous to call them by name when he was never acknowledged.
“She left,” one said.
“Aye,” the other two agreed, nodding.
He watched as their gnarled fingers nimbly wove strands. Now and again, they’d dragged a strand across their dagger-like nails, ending it. Other strands would appear, and they’d introduce the new strand to the weave; the fabric of humanity that spread. Lives were ended and began on the mortal plane as simply as that. The colors had always fascinated him as times of conflict had been marked by more vibrant colors. The weave spoke of emotions. It depicted upheaval and peace without a recognizable pattern, and all done by blind crones with no cares as to what occurred among mortals, as long as there was balance. The serendipitous fortune of some was accounted for in their yearly mortal sacrifices; sacrifices made by his sons, the servants of fate.
“She stayed until he arrived and then left immediately.” The crone’s voice held accusation.
This time, they all turned to him, pausing in their work.
The silence and their unseeing attention was unnerving. They never looked at him. They never stopped weaving. He reached out in his mind to the energy in the mortal world, and it had paused. The entire plane had paused, even his sons, as the crones stared at him. Building time pressed against him from all sides, making it difficult to concentrate. Time had stopped, far beyond his ability. Was this a reminder that they ultimately held the fate of all, even him, in their grasp?
The press of time was a vice on him from all sides and his vision jerked and twitched. Who were they talking about? Sera?
“Sera? Yes, she left. Do you require her?” he asked, suppressing a gasp as his muscles seized, the energy of time was a tightening shroud around him.
Cackling, they turned back to their looms, releasing time. “Do we require her?” the closest muttered.
The tenseness in his muscles relaxed so quickly that he nearly dropped to the floor. One flex of their talons was all it took to impress upon him, quite literally, that he was as much their servant as his sons. A tingling lightness like a feather being dragged across his skin remained as the weight lifted. His sons moved from plane to plane again. Mortals were born, aged, loved, lived, and died—as they should.
He should never distract them to that extent again.
“Always been his problem. Blinder than we are,” a crone remarked.
“Maybe it’s not time,” the farthest Fate murmured.
The other two groaned, a rattling sound, like a rock tumbling into the walls of a deep abyss.
“It’s time. In all of its immense expanse, now is the time,” one said. She plucked at a string on her loom with her talons and it didn’t break, as if it was made of metal, rather than thread.
Kairos stared at the golden shimmering strand, following it back through the weave with his eyes. Whose was it? It went on and on, seemingly through generations across the enormous loom and the immense fabric. Most strands were whisper thin, as fragile as a mortal’s body. This was thin and strong. Serendipity’s? Why had the crone plucked at it? What did it mean?
Dread flooded him.
“Time for what? Why did you summon me?” Kairos asked. He’d be damned if he’d hover here and wait for them to make sense. If they hadn’t so recently stopped time, he’d stomp over and grab the nearest one by the throat. If they thought to “end” the weave of Sera’s existence, he might still.
“Sad she is,” one said.
The other two nodded. “Oh, aye,” they said.
“Despondent even,” the closest one interjected.
“Sera?” he asked. “For once, make sense, crones. Is Sera upset?” Given her history, he didn’t care to wait for them to lead him into a verbal labyrinth. Sera deserved, well, everything—definitely more than she must experience stuck in a realm with these three. She hadn’t seemed despondent, but maybe she felt the blight of unrequited love still. He’d been hesitant to broach the subject with her. They’d talked about everything else—laughed together, conspired together, but he’d always avoided that.
What if it wasn’t a Fate snapping her thread, though?
“She lacks purpose,” was the reply.
“Oh, but she has a purpose,” another said. “She has from when we grabbed her.”
Kairos snorted. “You mean dealing with you three? I can imagine a lack of job satisfaction.” She hadn’t acted that displeased. The depth of her passion was borne out through her history, though. Serendipity was a layered entity and he hadn’t scratched the surface of all she was, to his great regret, especially if her “time” was running out.
It couldn’t be.
They cackled together. The discordant sound sent chills down his spine.
“As if we needed her,” the farthest said. The other two nodded. Damn them.
Maternal, they were not.
They might not need her, but humanity needed her. Others needed her. He—well, he didn’t want to think about her absence in his world. The very thought leached the color from his existence as if someone had tossed bleach onto the looms around him. Serendipity was needed.
“Well, I’m going after her.” He turned away from them. She had seemed different today—restless. If she tried to throw herself from the cliffs again, would the crones allow it? Behind him, the Fates cackled again. Cruel nasty creatures. They never cared for anyone outside of themselves and were notoriously fickle. He definitely couldn’t leave Sera’s fate up to them.
The wind off the ocean causing her skirt to whip at her legs stopped abruptly, causing a smile to tweak the corners of Sera’s lips. She didn’t have a lot of reason to be grateful to her adoptive mothers but they had chased Kairos her way. Usually, he stopped to “discuss” their interactions and was in a livid fury. Kairos in a fury was incredibly sexy—especially if it was on behalf of his sons. He fought like a lion for those he loved.
What would it be like to fall under his purview of caring like that?
Kairos stepped beside her on the cliff’s edge and stared off at the horizon without speaking. Odd.
“What if I came here to listen to the waves crash against the shore?” she asked, breaking the silence. She threw a hand at the stilled ocean. In front of her, a sea bird hung in mid-air like a child’s toy suspended on a string.
“I didn’t want to be interrupted.”
His tone was so solemn that Serendipity turned to look at him. What had her mothers said to him? Lines bracketed his mouth, aging him. She’d never seen his countenance so grave.
If Kairos was mortal, she would have assumed he was somewhere in his early forties possibly. His features were harsh and firm, his cheekbones and the edge of his jaw could have been crafted by a chisel wielded by a carver who had quit rather than add any softening curves. His frown right now would have scared off someone unfamiliar with the depth of his passions.
“What’s wrong?” Sera wanted to take him into her arms, comfort him. Their passing touches over the years had left her scalded and wanting. The desire that streaked through her now at his disconsolate expression was far different than the heat that blossomed like a furnace as they conversed typically. Her gaze drifted down briefly to where the open collar of his shirt hinted at the strong muscles of his torso. Okay, so her regard wasn’t entirely platonic. Focus, Sera. Anything that troubled Kairos could be no little thing.
“I don’t know.” His eyes examined her as if he was prying her thoughts from her head. Thankfully, he couldn’t actually do that or she’d be terribly embarrassed.
Lusting after Kairos had become second nature to her, like breathing once was. Immortality didn’t provide her with a lot of contemporaries. The duality of her mortal and immortal experiences had made her feel far older than his sons. That’s not to say they weren’t entertaining but they felt like younger brothers in their simplistic understanding of the mortal world and their even simpler knowledge of women. Following their recent exploits had been amusing, even as she’d felt some envy as their love stories unfolded.
But she wasn’t romantic or sentimental. Not at all. That would be cliché. And this eternal life had burned those emotions out of her. Probably. If not that, then her forced celibacy would kill those softer emotions eventually as she refused to waste her regard on a mere mortal again. But her unrequited passion for Kairos had a sting that she was relearning and suppressing constantly. Mortals thought they had problems—thought they were deserving of her intervention. When was someone going to intervene on her behalf? Serendipity could use a little good fortune for herself. She had needs. Unfulfilled needs that she’d been cultivating for centuries. Foolish whiny mortals. Sera needed to get lucky far more than anyone on this stupid plane.
This apathy and enmity probably wasn’t good for the bestower of serendipitous fortune.
“You must have loved him very much,” Kairos said suddenly, his dark eyes focused intently on her.
Sera raised her eyebrows. Him?
He gestured at the cliff’s edge.
Oh. She faced the ocean again. Oh, from his perspective, this probably seemed rather melancholy a place to come. The truth was that the eternal nature of the ocean’s activity had always called to her soul and soothed the teeth of her sharp pangs of emotional privation, mortal or not. She was a woman with strong passions and, in all its moods, the ocean was a kindred spirit. The repletion and ebb of its tides. Its violence in a storm. The life beneath the surface. It spoke to her. Sera frowned down at the waves. Though it was downright disconcerting now that he’d frozen time. Shaking herself, Sera answered, “She did. Or she thought she did. Or maybe she loved the thought and the drama of it.”
The corner of Sera’s mouth quirked up in a wry smile. “Come now, Kairos, do you think after all this time and the expansion of my perspective that I’m the still the same silly girl I was back then?”
He shrugged but she could see, from the corner of her eye, that his concern hadn’t abated.
“I was caught up in the heady rush of hormones of a dwindling mortal life,” Sera said. “When I was mortal, I felt the pulse of time and it seemed like it was running out. Then, when he chose my sister, it was all too much. I felt lost. But that was like another life and another person.” She tried to recall the visage of the man she’d once pined for and couldn’t. He was a phantom sketched of indistinct lines. Even his name seemed as ordinary as a stranger’s.
“So, you don’t still love him?”
She shook her head slowly. He’d thought that—all this time? “How could I? I think it takes shared emotion to withstand the passage of time. We shared moments that the stronger memory of him discarding me for my sister has corrupted and even that has faded. Eternal devotion is wasted on a vessel of clay who has since turned to dust. I was different then. Besides, when you’re given immortality, time stretches on in front of you and it’s…”
“Lonely,” he interjected.
She blinked. “I was going to say vast.” Lonely? How very telling. She nearly smiled, despite how inappropriate it was, but the flush of possibility and hope swelled inside her like a mortal breath. Lonely?
Sera had never felt less lonely in her entire existence as she did in that instant.
And it was about damn time.
“Oh.” Kairos cleared his throat. “Oh, well.” He rubbed a hand down his neck. “Vast. Yes. Vast covers it. If that’s all it is then…”
Sera reached down and grabbed his hand before he snapped his fingers and restarted time. Lonely? She tightened her fingers.
Her powers to create serendipitous events were a background hum that flowed from her since the Fates had granted them to her. She imparted serendipity here and there without much conscious thought. Occasionally, it required her presence at the looms, bickering with her mothers, but most often it was a miniscule tickle of her awareness that the pattern in a mortal life’s weave had shifted. Her golden thread on the loom twitched up and down and even jumped here and there. Her thread could weave two strands together or stop one from being severed. She gave and gave and never received. But now? Now her thread was resonating like a plucked harp string.
Everything sparkled around her.
Is this what mortals felt when her strand caught theirs? This ephemeral, unworldly tingle of impending change. I don’t deserve this, but I still want it. Perhaps that was serendipity defined—the gift, unasked for and unexpected, of chance.
His hand in hers tethered their powers together. Time and luck had just crossed and she could see from his eyes that Kairos felt it too. The impact of their energy was a spreading warm hum across the weave.
“Why did you have me take off my boots?” he asked abruptly, looking down at her hand.
“Because time isn’t so vast when you visit. And you have a nice ass, as the mortals say.”
To say he looked disconcerted would be a gross understatement. Unlike his sons, Kairos didn’t seek entertainment on the mortal plane; he took his place in the continuity of the power of time too seriously. As far as choices went for an immortal partner, he had limited options so she’d bided her time, waiting for him to make a move. Her patience couldn’t compete with infinity. Sure, she had all the time in the world, but why waste it?
“Are you lonely?” she asked.
“Me?” his voice was nearly an entire octave higher. It was sweet. If his sons could see him now, he’d never hear the end of it.
Sera glanced around pointedly. “No, I was talking to all the other masters of time.” She gestured with her free hand at the seagull. “I was talking to him.”
Kairos squinted and then a slow smile spread across his lips. Whatever he read in her cocky attitude set him at ease. “You’re lonely too.”
His words hung between them. No one had ever accused her of coyness when she was mortal and, while she teased Kairos, she’d accepted this attraction between them long ago. Over a century ago, in fact. It was past time that they confronted it.
Lifting her chin, she met his gaze square-on, and said, “Yes. Not only that but I’m stupidly and completely in love with you and you’re too blind to see it.” She flung a hand at the cliff’s edge. “What I felt then is a shade of what I feel when you walk in and talk to me as if I’m the only person who understands you. I feel like I’m in this world which comprises just the two of us. You used to come occasionally. Now, you come so often that Decuma has learned how to smirk. It’s hideous and, if I still ate, it might put me off food, but they know.” She was shouting now. “And I’ve waited. I’ve waited for you to realize that you’re in love with me too but you’re so stubbornly sure that you don’t need anyone.” She poked him in the chest with her finger. “You need me, Kairos. You need me as your constant. You need me to come home to. You just don’t know where home is.”
“I know,” he murmured and the heat she’d seen before was nothing on the inferno that she saw in him now.
Her breath caught. “You know?” she whispered.
“This is the first time the Fates have summoned me in…” He narrowed his eyes. “Since 1855 on the mortal plane.”
“But you’ve said…” she trailed off. Had he? He’d acted like they were summoning him all the time. He came frequently. He’d waltz in the door and banter with her before stomping into the loom room to gripe with her mothers, who pointedly ignored him. Then, Kairos would come back out and they’d talk about everything, both mortal and immortal.
“You’ve been coming to see them in order to see me?” A laugh bubbled up within her. He was visiting them just for the chance to talk with her. The laugh escaped. He pulled her into his arms as she said, “I’m sorry, Kairos, but that’s just desperate. I didn’t think you were a masochist.”
His grin was boyishly attractive—like he’d just finished pulling her pigtails. “How about I just come to see you from now on?”
“I think they’d prefer that actually. They said to me earlier,” she tilted her head, “they said they didn’t save me all that time ago just for you to lurk around and interrupt them.” Sera chewed on her lower lip. “Do you think they saved me for you?”
His hands came up to cradle her face. “Maybe they saved you to save me.” Leaning in, he pressed his mouth against hers.
The cataclysmic impact of so much energy made time ripple and a welling of giddiness swirled inside her. Sera laughed into his kiss and he smiled back. This joy—it felt unending. If serendipity was an undeserved gift, this immense happiness was equally as unearned, but she wasn’t giving it back. Call her greedy, but she’d waited centuries, and she couldn’t wait another second, not for him—not for them.
Their mouths opened and, as their breaths mingled, their tongues clashed as desperately as a battle to the death. His hands dropped to press them closer and she moaned as his fingers clenched into her skin. Yes, they were too far apart. Her skin memorized the hills and valleys of his, but if only they could be closer.
Kairos lifted his head.
“No,” Sera whispered and, lifting on her toes, she grabbed his neck and joined their mouths again. She was drunk on the sensations and she had waited too damn long for this to end anytime soon. Sera had stored up hours upon endless hours of passion for this man and just for him.
When he tried to murmur something, possibly a request to go slow, she didn’t take a chance and bit his lower lip.
Kairos groaned and dragged her legs up around his waist.
Yes. Oh yes.
Breaking their kiss, Kairos pressed his forehead against hers. “I just was…”
She waited. Impatiently.
He clutched her closer.
“What?” she asked finally. The pressure of his body against hers was glorious, but it could be more so and her desire for that was stronger than anything she’d ever experienced. What she’d felt as a mortal… what was that? It wasn’t love or passion. It was a limp, pathetic glimmer to this sparking, grasping devotion.
He chuckled hoarsely. “Sera,” he responded in raspy voice, “we’re on the edge of a damn cliff on the mortal plane. If you give me one damn minute to recover, maybe we can find a better location. I can’t even feel the fabric of time, let alone make the jump across the plane.”
Rather than giving him a reprieve, Sera locked her feet at her ankles behind him and cradled his face in her hands. “I feel like a shooting star.”
“I feel like a man in love.”
Licking her lips, she hummed in pleasure. He certainly did. “That’s exactly like what you feel like to me too.” A man madly, passionately, entirely in love. Their energy pulsed around them as he chuckled again. “It’s like being inside a furnace with the flames licking at my skin.”
“Licking your skin…,” he repeated. He dropped his head into her neck. “I’ll never make the jump if you keep talking like that.”
Luckily, she didn’t jump across planes since her existence was a strand woven into the fabric of time. Pushing away from him, she slid down his body, causing another groan from her poor tortured love. “Come on, I’ll find someplace where we can get lucky.” Dragging her hand down the fabric of time, she grabbed his hand and tugged him through the tear just as he snapped his fingers, restarting time on the mortal plane. Right. That was probably good. Time should go on and hopefully no one would notice if Father Time and Serendipity ignited and went up in flames in the corner of a quiet plane far away from fate and their servants.
Writing is in Wendy’s blood as are equal parts of Mountain Dew and chocolate. Wendy has been telling tales since she was a child with varying amounts of success. Her parents clearly anticipated her forays into the paranormal because she heard “The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ over and over. After a childhood spent traveling the world that rolled into her teenage years, she put down roots in Washington State where she lives with a wonderful husband, two quirky kids, and a dog that tries to chew everything. Wendy is active in the OCD and Autism communities and posts on her blog and Twitter to promote awareness in both. In order to avoid cleaning, she usually hides on Twitter where she’ll talk to anyone who talks to her and occasionally just to herself.